Saturday, November 03, 2007

U-boat hunters

November 03, 2007

HMS Audacity was the Royal Navy’s first merchant aircraft carrier whose role was to protect convoys crossing the Atlantic with vital supplies for Britain during World War II.

Surprisingly, she started life as a German passenger ship, the Hannover, which was captured early in the war.

The crew had attempted to scuttle her but were foiled by a boarding party from a British destroyer.

In 1941 she was converted into a flat-top escort carrier, also known as a MAC ship.

She could operate just four light Grumman Martlet aircraft from her short flight deck with no hanger.

There is a 1:300 scale model of the camouflaged Audacity in Merseyside Maritime Museum’s Battle of the Atlantic gallery.

She did not have a long life as she was sunk by a German U-boat submarine in December 1941 after just four escort passages.

The need to close the 400-mile “air gap” in the mid-Atlantic led to the development of the MAC ships. Most were grain carriers or oil tankers fitted, while being built, with a basic flight deck for three or four Swordfish bi-planes.

The MAC ships not only provided air cover for convoys but also carried much-needed supplies of grain or oil for Britain.

From mid-1943 at least one MAC ship, crewed by the Merchant Navy and carrying aircraft and men of the 836 Squadron Fleet Air Arm, sailed with every north Atlantic convoy.

They were joined by new purpose-built British and US naval aircraft carriers. US Liberator bombers closed the “air gap” by late April 1943. At the same time, long-range British and American aircraft attacked U-boats in the Bay of Biscay near their French bases.

Equipped with powerful searchlights for night operations, air-to-surface radar and increasingly effective weapons, these aircraft enjoyed many successes.

The fitting of highly-accurate centimetric radar on long-range aircraft was another major turning point in the anti-U-boat campaign.

More U-boats were sunk by aircraft than by ships during the last two years of the war. The RAF Coastal Command played a decisive role in the Battle of the Atlantic, particularly from 1943 onwards. In all, it sank at least 155 U-boats in Atlantic waters.

RAF Coastal Command was a multi-national air force involving the RAF, Royal Navy Squadrons, Royal Australian Air Force, Royal Canadian Air Force, Czech and Polish Air Forces and US Navy and US Army Air Forces.

Other exhibits include a green-coloured 100 lb air-dropped anti-submarine bomb from about 1941 – the earliest of its type used by the British.

Merseyside Maritime Museum is open seven days a week, admission free.


Friday, November 02, 2007

Submarine relic begins final journey

By Kate Campbell
November 02, 2007

A towering chunk of naval history was painstakingly transported yesterday in the first step towards its final resting place.

The submarine Orion’s conning tower, measuring a huge 12m wide and 6m high and weighing 25 tonnes, was conveyed from Tenix shipyard in Henderson to Rockingham’s council depot, where it will be restored and repainted.

After more than a decade of gathering dust in the shipyard, it will finally be displayed in the city’s naval memorial park, near the home of the navy in WA – Garden Island – by April next year, to coincide with Anzac Day.

The Orion, the last of six Oberon-class navy submarines, was decommissioned in 1996 after 22 years of service.

Despite submarines playing an important part in WA’s maritime history, few submarine relics have been kept.

The Orion was stripped and sold for scrap metal to China after it was retired.

But several parts, including the operations room, conning tower and periscope, were saved as historical keepsakes.

The operations room is on display at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, while the periscope is showcased at the WA Maritime Museum.

Talk of the tower, still in relatively good condition, being destined for Albany dissipated due to the logistics and costs of such a move.

A police escort and road closures helped yesterday’s mammoth moving task, which took more than four hours, to run smoothly.

The drive took only 35 minutes, while manoeuvring and hoisting the giant tower off the truck by an 80-tonne crane was the time-consuming job.