During the Second World War designated convoy rescue ships accompanied some Atlantic convoys to rescue survivors from ships that had been attacked. Rescue ships were typically small freighters with passenger accommodation converted to rescue service. This involved enlarging galley and food storage areas and providing berthing and sanitary facilities for approximately 150 men. Preparation for service included the installation of scrambling nets along the sides, and the substitution of boats suitable for open sea work for normal lifeboats. Rescue ships normally included a small operating room for an embarked naval doctor and sick bay staff.
The first specially-equipped rescue ship went into service in January 1941. When rescue ships were unavailable, large, ocean-going tugboats or converted trawlers were sometimes designated to perform rescue duty.
By the end of the war 30 rescue ships had been built or converted. They participated in 797 convoys and rescued 4,194 survivors from 119 ships. Six rescue ships were lost, five to enemy action (three to U-boats and two to aircraft).
In 1940 Admiral Sir Max Kennedy Horton (later Commander-in-Chief Western Approaches Command) broached the concept of rescue ships with the Admiralty. The concept was to have merchant vessels that would accompany convoys but not carry cargo; they would instead have the role of saving the lives of seamen from ships sunk by enemy action. The rescue ship would take its position at the rear of one of the central columns of ships. From this position it could observe damaged ships falling astern of the convoy and quickly rendezvous to transfer survivors. The rescue ships would also be able to provide surgical or other treatment as required. This would free the cargo vessels of the convoy to continue on their way, and escorts to focus on countering the attacking U-boats or aircraft.
The convoy rescue ship was a response to early experience. Each merchant ship in a convoy was assigned a station so that the convoy formation would consist of several columns of three to five ships. The lead ships of the columns were spaced at intervals of 1,000 yards (910 m) along a line perpendicular to the convoy course. Each ship in the column followed the ship ahead at a distance of 800 yards (730 m). The typical convoy would be approximately 8 to 10 kilometers (5.0 to 6.2 mi) wide and 3 kilometers (1.9 mi) long. The rescue plan for early convoys was to have the last ship of each column rescue survivors of other ships in that column. If the last ship in column was hit, the rescue task fell to the escorting warships. In practice, the escorting warships performed rescue tasks more often than the 25% suggested by random hits on a four-ship column because some merchant ships refused to leave the protection of the convoy formation to fall back and remain a stationary target while rescuing survivors. Furthermore, merchant ships were not well suited to maneuver to pick up survivors, and those attempting rescue were hampered by lack of suitable rescue equipment.
For the role the Admiralty sought out small, quick, manoeuvrable vessels; it drew many from among the Clyde Shipping Company's coastal passenger transports. The requisitioned passenger ships had a speed of 11 to 12 knots, which enabled them, after completing their rescue operations, to catch up with the convoys travelling at 10 knots. Although these vessels had not been built for the Atlantic or the Arctic, none was lost to Atlantic storms; one did ice-up and founder off the coast of Newfoundland.
The rescue ships were not hospital ships and so were legitimate targets as far as German submarines or bombers were concerned. Consequently, the Admiralty armed them with AA guns for protection when they were separated from the convoy and vulnerable to enemy attack. In addition to equipment for rescuing and treating survivors, rescue ships carried High Frequency radio Direction Finding equipment (abbreviated to HF/DF and known as "Huff-Duff") to assist in the location of U-boats. The rescue ship's position at the rear of the convoy provided good triangulation in combination with the HF/DF installed on the escort leader typically patrolling in front of the convoy.
The rescue ships were:
An amenities ship is a ship outfitted with recreational facilities as part of a mobile naval base. Amenities ships included movie theaters and canteens staffed by mercantile crews of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary service. These ships were intended to provide a place where British Pacific Fleet personnel could relax between operations.Castle-class corvette
The Castle-class corvettes were an updated version of the much more numerous Flower-class corvettes of the Royal Navy, and started appearing during late 1943. They were equipped with radar as well as asdic.Convoy ON 144
Convoy ON 144 was a trade convoy of merchant ships during the Second World War. It was the 144th of the numbered series of ON convoys Outbound from the British Isles to North America. The ships departed Liverpool on 7 November 1942 and were joined on 8 November by Mid-Ocean Escort Force Group B-6 consisting of the Flower-class corvettes Vervain, Potentilla, Eglantine, Montbretia and Rose and the convoy rescue ship Perth. Group B-6 had sailed without the destroyers Fame and Viscount which had been damaged in the battle for eastbound convoy SC 104. The United States Coast Guard cutters Bibb, Duane, and Ingham accompanied the convoy from the Western Approaches with ships that detached for Iceland on 15 November.Convoy ON 154
Convoy ON 154 was the 154th of the numbered series of World War II merchant ship convoys Outbound from the British Isles to North America. It lost 13 of its 50 freighters.
