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Today in Alternate History
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THE "CAN-DO" CARRIERS: CANADA GOES TO SEA
by Alan Burnham
The appointment of Captain 'P-V' Patrick-Vyselton to the appointment of
Chief of the Canadian Naval Service in 1937 was a surprise to many Royal
Navy officers. A surprise in so much as P-V was being offered a job which
seemed well below what he entitled to expect, even though it meant promotion
to flag rank. Perhaps even more surprising was that P-V himself seemed quite
happy to accept the position. Certainly, he was qualified for it
professionally. And certainly he'd been born in Canada, in 1892, the son of
a doctor practicing in Kingston, Ontario. But in 1911 he'd left his homeland
to join HMS Dreadnought as a midshipman and since then his entire life had
been his career in the Royal Navy, give or take his marriage and family. And
it was an English girl he had married, a debutante from a family of landed
gentry. In fact his achievements in love rather matched his impressive
appointments in the service, all being achieved rather against the odds,
since he was unimpressive in appearance, short, sallow skinned and
bespectacled. Indeed, he feared for a time that his poor eyesight might lose
him his commission. Yet P-V was a naval officer who seemed to sail through
all his difficulties with a following wind, even if his outward appearance
was not impressive. One of his traits which became quickly apparent was a
keen appreciation and understanding of applied science. It was a
characteristic which served him well on the navigation, heat and steam,
mathematics and electrical instruction courses at the Royal Naval College,
and especially well during gunnery instruction at Whale Island.
Yet he also shone at sea, serving mostly on cruisers and destroyers in his
years as a junior officer. And in between P-V earned excellent marks on a
war staff course, a technical staff officer course and in various staff
appointments in the UK and on overseas stations. He must certainly have been
highly regarded by his superiors to have survived the savage naval budget
cuts during the depression years without even a pause on the promotion
ladder. Especially so for an officer who was eccentric enough to learn to
fly at his own expense and even more eccentric in wanting to specialise in
carrier aviation. A desire which was gratified to some extent with a spell
as First Lieutenant of the Hermes. A small carrier, the smallest in the
fleet at eleven thousand tons displacement, but the first purpose built
aircraft carrier ever designed anywhere in the world.
Which of course raises the question of where it all went wrong for
Patrick-Vyselton? Because in 1937 the Royal Navy was beginning to come out
of its interwar coma. Money was becoming available again, ships were being
built, capital ships which needed captains. Captains who would enjoy the
status that comes to an officer who commands a major fleet unit. PV must
certainly have hoped -- must have expected -- an appointment worth all his
dedicated service. Instead he was offered the booby prize in the career
lucky dip barrel -- the job of running the Royal Canadian Navy. And the RCN
in 1937 effectively consisted of six destroyers and a few minor ships. Total
manpower, officers and men, including reservists, numbered less than four
thousand. It would have taken an extremely gifted prophet to have
anticipated that almost a hundred thousand Canadians would soon be wearing
naval uniforms. But perhaps Patrick-Vyselton was foresighted enough to see a
glimpse of the future -- he certainly behaved as if he owned a crystal ball.
In fact it was his total belief in his own judgement which eventually
banished P-V to a mere dominion. That, and one ship, the 'Ark Royal'. The
first modern built carrier the Royal Navy owned, P-V desperately wanted to
take command of the Ark. She was a fine, well designed carrier, and he was
sure that with some sister ships, and some decent aircraft, the Royal Navy
could quickly catch up a lot of lost ground in the use of seaborne air
power. P-V was appalled when he discovered that the Admiralty had decided to
follow on from the Ark Royal with the armoured 'Illustrious' class carriers,
designs loaded down with thousands of tons of protective plate and big guns
Which meant that they would be expensive, years late in getting into service
and able to carry a very limited aircraft complement when they did
eventually reach the Fleet.
P-V made no secret of his opinion that relying on anti-aircraft guns and
armour plating to protect any warship from air attack was outdated
nonsense. What was needed were high performance naval fighters, lots of
them, and the carriers to make sure they were in the right place at the
right time. But probably P-V's worst mistake was in telling a group of
admirals -- a golden braid of admirals, perhaps, as a collective noun --
that the United States Navy knew far more about how to fight the next war
than they did. As clearly as if we can hear the words spoken, we can know
that at least one Sea Lord must have passed a comment to the effect that if
young Patrick-Vyselton was so fond of the Americans, perhaps he'd better go
and live next door to them.
So sentence of exile was duly passed and P-V found himself boarding a ship
back to the land of his birth, along with his sea chest, his youngest son,
and a wife who had bravely borne up at the prospect of living in a log cabin
surrounded by hungry wolves. The Canadian way of life was not clearly
understood by many English people at that time. Whereas P-V himself knew
very well what to expect in Canada and what he planned to do there. His
choice of ship for the transatlantic passage shows this beyond doubt,
because it was a very recent addition to the Hamburg-Amerika fleet, the
9,500 ton cargo liner 'Wuppertal'. And she was among the very first seagoing
ships to use diesel-electric drive. A single shaft design with 6,800 brake
horsepower supplied to the shaft from an electric motor driven by three MAN
diesel generating sets.
P-V, by his own account, wasted no time in arranging an invitation to visit
the ship's engine room. His papers show how impressed he was with what he
saw. Compared to the hordes of grubby stokers working in the boiler rooms of
British ships, the sparkling clean drive rooms on the 'Wuppertal' were a
different world. A much smaller world, with far less space necessary for the
generator sets and electric propulsion motors than would have been occupied
by steam machinery. A less densely populated world as well, with only five
engineers and two electricians needed to keep the ship moving. The chief
engineer, apparently delighted by P-V's interest, explained in great detail
about how easy it was to monitor each engine's condition by watching the
electrical instruments, which quickly revealed to a trained eye even the
most minor faults in any of the diesels.
It's never been made quite clear exactly how much German Commodore
Patrick-Vyselton spoke, or how fluent the German chief engineer was in
English. Not that it mattered in the end. Spend enough time at a bar with a
man, buy him enough drinks, and he'll eventually find a way of telling his
story. Which is what seems to happened on the Wuppertal, anyway, because the
chief engineer had much more of interest to say about future German ships
and the engines which were going into them. Nothing about the Kriegsmarine,
naturally, except a few comments on what was already public knowledge, that
the Deutschland class 'pocket battleships' were driven by eight huge diesel
engines for maximum range, and that they were amongst the first major
warships to utilise all welded construction to save weight. No, it was the
'Robert Ley' the engineer wanted to boast about.
The 'Robert Ley' and the 'Wilhelm Gustloff' were 25,000 ton passenger ships
being built by the Nazi party for their 'Health Through Joy' program. Each
ship would carry upwards of one and a half thousand holidaying German
workers in comfortable one class cabins. The two ships were effectively the
ancestors of all modern day cruise ships -- one of the unexpected legacies
of the Hitler era. Our interest can be confined to the fact that the ships'
designers were asked to install machinery which would take up as little
space as possible within the hulls. Blohm & Voss's approach with the
Gustloff had been to install four compact diesel engines geared to twin
propellers. This was a kind of installation the company had acquired much
experience with at the end of the war. Large numbers of small high speed
diesel engines had been built during the conflict for U-boats but not
installed before the 1918 armistice. To use them in lieu of large and slow
direct drive diesels in merchant shipping had seemed like a good way of
getting back the money invested in the U-boat engines. The problem had been
designing and building the necessary step down gearing to connect the fast
revving diesels with the slowly turning propeller shafts. Success had
finally been achieved but it was one of those engineering challenges which
remained a particular area of German expertise in the 1930's.
