View Full Version : HMAS Albatross: Seaplane Carrier
I sure we have some members with an interest in the Fleet Air Arm.
Here's a few nice pictures of HMAS Albatross, the RAN Air Station at Nowra near Jervis Bay south of Sydney.
The original photos are from a manual produced for an "Industrial Mobilisation Course" held on the base in March 1959.
First photo is an aerial view of the base
Second is a close up of the built up area, with reference numbers. The legend for the numbers is in the next photo.
And to round things off, a Sea Venom and a Gannet.
Hopefully others have some photos and look forward to seeing them.
Thanks for posting these Ashley. A thread on HMAS Albatross/Nowra was most definitely needed here.
Adding to the image bank, most of these come from Stewart Wilson's book 'Sea Fury, Firefly and 'Sea Venom in Australian Service' put out by Aerospace Publications, Canberra, with a few extras - including the guard dog, which must have been asleep the night of that crazy hangar arson incident that destroyed almost all of the Tracker fleet.
This thread is a worthy addition to the forum!
Some great pictures too.
Here's a link to HMAS Albatross: http://www.navy.gov.au/HMAS_Albatross
In 1929, Navy commissioned HMAS Albatross (I); a 6,000 ton seaplane carrier built at Cockatoo Island in Sydney and designed to carry 9 RAAF Walrus III aircraft. Initially, cranes handled the aircraft, but later a launching catapult was fitted at the ship's bow. These aircraft had RAAF pilots and maintainers and Navy Observers and Telegraphist/Air Gunners.
In April 1944 the Australian Prime Minister, John Curtin, approached the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill for England's help to establish a Fleet Air Arm. The British Prime Minister was eager to accommodate. The process was initially thwarted by a lack of naval manpower, political indecision and financial bickering.
Finally in July 1947 the Commonwealth Defence Council approved the formation of the Fleet Air Arm under the control of the Royal Australian Navy. Prime Minister Ben Chifley approved the acquisition of two light fleet carriers from the UK and in August cabinet approval was given for the light fleet carriers, two naval air stations and three air groups.
In April 1948 King George VI approved the names Sydney (III) and Melbourne (II) for the carriers and Albatross for the RAN Air Station at Nowra.
Maritime Michael Ian
Some very nice pictures and interesting to read how the Australian Fleet Air Arm was started... keep the photos coming!
Co-incidentally in the county in which I live are the remains of an RN Fleet Air Arm station---- at Culham, which still has many of its original hangers, and from the air one can see the airfield shape is still there, however it became part of a UK Nuclear research facility.
The RN and others at Nowra, pre-RAN
A little further history on Nowra from an official RAN website.
In fact it went from being a paddock 'joyflight' airfield in the mid 1930s to be developed as an advanced RAAF base for training torpedo bombers early in WW11, with USAAF and Dutch aircraft also operating from it. It was then taken over by the Royal Navy when the Britsh Pacific Fleet started using Sydney as its main fleet base - as HMS Nabbington it was one of the RN's eight MONAB mobile airbases in Australia. The others were at Warwick Farm and Bankstown, Schofields and Jervis Bay in NSW, and Maryborough, Archerfield and Meeandah in Queensland.
The BPF had six fleet carriers, four light fleet carriers and three escort carriers, and the air groups would often be flown to Nabbinbgton (Nowra) or the other MONAB bases while the carriers were in dock.
The RAN site narrative is well worth reading:
....Flying had been going on at Nowra since 1930 where joy flights left from an area known as 'McDonald's Paddock.' The Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) had granted a license to operate a municipal aerodrome from Nowra on 6 July 1935.
An air pageant marked the opening of the aerodrome at Brown's Hole, about six miles (9.6 km) from Nowra, in 1938 but only one commercial operator used the site on a regular basis. Subsequently, the Air Board advised the DCA that the RAAF would use the site as an Advanced Operational Base. The Government acquired 357 acres of land at the site on 14 June 1939 and a further 118 acres following the declaration of WWII. Re-development for RAAF purposes began in October 1939 and a further land acquisition of 50 acres followed shortly after. The Base was ready for use on 21 July 1941 and became operational on 7 May the following year when a Reconnaissance Squadron and a Torpedo/Bomber Squadron arrived and commenced torpedo and bombing training. RAAF Bristol Beaufort bombers, US Army Air Corps B-26s and Netherlands East Indies Air Force B-25s all used the base during the War.
