'SMITER' Class

 Description Shape:
Standard, circular.
Blazon (Heraldic description)
on a field of blue, a dexter hand, in pale, clenched, and couped at the wrist, proper.
PUNCHER: one who packs a punch. The original design, submitted by the ship's officers had the fist smashing upwards through a bar - in some versions this is shown as a submarine. It also had the motto "Arise and destroy"

For explanations of heraldic terms see the Badges & Honours page.

 

Unoficial Motto:

"Arise and destroy"

 

 

Pennant Number:

D79

 


 

Battle Honours:

 

ATLANTIC 1944

 


 

Specifications

Builder: Seattle-Tacoma Shipbuilding Co. Tacoma, Washington

Displacement: 15,390 tons

Length (Overall): 494ft 9in

Beam:  69ft 6in

Flight deck: 450ft x 80ft wood covered mild steel plate

Propulsion: 2 Foster Wheeler boilers; 1 x Allis-Chalmers geared turbine driving 1 shaft

Speed:  16 knots

A/C Capacity: 20

Hangar: 260ft x 62ft x 18ft

A/C lifts: 2, Aft 34ft long x 42ft wide; forward 42ft long x 34ft wide

Arrestor wires: 9 with 3 barriers

Catapult: 1 H4C hydraulic

Armament: 2 single 5in USN Mk 12, 8 twin 40mm Bofors, 14 twin 20rnm Oerlikon, 7 single 20mm Oerlikon

Crew Complement: 646


 

Commanding Officers:

 

Cdr. F.A. Price, RCNVR OIC

Jan - Apr 44

 

 

Capt. R.E.S. Bidwell RCN
Apr 44 - Jan 46

 


 

Squadrons:

 

1845 (Ferry)

Oct 1945

Corsair III

 

821
Nov 44-Apr 45
Barracuda II

 

881
Feb 1945
Wildcat VI

 

 


 

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A History of HMS

Flight deck crews learnt the art of handling aircraft on Puncher's flight deck using a an obsolete  Blackburn Shark handed over to the ship on May 31 1944 before she left Vancouver -after being struck off charge by the RCAF. This is RCAF Shark 549.

Flight deck crews learnt the art of handling aircraft on Puncher's flight deck using a an obsolete Blackburn Shark handed over to the ship on May 31 1944 before she left Vancouver -after being struck off charge by the RCAF. This is RCAF Shark 549.

 

HMS PUNCHER was a 'Smiter' class escort carrier (US Bogue class) built in the USA at Seattle-Tacoma Shipbuilding Co. Tacoma, Washington. Her keel was laid down on May 21st 1943 as a C3-S-A1 type freighter, Maritime Commission hull number [unknown], Seattle-Tacoma hull number 48. The hull was purchased by the US navy to be completed as the USS Willapa ACV-53 (designation later changed to CVE - 53). She was launched on November 8th 1943, 171 days after her keel was laid, by her sponsor Mrs. C. E. Taylor. Whilst still under construction it had been decided that CVE 53 would be transferred to the United Kingdom under Lend Lease in October 1943. After spending a further 89 days outfitting she was ready for delivery on February 5th 1944; CVE 53 took a total of 260 days to complete.

 

CVE 53 was transferred to Royal Navy custody at Tacoma, Washington on February 5th 1944 and was accepted on behalf of the Admiralty by Commander Frederick A. Price, RCNVR who had assumed command of the ship on January 17th in preparation for her transfer to the RN. The White Ensign was hoisted and the ship was renamed HMS PUNCHER pennant number D79.

 

There have been three Royal Nay ships to bear the name PUNCHER; CVE 53 was the first. The second HMS PUNCHER was a tank landing ship, (ex-LST 30360), commissioned in 1947. The current HMS PUNCHER is a P2000 class fast patrol vessel, commissioned in 1986; she is attached to The University of London Royal Naval Unit (URNU) as a sea training vessel.

