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Captain-class frigate
HMS Cosby
HMS Cosby, an example of the Buckley sub-class.
Class overview
Builders: Boston Navy Yard
Mare Island Navy Yard
Operators:  Royal Navy
Subclasses: Buckley class
Evarts class
Built: 1941–1943
In service: 1943–1956
Completed: 78
Lost: 7 sunk
8 Constructive Total Loss
General characteristics
Type: Frigate
Displacement: 1,140 long tons (1,158 t) (Evarts)
1,400 long tons (1,422 t) (Buckley)
Length: 289 ft 6 in (88.24 m) (Evarts)
306 ft (93 m) (Buckley)
Beam: 35 ft (11 m) (Evarts)
36 ft 9 in (11.20 m) (Buckley)
Draft: 9 ft (2.7 m) (Evarts)
11 ft (3.4 m) (Buckley)
Decks: 7
Installed power: 7,040 bhp (5,250 kW) (Evarts)
13,500 shp (10,070 kW) (Buckley)
Propulsion: See text
Speed: 20 knots (37 km/h; 23 mph) (Evarts)
24 knots (44 km/h; 28 mph) (Buckley)
Range: 5,000 nautical miles (9,300 km; 5,800 mi) at 15 knots (28 km/h; 17 mph) (Evarts)
5,500 nautical miles (10,200 km; 6,300 mi) at 15 knots (28 km/h; 17 mph) (Buckley)
Boats & landing
craft carried:
Royal Navy 27-foot (8.2 m) whaler
US Navy standard ship's boat
Complement: 156 (Evarts)
186 (Buckley)
Sensors and
processing systems:
SA & SL type radars
Type 128D or Type 144 series Asdic
MF Direction Finding antenna
HF Direction Finding Type FH 4 antenna
Armament: 3 × 3 in (76 mm) /50 Mk.22 guns
1 × twin Bofors 40 mm mount Mk.I
7–16 × 20 mm Oerlikon guns
Mark 10 Hedgehog A/S projector
Depth charges
QF 2 pounder naval gun

The Captain class was a designation given to 78 frigates of the Royal Navy, constructed in the United States of America, launched in 1942–1943 and delivered to the United Kingdom under the provisions of the Lend-Lease agreement (under which the United States of America supplied the United Kingdom and other Allied nations with materiel between 1941 and 1945), they were drawn from two sub-classes of the American destroyer escort (originally British destroyer escort) classification: 32 from the Evarts sub-class and 46 from the Buckley sub-class. Upon reaching the UK the ships were substantially modified by the Royal Navy, making them distinct from the US Navy destroyer escort ships.

Captain-class frigates acted in the roles of convoy escorts, anti-submarine warfare vessels, coastal forces control frigates and headquarters ships for the Normandy landings. During the course of World War II this class participated in the sinking of at least 34 German submarines and a number of other hostile craft with 15 of the 78 Captain-class frigates being either sunk or written-off as a constructive total loss.

In the post-war period, all of the surviving Captain-class frigates except one (HMS Hotham) were returned to the US Navy before the end of 1947 in order to reduce the amount payable under the provisions of the Lend-Lease agreement; the last Captain-class frigate was returned to United States custody in March 1956.


It was the intention of the Admiralty that these ships would be named after captains that served with Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson at the Battle of Trafalgar, but as building continued it became necessary to delve back further into history for the names of well-regarded admirals and captains.[1]

66 of the 78 frigates bear names that had not previously been allocated to earlier Royal Navy ships. Lawford, Louis, Manners, Moorsom, Mounsey, Narborough, Pasley and Seymour had been previously used for destroyers during World War I.[1] Rupert was the fifth of that name since 1666.[1] Torrington was the fourth of that name since 1654.[1] Holmes had been used once before in 1671,[1] and Fitzroy had previously been used for a survey vessel in 1919.[1]

Early history

Two of the Buckley sub-class under construction.

