The Ageless Warriors of the Philippine Navy! WW2 ships still serving in 2021!*

If you like World War 2 US Navy ships (and EVERYONE does!) then the new Republic of the Philippines Navy (PN) pages we just loaded are essential reading. The Shipsearcher Identification Section (SIS) have documented many navies that had long-service ships in their active fleets, but this one is exceptional. Up until very recently, a large number of the PN’s fleet were composed of wartime hulls! Notable amongst these veterans are Landing Ship Tanks, a Cannon Class destroyer escort, and a nice flotilla of patrol corvettes.

BRP Rajah Humabon PS-11 cannon-class DDE, 2010 DVIDS
BRP Rajah Humabon PS-11, participating in the USN-Philippine Navy Exercise Balikatan 2010. This destroyer escort, originally commissioned as USS Atherton DE-169 in 1943, served more than 75 years US Navy 1347033 PO3 Mark Alvarez

BRP Rajah Humabon Cannon-class Manila Philippines 2010

To put this active service in perspective, very few of the plankowners (first crewmembers) of these ships are still with us today. These simple designs were churned out in an assembly-line process in shipyards on both coasts to meet vital wartime needs and replace early losses. Newly commissioned, these ships were present at some of the epic amphibious landings of the Second World War, patrolled in both Pacific and Atlantic theatres, escorted vital convoys, were attacked by enemy forces, and were credited with the destruction of enemy units. Many went on to rack up more battle stars for service in Korea and Vietnam.

PCE-891 building NHHC 194319-N-61177
PCE-891 under construction in 1943 (outboard ship). After service as BRP Pangasinan PS-31, she was finally decommissioned 1 March 2021!  Courtesy of the Naval History and Heritage Command. NARA 19-N-61177.

BRP Pangasinan PS-31 Cavite 2015

Paths to Philippine Navy service took two routes: After USN service and periods in reserve, many units were transferred during the 1960s; Other elderly ships had first been transferred as military aid to the Navy of the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam). Their crews and war refugees had fled to Subic Bay after the Fall of Saigon in  early 1975.** These soon joined sister-ships already in PN service.

BRP Laguna LT-501, formerly USS LST-230, which participated at the Normandy landings in June 1944 and Operation Dragoon, the August 1944 landings in the South of France. Credit: 1t0pe125, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

LST 1 class Cavite 2017

By the annals of their wartime records alone, every one of these ships would have been a good candidate for preservation. Sadly, their exploits, so many years ago, are probably little known stateside. Most of these relics wound up at the ship breakers in the last 20 years. A few more were retired, with great fanfare, in March, 2021. Reports suggest the very last of the WW2 wartime fleet will be out of service by the end of this year. That really will be the end of an era.

BRP Malvar
One of the last: BRP Miguel Malvar PS-19, originally USS Brattleboro PCE(R)-852 (1944), which has also served in the Republic of Vietnam Navy as RVN Ngọc Hồi. One of the most decorated ships in Philippine naval history, she recently helped rescue 33 people off the Coast of Langahan Island.  Credit: 1t0pe125, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

It isn’t surprising, since this is one of the last navies we intend to document in this project, that we took our time with these pages and sought out as many interesting views as possible. Good imagery loaded into Google Earth for the naval areas around Cavite City/Manila and some of the other far-flung naval stations along the Philippines’ immense coastlines allowed us to document more of the fleet than usual.

USS Redbud AKL-398, originally built as a Buoy Tender for the US Coast Guard in 1943. After USN service she was transferred to the Philippine Navy as BRP Kalinga, now serving with the Coast Guard. Credit: U.S. Navy Bureau of Ships, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

BRP Kalinga AG-89 Manila port 2018

In recent years, the navy has been modernizing and expanding to meet new threats, in an unstable region, by acquiring more capable ships. Two ex-US Coast Guard Hamilton Class High Endurance Cutters have been refitted to become patrol frigates and to train crews in the operation of (sort-of) modern warships. The navy is no longer making-do with ships transferred after long service elsewere, either. Two Rizal class frigates, heavily modified version of the Korean-built Incheon class, and two large Tarlac Class Amphibious Warfare Ships have recently entered service. This is our 48th navy documented through satellite imagery. Please check out the pages for more interesting ship histories and an almost encyclopedic series of satellite views of this remarkable navy, and enjoy!

New technology purpose-built for the PN: BRP Jose Rizal (2020). Credit: Philippine Navy, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

*Yes, we know “Ageless Warrior” is the nickname of the USS Coral Sea CV-43.

**We explored this story in our recent post, about the People’s Army of Vietnam Navy, where other RVN units were captured and put into Vietnamese service.

The People’s Army of Vietnam Navy (PAVN)

The Vietnamese navy, officially the People’s Army of Vietnam Navy (PAVN), is the 45th navy documented by the Shipsearcher Identification Section (SIS). The variety of ships, as well as the extraordinary breadth of service of some of the units, makes the PAVN page a must-see, and adds 21 ship types and 35 Google Earth captures to the project!

PAVN improved Gepard frigate Lý Thái Tổ HQ-012. Credit: Alisé Kim, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

One constant of the PAVN fleet, from its origins as a tiny force of patrol and torpedo boats of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam), has been the wide range of Russian designs that have served. Many of the same types of ubiquitous Soviet warships that were traded or sold to client states and other navies not aligned to the West found a home here: Soviet Osa missile boats, Tarantul corvettes, minesweepers, and Petya class light frigates. 

PAVN Osa II Haiphong 2021
An older OSA II missile boat near Haiphong.
PAVN Vietnamese_Navy_Petya_II_Class_Frigate_(HQ-15)
PAVN Petya II class frigate HQ-15 ca. Credit: Hoangprs5, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

An unusual feature of the navy is that it also includes ships from the other side of the old Cold War divide. There are a number of former US Navy ships now leaving PAVN service after very long careers. These are relics of the lost Republic of Vietnam Navy (RVNN-South Vietnam). During the lengthy US engagement in Vietnam, the US loaned or transferred older ships to the the Republic as part of the massive amount of military assistance.

Three Barnegat class seaplane tenders, rearmed as frigates, serving in the South Vietnamese Navy. After WW2 service in the USN, they had been transferred to the US Coast Guard, then transferred to the RVNN. Out of the seven units transferred, six escaped. These 3 ships were then transferred to the Philippine Navy. RVNS Phạm Ngũ Lão (HQ-15) was captured by the North Vietnamese forces, and served at least until the late 1990s as a hulk. It’s ultimate disposal is unclear. Via wikipedia, source unknown.

Jane’s Fighting Ships editions from the early 1970s reveal the extent of the former USN units in the RVNN: Two Destroyer escorts, seven seaplane tenders armed as frigates, Admirable and Adjutant class minesweepers, patrol craft, and a wide range of landing ships, including six Landing Ship Tanks (LSTs) that had seen service in both European and Pacific theatres of World War Two. Some sources even mention that the RVNN fleet of the early 1970s was the 10th largest navy in the World. 

RVNN Vietnamese Minesweeper Wreck AWM
RVNN patrol ship HQ-116 RVNS Bạch Đằng II grounded, ca. 1970 near the mouth of the Cua Viet River. This US-built wooden Adjutant class minesweeper like two other examples, was transferred direct to Vietnam, in 1959. Copyright Australian War Memorial Anthony Leonard Ey, RAN collection P11391.015

In April 1975, as the military situation in South Vietnam collapsed, and the North broke through all Southern defences to encircle the capital, Saigon, elements of the RVNN, with as many as 30,000 refugees, fled to Subic Bay, Philippines.* What could not be evacuated or scuttled was captured, and many of these units were incorporated into the PAVN, leading to a unique influx of RVNN, ex-USN “Prizes of War.”

PAVN LST MK 2 Ho Chi Minh City 2020

Four years later, the Soviet Union traded the PAVN more modern ships for a 25-year lease to make use of the port at Cam Ranh Bay (The Russian Pacific Fleet presence would last until 2002). The 1980s were not kind to this disparate fleet, with speculation on widespread decay “rust-out” and inoperability of much of the PAVN.

Turya Hydrofoils Da Nang 2017
After the prolonged period of decay, the remarkable thing about the PAVN may be that so many elderly Soviet Osa missile boats, Turya hydrofoil torpedo boats, and Shershen TBs continue to serve on into the 2020s!

Shershen class Ha Tou vietnam 2020

In recent years, the decline has been reversed, as antique ships were disposed of, old ships were refitted, and more capable units were acquired. A 1997 purchase of two odd little North Korean “Yugo” mini-submarines helped train crews for bigger, better boats: a force of six Russian built improved-Kilo attack boats came into service starting in 2013. This regionally-powerful submarine service mostly patrols out of Cam Ranh Bay. The Russian influence continues with modern, capable types, such as Molniya upgraded missile corvettes and new Gepard class frigates.