Modification and preparation to enter service:

After completing her builder's sea trials PUNCHER sailed for Vancouver, British Colombia, arriving there on February 12th where she was moored in stream. PUNCHER was ahead of schedule, arriving at Vancouver one month early. She was one of 19 escort carriers to be modified to meet Admiralty requirements by the Burrard Dry Dock Co. Ltd., North Vancouver, British Columbia. While in Vancouver she was to receive her full crew compliment and work up ready for beginning her active service. The ship was moved to No. 8 berth, Lapointe Pier, Vancouver on February 28th1944, moving to No. 7 berth before work commenced on March 15th.

 

On April 19th 1944, Cdr. Price was relieved as commanding officer of HMS PUNCHER by Captain Roger E. S. Bidwell RCN.

 

HMS PUNCHER's alterations and modifications were started by Burrard's on March 15th to outfit her as a Strike carrier. The alteration and modification phase of the work was completed on May 8th, having taken 55 days. Part of this work included extending the flight deck by 15 feet at the stern end, and the addition of 314 tons of pig iron as additional ballast which was to compensate for adding weight to the upper structures.

 

[Note: the last five CVEs to pass through Burrard's dockyard, PATROLLER, PUNCGER, REAPER, RANEE and THANE had a longer modification timetable than the other 14 vessels modified by Burrard's; this was due to the Admiralty decision that the single Oerlikon mounts on the Gallery Deck and foc'sle deck, were to be changed for fourteen twin mountings. An extra ten days being allocated for this work to be completed.]

 

On May 9th the ship was moved to Esquimalt, Vancouver Island, and placed in Dry-dock for the fitting of sea cocks and remedial work; the work took 3 days to complete, the ship undocking on the 12th. On her return from Esquimalt on May 15th PUNCHER returned to No 7 berth to begin storing ship before moving to a mooring in the stream on the 19th from where she proceeded to sea to work up and carry out gunnery practice, including tests of the new twin Oerlikon mountings, the ship being one of the first to have this type fitted. Part of this work up involved a short round trip voyage to the US Naval Yard at Bremerton, Washington, to pick up ammunition. PUNCHER secured at the RCN base at Esquimalt on her return.

 

On May 31st, just prior to her sailing from Esquimalt, PUNCHER received her first aircraft - a non-airworthy Blackburn Shark given to the RN on free issue for training flight deck handing parties on the voyage to Norfolk, Virginia. The Shark was ferried out to the ship by lighter from No. 3 Repair Depot RCAF were her floats had been substituted for wheels. Four other CVEs at Vancouver, PATROLLER, REAPER, THANE, and RANEE also received written-off Sharks for this purpose. This vintage aircraft caused some interest when PUNCHER put into US ports; she was finally pushed overboard when her usefulness had come to an end and deck cargo was due to be loaded.


Active service, first ferry run to Casablanca:

HMS PUNCHER sailed from Esquimalt on June 9th 1944 with the frigate HMCS BEACON HILL in company, bound for New York. The carrier was to make several stops on her way to New York, calling first at San Francisco to load more stores and then San Diego for the installation of additional equipment and several tractors and trailers were embarked. While on route to Balboa exercises and daily drills were performed, including flight deck emergency drills using the Blackburn Shark; this aircraft was ditched over the side before the ship reached the Canal Zone, having served its purpose as a training aid. Several lively deck hockey competitions were held to provide some respite from drills.

 

On leaving San Diego PUNCHER and EACON HILL were joined by HMS FOAM, a fleet minesweeper, and the three ships headed for Balboa at sixteen-knots, arriving there on 23 June. They passed through the Panama Canal the same day and secured at Christobal. Here PUNCHER embarked a number of British officers and seamen, survivors from merchant ships for passage to the United States. PUNCHER and her escorts sailed for the entrance to the Mississippi river on the afternoon of June 24th. The three ships preceded ninety miles up the Mississippi river to the port of New Orleans where PUNCHER was to pick-up four 72' harbour defence motor launches that had been built up further up river and carried down river on barges.

