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

HMS PRETORIA CASTLE (F 61) - Escort Aircraft Carrier

Edited by Gordon Smith, Naval-History.Net

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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