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by Lt Cdr Geoffrey B Mason RN (Rtd) (c) 2005

HMS PRETORIA CASTLE (F 61) - Escort Aircraft Carrier

HMS Pretoria Castle (Navy Photos, click to enlarge) return to Contents List 

British mercantile under construction for the Union Castle Line by Harland and Wolf at Belfast and had been been launched on 12th October 1938. On 2nd October 1939, whilst preparing for service between UK and South Africa a passenger liner the ship was requisitioned by the Admiralty for use as an Armed Merchant Cruiser. All flammable items were removed, holds were filled with empty barrels and timber to preserve flotation and reduce flooding. Permanent ballast was needed to compensate for compensation of loss of weight in lower compartments. Original design had allowed for installation of 6in or 5.5in weapons to enable this type of weapon to be fitted without significant delay. The ship was commissioned 28th November 1939 with a ships company which included merchant navy personnel serving under a T124X Agreement with different rates of pay from that of RN personnel.


B a t t l e   H o n o u r s


ATLANTIC 1940-42 (as Armed Merchant Cruiser)


H e r a l d i c   D a t a

None is recorded in the Official Record of Heraldic Crests

(Note: This is not uncommon in the case of ships requisitioned.)



S u m m a r y   o f   W a r   S e r v i c e  

a s    a n   A r m e d   M e r c h a n t   C r u i s e r


(for more ship information, go to Naval History Homepage and type name in Site Search



1 9 3 9


September             Under final stage of preparation for mercantile service.

(Note: Work may have been suspended immediately after outbreak of war

with Germany, if not earlier in anticipation of requisition for naval use

as an Armed Merchant Cruiser.).


October                  Under conversion for deployment

2nd         Formal requisition by Admiralty for service as an Armed Merchant Cruiser.

11th        Commissioned for service as HMS PRETORIA CASTLE.

Nominated for deployment in South Atlantic based at Freetown.

Commenced storing


November              Under conversion for deployment


December              Carried out sea trials on completion of conversion.

21st         Sailed from Belfast,

(Note: It may be assumed that ship would have embarked ammunition before

taking passage to Freetown.)


1 9 4 0


January                  Arrived at Freetown for Atlantic convoy defence


February                Freetown deployment in continuation.

to                            (Note: Escorts for Convoys on passage to and from West Africa and Indian Ocean were

September             provided by addition escort during entry and departure from Freetown.

During this period enemy commerce raiders were active in South Atlantic)


October                  Nominated to join military convoy WS4 in position 23.47N, 22.15W to supplement

escort during passage into Freetown.

11th        Joined WS4 before it divi9ded into FAST and SLOW Sections.

Deployed as escort during passage into Freetown for six mercantiles. designated

WS4 Slow

15th        Detached from WS4 Slow on arrival.

17th        Deployed with HM Cruiser CORNWALL as Ocean Escort for WS4 as Ocean Escort

during passage to Cape Town

26th        Detached from WS4 with ss SCYTHIA and ss WARWICK CASTLE as escort for

passage into Cape Town.

29th        Rejoined WS4 with same ships to rejoin WS4



2nd         Detached from WS4 with four mercantiles designated WS4 SLOW and took passage

as escort into Durban.

3rd          Detached from WS4 SLOW on arrival at Durban.


December              Passage to Freetown.

(Note: It may be assumed that ship was deployed either as escort or for cover of

passage of routine convoys to Cape Town and Freetown.


1 9 4 1


January                  Deployed at Freetown for Atlantic Trade defence.




May                        Deployed with HM Battlecruiser REPULSE and HM Cruiser MAURITIUS as part of

Ocean Escort for military Convoy WS8A during passage into Freetown.

9th          Detached from WS8A on arrival at Freetown.


June                        Freetown deployment in continuation.




1 9 4 2


January                  Freetown deployment in continuation

to                            Nominated for conversion for use as an Escort Aircraft Carrier (CVE) in a commercial

April                       shipyard


May                        Passage to UK to prepare for Paying-off and conversion.

Outright purchase of ship from Union Castle under consideration.           



30th        Arrived in Tyne.


July                         Under conversion for use as an Escort Carrier (CVE).

16th         Ship purchased by Admiralty,


August                  Under Conversion

to                            (Note: Work included:

December              Removal of all upper structure to enable fitting of strengthened

flight deck with new design prototype cordite fired catapult.

Addition of more ballast to compensate for additional top weight.

Installation of suitable British radar and communications for control and

direction of aircraft and ship navigation.


1 9 4 3


January                  Under conversion




W a r   S e r v i c e   a s   a n   E s c o r t   A i r c r a f t   C a r r i e r


July                         Carried out harbour trials

29th        Commissioned for service as a Trials Carrier in Western Approaches Command


August                  Carried out Sea Trials in North Sea

9th          Shipyard work completed.

10th        Sailed for shakedown and passage to Rosyth

12th        Arrived at Rosyth to complete trials

16th        Passage to Clyde for completion of trials including first aircraft deck landings.

to            Based in Clyde and anchored off Rothesay between trials.