 

Loading harbour defence motor launches ay New OrleansLoading harbour defence motor launches ay New Orleans

Loading harbour defence motor launches ay New Orleans

 

PUNCHER and her escorts sailed fro New York on July 3rd, arriving at Brooklyn Navy Yard on July 8th to unload the launches and other equipment and stores she was carrying for trans-shipment on to Europe. After a speedy turnaround the ship was sent to Norfolk, Virginia where she was taken in hand at Portsmouth Navy Yard on July 11th for a short period of minor defect rectification, and to receive her final additions to equipment and for installation of Bofors anti-aircraft mountings. This work was completed in ten days and the ship returned to New York on July 22nd; PUNCHER was now allocated to the strength of Western Approaches Command for duties as a ferry carrier, receiving scaled orders to report to the Brooklyn Naval yard.

 

Upon her arrival in New York PUNCHER was berthed alongside another CVE, the U.S.S. Shamrock Bay (CVE 84). Both ships were loaded under strict secrecy; their ferry loads included the USAAF's latest night fighter the Northrop P-61 'Black Widow'. PUNCHER embarked a mixed load of 40 aircraft, along with 29 officers and 45 enlisted men of the 427th Night Fighter Squadron. The two ships also embarked stores and equipment, their cargo was bound for Casablanca in North Africa in preparation for the invasion of Southern France.
 

PUNCHER’s deck cargo included a number of the twin tail boomed P-61 ‘Black Widows’ of the 427th Night Fighter Squadron USAAF; a couple of P-47 Thunderbolts, can be seen towards the front of the flight deck .  The USS SHAMROCK BAY is in the background.

PUNCHER's deck cargo included a number of the twin tail boomed P-61 'Black Widows' of the 427th Night Fighter Squadron USAAF; a couple of P-47 Thunderbolts, can be seen towards the front of the flight deck . The USS SHAMROCK BAY is in the background.


 

On completion of loading PUNCHER and SHAMROCK BAY headed for Hampton Roads off the Virginia coast to join joined our the Mediterranean bound convoy UGF13. The convoy sailed on July 28th bound for Naples; this-was a fast convoy of sixteen ships, tankers and troop transports carrying about 18,000 men escorted by the cruiser, USS Cincinnati, with three destroyers and six destroyer escorts. Off the African coast PUNCHER, Shamrock Bay and four merchantmen were detached and, escorted by four French chasseurs, preceded into Casablanca on August 8th to off-load cargo. While at Casablanca an excursion was organised fro off duty members of the ship's company; 15 officers and 142 liberty men, were given a 140 mile trip around Morocco by truck, the transport was provided by the U.S. Army Air Transport base, in Casablanca. On the 12th PUNCHER sailed from Casablanca as commodore of a small four vessel merchant convoy which rendezvoused with the Port Said to Norfolk convoy GUS-48 at 1800hrs, PUNCHER stepping down as commodore and taking her place in the line. PUNCHER arrived back in Norfolk on August 27th.


Second ferry run, Norfolk to Liverpool:

On Augst 30th eighteen corsairs of 1945 naval air squadron were flown aboard and stowed in the hanger; this squadron had formed and worked up at USNAS Brunswick in June 1944 and was being ferried to the UK to begin operation service. PUNCHER then secured alongside at Norfolk Naval Operating Base and began loading a ferry cargo for delivery to the UK, this comprised of a deck cargo of Hellcats, Avengers, Corsairs and one Helldiver. Twenty-one officers and 128 ratings of 1845 also came on board before the ship sailed on to New York to embark more passengers, including twenty-eight women and children. PUNCHER was delayed in sailing from New York to wait delivery of a consignment of special ammunition; she was due to sail with the 40 ship UK bound convoy CU-38 on September 4th but sailed a day later with the destroyer escort, USS ENRIGHT, sighting the convoy late morning on the 9th.


 

August 30th 1944: Corsair MK.IIIs belonging to 1845 naval air squadron are loaded aboard PUNCHER for ferrying to the UK.  The squadron had formed and worked up in the USA at USNAS Brunswick, Maine.

August 30th 1944: Corsair MK.IIIs belonging to 1845 naval air squadron are loaded aboard PUNCHER for ferrying to the UK. The squadron had formed and worked up in the USA at USNAS Brunswick, Maine.

