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.

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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 up 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.

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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 not 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.

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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.

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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.

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HMCS Bonaventure Anchor Memorial in Point Pleasant Park, Halifax, in 2007. Credit: abdallahh from Montréal, Canada / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)

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)

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.

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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.
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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.

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

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

 

Last views of the Indian Navy Aircraft Carrier Vikrant

Having explored the dismantling of US aircraft carriers in a recent post and more detailed page, we thought we would provide a recent comparative example: the scrapping of India’s first aircraft carrier, the former INS Vikrant (R-11). Check out this slideshow for satellite views of the dismantling:

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INS Vikrant commissioned into the Indian Navy 4 March, 1961. At 700 feet long and 19,500 tons full displacement, she represented a capable entry for India into the field of naval aviation. She had a crew and air complement of 1,100. The ship had been left unfinished by the British government at the end of Second World War. Visually, the vessel was similar to other updated sister ships in the 1942 Light Fleet Carrier class, such as HMCS Bonaventure, HMAS Melbourne or the Brazilian NAeL Minas Gerais (found under the shipsearcher Royal Navy carriers page). From 1957-1961 the wartime design was given upgrades, such as an angled flight deck, which enabled her to perform missions with a new generation of aircraft. Originally embarking a mixed complement of British Hawker Sea Hawk jet fighter-bombers and French Alizé Anti-Submarine Warfare aircraft (turboprop), she was updated many times and eventually operated Sea Harrier STOVL (Short Take-off and Vertical Landing) jets, and Sea King helicopters. During the late 1980s, in order to operate the Harrier, she was refitted with a prominent “ski jump” at the leading edge of the flight deck.INS Vikrant Mumbai 2010After a long career, she was retired in 1997 and opened to the public three years later as a museum ship, near the main naval port in Mumbai, meters away from the more modern carrier, INS Viraat. For views of the two carriers together, see the pages for Indian Navy. In 2012, she was assessed to be in a state of ill repair, and closed to the public. Despite a popular outcry, she was sold to a nearby ship breaker’s yard in 2014, and run up on a point of land south of the dockyards.

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ex-INS Vikrant being scrapped in Mumbai, from top deck down bow to stern. Adam Cohn / CC BY-SA

Some of the US carriers scrapped around the same time had been on donation hold for possible transfer to a museum organization. The disposal of Vikrant represents a different category of scrapping – museum ships that were deemed not worth the effort or money to continue to preserve. It is not all a sad story, though: At the same time as this Vikrant was taken apart, the name and traditions will live on in a new, larger ship. When commissioned, this will also be a first for India – the first domestically built carrier.

2020 – The Next Navy in our Sights!

A powerful fleet is emerging from the mists of the South China Sea. Led by a pair of carriers, in line ahead, cruisers, destroyers, frigates, amphibious assault ships, landing ships and other units are being systematically identified and logged in the Shipsearcher Database by Ship Identification Directorate (SID) staff.

The People’s Republic of China-where even the theme park attractions scare the hell out of naval observers.

The last of the large shipsearcher pages will be the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN). The PRC fleet was once viewed as an out-dated adjunct to the massive land forces. These days, the furious pace of naval construction is setting China on a path to become the World’s penultimate naval force, second only to the USN. In the meantime, please check out any of the other 13 navies on the site!

The entire Russian Northern Fleet has sortied and they are searching for YOU!!

Comrades, this is your captain. It is an honor to speak to you today, and I am honored to be sailing with you on the maiden voyage of our motherland’s most recent achievement. Once more, we play our dangerous game, a game of chess against our old adversary — The American Navy. For forty years, your fathers before you and your older brothers played this game and played it well. But today the game is different. We have the advantage. (Captain Marco Ramius – Hunt for Red October)

Introducing Russian Surface Units – Current and Retired. It joins the Soviet / Russian submarines page to document many classes of Russian warships, from the massive Kirov class battlecruisers to new stealth frigates. Among the strangest of naval vessels, near the end of the list, are the Ekranoplans: These are the daughters of the “Caspian Sea Monster.” You will have to visit the page to untangle that shipsearcher statement!

Navies Down Under!

Two new pages explore the past and present surface warships of the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) and the Royal New Zealand Navy (RNZN). For shipsearcher staff, it was particularly challenging to locate imagery of these vessels, as they were all loaded upside down (we hope you enjoyed that truly elevated piece of imagery-related humour)!

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HMAS Vampire D-11 ca. 1959 © Australian War Memorial 301609 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/au/

Some of the more interesting features of these pages include the RNZN 1963 views of Devonport Naval Base, Auckland’s major naval facility. The aerial views make identification of early Cold War and long-service Second World War-built warships possible. As for the RAN, the range of ship classes depicted speaks to a diversified, potent force capable of undertaking a range of missions. As always, we have taken pains to track down long out of service or preserved warships.

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Loch Class frigate and Bathurst Class corvettes, 1963 view of Devonport near Auckland, NZ

These posts complement pages on some of the other Commonwealth navies: Royal Navy and Royal Canadian Navy

Royal Navy Shipsearcher page now up!

“Heart of Oak are our ships, jolly tars are our men, we are always ready; Steady, boys, steady, We’ll fight and we’ll conquer again and again”…so goes the chorus of Heart of Oak, the official march of the Royal Navy, Royal Marines, and several Commonwealth navies [Youtube rendition here]. The oldest ship on this new shipsearcher page – Royal Navy Surface Units – Current and Retired – is the HMS Victory.

HMS Victory portsmouth 1945
HMS Victory, raising the yards in August 1945 © IWM (A 30810)

This first-rate line of battle ship was being built when Heart of Oak first appeared on the London scene to commemorate the victories of 1759. Our Royal Navy page starts with Victory and spans 260 years to the newly commissioned and largest-ever British carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth.

HMS Queen Elizabeth R08 Halifax 2019
HMS Queen Elizabeth R-08 in Halifax NS, Sep. 2019

Another unique feature of this page is the use of the Kent County Council Archives historical aerial mosaic photos (provided to Google Earth), which allow for Second World War-era captures of ships in Chatham Royal Dockyard. These views make ship identification of famous RN ship classes, such as County Class Cruisers, and aircraft carriers possible. For the first time, we also have a category for monitors, which during the first half of the twentieth century were tubby, short vessels that mounted a few battleship-sized guns! As always, we hope you appreciate the listing, and would be happy to hear about issues with any identification: help us identify our views of unknown ships!HM Monitor Chatham Kent SWW