September             Trials in continuation


October                  Trials in continuation

Nominated for first operational duty and embarked 825 Squadron aircraft and


27th        Deployed with military Convoy DS46 to provide air cover during passage to


29th        At Reykjavik

30th        Deployed with military Convoy SD46 to provide air cover during passage to Clyde.


November              Detached from DS46 on arrival and resumed trials duties in Clyde area.

29th        Involved in collision in Clyde with HM Escort Aircraft RAVAGER, which

sustained damage.

(Note: HMS RAVAGER was deployed in Clyde area for Deck Landing Trials.)


December              Clyde trials deployment in continuation.


1 9 4 4


January                  Deployed in Clyde and nominated for hooked HARVARD Trials

20th        Carried out hooked HARVARD Trials

(Note: These may have been trials to establish effective deck landing by

HARVARD aircraft using existing arrestor wires - to be confirmed)


February                Carried out Deck Landing trials with SEAFIRE, HELLCAT, AVENGER,

and WILDCAT aircraft in Clyde.


March                    Deployed for SEAFIRE aircraft Deck Landing Trials in Clyde


April                       Deployed for CORSAIR aircraft Deck Landing Trials in Clyde.

Nominated for routing docking and assisted Maintenance

25th        Under docking and essential repair and maintenance in AFD IV.


May                        Docking and repair in continuation.

On completion resumed Trials duties in Clyde.



2nd         Deployed for Radar Interception trials with SEAFIRE aircraft.

(Note: Ship would probably have been deployed in NW Approaches

clear of land.)


July                         Trials duties in continuation

14th        Involved in collision with Mercantile EDITH in Clyde and sustained serious

structural damage

Withdrawn from service and took passage to Clyde for repair in commercial



August                  Passage to Forth for completion of repair by HM Dockyard Rosyth.

Taken hand for completion of repair.


September             Under repair.

On completion took passage to Clyde to resume trials duties.



1st           Resumed service in Clyde

5th          Carried out check of equipment on Degaussing Range in Clyde.

16th        Carried out trials with SEAFIRE aircraft.

18th        Carried out Deck landing trials with AVENGER, HELLCAT and

SWORDFISH aircraft.

23rd        Carried out aerodynamic trials with WILDCAT aircraft.

30th        Carried out Deck landing trials with SEA OTTER amphibian aircraft.



1st           Deployed as Target for torpedo attacks by RAF BEAUFIGHTER aircraft.

(Note: These aircraft were used for attacks on coastal shipping in Channel

and North Sea.)

6th          Carried out Deck landing trials with FIREFLY aircraft.

13th        Carried out aerodynamic trials with BARRACUDA aircraft.

21st         Carried out landing trials with SPITFIRE aircraft fitted with Hooks for use

when using aircraft carrier arrester wires.


December              Deployed in Clyde

19th        Withdrawn from service for machinery repair and took passage to Belfast


1 9 4 5


January                  Repair work to be completed in Clyde commercial shipyard and took passage to



February                Under repair


March                    On completion of repair and post refit trials resumed trials duties in Clyde.



3rd          Carried out catapult trials to establish techniques to be used for Tail Down

launch of aircraft.


May                        Not deployed for trials.

to                            Flight deck lighting improved to allow landings by night.

July                         (Note: It is assumed that future deployment was under consideration during

this period.)


July                         Ship may have returned to suitable alongside berth.

                                Nominated for special trials to evaluate use of METEOR aircraft for sea

service and trial using improved flight deck lighting to allow night landings


August                  Deployed in Clyde              

11th        Carried out landing trials with METEOR aircraft fitted with hook.

23rd        Carried out trials at night using improved flight deck lighting to establish

suitability for landings


September             Transferred to Portsmouth Command

Passage to Portsmouth.

11th        Taken in hand for refit by HM Dockyard.


October                  Deployed at Portsmouth

to                            Future deployment under consideration

December              If retained in service to be refitted.

(Note: Ships company to be reduced in view of RN manning

problems due to discharge of men from Conscripted service.)


1 9 4 6


January                  Deployed at Portsmouth.

Placed on Disposal List and negotiations carried out with Union Castle

to determine whether ship was required for return to trade.

26th        Sold back to Union Castle and to be converted back to intended use when


(Note: When HM Escort Carrier VINDEX was returned to Port Line the

cost of her conversion to suit earlier intended use was met by the


It is assumed the same applied to this ship.)

To be de-stored at Portsmouth before passage with Steaming Crew only

to Belfast for handover.



4th          Commenced de-storing and removal of Admiralty equipment.


March                    Steaming crew joined and prepared for passage on completion of de-storing.

Passage to Belfast

21st         Paid-off and returned to Union Castle.

Taken in hand for conversion to suit original intended use as a passenger



F i n a l   P h a s e


This ship remained in mercantile use until 1962 when sold for demolition in Spain. She arrived in tow at the breakerís yard in Barcelona during September that year.


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revised 16/10/10
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