A History of HMS TRACKER
HMS TRACKER with two of 816 squadron's Swordfish
parked forward on the the flight deck
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.
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 HMS TRACKER
Sea Trials and destination UK
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
HMS TRACKER leaving the quayside at Willamette
Iron & Steel, Portland, Oregon with the aid of
paddle tugs to proceed out to sea
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.
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.
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 Tracker was UK bound on May 30th, sailing with convoy MKF.15 in company with the maintenance carrier UNICORN. She entered Belfast Lough on June 5th 1943 and all those not required for duty received a 21 day leave once the ship was squared away.
Tracker enters operational service
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!
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
17 April 2017
Sources used in compiling this account:
Click here for a list of
Chaple, A. G. (1945) 'Good Fellows All' Portland, Oregon,
Gibbings, D (1989) 'HMS Tracker & the Attacker Class Escort
Carriers' The Society of Friends of the Fleet Air Arm Museum
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
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