With the war in Europe drawing to a close, the RN was ordered to the Pacific to support the war against Japan. The British Pacific Fleet comprised some 265 ships with Sydney acting as its main Fleet Base. In order to meet the requirements of its aircraft when its carriers were docked, the RN developed the Mobile Base concept. Seven Mobile Operating Naval Air Base units (MONABs) were established in Australia. The MONABs were self-contained, mobile units formed to take over bare airfields and convert them into fully functioning naval airfields as required. MONAB 1 took over the Nowra Airfield late in 1944 and on 2 January 1945, it became Royal Naval Air Station (RNAS) Nowra, commissioned HMS Nabbington. By February, a constant stream of aircraft was moving through RNAS Nowra as RN aircraft carriers docked in Sydney for maintenance
HMS Nabbington decommissioned on 15 November 1945, shortly after the Japanese surrender, however RNAS Nowra continued to operate. MONAB 5, or HMS Nabswick, transferred from Jervis Bay to Nowra and the airfield was officially closed on 18 March 1946 and handed back to the RAAF in a caretaker capacity. The last RN aircraft departed on 5 May.
THIRD IN THE 'SHIPS AND STORIES' SERIES:
PART 1: The Albatross Of The RAN.
The RAN was air-minded from the earliest years of its establishment, with Sopwiths carried on the cruiser Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane in the latter part of WW1, and experiments conducted on HMAS Australia.
Postwar the RAN looked at converting both the fleet collier HMAS Bileola [9,700 tons] and oiler HMAS HMAS Kurumba [7,930 ton] to seaplane carriers, but for various reasons both proved unsuitable and the plans lapsed.
Then, in February 1924 the British Labour Government deferred construction of the planned naval base at Singapore, a linchpin of Australian defence policy, and causing some panic among Australian defence planners. World-wide tenders were called for the construction of two cruisers and two ocean-going submarines, and when the contracts were let to British shipyards there was an uproar, with the Labour oppoisition demanding that the vessels be built in Australia.
In this atmosphere that the seaplane carrier HMAS Albatross - Australia's first 'aircraft carrier' - was designed by the Directorate of Naval Construction in London, and built at Cockatoo Island Dockyard Sydney. She was 4,800 tons standard, 6000 tons full load.
Laid down in April 1926, she was launched in February 1928, and commissioned on January 23, 1929 - just before the Great Depression, which, as it turned out, was to restrict her use in the RAN.
She has been described as the largest warship built in the country up to that time, although the cruiser Brisbane's standard displacement [5,400 tons] was larger. Anyway, Brisbane was being paid off, and was to provide most of Albatross's crew.
Albatross was 433ft long, beam 78ft over sponsons, and carried an armament of four 4.7 inch guns, two 2-pdr pom poms [added later], four 3 pndrs, four Vickers MGs and 10 Lewis .303 MGs. In RAN service she carried initially six Supermarine Seagull 111 aircraft but had a capacity for nine. The number carried was further reduced to four, as her service wound down.
Albatross had three bays in a hangar running more than half the length of the ship, three 50 ton cranes, and provision for a catapult on her foredeck, which was not fitted until 1936.
Her aircraft were operated by the RAAF's 101 Fleet Co-operation Flight, with five pilots and 41 airmen serving aboard the ship, in an intended complement of 450 whichwas reduced to 350 in service due to the financial crisis.
Albatross's first task had been to take the Governor-General and his wife, Lord and Lady Stonehaven on a visit to the Mandated Territories on New Guinea, which cancelled plans to use her for aerial survey work on the Great Barrier Reef. She thereafter did routine cruises and exercises with the fleet, and on one accasion assisted the famous British aviator and yachtsman Francis Chichester at Jervis Bay [Chichester makes the kindest comments about Australia and the RAN in his his books, btw - although his hand was crushed and he lost a finger on HMAS Albatross].
