Terror of UBoats Royal Navy Biplane Swordfish

A FAIREY SWORDFISH IN FLIGHT (TR 1138) Close-up of a Fairey Swordfish Mark II, HS 545 ‘B’, in flight as seen through the struts of another aircraft, probably while serving with No 824 Squadron, Fleet Air Arm, 1943-1944. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205188676



Escort carrier HMS Activity in Firth of Forth 1942

Like a number of escort carriers, HMS Activity was a merchant ship converted to an aircraft carrier. After the war, the landing deck was removed and the ship returned to merchant service. Often these small carriers only carried a handful of Swordfish but aircraft patrolling over convoys proved critical in the Battle of the North Atlantic and the overall war against U-Boats.

While we think of U-boats being sunk by convoy escort ships, almost half of U-Boats sunk in the European Theatre were sunk by U-boats. (Doenitz deployed a handful of U-Boats in and around Singapore).


THE BATTLE OF ATLANTIC, 1939-1945 (A 19718) A batman uses signal bats to guide the landing of a rocket-firing Fairey Swordfish of No. 816 Squadron Fleet Air Arm on board HMS TRACKER in the North Atlantic, September-October 1943. Note the rocket projectiles under the wings. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205186701


Swordfish were usually embarked aboard escort carriers on North Atlantic convoy duty. They made excellent U-Boat hunters once the proper type of radar was installed.

THE ROYAL NAVY DURING THE SECOND WORLD WAR (A 24986) Three rocket projectile Fairey Swordfish during a training flight from St Merryn Royal Naval Air Station This operational squadron was ommanded by Lieutenant Commander P Snow RN. Note the invasion stripes carried for the Normandy landings on the wings and fuselage of the aircraft. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205016147


While originally built as a prototype for the Greek Navy, they turned it down in the mid-30s and Fairey Brothers Aircraft offered it the Royal Navy primarily for use on aircraft carriers. After design changes the plane went into production as the famous Royal Navy Swordfish which served multiple roles: patrol and reconnaissance, torpedo bomber, tactical bomber to support infantry and U-boat hunter/killer. The plane was oddly effective in all of these roles and was used operationally for the entire war.

RAFCC1939-1945 IWMCL2277

Armourers unload 250-lb GP bombs in front of a line of Fairey Swordfish Mark IIIs of No. 119 Squadron RAF, undergoing maintenance at B83/Knokke le Zoute, Belgium. The Squadron flew anti-shipping patrols, principally against German midget submarines, in the North Sea, and off the Dutch coast.

(Photo CL 2277 IWM. Taken by Flt. Lt. B.J. Daventry, Royal Air Force Official Photographer. Courtesy of the Imperial War Museum).


IWM 4090 Swordfish_on_HMS_Victorious_before_strike_on_Bismarck

Swordfish torpedo bombers on the after deck of HMS Victorious before the attack on the Bismarck. Date 24 May 1941. This is photograph A 4090 from the collections of the Imperial War Museums now in the public domain.








Minefield. You are in it. We are not.

Important to stay up to date on Notices to Mariners in World War Two so you don’t stray into a minefield


   Aerial photograph of British destroyer HMS Highlander (H44) underway. Rayner spent a number of months as her CO.

D.A. Rayner was an officer in the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve during World War Two. They wore wavy stripes on their uniforms and were called, with condescension, the “the Wavy Navy”. There was also the Royal Naval Reserve consisting of masters and mates of merchant ships. It was said that the RNVR were gentlemen trying to become officers and the RNR were officers trying to become gentlemen.

Royal Navy corvette HMS Primrose

although not designed to operate in the vicious weather of the North Atlantic these ships could be built quickly. Convoy escorts were desperately needed so hundreds were built. 


Rayner compiled an outstanding record in World War Two becoming the only RNVR officer to command a Royal Navy escort group in the Atlantic. His memoir, Escort, is rich in stories of his life at sea in the war, each one more amusing than the one before. Escort is one of the best naval memoirs I have ever read. It is beautifully written (the English really know how to write English), funny, very sad at times, and brutally honest. I certainly give it five stars. Escort is truly a must read.

The war has only recently begun and Rayner is commanding an anti-submarine trawler patrolling off the coast of England. He is lost in a dense fog. There was no radar then. Out of the fog looms a Royal Navy destroyer. Rayner orders the signalman to use his Aldis Lamp (Morse Lamp to Americans) and make to the destroyer: “Can you tell me where am I?” Comes the reply: “Regret have not known you long enough to venture an opinion.” Rayner is puzzled till he discovers the signalman had actually made the message: “Can you tell me what I am?”


Though only 30, Rayner is quickly given command of a corvette, a small escort vessel used in the North Atlantic. Because of the shortage of escort ships, he has been compelled to put to sea before his charts are up to date. As he is putting into port one day, Rayner sees a merchantman sinking off his starboard bow. He asks the escort commander for leave to rescue the crew. Comes the reply, “Proceed, but your attention is called to Notices to Mariners Number______.”

Rayner rescues a boatload of survivors and sees another boatload. Comes a signal from the escort commander, “Your attention is called to Notices to Mariners_____.” This annoys Rayner but given his charts aren’t up to date, he doesn’t want to ask the escort commander what he means so he waits until another corvette steams between him and the escort commander. Rayner makes inquiry of what Notices to Mariners_____means. Comes the reply, “Minefield. You are in it. We are not.”