With the Robert Ley the Howaldstwerken concern had taken a completely
different approach. Six diesel engined generating sets delivering over six
and a half thousand kilowatts directly to the propeller motors. Two
completely separate engine rooms with three generating sets in each one, and
each engine room producing enough power for the props from two of its
generating sets. The other set in both engine rooms supplied the entire
domestic electrical load for the 'electroschiff'. But all the generator
circuits could be switched between propulsion load and domestic load as
required, so the system was wonderfully flexible. Near normal service could
be continued if one of the diesel engines broke down or was being serviced.
Even if an entire engine room was burnt out or flooded, the Robert Ley could
still proceed at a reduced speed. And, as the Wuppertal's engineer pointed
out, it was lot easier to do a top overhaul on one of the Ley's six small
engines than on the usual massively built direct drive marine diesel.
All comments which the designate Chief of the Canadian Navy agreed with
wholeheartedly and toasted in duty free schnapps before going away to write
the fascinating details down in his notebook. And having taken note of his
fruitful shipboard discussions we should be able to follow P-V into the
corridors of power in Ottowa. Except that the trail loses a certain amount
of definition for a time. Mainly because P-V, behind the facade of his many
public naval duties, was undertaking what would now be called a 'black'
development project. A project intended to put the Royal Canadian Navy into
the business of naval aviation -- maybe rather a limited way business, but a
thriving one. For P-V had developed what amounted an idee fix, that there
would be a place, an important place, in the coming war for small, cheap and
quickly built aircraft carriers. Carriers which might be too slow and
unprotected to lie in line of battle with a main battle fleet, but could do
an excellent job of helping to hunt down enemy raiders and in protecting
convoys from submarine attacks. And if nobody else seemed interested in
building them, perhaps the Canadian government could be coaxed into leading
P-V must have spent a lot of time on his voyage -- when he wasn't drinking
with the Wuppertal's officers -- on looking out over the grey waves in the
pensive mood of a commander overlooking a prospective battle field. There
was at least one other naval officer thinking along exactly the same lines
as P-V was. An officer with equally strong belief that a war was coming to
the Atlantic sea lanes. An officer just as sure of his ability to win the
duel with the weapons of his choice. His name was Karl Doenitz, the Admiral
commanding the U-boat arm of the German Navy. As it turned out, both Doenitz
and Patrick-Vyselton were right in their ideas. It was just that one of them
was a little bit more right than the other. In the long term, we're still
not quite sure which one of them it was. In the short term it was -- in
Wellington's words about another battle -- a damned close run thing. And P-V
was already behind on points. Whatever Doenitz's problems in getting the
submarines he needed built and manned, at least he only had the Fuhrer to
deal with. P-V had to negotiate with some even more unpredictable
personalities than Adolf Hitler -- and two of them, by pure coincidence,
were called King. Two kings in his hand that he needed to parlay into aces.
And P-V had to pick up an ace before he could play the Kings.
The ace was Air Vice Marshal Budet, senior officer of the Royal Canadian Air
Force. Serving on the Western Front in Bristol Fighters with the RAF he had
been credited with eleven confirmed kills, so he was really an ace twice
over. And like the newly promoted Rear Admiral Patrick-Vyselton he had a
rather impressive rank for a man who was in charge of a rather small
organisation. The Canadian Air Force he presided over was no bigger than the
Canadian Navy in the number of serving personnel, and most of its work in
the 1930's had been of a non-military character. It had photographed great
areas of Canada, opened up new sections of the interior, transported
officials into inaccessible regions, blazed air routes, patrolled forests
and fisheries, assisted in the suppression of smuggling, and experimented in
air mail services. It just hadn't done very much in the way of preparing for
aerial warfare because there seemed no need to -- nor, in any case, had the
funds been available.
But however marginal the Canadian Air Force might have been as a fighting
service in 1937, P-V had to coax it onto his side. For there was no point in
building aircraft carriers unless there were aircraft available to put on
them. And not only aircraft but pilots and aircraft technicians. In Canada,
pilots and servicing crews could only come from the RCAF. There had once
been a Canadian Naval Air Service, but it had been disbanded in 1918. Which
was something of a pity, considering that the Royal Navy had just succeeded
in wresting back control of its own Fleet Arm from the RAF. But as the
professional head of the Canadian Navy P-V had no personal anti-Air Force
antipathy. Whilst he perfectly well understood how much damage Admiralty and
Air Ministry conflicts had done to Britain, he had never during his service
on Hermes had any problems with the capabilities and commitments of the RAF
men on board.
In fact in some ways it made excellent sense to use Air Force pilots at sea.
On average, three to four percent of all carrier pilots were killed each
year in both the British and American navies. Sooner or later the strains of
naval flying began to show on most men. If they wore a light blue uniform
they could be easily rehabilitated by simply sending them back to a normal
Air Force squadron for a while. An old navy saying is that the most
effective cure for sea sickness is sitting underneath a tree. An equally
effective treatment for an airman with deck landing twitch was a return him
to flying from long and unmoving runways. And AVM Budet had spent enough
time piloting seaplanes around Canada to have some understanding of what was
involved when P-V began to discuss, on a purely informal basis, the
possibility of the loan of Air Force units for his proposed carriers. To be
met by a sceptical response. On what basis did the Navy think they would get
the funding for even one carrier?
Consider it as a hypothetical question, P-V had responded. If I can get a
carrier, and if we can find some planes for it, would you be prepared to let
an RCAF squadron go to sea? The Chief of the Canadian Air Staff had grunted,
swirled the armagnac in his glass -- his excellent dinner of carre d'agneau
in one of Ottawa's best restaurants had been paid for by the Navy -- and
"If you ever get a carrier, and if I have some pilots to spare when it
happens, and if I'm convinced you can do something useful with them, and if
you can obtain some suitable aircraft -- then I'll do what I can to help
you. But only, of course, if the government authorises the Air Force to
accept such a commitment. Perhaps not a very helpful statement but it's the
best I can make under present circumstances."
P-V had smiled and answered that he'd expected nothing more at this stage.
At least nobody could say he'd gone behind the RCAF's back. But he did
remind the AVM that the Air Force had twenty five Blackburn Shark torpedo
bombers in its inventory, aircraft which had originally been designed for
carrier operations. He hoped the AVM would continue to take good care of
them. Budet assured him he would. So having reached at least a tentative
modus operandi with one fellow member of the Defence Staff, P-V now felt
ready to tackle the first of the two very awkward Kings.
Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King's greatest interest in
any future war was that it shouldn't happen, but if it did, that it should
not divide Canada. Conscription was the issue that could do just that,
because the French-Canadians would be totally against it. Nor had even the
most fervent British supporters in the Canadian population forgotten the
terrible toll taken of Canadian soldiers in the First World War. Many
Canadians would be willing to do their part in any fight against Hitler but
there was widespread doubt that putting the flower of Canadian youth into
military uniforms and sending them to fight under British generals again was
the best way to do it. Mackenzie King had already decided that if a conflict
with Germany was inevitable, then Canada would wage a limited war, with as
much emphasis as possible on Canadian air and naval units supporting the
British Empire. He was also determined that Canadian industry would have as
large a role as possible in producing whatever equipment might be needed.
Wars were unpopular events but a lot more bearable if they produced work for
unemployed Canadians. Which was why the newly awarded British contracts to
produce Hawker Hurricane fighters and Bristol Bolingbroke bombers in Canada
were just the sort of industrial coups that brought a gleam to his eye.