Two PAVN kilo class submarines. Credit: Trinhvan21, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

PAVN Kilo Class SSN Cam Ranh Bay 2020

When you add in the new classes of indigenous-built patrol vessels, auxiliaries and landing ships (with designs mostly from the Dutch firm Damen), to replace the worn-out Soviet and American-built hulls, you have one pretty special navy! We hope you enjoy our pages, where, as always, we try to track down as many different PAVN ship types as possible.Damen Roro 5612 Da Nang building 2019

*The RVNN ships that arrived at Subic Bay (with US military assistance) hauled down their flags, became American ships again, and then were promptly handed over, mostly to the Philippines, where some were incorporated into the navy, and will be featured in an upcoming page.

Last Views of the Indian Navy / Royal Navy Carrier INS Viraat / HMS Hermes?

After more than a 50 years of service, is this the end for the Royal Navy and Indian Navy’s longtime flagship, and veteran aircraft carrier HMS Hermes / INS Viraat?

The list of decommissioned aircraft carriers preserved as museum ships or other attractions around the World is not an inspiring one. As of 2021, the only two nations which have successfully preserved carriers are the United States, and China (which has a knack for preserving Russian carriers). India operated the INS Vikrant R-11 as a museum ship at Mumbai from 2001-2012. For a time it looked like the larger INS Viraat R-22, with important service in two navies, could be preserved. Read on for the interesting history, and current status, of the INS Viraat / HMS Hermes.

INS Viraat Kochi 2015
A view we title “Viraat fading into history.” A Google splice error shows a combined view of Cochin Shipyards, Kochi in August 2015, when the INS Viraat was in for her last operational refit, and Nov. 2015.

The Centaur Class was a Second World War design meant to improve upon the earlier British Light Fleet Carriers (what became the Colossus and Majestic classes). As originally conceived, the planned class of eight ships would have had axial (or straight) flight decks. They were to be 45 feet longer and 10,000 tons heavier than their predecessors, with a length just under 740 feet and a total displacement of 28,000 tons.

HMS Hermes prewetting 1961 IWM
HMS Hermes, June 1961, with its water jets “pre-wetting” surfaces as part of the ship’s anti-nuclear fallout protection system: © IWM. A-34469

None of the ships were in service by the end of the War. Throughout the 1950s, four ships were gradually completed. HMS Hermes, which was intended originally to have been named “Elephant,” was the last finished, to the most modern upgrades, with a well-angled 743′ flight deck and powerful steam catapults to operate heavier, modern jet aircraft. These design changes gave her enhancements over her three sisters, and would result in her having a much, much longer service life.

HMS Hermes Sea Vixen trial 1961 IWM
A June 1961 demonstration of the Sea Vixen jet, one of the first generation of strike aircraft Hermes carried. This also shows the massive Type 984 “3-D” or ‘searchlight’ radar above the island:© IWM A 34466 

“Happy H,” as she was affectionately known by her crew, served in the Royal Navy from 1959 to 1984. She had a lengthy, varied career, operating in several roles. Completed as a strike carrier, in early 1970s her catapults were removed and her fixed-wing aircraft landed. First she was converted to a “Commando Carrier” with helicopters and LCVP Mk.2 landing craft to embark Royal Marine assault forces. Soon after she became an Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) carrier, with an air complement oriented around ASW helicopters. This new connversion was intended to counter the threat of Soviet submarines.

HMS Hermes IWM colour
HMS Hermes with the ship’s company and aircraft dressing ship, undated. This appears to depict the “Commando Carrier” phase of her career, when she operated a helicopter-only complement of Westland Wessex and Sea King Anti-Submarine helicopters, along with landing craft and vehicles for an assault force of Royal Marines. © IWM HU 101347

Her most significant modernization occurred in 1981, when in order to operate Sea Harrier STOVL (Short Take-off and Vertical Landing) jets, she was refitted with a prominent “ski jump” at the leading edge of the flight deck. She emerged from refit as a multi-role carrier, able to carry a flexible, well-rounded air complement of strike and ASW aircraft, while still being able to carry assault/landing forces.

HMS Hermes and Broadsword Falklands
HMS Hermes with HMS Broadsword, Apr.-June 1982, Falklands Conflict. Hermes shows the recently installed ski jump. Copyright: © IWM. MH-27508

Her service as flagship during the Falklands War stands out. Hermes left for the South Atlantic from HM Naval Dockyard Portsmouth 5 April, 1982, only 3 days after the Argentine landings on the Falklands. Hermes led a powerful task force which included the new carrier, HMS Invincible R-05, the nuclear-powered submarine HMS Conqueror, destroyers and frigates and other ships. This force eventually expanded to include more than 120 ships. During the conflict, she embarked an air complement of Sea Harriers, RAF GR.3 Harriers, and Westland Sea King Anti-Submarine Warfare helicopters, and also carried a troop of Special Air Service (SAS) and Royal Marines, who were forward-deployed to other ships for assault operations. The Harriers flew combat air patrols. Intended to operate nine Sea King and 5 Harriers, while in the South Atlantic, the ship carried as many as 37 aircraft! After the end of hostilities in mid-June, Hermes went back to the usual exercises, a refit, but then wound up in reserve status by late 1983. “Happy H” was decommissioned from the Royal Navy on 12 April 1984.*

Two years later the Indian government purchased the ship, which was reconditioned at Devonport Dockyard before her departure from British waters. INS Viraat commissioned into the Indian Navy during May 1987. The acquisition of the carrier was a major development for Indian naval aviation, being significantly larger than the first carrier, INS Vikrant. Viraat was the Indian Navy’s pride and joy, serving for 26 years as the navy’s flagship, mostly homeported at Mumbai. Numerous refits at the Cochin Shipyards, Kochi kept the ship operating well into the 21st Century.

INS Vikrant and Viraat Mumbai 2010
INS Viraat R-22 (top) and the former INS Vikrant R-11, which was serving as a museum ship. This May 2010 view represents a half-century of Indian naval aviation.

As happens to all active ships in modern navies, the vessel was eventually determined to have reached the end of its service, being uneconomical to continue to safely operate. The deactivation process gained momentum during 2014-2015 and culminated in drydock work at Kochi from Aug-Sep. 2016. INS Viraat was formally decommissioned 6 March, 2017, and remained outwardly intact at her usual berth at Mumbai.

INS Viraat Mumbai 2020

A vigorous public campaign to save the ship from scrapping gained media attention during 2018-2019.  There are several reasons for preserving this unique warship. She is the last non-US aircraft carrier of any pre-1975 Cold War design…anywhere. Her incredibly long period of service with two navies adds up to about the same time as the only comparable record: USS Enterprise CVN-65’s 55+ years of service. Hermes/Viraat is a substantially older ship, with portions of the lower hull dating from before the end of the Second World War; An important flagship for both British and Indian navies, she is also one of the last remaining combatants of either side from the Falklands War, and could usefully interpret events of that time to the public; Carriers are designed to be upgraded with new technologies to combat obsolescence, but the range of technological transformations of Hermes / Viraat is unique – A ship design intended to operate piston-engined aircraft instead wound up embarking generations of jets and helicopters.

INS Viraat R-22 during Exercise MALABAR 2005, with a complement of Sea Harriers, and Sea King and HAL Chetak helicopters. NARA: USN 330-CFD-DN-SD-06-05771 (PH3 Shannon E. Renfroe)

Several British and Indian efforts to preserve Viraat as a museum ship or convert her to some other use, such as an entertainment complex or hotel, failed to secure the needed funds to purchase this ship. She was sold to shipbreakers at Alang during July, 2020, and moved there in late September. Satellite imagery shows the early stages of the end of the Viraat. This veteran warship was moved inshore in early October, amidst many large merchant ships, to be taken apart by the usual army of torch wielding labourers.

INS Viraat scrapping Alang 2020INS Viraat scrapping Alang2 2020

The breaking began in earnest in mid-December, with the dismantling of the flight deck over the bows. By late January 2021, the flight deck was removed back almost to the island superstructure, and the hull and forward compartments had been cut down.

Sentinel imagery 2021/11/08 [Edited], slightly further out than the above Google imagery. She was still mostly intact at Alang, Gujarat.