The ships departed Liverpool on 18 December 1942 and were met by the Royal Canadian Navy Mid-Ocean Escort Force Group C-1, consisting of the River-class destroyer HMCS St. Laurent with the Flower-class corvettes HMCS Battleford, Chilliwack, Kenogami, Napanee, and Shediac. ON 154 included the convoy rescue ship Toward, the oiler Scottish Heather and the French-crewed 2,456-ton special service vessel HMS Fidelity. Fidelity was armed with four 4-inch (102 mm) guns, four torpedo tubes and a defensive torpedo net. She carried two landing craft (LCV-752 and LCV-754), two OS2U Kingfisher floatplanes and the Motor Torpedo Boat MTB 105.The convoy sailed in twelve columns of three or four ships each. The convoy formation was five miles wide and 1.5 miles long.Convoy ON 67
Convoy ON 67 was a trade convoy of merchant ships during the Second World War. It was the 67th of the numbered series of ON convoys Outbound from the British Isles to North America. The ships departed from Liverpool on 14 February 1942 with convoy rescue ship Toward, and were escorted to the Mid-Ocean Meeting Point by escort group B4.Convoy SC 118
Convoy SC 118 was the 118th of the numbered series of World War II Slow Convoys of merchant ships from Sydney, Cape Breton Island to Liverpool. The ships departed New York City on 24 January 1943 and were met by Mid-Ocean Escort Force Group B-2 consisting of V-class destroyers Vanessa and Vimy, the Treasury-class cutter Bibb, the Town-class destroyer Beverley, Flower-class corvettes Campanula, Mignonette, Abelia and Lobelia, and the convoy rescue ship Toward.Convoy SC 121
Convoy SC 121 was the 121st of the numbered series of World War II Slow Convoys of merchant ships from Sydney, Cape Breton Island to Liverpool. The ships departed New York City 23 February 1943; and were met by the Mid-Ocean Escort Force Group A-3 consisting of the United States Coast Guard (USCG) Treasury-class cutter USCGC Spencer, the American Wickes-class destroyer USS Greer, the British and Canadian Flower-class corvettes HMS Dianthus, HMCS Rosthern, HMCS Trillium and HMCS Dauphin and the convoy rescue ship Melrose Abbey. Three of the escorts had defective sonar and three had unserviceable radar.Empire Shelter
Empire Shelter was a ship originally laid down as the Castle-class corvette HMS Barnard Castle of the Royal Navy (pennant number K594), but converted to a convoy rescue ship before completion.
Convoy rescue ships accompanied some Atlantic convoys to rescue survivors from ships which had been attacked. Conversion to rescue service involved enlarging galley and food storage areas and providing berthing and sanitary facilities for approximately 150 men. Scrambling nets were rigged along the sides, and boats suitable for open sea work were substituted for normal lifeboats. Rescue ships normally included a small operating room for an embarked naval doctor and sick bay staff.Empire Shelter was launched by George Brown & Co., Greenock on 3 October 1944, and brought into service on 16 April 1945. She was owned by the Ministry of War Transport and operated by Ellerman City Line, and sailed with six convoys.
In August 1954 Empire Shelter sailed from Port Said, Egypt carrying soldiers and equipment of the Second Battalion The Green Howards that had been stationed in the Suez Garrison, Egypt, and took them to Famagusta, Cyprus where they disembarked and moved into 12 Mile Camp, Dhekelia, Cyprus under canvas.Laid up in 1954 at Falmouth, the ship was scrapped in July 1955 at Burght in Belgium.Barnard Castle is a small town in County Durham, England.General stores issue ship
General stores issue ship is a type of ship used by the United States Navy during World War II and for some time afterwards.
The task of the general stores issue ship was to sail into non-combat, or rear, areas and disburse general stores, such as canned goods, toilet paper, office supplies, etc., to ships and stations.Guard ship
A guard ship is a warship assigned as a stationary guard in a port or harbour, as opposed to a coastal patrol boat which serves its protective role at sea.HMS Perth
HMS Perth was an armed boarding steamer of 2,505 grt that served in both world wars. Built in 1915 for the Dundee and Newcastle Steam Shipping Co, she was hired by the Royal Navy and fitted with three 4.7" guns. She served mainly on the East Indies Station in World War I and was returned to her civilian owners in August 1919. In 1940 she was again requisitioned and served as a convoy rescue ship until the end of the war. In 1945 she returned to civilian duties and in 1946 she was sold to the Falkland Islands Company and renamed Lafonia.Mine countermeasures vessel
A mine countermeasures vessel or MCMV is a type of naval ship designed for the location of and destruction of naval mines which combines the role of a minesweeper and minehunter in one hull. The term MCMV is also applied collectively to minehunters and minesweepers.Minehunter
A minehunter is a naval vessel that seeks, detects, and destroys individual naval mines. Minesweepers, on the other hand, clear mined areas as a whole, without prior detection of mines. A vessel that combines both of these roles is known as a mine countermeasures vessel (MCMV).Ocean boarding vessel
Ocean boarding vessels (OBVs) were merchant ships taken over by the Royal Navy for the purpose of enforcing wartime blockades by intercepting and boarding foreign vessels.Repair ship
A repair ship is a naval auxiliary ship designed to provide maintenance support to warships. Repair ships provide similar services to destroyer, submarine and seaplane tenders or depot ships, but may offer a broader range of repair capability including equipment and personnel for repair of more significant machinery failures or battle damage.SS Empire Comfort
SS Empire Comfort was a 1,333 GRT convoy rescue ship which was launched in 1944 as HMS York Castle a Castle-class corvette, but was renamed Empire Castle and converted for merchant service before completion by Ferguson Brothers (Port Glasgow) Ltd., Port Glasgow as yard number 372. She was launched on 20 September 1944. The ship was 252 feet (76.81 m) long, with a beam of 36 feet (10.97 m) and a draught of 13 feet 6 inches (4.11 m).SS Empire Peacemaker
SS Empire Peacemaker was a British convoy rescue ship that served at the end of World War II, originally laid down as the corvette HMS Scarborough Castle. Post-war she served as an Army transport ship before being scrapped in 1955.SS Empire Rest
SS Empire Rest was a British convoy rescue ship that served at the end of World War II, originally laid down as the corvette HMS Rayleigh Castle. Post-war she served as a transport ship until 1948, was sold in 1951, and scrapped in 1952.SS Stockport (1911)
SS Stockport was a passenger and cargo vessel built for the Great Central Railway in 1912. During the Second World War she served as a convoy rescue ship until a U-boat sank her in February 1943.
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