And, of course, Rear Admiral Patrick-Vyselton knew all this when he was
ushered into the Prime Minister's office for the private interview he had
requested with the head of the Canadian government. In fact being head of
the Canadian government was virtually a life time career for Mackenzie King.
He'd been Prime Minister from 1921 to 1930, with one short break, and then
reclaimed the seals of office in 1935, determined to hang on to them until
he felt like retiring or all the ice in Canada melted, whichever came first.
In 1938 the betting was on Mackenzie King outlasting the glaciers. One thing
was certain, nothing of any major importance was going to happen in Canada
without King's chop of approval on it.
Still, P-V had timed his appointment well. It was the second week in March
and German soldiers were having flowers strewn in front of their goose
stepping boots by cheering Austrians as Herr Hitler paid a visit to the old
country -- and decided to keep it. Anschluss was the word, and apprehension
was another word which was being frequently used by Western politicians,
even by those located on the far side of the Atlantic. The Canadian Prime
Minister was in a mood to listen.
P-V laid out his points. No one could say whether or not a war would
eventually break out. What was certain now was that money was going to have
to be spent on preparing for the possibility of a war. So if money was going
to be spent by the Canadian government the very best place for it to be
spent was in Canada. And no Canadian in any kind of authority needed
reminding of how difficult it could be for a dominion government to get its
voice heard in the war councils of London. Send Canadian Air Force squadrons
to Britain and they would simply become part of the RAF. Send Canadian
divisions abroad and they would end up as just more cogs in the War Office's
military machine. But Canadian ships -- now that was a different story.
A Canadian warship was always a part of Canada wherever it went, and
wherever it went it would always be subject to the final and direct
authority of the Canadian government. The great advantage of a navy was that
it never needed to rely on anybody else for transportation. Canadian
warships could pull up their anchors and sail home whenever they liked, if
that was what Ottawa ordered them to do. Even if the First Lord of the
Admiralty himself was standing on the wharf and spitting blood.
Mackenzie King had shown his amusement at that idea with all the spontaneous
joie-de-vivre of a Scotsman being invited to spend lots of money. His first
question was what sort of ships P-V was talking about. After all, even the
few destroyers theRCN possessed had needed to be bought from Britain because
they couldn't be built in Canada -- was that not true?
Quite true, P-V had answered. No Canadian yard could yet manufacture the
high speed gearing or specialised gun mountings for a normal warship, not
even such a minor warship as a destroyer. In fact Canadian ship building was
almost moribund, with only a handful of yards still capable of building
10,000 ton merchant ships. But that didn't mean that Canada couldn't built
major warships of a new kind. At this point P-V pulled out some documents he
should not -- strictly speaking -- have been in possession of. They were
Admiralty proposals for the conversion of a certain number of merchant ships
into what they called escort carriers to protect shipping routes. Small
unarmoured aircraft carriers based on normal Lloyd's registry commercial
hulls. What the Admirals had in mind were ships between ten and twenty
thousand tons, diesel driven for maximum speed and to prevent funnel smoke
interfering with aircraft operations, a landing deck at least 70 feet wide
fitted with arrestor wires and aircraft lifts, a hangar capable of holding
up to eighteen aircraft, and a minimum endurance of 6,000 nautical miles at
14 knots. The time estimated for each conversion was estimated at 12 months.
The motor ships 'Winchester Castle', 'Warwick Castle' and 'Dunvegan Castle'
were noted in the Admiralty proposals as suitable for such a conversion.
Those are the type of ships we can build, P-V had said, tapping the papers.
Escort carriers. The difference, he'd argued, was that with the modern
construction methods they could be built more quickly than ordinary ships
could be converted into carriers, and being designed from the keel up as
carriers, the Canadian ships would do a far better job.
"Aye, aye." Mackenzie King had seemed lost in thought. "A Canadian aircraft
carrier sailing into Portsmouth. I wonder what that old windbag Churchill
would make of that?"
P-V had quickly pointed out that the sort of lightweight carrier he was
advocating would be nothing at all like the massive fleet carriers the
British and American navies possessed. Comparing the proposed small carriers
to them was like comparing a lakes steamer to the Queen Mary.
"So what use are they, then?" the politician had asked.
The escort carriers would be used to keep the sea lanes open, that was the
answer. No matter what sort of Canadian you were, pro-British, anti-British
or neutral, it was obvious that if the merchant ships stopped coming across
the Atlantic the Canadian economy would be devastated. And if a war with
Germany did break out, it was certain that the Germans would try to sink as
many cargo ships as they could. They might use raiders disguised as merchant
ships, or regular warships like the pocket battleships, or perhaps even
aircraft carriers of their own. But P-V's assessment was that U-boats would
prove the biggest danger. He was aware that many senior Royal Navy officers
believed that they now had sonar equipment which would make it easy to
locate destroy submerged submarines. P-V didn't share their optimism. His
own belief was that the best way to deal with U-boats was to surprise them
on the surface before they ambushed you underneath it.
His final summing up was a simple one. "Prime Minister, during the Great War
five thousand, five hundred and sixteen merchant ships were sunk by the
Germans. Of that total, the number of ships sunk when travelling in convoys
which had both naval escorts and aerial cover was five. Five out of 5,516.
On those figures I suggest that the obvious thing to do in any future war is
to put the transatlantic shipping into convoys, convoys which are escorted
both on the sea and in the air. And out on the Atlantic the only place
continuous air patrols can be flown from are the deck of a carrier sailing
with the convoy. That's why escort carriers need to be built and should be
built. And Canada can lead the way."
King had listened, tapping his fingers on the table, face drawn up into
crumpled lines of concentration.
But perhaps, P-V continued, all that might be a little complicated to
explain to the man in the street. Perhaps it would be simpler to say that
the proposed ships would be used to protect convoys if necessary, but that
in the first instance they were worth building not so much as aircraft
carriers in the usual meaning of the phrase, but as simply as aircraft
transports. Which meant that as long as Hitler was around the British and
French were going to be building up their defences, especially their air
forces. Which in turn meant they'd be buying a lot of aircraft in North
America and having them shipped over to Europe. But there was a problem with
that. As an example, the Hurricanes that were going to be manufactured in
Canada. After each aircraft has been built, it then had to be disassembled,
the parts packed away in crates, the crates sent over to the UK, the
Hurricanes unpacked and then reassembled again.
P-V had explained that meant about five hundred man hours of work by skilled
technicians to take each Hurricane apart and put it together again. So to
send a squadron of Hurricanes to the RAF would mean losing the services of
at least eighty highly trained and badly needed men for over a week in
Canada and the same again in Britain. But a ten thousand ton escort carrier
could ferry up to 80 Hurricane sized aircraft at a time if they were tightly
packed on its flight and hangar decks. Across the Atlantic, or from Britain
to the Middle or Far East. And there might well be a lot of useful contract
work available shipping American planes to Hawaii and the Philippines if the
tensions between Washington and Tokyo continued to simmer. Again, the bottom
line was simple. The Canadian carriers could probably repay the cost of
their building in purely commercial terms.
Mackenzie King seemed interested. "Well, Admiral, and how many of these
ships would you be thinking of building? And at what price?"
At which point P-V had explained that, like everything else, the more items
you ordered from a supplier, the cheaper each individual item was.
"Prime-Minister, the best balance I can strike at present is four ships at
about 8 million dollars each. But any carriers after that would probably
come out at about half the price."
King had grunted and put down his pen again. "Over thirty million dollars
for four ships. That's an awful lot of money, Admiral."