After only four service, Albatross she was paid off into reserve in March 1933, due to the deepening Depression.
In reserve, she continued to operate as a base and workshop for visiting seaplanes. The Seagull 111 had proved to be a very unsatisfactory aircraft, and when her catapult was finally fitted in 1936 Albatross began planned tests with Seagull V [Walrus] aircraft. On arrival from Britain, however, they were found to be too high for the 16ft clearance in her hangars. The problem was resolved by the innovation of special trolleys that allowed the planes to be moved around with their undercarriages retracted.
Meantime, the ship's proposed re-commissioning was facing problems under the Washington Naval Treaty. She she fell into the restricted warships category. An exemption was negotiated, but by then plans were being put in place for the RN to accept her as part-payment for HMS Apollo, the later HMAS Hobart.
With these completed, she set sail in March 1938 for Britain - escorted out of the Harbour by a flight of Walruses, and carrying two deserters from HMS Dorsetshire on her crew, who were dropped off in Singapore to face the music.
At Gibraltar, Albatross's crew witnessed a sanguinary battle between a Franco cruiser and a Loyalist destroyer, and later joined the funeral cortege for the battered destroyer's dead.
We'll pick up her story on arrival in Britain -next post, with some pics in RN service, and after. HMAS Albatross is now the name of the Naval Air Station at Nowra, NSW.
[One of my main sources here has been an article by Lieut. J.H. Straczek, RAN, in The Navy magazine, October 1982 - several photos here have also been re-scanned poor efforts my very first post in 'Retrospective: Australia's Aircraft Carrier Era' - Terry they could be deleted there].
Part Two: The Albatross Of The Royal Navy.
In case this starts to sound like a hard-luck story [it's her name that does it], in the Royal Navy HMS Albatross performed extensive and valuable service, and saw some real action at the Sword Force landings on D-Day.
On arrival in Britain she had been maintained in service during the Munich crisis, but paid off soon after. She was re-commissioned in September 1939, just before the outbreak of WW11. With six Walrus aircraft - later nine - of 710 Squadron aboard, she sailed for Freetown, Sierra Leone, and began conducting anti-submarine patrols in the South Atlantic.
She was the only aircraft carrier on the South Atlantic Station. Unfortunately, however, for some unknown reason the RN had removed her catapult, so for a time her aircraft were of little use in the wider reaches of that ocean.
In June 1940, she carried Admiral George D'Oyly Lyon to Dakar to try and negotiate the neutralisation of the French Fleet there, and her aircraft shadowed the great battleship Richelieu cruising off the coast.
A year later, in Simonstown, Albatross was refitted with a catapult from HMS Orion, and resumed her South Atlantic patrols, before saling to Mobile, Alabama to undergo another refit. After picking up her 710 Squadron aircraft again in Freetown, she sailed for the east coast of Africa, to be based at Kilindini, near Mombasa, and conducting further anti-submarine patrols and escorts.
She was the command ship for the final operations for the capture of southern Madagascar, and later served as a headquarters and combined operations training ship at Bombay.
It was HMS Albatross's conversion to a Landing Craft Repair Ship at Devonport in April 1944 that finally found the role to which she was ideally suited at that stage of the war. At Normandy she sailed to the beachhead of the Sword Force landing area and provided invaluable services, repairing 200 landing craft which otherwise would have been lost.
During this time she was attacked by a JU 88, which she shot down, and was engaged by two short batteries, receiving one hit that caused minor damage.
Her true baptism of fire lay ahead. On August 11, off Gold Beach, Albatross was hit by a long range circling torpedo, known as a 'Marder,' and 50 of her crew were killed. A heavy loss. With a 15 degree list, she limped back to England, and her active service life was over. For a time she was used as a depot and repair ship for Portsmouth-based minesweepers and escorts.
Finally laid up with other surplus ships at the Isle of Wright, she was sold for scrap in 1946, but went through further changes of ownership, one of which involved plans to convert her to a floating casino at Torquay, under the name Empress of Torquay.
