Seaplane tender

A seaplane tender is a boat or ship that supports the operation of seaplanes. Some of these vessels, the seaplane carriers, could not only carry seaplanes but also provided all the facilities needed for their operation; these ships are regarded by some as the first aircraft carriers and appeared just before the First World War.

The first seaplane carrier, the French Foudre in 1912, with plane hangar and cranes.
HMS Hermes Dar es Salaam1907-14
HMS Hermes, which functioned as a seaplane carrier for 2 months in 1913
Ark Royal NARA 45513193
Ark Royal about 1918


Seaplane Tender MkIA 1502 Portsmouth (5693855715)
RAF seaplane tender 1502, in 2011.

In maritime parlance a tender is a vessel that is used to support the operation of other vessels.

In British usage, the term tender was used for small craft, with the term depot ship being used for large sea going vessels. Flying boats and float planes even when based at home in ports and harbour had a need for small support vessels to operate.[1]

British tenders were small craft of launch to pinnace size. These were used to ferry crews, stores and supplies between shore and the aircraft, to maintain the buoys used to mark out "taxiways" and "runways" and to keep these clear of debris to prevent foreign object damage, and in the case of emergency to act as rescue craft and airport crash tenders.[1] All those functions that on land would require wheeled ground support equipment had a need for a watercraft equivalent.

When deploying flying boat squadrons, bases could rapidly be established in areas lacking infrastructure by sending in addition to small craft tenders, flying boat depot ships, these ships could carry out the function of barracks, workshops and control towers, i.e. those functions which in a land based airfield would be fulfilled by buildings.[1]


SOC scoutplane is hoisted on board, during recovery by USS Philadelphia (CL-41)
Scoutplane being hoisted on board the light cruiser USS Philadelphia.

The first seaplane carrier appeared in 1911 with the French Navy La Foudre, following the invention of the seaplane in 1910 with the French Fabre Hydravion. La Foudre carried float-equipped planes under hangars on the main deck, from where they were lowered on the sea with a crane. La Foudre was further modified in November 1913 with a 10 m (32 ft 10 in)-long flat deck to launch her seaplanes.[2] Another early seaplane carrier was HMS Hermes, an old cruiser converted and commissioned with a flying-off deck in mid-1913. However, HMS Ark Royal was the first ship in history designed and built as a seaplane carrier in 1914.

First World War

The Japanese seaplane carrier Wakamiya conducted the world's first naval-launched air raids in September 1914.

In the Battle of Tsingtao, from 5 September 1914, the Imperial Japanese Navy seaplane carrier Wakamiya conducted the world's first naval-launched air raids[3] from Kiaochow Bay.[4] The four Maurice Farman seaplanes bombarded German-held land targets (communication centers and command centers) and damaged a German minelayer in the Tsingtao peninsula from September to 6 November 1914, when the Germans surrendered.[5]

On Christmas Day 1914, the British carried out the Cuxhaven Raid; seaplanes carried within range of their targets attacked German naval targets in the Heligoland Bight.

These carriers had hangars for storing and maintaining the aircraft, but no flight deck as in a true aircraft carrier. Instead, they used cranes to lower the aircraft into the sea for takeoff and to recover them after landing. The ships were normally converted merchant vessels rather than specially constructed for the task. As aircraft improved, the problems of using seaplanes became more of a handicap. The aircraft could only be operated in a smooth sea and the ship had to stop for launching or recovery, both of which took around 20 minutes. The tender was often stationed 10 mi (8.7 nmi; 16 km) or so in front of the main battle fleet with the cruiser screen so that it would not fall hopelessly behind when it launched its aircraft. Seaplanes also had poorer performance than other aircraft because of the drag and weight of the floats. Seaplane tenders had largely been superseded by aircraft carriers in the battle fleet by the end of the First World War, although aircraft were still of minor importance compared to the firepower of naval artillery.

The British HMS Ark Royal was a seaplane tender with a flying-off deck. Seaplanes could be recovered while the ship was under way through the "Hein Mat" — a sheet towed behind the vessel, once the aircraft was on the mat it was effectively stationary with respect to the ship and could be hoisted aboard.

Albatross (AWM 300122)
The Australian seaplane tender HMAS Albatross with one of her aircraft overhead (AWM 300122).