Sentinel imagery 2021/02/06 [Edited] at Alang, Gujarat. Note the clear visual evidence of the forward flight deck and bow compartments being dismantled.
And that might have been the usual ending of any number of warships we have listed or found in scrapyards or shipbreakers in our many shipsearcher naval pages, but then things went haywire! In a very unusual development, India’s Supreme Court halted the dismantling of Viraat in early February, to consider a late proposal to save the carrier. Unfortunately, this “12th hour reprieve” seems to have come too late. It is unlikely that the hulk could be used for any purpose without very costly reconstruction (though at this point we would suggest cosmetic restoration using modern materials could be an option). The following tweet, by Vishnu Som, news anchor and journalist involved in the effort to save the carrier, shows the extent of the scrapping effort:

The Staff Naval Historian and all the less-relevant personnel attached to the Shipsearcher Identification Section (SIS) will continue to update this story when more information becomes available.

Additional Resources: For views of the the INS Viraat and India’s first carrier, the INS Vikrant R-11, see the pages for Indian Navy.

For our earlier work on the scrapping of the last 1942 Light Fleet Carrier Design ship, INS Vikrant, Viraat’s longtime companion see: Last views of the Indian Navy Aircraft Carrier Vikrant

For comparative views of the scrapping of US supercarriers, see our work on the dismantling of US aircraft carriers in a recent post and more detailed page.

For a detailed look at the plan for dismantling Viraat, see Avinash Nair “Explained: Here is how INS Viraat will be taken apart at the Alang shipyard” The Indian Express 6 Oct. 2021:

*There would not be a larger aircraft carrier in RN service until the December 2017 commissioning of HMS Queen Elizabeth.

**Normally we calculate service based on first date of commissioning, and last date of decommissioning, not focusing on periods out of service for major refits or modernizations. However, for Hermes / Viraat, it makes sense to consider the period fully out of service between RN decommissioning and entry into the Indian Navy as time out of the total. Some sources claim Viraat had the longest service of any warship, but, since we have listed many, many smaller warships that continue to serve in other navies from the Second World War, and even earlier, this is not accurate.

Visions of the North Korean Mystery Frigate Soho

Our effort to reconstruct a plan of the mysterious North Korean Soho class catamaran-frigate.

In our last post, Unknown Warships of the Hermit Kingdom, we noted the almost complete lack of accessible photos of North Korea’s oddball fleet of ships. For one of the most mysterious of Korea People’s Navy (KPN) warships, we decided to fire up the creative department and work on a draft profile and deck plan. We are particularly thrilled with the result, which we think helps restore elements of the design of a unique warship that no longer exists.

The basic plans the Shipsearcher Identification Section’s (SIS) team of amateurs worked up may look whacky, but read on, and you will see that the Soho, pennant number 823, was no ordinary warship!

Soho draft general arrangement : waterline profile and overall deck layout. For all use please credit with a link to this site.

The Soho represented a radical departure for the North Korean regime’s naval construction. The ship that was completed at the Najin shipyards late in 1982 was a helicopter-carrying, missile-armed catamaran (twin hull). For its time, it was an ambitious concept, designed to perform multiple roles in an era when multiple hulls were not being used in the design of surface combatants. At 240 feet long and about 1,600 tons displacement, the Soho corresponded to what we might think of nowadays as a corvette, though it has usually been called a frigate by analysts. With a broad beam of over 50 feet, the ship also bears a resemblance to modern littoral combat ships, though her role did not seem to include landing assault forces. For a modern naval comparison, it is about the size of the 2005-activated Sea Fighter:

A sharp capture of FSF-1 Sea Fighter, a similarly-sized USN catamaran. The layout is much different.

Soho had a flush (single level) deck that spanned the two hulls. This was dominated by a helicopter flight deck, which took up almost half the space. Many questions remain about what was intended for the air complement – the helicopters the vessel was meant to operate. They would likely have extended the ship’s anti-submarine capabilities. One of the very few photos (Shared on Twitter from original Korean blog entry: shows a single Russian Mil Mi-4 helo (or possibly the Chinese Harbin Z-5 copy) on this large flight deck:

The remaining midships and forward sections held a multi-level deck structure, with navigation and command facilities, sensors, and communications gear. The crew were estimated to consist of about 200 officers and men. The primary armament consisted of four enormous STYX anti-ship missiles, contained in “dust-bin” style launchers.* These were likely reused from KPN Osa or Soju class missile boats.

An Osa 1 class missile boat similar to those in KPN service, launching a STYX anti-ship missile. The enormous STYX anti-ship missiles, also housed in four similar “dust-bin” style launchers, the 30mm Gatling gun (bow position) and the “drum-tilt” radar visible aft are all features that were reportedly found on the Soho. Credit: Bergenbier, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The main gun, located on a raised area forward of the bridge, was a Russian 100mm 56 caliber variety, similar to that fitted on the earlier Najin class frigates. The Soho bristled with lighter weapons, such as 57 and 30 mm cannon, and included anti-submarine RBU-1200 5-barrelled mortars. Some sources also note depth charges held on rails on the stern deck.

100mm 56 Cal. B-34, similar to those fitted on North Korean warships, on display at the Estonian Maritime Museum, Tallinn, ca. 2012. Credit: MKFI, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Little information is available about Soho’s career. She rarely ventured far from the protected waters off North Korea’s Eastern coastline. Reportedly, the ship was unstable, and may not have been safe in exposed waters further from the coast. Around 2009, Soho is believed to have been decommissioned and dismantled where she was originally built.

The only view currently sourced from Google Earth provider Maxar technologies, dates from 2004. Online there is also one 2006 view of the vessel taken from DigitalGlobe (see resources section for link) that shows the helicopter pad markings and has been used along with this one to create the deck arrangement scheme. The design would almost seem fantastical, except that elements of it are clearly distinguishable in these views.

Though this single unit’s design resulted in no similar naval construction, Soho does seem to have encouraged the North Korean regime to, in the early 2000s, embark on the construction of a series of smaller, faster catamarans: the Nongo class. This is all we have been able to find out about this strange ship. We would welcome any comments or help locating additional views of the Soho, giving us the opportunity to update our design based on new information. Read on for a section on the how we came up with our design, and some useful sources.

Soho design context and details:

Our interpretation of the design incorporates elements from the existing general arrangement profile view (or simplified rigging plan) of the Soho class (found in Jane’s Fighting Ships editions). The JFS drawing was not significantly updated from the 1990s until 2007. While the Soho remained an active warship, the JFS profile remained one of the most vague plans in their vast catalog of drawings.

One interpretation of the Soho, which is generally similar to the Jane’s Fighting Ships drawing. A similar rendering by the same designer shows a cut-back raked catamaran bow, with the fore deck projecting forward, but is not available for use. Credit: planeman, via wikipedia (Arabic language site).

Without much to go on, we created the only general arrangement-type deck plan (overhead view) we are aware of for the Soho. This view accurately sites major deck features, with distances and orientation measured from the satellite views. This then also helped inform the design of the profile view (side view), as we matched locations of major features visible from the satellite views. We also took into account any photographs we could find. Since, as we mentioned, we could find no overall views, these included the online image of the Soho class helicopter deck with helicopter, and another of a Najin class frigate, that happens to show then “dear leader” Kim Jong-il on the aft deck of what is clearly the Soho. This last view shows some of the rear deckhouse, and was detailed enough to make out some of the features of this deck structure, including the mast and some of the Soviet/Chinese derived radar sets.

And one more time! Soho draft general arrangement : waterline profile and overall deck layout. For all use please credit with a link to this site.

One area of the design we struggled with was the twin bows. We knew from the satellite image that the forward deck tapers conventionally to a broad, rounded point. Many other catamaran designs, such as Dergach missile boats, the Sea Fighter and USN Spearhead Expeditionary Fast Transport have a squared off foredeck that doesn’t project much beyond the stems of the twin-hulls. Other designs, such as the new Iranian catamaran, actually have a cut-back foredeck that sweeps back towards the deck house.

The North Koreans had another large catamaran, also built at Najin shipyards during the 1980s. If possible, even less is known about the submarine rescue ship Kowan, which we do believe we located in views of the submarine base at Chaho. Jane’s Fighting Ships editions feature no views of this larger, 275-foot long vessel, but, fortunately, there is at least one online photo (taken from a collection of ship photos and used on the Korean blog Morning Fog) that seems to show this vessel. We can speculate that the Soho would have had some similarities, including the raked stems.

Casting a wider net, one other vessel inspired our design: the Russian submarine salvage ship Kommuna, a very early naval catamaran which we explored in an earlier post, had a similar broad, rounded bow structure that projected forward of the twin stems.

