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HMS Dasher was a ship which probably sank through negligence

Posted in America, Disasters, Historical articles, History, Ships, World War 2 on Thursday, 31 May 2012

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This edited article about World War Two originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 715 published on 27 September 1975.

HMS Dasher sinks, picture, image, illustration

The sinking of HMS Dasher by John S Smith

After the fall of France in 1940, when Britain stood alone against Hitler, U-boats and giant long-range bombers began destroying allied merchant shipping on a terrible scale. British land-based planes could not oppose them because they lacked the range, while the fleet aircraft-carriers could not be spared.

The British converted a small captured German merchantman into a mini-carrier and when this vessel was placed on convoy duty, her effect was so marked that the Admiralty acquired four more merchant hulls for conversion. Some oil-tankers and grain-carriers were also fitted with flight decks and some planes, and these took on a dual-purpose role of cargo ship-cum-carrier.

The real backbone of this successful new counter-measure, was the lease-lend escort-carriers from the U.S.A.

To begin with, there were five American ships delivered to the Royal Navy; Merchantmen converted hastily by semi-skilled hands. But gradually, after many teething troubles, the carriers began to gain the upper hand over the U-Boats and the Luftwaffe.

In Mid-Atlantic and on the northern convoy routes, the Germans started to lose valuable U-Boats and planes, and soon, the escort-carriers were ranging all over the war-torn world. Besides the British conversions there were thirty eight American ships loaned to the Royal Navy, and it says something for their quality, that thirty six survived the war.

H.M.S. “Dasher”, one of the earlier batch of American vessels, having completed a day’s flying exercises on March 27th 1943, was heading back to base at Greenock, on the Clyde.

Her aircraft were being re-fuelled when suddenly a great explosion rocked the ship. A hole was blown in the bottom of the ship, and as she caught fire astern, she began to settle. The order was given to abandon ship.

Within five minutes she was gone, eventually slipping beneath the waves completely vertically, in 3,000 fathoms, within sight of Ardrossan.

The Captain, his leg trapped, went down with his ship, but when the stern hit the bottom, he was jerked free, and he shot to the surface to be rescued! Over 70% of her complement were lost: either trapped below or burned to death by ignited oil on the water.

An enquiry attributed the explosion to the igniting of petrol fumes from a leaky valve in the petrol control compartment.

The British blamed the Americans for poor safety arrangements, and the Americans blamed the British for lack of experience.

Either way, petrol safety precautions were rigidly overhauled in all the remaining ships, because, it was stated, one match flaring, or one puff on a single cigarette, could have been the cause of the tragic loss of H.M.S. “Dasher”.

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