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.

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.

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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

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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.

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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 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)

Shipsearcher launches!

Find the warships!

The first pages of Shipsearcher have now been released. This summer, a break-away faction of Warsearcher staff began honing their ship identification skills. It started as background research for our R & D programs, but it quickly snow-balled to absorb resources from war trophies research and postcard collecting sections.

Could the new Ship Identification Directorate (SID) identify warships from various captures of satellite imagery? With the amount of contextual information and photographs proliferating online, we believe the current pages, and those to come, are an interesting, original record of warships. As of October, 2019, there are pages up for US Navy current surface units, US Navy retired/historic, Royal Canadian Navy. The imagery in this post is a sneak peak at some that will appear in pages still building. We also have a page up about sources and the ID process.