Additional Resources:

-“New North Korean Helicopter Frigates Spotted” J. Bermudez. The site has good analysis of the Soho, with some of the images discussed above including the Digital Globe view:

Launch of Naj-A Najin Shipyard Number 28 North Korea Feb. 1982:

A 1982 CIA report on the original construction, which included photo interpretation of (still redacted) imagery, released 2011. Naj-A was the original western intelligence designator of the Soho. Since it can be assumed that the redactions contained good aerial or satellite imagery, supporting the description of dimensions and major armament, it should be considered generally accurate.

Missile-equipped combatants Toejo-Dong Naval Base and Missile Support Facility, North Korea (Sanitized) Dec. 1982:

Another CIA report, about the activity of Soho, Najin, and Soju missile-equipped ships. This also makes use of National Photographic Interpretation Center imagery, which is also all still classified and redacted. This report has additional information about the armament of Soho. community thread “North Korean Frigate Soho“, featuring a different reconstructed design, and the 2006 Digital Globe capture with analysis:

* The four STYX missiles (NATO codename) could have been the original Russian P-15 termit units, Chinese developments of these, that had different capabilities, or North Korean-built derivative KN-1 or 01.

The Unknown Warships of the Hermit Kingdom!

Come see satellite views of warships that make you go “huh?” in North Korea!

North Korea has one of the most unusual – and least known – fleets. From antiquated ex-Soviet submarines and patrol boats to advanced-looking catamarans, the Korean People’s Navy (KPN) is the 39th fleet documented in a series of new pages on our project. We are certainly not the only ones gazing at satellite views of North Korea and wondering…what the hell?!

The Shipsearcher Identification Section (SIS) faced more than the usual challenges locating naval units in the scattered East and West Sea naval ports. The extreme lack of photographs of North Korean ships has made interpreting the satellite views a trial. 

Najin North Korea with fleet 2009
Commercial port facilities and the naval shipyards are along the North side of the Bay. In this September 2009 capture, many of the East Sea fleet’s surface units are anchored.

Some of the earliest units transferred to the North, in late 1953, after the active fighting of the Korean War ceased, were elderly Russian minesweepers. These 1930s Fugas/Tral class sweepers/patrol ships inspired the design of the domestically-constructed Sariwon class corvettes. All these years later, 3 Sariwons and 1 of those Stalinist-era Russian ships remain in active service!

This aerial photograph, taken by Japanese military aircraft in the Sea of Japan during 1993, appears to show one of the then 55-year old ex-Russian ships. Though the bow gun is described as an 85mm tank gun off a T-34/85 tank, it looks to us like a larger 100mm Russian or Chinese tank gun. NARA: USN 330-CFD-DN-SC-94-01225
Tral class Munchon 2019
The distinctive differences with what we know of the similar Sariwon class are the twin gun positions in the stern deck, the raised superstructure amidships, on either side of the funnel, and the crescent-shaped flying bridge roof.

The larger Najin class frigates are sometimes described as a near copy of the Russian Kola class. They have formed the mainstay of the surface combatant fleet since four units were built in North Korea starting in the early 1970s. In their lengthy career they were armed with torpedoes, then, in the early 1980s, with cannibalized STYX anti-ship missiles and tubes off missile boats. The two that remain in service are even now being updated – at least one has been seen armed with some version or copy of the modern Russian Kh-35 anti-ship missile.

Najin class corvette or light frigate no. 531 underway, ca. 1993, with the two STYX missile bins fitted between the funnels. NARA: USN 330-CFD-DN-SC-94-01224

For a period in the early 2000s, it looked like the Najins would be joined by a mystery frigate! Around 2004 the unmistakable hull of a comparatively massive Russian Krivak class ship appeared out of nowhere in Nampo shipyards. According to various observers it was an uncompleted Krivak III class ship on the stocks at Mykolaiv, Ukraine. It would have joined sister-ships in the Black Sea fleet in first the Russian, and then the Ukrainian Navy. Somehow, with the likely intercession of a Russian firm, this “dead hulk” got sold to North Korea. Had the ship been completed, it would have become the largest surface unit of the KPN. However, it vanished from Nampo before 2008, and has not reappeared.

krivak frigate Nampo NK 2004
The unfinished Krivak in Nampo. Reports that this was radically altered to become a much shorter modern frigate seem absurd, and it is more likely the hulk was scrapped or sunk.

After the Najin class, large domestically-designed KPN warships became increasingly odd. The most unusual ship was the futuristic Soho helicopter-carrying missile-equipped catamaran of the early 1980s. There are virtually no photos of most spaces on this ship. Its design did seem to inspire a host of follow-on smaller catamarans and surface-effect-vessels. The Nongo class ships started to appear in the early 2000s. There are at least 3 varieties with some major differences – the earliest appears to have a “stealthy” radar reduced cross-section, some are armed with Kh-35 or derivative anti-ship missiles, and they come in a few sizes.

The Nongo class may also be the only craft fast enough to accompany and support another strange feature of the fleet: the numerous Kongbang class assault hovercraft. Should widespread hostilities break out again on the Korean peninsula, the main task of as many as 140 Kongbangs would be to quickly land several thousand special operations troops in South Korean territory – an incursion around the Demilitarized Zone which would be intended to disrupt the South Korean military response.

We hope visitors are interested in our new pages, where we try to arrive at a detailed satellite imagery exploration of the mysterious North Korean fleet!

Tondar hovercraft, Iranian Navy. This craft is similar in appearance to the North Korean units. These both were developed from the same British Hovercraft Corporation / Saunders-Roe design. Credit: Tasnim News Agency, CC BY 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons
Kongbang class hovercraft are staged near the borders in several locations, seemingly poised to descend on the South Korean coast.

Additional Resources:

A declassified Central Intelligence Agency report on the North Korean Navy in 1986, with a summary of all warship types in service and in construction in that era:

To see views of the technologically-advanced, highly capable South Korean fleet, which would oppose North Korean naval operations in a future conflict, check out our pages for the Republic of Korea Navy.

The variations in types within the Nongo class fast attack craft are analyzed by HI Sutton, on his site, Covert Shores.

A National Post Apr. 2014 article “Graphic: North Korea’s Conventional Arms” by Richard Johnson, Andrew Barr, and Jonathon Rivait has a summary of naval units and silhouette views of KPN ships/boats and submarines: . There appear to be a few inaccuracies, such as the Kowan class ASR sub rescue vessel (which looks like a much older trawler or tug-based sub rescue vessel), but it is an interesting attempt to visualize the fleet, and helps highlight the distinctive differences in these very similar types.

In several ways, the unusual warships we located reminded us of the Iranian Navy, which we explored earlier in pages and posts. There has been some technology transfer between these two, and the mix of fast attack craft, midget submarines, light frigates and corvettes is similar.

Stay tuned for an upcoming blog post where we explore features and attempt to reconstruct views of the mysterious and highly unusual Soho missile-equipped, helicopter-carrying catamaran frigate!

Mexican Navy – Still Rock n’ Roll to Me!

Shipsearcher staff have now loaded pages for ships of the Mexican Navy, serving on both Pacific and Gulf Coasts. A fascinating and historic collection of ships have served the Armada de México!

Gearing Class destroyer ARM Netzahualcóyotl, formerly USS Steinaker, Pacific Ocean, 2005. US Navy Official  Photographer’s Mate Christopher D. Blachly, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

If you have fond memories of the mighty US Navy in any period of the Cold War, there’s a lot to like here: Fletcher and Gearing class destroyers, “FRAM cans” serving into the 21st Century; an Edsall class destroyer escort that kept at it; Knox class frigates that still comprise the major surface combatants; Newport class landing ships; a collection of very old patrol boats; Auk Class US minesweepers from World War 2, upgraded with flight decks, which are still gradually being replaced!

ARM Valentin Gomez Farías PO-110, Valle Class Patrol Vessel (former Auk class minesweeper USS Starling AM-64, USN service 1942-1972), ca. 2015. Credit: RigelAriel, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

It isn’t all USN cast-offs though: The ARM Reformador POLA-101, a frigate-sized SIGMA design and some of the new corvette-sized vessels, including the Durango and Sierra class patrol ships or “gun boats” have reduced-radar cross-section design, a flight deck and hangar, and a variety of stern and side hatches that deploy the ship’s interceptor boats.

As always, we round the pages off with some interesting auxiliaries and historic ships, including the lovely sail training vessel ARM Cuauhtémoc, tied up at its usual spot in sunny Acapulco! We hope you enjoy our pages for the Mexican Navy – our 37th navy documented in this project.

ARM Cuauhtémoc at Acapulco with the Sierra Class Patrol Ship ARM Matias Romero P-144. Credit: platibolo from Cholula, México, CC BY 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

The Loneliest Minesweeper?