In the inter-war years, it was common for cruisers and battleships to be equipped with catapult-launched reconnaissance seaplanes. A few navies — especially those without true aircraft carriers — also acquired catapult-equipped seaplane carriers for fleet reconnaissance.

World War II

USS Timbalier (AVP-54)
USS Timbalier with two Martin PBM Mariner flying boats shortly after the Second World War.

During the Second World War, both the American and the Japanese Navies built a number of seaplane tenders to supplement their aircraft carrier fleets. However, these ships often had their catapults removed, and were used as support vessels that operated seaplanes from harbours rather than in a seaway. These aircraft were generally for long range reconnaissance patrols. The tenders allowed the aircraft to be rapidly deployed to new bases because their runways did not have to be constructed, and support facilities were mobile much like supply ships for submarines or destroyers.

Nazi Germany's Kriegsmarine, in the Second World War, did not operate any seaplane tenders. However, the Luftwaffe had nineteen seaplane tenders. These ships were mostly converted from existing civilian seaplane tenders, and were capable of carrying 1-3 seaplanes. The French and Italian Navies also had seaplane tenders.

Seaplane carriers became obsolete at the end of the Second World War. A few remained in service after the war but by the late-1950s most had been scrapped or converted to other uses such as helicopter repair ships.

List of examples

Examples of seaplane tenders include:

See also


  1. ^ a b c Sutherland, Jon; Canwell, Diane (2010). The RAF Air Sea Rescue Service 1918-1986. Pen AMD Sword. ISBN 184884303-8.p
  2. ^ Description of Foudre
  3. ^ Wakamiya is "credited with conducting the first successful carrier air raid in history"
  4. ^ "Sabre et pinceau", Christian Polak, p92
  5. ^ IJN Wakamiya Aircraft Carrier
Barnegat-class seaplane tender

The Barnegat class was a large class of United States Navy small seaplane tenders (AVP) built during World War II. Thirty were completed as seaplane tenders, four as motor torpedo boat tenders, and one as a catapult training ship.

Casco-class cutter

The Casco class was a large class of United States Coast Guard cutters in commission from the late 1940s through the late 1980s. They saw service as weather reporting ships in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans until the early 1970s, and some saw combat service during the Vietnam War.

Currituck-class seaplane tender

The Currituck-class seaplane tenders were four ships built for the United States Navy during World War II. The role of a seaplane tender was to provide base facilities for squadrons of seaplanes in a similar way that an aircraft carrier does for its squadrons.

The four ships of the class were:

USS Currituck (AV-7)

USS Norton Sound (AV-11)

USS Pine Island (AV-12)

USS Salisbury Sound (AV-13)The ships were named for features on the United States coast.

HMAS Albatross (1928)

HMAS Albatross (later HMS Albatross) was a seaplane tender of the Royal Australian Navy (RAN), which was later transferred to the Royal Navy and used as a repair ship. Albatross was built by Cockatoo Island Dockyard during the mid-1920s and entered service at the start of 1929. The ship experienced problems with the aircraft assigned to her during her career: the amphibious aircraft she had been designed for were retired just before the ship entered service, the replacement aircraft could not be catapult-launched from the ship, and a new plane designed specifically to work with the ship began operations after Albatross was demoted from seagoing status in 1933.

After five years in reserve, Albatross was transferred to the Royal Navy to offset the Australian purchase of the light cruiser Hobart. Although the British had little use for a seaplane carrier, the ship found a niche after two aircraft carriers were sunk by the Germans early in World War II. Albatross was initially based in Freetown, Sierra Leone for patrol and convoy escort duties in the southern Atlantic, then was relocated to the Indian Ocean in mid-1942. From late 1943 to early 1944, the vessel underwent conversion into a "Landing Ship (Engineering)" to support the Normandy landings, and was used to repair landing craft and other support vessels off Sword and Juno Beaches. Albatross was torpedoed in October, but survived to be towed back to England and repaired. After repairs completed at the start of 1945, she served as a minesweeper depot ship, but was decommissioned after the war's end.

Albatross was sold into civilian service in August 1946, and after several changes of hands was renamed Hellenic Prince in 1948 and converted into a passenger liner. The vessel was chartered by the International Refugee Organisation to transport refugees from Europe to Australia. Hellenic Prince saw service as a troopship during the 1953 Mau Mau uprising, but was broken up for scrap a year later.