In June 1941 His Majesty's Government, seeking to take advantage of the US Lend-Lease program, asked the United States to design, build and supply an escort vessel that was suitable for anti-submarine warfare in deep open ocean situations.[2] The requested particulars were a length of 300 feet (90 m), a speed of 20 knots (37 km/h), a dual purpose main armament and an open bridge.[3] The United States Navy had been looking into the feasibility of such a vessel since 1939, and Captain E. L. Cochrane of the American Bureau of Shipping – who, during his visit to the United Kingdom in 1940, had looked at Royal Navy corvettes and Hunt-class destroyers – had come up with a design for such a vessel.[4] This design anticipated a need for large numbers of this type of vessels, and had sought to remove the major production bottleneck for such vessels: reduction gearing required for the steam turbine machinery of destroyers.[3] The production of reduction gears could not be easily increased, as the precision machinery required for their construction alone took over a year to produce.[3] Therefore, a readily-available and proven layout of diesel-electric machinery, also used on submarines, was adopted. When the United Kingdom made its request, Admiral Stark of the US Navy decided to put these plans into motion and recommended that the British order be approved.[5] Gibbs and Cox, the marine architects charged with creating working plans, had to make several alterations to the production methods and to Captain Cochrane's original design, most notably dropping another production bottleneck – the five inch/38 caliber gun – and replacing it with the three inch/50 caliber gun, which allowed adding a superfiring third gun (at the "B" position, forward),[3] the original design specified eight engines for 24 knots (44 km/h; 28 mph) but other priority programs forced the use of only four with a consequent shortening of the hull and reducing the ships maximum speed by an estimated 4 knots (7.4 km/h; 4.6 mph).[6] The design had relatively light armour with for example the steel plate used on the Buckleys ranging from 1/2 inch to 7/16 inch with 1/4 inch plate being used for the majority of the hull and deck plating.[7]

The result was a vessel that could be produced quickly (for example Halsted was built in just 24 and half days[8]) at half the cost of a fleet destroyer,[5] ($3.5 million[9] compared to $10.4 million for a 1620 ton destroyer such as the Benson class[10] or $6.4 million for a Hunt class destroyer[11])

On 15 August 1941 President Franklin D. Roosevelt authorised the construction of 50 of the new Evarts-class design as BDE 1–50 (British destroyer escort) as part of the 1799 program (a plan to supply 1799 ships to the Royal Navy).[3][12] The turbo-electric powered Buckley class were not part of the first order and were authorised later by Public Law 440 effective 6 February 1942.[13] The Royal Navy placed orders in November 1941 with four shipyards: the Boston Navy Yard, the Mare Island Navy Yard, the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard and the Puget Sound Navy Yard.[5] When the United States entered the war, they too adopted the BDE design.[5] The BDE designation was retained by the first six destroyer escorts (BDEs 1, 2, 3, 4, 12 and 46) transferred to the United Kingdom. Of the initial 50 ordered, these were the only ones the Royal Navy received; the rest were reclassified as destroyer escorts (DE) on 25 January 1943 and taken over by the United States Navy.[5] By the end of World War II the Royal Navy had received 32 Evarts and 46 Buckleys from the Boston Navy Yard, Mare Island Navy Yard and Bethlehem-Hingham.[5][3]

The Royal Navy classified these ships as frigates, as they lacked the torpedo tubes needed for a destroyer classification.[14] For those used to Admiralty-designed ships the Captains were unfamiliar: they had no break forward of the forecastle but instead had a graceful shear to deck-line from the forecastle to midship, and the Evarts had rakish cowls on top of the funnels.[15] Those that served on these ships came to view these features as being very handsome.[15] Amongst the differences with British-designed vessels were using bunks instead of hammocks and welds instead of rivets.[16][17]


The Evarts subclass had diesel-electric machinery, based on an arrangement used for submarines.[3] There were two shafts. Four Winton 278A 16-cylinder engines, with a combined rating of 7,040 bhp (5,250 kW), drove General Electric Company (GE) generators (4,800 kW) that supplied power to two GE electric motors, with an output of 6,000 shp (4,500 kW), for a speed of 20 knots (37 km/h; 23 mph). It had been intended to provide another set of this machinery for an output of 12,000 shp (8,900 kW), to make the design speed of 24 knots (44 km/h; 28 mph), but hull production greatly outstripped that of the machinery; therefore, only one set of machinery was used per ship.[3][6]

In order to make the designed speed, the Buckley subclass had turbo-electric machinery.[3] Two Foster-Wheeler Express "D"-type water-tube boilers supplied steam to GE 13,500 shp (10,070 kW) steam turbines and generators (9,200 kW).[18] Electric motors for 12,000 shp (8,900 kW) drove the two shafts, each fitted with a three-bladed propeller of solid manganese-bronze that was 8.5 feet (2.6 m) in diameter.[18][19] This all-electric drivetrain was considered particularly innovative at the time (although the Catherine-class minesweepers had a similar arrangement).