Shipsearcher staff share views of the last of the Algerine class minesweepers that served in vital roles in the Second World War: HMS Minstrel / HTMS Phosamton.

Shipsearcher Identification Section (SIS) staff search extensively for satellite views of some of the last survivors of famous classes of warships. During the Second World War, the British Algerine fleet or ocean-going minesweeper design formed an important class of Allied warship. At 225 feet long and about 1,300 tons displacement, they were larger than other designs, such as the Bangor or Bathurst sweepers.

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A tracing of major deck features of the Algerine Minesweeper class, created for recognition purposes.

This new class could be constructed by commercial shipyards – an important feature for speeding up wartime production of the vital hulls. More than half of the 110 ships were built in Canadian shipyards: Port Arthur Shipbuilding, Toronto Shipbuilding, and Redfern Construction. These ships were all powered by reciprocating engines, while some of the British-built ships were turbine-driven. In addition to regular minesweeping duties, ships were quickly pressed into service as ocean escorts, helping to bulk up protection for the vital transatlantic convoys. The dozen Royal Canadian Navy units spent most of their wartime duty in this role, providing important service alongside River class frigates and Flower class corvettes.

A lovely original colour 1943 photograph of HMCS Sault Ste. Marie,  a Canadian-built Algerine, built by the Port Arthur Shipbuilding Co. and similar to the original configuration of HMS Minstrel. Credit: Canada. Department of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada CT-247

HMS Minstrel J-445, was one of the last ships launched from the Toronto, Ontario shipyards of Redfern Construction Company in 1945, as the war ended. Minstrel was transferred to the Royal Thai Navy In 1947 as HTMS Phosamton (or “Phosampton” depending on the source). With most of her sister-ships scrapped in the 1960s, her service stretched on and on into the early 2000s. According to 1980s editions of Jane’s Fighting Ships, she was given an engineering upgrade and modified with a large classroom deckhouse over the quarterdeck, serving as a training vessel.

An Algerine under construction in a Toronto shipyard during 1944, showing the original appearance of the stern and minesweeping gear combined with depth-charge rails. Credit: National Film Board WRM 4986, Library and Archives Canada

Most online sources still call the Phosamton the last active Algerine, serving out of Samut Prakan naval base. However, the Navypedia entry notes it was stricken (removed from service) in 2017, with other sources suggesting it was retired in 2012. A Thai news source had a more accurate updated location that we were able to look up, and images online confirm the location. This minesweeper has been located nearby at Samet Ngam since at least 2013, and shipsearcher staff very much hope that it will be saved from scrapping. However, it has been languishing in a deteriorated condition. More recent views show a large barge moored alongside. As the ship is reported to be resting on the bottom at her berth, the barge may be alongside to commence dismantling the venerable sweeper in situ. Thailand has gone to lengths to preserve other contemporary warships, after their long second careers with the Royal Thai Navy, so there is still hope for this last Algerine.

We don’t often “confirm” ship views, as many ships are pretty obvious, and if we are wrong, very few visitors to our site have ever corrected us! In this case, we sketched out the outline of the satellite view, tracing major features of the ship. We then compared this with online sources and plans in Ken MacPherson’s excellent source book on the topic Minesweepers of the Royal Canadian Navy, 1938-1945, which were themselves made from plans now held by Library and Archives Canada. It is always exciting to identify even a single survivor of a bygone era, lingering on into the present, as this allows us to explore the history of the whole class of vessels, and pester the Shipsearcher staff historian to contextualize or interpret our finds!

This google earth capture has been overlaid with a hand-drawn plan of an Algerine class minesweeper. The outlines of the enlarged classroom on the quarterdeck can be seen in the satellite view extending towards the stern.

Check out our Royal Thai Navy pages for other views of the Phosamton, and other veteran ships, originally from a variety of navies, that are being preserved.

Spotlight on the Iranian Navy!

See the Iranian Fleet, an unusual collection of ships!

The Islamic Republic of Iran has an interesting fleet, and some pretty unusual things have happened to it in recent years.

Bandar Abbas, the main naval port, located along the strategically important Strait of Hormuz, is a target-rich (satellite imagery) environment. Recent events prompted the Ship Identification Section (SIS) to shelve other R & D projects, put more pizza pops in the microwave, and get to work on a new set of pages. This is the 31st Navy documented by our project.

Continue reading “Spotlight on the Iranian Navy!”

The Strange Lives of a Fake Iranian Carrier

A brief history and satellite imagery exploration of what shipsearcher staff like to call the USS Potemkin Maru!

Carrier of dreams or carrier of nightmares? In the case of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s fake aircraft carrier, that depends on your perspective. It might be as simple as which side of the Strait of Hormuz you are looking at it from.

FakeUScarrierBandar Abbas2014-02
The “thing” nears completion, with aircraft and the island superstructure being added. The shipsearcher name for this will be explained below.

Building an aircraft carrier is no easy task, and few countries in the World are able to marshal the necessary resources, technologies, and shipbuilding capacity to do this. Since the end of World War Two, the US Navy has commissioned about 30 large carriers, each class of which surpassed the last in terms of size and capability.  The current Nimitz-class supercarriers routinely patrol the waters of the Persian Gulf, and transit the Strait miles away from the Iranian coastline.

The real deal: USS Dwight D. Eisenhower CVN-69, USNS Arctic and the destroyer USS Nitze transit the Strait of Hormuz, July 2016, as part of maritime security operations in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations. US Navy Official 160721-N-OR652-449 (PO3 J. Alexander Delgado)

As one response to what Iran sees as constant provocations, it built its own unique carrier: a massive fake target ship. A floating target could be as innocuous as a floating barge or a platform with some markings, but this 670-foot long mock-up, completed in 2014, looks like somebody’s idea of a US supercarrier! Unlike the training aids or amusement park attractions we feature on other pages, such as the People’s Liberation Army Navy (China), this fake carrier is unique: It can be towed out from its home-port, Bandar Abbas, and attacked to test the strike capabilities of the surface units of the Iranian Navy, missile technologies, and the swarm tactics of the fast attack boats of the Revolutionary Guard’s maritime component, in a massive display of carefully staged pyrotechnics.

The thing about the Iranian military displays is that they are not staged in some out-of-the-way backwaters. On one side of the Straits are the United Arab Emirates, on the other is Iran, with Bandar Abbas the major Iranian naval port in the area. Loaded super-tankers transit this tight gauntlet, lined up like a vast convoy. Annually, over 20% of the World’s petroleum pass by here, on the way to facilities across the World – a massive choke-point for oil. During the Iran-Iraq War the supply of oil through the straits was threatened during the so-called “Tanker War.” In 1988, the US Navy’s Operation Praying Mantis struck Iranian targets here, and sank several warships, in part for retaliation against Iranian mine-laying activities. Since 2015, the Iranians have twice pushed the giant target out into the Strait, to stage large attacks against it.

Strait of Hormuz general view 2020
On any day, much of the traffic through the Straits of Hormuz consists of super-tankers.

What follows is a satellite imagery survey of the unusual career of what, for want of a better name, Shipsearcher Identification Staff (SIS) dubbed the (fake) USS Potemkin Maru. The staff naval historian assigned to write this post is not certain if those twinkie-eating wiz-kids at SIS came up with this name as a reference to fake Russian villages, Japanese merchant ships, or the simulation that James T. Kirk cheated in Star Trek…or all of these. The SIS hasn’t yet set up a page for the Iranian Navy, so, for now, it makes an “honourable mention” in the USN currently-serving Aircraft Carriers page.

FakeUScarrierBandar Abbas2013-08
If it looks like the girders of a bridge, and acts like scaffolding…then it must be a fake carrier! Tubular idea, dude!
FakeUScarrierBandar Abbas2013-10
Here we would normally say the vessel is starting to take shape…but it really isn’t.
FakeUScarrierBandar Abbas2014-03
Near the bows the deck numbers “68” stand out clearly, which is a provocative reference to the USS Chester Nimitz (CVN-68), unless it is a case of hero-worship. We wouldn’t speculate. The numbers were painted out before the first attacks.
USS Nimitz Puget Sound refit 2018
And here is a capture of the authentic USS Nimitz, CVN-68, undergoing a refit at the Puget Sound shipyard. You can see that the 2/3 scale model-makers in Iran may have taken a few “liberties!”
FakeUScarrierBandar Abbas2015-02
Here the fake carrier is at a real dock, with its fake air complement embarked. We can’t speculate on the fake power system, but would say that, at this size it could well be fake nuclear-powered, with fake conventional also an option.
FakeUScarrierBandar Abbas2015-03
The carrier after the February 2015 staged attacks, which clearly voided the warranty, and may have even twisted the frame.
FakeUScarrierBandar Abbas2015-06
This shows the “thing” seemingly abandoned outside the port after the first attack.
FakeUScarrierBandar Abbas2019-06
Still abandoned outside the breakwater, there are now new holes in the deck, near the port trailing edges. Presumably discussions would have centered around the worth of repairing, vs. final disposal. How many workers – how many Allen keys to fix this?