 

Approaching Bishop Rock on the 14th, the convoy split into two groups; and PUNCHER became commodore of a thirty-ship group headed for the Liverpool. Others were bound for Southampton and Bristol. PUNCHER berthed at King George V dock, Glasgow, on the 15th having parted company with the convoy in Liverpool Bay. Unloading began immediately. 1845 squadron was disembarked to RN Air Station Eglinton, Northern Ireland on the 18th just prior to the ship making her next voyage to New York. PUNCHER rendezvoused with the New York-bound convoy, UC-38A, at dawn on 20 September.

 

HMS Puncher heading for the UK with a full ferry load of US Lend-Lease aircraft

HMS Puncher heading for the UK with a full ferry load of US Lend-Lease aircraft


Third ferry run, New York to Liverpool:

Upon her arrival at Staten Island, New York o September 30th Pincher began loading a cargo of American aircraft fro delivery to the UK; the load comprising of Sixty-three P-51Mustangs, eight P-47 Thunderbolts, and seven F-6F Hellcats and associated stores. On October 6th PUNCHER sailed for the UK with sailed in convoy CU-42 with forty-seven other ships, bound for Liverpool. PUNCHER arrived at Liverpool Docks on October 17th to unload her cargo, and was to spend three days alongside before proceeding to the Clyde for a short period of defect rectification and boiler cleaning. PUNCHER was secured to a buoy at the Tail of the Bank on the 21st, before entering a local dockyard.

 

One of the eight P-47 Thunderbolts carried on PUNCHER as part of her ferry load: other ships of convoy CU-38 can be seen astern.

One of the eight P-47 Thunderbolts carried on PUNCHER as part of her ferry load: other ships of convoy CU-38 can be seen astern.


Deck Landing Training Duties:

On leaving the dockyard PUNCHER began preparations for a tour of duty as a Deck Landing Training Carrier. On November 5th and 6th the ship's catapult and arrestor systems were tested in a programme which saw two aircraft from 778 Service Trials unit at RN Air Station Arbroath carry out a series of launches and deck landings, seven by an Avenger and twelve by a Barracuda.. Part of this preparation involved PUNCHER being modified to operate the Barracuda TBR (Torpedo, Bomber & Reconnaissance) aircraft; the ship was already outfitted for fighter operations so this made her an all-rounder, capable of operating in both strike and A/S roles.

 

PUNCHER was ready to begin training operations by November26th, 1944, when she received twelve Barracudas of Squadron 821 embarked from RN Air Station Maydown, Northern Ireland while steaming in the Clyde, these were her first operational aircraft.

 

A Barracuda of No.821 naval air squadron about to be struck down into the hanger.  A number of the squadron’s aircraft came aboard HMS PUNCHER f or landing on for a period of deck landing practice and exercises at the end of November 1944.

A Barracuda of No.821 naval air squadron about to be struck down into the hanger. A number of the squadron's aircraft came aboard HMS PUNCHER f or landing on for a period of deck landing practice and exercises at the end of November 1944.

 

Deck landing practice began in the Irish Sea the next day but operations were curtailed when the wind strengthened in the afternoon. While returning to the Clyde that evening the ship suffered engine problems, at 2020hrs the main engines had to be stopped as the ship had suffered a main gearing failure; many of her sister CVEs suffered similar mechanical problems. The ship was now in danger of running aground as the freshening wind had increased to a force eight gale and was pushing the ship towards the Shore of Great Cumbrae Island. Before the dropping the anchor became a necessity the engines were brought back on line at greatly resumed power, giving hardly enough revolutions to maintain steerage way. After limping back to the Clyde anchorage it was discovered that there was no berth available and so PUNCHER dropped anchor for the night before attempting to enter Greenock the following morning.

 

At first light PUNCHER launched her Barracudas to fly ashore to RN Air Station Machrihanish before she accepted lines from two tugs which were to assist her to a suitable buoy. While attempting to secure to the Buoy the tow line parted from one of the tugs, the remaining tug could not check PUNCHER's momentum and the ship was out of control in the harbour until the mooring party finally snagged the mooring buoy. PUNCHER was to remain at his mooring for the next month as repairs got under way. On December 18th she was moved by tugs to Gareloch where she received the reduction gear assembly salvaged from her sister ship HMS NABOB, which had been laid up at Rosyth since August after she was torpedoed off Norway, the ship being written off as beyond economical repair and cannibalised for spares. PUNCHER returned to her buoy on the 22nd and was pronounced ready for sea trials on Boxing Day 1944.