Royal Navy alterations

The first port of call in the United Kingdom for most of the Captain-class vessels was Pollock Dock, Belfast where the ships were modified in order to match Admiralty requirements.[20] In all there were 109 items in the alterations and additions list for the Evarts and 94 for the Buckleys.[20]

One major design difference between the Royal Navy Buckley-class frigates and the US Navy Buckley-class destroyer escorts was that the Buckley class did not have the forward torpedo tubes fitted.[15] (The Evarts class was not designed to carry torpedoes.)[21]

Further alterations were:

Sea-keeping equipment

A crow's nest was affixed to the mainmast.[22] A standard Royal Navy 27-foot (8 m) whaler was fitted on the port side of the funnel in addition to the US-issue ship's boat on the starboard side;[23] additional lifesaving rafts were also fitted: big ones on sloping launch skids aft of the funnel and small ones aft of the searchlights.[24] Wind deflectors were fitted on the leading edge of the bridge area and a canvas-covered shelter was installed on the quarterdeck to provide better weather protection for depth charge crews.[22] Oiling fairleads were fitted to the edge of the hull by the anchor winch.[24] The bilge keels were lengthened and made deeper (a process that took a minimum of three weeks).[25]


HMS Stayner (Buckley sub-class) acting as a coastal forces control frigate; note the two-pounder (40 mm) "pom-pom" bowchaser

More 40 mm Bofors and Oerlikon guns were mounted in place of the removed torpedo tubes,[26] and the MK IV elevating column Oerlikon mountings were replaced with the simpler MK V1A mountings;[27] those ships that were to serve as Coastal Forces control frigates hunting E-boats had extra guns fitted.[26] On some ships, either gun shields were fitted to the main armament, or a spray and blast shield was fitted to the B gun.[22] Two-inch rocket flare projectors were fitted to the B gun: six if the spray and blast shield was fitted, three if not.[22] A two pounder (40 mm) "pom-pom" bowchaser was fitted to ships that were to serve as Coastal Forces control frigates.[28]

The bridge layout was significantly altered; the biggest alteration was the addition of a two-tier director control tower that improved visibility and gave better protection to the equipment.[22] Moreover, vertically fired "snowflake" parachute flare projectors were fitted to the bridge wings.[22]


More depth charges were fitted on the upper deck of each side of the ship, allowing for about 200 in total; Royal Navy smoke floats were fitted above the depth charges in addition to the US Navy chemical smoke cylinders fitted to the stern of the Captains.[29] A medium frequency direction finding antenna (MF/DF) was fitted in front of the bridge and a high-frequency direction finding (HF/DF, "Huffduff") Type FH 4 antenna was fitted on top of the mainmast;[29] furthermore, a radio-receiving set tuned to the frequencies used for ship-to-ship communication by German U-boats and E-boats was fitted and a German-speaking rating carried. The Captains were eventually given Type 144 series Asdic (sonar) sets,[27] an upgrade from the original Type 128D,[30] and a Foxer was fitted to the aft of the Captains (and most other Atlantic escort vessels) during 1944 to counter the new acoustic torpedoes.[29]

Navigation and communications

The steel parts around the binnacle (the enclosure containing the compass) were replaced by non-ferrous materials.[27] In addition to the standard US Navy long-range position-fixing set (LORAN), a Royal Navy short-range position-fixing set (GEE) was fitted.[29] A radar interrogation system was installed that was able to challenge ships at sea (only ships likewise fitted with the system would be able to reply), along with four coloured fighting lights[29] (signalling lamps installed on the yardarm to aid recognition by friendly forces during night fighting[31]).

Camouflage and insignia

Following standard Royal Navy protocols, all of the Captains had large pennant numbers painted on the sides and stern of the hull, usually in blue, red or black.[32][33] The escort groups to which most Captains were assigned had their own individual insignia; these distinctive and colourful designs were painted on the side of the ship's funnel, and if the ship was home to the escort group's senior officer it would also have a coloured band painted around the top of the funnel (usually in blue or red).[29] The ship's waterline was always in black.[33]

A total of five different camouflage schemes were employed on the Captains.[29] The ships came from the shipyards in light grey with a few light blue stripes.[29] For those ships assigned to the North Atlantic, a scheme consisting of light and dark blues and greens with some soft white was adopted as it was believed that this would blend with the sea colour in bad weather.[29] Ships assigned to the English Channel in 1944 (Coastal Forces control frigates and those assigned to Operation Neptune as headquarters ships) received a design in black, blue, light grey and white.[29] For ships assigned to the 16th Flotilla (Harwich) and 21st Flotilla (Sheerness) operating in the North Sea and English Channel, a scheme consisting of horizontal upper deck divisions of light and dark grey (as used by the US Navy) was used.[29] Early in 1945, a scheme was adopted that was to be common to all Royal Navy ships, consisting of white with a sky-blue stripe along the hull.[29]

Modifications to Normandy landing HQ ships

HMS Dacres, an Evarts-subclass ship converted to act as a headquarters ship for the Normandy landings; note the additional smaller mainmast to support the extra aerials.

