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Pennant Numbers:




Battle Honours:


Java 1811

Atlantic 1942


Arctic 1943




Builder: Sun Shipbuilding & Dry-dock Co. Chester, Pennsylvania

Completed by: Tietjen and Lang Dry Dock Co., Hoboken, New Jersey

Displacement: 15,700 tons

Length (Overall): 492ft

Beam:  69ft 6in

Propulsion: 2 Doxford diesels driving 1 shaft through a gearbox

Speed:  16 knots

A/C Capacity: 16

Hangar: 190ft x 47ft x 16ft

A/C lifts: 1, aft 34ft long x 42ft wide

Arrestor wires: 9 with 3 barriers

Catapult: 1 x H2 hydraulic

Armament: 3 single 4in USN Mk 9, 10 single 20mm Oerlikon

Crew Complement: 555


Commanding Officers:

Capt. R.B. Davies RN


Feb - Aug 42



Capt. C.N. Lentaignes RN 

Aug 42 - Mar 43



Capt. L.A.K. Boswell RN 

Mar 43





Oct-Nov 42
Sea Hurricane IIc



Feb-March 43
Swordfish II



July - Sep 42

Swordfish I


837 det (5)

Jan-Feb 43
Swordfish II



Jan-Feb 143
Sea Hurricane IIc



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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


DASHER was originally laid down at the yard of the Sun Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Company, Chester Pennsylvania, on March 14th 1940 as a 9,100 ton C3 type passenger-cargo vessel the RIO DE JANEIRO. She was Maritime Commission hull number 62, Sun number 189; One of four sister ships of the “Rio” class, RIO HUDSON, RIO PARANA, RIO DE LA PLATA, RIO DE JANEIRO ordered from the Sun Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Company for the US operator Moore-McCormack Lines to operate on the lines South American routes. The “Rio” ships had 17,500 tons loaded displacement, and loaded draft of 27 feet 4 inches. Each ship was designed to accommodate 196 passengers and have 440,000 bales cubic feet cargo space, including 40,000 cubic feet for refrigerated cargo.

The RIO DE JANEIRO was launched on April 12th 1941 and christened by her sponsor Senhora Alzira do Amaral Peixoto, daughter of the President of Brazil. All four “Rio” ships were to be purchased by the US Navy for conversion into a modified 'Long Island' class Auxiliary Aircraft Carrier; RIO DE JANEIRO was requisitioned on May 20th 1941 while still fitting out, and was delivered 80% complete to the US Navy on November 22nd 1941 at the Tietjen and Lang Dry Dock Co., shipyard, Hoboken, New Jersey for conversion.

Conversion to a warship

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', in support of landings in North Africa. DASHER, BITER and the carrier 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 at 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 on board 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 by 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: 31 October 2021


Sources used in compiling this account:

Click here for a list of Primary sources


Additional sources:

Steele, J. (1995) 'The Tragedy of HMS Dasher' Argyll. Argyll Publishing Cargo-Liner timeline various documents including;

Admiralty War Diaries

Norfolk Navy Yard War Diaries

Mew York Navy Yard War Diaries

Miscellaneous documents

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Topic: A History of H.M.S. DASHER
0/5 (0)
May 2020
Ellie says...

Without a word of a lie, my aunt got the final message from the Dasher that night. It came through as an uncoded flash message which said “We’ve been hit”. The telegraphers on board might not have known the cause, only thinking they got hit, but that’s the exact message. My aunt was traumatised and sworn by Official Secrets Act. She got moved to a different posting.

Tonny Mac
Dec 2018
Tonny Mac (PRESTON) says...
An eye witness to the Dasher blowing up saw a late landing on the deck and it crashing into the open deck was the reason she blew uo.
tony mac
Oct 2015
First Poster
tony mac (preston) says...

No ship blows up with out a reason well i've spoken to two WW2 veterans who spoted a plane had landed late and crashed on to the Dasher.

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