And P-V's answer was straightforward: "We're bringing an entire Canadian
industry back from the dead. And practically all of the money will flow
straight back into the Canadian economy right across the nation because a
lot of equipment will have to come from all kinds of specialised companies,
some of them a long way away from the sea. Yes, it's a lot of money, and a
lot of new jobs. Which will quickly translate into a lot of votes for the
government. And if there is a war, I'll guarantee you here and now that it
won't be on for long before the British are asking us to build merchant
ships for them to replace their losses Well, the escort carriers will use
standard American ship hulls. So when we've finished building the carriers
we can use the expertise we've developed to produce those merchant ships."
"American hulls? Why not British designed hulls?"
"Because the escort carriers should be built to American standards as far as
we can possibly manage it. Specifically to US Navy standards. For that
reason I intend to seek help in designing the Canadian carriers from a well
known New York firm of naval architects called Gibbs & Cox. And I'm going to
ask the US Navy for as much advice and help as they see fit to provide.
Which should be a lot, if we play our cards right. Because I know that
there's some interest in the American Navy about the possible usefulness of
small carriers. It's certainly not a top priority for them but it's
definitely an interest. If we promise to let them put observers on board our
ships I think they'll be willing to do anything to help us which doesn't
involve spending much money. Especially if they think they can sell us some
of their out of date carrier aircraft."
Mackenzie King had stared at him across the Prime Ministerial desk with dour
amazement: "Man, the Admiralty and Whitehall will have a fit when they find
out you're planning to build an American designed ship for the Canadian
Navy. The Royal Navy won't take you back afterwards, not even to command a
troop of sea scouts. You do know that?"
P-V had looked him straight in the eye: "Prime Minister, if ever we need as
many of these carriers as I think we will, the only place they can come from
is American shipyards. If they're designed to US specifications they can go
straight into production in America. At least there won't be any technical
problems about doing that. As for me, I may talk with a British accent, but
I'm just as much of a Canadian as you are. And I believe these ships are
going to be of vital importance to our country."
"Aye, maybe," King had acknowledged, before glancing up at the map on the
wall. A map of the huge country he governed. "So where would you be planning
to build your aircraft carriers, Admiral?"
"Vancouver, Prime Minister. Partly because the milder climate on the west
coast will make welding up the hulls easier and partly because it leaves the
East Coast yards still free for urgent naval construction if we find
ourselves at war next week. The Burrard Dry Dock company and North Van Ship
Repairs have the best facilities in British Columbia for the two lead
Mackenzie King had looked surprised, showing a very rarely expressed
emotional state. Then an even rarer emotion had surfaced as Prime Minister
King had smiled at Patrick-Vyselton.
"Well, Admiral, I'm thinking you're well on the way to being the most
unpopular man in London and the most popular one in BC. It'd be worth a lot
to see the expression on the westerner's faces if I told them they're
getting a thirty million dollar ship building programme. We'd be the toast
of Vancouver, you and I. Still, this is all talk so far, just talk. Perhaps
you should go and have a word with some of the Admirals in the US Navy. Tell
them what you've told me and let's hear what they have to say. But
discreetly mind you. I'll let our Ambassador in Washington know what's in
the wind but he'll say nothing officially, not yet. At this stage just make
it a quiet navy-to-navy chat and we'll see what develops."
P-V had stood up: "Yes, Prime Minister."
"Oh, one last thing, Admiral. If you should get any of your ships, have you
given any thought as to what you'll call them? The ships' actual names, I
"Well, Prime Minister, as you probably know, each class of naval ships has a
common thread through each of their names. In this case I thought we might
call them the aviator class carriers, so each one would be named after a
well known Canadian pilot. Since Colonel Bishop was the top scoring Canadian
ace in the Great War I thought that HMCS Bishop would be appropriate for the
Mackenzie King had nodded in approval: "Not a bad idea at all, not at all.
You missed your vocation, Admiral. You should be running the Barnum and
Bailey circus. You've a great gift for flim flammery."
If that was true, then P-V himself wryly admitted that he'd never needed the
talent more than when he boarded the train for Washington. It was time to
deal another King out of the pack, and this was likely to be the hardest
card of all to play. Because P-V had an appointment with a naval officer who
had a habit of saying very frequently and very loudly that he wasn't
interested in being liked: in fact Rear Admiral Ernest J. King could have
stood up in a popularity contest with Captain Bligh and still lost with
ease. King was a bully, a womaniser, especially with other officer's wives,
a man with a drinking problem and a rabid anglophile who hated the British
and everything to do with them. In 1938 he also happened to be Commander,
Aircraft, Battle Force, US Navy. So it was with considerable surprise that
the Washington office of the Secretary of the Navy received a request from
Ottawa for a courtesy meeting between Rear Admiral Patrick-Vyselton and Vice
Admiral King. In the first place there was surprise that the head of such a
diminutive maritime force as the Royal Canadian Navy would have anything of
any professional consequence to discuss with the man who commanded America's
aircraft carriers. In the second place, and infinitely more astonishing, was
the idea that any British officer would expect any courtesy at all from
Ernie King, the most even tempered man in the US Navy -- he was always in a
Looking back, it's probably a reasonable guess that the only reason that
King agreed to the meeting was because of his own curiousity as to why it
had been requested. At any event it happened -- and most surprising of all,
it went off far better than anybody who knew King could ever have imagined.
P-V himself said that opened the discussion by saying that the Canadians
wanted to build some small carriers, and that he was looking for help from
the US Navy instead of the Royal Navy because it was his own personal
opinion that as far as naval aviation was concerned, the US Navy was well
ahead of anything the British were doing. There was no dissembling or
flattery involved, it was P-V's honest assessment and it was an accurate
one. None the less, such an open admission from such a source must have
warmed the very cockles of King's heart, assuming he had such an organ.
In the second place, P-V had done his homework on the general outlook of the
US naval planners. The Atlantic was simply a side issue for them and had
been since the German Navy had scuttled itself in 1918. The American navy
had just one potential enemy in sight, the Japanese, and one major battle
plan, a fighting advance across the Pacific to the Japanese home islands.
And if that was the war plan, it was a plan which would dwarf every previous
naval war into insignificance in terms of areaof operations, ship numbers
and logistical requirements. Only a country of immense resources could have
even dreamt of launching such a campaign, let alone completing it. And it
was this plan that P-V chose to raise in making a case for his light
To understand the matter, it's necessary to understand why the aviation
branch of the American navy had managed to flourish so well when it should
have been the runt of the pack amongst a whole litter of battleship
orientated admirals. It was because the US navy staff had decided that a
series of islands would have to be occupied and used as forward bases as the
US and Japanese fleets headed towards the climatic battle which would bring
the Pacific war to its grand finale. But without those islands as stepping
stones the American ships couldn't close in on the Japanese home islands and
their date with destiny. Nor could they possibly leave any islands behind
them which could serve as bases for Japanese ships. And in that game of
naval chess the Japanese had already pre-empted some very valuable squares,
especially the Mandates.
The term Mandates referred to the Caroline, Marshall and Mariana island
groups. Prior to 1914, they had been German possessions. The Versailles
treaty of 1919 had assigned the island groups to Japan as mandated
territories. And almost endless war games across the Pacific charts had
convinced the Americans that at least some of those islands would have be
stormed in the coming war Which meant that US capital ships would have to
destroy the Japanese fortifications on the islands before any landings could
be attempted -- and to do that the precious US battleships would have to
slug it out with coastal batteries in shallow waters filled with mines. Not
a happy prospect for any battleship captain who remembered the Dardanelles.
