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Pennant Number:


D37

 


Battle Honours:


Atlantic 1942
Arctic 1943
North Africa 1943

 


Specifications: 


Builder:

Sun Shipbuilding & Drydock Co. Chester, Pennsylvania.

 

Completed by:

Tietjen and Lang Dry Dock Co., Hoboken, New Jersey


Displacement:

15,700 tons


length (Overall):

492ft


Beam:

 69 ft 6 in


Speed:

 16 knots


Crew Complement:

555


A/C Capacity:

16


Commanding Officers:


 

Capt. R.B. Davies RN

VC, CB, DSO, AFC 

Feb - Aug 42

 

***


Capt. C.N. Lentaignes RN 

Aug 42 - Mar 43

 

***


Capt. L.A.K. Boswell RN 

Mar 43

 


Squadrons:


804

Oct-Nov 42
Sea Hurricane IIc

 

816

Feb-March 43
Swordfish II

 

837

July - Sep 42

Swordfish I

 

837 det (5)

Jan-Feb 43
Swordfish II

 

891

Jan-Feb 143
Sea Hurricane IIc

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A History of HMS DASHER

 

The newly commissioned HMS DASHER with Swordfish of 837 squadron embarked on in late July  1942 for deck landing training  and  training the ship's air department in flying operations

 

 

Laid down 14 March 1940 at Sun Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Company, Chester PA as Maritime Commission hull number 62, Sun number 189, as a 9,100 ton C3 type passenger-cargo vessel Rio de Janeiro for the US operator Moore-McCormack Lines. She was launched on 12 April 1941 and was completed 22 November 1941. Rio de Janeiro was purchased by the US Navy 20 May 1941 for conversion into a modified 'Long Island' class Auxiliary Aircraft Carrier BAVG 5 by Tietjen and Lang Dry Dock Co., Hoboken, New Jersey. [US Navy classification 'BAVG' designates her as 'British Auxiliary Aircraft Carrier']

 

Her conversion consisted of installing a lightweight wooden flight deck on a truss work superstructure which covered 70% of the ships' length, fitting a small enclosed hangar beneath the aft of the flight deck to be serviced by a single lift. Biter, Like her sister ship BITER, DASHER was completed with a small island superstructure. Upon the completion of her conversion into a carrier she was transferred to the Admiralty and commissioned into the Royal Navy as HMS DASHER (D37) on 2 July 1942, Captain Richard Bell Davies RN in command.

 

Captain  Bell-Davies was to work up HMS Dasher in preparation for her assuming operational duties, part of this was working up the flight deck parties and other departments involved in flying operations, for this task the four Swordfish of 837 squadron were embarked on July 25th for DLTs and flying training. This complete, command passed to Captain C.N. Lentaignes RN on August 6th 1942: HMS Dasher sailed for the UK on August 24th 1942 with 837 squadron providing anti-submarine sweeps for the Atlantic crossing. Dasher arrived in the Irish Sea on September 10th and 837 disembarked to RNAS Campbletown.

 

On November 8th 1942 Dasher, in company with sister ships Avenger and Biter participated in Operation 'TORCH', n support of  landings in North Africa. Dasher Biter and Argus operated off the coast of Oran, between them they operated 30 Sea Hurricanes and 3 Swordfish. Dasher had embarked two squadrons for the operation, 804 on October 26th and 891 on October 16th, with six Sea Hurricanes each; upon the ships return to the Clyde both squadrons disembarked to RNAS Donibristle on November 18th.

 

The ship next went to Liverpool, arriving there on November 20th  where she entered a shipyard for modifications to be carried out. This was primarily the fitting of  an air defence operations room to improve her fighter capabilities. she remained there until mid January when she returned to active duty, being  allocated to the Home Fleet; Dasher embarked the  3 Swordfish of 837 NAS 'D' flight 0n January 22nd before steaming for Scapa Flow, arriving there on February 1st,  to begin working up in preparation for convoy escort duty. Subsequently Dasher was assigned to the escort  group covering Russian bound convoy JW53 which sailed from Loch Ewe on the 15th.

 

 

HMS Dasher at Hvalfjord, Iceland in February 1943 with convoy JW53. Photo is taken from the deck of the cruiser HMS Belfast.  Photo: From the collection of Sub-Lieutenant (A) John Vallely RNVR

HMS DASHER at Hvalfjord, Iceland in February 1943 with convoy JW53. Photo is taken from the deck of the cruiser HMS Belfast. Photo: From the collection of Sub-Lieutenant (A) John Vallely RNVR

 

 

 On February 16th she embarked  five Sea Hurricanes of 804  NAS to provide fighter cover and the  six Swordfish of  815 NAS and proceeded to Iceland. Dasher was forced to return to Hvalfjord, Iceland  two days after the convoy  set out on the long North Atlantic leg to Russia to effect repairs to her flight deck which was damaged in severe weather conditions north of Iceland. Fortunately the convoy suffered no loses.  Once initial repairs were completed Dasher returned to Scapa Flow. disembarking her aircraft  to RNAS Hatston, Orkney on February 26th. She next proceeded to Dundee for further repairs to be carried out Captain C.N. Lentaignes RN  left Dasher at the end of February, being relieved in command by Captain L.A.K. Boswell RN.