 

PUNCHER returned to active duty on December 30th 1944, re-embarking 821 squadron to resume DLTs and squadron work-up, exercising the crews at Attack Light Torpedo (ALTs), Attack Dummy Torpedo (ADTs) and Rocket Assisted Take-off (RAT0) procedures. On January 15th while steaming in the CYlde PUNCHER was called into action when a signal brought the news that a sister CVE, HMS Thane had been torpedoed near the Clyde Light Vessel.. Two Barracudas armed with depth charges were launched to investigate and from were the first aircraft on the scene; they flew a defensive patrol over the stricken carrier for two hours, the crews also took photographs of her.

 

PUNCHER completed her exercise period on January 29th, the final day being curtailed by snow showers. The following day, while moored at the Tail of the Bank the ship received two important visitors, the Honourable Angus L. Macdonald, Canadian Minister of National Defence for Naval Services, and Vice-Admiral G. C. Jones, CB, RCN, Chief of the Naval Staff (Canada) who toured the ship before she left to commence her first offensive operation with the Home Fleet. PUNCHER left the Clyde for Scapa Flow at the beginning of February 1945 accompanied by her escorts, HMS TOWEY and HMCS IROQUOIS.


Operation "SELENIUM I and SELENIUM II":

Between February 5th to 9th PUNCHER was employed on flying trials and training, then on February 9th a detachment of four of 821 squadron's Barracudas rejoined from RN Air Station Hatston and fourteen Wildcat VI aircraft from 881 naval air squadron embarked from RN Air Station Skeabrae, Orkney, for five days of operations off the Norwegian coast in Operations "SELENIUM I and II". There were two forces involved in these operations; Force 1 comprising of the Cruisers NORFOLK and DIDO with three destroyers which sailed on February 10th and Force 2 comprised the cruiser DEVONSHIRE, CVEs PREMIER and PUNCHER, and four destroyers. Force 2 sailed on the 11th.

 

PUNCHER's Barracudas were to play no part in this operation, the carrier being tasked as a fighter carrier; Wildcats from PREMIER's 856 squadron and PUNCHER's 881 squadron provided the fighter cover for Force 1 during the early hours of daylight on the 12th. No enemy-shipping was sighted and on completion of Operation "SELENIUM I", Force 2 began "SELENIUM II". This operation consisted of a mine laying sortie in Skatestrommen, by the Skaten Lighthouse, by seven mine laying Avengers accompanied by four close escort Wildcats from PREMIER's 856 squadron, PUNCHER provided Wildcats as top cover. Five mines were correctly laid, one was dropped set to "safe" and the seventh had to be jettisoned by an Avenger returning unserviceable to PRENIER. PUNCHER suffered two landing accidents when her fighters returned; JV693 drifted into the starboard catwalk and JV715 hit the rounddown, breaking off its tail wheel and hook, and then bounced along the deck into the barrier, its machine guns accidentally discharging as it went wounding five men on the flight deck. Both forces withdrew and steamed into Scapa Flow on the 13th; 881 squadron disembarked to RNAS Skeabrae the following day.


Operations "SHRED" and "GROUNDSHEET":

PUNCHER's Barracuda squadron and the bulk of 881 squadron embarked on February 17th for a further operation in Norwegian waters was also divided into two parts, Operations "SHRED" and "GROUNDSHEET". Operations "SHRED" was a minesweeping run through a suspected German mined area off Stavanger by vessels of the 10th Minesweeping Flotilla, HM Ships COURIER, JEWEL, SERENE, WAVE, HARE, and GOLDEN FLEECE. The Minesweepers and a support force consisting of HMS DIDO, PUNCHER, PREMIER, and three destroyers sailed in the early hours of February 21st. The operation was successfully carried out although no mine cables were cut or bobbed to the surface.