Before she suffered that indignity, however, she was sold again to a Greco-British company and converted to a migrant ship with the name Hellenic Prince, under which she would once again become familar to Australia.
Fitted with two hospitals and an isolation ward for children, she was charted by the International Refugee Organisation, and in this role brought thousands of displaced persons from Europe to both Melbourne and to Sydney.
She did brief further service transporting British troops to Kenya during the Mau Mau uprisings, before being sold finally to a Hong Kong shipbreaking company. Australia's first aircraft carrier, and a solid handmaiden to the Royal Navy during WW11, the former HMAS/HMS Albatross was broken up in Hong Kong in August 1954.
Sailbad The Sinner
My essay examines the Australian government’s curious decision of June 1925 to acquire a seaplane carrier, HMAS Albatross, and her singularly unimpressive service life and poses the questions: was the acquisition of Albatross a bad decision, was she already obsolete when she was commissioned, and did she possess an unrecognised potential to be something much better than she was?
Naval aviation, barely twenty years old when Albatross was ordered, had seen an initial blooming of seaplanes until improving techniques saw deck landings of conventional aircraft became more refined. Notwithstanding the hazards, the age of the true deck-landing aircraft carrier had well and truly arrived when Australia chose to place an each-way bet on a seaplane carrier and gain some experience in naval aviation.
By mid 1922, three years before Australia announced plans to build a seaplane carrier, there were three converted aircraft carriers in service, HMS Furious, HMS Argus and USS Langley, a fourth nearly ready (HMS Eagle) and two purpose-built carriers nearing completion (HMS Hermes and IJN Hosho). In 1925, The USN launched two aircraft carriers, USS Lexington and USS Saratoga and IJN Akagi and IJN Amagi were well underway in their conversion from battle-cruisers. Doolittle had demonstrated the effectiveness of aircraft against naval targets – admittedly at anchor and without crews to instigate damage control.
The aircraft carrier die was clearly set. Australia did not need and could not have justified, or afforded, a true aircraft carrier. Yet Australia did its own thing. Someone, somewhere, somehow knew better. Australia ignored obvious trends and sailed up a naval cul-de-sac with HMAS Albatross.
If the intended use was for Albatross to be the eyes of a cruiser force, then her 20-knot plus maximum speed was insufficient to keep up with the 30-knot plus cruisers. Furthermore, her method of recovery for seaplanes while underway necessitated a reduction of speed to little more than steerage-way to create a temporary lee for aircraft to taxi alongside and be hooked up to a crane and lifted onboard. But, of course, cruisers with their own, catapulted seaplanes, had to do the same thing.
Her main disadvantage was that she was obsolete, before she even took to the water. She was the wrong ship for the time. She fulfilled a function that was not needed, had no viable operational application and no strategic value. Even in the Royal Navy, Albatross would have been an anachronism. In a tiny navy like Australia’s, she stood out like a sore thumb as a lot of defence capital and manpower tied up in one vessel whose operational use was virtually non-existent.
A potted history of how and why Albatross came into being and its career is as follows:
Prior to World War 2, the RAN was always seen as an adjunct to the RN. It was never intended to be a balanced, stand-alone force in the event of hostilities but, rather, to blend as seamlessly as possible, with units of the RN based in Singapore and Hong Kong.
In February 1924 the British Government decided not to spend further funds on the Singapore naval base. This prompted a defence rethink by the Australian government and an expansion of the RAN was initiated in June to acquire two 10,000-ton cruisers (County Class – Australia and Canberra) and two ocean-going submarines (O Class – Otway and Oxley). Since the Cockatoo Island Dockyard was short of work, the government eventually placed the order in Britain (cruisers with John Brown and submarines with Vickers Armstrong) and the one-million pounds thus saved was allocated to the construction at Cockatoo Island of a seaplane carrier “to give the RAN its first organic aviation capability” and “to offset the carriers being introduced into the Pacific area by Japan”. The announcement was made at the opening of parliament in June 1925 and came as a shock to the RAAF and to the RAN in particular as “no aircraft carrier specification had been prepared”. The Admiralty Director of Naval Construction received a cable stating the two only known specifications – “a speed of 21 knots and a cost of one million pounds!” The Naval Constructor in charge of the Admiralty’s Aircraft Section is on record as retorting – “a more unsatisfactory way of producing an aircraft carrier I do not know, and I cannot imagine!”