We made the mistake of writing the Potemkin Maru off after it was “battle-damaged” the first time, on 25 February 2015. It lay abandoned outside of the Bandar Abbas restricted naval port breakwaters. But this fake carrier is nothing if not resilient. She was brought back into the port in August, 2018, and was repaired, only to be attacked again. Was there some type of mid-life upgrades? The only visual difference we could see was that the leading edges of the flight deck were slightly modified to be less “curvy.” This made the mock carrier appear less silly.

FakeUScarrierBandar Abbas2019-11
Work is underway repairing the first battle damage. The carrier seems to have virtually no draft (depth in the water) so can be hauled up and worked on by regular construction cranes.
FakeUScarrierBandar Abbas2020-03
This is how she looked before the latest attacks. With the sharper deck edges, she is starting to look better. If they would just broaden the deck over the bows, or have it taper outwards to meet the wider midships sections more, their fake could start to look like a masterpiece.

For the 28 July 2020 attacks, an assault team rappelled down rope from a hovering helicopter. We imagine this would be useful for training on landing a team on a merchant ship like a tanker, not a carrier surrounded by its screen of escorts, and air complement brimming with attack aircraft. Next up, a missile attack was staged: land-based anti-ship missiles and helicopter-fired rockets damaged the target. In the days after the attacks, press reports have not yet revealed what the ultimate fate of the Potemkin Maru is, with some indicating the carrier was “blown up,” and others claiming it was slightly damaged in an underwhelming display of military incapability. Will there be another rebirth of the great simulated ship? In his eloquent commentary on the use despots can make of propaganda victories vs. the actual reality, we can’t improve on poet Robert Graves’ closing lines in The Persian Version: “what repute the Persian monarch and the Persian nation won by this salutary demonstration: Despite a strong defence and adverse weather, all arms combined magnificently together.”

-2020/10/13 Update! Recently released imagery dating from this summer now shows the fake carrier pulled to the side of the breakwater, in the most wrecked condition it has yet looked.FakeUScarrierwreckBandar Abbas2020-08

-2020/08/08 Update! The fake carrier is now still on it’s side outside of the entrance to Bandar Abbas.

Bandar Abbas Sentinel-2 L1C image on 2020-08-06
The fake carrier is creating a disturbance in the current, and is the large oblong grey shape to the SE of the breakwater entrance. Contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data [2020] processed by Sentinel Hub

-2020/08/03 Update! More is now known (one day later) on the fate of the fake Iranian Carrier after the 28th of July exercises. It appears in recent imagery waterlogged, capsized onto its starboard side just outside of Bandar Abbas. Fake target carrier to real danger to navigation:

This earlier view from July 31st shows the carrier listing severely, with simulated aircraft hanging on.

HMCS Bonaventure – Canada’s Carrier – decommissioned 50 years ago

July 3rd 1970 – 50 years ago today, HMCS Bonaventure, Canada’s aircraft carrier, was decommissioned, in a move that surprised many.

July 3rd 1970 – 50 years ago today, HMCS Bonaventure, Canada’s aircraft carrier, was decommissioned, in a move that surprised many. “Bonnie,” the largest and most powerful warship the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) has ever operated, had just undergone a major “mid-life” refurbishment.

HMCS Bonaventure model CASMworkFINALBluewithaerials
Overhead photo of a Canadian Aviation and Space Museum artifact, a fine 1/144 Scale model of HMCS Bonaventure made by Dan Linton from Stouffville ON, with various aircraft that served aboard during career. For all use please credit Warsearcher with the URL of the website.

A few years before this, an official history of Canadian naval aviation produced by the Naval Historical Section, Department on National Defence, had concluded a section on Bonaventure with: “At the time of writing Bonaventure has been in commission over five and a half years, with the prospect of many more to come. Canada being deeply committed to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization for the defence of the Free World, the carrier will, no doubt, in the future, as in the past, be frequently working with the warships of her allies.”* In fact, Bonaventure, and all carrier-based RCN operations, had little time left. The lengthy refit proved costlier than anticipated. The government of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau decided to dispose of the ship, as a cost-cutting exercise, in the fall of 1969. This controversial decision removed fixed wing aircraft from Canadian naval aviation and limited it to helicopters attached to destroyers and frigates.

This composite shows Bonaventure and RCN naval aircraft, including many types that operated from the carrier. Late in her RCN career, Bonaventure also operated the new Sikorsky Sea King Anti-submarine helicopter. Crowsnest May-June 1960 edition, p.10. Photo credit would now be Crown Copyright, Department of National Defence, HS-61120

Bonaventure was a Majestic class variant of the British 1942 Light Fleet Carrier design. The concept was born out of wartime necessity. By mid-1942 the Royal Navy (RN) had lost a total of five fleet carriers, and two escort carriers, to enemy action. The vast sphere of operations, and expanding duties carriers and their aircraft could perform, meant that more “flat-tops” were needed, and they had to be produced faster. The plan for 16 ships was intended to fill the gap between large, expensive, and difficult to produce fleet carriers, and smaller escort carriers, whose roles were more limited. Light Fleet Carriers were also suitable for construction in civilian shipyards, freeing up naval yards for other priority work. They were certainly not intended to be an enduring cornerstone of any fleet. And yet, after the Second World War, of the 15 ships completed under two sub-classes, 10 of them wound up serving for decades in other navies.** For mid-sized navies, including Canada’s, these ships represented an excellent entry-level carrier to build a naval aviation service around.

HMCS Bonaventure dec. 1969 e011154074-v8
This Dec. 1969 view of the last sail past of HMCS Bonaventure in Halifax Harbour shows the beautiful lines of this updated design. Credit Library and Archives Canada / Department of National Defence HS 69-3061 Crown Copyright.

The careers of some of Bonaventure’s sister-ships are worth mentioning. The aptly-named HMS Venerable entered service early in 1945. During her 52-year career, she served in the Royal Netherlands Navy as HNMLS Karel Doorman, before being transferred to Argentina, as ARA Veinticinco de Mayo. During the 1982 Falklands War, she participated in some limited operations against the Royal Navy, and was also high on the list of targets for RN submarines. By the late 1980s she was inoperable, and became a source of spare parts for her sister-ship NAel Minas Gerais. This ship, also commissioned early in 1945, was originally HMS Vengeance. Vengeance also served in three navies (the Royal Navy, Royal Australian Navy, and the Brazilian Navy). As NAeL Minas Gerais, she became the last of the class in service, decommissioning in 2001, after an incredible 56 years!** This may well be the World’s second longest serving carrier.*** Minas Gerais Brazil 2002

Minas Gerais India scrapping 2004
This remarkable view shows former NAeL Minas Gerais in May, 2004, immediately before she was run up on the beach at Alang, India, for scrapping.

Another sister-ship, the Indian Navy’s INS Vikrant, was decommissioned in 1997. It survived as a museum ship in Mumbai dockyards until 2014. Vikrant’s history is further explored in a recent post about her scrapping and the page for Indian Navy carriers.

INS Vikrant and Viraat Mumbai 2010
INS Vikrant, at bottom, and the slightly newer INS Viraat (ex-HMS Hermes), both with very long service. Vikrant, the oldest remaining sister-ship of Bonaventure, was scrapped in Mumbai 2014-2015, while the Viraat appears to be destined to become a museum ship.

The Royal Canadian Navy built its postwar naval aviation service around three of these light fleet carriers, which served Canada successively as HMCS Warrior (1946-1948), HMCS Magnificent (1948-1957), and HMCS Bonaventure (1957-1970). Bonaventure, at 704′ overall length and 20,000 tons full-load displacement, was conspicuous at her usual berth at the Naval Dockyard, Halifax, NS.

HMCS Bonaventure HFX 1960 DNS-26014
HMCS Bonaventure in her usual berth under the Angus MacDonald Bridge, ca. 1960. Credit: Library and Archives Canada / Department of National Defence DNS-26014 Copyright belongs to Crown.

