HMS Puncher (D79)
HMS Puncher in April, 1945
|Builder:||Seattle-Tacoma Shipbuilding Corporation|
|Laid down:||21 May 1943|
|Launched:||8 November 1943|
|Fate:||Transferred to the Royal Navy|
|Commissioned:||5 February 1944|
|Decommissioned:||12 March 1946|
|Fate:||Sold as a merchant ship; scrapped in 1973|
|Class and type:||Ruler class escort carrier|
|Length:||492 ft 3 in (150.0 m)|
|Beam:||69 ft 6 in (21.2 m)|
|Draught:||26 ft (7.9 m)|
|Propulsion:||1 X shaft
2 X boilers
steam turbine giving 9,350 shaft horsepower (SHP)
|Speed:||16.5 knots (30.6 km/h)|
|Armament:||2 X 4 inch Dual Purpose guns in single mounts
16 X 40 mm Bofors anti-aircraft guns in twin mounts
20 X 20 mm Oerlikon anti-aircraft cannons in single mounts
|Aviation facilities:||2 X aircraft lifts 43 ft (13.1 m) by 34 ft (10.4 m)
1 X aircraft catapult
9 X arrestor wires
Willapa was laid down on 21 May 1943 at Seattle, Washington, by the Seattle-Tacoma Shipbuilding Corporation and reclassified CVE-53 on 10 June 1943. Launched on 8 November 1943, the ship was transferred under lend-lease to the Royal Navy on 5 February 1944 to be manned by a Canadian crew.
Renamed HMS Puncher (D79), the carrier served the Royal Canadian Navy except for Fleet Air Arm personnel in the Atlantic and Mediterranean for the duration of hostilities. Stationed with the Home Fleet at Scapa Flow, Puncher initially served in a training role, but was re-tasked to strike and convoy air protection (CAP) after her sister ship, HMS Nabob was torpedoed off Norway in 1944. Also part of her squadron was the US escort carrier USS Shamrock Bay. Puncher also provided convoy air protection on the Murmansk/Arkhangelsk convoy route which she did six times. Strike operations included against German occupied Norway industrial and shipping targets such as the steel works at Narvik on the west coast of Norway.
Fleet Air Arm squadrons assigned to Puncher included Fairey Barracuda torpedo bombers, Fairey Firefly fighter/bombers, American-built Hellcat (Wildcat) fighters and Avenger torpedo bombers. The Barracuda was one of the largest carrier-borne aircraft in the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm and required rocket assistance to take flight from the small flight deck.
The Admiralty had determined that, in the post-war world, Canada would have her own aircraft carriers. Both HMS Puncher and HMS Nabob were crewed by RCN crews to establish the knowledge base for the future carriers assigned to that country, HMCS Warrior (ex HMS Warrior), HMCS Magnificent (ex HMS Magnificent) ("The Maggie"), and HMCS Bonaventure (ex HMS Powerful) ("The Bonnie").
Decommissioned on 16 February 1946 at Norfolk, Virginia, and returned to American custody that day, the escort carrier was struck from the Navy Registry on 12 March 1946, having never seen active service with the United States Navy.
Initially sold to William B. St. John, of New York City, on 9 January 1947, the carrier was subsequently resold to a British firm on 4 February 1947 and converted for mercantile service. She later served successively as Muncaster Castle, Bardic and Ben Nevis until she was scrapped in Taiwan in 1973.
Design and description
These ships were larger and had a greater aircraft capacity than all the preceding American built escort carriers. They were also all laid down as escort carriers and not converted merchant ships. Each vessel had a complement of 646 men and an overall length of 492 feet 3 inches (150.0 m), a beam of 69 feet 6 inches (21.2 m) and a draught of 25 ft 6 in (7.8 m). Propulsion was provided by two boilers and a steam turbine driving one shaft, giving 9,350 shaft horsepower (SHP), which could propel the ship at 16.5 knots (30.6 km/h; 19.0 mph).
Aircraft facilities were a small combined bridge/flight control on the starboard side, two aircraft lifts 43 feet (13.1 m) by 34 feet (10.4 m), one aircraft catapult and nine arrestor wires. Aircraft could be housed in the 260 feet (79.2 m) by 62 feet (18.9 m) hangar below the flight deck. Puncher 's armament comprised: two 4 inch Dual Purpose guns in single mounts, sixteen 40 mm Bofors anti-aircraft guns in twin mounts and twenty 20 mm Oerlikon anti-aircraft cannons in single mounts. She had a maximum aircraft capacity of twenty-four aircraft which could be a mixture of Grumman Martlets, Vought F4U Corsairs or Hawker Sea Hurricane fighter aircraft and Fairey Swordfish or Grumman Avenger anti-submarine planes.
- "Battle Honours". Britain's Navy. Retrieved 18 Sep 2013.
- Cocker (2008), p.82.
- Cocker (2008), p.79.
- Cocker, Maurice (2008). Aircraft-Carrying Ships of the Royal Navy. Stroud, Gloucestershire: The History Press. ISBN 978-0-7524-4633-2.
- List of aircraft carriers
- List of ship launches in 1943
- List of ship commissionings in 1944
- List of ship decommissionings in 1946
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