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Motto:
"RE RAWIRA"
I am on the warpath

 


Pennant Number:


D24


Battle Honours:


 Atlantic 1943 - 44
 Arctic 1944
 Normandy 1944


Specifications: 


Builder:

Seattle-Tacoma Shipbuilding Co. Tacoma,

Washington

 

Completed by:

Willamette Iron & Steel, Portland, Oregon

 


Displacement:

14,170 tons


length (Overall):

 486ft


Beam:

 69 ft 6 in


Speed:

 18 knots


Crew Complement:

646


A/C Capacity:

20


Commanding Officers:


Lt. Cdr. C.G. Hudson RN aas OIC
May 42 - Sep 42

 

***

Capt. G.C. Dickins RN
Sep 42 - Aug 43

 

***

Capt. D.S. McGrath
Aug 43 - Dec 43

 

***

Capt. J.H. Huntley RN
Jan 45 - Nov 45

 


Squadrons:


816

Aug - Dec 43

Swordfish II/

Seafire Ib

 

846

Jan-Jun 1944

Avenger I/Wildcat


853

Sep -Dec 1944

Avenger I/Wildcat

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A History of HMS TRACKER

 

HMS TRACKER  with two of 816 squadron's Swordfish parked forward on the the flight deck

 

Laid down 3 November 1941, at Seattle-Tacoma Shipbuilding Co. Tacoma, Washington, a C3-S-A1 type freighter Mormacmail for the US operator Moore-McCormack Lines; Maritime Commission hull number 233, Seattle-Tacoma hull number 17. The Mormacmail was purchased by the US navy, to become HMS TRACKER BAVG-6, to be transferred to the Admiralty on loan under the Lend-Lease scheme on her completion as an aircraft carrier. Tracker was launched on 7 March 1942 and was assigned to Willamette Iron & Steel, Portland, Oregon, for the completion of her construction as an escort carrier.

An advance party of Tracker's crew, under the command of Lt. Cdr. C. G. Hudson, sailed from the UK in autumn of 1942, landing at New York; they were temporarily accommodated at RN Camp Peekskill, New York state, before crossing the US by train to Portland.

On 31 Jan 1943 Commander Meagher, USNR accepted delivery of the ship from Willamette Iron & Steel on behalf of the US Navy, a few moments later he handed her over to Commander Godfrey C. Dickens RN who accepted delivery and command of the ship on behalf of the Admiralty. BAVG-6 commissioned into RN service in a 2 hour ceremony where the ship was named HMS TRACKER (D24) by Mrs James Macdonald, wife of the British Consul. Also in attendance was Lieutenant Commander Henry Gardner RN, the British Liaison Officer for the Port of Portland and senior corporate officers from Willamette Iron & Steel Corporation. This was a very auspicious event for the shipyard, Tracker was the first escort carrier they had completed, and she was also the first to be produced for the RN by a Portland shipyard. For her crest Tracker took the image of a Indian brave of the Multnomah Tribe, whose home was near the Columbia River in Oregon.

 

Taking over command of HMS Tracker, Commander G.C. Dickins RN poses with Mr. James McDonald, British Consul in Portland, and Lieutenant Commander S.K. Horn RN aboard Tracker.

Taking over command of HMS TRACKER, Commander G. C. Dickins RN poses with Mr. James McDonald, British Consul in Portland, and Lieutenant Commander S .K. Horn RN aboard HMS TRACKER


Sea Trials and destination UK

Tracker next completed her builder's sea trials and her naval acceptance trials by the Admiralty; the builder's trial checked on her speed, stopping ability, backing and steering qualities, and her manoeuvrability.

 

HMS Tracker manoeuvres in the Willamette River with the aid of a river tug, before beginning acceptance trials in the Colombia River in early February 1943

HMS TRACKER  leaving the quayside at Willamette Iron & Steel, Portland, Oregon  with the aid of paddle tugs to proceed out to sea

The acceptance trial was carried out by a four man board of naval officers re-check the findings of the Builder's trials and more. Rear Admiral Noyes USN headed the trial board two captains and a lieutenant-commander completed the board. Also present onboard Tracker for these runs were the RN officers and crew, and a big force of Willamette Iron &: Steel corporation workmen, Commander Leiand D. Whitgrove, the local supervisor of naval shipbuilding, together with members of his staff, and a group of Willamette officers.