Aircraft Carrier HMS Victorious at War

THE ROYAL NAVY DURING THE SECOND WORLD WAR (A 7657) More torpedoes for the enemy being wheeled to their aircraft on board HMS VICTORIOUS whilst she was in the North Atlantic or off the coast of Norway where she was taking part in an offensive against enemy shipping and helping to cover a Russian convoy. Two Fairey Barracudas can be seen in the background. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205185601

Comments Charles McCain: “the Fairey Barracuda was a fighter/bomber and/or torpedo bomber used by the Fleet Air Arm of the Royal Navy. This aircraft was slow, underpowered and never an operational success. Its performance with the British Pacific Fleet can charitably be described as a disaster. All were immediately replaced aboard Royal Navy fleet carriers with Grumman Avengers.”


US Navy Grumman Avengers in official photo taken at U.S. Navy Naval Air Station Jacksonville



FLYING EXERCISES FROM HMS VICTORIOUS. 14 TO 16 MARCH 1942, ON BOARD HMS VICTORIOUS AT SCAPA FLOW AND AT SEA OFF HOY. (A 7979) Lieut Cdr Sir George Lewis-Bart, RNVR, Officer Commanding 781 Squadron, pays a flying visit to HMS VICTORIOUS. He is seen looking up at the camera from on the nose of a Supermarine Walrus Amphibious aircraft as it comes alongside HMS VICTORIOUS. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205141968

Comments Charles McCain: “The Supermarine Walrus was designed and built by the same company which designed and produced the iconic Spitfire also known as the Supermarine Spitfire. As you might imagine from the name, the Supermarine company originally specialized in manufacturing amphibious planes until the specs for a fast and maneuverable fighter were issued by the British Air Ministry in the mid-30s. A special design group at Supermarine led by Reginald Mitchell took over and the rest is history. Mitchell died of cancer before the famous Spitfire ever took wing.


THE ROYAL NAVY DURING THE SECOND WORLD WAR (A 7973) A Fairey Albacore torpedo-bomber of No 820 Squadron, Fleet Air Arm, taking off from the flight deck of HMS VICTORIOUS as the ship lies at anchor in Scapa Flow. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205119480


FLYING EXERCISES FROM HMS VICTORIOUS. 14 TO 16 MARCH 1942, ON BOARD HMS VICTORIOUS AT SCAPA FLOW AND AT SEA OFF HOY. (A 7976) Fairey Fulmars being warmed on the flight deck prior to take off for flying exercises. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205141966

ON BOARD THE AIRCRAFT CARRIER HMS VICTORIOUS SAFEGUARDING THE CONVOY LANES TO RUSSIA. 24 TO 27 MARCH 1942, ON BOARD HMS VICTORIOUS IN WINTRY SEAS. (A 8139) Dressed up for the cold weather, one of the Director Turrets crew of HMS VICTORIOUS on duty. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205142123




Watch Out for Minefield!


crews frantically waved to us, wishing us luck, as we thought


British fishing trawler Picton Castle converted to a minesweeper in World War Two. (photo courtesy of  tugster.wordpress.com)

Fishing trawlers made ideal minesweepers since streaming parvanes to cut mine cables was similar to deploying fishing nets. This type of minesweeping only worked on sea mines attached to cables which were attached to weights which kept the mines at a certain depth.

Life aboard the converted fishing trawlers wasn’t easy. The trawlers were part of the Royal Navy Patrol Service and except for a handful of Royal Navy sailors, the rest of the men were the original fishing crew who wouldn’t wear uniforms or salute and couldn’t read RN signals.

“Once, in Falmouth, after a raid, it was feared the entrance to the harbour had been mined, with a type which were difficult to sweep. After two days we were given special permission to leave, providing we kept to a very precise channel. As we got under way, other ships sounded their sirens, and crews frantically waved to us, wishing us luck, as we thought. On reaching Fowey, we had to explain why we had steamed right through the danger area. So that was what the other ships were trying to tell us.”

from “Death of a Minesweeper” by A.H. Archer   BBC World War Two archive


AT SEA WITH BRITISH MINESWEEPERS. NOVEMBER 1941, ON BOARD A MINESWEEPING TRAWLER OF THE DOVER COMMAND DURING A SWEEP WITH OTHER MINESWEEPING TRAWLERS OF THE COMMAND. (A 6293) A look-out on the after gun platform of a minesweeping trawler watches other ships of the group moving up to take station. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205140428

British Royal Navy minesweepers, November 1941. A look-out on the after gun platform of a minesweeping trawler of the Royal Navy’s Dover Command watches other ships of the group moving up to take station for a sweep. Dover Command was one of the operational commands of the Royal Navy assigned to patrol a section of the English Channel as well as to constantly sweep the civilian shipping lanes for mines.


AT SEA WITH BRITISH MINESWEEPERS. NOVEMBER 1941, ON BOARD A MINESWEEPING TRAWLER OF THE DOVER COMMAND DURING A SWEEP WITH OTHER MINESWEEPING TRAWLERS OF THE COMMAND. (A 6299) Minesweeping trawlers line up in readiness to start a sweep. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205140434


British Royal Navy minesweepers, November 1941. Minesweeping trawlers from Dover Command line up in readiness to start a sweep. 

(Photos Copyright: © IWM and used by courtesy of IWM).


Map of Royal Navy Commands covering the English Channel in World War Two http://www.naval-history.net/xDKWW2-4201-40RNShips2Home.htm

The map above shows the southern waters of Great Britain and the four Royal Navy operational commands which had responsibility for keeping the English Channel navigable and contesting German use of the Channel. The commands are: Nore Command , Dover Command, Portsmouth Command and Plymouth Command. (Map courtesy of www.naval-history.net)