 

Operation "GROUNDSHEET" commenced in the forenoon of February 22nd, this operation was another aerial minelaying sortie. This time the Barracudas of 821 squadron were carrying the mines while Wildcats from both carriers provided the escorts and top cover; nine Barracuda MK IIs fitted with Rocket Assisted Rake-off Gear (RATOG) and eight Wildcats were launched from PUNCHER, and a further eight Wildcats from PREMIER.
The planes made landfall over the heavily defended town of Stavanger instead of their intended waypoint of Utsire as a result of this navigation error the minelayers and the fighters lost each other. Two Barracudas were shot down by German flak; the remaining seven successfully laid their mines in Karmoy Channel whilst the fighters destroyed a Dornier 24 flying boat at its moorings and strafed two silo type buildings on the waterfront at Stavanger. The force withdrew and returned to its base on completion of the mission on the 23rd.

 

On February 24th PUNCHER was riding at anchor in Scapa when she started to drag into her anchor. Attempts to arrest her drift were made, including letting go a second anchor, owing to the proximity of the ship to anti-submarine defences (baffles) she was unable to work engines. The wind strengthened throughout the day and had reached gale force by midnight, and the ship had passed over the underwater 'baffles', when the weather had moderated enough for divers to enter the water on the 26th her rudder and propeller were examined and were found to be undamaged.
On March 4th PUNCHER was visited by two of the Royal Navy's first helicopters in squadron service, Hoverfly FT836 ('A') and KK971 ('G') from 771 Squadron at RN Air Station Twatt, these two machines had been fitted with floats for trials with HMS Furious. KK971 ('G') suffered an engine fire we at 1shortly after two machines departed from PUNCHER, the pilot, S/Lt. Gray made a heavy water landing but the aircraft sank in Scapa Flow despite being fitted with floatation pontoons. This machine had earlier given a short flight to PUNCHER's Commander (Flying) Lt. Cdr Godfrey.


Operation "PREFIX":

A further anti-shipping strike in Norwegian waters was undertaken by a Force Two, this time comprising the Cruisers BELLONA and DIDO, CVEs PUNCHER, SEARCHER, NAIRANA, and QUEEN and an escort of RN destroyers ONSLOW, SERAPIS, CARYSFORT and ZEALOUS, RCN destroyers HAIDA and IROQUOIS, sailing on March 24th. Although the weather was still not very co-operative a strike was flown off from SEARCHER and QUEEN on the morning-of the 26th to attack shipping in Trondheim Leads and North Kristiansand. As they approached the coastline at 300 feet, conditions were better and two ships were attacked. Two flights of Wildcats engaged eight or ten Messerschmitt fighters shooting down three and damaged two others. The Avengers in the strike package found no suitable targets so they had to jettison their bombs and return to the fleet. One of PUNCHER's Barracudas, MD837, failed to return from an A/S patrol, the crew Lt GF Cornish, S/Lt EJ Tracey & PO AG Sumner were all killed.

 

The last part of Operation "PREFIX" was a raid on enemy shipping at Aalesund carried out by fighters on the morning of the 28th. Two vessels alongside a jetty were attacked and a wireless station at Vikero Island was strafed and set on fire. A secondary strike, Operation "MUSCULAR", a night strike by NAIRANA's planes had to be cancelled due to the worsening weather. The force returned to Scapa Flow on the March 29th.


Operation "NEWMARKET":

HMS PINCHER was next at sea on April 6th for Operation "NEWMARKET" part powerful force which included four CVEs, PUNCHER, QUEEN, SEARCHER, and TRUMPETER, Cruisers BELLONA, BIRMINGHAM, and eight destroyers. For this operation PUNCHER had the Wildcats of 825 fighter flight added to her air group. This was an abortive mission to attack on U-boat depot ships at Kilbotn on 7 April; the force steamed back and forth for five days in squalls and mountainous seas before the operation being postponed, it was finally cancelled. This was to be PUNCHER's last offensive operation; after arriving back at Scapa Admiral McGrigor visited the ship and inspected the carrier before taking the salute at a march past on flight deck. The ship's aircraft flew off the ship for the last time on April 13th, disembarking to RN Air Station Hatston. A short period of catapult trials was undertaken on the 18th using Wildcat JV653 of 853 Squadron before PUNCHER sailed for the Clyde escorted by HM Destroyers SAVAGE and SCOURGE for boiler cleaning, arriving there on April 21st.