Which was were the carrier enthusiasts had stepped in and promised that air
power from carriers could do the same job without any need to risk the
navy's heavy battlewagons on any distracting island hopping chores.
This was part of the argument for light carriers which P-V now put to King.
That the big and expensive fast fleet carriers should stay where they
belonged, with the fleet. The small slow carriers could take over the job of
supporting amphibious landings. After all, as P-V pointed out, how fast does
a ship have to be to catch up with an island? And if the Japs struck back
with land based planes, it would probably be more difficult to sink several
small carriers than one big one. And much less of a loss if they got lucky
There was another point as well that the Canadian raised. P-V might not have
King's vast experience of carrier operations, but both of them knew that
aircraft wastage in an operational zone was bound to be very high because of
enemy action in addition to the normal hazards of flying planes at sea. So
where the replacement aircraft to come from? An oiler could refill a fleet
carrier's tanks, a supply ship with jackstaffs could pass over ammunition
and food and replacement pilots, but how could you transfer aircraft at sea?
The answer was obvious: they had to arrive in a carrier, fly off it and then
land on the carrier where they were needed. And the cheap and simple way of
meeting that requirement was with cheap and simple carriers to serve as
delivery flight decks.
At any event, whatever the technical details that were discussed, King was
impressed enough to tell P-V that his request would have to be passed to the
Secretary of the Navy, since it involved political issues that no line
officer could rule on. However, King continued, he personally would have no
objection if a small number of recently retired pilots and technical
officers decided to accept contracts from a private Canadian company to pass
on their expertise. On no account would they be allowed to discuss any
matters which the US Navy regarded as too sensitive for disclosure, they
would under no circumstances use their former ranks, and they certainly
wouldn't wear any US navy uniform or insignia north of the border. In
return, the US Navy would expect to be able to place observers on board the
first Canadian carrier launched to observe its sea trials and possibly its
first few months at sea. The USN would also be willing to appoint a naval
maritime engineer to examine the blueprints for the proposed Canadian
carrier and offer any suggestions which came to mind. And that was the deal
on which hands were shaken.
Aides outside Admiral King's office must have been taken aback to see the
Canadian admiral emerge from it with a broad grin on his face. But they were
nowhere near as surprised as P-V was three days later. He was just leaving
his Washington hotel for Union Station and New York when he was paged for a
phone call. It was from the Canadian Embassy -- could he come over straight
away? He could and did. When he arrived he found that the Ambassador was
entertaining a man in a civilian suit but with the unmistakably weathered
face of a sailor. He introduced himself as Captain J.L. McCrea, naval aide
to President Roosevelt. He had a message for Rear Admiral Patrick-Vyselton.
The President had heard about his light carrier proposal from the Secretary
of the Navy, wished him well with it and would do what he could in moving
the program along. If any specific problems occurred, the President would be
willing to hear about them from the Rear Admiral via Captain McCrea.
Furthermore, the letter that his aide was passing on to Rear Admiral
Patrick-Vyselton was addressed to the Canadian Prime Minister and expressed
similar terms of support.
P-V himself admits that he was astonished at what the American officer had
to say. In fact it turned out that Roosevelt himself, with his keen interest
in naval matters and especially in naval aviation, was beginning to believe
that light carriers of some kind might be very useful in a future war. He
was therefore hopeful that the Canadians could make a success of their
experiment and justify some Presidential pressure on the issue to the
Department of the Navy. McCrea explained wryly that the President was really
a frustrated admiral who had gone down this road before in 1937 when he
sponsored a fifteen million dollar appropriations bill for Patrol Torpedo
boats, a class of craft the real admirals had no interest at all in buying.
On the other hand Roosevelt was a very strong booster of the Navy budget, so
they were hardly in a position to complain about his minor foibles.
P-V took a deep breath and accepted the letter gratefully. But neither he
nor anybody else in the room had the slightest inkling of how much the
single piece of paper in the envelope was going to change the history of the
For the time being, it was enough that with Roosevelt's support written down
in black and white, the Canadian government were willing to authorise the
construction of two carriers, with two to follow on subject to satisfactory
results with the lead ship of the class. P-V had pulled a lot of strings and
managed to produce a beautiful tune. Until the US Navy actually got down to
a detailed study of some proposed features of HMCS Bishop. And then there
were a lot of discordant notes in the brass section. Virtually all of which
P-V completely ignored.
In fact we can skip a lot of things which happened and move on to February,
1939, when the hull of the Bishop was launched from the Burrard Company's
No 1 slipway in Vancouver. As always, building a new kind of ship had its
problems, especially with P-V's constant demands for faster and better
welding techniques. Opting for all welded construction had been a major
issue between the designers and builders. Like all Canadian shipbuilders,
Burrard were very experienced in building ships using riveted construction
methods. Riveting they understood, welding they didn't. But welding could --
in theory -- deliver a 30% lighter vessel and cut one third off the time it
took to build it. It also allowed hull sections to be pre-fabricated before
being slotted into place on the growing ship.
Burrard doubted these things could be made to happen and told Rear Admiral
Patrick-Vyselton so. Which was akin to advising their grandmothers on how to
Welding was a subject about which the Chief of the Naval Staff already knew
a great deal. The Germans were not the only ones who had begun building
welded warships. P-V's beloved Ark Royal had been largely of welded
construction and P-V had spent a lot of time visiting the Cammel Laird yard,
talking to managers, architects and welders alike as the worked on the large
British carrier. And although he might have lost his chance of commanding
the Ark, P-V he hadn't lost his contacts, which was why he arranged for
several of Cammel Laird's experts to work with Burrard on developing their
Nor had his search for talent ended there. Cox and Gibbs had advised him of
a small but very go ahead shipbuilding company in Wisconsin which had a
reputation for expertise in welding and pre-fabricating methods. The company
was called Manitowoc and again, P-V had subcontracted some of Manitowoc's
best people to help Burrard switch over from riveting to welding methods. A
welding school had to be set up to teach this black art. Between them the
British and American experts organised the school and a curriculum which
turned raw novices into tradesmen in a month -- tradesmen of a sort, anyway.
But a time was quickly approaching when anybody with any pretensions of
being a welder would be worth his -- or her -- weight in gold.
At the beginning, as work started on the keel of the Bishop, P-V's
particular nightmare was cracks -- hull cracks. If welding work was done
badly it could set up cracks in the ships' plates. On riveted ships cracks
were confined to a single plate, but a welded ship was a one piece unit and
cracks could spread right through a hull. It was possible to check on the
integrity of completed welds with x-ray machines, but that could be nothing
but a random sampling at best. And if only the very small number of the
highly skilled welders available were allowed to work on the ship, the whole
project would take far too long to complete. There was an estimated 180,000
feet of welding to be performed on the Bishop alone, and although newly
purchased unimetal machines could weld flat plates together at the rate of
two feet a minute it still left a lot of hand welding to do
It was a genius from Manitowoc who came up with the solution Or perhaps it
would be accurate to say with a solution. After each weld was completed
3-in-1 penetrating oil was applied to it. Powdered carpenter's mixed with
carbon tetrachloride was then applied on top of the weld to quickly dry. If
there was a crack in the joint a fine discoloured line appeared on the
chalk, showing exactly where it was.
Another area in which experience soon became invaluable was in playing the
three dimensional jigsaw puzzle which putting together prefabricated
sections of a ship involved. As workers at all levels learnt more about
their jobs, so things began to go more smoothly. One of the things P-V had
to constantly insist on was not only making sure that blueprints were kept
up to date but that all final run engineering and production notes were also
photographed for later reproduction. With that kind of paperwork available
other yards could benefit tremendously from what Burrard had learnt the hard
way. Including the North Van Ship Repair Company, which had begun work on
HCMS Collishaw three months after the keel of the Bishop was laid, but who
were catching up fast as they slipstreamed on Burrard's hard won experience.