Composite view of multiple satellite captures [2003, 2005, 2019/09] of Halifax naval dockyard wharf No. 4 and Jetty no. 5 edited to appear closer to the 1970 arrangement, with a crane added from the nearby government wharf, Dartmouth. Dan Linton’s model of HMCS Bonaventure has been superimposed on a 705’ footprint. Bonaventure would not have been moored across these two berths, but her usual berth at no.4 would place her directly under the Angus L. MacDonald bridge. This composite is inserted only to provide a general mock-up. For all use please credit Warsearcher with the URL of the website.
During the mid-1950s Canada arranged for the completion, to an updated design, of the ship which was intended to become HMS Powerful. Harland and Wolff shipyards in Belfast, Northern Ireland, (famous as the builders of ocean liners, including RMS Titanic) resumed work on the carrier, which was commissioned in January 1957 as HMCS Bonaventure. She had a stronger flight deck to operate larger, heavier aircraft, enlarged deck elevators to move them from the hangar, and more powerful steam catapults to launch these aircraft. A mirror landing sight system helped pilots maintain a safe approach, as they also heard audio tones to help them keep their eyes on the carrier, not their instruments.

Photo of the Mirror landing system, on the Canadian Aviation and Space Museum model, built by Dan Linton from Stouffville ON. For all use please credit Warsearcher with the URL of the website.

Most obviously, the carrier was the first in the class to be built with an angled flight deck, a development that made it one of the most advanced warships then in service. This feature helped increase the tempo of flying operations. Bonaventure could operate its complement of Banshee jet fighters, leaving some portions of the deck for landing as other areas could be used simultaneously for takeoffs, helicopter operation, or aircraft parking. The upgrades influenced other navies to embark on similar lengthy rebuilds of their carriers, and Vikrant, mentioned above, went through a similar rebuild of an uncompleted hull, before her transfer to the Indian Navy.

[Detail of] HMCS Bonaventure early in her RCN service off England in June 1957. Library and Archives Canada, Department of National Defence image CT-521 Copyright belongs to the Crown. The flight deck’s 7.5 degree angle and modest port projection (compared to a straight axial flight deck) may not seem like much today, but represented a real improvement in flying operations over her predecessors.
Compared to other ships in the class, Bonaventure had an active, if short, service life, with the standard ports-of-call visits, and many Cold War exercises with NATO allies designed to keep units ready to defend the sea lanes from Soviet submarines and surface ships. She operated several aircraft types, including McDonnell F2H Banshee jet fighters and Sikorsky HO4S helicopters. When the Banshees were decommissioned, the career was reoriented to an exclusively Anti-Submarine (ASW) role, with Grumman Tracker aircraft conducting patrols. Later, the new Sikorsky Sea King helicopters again upgraded Bonnie’s ASW capabilities. This busy career came to an abrupt end with the 1969 decision. Soon after her decommissioning, Bonaventure was sold for scrap, and made a last long journey to a ship breakers yard in Taiwan in 1971.

Bonaventure’s starboard anchor on display at the Collège militaire royal de Saint-Jean, Massey Building, Aug. 2014. Credit: Warsearcher.

Fortunately, there are several relics of Bonaventure’s time in Canadian service scattered around Canada. In addition to several surviving aircraft in various museum collections, Bonnie’s “Mule” or deck tractor, is in the collection of the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa [click here for a link to the artifact entry]. The ship’s bell is at the Shearwater Aviation Museum, across the harbour from her usual berth, in Dartmouth, NS. Two signal guns are located at HMCS Discovery, Vancouver BC. Two of Bonaventure’s immense anchors are also preserved. The starboard anchor is on display at the Collège militaire royal de Saint-Jean, Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Québec.

HMCS Bonaventure Anchor Memorial in Point Pleasant Park, Halifax, in 2007. Credit: abdallahh from Montréal, Canada / CC BY (

The port anchor has been located in Point Pleasant Park, Halifax, since 1973. This 9-ton stockless anchor is the centerpiece of the Canadian Peacetime Sailors’ Memorial, which is dedicated to the memory of post-1945 Canadian naval deaths. In early 2018, the deteriorating monument was substantially rebuilt by local reservist members of the Royal Canadian Air Force.

HMCS Bonaventure anchor monument Halifax NS 2016For a few more views of Bonnie and some related topics, check out our RCN carriers tribute page. We decided to add Bonaventure to our database project, which mostly features google earth images of (at last count) more than a thousand warships from 27 navies, because we intend to find other aerial imagery that allows us to further interpret the history of RCN carriers and other ships, once the World reopens.

* J.D.F. Kealy and E.C. Russell A History of Canadian Naval Aviation 1918-1962 (Ottawa: Queen’s Printer, 1965) p.116.

** Differences between the two sub-classes, the original Colossus and the Majestic units, are explored elsewhere on this site, under the relevant navy pages that include these carriers. Two ships of the 15 were also completed as maintenance carriers, and had very different careers.

***The Centaur class carrier INS Viraat (ex-HMS Hermes, shown above), served 58-years, from 1959-2017. By comparison, the longest serving US Navy aircraft carriers have been the USS Midway (1945-1992 – 47 years), and the recently decommissioned USS Enterprise (1961-2017 – 55 years)

A Thousand Shipsearcher satellite views launched, and some highlights!

The Elizabethan playwright Christopher Marlowe, in his celebrated play, Dr. Faustus, wrote of a mythic age, when a thousand warships were launched to grab back Helen, the most beautiful woman. Here at Shipsearcher, the Ship Identification Section (SIS) can’t tell you if any of that happened in distant antiquity – satellite imagery of the Trojan War is poor, to say the least! We can tell you that we’ve now launched over a thousand warship views and loaded these in our Google Earth satellite imagery database!

With the recent pages for the Norwegian, German, Danish, and Dutch navies, we have now found more than 1,100 warships using open satellite imagery! A project that began as a quick look at active and retired United States Navy carriers has now documented 27 World navies, from the largest carriers to museum and sail training ships.

The resource has a total of 198 pages: Navy index pages (found under shipsearcher menu above) and sub-categories of warships. This includes the stand-alone pages for supercarrier scrapping and Chinese island fortress construction, and the page on terms of use and sources for our images, which also explains how we go about trying to identify ships. Using the search window at right can trawl up some interesting results across pages. For example searches for unique ship types such as hydrofoils, museum ships or wrecks will guide you to the relevant pages. Just do a “control F” search in the page to get to the ship.

So what are some of the most interesting or odd captures we’ve located out there in the wild World? Check out below, where we’ve loaded captions with links to posts and pages to keep exploring the database. It’s a hyperlink-rich environment, folks, so click often and please share!

Olympias trireme Palaio Faliro 2016
The commissioned Greek warship HS Olympias, a reconstruction of an ancient Trireme. We couldn’t read her pennant number or deck code letters…but we’re pretty sure about this ID!

The largest submarine yet, a Typhoon class nuclear ballistic missile submarine, captured by US satellite in 1982 alongside at Severodvinsk, the main Russian site of submarine construction and repair, in the days of the Soviet Union, and today. US Government, released 2012 by the National Reconnaissance Office / Public domain

Typhoon TK208 Severodvinsk 2019
And the same spot almost 37 years later, with the last active Typhoon, Dmitry Donskoy TK-208.

It used to be that the Chinese carrier program involved training mock-ups, fake carriers in amusement parks, and buying Soviet missile cruisers to use as hotels and casinos. That all changed when they bought the dead carrier hulk Varyag from Ukraine, and retrofitted it as the Liaoning. The facility above helped plan for the new naval program. A new carrier, a new class of amphibious assault ship, and massive building programs of surface combatants is transforming the People’s Liberation Army Navy.

Riga class wreck Boyuk Zira Island, Azerbaijan 2012
We stumbled across these Riga wrecks by complete accident…but they seemed relevant, and were added to the Russian / Soviet frigate page.

Santissima Trinidad Puerto Belgrano ARG 2013
ARA Santissima Trinidad, a British designed Type 42 Argentinian destroyer, capsized at Puerto Belgrano after long inactivity. The destroyer was supposed to have become a museum ship dedicated to the Falklands War, which she participated in.

SS United States Philidephia 2019
The SS United States appears in our post on the visible shipwreck of the SS America, as a comparison and product of the same naval architect, William Francis Gibbs. Classy lady, classy shadow!

Expeditionary Mobile Base San Diego 2017
And now for something different, we have this new type of ship, made from converting a design for an oil tanker. We don’t know what it is, or what it does…but if an oil tanker wants to be some version of an amphibious warfare ship…then good for you, USS Lewis B. Puller!

USN 4-stackersSF1938-2
A highlight of the extensive USN retired destroyers page was this 1938 view of a four stacker USN destroyer at San Francisco…and we found more!