A second period of Deck Landing Training Duty:

HMS PUNCHER was in dry dock near Glasgow on May 8th, VE Day. The Victory celebrations caused some delay and the ship was not undocked until May 11th when she proceeded down river for trials.  On her return to active duty PUNCHER was allocated to Rosyth Command on May 13th, coming under the administrative control of the Flag Officer Carrier Training (FOCT) from the 15th. She was to spend the next five weeks giving deck landing practice and on training exercises off the Isle of Man and in the Irish Sea for two Firefly night fighter squadrons which were working up in the UK for operations in the Far East. PUNCHER anchored between exercises off Douglas, Isle of Man, and later off Bangor, Ireland.

 

The first of these came aboard 1790 squadron on May 24th - 30th, 1791 squadron embarked on June 11th - 13th. There were five flying accidents during this training period, 2 were barrier crashes, one of which was so badly damaged the aircraft, Firefly MB499, that it was jettisoned overboard in Morecambe Bay. Two others suffered collapsed under carriage legs. Tragically on the 24th of May one of 1790 Squadron's aircraft damaged its tail wheel and arrestor hook on the rounddown and missed all the arrestor wires; the barrier failed to halt its momentum and the aircraft went over the bow into the sea. The ship's crash boat sped to the scene and picked up the two-man crew t, the pilot S/Lt EBA Everett was OK but unfortunately his observer S/Lt. P Cariss he was seen exiting aircraft wearing his life vest but was found to be drowned when the boat reached him. Apart from this mishap the training period was very rewarding and the squadrons reached a high standard of efficiency. By the middle of June PUNCHER had completed her second period of deck landing practices and was ready for her next role.


Trooping Duties:

With the war in Europe over and the fleet requirement for CVEs in the Far East being met there was no offensive role for PUNCHER, when her tour as a training carrier ended in mid June 1945 it was decided that PUNCHER was to be converted for trooping duties. Work began almost as soon as the ship moored at the Tail of the Bank; the hanger deck and workshops were cleared and workmen converted the workshop spaces into bathrooms. Temporary accommodation was provided in the hanger and squadron cabins for 491 naval personnel, including fifty members of the Women's Royal Canadian Naval Service, for passage to Halifax, Nova Scotia. These were men who volunteers for the British Pacific Fleet and were entitled to leave in Canada before going out to the Far East.

 

HMS PUNCHER was the first CVE to be converted for trooping duties, but she received only minimal alterations to outfit her for trooping in the North Atlantic; several months later the Admiralty began a programme to convert 6 other CVEs ATHELING, FENCER, QUEEN, PATROLLER, RAJAH, and RANEE, for long haul trooping in tropical climates.

 

The ship arrived in Halifax on July 3rd and was to spend eleven days alongside while the ship's company was reduced to a ferrying complement. An engine fault was discovered while alongside and it was decided that it would require a US naval dockyard to correct this; PUNCHER was ordered to proceed to Portsmouth Naval dockyard, Virginia for repairs on July 14th, arriving there on the 16th. After completing the repairs the ship moved to the US Navy Operating Base at Norfolk to embark passengers and a ferry load of aircraft as deck cargo, these were mostly fleet air arm machines from training squadrons which had been operating at US naval air stations on the US east coast. On completion of loading she sailed from Norfolk on July 30th for New York to embark more passengers.

 

Puncher left New York on her return trooping voyage to the Clyde on August 3rd, making one brief detour off the coast of Ireland on the 10th when a signal was monitored ordering a frigate to the scene of a ditched Halifax bomber. The ditched plane was 130 miles to the north of the ship's position and the captain decided he could render assistance, after informing the C-in-C Western Approaches PUNCHER immediately increased to full-speed and changed course. Upon arriving in the area at 1500hrs it was found that 5,300 ton merchantman SS JAMAICA PRODUCER had already rescued the six-man crew an hour before PUNCHER arrived. The survivors were transferred PUNCHER and the ship resumed course for the Clyde where she docked at King George V. docks in Glasgow on the 11th.

