Created: 24 January 2005 Updated: 12 November 2008
HMS Audacity was the first of the Royal Navy escort carriers. She was launched 29 March 1939 as a German passenger liner the MV Hanover. Captured by HMS Dunedin on the 8th March 1940, and was then commissioned into the Royal Navy on 17 June 1941. Whilst on convoy escort duty from Gibraltar to Liverpool she was sunk 21 Dec 1941 off Portugal by the U Boat U-751 after panicking merchantmen fired off star shells and illuminated the Audacity for a prowling U Boat!.
HMS Audacity began life in 1939 as the German cargo/passenger liner Hanover, a motor vessel of 5537 grt, very similar to the ships being converted by the Germans to armed merchant raiders. She was caught outside home waters by the outbreak of war, and captured by HMS Dunedin in the West Indies while trying to run the blockade. Taken into the Royal Navy she was then named Sinbad. She was renamed Empire Audacity on her conversion to an escort carrier which began in January 1941. She was commissioned as an Ocean Boarding vessel on 11 November 1940. She was converted at Blyth Shipbuilding from 22 January 1941 to June 1941 as an escort Carrier and renamed HMS Audacity on her commissioning 30 July 1941.
As the first Escort carrier the design had no space for a hangar or a lift, so her aircraft were parked on deck. Three arrestor wires and an open conning position on the starboard side were fitted, together with a minimal anti-aircraft armament. As the principal air threat was perceived to be the German Condor long-range reconnaissance aircraft, her aircraft were all fighters. Hurricanes were proposed but not available, while the Grumman Martlet was not only available but had been specifically designed for carrier operations. Eight aircraft were embarked, forming 802 Squadron Fleet Air Arm. She commenced her war service when she sailed with her first convoy in September 1941 to Gibraltar. She was equipped with Martlet Mk IIs, the first shipboard operations of the type in RN service. Having no lifts or hangar deck; the six Wildcats were parked on the deck. Her aircraft fought off a bombing attack, and forced several U-boats to submerge by strafing them. On 21 September, one of her aircraft shot down a Focke-wulf Condor which had just been making a bomb run attack on the convoy rescue ship Walmer Castle. The ship carrying over 80 survivors was set on fire and had to be sunk by gunfire from a corvette. In December 1941, Audacity joined Commander Walker's 36th Escort Group to escort convoy HG-76, homeward bound from Gibraltar to UK. The Convoy consisted of 32 merchantmen, nine escorts, three destroyers, and HMS Audacity as escort carrier. This convoy fought a running battle with twelve U-boats sinking five for the loss of only three merchantmen, a destroyer and HMS Audacity herself. Audacity's aircraft shot down 2 Condors. On 17 December after being attacked by a Martlet from Audacity, U-131 which had been shadowing the convoy was sunk by the destroyers HMS Blankney and Stanley, the sloop Stork and the corvette Pentstemon, all convoy escorts. These convoys conclusively proved the value of the escort carrier, and improved types were commissioned from American shipyards. Audacity was sunk by 3 torpedoes from the German U boat U-751 on 21 December 1941 near Portugal. The wreck is located in the North Atlantic, 350nm W of Cape Finisterre, Spain.
That's the story of the Audacity, but how did she come to be captured? I have been sent some documentation on this event by a member of the HMS Dunedin Association, Chris Broadway. Unfortunately its all been photocopied and the photocopier has obviously seen better days. I will do my best to transfer the information onto here.
The Capture of the MV Hanover
Albert William (Bill) Hughes Temp Acting Lt Comdr (E) Royal Navy was born on the 13th September 1902 not half an hour from where I was brought up on the Wirral. He was born in Liscard, Wallasey. The area is bordered on three sides by the sea, to the west the River Dee, to the north the Irish Sea and to the east the River Mersey; a vital lifeline of the nations maritime trade right through until the early 1970s. Albert served his apprenticeship at Cammel Lairds Shipyards, Birkenhead and then he joined the Merchant Navy, with Bibby Line, as an Engineer. He enlisted in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (RNVR) and served in HMS Victory (shore base) from 23rd October - 22nd November 1939 (Probably training) and joined HMS Dunedin on 23rd November 1939.
He loved the Royal Navy and joined it proper in 1940. Bill, as an engineer, was a member of the boarding party sent over by HMS Dunedin when intercepting foreign shipping. The most notable of these was the interception and capture of the MV Hanover, in March 1940. Bill was instrumental in preventing the scuttling of the ship which was then taken under tow to Kingston, Jamaica. As a result of Bill's fine work, he was awarded the DSC. Later, he survived the sinking of HMS Dunedin herself, but died on board the rafts before rescue by the Nishmaha. He left back home a wife, son and daughter. Here then is Bill's own account of what happened that day. It was typed on board Dunedin.
