A naval trawler is a vessel built along the lines of a fishing trawler but fitted out for naval purposes. Naval trawlers were widely used during the First and Second world wars. Fishing trawlers were particularly suited for many naval requirements because they were robust boats designed to work heavy trawls in all types of weather and had large clear working decks. One could create a mine sweeper simply by replacing the trawl with a mine sweep. Adding depth charge racks on the deck, ASDIC below, and a 3-inch (76 mm) or 4-inch (102 mm) gun in the bows equipped the trawler for anti-submarine duties.
Armed trawlers were also used to defend fishing groups from enemy aircraft or submarines. The smallest civilian trawlers were converted to danlayers.
The naval trawler is a concept for expeditiously converting a nation's fishing boats and fishermen to military assets. England used trawlers to maintain control of seaward approaches to major harbors. No one knew these waters as well as local fishermen, and the trawler was the ship type these fishermen understood and could operate effectively without further instruction. The Royal Navy maintained a small inventory of trawlers in peacetime, but requisitioned much larger numbers of civilian trawlers in wartime. The larger and newer trawlers and whalers were converted for antisubmarine use and the older and smaller trawlers were converted to minesweepers
— uboat.net, A/S Trawlers, 
In the aftermath of the First World War, the Belgian Corps de Marine purchased several British war surplus naval trawlers. They were operational during the Battle of Belgium (1940) and one of them, the A4, evacuated a large quantity of the National Bank's gold reserves to Britain shortly before Belgium's surrender.
As with Portugal, the RN had a number of trawler-type warships on order from Brazilian shipyards. With the declaration of war by Brazil against Germany in 1942 these vessels were transferred to the Brazilian Navy for anti-submarine and escort duties.
The French navy also made use of trawlers requisitioned from civilian use during wartime. In the Second World War 480 trawler type vessels were in service as auxiliary mine-sweepers and a further 60 as auxiliary patrol vessels.
The German Navy operated trawlers as Vorpostenboot ("outpost boats"), and as weather ships; the Lauenburg was an example. It also used a large number of Kriegsfischkutter, trawlers built specifically to be easily converted to naval uses such as anti-submarine warfare.
The Royal Indian Navy operated trawlers mostly for coastal defence; more than 50 Basset-class trawlers were ordered, but only 22 were completed with four more being destroyed before completion due to their shipyards being overrun by the Japanese in Burma. The remaining 25 were cancelled. The trawlers were used for coastal anti-submarine patrols and mine-sweeping duties.
As World War II progressed, Japan commandeered a number of fishing vessels for use as picket boats. To augment these, and to replace losses, the IJN also ordered a group of 280 picket boats, built on trawler lines but to Navy specifications. This was the No.1 class auxiliary patrol boat, though eventually only 27 were completed.
Norway had a large fishing and whaling fleet industry. For the Second World War the Royal Norwegian Navy made use of six converted whalers and 22 other fishing vessels as minesweepers and a further 10 as patrol craft. The RNoN also made use of a captured German naval trawler, taken as prize in April 1940 and put into service as HNoMS Honningsvåg. After the occupation of Norway the Free Norwegian forces made use of fishing vessels for their clandestine Shetland bus operations in support of the Norwegian resistance.
Though Portugal was neutral throughout World War II, a number of steel and wooden-hulled vessels were built to trawler design for the RN. These Portuguese-class naval trawlers were delivered in 1942, but further construction was halted after protests from Nazi Germany. Later, as Portugal became more closely involved with the western allies, Britain transferred a number of Isles-class trawlers to the Portuguese Navy as anti-submarine vessels.
The Royal Navy ordered many naval trawlers to Admiralty specifications. Shipyards such as Smiths Dock Company that were used to building fishing trawlers could easily switch to constructing naval versions. As a bonus, the Admiralty could sell these trawlers to commercial fishing interests when the wars ended. Still, many were sunk during the war, such as HMT Amethyst and HMT Force.
In 1940, Lieutenant Richard Stannard was in command of the naval trawler HMT Arab when he won the Victoria Cross for his actions from 28 April to 2 May 1940 at Namsos, Norway. HMT Arab survived 31 bombing attacks in five days.
The US Navy generally favoured custom-built warships to civilian conversions, but in the first months of World War II the acute shortage of vessels for coastal defence and anti-submarine work led to the formation of a mosquito fleet. As part of this, 20 steel-hulled trawlers and more than 40 wooden-hulled trawlers were commissioned as auxiliary minesweepers. (AM designation). These however were confined to coastal waters and not rated for offensive or convoy escort duties. A further 70 tuna clippers were called up as minesweepers (Amc designation), 10 as harbour patrol craft (YP) and 50 as coastal transports (Apc). The United States Coast Guard requisitioned ten Boston fishing trawlers for the Greenland Patrol.
Some nations still use armed trawlers today for fisheries protection and patrol. The Indian Navy used naval trawlers for patrol duties during its involvement in the Sri Lankan civil war. North Korea has been notoriously known for its use of armed trawlers as spy ships. The Battle of Amami-Ōshima was an incident in which the Japanese sank a North Korean naval trawler after a six hour battle. Somali pirates have also commandeered trawlers and armed them for attacking freighters off the Horn of Africa. The action of 18 March 2006 is one example of pirate use of a naval trawler. The pirates used naval trawlers again at the action of 30 March 2010 and the action of 1 April 2010. One naval trawler was sunk and another was captured by the Seychelles Coast Guard and a US Navy frigate.
Cards in the fo'c's'le
- "A/S Trawlers". uboat.net.
- Conway p417
- Conway p279
- Conway p381
- Conway p67
- Conway p152
- Willoughby, Malcolm F. (1957). The U.S. Coast Guard in World War II. Annapolis, Maryland: United States Naval Institute. p. 100.
- Hiranandani, G. M. (2010). Transition to Guardianship: The Indian Navy 1991-2000. Lancer International Incorporated. ISBN 9781935501268.
- Peckham, Matt (17 November 2008). "Somali Pirates Plundering Trade Ships". PC World – via The Washington Post.
- Chesneau, Roger (1980). Conways All the Worlds Fighting Ships 1922-1946. ISBN 0-85177-146-7.
- Lund, Paul; Ludlam, Harry (1971). Trawlers go to War. W. Foulsham. ISBN 978-0-572-00768-3.
- Lund, Paul; Ludlam, Harry (1972). Trawlers go to War (paperback). New English Library. ISBN 0-450-01175-5.
- Lund, Paul; Ludlam, Harry (1978). Out Sweeps! - The Story of the Minesweepers in World War II. New English Library. ISBN 978-0-450-04468-7.
- McKee, Alexander (1973). The Coal-Scuttle Brigade : The splendid, dramatic story of the Channel convoys. New English Library. ISBN 978-0450013546.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Naval trawlers.|
- The Trawlers go to War
- Memorial site to a trawler skipper
- The Battle of Mesco Point
- The Dover Convoys