 

The Japanese surrender, and the end of World War Two, came while PUNCHER was alongside at King George V docks in Glasgow having unloaded her cargo of planes and disembarked her passengers. With the war now over the Canadian government approached the Admiralty asking for PUNCHER to be employed as a troop ship for ferrying Canadian forces home to Canada for demobilisation. The scheme was approved and PUNCHER passed down the Clyde to Greenock where further work commenced on the ship to equip her to accommodate more passengers. Additional two-tier metal bunks were brought from the RCN barracks at HMCS NIOBE at Greenock, and were welded on the metal hangar deck. These modifications enabled the ship to accommodate five hundred troops in addition to her ferry crew.

 

HMS PUNCHER Sailed for her second trooping run to Halifax carrying personnel from all three branches of Canada's armed forces on August 28th, arriving in Halifax on September 4th. After unloading and local leave PUNCHER sailed for the Clyde via New York departing Halifax on September 18th, arriving at Greenock on the 25th.

 

PUNCHER's third trooping trip commenced on October 8th arriving at Halifax on the 14th. At Halifax Stores and personnel for the new Canadian light fleet carrier, HMCS WARRIOR, came aboard for passage to Belfast where she was being built. PUNCHER sailed for Belfast via New York on the 26th. After stopping off in Belfast on November 2nd to off load the men and stores for HMCS WARRIOR the ship moored on the on the Clyde to await her forth trooping complement. Once loaded PINCHER departed the Clyde on November 11th bound for New York. This was to be a stormy passage; the ship was forced to heave to on the 14th when the wind speeds reach Force 10, increasing to a full blown gale two days later. The ship suffered some structural damage as a result of plunging into high seas, the forward end of the flight deck and the structure beneath it were buckled from a few, exceptionally high waves breaking over the bows. After a brief stop in New York the ship reached Halifax on November 18th.

 

Departing from Halifax on November 24th PUNCHER arrived at New York on the 25th to embark more passengers before sailing for the Clyde on the 28th On December 9th 1945 PUNCHER arrived on the Clyde for the last time, after disembarking her passengers she began preparing for her fifth and final west bound trooping voyage to Halifax. PUNCHER sailed from the Clyde on December 14th for Halifax; on this trip she passed through more severe gales which battered the ship, and delayed her arrival at Halifax by forty-eight hours. She secured alongside at Halifax on December 23rd just in time to give her Canadian crew Christmas leave. During her four months as a trooping carrier PUNCHER transported 3,665 men and women West-bound and 1,595 made the return trip to the United Kingdom.


Disposal:

After destoring ship at Halifax HMS PINCHER began her final voyage as a Royal Navy vessel on January 6th 1946 when she set sail for Norfolk, Virginia. On 16 January, 1946, the White Ensign was lowered for the last time, and CVE 53 was transferred back to the custody of the United States Navy. CVE 53 was stricken for disposal on March 12th 1946 and was subsequently sold to the Lancashire Shipping Co Ltd for conversion to a merchantman. She entered service in 1948 as 'MUNCASTER CASTLE'. The vessel was chartered by the Shaw Savill & Albion line in 1954, and was renamed 'BARDIC', In 1957 the 'BARDIC' was sold to the Ben Line, her charter  with the Shaw Savill & Albion line continued until 1959, when she was re-named 'BEN NEVIS' by her owners. She was scrapped at kaohsiung, Taiwan in June 1973.
 

The S.S. BEN NEVIS

 


 

 

Content revised: 17 April 2017

 

Sources used in compiling this account:

Click here for a list of Primary sources

 

Additional sources:

Outerbridge, :.M., (uinknown) 'H.M.S. Puncher' Regins, Outerbridge

Fold3.com various documents including;

Admiralty War Diaries

US Naval Station, Seattle, Washington

US Naval Station,  Manchester, Washington

Puget Sound  Navy Yard War Diaries

US Thirteenth Naval District War Diaries

Norfolk Navy Yard War Diaries

Mew York Navy Yard War Diaries

Miscellaneous documents


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