And almost every second week Rear Admiral Patrick-Vyselton would land at Sea
Island airfield before travelling by pinnace up the Burrard Inlet with the
expression of a thoroughly dissatisfied slave driver checking up on the
progress of the latest pyramid. Usually he would bring along some suppliers'
representatives from other Canadian cities or technical experts from Naval
Service Headquarters in Ottawa. They found a lot to see, especially after
September 1938, with the aftershocks of the Munich settlement echoing
through the British Commonwealth.
From then on, it seemed to the highest levels of the Canadian government
that war was more likely than not. The cabinet took a deep breath and
authorised the start of a third carrier. The first steel for HMCS MacLaren
was cut and laid at Burrard's second slipway before December was out. Twelve
hour shifts seven days a week became normal practice on all three hulls. The
trickle of workmen at the start and end of the shifts was becoming more of
a flowing river. Train loads of fitting out components began arriving,
Queues of applicants formed up outside the welding school, where class sizes
were doubling like an ameba every month. Pipefitters, machinists,
electricians, joiners, sheet metal workers, riggers, painters, many of them
travelling down from Prince Rupert or across from the Yarrow Ltd yard on
Vancouver Island came to look at the rapidly growing ships, then register
their names with Burrards and North Van Ship. Young men from the prairies
also looking for work started stepping off the trains rolling in over the
Rockies. In response to an urgent appeal from the YMCA an old army barracks
was re-opened to provide accommodation for them. The day before HMCS Bishop
was launched an editorial in the Vancouver Sun said that the rest of the
world might still be at peace but the war had already begun in Western
It was a theme echoed by the plump faced man in the previously unseen
uniform of an Air Marshal of the Royal Canadian Air Force, who stood by the
side of his wife as she broke the traditional bottle of champagne on the
bows of the carrier. His name was William 'Billy' Bishop, he had a record of
72 confirmed aerial kills over the trenches, he was a fighting legend to all
Canadians and his recent appointment as an honourary Air Marshal in charge
of air force recruiting was a brilliant public relations move by the RCAF.
Billy Bishop had listened politely to a long speech by the Governor-General
and a much shorter speech by Rear Admiral Patrick-Vyselton. Then he got up
and said that Canadian pilots would soon be flying from the ship named after
him. Nobody could say if they would ever have to fight and he would pray
they didn't, but if there was a war everybody in Canada had his personal
promise that he would meet the HMCS Bishop the day she returned home and
personally shake the hand of every man aboard her who'd brought down an
enemy aircraft or helped sink an enemy ship.
Within a few hours a transcript of his speech and wired photos of the
launching were on the desk of the most powerful newspaper proprietor in
Fleet Street, Lord Beaverbrook, born Max Aitken in Ontario, Canada in 1879.
During the Great War Aitken had gone to tremendous lengths to publicise the
part that Canadians had played in the fighting, even writing a three volume
book called Canada in Flanders. No man in Britain was more likely to be
stirred by the sight of the Canadian ace of aces launching a Canadian
aircraft carrier. No man in Britain was better placed to headline the event,
knowing how well it would go down with the British public. And no man in
Britain was more awkwardly placed than Beaverbrook to ask why the Royal Navy
seemed to be totally uninterested in what the Canadians were doing. Or, to
be specific, that was the question his newspapers asked on his behalf. A
question which bought a quick response from the RN, at least to the extent
of sending an officer to Canada from the newly created Fifth Sea Lord's
department, the Fifth Sea Lord being the flag officer in charge of British
naval aviation. His representative, Captain W.H (Bill) Stockdale duly
boarded the 'Empress of Britain' and was met on the dockside at Quebec City
by Rear Admiral Patrick-Vyselton in person
Stockdale records that he was rather surprised by the seniority of his
greeter, considering it was only seven o'clock in the morning but P-V
reassured him, saying that he'd had to come to Quebec anyway to talk to some
ex-rum runners who'd made their fortunes during prohibition. Stockdale
thought this some kind of a pleasantry by P-V, one he didn't understand at
the time. Later on he found out that it was all part of the incredible web
that P-V was spinning for himself in Canada. And proof of that was soon
forthcoming. "Of course", P-V told him, "You do realise you've only come
just over halfway so far? It's about three thousand miles from here to
London and we've still got two and a half thousand miles to go to reach
Captain Stockdale admits that his jaw dropped. Somehow he hadn't quite
understood how big Canada actually was. A week at sea and now he was being
invited to undertake a round trip equivalent to travelling from London to
Cairo and back just to inspect some half arsed colonial ship.
"How many days is that going to take?" the Captain had asked, staring across
at a waiting dockside train taking aboard other newly disembarked
"Not long, I hope," P-V had replied. "Weather permitting, we should be in
Winipeg tonight. That's only twelve hundred miles away. I have a rather good
Stockdale had stared at him in astonishment before finding himself being
led towards a strange looking, very big, American styled car and then driven
through snow covered streets on the wrong side of the road with occasional
colourful advertisements in French breaking the monotony of the wooden
framed houses. The visitor stared around at him, finding it difficult to
believe that this bleak and alien city was indeed part of the British
Empire. Behind them followed another equally strange looking and ornately
chromed vehicle with his trunks and cases on board. The six foot snow
drifts piled along the roadsides were causing the Englishman to wonder if he
would have been better advised to have left his fishing rods at home.
Eventually the cars arrived at an apparently deserted airfield with a few
hangars sticking up out of the white wastes. The RN Captain stepped out of
the heated car into air which went up his nose and down his throat like iced
water. His thick service overcoat felt as if it was made of tissue paper.
P-V had handed him a small suitcase and invited him to fill it with what he
liked from his luggage.
"No room in the plane for anything else, Bill, sorry. Except your winter
clothing of course. You'll need that with you in case we have to land
somewhere we're not planning to. Come with me when you're ready and we'll
get you something off the peg."
Within a heated cabin inside the hangar a burly Canadian displaying black
bristled cheeks measured the Royal Navy Captain with the urbanity of a
Saville row tailor before passing over various garments to try on. P-V was
smiling as he expounded on the virtues of each in turn: "Uniform breeches as
used by the Mounties themselves, Bill. Inner woolen gloves, then the mittens
over them. You keep them slung around your neck on a cord. Eight pairs of
heavy socks -- wear two pairs at a time and keep the others for spare. Never
wear damp socks, always dry them at night and never work hard enough make
yourself sweat underneath all this lot. Otherwise the sweat will dampen your
clothes, then freeze and turn them into a refrigerator. That's a genuine
Eskimo parka -- you can tell by the tribal pattern on it. They're made of
untanned Caribou skin. You've got a very special one there. Look at the fur
trimming on the hood.".
As instructed Stockdale had looked and fingered the fur. It seemed perfectly
normal to him. "It's Wolverine fur", P-V had explained. "For some reason
it's the only kind of fur which doesn't freeze with the condensation from
your breath. And these boots are made from sealskin. They're called mukluks.
The Eskimo woman chew it to make the skins soft and pliable before they're
cut and shaped."
"My God, P-V, you've gone native yourself," Stockdale had protested.
The Rear-Admiral had laughed. "Well, after all, old boy, I was born and bred
here. And you'd better take a look in the mirror before you make that
The Captain had stared at himself as directed. He was dressed like an actor
in a film about Scott of the Antarctic: "Good Lord, do I have to wear this
lot while I'm flying?"