Anti Scuttling Report
Arriving alongside the Hanover, the boarding party drove back part of the German crew who were getting into the last boat, some of whom I judged to be engineering officers. On reaching the deck I detailed ERA Rolls to round up any German engineers and bring them down to the engine room. ERA Hicks and myself then went down into the engine room. The emergency dynamo had been started up to provide lighting for lowering the lifeboats and this engine was still running in a compartment on the main deck, so that when we got down the engineroom we found emergency lights still burning. We could see water pouring in from three sources, all on the port side and eventually we found a fourth inside the shaft tunnel. The three main generators on the starboard side were burning fiercely having been packed with oakum, petrol thrown over them and set on fire. The generators had to be neglected as the sea water was coming in at such a rate as to be of primary importance. The ship had a slight list to starboard and the sea water was about 1 1/2 ft above the engineer room plates. The ship had very deep bilges and the distance from the tank top to the engine room floor plates seemed greater than usual.
We tackled the largest inflow of water first, this was the main seawater to the coolers, which led to two sluice valves and then to two large filters. The door had been removed from one filter, the sluice valve opened up full and the spindle bent over with a large hammer. The size of the door was the usual tank manhole cover. We found a large hammer and straightened the bent spindle, which was under water, sufficiently straight to enable us to hammer the valve shut. We then found the filter door and replaced it. Shutting this valve also shut off the tunnel ballast line, from which a valve cover had been removed, and so stopped the water pouring into the tunnel. The sea water was then about 2 ft above the engine room plates. ERA Rolls then brought down the German Chief Engineer who refused to give any assistance, but his presence assured me of no explosives in the engine room.
AW Hughes is on the right
The next flow of water we tried to stop was coming in from a group of valves to the ballast lines. By feeling under water we found a group of four valves from which one of the covers had been removed. The valve spindles of the others had been opened up full and then bent over. Fortunately the first valve spindle we hammered straight and then hammered shut, happened to be the sea valve to the group so that our last flow of water was stopped and the engine room watertight. By this time the list on the ship had increased and the water on the starboard was so high that the generators were under water and the fires put out. The German Chief Engineer then gave me all the assistance I asked for. He showed me which was the bilge pump and where the bilge valves were situated underwater. The emergency dynamo was still running so I decided to pump the engine room and tunnel out right away, putting the discharge through the firemain to the deck hoses for putting out the fires in the holds. I had the ships electrician brought down to the engine room and made him connect the emergency switchboard direct to the bilge pump starters by means of temporary leads.
We found a junior German engineer and I posted him in the emergency dynamo room under armed guard with threats to him as to what would happen to him if he let the engines stop. We then started the pumping out and the putting out of the fires in the holds. I went on deck and informed Lieut Philpotts that the engine room was safe and after consultation we decided that we would need help to subdue the fires and to signal to the Dunedin to come alongside and with all her fire hoses rigged. While waiting for the Dunedin the two ERA's and myself and part of the German crew assisted in stripping the gear off the hatches and rigging the ships firehoses. (??) water pumped into the Hanover by the Dunedin gave her a list of 14 degrees and the fires then seemed sufficiently under control to enable us to deal with them ourselves without putting any more water into the ship.
After the Dunedin had left us, all hands turned to battening down hatches and closing up ventilators ready for drenching the holds with CO2 gas from the ships system of 82 large bottles connected to the holds via control valves on the bridge. Each day, during the tow, was occupied in making the holds absolutely smoke tight and six to eight bottles of CO2 where given to each hold that showed any increase in heat. When the list of the ship had improved to nine degrees we gave No 4 and 5 holds a good dose of seawater through the firemain so as to conserve our CO2 gas. Decks and hatches were cooled down with the fire hoses every day at sunrise and sunset. Ventilators were kept back to the wind and every trace of smoke escaping from the holds were traced and plugged. As the direction of the wind changed during the tow constant vigil had to be kept for fresh traces of smoke.
The emergency dynamo was kept running night and day despite the assurance from the Chief Engineer that it would not run for more than three hours without seizing up. This necessitated the use of a great amount of fresh water to keep the circulating water below boiling point, and the question arose as to whether the water would last till we reached Kingston. To make sure I decided to circulate with seawater. After 50 hours running I stopped the engine for two hours to change the lubricating oil and allow it to cool off. Without this engine things would have been terribly difficult for I used it for pumping, lighting and cooking and credit is due to the stoker watchkeepers who were often nearly all overcome by the smoke from the holds which filled the passage and the dynamo room. (??) with a main bilge pump running the emergency dynamo was overloaded as the pump took 90 amps and the maximum load for the dynamo was 100 amps. I found it necessary to get the load down. By removing a valve in the last line we connected the ballast line to the bilge line and so was able to use a small ballast pump that only took 60 amps to run for pumping out the ships holds.