HMS Dacres, HMS Kingsmill and HMS Lawford were converted to headquarters ships for use during Operation Neptune (the Normandy landings). These ships had their aft three-inch (76 mm) gun and all the depth charge gear removed, and the superstructure extended, to provide accommodations for extra Staff Officers; two deckhouses were built for the additional radios needed and a smaller extra mainmast was added to support the many additional aerials. Four more Oerlikons were fitted bringing the total to 16, and a number of radar sets fitted (Type 271 centimetric target identification and Type 291 air warning, and the associated Types 242 and 253 IFF sets).[3][34] The complement was reduced to 141, but with a headquarters staff of 64.[3]

Ships' companies

The Captains had a typical crew of either 156 (Evarts) or 186 (Buckley) officers and ratings.[18] The bulk of the ratings enlisted after the outbreak of World War II, thus having little military or seafaring experience, and had to be trained in whichever branch of the Navy they chose to serve; after about six weeks drilling, marching and generally getting physically fit they went into specific job training.[35] Many of the senior non-commissioned officers were pre-war Royal Navy ratings who had been promoted.[35]

Engineering personnel were faced with the added complication of power plants not normally found in the Royal Navy. Initially, they were trained alongside US Navy personnel at purpose-built facilities in the General Electric Company factories at Cleveland and Syracuse, and were awarded certificates at the end of their training; later, training was provided in the United Kingdom.[36]

Ship's companies were shipped over to the USA by them taking passage from the Clyde or Liverpool to New York on liners such as the Queen Mary.[37] On arriving in New York, the crews were initially assigned to HMS Saker until they were reassigned to a Captain-class frigate.[37] Later, some of the Captains were ferried across the Atlantic by crews of the Royal Canadian Navy coming to the United Kingdom to collect River-class frigates ordered by the Canadians.[37]


These ships were primarily deployed to escort groups that were then used to provide anti-submarine cover to the convoys that they escorted. The four or more ships in an escort group, by operating together under a single commander, were able to use group tactics so that with the issue of a single short command the various ships of the group, often out of sight of each other, could be relied upon to act in a co-ordinated fashion.[38][page needed]

A small number of Captains were converted to act as headquarters ships during Operation Neptune (the Normandy landings) and as coastal forces control frigates. Captains that operated with Coastal Forces (motor torpedo boats, motor gun boats and US Navy PT boats) sank at least two two-man submarines,[39] and were involved in the destruction of at least 26 E-boats,[40] one KFK patrol vessel (coastal escort vessels constructed so as to resemble a fishing-vessel),[41] two minesweepers,[41] and the shooting down of a Junkers Ju 88 aeroplane.[42]

Collectively, the Captain class gained battle honours for service in Arctic (Russian Convoys), Atlantic, Biscay, English Channel, Normandy (D-Day on 6 June 1944 and subsequent related operations), North Foreland and Walcheren,[81] they also during the course of World War II collectively destroyed more German submarines than any other Royal Navy ship class.[82]

Post war

At the end of World War II, most of the surviving Captains were returned to the US Navy as quickly as possible to reduce the amount payable under the provisions of the Lend-Lease agreement. The last of the Captains returned was Hotham, which in the post-war period served as a floating power station in Singapore until early 1948, when she sailed for Portsmouth, becoming the base for a Royal Navy Engineering research team experimenting with gas turbine engines.[83] Hotham was returned on 25 April 1952 and simultaneously transferred back to the United Kingdom under the Mutual Defence Assistance Program.[84] The partially stripped vessel was returned to United States custody on 13 March 1956.[84][85]

In Film

Much of the Robert Mitchum film The Enemy Below (1957) was filmed in USS Whitehurst, a Buckley-class DE, of the same type as the Captain-class. The rest of the film is set in the U-boat that it is hunting.


On 17 April 2005 a memorial to the Captain class, those that served and those killed in action while serving in them was dedicated at the National Memorial Arboretum near Alrewas, Staffordshire.