 On completion of these trials and storing ship HMS Tracker left Portland on the 27th February 1943 bound for her first port of call, the Bremerton Navy yard, Washington before sailing for Balboa, Panama, on 12th March to enter the Panama Canal. Departing form Cristobal on March 24th Tracker preceded to Norfolk, Virginia, without waiting for a US navy escort, then on to New York. She was to remain at New York between April 3rd - 23rd, to load a consignment of USAAF aircraft and stores. Leave was granted.

After crossing the Atlantic in convoy, Tracker arrived at Casablanca, North Africa on May 10th to deliver her cargo, before sailing to Gibraltar where she was to spend the next 17 days alongside. Tracker was UK bound on May 30th, entering Belfast Lough on June 5th 1843. All those not required for duty received a 21 day leave once the ship was squared away.


Tracker enters operational service

In August 1943 HMS Tracker became an aircraft carrier, being assigned 816 Squadron who flew their Swordfish and Seafires aboard on the 9th. The next few weeks saw Tracker working up in the firth of Clyde, conducting extensive flying exercises to familiarise the ship's air departments. This period was marred by two flying related accidents; Swordfish DK683 went over the side making a night deck landing on August 26th, two of her three man crew Sub Lt. R. Boakes RNVR and leading Airman G.N. Jenkins were both killed; Sub Lt. A.E. White was rescued. The second incident resulted in Captain Dickens being evacuated ashore to hospital after suffering serious injury while inspecting the ships aircraft accelerator (catapult) mechanism. He was relieved by Captain Donal Scott McGarth, RN. A former Destroyer Skipper, Tracker's new captain would soon come to be known colloquially as "Dangerous Dan" - the black Van Dyke bearded Captain had a habit of entering harbour at full speed!


Convoy duty

Outfitted as an ASW carrier H.M.S. Tracker carried out twelve convoy escort runs on transatlantic, Russian and Gibraltar routes between September 1943 and November 1944. On September 27th Tracker, having been at sea for four days with Canadian Escort Group 4 (E.G. 4) on her first operational voyage, was switched to join Captain Walker's E.G. 2 and provide air cover for the west bound convoy HX258 Liverpool to Halifax, Nova Scotia.

 

HMS TRACKER  on convoy escort duty

October 21st convoy HX262; Tracker sailed from the UK into a period of stormy weather; having rode out S.W. a gale for as long as possible at Meville, Northern Ireland , she had weighed anchor, on the night of October 18th, being unable to maintain her position in the worsening weather.

On November 1st E.G.2 and Tracker detached to cover convoy HX264 but encountered a S.E. gale which caused havoc for Tracker. The Bogue class CVEs were notorious for their tendency to roll in rough seas and Tracker was no exception; at one point she recorded a 52 degree roll and aircraft and stores broke free in the hanger. By the time she had recovered only three serviceable aircraft remained, the others were in various states of repair after crashing into each other and the bulkheads. Little flying could be achieved during this period, even if serviceability was not an issue, some sorties were possible on the 2nd but another gale blew in on the 3rd. after three weeks at sea, and 6,570 miles steamed, Tracker and her escorts sailed into harbour at Argentia, Newfoundland on November 12th.

Tracker had need of dockyard maintenance after her last trip and sailed for the US Naval dockyard at Norfolk, Virginia, arriving there on November 28th. After the repairs and a repaint, Tracker did a mini work-up in Chesapeake Bay before heading back to Argentia, where she arrived on December 11th.

Tracker and the E.C. 2 put back to sea on December 15th and the expectation was of being back in the UK for Christmas. Again more bad weather and little flying; one scramble to intercept an aircraft saw Tracker execute a tight 180 degree turn into wind to launch fighters - the first Seafire got off cleanly, but the second gat caught by the roll out of the turn and flipped over, breaking its back. The intercept turned out to be a friendly.

Christmas dinner and a ship's concert behind them, Tracker out to sea on December 28th, and 816 squadron departed the ship for the last time, flying off to RNAS Donibristle. Their place was soon taken by 846 squadron which embarked from RNAS Machrihanish on January 4th. 846 brought American aircraft types aboard, being equipped with 12 Avengers (torpedo, bomber, reconnaissance) and 4 Wildcats (fighters). Tracker was now to be employed on anti-submarine sweeps on the Gibraltar convoy route. HMS Tracker received a new commanding officer on January 17th 1944 when Captain J, H. Huntley, R.N relieved Captain McGrath.