The designer of Albatross, Constructor Stephen Payne (of Queen Mary fame) said that; “the hull was designed around three holds, three cranes, and 21 knots.” While there is only one hatch/lift shown in any of the photographs, this reference may be to the hangar space being subdivided into three individual spaces – a common practice using bulkheads with Fearnought fire curtains or shutters or doors to seal off one area from another in the event of a fire. Payne was assisted in the design and documentation process by a young Australian naval architect, Woolnough, who obtained piecemeal information including that Albatross would be required to carry a maximum of nine aircraft, assumed to be Fairey IIID’s, and the dimensions of the aircraft determined the size of the deck hatch, the hangar size and the capacity of the three cranes.
Albatross was designed with a prominent high freeboard forward topped by a flat deck under which the two-deck high hangar was located. The ship’s bridge and engines were located well aft giving a distinctive, if awkward, appearance.
The keel of Albatross was laid down at Cockatoo Island on April 16, 1926 – 10 months from placement of order to commencement of construction no mean feat. She was launched on 23 Feb 1928 and commissioned on 23 January 1929. On her trials she exceeded the required speed of 21 knots, and 22.5 knots was attained with 12,910 SHP.
Working up exercises for HMAS Albatross were carried out in Australian waters where the carrier, and her aircraft, operated as a reconnaissance element for the new HMA Ships Australia and Canberra. In November 1929, Albatross took part in combined exercises with the RAN and RAAF in Port Phillip Bay. After a little over three years of service, involving winter cruises to the New Guinea area, spring cruises in Australian waters and various exercises, Albatross was paid off into reserve on 23 or 26 April, 1933 – largely a victim of the Great Depression which also saw the return of the two submarines, Otway and Oxley, to Britain. Thereafter, she was either berthed at Garden Island or anchored in Sydney Harbour. Some time in 1936 an aircraft catapult was fitted to the foredeck for trials in preparation of the receipt of the first Supermarine Seagull Type 236 V amphibians (the precursor of the Walrus AKA “Shagbat”). “She also helped in the building of Sydney Bridge by winching the centre span of the bridge into place to great cheers from the onlookers.”
On 19 April1938, Albatross was reluctantly accepted by the Admiralty as a “trade-in” on the new cruiser, HMAS Hobart, due for delivery later that year. Flying her not very long paying-off pennant, HMAS Albatross sailed from Sydney on July 11 1938. The disposal of Albatross In many respects mirrors its acquisition: nobody, except a few self-serving politicians, wanted it to start with and nobody wanted it after Australia was finished with it. The RN “thought they had been sold a pup”. Vice Admiral Sir Ragnar Colvin, Chief of the Naval Staff, described her as 'not of great value'. The far-from-noteworthy wartime use of Albatross would seem to substantiate these statements. But, were they fair?
To analyse this, we need to look, first, at how Albatross was used and, secondly, at how she might have been used.
Unfortunately, there is little detailed material available on the war history of Albatross – both in print form and via the Internet. It was not a vessel that attracted interest.
Upon arrival in Britain, Albatross (now pennant number I22) was used briefly as a trials ship at Devonport then was placed in reserve, then decommissioned and used as an accommodations ship. She languished in this role until, with war clouds darkening over Europe, she was recommissioned on 25 August 1939 and embarked No. 710 Squadron, FAA, comprising six Walrus 1 amphibians, but without a catapult fitted.
The best use – perhaps the only use - the RN could find for Albatross was to send her to Freetown, Sierra Leone in 1939. Her role was to provide a mobile, floating base for conducting trade protection patrols as far out into the South Atlantic as the limited range of the Walrus’ would allow. Apart form a brief venture into the Indian Ocean with the invasion of Madagascar in 1942 and a refit in the United States in 1941-42, the 21-knot Albatross basically remained in harbour – surely a role that could have been fulfilled by a much lesser vessel or even a shore base.