Scrap Saratoga CV60 TX 2015-01
Four months along the scrapping process near Brownsville, Texas, former USS Saratoga, CV-60, shows the stages a massive carrier is “broken”. We explored the scrapping of US supercarriers in our most popular single post and a more extensive stand-alone page a while back.

HM Monitor Chatham Kent SWW
Second World War views of Chatham Royal Navy Dockyards provided by the Kent County Council, allowed us to document some unanticipated views of Royal Navy ships, including this monitor, which looks like HMS Erebus, and another view that can be found on the RN page of HMS Argus.

USS Iowa BB-61 Suisun BayCA2007
The fate of most ships in inactive status at a “warship boneyard” like Suisun Bay, California, is not a happy story. USS Iowa BB-61, Iowa class Battleship, by contrast, had groups bidding to preserve her as a museum ship. Since 2012 she has been moored at the Pacific Battleship Center, Los Angeles.

VOC Amsterdam 2018 wreck Bulverhythe Beachdistance
Wreck and Replica of Dutch East India Company VOC Amsterdam (1748) together! Composite view with 2017/05 Amsterdam view of Netherlands Maritime Museum replica overlaid onto 2018/05 Bulverhythe Beach, UK, capture, from our new page on the Royal Netherlands Navy.

USS George Washington CVN-73, Nimitz class nuclear-powered supercarrier, is displaying her powerful air complement. In our experience we see the aircraft surprisingly rarely in views of these ships in their home-ports.

USS LST-480 wreck HW 2015
The wreck of LST-480 (Landing Ship – Tank), sunk during the West Loch disaster, Pearl Harbor 21 May 1944, which resulted in the tragic loss of at least 163 lives. Shipsearcher staff have tried  very hard to track down many surviving LSTs.

INS Vikrant IAC-1 Error
In the category of best Google Earth splicing errors: Two overlapping images gives the future INS Vikrant another 270′, making it fictitiously a 1,130 foot, double-islanded behemoth! HMS Queen Elizabeth beware!

USS Inaugural wreck St Louis MO 2012
A wrecked museum ship, the former USS Inaugural minesweeper, makes of an oddly beautiful capture with the corrosion and tidelines patterning the hull.

usns mercy san diego 2013
If you don’t love giant hospital ships, there may be something perverse about you. USNS Mercy, and sister-ship USNS Comfort, on the Atlantic coast, were not hard to find, and have been in the news quite a bit lately about the COVID-19 response. Stay safe and watch for U-boats!

HMS Victory 1765 Portsmouth 2014
We all need more HMS Victory in the World, and we said as much in a post.

Indonesian Navy added to Shipsearcher Database

Shipsearcher Identification Section (SIS) staff are proud to add a new page – Indonesian Navy current and retired ships – to the project. It is our 22nd navy documented! An interest in documenting the Ahmad Yani class frigates, originally Dutch ships, modeled on the British Leander class design, snow-balled into looking for all other classes of frigates, and then other surface warships – 21 classes and 34 satellite views. With little prior familiarity with Indonesian ships, what we found was a modernizing, expanding fleet which, over recent years, has added some impressive blue-water assets.

Military Sealift Command’s USNS Rappahannock Delivers Fuel to Indonesian Frigate, Helps Increase Capacity
Indonesian Navy frigate KRI Raden Eddy Martadinata (FFG-331) prepares to receive fuel from Military Sealift Command’s fleet replenishment oiler USNS Rappahannock Credit: US Navy Official 4409432 Grady Fontana

These newer ships join a diverse collection of second-hand vessels from the USA, the Netherlands, and, most notably, the defunct Volksmarine of East Germany. In 1992, Indonesia bought as many as 42 former East German warships, massively enhancing the KRI fleet!

East German Parchim class corvette KSS Wismar plans. Transferred, with 15 others to the Indonesian Navy, as KRI Sutanto 377. Credit: Y7mx / CC BY-SA

Other highlights include a bulked-up humanitarian / disaster relief capability, with two large, modern hospital ships, and a mini squadron of tall ships – sail training vessels. Both of these can be found on the Auxiliaries and Other Ships page. Enjoy!KRI Semarang 594 Surabaya 2019

South American Fleets added to the Project!

The Ship Identification Section (SIS) at Shipsearcher are very pleased to announce five new pages of satellite views, giving a veritable tour-de-force of large South American navies! These nations have interesting fleets made up of a diverse collection of ships, often acquired from elsewhere. The pages are for Brazil, Peru, Chile, Argentina, and Ecuador.

Almirante Grau
Peruvian cruiser BAP Almirante Grau at Curaçao, June 1973. CLM-81 Credit: Lswarte / CC BY

These views add 39 more pages, 63 classes of ships, and 94 satellite views to the database. The largest and most capable navy documented is Brazil’s fleet, which ranges from a recently-retired aircraft carrier to the last operational river dreadnought, the Parnaiba, originally commissioned in 1938. We have been trying to locate this active monitor in the interior of Brazil for months! We eventually found it far up the Paraguay River at the Mato Gosso do Sul port of Base fluvial de ladário.

There is much to discover about the other navies, too! Argentina’s fleet have been going through a lengthy period of neglect, symbolized by the sinking of the retired ARA Santissima Trinidad at its berth in 2013, and the tragic loss of the ARA San Juan submarine in 2017.

Santissima Trinidad Puerto Belgrano ARG 2013
Shipsearcher staff discovery: ships viewed in profile from a satellite are not doing well.
Muratureclass Buenos Aires
One highlight of Argentina’s fleet is the Murature class patrol ships, with one ship, ARA King, in commission since 1946! Credit: Diegoventu / CC BY-SA

Peru’s pages include the recently decommissioned light cruiser, BAP Almirante Grau, which was once the pride of the Dutch Navy. Chile has a great variety of frigates and a lovely sail training ship with a troubled past, the Esmeralda, which was once used by the Pinochet regime as a jail for political prisoners.

Esmeralda entering Charlottetown Harbour, PEI, Canada, July 2017. Credit:

Ecuador’s small fleet includes a US Second World War Landing Ship (Tank), and some updated Leander-class warships, which have been serving for almost a half-century. We hope you enjoy these views, and welcome comments and suggestions.condell and leander class frigates ecuador 2009


See the weird and wonderful Romanian Navy!

Though not one of the largest or most powerful, there are some fascinating and eccentric qualities to the Romanian Navy’s fleet. Romania’s is the 15th navy documented by Shipsearcher staff. The longtime flagship, ROS Mărășești, was originally conceived as a light cruiser, during the Communist era. As the largest domestic warship design, she emerged as a Romanian original, with a heavy gun and missile armament. By the time of her commissioning in 1992, now on her third name, she had been reclassified as a destroyer. Nowadays she serves as a frigate.

ROS Marasesti F-111, displaying the forward twin 76mm guns, tubes for Termit anti-ship missiles, and twin anti-submarine rocket launchers (just forward of the bridge). MAPN / CC BY-SA

Marasesti F-111 Constanta 2012

Another remarkable feature of the fleet is the Danube (river) Flotilla, which has a motley assortment of units. The heavy-weights or river dreadnoughts are two distinct classes of river monitors, sailing out of Tulcea and Brăila. These gunboats bristle with an assortment of machine guns and turrets armed with TR-85 100mm tank guns!

The monitor Ion C. Bratianu F-46, Mihail Kogălniceanu class, during Aug. 2018 Romanian Navy Day celebrations. US Navy Official 4651743 MC2 Jonathan Nelson

Mihail Kogalniceanu class river monitor Danube2019Other ships span the gamut from old Soviet and newer Chinese designs, to ex-British Type 22 frigates. A Kilo class submarine and the lovely sail training vessel Mircea round out the new Romanian Navy pages. We hope you enjoy this fleet of ships!

UFOs spotted tracking the US Atlantic Fleet!

lamp gag shipsearcher2020-04-01 FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Norfolk VA, a series of small UFOs have been spotted hovering around the naval dockyards. They have been observed to be completely stationary about 80 feet in the air, near major US Naval assets, including submarines, destroyers, and cruisers. Intent may be other than hostile, but the number of these craft, and their placement in spaced intervals, means they could also be poised for a coordinated first strike.They even appear to be tracking the hospital ship USNS Comfort!There are only two possibilities: this most dire one, or they could also be badly-rendered dockyard lighting towers whose entire support has been omitted in Google Maps 3D view. Shipsearcher staff prefer to believe in the existence of a large shadow force of UFOs! Have a safe, reasonable April Fools’ Day!

A better render of the light posts, beside the USS Harry S. Truman, Norfolk VA.