After working up with 846 Tracker again joined E.G. 2, this time in company with HMS Nairana covering approaches west of Ireland after U-boat activity reported on January 28th 1944. Tracker was to join HMS Biter on February 13th to escort  convoy OS68/KMS42  to Gibraltar.

On February 20th the wind dropped, the convoy was becalmed in the Bay of Biscay - normally famous for its atrocious weather conditions. The Avengers were grounded but the Wildcats could still be catapulted despite the lack of wind over the deck. One Avenger did attempt a take off but went over the side; her crew were smartly picked up by HMS Clover. Eventually the weather improved and the Avengers resumed their sweeps, up to 200 miles deep, finding no contacts. The convoy steamed into Gibraltar on February 25th.
 

The ships of convoy SL-150,/MKS-41 heading for the UK escorted by Tracker and Biter – Biter is turning to starboard after leaving the formation to launch a Swordfish from which this shot was taken.Surgeon Lt. Cdr G. Foss, and Surgeon Lt. H. King RNVR boarding HMS Biter in the Bay of Biscay to assist Biter’s medical staff.

Left: The ships of convoy SL-150,/MKS-41 heading for the UK escorted by TRACKER and BITER - BITER is turning to starboard after leaving the formation to launch a Swordfish from which this shot was taken. Right: Surgeon Lt. Cdr G. Foss, and Surgeon Lt. H. King RNVR from HMS TRACKER boarding HMS BITER in the Bay of Biscay to assist BITER's medical staff. Photos: John Crowther

After a week at Gibraltar and more storms, Tracker, Biter and escort sailed on the 2nd March bound for the UK. Flying was again hampered by a lack of wind; this was an asset on the evening of March 5th however, when the ships Doctors Surg Lt. Cdr George Foss, and Surg. Lt King RNVR, a South African went over to HMS Biter by sea boat to assist with a delicate surgical operation. This was a slow moving convoy with little incident until an explosion occurred at 0154 hours on 10 March 1944 to the west of the Bay of Biscay; U-575 had attacked the combined West African/Gibraltar - UK convoy SL-150,/MKS-41 and sank the Flower Class Corvette HMS Asphodel. Four Avengers searched for the attacker but no trace was found. Tracker entered the Clyde on the 12th, in company with her close escorts HM Ships Whitehall and Wrestler

One weeks leave per watch was announced two days later, as the ship took a short breather before switching convoy routes for her next trip; Tracker left the Clyde on the 25th for Loch Ewe were the convoy was assembling. Tracker escorted the round trip convoys JW/RA58 to Murmansk, Northern Russia in company with HMS Activity; part of the out bound convoy was the USS MILWAUKEE being delivered to the Russian Navy, under Lend-lease agreements. Tracker re-embarked 846 squadron for this trip, operating 12 Avengers and 7 Wildcats, the later disposed of a FW 200 on 31st March. Together with 8819 squadrons Wildcats on board Activity they destroyed 6 German reconnaissance planes, Her aircraft assisted in sinking the German submarine U288 on 3 April 1944; U-288 was sunk in the Barents Sea south-east of Bear Island, Norway, in position 73.44N, 27.12E, by depth charges and rocket attacks by Swordfish of Activity's 819 Sqdn and Avengers & Wildcats of 846 Sqdn from HMS Tracker. She also participated in sinking U-355 and damaging U-362, U-673 & U-990. The destruction of the six aircraft made it impossible for the submarines to receive accurate position information about the convoy's whereabouts and scuppered a carefully laid trap.

 

Left & Right: October 1943, the Sloop HMS WILD GOOSE attempts to come up astern of HMS TRACKER to refuel and has to break off in an emergency manoeuvre to avid a collision.

A serious and dangerous accident occurred aboard Tracker on Sunday 1st April; at 09.52 Sub Lt. Ballentyne flying Avenger "L" sighted a U-Boat on the surface and attacked - only to find that he could not release his depth charges. The U-Boat dived, and Avenger "L" was recalled. Approaching the ship he reported that three of the four weapons had gone and came into land; despite frantic signals to "go around again" from Deck Landing Control Officer, Lt. Urwin, the pilot flew straight into the round down, at full throttle.

