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British Escort Aircraft Carrier, “HMS Activity”

British Escort Aircraft Carrier, “HMS Activity”, 1942
Builder’s Model, scale 1:96
Great Britain
wood, metal
model: 42.0 x 160.0 x 38.0 cm
The Thomson Collection © Art Gallery of Ontario

The Thomson Collection of Ship Models Audio Tour

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Download: 2:26 min / 960 KB MP3

Simon Stephens: Interestingly this vessel was actually purchased by the government when it was on the stocks being built. It was a merchantman, a merchant hull, as opposed to a warship. It was at a time when they were desperate for hulls to convert to aircraft carriers. And this hull provided the ideal opportunity to convert on the stocks. Basically, they just leveled the hull and put the runway above with accommodation below, and converted it into an escort aircraft carrier.

This vessel would accompany the various convoys going across the Atlantic, and give it air cover in the form of aircraft on deck. Now, you'll notice the model is complete with biplane aircraft, and they were fired off or launched off the runway by steam catapults.

And then also as they came back to the mothership, so to speak, or the carrier, they would be caught by, they were stopped by a series of arrestor wires on the deck, which would be picked up by a hook on the tail of the airplane. If they missed those, there's a safety net that would come up further down the actual runway or landing deck.

The other striking feature about this model, which you can’t miss, is the camouflage colours that the hull has been painted. This is what they call dazzle paint, or dazzle camouflage. It was designed during the First World War by a very famous artist, Norman Wilkinson.

The idea was that it would break up the silhouette or the shape of the vessel on the horizon.

Certainly during the First World War it was a common thing to have ships dazzle painted, and to a certain extent during the Second World War. Although it wasn’t taken up to a greater extent throughout the Royal Navy. Only certain ships on the convoy would be dazzle painted, obviously to try and evade the packs sort of U Boats that were patrolling the North Atlantic.

Once the war was finished, this vessel survived the war and then was converted back to its merchant role and carried on well into the 1960s, eventually being broken up in Japan.

So it’s an interesting story in that it started life as a merchant hull, converted for use as an aircraft carrier during the Second World War, and then went back into civil, commercial use after the war up until the late ’60s.

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