Japanese aircraft carrier Chitose

Chitose (千歳) was a light aircraft carrier of the Imperial Japanese Navy during World War II. First laid down as a seaplane tender in 1934 at Kure Navy yard, the ship originally carried Kawanishi E7K Type 94 "Alf" and Nakajima E8N Type 95 "Dave" floatplanes. Although it has been speculated that Chitose also carried Type A midget submarines, only her sister ship, Chiyoda had that capability. Chitose saw several naval actions, taking part in the Battle of Midway though seeing no combat there. She was bombed by B-17 Flying Fortresses off Davao, Philippines on 4 January 1942, sustaining negligible damage. She covered the Japanese landings in the East Indies and New Guinea from January–April 1942, and was damaged in the Eastern Solomons in August 1942.

Japanese aircraft carrier Chiyoda

Chiyoda (千代田, "Thousandth-Generation Field") was a light aircraft carrier of the Imperial Japanese Navy during World War II. Originally constructed as the second vessel of the Chitose-class seaplane tenders in 1934, she continued to operate in that capacity during the Second Sino-Japanese War and the early stages of the Pacific War until her conversion into a light aircraft carrier after the Battle of Midway. She was sunk during the Battle of Leyte Gulf by a combination of naval bombers, cruiser shellfire and destroyer-launched torpedoes.

Japanese seaplane carrier Nisshin

Nisshin (日進) was a seaplane tender (CVS) of the Imperial Japanese Navy during World War II.She was built at Kure Naval Arsenal from 1938 to 1942 and was equipped with 2 aircraft catapults and facilities for launching, lifting and storing up to 25 floatplanes. Then in 1942 modifications were made for the ship to also carry Type 'A' midget submarines as well as carry and lay 700 naval mines in lieu of half of her aircraft complement.

Japanese seaplane tender Akitsushima

Akitsushima (秋津洲) was a seaplane tender of the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN), serving during World War II from 1942 until being sunk in September 1944.

Japanese seaplane tender Kamikawa Maru

Kamikawa Maru (神川丸) was a seaplane tender in the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN). The ship was initially built at Kawasaki's Kōbe Shipyard and launched on 13 December 1936 as a merchant vessel for the Kawasaki Kisen K. K. Line. On 18 September 1937 the IJN requisitioned her as an aircraft transport ship and she was refitted in 1939 as a seaplane tender. The ship subsequently saw service in the Second Sino-Japanese War and the Pacific Campaign of World War II. On May 4, 1943 Kamikawa Maru was torpedoed by the submarine USS Wahoo, but managed to survive the attack. However, on May 29, 1943, Kamikawa Maru was torpedoed again, and sunk by the submarine USS Scamp approximately 250 miles northwest of Kavieng, New Ireland at 01°36′S 150°24′E.

Japanese seaplane tender Kamoi

Kamoi (神威, "Divine Authority") was an oiler/seaplane tender/flying boat tender of the Imperial Japanese Navy, serving from the 1920s through World War II. She was initially planned in 1920 as one of six of the oilers under the Eight-eight fleet final plan.

Japanese seaplane tender Kimikawa Maru

Kimikawa Maru was a seaplane tender of the Imperial Japanese Navy. The ship was built by the Kawasaki Dockyard Co. at Kobe as a cargo ship for a civilian ship company. In July 1941 the ship was taken over by the IJN and converted into an auxiliary seaplane tender. She was able to operate 6 Aichi E13A "Jake" floatplanes. On 23 October 1944 she was sunk by USS Sawfish at 18°58′S 118°40′E.

Japanese seaplane tender Kiyokawa Maru

Kiyokawa Maru (聖川丸) was a seaplane tender in the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN). The ship was built at Kawasaki's Kōbe Shipyard and launched on 13 December 1936 as a merchant vessel for the Kawasaki Kisen K. K. Line. Kyokawa Maru was involved in a collision with the small train ferry Uko Maru No. 1 on 19 August 1937 in the Seto Inland Sea, southwest of Nakanose.