With it's engine buried in the round down and tail hung over the stern, the aircraft balanced with the port wing resting on the Bofors mounting, the whole aircraft was immediately a mass of flames. One member of the gun crew, Seaman John Forrester, received slight burns, but was very soon back on duty - the rest of the gun crew had sought shelter when the crash looked imminent. A serious fire now burned on the after end of the flight deck and it was believed that a depth charge was still on board the aircraft; the ship's Torpedo Officer, Lt Malone cleared the ship's own depth charges out of harms way.

The crew of the blazing Avenger had somehow stumbled out, but the Pilot Sub Lt. Ballentyne, was a mass of flames. He stumbled blindly into the hanger, where P.O. Hayes and A.B. Day extinguished the flames; unfortunately he was dead on arrival at sick bay. The fire on the quarter deck was now a serious affair, ammunition in the both the crashed aircraft and the Boors ready use locker was popping and exploding as the Avenger broke up; the engine toppled on to the Quarter Deck, which helped reduce the fire on the flight deck but increased it down below. Fire crews and damage control parties had hoses playing from every vantage point and the fire was out in fifteen minutes. The one depth charge had not exploded - it seemed that Sub Lt. Ballentyne must have ditched all four, not three as he thought.  Sub Lt. Ballentyne was buried at sea on the same evening, all ships in the convoy lowering their ensigns as a mark of respect as the honour guard fired the salute.

 JW59 reached Vaenga Bay, Kola Inlet on 4th April. The return convoy, RA58 sailed from Vaenga Bay on April 7th, the convoy arrived at Loch Ewe without suffering any losses, Tracker entered Harland & Wolf's Belfast dockyard on the 16th for a repair to her fire damage.

Her repairs complete and a short leave enjoyed by those who could be spared, Tracker left Meville on 29th April to sweep the Western approaches with E.G. 2. Tracker suffered more storm damage on this duty spell, losing her radar aerials in a gale and necessitating the ship's four PO Radar Mechanics to risk life and limb in the upper works making good repairs. Tracker was to spend several weeks in May in the Floating Dock at Greenock before being assigned a small role in the D-Day invasion plans.

 

HMS TRACKER  with 846 squadron embarked for anti-submarine sweeps in support of the D-Day landings in June 1844. Photo: Courtesy Clive Turner.


D-Day anti-submarine sweeps

Tracker left the Tail O' the Bank on the 3rd June carrying 12 Avenger of 846 Squadron and 9 Wildcat fighters of "L Flight 1832 Squadron (these sere absorbed into 846 shortly after this as 1832 disbanded). June 5th had all available hands employed to paint all the aircraft with the black and white "Bumble Bee" reorganization stripes that all allied aircraft were to wear for the invasion.

On the night of June 10th. Tracker and the Canadian frigate HMCS Teme were in collision in the dark of the night; Teme was chasing down a U-boat contact and swept clean across Tracker's bows. As both ships were in darkened ship routine and so hard to spot - Teme switched on her navigation lights when it appeared that collision was inevitable and Tracker gave two warning blasts on her fog horn. The ships collided at approx 0200, Tracker rammed Teme amidships and the two ships were entangled as the heavy swell pushed Tracker forwards in a 'sawing' motion as if she was going to cut the Teme in two. . When eventually separated Teme, with a gaping hole, was taken in tow by HMCS. Outremont and made their way back to the U. Four of Teme's crew had been killed in the tragic accident. Tracker was able to maintain her station despite her stove-in bows, and the next day flew off her aircraft, catapulting all 21 in the space of 40 minutes; Tracker withdrew to Belfast on June 12th where the damage. Inspection indicated the need of a refit; this was to be done in Liverpool.