 

On completion of repairs Dasher began working up in the Clyde on March 24th in preparation for her next operation, embarking 5 Sea Hurricanes from 894 squadron, and six Swordfish from 816 squadron.

 

HMS DASHER at anchor, there are two Swordfish parked on her flight deck, The aft lift is down for ventillation.

 

On Saturday March 27th 1943 Dasher spent the day carrying out flying exercises with the aircraft of her two squadrons, 816 and 891 in preparation for a night torpedo strike against the German battle ship Tirpitz in Norway.  At 4:40 pm, the ship's recently appointed commanding officer, Captain Boswell, made an announcement over the ship's tannoy system that flying for the day was completed and that shore leave would be granted on arrival back at Greenock. Shortly after this there was a tremendous explosion; the officers on the bridge looked in astonishment as the ship's two ton aircraft lift, flew about 60 feet, into the air before it fell into the sea behind the ship. Dasher lurched drunkenly before settling by the stern as she began to take on water. The ship quickly lost head way as the engines had stopped, and all electrical power was lost, below decks bring plunged into darkness. The now exposed lift shaft was belching thick black smoke and flames.

 

Those men not part of the duty watch had already begun preparing for their return to port and the imminent run ashore, they were plunged into disorienting darkness were they stood. Those that could make tier way out of the ship began abandoning ship, jumping overboard from any point of exit they could reach as the fires in the hanger deck grew more intense and the ready use ammunition began to 'cook off'.

 

The closest vessels to the scene of the disaster were HMS Sir Galahad, four miles to the north and HMS Isle of Sark, five miles to the south; both ships responded immediately in the knowledge that hundreds of men were swimming in the cold waters of the Clyde, many possibly injured. Other vessels were despatched from ports and harbours long the Clyde to assist. Two merchant vessels in the area art the time of the explosion deserve mention for their heroic rescue efforts, the SS cragsman and the SS Lithium; both ships steamed into the heat and smoke, of the burning oil, the cragsman emerged with fourteen survivors while the Lithium emerged from the dark poll of smoke with a total of sixty survivors! Others were hauled to safety by lifeboats from the Royal Navy ships which were soon at the scene, pulling men out of the water.

 

Burning fuel oil and aviation fuel had claimed the lives of many those in the water, hypothermia yet others; in all 379 men of the 528 men onboard Dasher perished that Saturday evening in March.

 

The loss of HMS Dasher was kept a secret from the British nation until 1945 when her loss received a brief mention in the Times. Theories about her loss and why it was kept a secret have been explored be many, one suggests that reports of her loss were suppressed to cover an even bigger secret - that of 'the man who never was' Is it possible that a member of Dasher's crew was posthumously the central character in the famous deception ploy which employed a dead body carrying fake secret documents set adrift of the Spanish coast in May 1943. Click here to learn more.

 


Content revised: July 2008

Sources used in compiling this account:

Brown, D. (1974) 'Carrier Operations in World War 2 - vol 1 the Royal Navy' Shepperton, Ian Allen Ltd.

Hobbs, D. (2003) 'Royal Navy Escort Carriers' Liskeard, Maritime Books

Poolman, K. (1988) 'Allied Escort Carriers of World War Two in Action' London, Blandford Press

Poolman, K. (1972) 'Escort Carriers 1941 - 1945' Shepperton, Ian Allen Ltd.

Steele, J. (1995) 'The Tragedy of HMS Dasher' Argyll. Argyll Publishing

Sturtivant, R. & Burrows, M. (1995) 'Fleet Air Arm Aircraft 1939 to 1945' Tonbridge Wells, Air Britain (Historians)

Sturtivant, R & Balance, T., (1994) 'Squadrons of the Fleet Air Arm' Tonbridge Wells, Air Britain (Historians)

British officers (including Commonwealth officers serving in British units) Part of WWII Unit Histories and Officers web site.

Casualty Lists of the Royal Navy and Dominion Navies, 1922-present A comprehensive resource listing service details of men and women killed in RN and RM service.

Convoy Web A comprehensive resource listing WW2 convoys and ships .

War Sailors Ships in Atlantic and miscellaneous convoys during WW2.

 

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