HMS Dasher (D37)

HMS Dasher (D37) was a British Royal Navy aircraft carrier, of the Avenger class – converted merchant vessels – and one of the shortest lived escort carriers.

HMS Dasher (note that this image appears to be reversed: the bridge should be on the starboard side when seen from astern, and this photo is taken from the bow.)
United Kingdom
Name: HMS Dasher
Ordered: C3-P&C
Builder: Sun Shipbuilding
Laid down: 14 March 1940
Launched: 12 April 1941
Commissioned: 2 July 1942
Renamed: built as Rio de Janeiro, renamed Dasher 2 July 1942
Fate: Sunk by internal explosion 27 March 1943
General characteristics
Class and type: Avenger-class escort carrier
Displacement: 8,200 tons
Length: 492 ft 3 in (150.04 m)
Beam: 66 ft 3 in (20.19 m)
Draught: 23 ft 3 in (7.09 m)
Installed power: 8,500 bhp (6,300 kW)
Speed: 16.5 knots (19.0 mph; 30.6 km/h)
Complement: 555
Aircraft carried: 15
Aviation facilities:
  • Hangar 190 ft (58 m) x 47 ft (14 m)
  • one42 feet (13 m) x 34 feet (10 m) lifts
  • 9 arrestor wires

Design and description

The Avenger-class escort carriers were converted type C3 American merchant ships. Their design was based on the United States Navy's Long Island class (AVG1). To differentiate between the two classes, the Royal Navy ships were prefixed with a 'B' (BAVG). HMS Dasher (BAVG4) was built by the Sun Shipbuilding and Drydock Company. Originally named Rio de Janeiro, she was laid down on 11 March 1940, launched on 12 April 1941 and delivered on 22 November 1941.[1][2][3] She was converted to an escort aircraft carrier in the Tietjen & Long shipyards New Jersey and commissioned into the Royal Navy on 2 July 1942.[4]

Dasher had a complement of 555 men and an overall length of 492 ft 3 in (150.04 m), a beam of 66 ft 3 in (20.19 m) and a draught of 23 ft 3 in (7.09 m).[1] She displaced 8,200 long tons (8,300 t) at normal load and 9,000 long tons (9,100 t) at deep load. Propulsion was provided by four diesel engines connected to one shaft giving 8,500 bhp (6,300 kW), which could propel the ship at 16.5 knots (30.6 km/h; 19.0 mph).[5]

Aircraft facilities were a small combined bridge–flight control on the starboard side and above the 410 ft (120 m) long wooden flight deck, one aircraft lift 43 ft (13 m) by 34 ft (10 m), one aircraft catapult and nine arrestor wires. Aircraft could be housed in the 190 ft (58 m) by 47 ft (14 m) half hangar below the flight deck.[2][5] Armament comprised three single mounted 4 inch dual-purpose guns, two forward and one aft, and fifteen 20 mm cannon on single or twin mounts.[5] She had the capacity for 15 aircraft which could be a mixture of Grumman Martlet or Hawker Sea Hurricane fighters and Fairey Swordfish torpedo bombers.[5]

Service history

Dasher started out as the merchantman Rio de Janeiro built by Sun Shipbuilding (Maritime Commission contract (Hull Sun-62)). She was converted at Tietjen & Lang, transferred to the Royal Navy and finally commissioned into RN service as HMS Dasher (D37) on 2 July 1942. She participated in Operation Torch, with her sister ship Biter, carrying Sea Hurricanes of 804 Naval Air Squadron. After doing some aircraft ferry operations in the Mediterranean, Dasher sailed to the Clyde in March 1943 and, having had her flight-deck lengthened by 42 ft (13 m), she embarked Fairey Swordfish aircraft. She escorted one convoy successfully, but shortly after leaving with the second, Dasher suffered engine trouble and turned back. Shortly after getting to the Firth of Clyde on 27 March 1943, she suffered a major internal explosion and sank.[5]


Various possible causes have been suggested, including one of her aircraft crashing onto the flight deck and igniting petrol fumes from leaking tanks. Much of what happened remains unknown. Her death toll, 379 out of 528 crewmen, despite rapid response and assistance from ships and rescue craft from Brodick and Lamlash on the Isle of Arran and from Ardrossan and Greenock on the Scottish mainland, was amongst the highest in British home waters. Many escaped from the ship but died of hypothermia or burns suffered when escaped fuel ignited on the water. Most of the dead were buried at Ardrossan or Greenock.

The US blamed it on poor RN petrol handling procedures, the British on bad design of the stowage and handling. There were merits in both arguments, but thereafter the stowage on her British operated sister ships was reduced from 75,000–88,000 US gal (280,000–330,000 l) down to 36,000 US gal (140,000 l), and the USN reduced theirs also but not as drastically.[6]

The government of the time, eager to avoid damage to morale and anxious to avoid any suggestion of faulty US construction, tried to cover up the sinking. The local media were ordered to make no reference to the tragedy, and the authorities ordered the dead to be buried in a mass unmarked grave. Furious relatives protested and some of the dead were returned to their loved ones for burial. The survivors were ordered not to talk about what happened. This policy subsequently attracted much criticism, and now memorials to those lost exist at both Ardrossan and Brodick. The wreck site lies approximately halfway on the Caledonian MacBrayne ferry route between Ardrossan and Brodick and is a controlled site under the Protection of Military Remains Act.

Teak boards from the flightdeck of Dasher washed up on the beach at Ardrossan in 1999.[7] They were riddled with tubes made by burrowing teredo worms. A section of this wood featured in the "Flotsam and Jetsam" exhibition in the Millennium Dome and another piece is held by the North Ayrshire Heritage Centre in Saltcoats.

There has been speculation that one corpse from the sinking was used during the British deception Operation Mincemeat ("The Man Who Never Was"). The case is argued by authors John and Noreen Steele in their book The Secrets of HMS "Dasher".

An archaeological dig was undertaken in October 2012 to ascertain whether there was a mass grave within Ardrossan Cemetery containing bodies from Dasher. This dig showed there was no disturbance to the ground in the area searched.


  1. Cocker (2008), p.78.
  2. Poolman (1972), p.29.
  3. "Sun Shipbuilding, Chester PA". Ship Building History. Retrieved 1 October 2010.
  4. Poolman (1972), p.38.
  5. Cocker (2008), p.79.
  6. Brown, DK Nelson to Vanguard 2000 Chatham Publishing, p64-65
  7. HMS Dasher website


  • Cocker, Maurice (2008). Aircraft-Carrying Ships of the Royal Navy. Stroud, Gloucestershire: The History Press. ISBN 978-0-7524-4633-2.
  • Poolman, Kenneth (1972). Escort Carrier 1941–1945. London: Ian Allan. ISBN 0-7110-0273-8.
  • Syrett, David (1994). The defeat of the German U-boats: the Battle of the Atlantic. Columbia, S.C: University of South Carolina Press. ISBN 978-0-87249-984-3.
Further reading
  • Steele, John; Steele, Noreen (2010). The American Connection to the Sinking of HMS Dasher. North Shore Publishing. ISBN 978-0953263714.
  • Steele, John; Steele, Noreen (2002). The Secrets of HMS Dasher. Argyll Publishing. ISBN 978-1902831398.

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