"No, no," P-V had reassured him. "All this will get stowed away with the
rest of the survival gear on the plane. Stoves, tents, an axe, rifles,
collapsible stoves, red sighting panels, food. But there's one last thing
you'll have to keep in your pocket all the time, just like the rest of us do
... . . here you are, a sealed bottle full of matches. Must have those safe
and handy all the time. Oh, and one word of advice, Bill. If you do find
yourself alone in the snow and you need to pump ship, get right out the wind
and hang onto everything very tightly with your woollen gloves. There are
some things you just wouldn't want getting frostbitten and falling off."
"I'm beginning to feel as if I'm in a Biggles yarn," Stockdale had remarked.
"I can give you some more interesting reading material than one of those."
P-V had handed over a large file cover: "The complete specifications and
proposed operating procedures for my little ships. And may I say how
surprised I am that they've been interesting enough to bring you this far,
let alone continue across a continent."
"P-V, you know and I know why I'm here." Stockdale went over to his opened
trunk and took out a copy of the Daily Express. "Here's something for you to
read, if you haven't seen a copy already, and you'll know why their
Lordships had to dance to your tune. Yes, your tone, P-V. There's not one
person at the Admiralty whom has the slightest doubt that you arranged that
fighter pilot launching a fighting ship piece of propaganda and passed it on
to your tame press baron. You've done brilliantly at getting your way but
Lord, you've made some enemies."
"Really?" P-V had asked, grinning.
"Put it this way. If you ever have to choose between going back to the UK or
crash landing out there in the wilderness, believe me, you'd be better off
with the wolves than in Whitehall."
"How depressing," P-V hand answered. "Anyway they're pouring some buckets of
hot oil into the engines and we'd better get aboard before the stuff starts
freezing. One last question though, Bill. Do you bring me any gifts from the
Stockdale had shrugged: "That depends, P-V. It depends on whether or not I
can report back to my superiors that your ideas and your ships are so
obviously flawed that not even Beaverbrook can continue to support them. One
way or another, it's bound to be an interesting trip."
"It certainly will be.'" P-V had chuckled. 'But, Bill, I'll return your
wild life analogy. There are some bears in the Admiralty that have been
hibernating for years. Waking them up will be hard work for somebody. Come
Nobody seemed to find anything strange in the sight of senior officer of the
Royal Navy carrying his own suitcase. Or, if they did, there was no offered
help. Not even when Stockdale nearly dropped the file tucked underneath his
arm. Again he asked himself if this wilderness was really part of the
Empire. But the Captain had little time to ponder on the strange ways of the
strange country before the car stopped by a sleek twin engined monoplane
with a shiny metal body and vivid red paintwork on the upper fuselage and
wing surfaces. Not even a newcomer as raw as Stockdale needed to have the
reason for that particular colour scheme explained to him. The Englishman
patted his pocket to make sure he still had his emergency supply of matches
and wondered how big Canadian wolves might get -- and how hungry.
"My barge," P-V said, almost gloatingly. "A Lockheed Junior Electra. Two
pilots, six passengers and cruises at over two hundred miles an hour. But no
stewardess, I'm afraid."
"A stewardess -- on an aircraft? Is that another of your rum jokes -- like
the one about meeting some rum runners?"
"I'm not joking -- not really. Some of the American airlines do have
stewardesses on their planes, on my honour. And I'll explain about the rum
runners in the fullness of time. Come on, shipmate, all aboard. Once round
the continent and back in time for tea next week."
The aircraft's engines spluttered into life as soon as the officers had
boarded. "Winnipeg, you said, P-V?"
"Ottawa first, to pick up some more passengers. That's only a hop, not even
a step or a jump. Then North Bay, Kapuskang and an overnight stop in
Winnipeg. Refueling stops in Regina and Lethbridge tomorrow and then the
last leg over the Rockies into Vancouver. Probably be too dark by then to
see much of the scenery, unfortunately."
"Quite, quite -- big place you've got here, P-V. Some big ideas as well,
from what we hear."
P-V had smiled, reached over and tapped the file on Stockdale's knees.
"No, not so big. Just different in some ways. You'll see."
Captain Stockdale waited until the lone sheets of cloud had merged into a
continous curtain over the incredible vista of forested hills and lakes big
enough to drown every city in Britain. Then he opened the file:
'HMCS Bishop is the lead ship of a class of light carriers intended for
ferrying aircraft and supplying aerial cover on trade protection duties. In
the latter role it can provide anti-submarine and anti-aircraft protection
to a convoy, or provide aerial reconnaissance as part of a hunting group
searching for enemy raiders. Bishop class carriers can also provide aerial
support for amphibious landings or assist landed troops as a mobile
The concept behind the Bishop is of quick and cheap construction combined
with the maximum possible number of aircraft to be embarked and their
efficient operation. To this end the ship is built to mercantile standards
and to what are regarded as the minimum speed requirements for the role of a
carrier. Having said so much, it will still come as something of a shock to
an experienced naval officer to find that the Bishop is almost completely
unarmoured except for water ballast wing tanks located on either side of
the aviation gasoline tanks and the magazine. All gasoline and ordnance
stores are located at least 15 feet away from the ship's hull. Upper wing
tanks contain sealed buoyancy drums to reduce listing after major damage.
These drums are chained to the hull to prevent them floating out of any
opening caused by an explosion. Although built to normal mercantile
standards with normal 40lb steel plating every effort has been made to
enable the Bishop to absorb at least one torpedo hit and survive. More will
be said about this point later.
The Bishop's hull lines are based on those of the US P-1 fast transport
(Doyen class), with a mid section insert for longer hull length, to increase
speed and for a longer flight deck. Overall length is 512 feet, overall
beam over the flight deck of 108 feet, and a fully loaded draught of 22
feet. The length of the flight deck is also 512 feet (wooden planks over
steel) and the dimensions of the hangar deck are 497 feet by 62 feet wide
and 18 feet high. Due to its all welded construction the Bishop is expected
to displace only a little over ten thousand tons at full load.
In appearance the ship largely resembles a normal carrier except that the
island superstructure is smaller and set further forward. The optimum
location was based on a need to ensure a minimum of turbulence to disturb
flight operations whilst providing a viewpoint from the bridge necessary for
the side by side replenishment techniques being introduced into the US Navy.
The Bishop is also fitted with the necessary bow nozzles for current Royal
Navy towed refueling methods.
In fact the bows are one of the areas of the ship over which there was much
discussion. Because of the lower freeboard of the Bishop compared to fleet
carriers the bows are plated right up to the flight deck, in so called
'hurricane deck' style to make the Bishop as seaworthy as possible in
extreme weather conditions. For the same reason the edge of the flight deck
conforms to the shape of the bows instead of being square ended, to minimise
the risk of the relatively weak flight deck being hit and bent back by a
rogue wave. A further feature of the ship's bow design is at the water
level, where a bulbous forefoot has been situated. Although the Bishop is
intended to be a simple design it was decided to consult the Yourkevitch
ship design consultancy of New York to see whether they could suggest any
improvements in the hull form which would be worth while adopting. Vladimir
Yourkevitch, of course, is the man who designed the hull form of the
'Normandie', a ship which is as big as the 'Queen Mary' and can steam just
as fast, yet do it with 40,000 less shaft horsepower.
It's obvious that an aircraft carrier should be designed to be most
efficient in steaming at the best possible speed directly into the eye of
the wind and driving through oncoming waves. The higher the apparent wind
speed over the flight deck from the carrier's own progress plus the existing
natural wind, then the easier and safer it is to land and launch aircraft.