Requisitioned by the IJN on 28 September 1941 and was refitted as a seaplane tender. The ship subsequently saw service in the Pacific Campaign of World War II. Kiyokawa Maru was attacked by aircraft from Task Force 38 on 20 July 1945. Hit by bombs and heavily damaged she was beached off Shida beach north of Kaminoseki, Yamaguchi to avoid sinking.

On 22 November 1945 during heavy weather, Kiyokawa Maru sank. Raised in December 1948, later repaired and put in civilian passenger service. Scrapped 1969.

Kamikawa Maru-class seaplane tender

The Kamikawa Maru-class cargo ship (神川丸型貨物船, Kamikawa Maru-gata Kamotsusen) was a type of cargo ship of Japan, serving during the 1930s and World War II. Four of the five ships of the class were converted to seaplane tenders during the war.

List of ship launches in 1940

The list of ship launches in 1940 includes a chronological list of some ships launched in 1940.

USS Biscayne

USS Biscayne (AVP-11), later AGC-18, was a United States Navy Barnegat-class seaplane tender in commission as a seaplane tender from 1941 to 1943 and as an amphibious force flagship from 1943 to 1946. She saw service during World War II. Transferred to the United States Coast Guard after the war, she was in commission as the Coast Guard cutter USCGC Dexter (WAGC-385), later WAVP-385 and WHEC-385, from 1946 to 1952 and from 1958 to 1968.

USS Langley (CV-1)

USS Langley (CV-1/AV-3) was the United States Navy's first aircraft carrier, converted in 1920 from the collier USS Jupiter (AC-3), and also the US Navy's first turbo-electric-powered ship. Conversion of another collier was planned but canceled when the Washington Naval Treaty required the cancellation of the partially built Lexington-class battlecruisers Lexington and Saratoga, freeing up their hulls for conversion to the aircraft carriers Lexington and Saratoga. Langley was named after Samuel Pierpont Langley, an American aviation pioneer. Following another conversion to a seaplane tender, Langley fought in World War II. On 27 February 1942, she was attacked by nine twin-engine Japanese bombers of the Japanese 21st and 23rd Naval Air Flotillas and so badly damaged that she had to be scuttled by her escorts.

USS Pocomoke (AV-9)

USS Pocomoke (AV-9) was a Pocomoke-class seaplane tender, originally built as the SS Exchequer and acquired by the U.S. Navy as the military build-up occurred in the United States just prior to World War II. She operated principally in the Pacific Theatre of the war and serviced military seaplanes. At war’s end, she returned to the United States with two battle stars.

She was built on 14 August 1939 by Ingalls Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company, Pascagoula, Mississippi, for the Maritime Commission; launched 8 June 1940; sponsored by Mrs. Marian Barkley Truitt, wife of Max O. Truitt, Maritime Commissioner; acquired by the Navy 16 October 1940; and following conversion commissioned 18 July 1941, Comdr. L. T. Hundt in command.

USS Thrush (AM-18)

USS Thrush (AM-18) was a Lapwing-class minesweeper acquired by the United States Navy for the dangerous task of removing mines from minefields laid in the water to prevent ships from passing.

Thrush (Minesweeper No. 18) was laid down on 27 May 1918 at Wilmington, Delaware, by Pusey and Jones Co.; launched on 15 September 1918; sponsored by Mrs. J. E. Taylor; and commissioned on 25 April 1919, Lt. (jg.) P. T. Mayes in command.

Yugoslav minelayer Zmaj

The Yugoslav minelayer Zmaj (Dragon) was built in Germany as a seaplane tender for the Royal Yugoslav Navy in 1928–1930. She does not appear to have been much used in that role and was converted to a minelayer in 1937. Captured by the Germans when they invaded Yugoslavia in 1941, the ship was renamed German: Drache, lit. 'Dragon' and redesignated as an aircraft tender and later as a troop transport, before she was rebuilt as a minelayer in 1942. Drache laid one minefield in 1943 that sank two Allied destroyers and badly damaged a third in the Aegean Sea. Drache was also used by the Germans to evaluate the shipboard use of helicopters for reconnaissance purposes. She was sunk by Allied aircraft in 1944 at Samos and scrapped in place after the end of World War II.

Aircraft carriers
Patrol craft
Fast attack craft
Mine warfare
Command and support


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