Refit and a new squadron

HMS Tracker was to be in the hands of the dockyard until early September, the refit involving more work that just repairing that which was damaged; part of the ship was fitted with tropical zed ventilation ducting and some of the defensive armament was replaced. The ships hanger also received some attention, a fire screen was installed to curtain off the two halves of the hanger in case of fire, and office space was created by utilising overhead space on the hanger deckhead. Tracker put to Sea on September 7th to embark her new squadron, 853; the next few weeks were spent working-up with 853, her Avengers making 200 deck landings, and her Wildcats 60. Flag officer Carrier Training ( F.O.C.T) Vice Admiral Sir Arthur Lyster visited the ship during this exercise period. The Admiral and his staff found a well honed fighting ship, her crew well rested (twenty-two days leave under their belts) and a new and efficient air squadron,

Although part of her refit involved trivialization Tracker's next operation (her tenth) was a return to the artic Circle; Tracker sailed on October 14th 1944 for Scapa Flow and to escort the round trip convoys JW/RA61 to Murmansk, this time in company with HM Ships Nairana and Vindex. Tracker's 853 squadron embarked with 10 Avengers and 6 Wildcats. The convoy lost no vessels and no enemy aircraft or u-boats were destroyed. While the voyages out and back were uneventful, the run ashore at Kola Inlet was quite a shock to the system - those who went ashore found there was nothing to do, and nowhere to go. Everyone had to stay on the road, deviation from the road brought attention from armed Soviets soldiers- many of whom were women.

On her return to Greenock on November 11th Trackers time on front-line service came to an end as she parted company with her squadron for the last time. She had completed ten operations in the Atlantic Gap, Gibraltar and Artic convoys, covering 40,854 miles. But those theatres of operation had all but been won and Tracker was to move to pastures new. The Pacific and work for the United States Navy. Tracker was redesignated R317 for operations in the pacific, but may not have worn it.


Loan to the US Navy as a transport carrier

Tracker left Greenock on Dec 8th 1944 and reached New York in time for Christmas, she was to stay there until New Year's Eve when she put to sea headed for the Panama Canal and reached San Diego on January 17th 1945. Here the ship's company received the same levels of hospitality they had enjoyed at Portland while the ship was being built. Books, magazines, music, sports kit and more were donated to the ship for the men's'comforts' by the Red Cross and US Armed Forces Institute.

After a week in San Diego Tracker moved to San Pedro for the next five days, and opportunity was taken for the crew to experience Hollywood and film stars 'popped in' to visit the ship. By the end of January Tracker was full of aircraft and passengers bound for Hawaii and US bases in the S.W. Pacific. Her first voyage in the transport role took her to the Admiralty Isles and New Guinea in then back in San Diego, arriving back there on March 20th. a round trip of 13,424 miles taking two months. On the return trips Tracker carried US personnel and casualties back to Pearl Harbour.

Her second transport run was to Guam and Saipan in the Mariana Islands in April, during this trip the news of President Roosevelt's death reached the ship and her US passengers, a memorial service was held on board. VE day, May 8th, was celebrated on the last leg from Hawaii three days out from San Diego and the end of a 13,020 mile trip.

Tracker's third trip took her to the Marshal Islands and back - a shorter, 10,000 miles haul from June 12th to July 8th. This was her last operation for the US Navy, she had ferried 300 aircraft and 100 passengers in her three voyages, and had steamed 36,000 miles across the Pacific. After storing ship Tracker was to proceed back to the UK.

Tracker left San Diego on Friday 13th having exchanged a few crew members with her sister CVE Atheling, also on transport duties; those men on Atheling who qualified for release under the recently announced 'Age & Service Release Scheme', Trackers 'newbies' filling their billets. Tracker reached Norfolk, Virginia on July 27th and on to New York arriving on July 30th. Here eighteen members of the crew, all Newfoundlanders, left the ship bound for home leave, and probably demob.


Homeward bound and paying off

This was to be Tracker's last east bound crossing, carrying on board American wives of British Naval personnel, children evacuated from the UK, and over a hundred members of the Fleet air Arm from the air station in New Brunswick which was closing down. Tracker reached Greenock on August 9th and disembarked her passengers; Work began almost immediately de-storing Tracker in preparation for her final voyage, her return to the US Navy, her service with the Royal Navy coming to an end.

HMS Tracker, CVE-6 arrived at Norfolk, Virginia, November 29th 1945, and was decommissioned before being returned to U. S. Navy custody. She was sold to Rio de la Plata S.A. de Navigacion de Ultramar, Buenos Aires, between 1950 until 1964 she operated as the S.S. Corrientes under Argentine registry. She was scrapped at Antwerp starting 24 September 1964.

 

S.S. Corrientes Photograph by Walter E. Frost

 

 


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.

Chaple, A. G. (1945) 'Good Fellows All' Portland, Oregon, Metropolitan Press.

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.

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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