Introduction to the Order of Service from the memorial dedication 17 April 2005

Today we come in thanksgiving for all who served on Captain Class Frigates in the Royal Navy in the Second World War.
In particular we give thanks to those who made the supreme sacrifice on behalf of us all.
We remember all those who were shore-based, especially the Wrens who gave valuable support to those who served at sea, and who are represented here today.[86]

See also

Notes and references

Source notes
  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 Collingwood 1998, p. 203.
  2. Franklin 1999, p. 5.
  3. 3.00 3.01 3.02 3.03 3.04 3.05 3.06 3.07 3.08 3.09 3.10 Lenton 1998, pp. 198–199.
  4. Franklin 1999, pp. 6–7.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 Franklin 1999, p. 7.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Friedman 2004, p. 143.
  7. Franklin 1999, p. 15.
  8. Franklin 1999, p. 18.
  9. Halsey 1943.
  10. Friedman 2004, p. 141.
  11. Friedman 2004, p. 140.
  12. Morison 1956, p. 34.
  13. Franklin 1999, pp. 11–12.
  14. Collingwood 1998, p. 33.
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 Collingwood 1998, p. 7.
  16. Collingwood 1998, p. 20.
  17. Collingwood 1998, p. 17.
  18. 18.0 18.1 18.2 Lenton 1974, p. 14.
  19. Franklin 1999, p. 17.
  20. 20.0 20.1 Collingwood 1998, pp. 30–31.
  21. Franklin 1999, p. 21.
  22. 22.0 22.1 22.2 22.3 22.4 22.5 Elliott 1972, p. 261.
  23. Franklin 1999, p. 43.
  24. 24.0 24.1 Elliott 1972, p. 259.
  25. Franklin 1999.
  26. 26.0 26.1 Elliott 1972, p. 262.
  27. 27.0 27.1 27.2 Collingwood 1998, p. 31.
  28. Collingwood 1998, p. 104.
  29. 29.00 29.01 29.02 29.03 29.04 29.05 29.06 29.07 29.08 29.09 29.10 29.11 Elliott 1972, p. 264.
  30. Franklin 1999, p. 42.
  31. Admiralty 1951, p. 169.
  32. Franklin 1999, p. 121.
  33. 33.0 33.1 Elliott 1972, p. 269.
  34. Collingwood 1998, p. 150.
  35. 35.0 35.1 Collingwood 1998, pp. 25–26.
  36. Collingwood 1998, p. 12–13.
  37. 37.0 37.1 37.2 Collingwood 1998, p. 10.
  38. Collingwood 1998.
  39. Collingwood 1998, p. 120.
  40. Collingwood 1998, p. 124; Collingwood 1998, p. 139.
  41. 41.0 41.1 Collingwood 1998, p. 116.
  42. Collingwood 1998, p. 154.
  43. Niestle 1998.
  45. Collingwood 1998, p. 78.
  46. 46.0 46.1 Gould.
  47. Collingwood 1998, p. 152.
  48. Collingwood 1998, pp. 152–153.
  49. Collingwood 1998, p. 153.
  50. 50.0 50.1 50.2 Collingwood 1998, p. 131.
  51. 51.0 51.1 Collingwood 1998, p. 64.
  52. Blackwood.
  53. Collingwood 1998, p. 96.
  54. Goodson.
  55. Collingwood 1998, p. 97.
  56. Franklin 1999, p. 112.
  57. Bickerton.
  58. Bickerton.
  59. 59.0 59.1 59.2 Franklin 1999, p. 145.
  60. 60.0 60.1 60.2 Collingwood 1998, p. 165.
  61. Ruegg & Hague 1993, p. 69.
  62. 62.0 62.1 Collingwood 1998, p. 189.
  63. Bullen.
  64. Collingwood 1998, p. 190.
  65. 65.0 65.1 65.2 Collingwood 1998, p. 134.
  66. 66.0 66.1 Collingwood 1998, p. 85.
  67. 67.0 67.1 Collingwood 1998, pp. 85–86.
  68. 68.0 68.1 Capel.
  69. Affleck.
  70. Collingwood 1998, p. 86.
  71. Collingwood 1998, pp. 101–102.
  72. 72.0 72.1 72.2 Manners.
  73. Collingwood 1998, p. 101.
  74. Collingwood 1998, p. 137.
  75. Collingwood 1998, pp. 137–138.
  76. Collingwood 1998, p. 138.
  77. 77.0 77.1 77.2 77.3 Collingwood 1998, p. 175.
  78. Redmill.
  79. 79.0 79.1 79.2 Ould 2004, p. 1.
  80. Goodall.
  81. Battle Honours.
  82. Franklin 1999, p. x.
  83. Collingwood 1998, pp. 146–147.
  84. 84.0 84.1 DANFS: Hotham.
  85. Lenton 1974, p. 16.
  86. Order of Service 2005.
Journal articles
Online sources
Other sources
  • "Order of Service – Memorial to the Captain class". 17 April 2005. 

External links

This article incorporates text from the public domain Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships.

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