Mr Yourkevitch was asked to do tank trials on a model of the Bishop to see
if he thought it possible to improve this area of the ship's design. Having
done so he has produced plans for a bow design which he believes will result
in a significant improvement in speed from the original design. Despite the
extra construction work involved Mr Yourkevitch's suggestions have been
adopted and it is hoped that a top speed of twenty three knots is
achievable, even with the Bishop's fairly modest horsepower.
In fact there are several features of the Bishop where technical innovations
have been risked in a hopes of increased efficiency. None more so in that
no conventional aircraft lifts are installed in the Bishop. Instead there
are two deck edge lifts. These are T-shaped, the inboard cross piece
supporting an aircraft's main wheels, while a projecting boom supports the
tail. Roller doors at hangar deck level open to allow aircraft to be moved
on and off each elevator. When not in use the lift is lowered to the hangar
deck level and the boom folded up out of the way The roller doors actually
roll down, not up, so they can be left open at the top as much as wave
heights allow. The free passage of air is desirable through the hangar deck
so that engines can be started and warmed up inside without fumes
accumulating. One lift is for'ard on the port side and the other one aft on
the starboard side. It would not have been possible to take the risk of
installing these type of lifts if the Bishop's designers had not been
allowed to closely inspect an identical lift which has already been
installed on the USS Wasp. Although the Wasp has not yet been commissioned
the carrier's deck edge lift has already been extensively trialed during the
ship's building and all tests have proved to be satisfactory. The Canadian
designers have therefore felt justified in installing two similar lifts on
board the Bishop.
The main reason for adopting these lifts is because the Bishop will be
carrying Air Force pilots. Whenever the RAF has conducted shipborne
operations it has always insisted on having the flight deck clear before
each aircraft landed on. If a pilot failed to catch the arrestor wire with
his hook for any reason he could simply open up his engine, regain flying
speed and circle around for another attempt. There are several problems with
this from the Navy's point of view because it can take two or three minutes
to strike down each aircraft before the next one lands. And while all this
is happening the carrier has to keep steaming directly to windward at top
speed. So if the ship's desired course is any different direction valuable
time is lost. But above all, the longer a ship has to stay on a steady
course, the more likely it is to be torpedoed by any submarine in the area.
The US Navy have developed an entirely different technique. As soon as
aircraft lands, it rolls forward to a parking area at the for'ard end of the
flight deck. A net is hung up between the parking area and the landing area
to stop any planes which fail to hook on. If a plane lands without any
problems the net is mechanically lowered to allow the aircraft to taxi over
it into the parking area, and then the net is raised again. With this method
the US carriers can land on their aircraft much more quickly than has been
possible before The snag is that any planes which do miss the hook and end
up in the bets are invariably damaged to some degree, and quite often
rendered completely unfit for further service.
Unfortunately, what are insignificant aircraft losses to the USN would be
serious losses to the Canadian Navy. Therefore the deck edge lift was chosen
as an attempt to allow the Bishop to compromise between Air Force and Naval
concerns. As each aircraft lands on it and is unhooked it then moves forward
to a rotating circular platform set in the middle of the flight deck, flush
with the deck surface, and opposite the port lift. The aircraft is guided
onto the platform, swung around and pushed onto the lift, where it descends
to the hangar deck. But while it the first plane is being struck down, the
next one can land on what is now a clear deck. The complete cycle time of
the lift is fifty two seconds and it's believed the method will be at least
as twice as fast in landing aircraft as is presently possible whilst
adhering to RAF regulations. Of course the Bishop will equipped with a net
and all personnel trained in the US techniques in case they're needed. A
lift breakdown during the landing on of a formation of aircraft, to cite one
Captain Stockdale grunted and laid down the partly read file. The note of
the engines had changed and the lights of a sprawling city were appearing
out of the dusky gloom. He checked his watch. It wasn't even eleven o'clock
in the morning yet. Not only was the cloud dulled sun not over the yardarm,
it seemed unlikely it would hardly struggle above the horizon at all during
the day. Rear Admiral Patrick-Vyselton was reading some papers of his own
but put them down as his colleague tapped his arm.
"P-V, what the devil are you playing at here? An
American-Canadian-French-Russian designed ship tacked together in some place
on the edge of the world that nobody has ever heard of?The Canadian
government must have been mad to let you get this far."
P-V had smiled: "I take it you haven't read the part yet about the Army and
their mortars being on board."
"The Army -- the Canadian Army? What have they got to do with anything?"
"First principles, Bill. Are a ship's anti-aircraft defences there to shoot
down enemy aircraft or to stop the ship being sunk? If the real priority is
to protect your ship, the best way to do is to make it invisible. Which
means lots of smoke to hide in, spread out far and wide. Which are exactly
what large bore military mortars are very good at, firing off smoke bombs to
where they're needed. So I've invited some soldiers on board to show us how
to do it."
"For God's sake, the Admiralty will read this and think you've gone mad.
You'll never get any of the navy's aircraft."
"Which navy is it you're talking about, Bill? Yours or the Americans?"
"Well, which navy do you belong to yourself nowadays? Seems to me you're
getting as thick as thieves with the Yanks. You'd better make your mind up
which side you're on."
"And you'd better go back to London and make it clear to them that nowadays
I belong to the Royal Canadian Navy. Put the stress on the word Canadian.
And you might suggest to their Lordships that in the next war it would be
best for all of us if the British, the Canadians and the Americans were on
the same side. As for your planes you can, if you'll pardon the phrase,
stick them away in your hangars for all I care. I already have a full
squadron of carrier fighters available to me at a bargain price. Fighters
designed by a US company called Grumman."
"All right, P-V, all right, I'd better bite my tongue for a while, at least
until I've seen your pet ship. But where did you intend to get your
P-V had smiled even more widely: "Believe it or not, they're being built
under licence right here in Canada for export -- or at least they were,
until the contract with the overseas customer was cancelled with the last
fifteen still undelivered. But I'll be frank, they're two seater FF-1 models
and pretty old fashioned already. And I'm not keen on getting overly
involved with any US planes right now. I'd love to have some of the modern
ones, they're the best carrier planes in the world, but if a war starts the
American neutrality laws could cut off my supplies overnight."
Stockdale's jaw tightened: "So what's wrong with British planes?"
"Range, for one thing. A US Navy fighter like the F3F has a range of over a
thousand miles. A Gladiator can't travel half as far. And remind me to show
you how much better and simpler the American deck catapults are than the
"So you don't need us then?"
P-V had stopped smiling and leaned forward, then lowered his voice: "Don't
believe it, Bill, don't believe it for a moment. I need every radiolocation
set you can send me. And, Bill, tell London that the Americans are working
on radiolocation as well."
"Good God, are you sure?"
"Certain, but don't ask me how I know. They call it radio direction and
ranging. Radar for short. And if they have it, so may the Germans."
"Thanks for the tip, old boy, thanks very much. I'll see it's passed on. And
by the way, is that Moscow up ahead in the snow? Or does it just look like
"It just looks like it. That's Hull, on the other side of it is the Ottawa
River, and on the far bank of the river is the fair city of Ottawa. The
river is the border."
The Englishman stared ahead at the curved bends of smooth ice.
"The border between where?"
"British Canada and French Canada." P-V had chuckled: "Every time I flow
over here, I look down very carefully on the Quebec bank of the Ottowa just
to make sure those crafty Gallic sods haven't started building another
End of first chapter "THE 'CAN-DO' CARRIERS: CANADA GOES TO SEA"