In July 1943, Albatross disembarked her aircraft in East Africa and headed back for Britain where she decommissioned and was converted to a repair ship. She saw action in the English Channel during the Normandy invasion as a base and repair ship for landing craft and was damaged by a German Dackel T3d long-range torpedo off Courseulles-sur-Mer, Juno Beach, on 11 August 1944 with the loss of some 50 lives. The damage was such that she was judged not worthy of repair and on 30 August she was placed in reserve. In November she was recommissioned as a minesweeper depot hulk then in January joined the Reserve Fleet at Portsmouth, and later Falmouth, and in July was put up for disposal.
In 1946 she was sold for conversion to a luxury cruise ship but the plans did not proceed. In 1948 she was resold to a Greek shipping company for use as a refugee transport and became Hellenic Prince. On December 5 1949, carrying some 1,000 displaced persons from Europe, Hellenic Prince returned to Sydney where she had first taken the water some 21 years previously. She made several such trips to Australia before being sold and scrapped in Hong Kong in August, 1954.
How then might Albatross have been better used? What qualities did Albatross have that might have made her more valuable to the RN?
Albatross was, first and foremost, designed and built to Admiralty specifications. She had steam turbines, a top speed of at least 21 knots, had damage control systems, fire-fighting systems and had a spacious aircraft hangar. There is conflicting evidence as to whether she possessed an aircraft lift. Photos show a large hatch but there are references to a lift too. Certainly the two after-most cranes, port and starboard, could have accessed the hatch for lifting seaplanes in and out. Albatross had some 75 metres of flight deck, had an aircraft fuel storage and distribution system, had ammunition magazines and ammunition handling mechanisms and could accommodate some 450 personnel.
In the early days of the Battle of the Atlantic, the concept of providing convoys with ship-based air cover, particularly in the mid-ocean gap where land-based air-cover was not available, saw the desperate measure of Fairey Fulmars and battle-weary Hawker Hurricane Mk I or Sea Hurricane IA fighters, being catapulted off Fighter Catapult Ships and Catapult Merchant Ships, respectively, for once-only missions to chase away or preferably knock down the German Focke-Wulf Condor aircraft that shadowed convoys.
At the very least, Albatross could have been used as a Fighter Catapult Ship with one fighter at the ready on the catapult, some on deck and others stowed in the hangar. As such, she would have been a more capable vessel than HMS Pegasus (ex-Ark Royal), which was, coincidentally, an ex- seaplane carrier too - albeit of much older vintage having been originally converted from a collier.
Captain M.S. Slattery, Director of Air Materiel, proposed to fit suitable merchant ships with a flight deck, arrestor wires and safety barrier and six Hurricanes. The captured German MV Hanover, renamed Empire Hanover then HMS Audacity (commissioned June 1941, first convoy, September 1941, lost 21 December, 1941), provided the prototype with a flight deck of 112 metres (368 feet) X 18 metres (60 feet) on a displacement of 5,537 tons. There was no hangar and a total of six Grumman Martlet Mk I’s (Grumman F4F-3’s) were carried. The only slightly younger USS Long Island (ex- MV Mormanclad), also commissioned in June 1941, had a flight deck of 91 metres (300 feet) long, subsequently extended to 124 metres (410 feet). A squadron of 15 aircraft could be carried in an aft-hangar. Initially these were the unsuccessful Brewster Buffalo F2A-1, later replaced by Grumann Wildcats F4F-3.
Thirty-eight Escort Carriers for the RN followed from American shipyards and another five came from British shipyards.
But why wasn’t Albatross considered for conversion to an Escort Carrier? With so many attributes in a vessel that was just over ten years old and had seen very little use, the conversion of Albatross to an Escort Carrier would have been easier, quicker than the mercantile conversions and would have produced a better result.