The amount of water pumped out, brought the ships list to starboard from 14 degrees to about 6 degrees on arrival at Kingston, and this included the pumping out of No 2 starboard ballast tank, the only divided tank available for trimming the ship hand steering gear was connected up for towing as soon as the fires in the holds were under control. The engineroom prize crew and the German engineers were put into three watches, one stoker on each watch was armed and instructed never to let the German engineer out of his sight. Great trouble was experienced in pumping the water out of the engineroom and tunnel as the oakum used to set fire to the generators clogged the bilge sections when the water was pumped down to about 2 feet above the engineroom floor plates.
The last 8 bottles of CO2 gas were used on No3 hold twelve hours before we reached Kingston. The cotton and oilcake cargo of the Hanover made it difficult to subdue the fires completely, so that the cargo still burned but was under control on arrival at Kingston. (??) efforts to get one generator to supply electricity to the main switchboard failed as the generator was too badly damaged by fire and 2 days of submersion in sea water. This damage to the electric installation prevented me from taking the ship to Jamaica under her own power. After surveying the ship my conclusions are that very little damage done to the ship, apart from electric installation. Winches, capstan and steering gear, main and auxiliary engines are all in good condition. Signed AW Hughes.
Dunedin: Please convey to Lt Philpott, Sub Lt Hughes and ERA Hicks my hearty congratulations on the honour confered on them by His Majesty for the very excellent work they did onboard "Hannover" 0917/12/8/40 dated 12/8/40.
Selection of images of the capture of the MV Hanover
Also included in these images below is the sinking of the MV Heidelberg, but one or two images are none too clear as to exactly which ship is involved.
However, their rarity dictates inclusion.
Information Received from the Chief Engineer of the Motor Vessel Hanover
All sea inlet valves had most of the nuts removed from the covers and had various lifting tackle fixed ??? Piles of ??? and timber was placed on the ??? gratings and then sprayed with oil fuel. On the upper grating, piles of oily waste, old clothes, and dunnage, was also sprayed with oil fuel for smoke making purposes.
At the engine room entrance and on the top grating similar smoke making fires were placed. In number 5 hold all provisions and stores were stored, and combustible material piled for easy setting on fire of stores. Safeguard for storex while ship was at sea was a large number of CO2 gas bottles lashed to the upper deck. These gas bottles could be connected by long hoses down the ventilators to where the ships stores were placed. On "Dunedin" approaching remaining nuts on sea inlet valves were removed and the covers jerked off by lifting tackle. Auxiliary engines were left running with the lubricating oil shut off and not connected to the switchboard. he main engine which was coupled to the shaft by a Vulcan reversing coupling was put in neutral, also with the lubricating oil shut off the engine and running to the bilge. The soaking timber and dunnage was then set on fire by means of torches which were long tubes filled with paraffin wax and some kind of combustible material. Then the various smoke fires were lighted at the different engine room heights.
Skylights were shut and fastened down but air was supplied for the fires via the ventilators and exit the funnel. Stores and provisions were then set on fire in No 5 hold, CO2 hose connections were destroyed and a certain amount of CO2 released to waste before being interrupted to take to the boats. According to the Chief Engineer, there were no explosives on board, and the only danger of an explosion in the engine room was from oxygen bottles and partly filled oil fuel tanks. Scuttling was delayed until the last minute as there was a suspicion that "Dunedin" might be an American warship.
RESULT. Quick flooding of engine room by all inlet valves under cover of dense smoke screen and fires.
Sections marked as either (???) or ??? means that I cannot read the words on the original sent to me.
May 2008: Email From Keith. My late father Bernard Wilfred Shaw served on HMS Audacity working on ASDIC and that type of thing. He was unfortunate enough to beon the ship when it was sunk just before Christmas and spent a bit of time in life rafts. He told me he was on three aircraft carriers in the war Audacity, Ravager and Boxer at various times and that he had been sunk three times.
November 2008: Email from Adrian & Evelyn Law: First cousin lost on Audacity. Lieutenant Commander George Carline aged 31.
Maritime Museum Liverpool
http://uboat.net/allies/merchants/crews/ship1233.html HMS Audacity Crew List
http://shipwrecked.mysite.wanadoo-members.co.uk/ The life of a crew member - must read!!
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