My illustrations show how Albatross may have looked as an Escort Carrier after the following works:
Move anchor-handling equipment down one deck
Remove all flight-deck cranes
Remove all four 4.7” mounts
Remove all flight-deck obstructions
Remove all super-structure aft of flight deck to immediately below flight-deck level
Extend flight deck some 55 metres aft, with appropriate catwalks, access stairs etc. supported on light-weight stanchions over remaining superstructure
Fit arrester wires and emergency crash barrier
Build deck landing control position to port side, aft
Extend aircraft fuel-handling system
Extend deck fire-fighting system
Build bridge to starboard side
Divert funnel to starboard side (or port and starboard)
Fit quad 2 pdr. pom-pom at starboard forward of bridge
Fit single 20mm Oerlikon mounts to sponsons as appropriate
Fit Type 281 air warning radar to mast
Fit Type 271 surface warning radar to bridge
Fit HF/DF to bridge
Fit hinged radio aerials
Ballast hull to compensate for increased top weight and uneven fore-and-aft trim
Add a complement of twelve-plus aircraft – Swordfish or Martlets or a mix of both.
The addition of a flight deck, aft of the original flight deck, would have added considerable weight and top-hamper compared with the relatively small top-weight that would been removed. Following common American practice the flight deck might have been timber-planked, rather than steel in order to save weight. Irrespective of construction, its dimensions could have been 130.25 metres (427 feet 3 inches) by 21.11 metres (69 feet 3 inches) – both of which exceed the Audacity and the Long Island even when lengthened.
Had Albatross been so converted, the RN would then have had an aircraft carrier capable of performing more roles than the considerably slower, somewhat fragile Escort Carrier conversions.
For instance, Albatross could have:
· Operated as part of a task force providing anti-submarine or combat air patrol or night-fighter aircraft, thus freeing up fleet carriers for dedicated strike aircraft.
· Provided air cover in low-threat areas, like the West Indies, thus freeing up a larger fleet carrier.
· Formed the core of a submarine hunter-killer group such as the famed Captain F.J. Walker’s 2nd Escort Group that operated with Black Swan class sloops having similar speeds to Albatross.
· Provided added air cover and anti-submarine cover for covering forces or fast convoys like Operation Pedestal.
· Ferried aircraft to Malta like USS Wasp.
· Accompanied amphibious landings. Her superior wind-over-deck speed would have been an advantage in windless conditions such as experienced at Salerno.
· Been used as a training aircraft carrier.
There must have been some very good reason for a better use never being found for Albatross.
· Had too many years in reserve seen an unacceptable deterioration in the fabric of Albatross?
· Indeed, had it been built well enough?
· Was the hull shape perhaps too fine aft to support such extra top-hamper? Furious, Eagle and Hermes – to mention but a few – were similarly configured so perhaps this was not the problem.
· Was the hull capable of accepting the extra top-weight and still meet stability standards? Perhaps her relatively shallow draught was a deciding factor.
· Could the hull be satisfactorily re-ballasted to compensate for not only the extra weight but also its changed disposition?
These are all questions beyond my technical expertise. However, a very poor photograph of Hellenic Prince is very easily recognised as having been Albatross. No significant superstructure seems to have been added although there seems to be a continuous, side-to-side boat deck aft (with four lifeboats per side). The only alterations apparent to the old flight deck are the removal of the cranes and the addition of four lifeboats per side. Presumably the aircraft hangar space (two decks high) was converted into some sort of dormitory accommodation. Perhaps the lack of any additional accommodation aft of the hangar was due to potential instability problems. Perhaps the economic reality was that she performed her role adequately without the expense of more extensive alterations.
It does seem a pity though, that such a substantial vessel as Albatross was sidelined to an operational backwater when it just might have gone on and achieved grander things in the world conflict.
One can only wonder: was Albatross too easily dismissed as a white elephant? Why wasn’t she appreciated as a potential wolf in sheep’s clothing?
Is this the photo you have of Hellenic Prince?
It has to be said that you have raised quite a few interesting points in your analysis of Albatross. Still it has to be said with the oft held mariners view of the Albatross as both an omen of good and of bad luck [I suppose partly down to whether one shoots it or not!] it might have been more sensible to have named it something more appealing!!
In all seriousness she does appear to have been sadly underused and at a time when there would have been as you rightly point out many uses for her.
Definitely a shame and a waste of a ship.
[Welcome to the forum by the way!!]:)
I can quite easily see her with a flight deck and swordfish in the Atlantic.
Methinks she was forgotten and would of put in sterling service if given a chance.
Sailbad, welcome and thank you so much for the amount of thought and work that has gone into an excllent first post, and well written too.
I have passed your essay onto one of our RAN historians I have been in touch with recently, who happens to have had a special long-time interest in Albatross, and it will be interesting to see how he responds. I'll pass on the response if he agrees.
Just a couple of quick background points in passing.
My understanding [not expert] is that the RAN's seaplane interest grew out of WWI flights from HMAS Australia [I], Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, and that postwar the Navy first looked at converting both the replenishment ships Kurumba and Bileola to seaplane carriers, and both for one reason or another proved unsuitable. I'm not at all sure of this, but my impression was that the development of Albatross became a default solution to those studies.
The other thing I thought was interesting is that, as I seem to recall, either Australia directly or the RN had to get a special dispensation to go ahead with Albatross under the terms of the Washington Naval Treaty, as she fell into a restricted type of ship category.
Another interesting local sidelight to the whole naval flying development was the RN's requisitioning of an Australian Huddart Parker liner, Nariana, 3547 tons, and her 1917 conversion to a seaplane carrier deployed with the Grand Fleet. One would have to wonder whether that too could have had some influence on local thinking when she came back, sold to the Tasmanian Shipping Company in 1920..
The Wikipedia page on HMS Nariana is here:
And here's a 'flight deck' scene on the well-named HMAS Albatross. I think I agree with your expression that she was a naval cul-de-sac.
By the way, this is another much 'better version' of a pic previously placed on the RAN Centenary Photostream on Flickr, and which has now been replaced. I hope I'm not repeating here:
Three Albatross HMAS threads merged together to keep all of the information on this fascinating topic together.
Sailbad, please see the 'Private Message' I have sent to you, accessible via the link at the top right hand corner of this page.
This was a response to Sailbad's essay from Graeme Andrews, ex RAN 1955-1968, and a prolific writer on Australian maritime subjects. Graeme has also had an almost lifetime interest in the seaplane carrier.
This was an impromptu response, but Graeme later agreed that I might pass it on, just for general discussion.
He says: '...I found the Albatross item of great interest.There were things that I had not heard of and there are things worth debating. As I understand it from a pilot who flew from her in WW2, the ship was based at Freetown and from there she would take five or six Walruses out to sea. She would take them well out to sea and launch them to cover separate arcs and they would then fly home, landing in Freetown. This almost doubled their range. Her aircraft were also in use in the attack on Vichy French off the coast of Africa.
In regard to the comments that she made 21 knots and the Countys 30. The Countys service speed was 14 knots - economical steaming. Albatross could make the same speed. The Countys would only go flat out in action. In fact Albatross was intended to patrol the islands to the north of us. She would work from a quiet base such as Hollandia and her planes were intended to act as 'radar' providing information for the cruisers which may have been some distance away. Albatross took the Governor General [Lord Stonehaven] on a cruise of the area early in her career and sussed out a number of such sites during the festivities.
Subsequently the IJN was one of two navies that copied the Albatross concept. Early in WW2 the IJN set up seaplane bases, using bigger and better versions of Albatross with much better aircraft. The other navy was Sweden which created an aircraft cruiser GOTLAND just before WW2 - she was successful but the Swedes ran out of planes during WW2 and she became an anti-aircraft cruiser, remaining in service long after the war.
I remember Hellenic Prince in Sydney. My grandfather told me what she was and had been, and my interest began at that time. Incidentally the name HELLENIC PRINCE referred to Prince Phillip, newly engaged to Princess Elizabeth.
I have a full, detailled GA of the ship. She seems not to have had a lift - just plumb cranes.
And that was Graeme's response, as I say initially written informally rather than for an audience. K.
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