HMS Attacker (D02) was an Attacker-class escort aircraft carrier that served with the Royal Navy during the Second World War.
Converted from the merchantman Steel Artisan, she was commissioned by the United States Navy on 30 September 1942 as USS Barnes (CVE-7), a Bogue-class escort carrier, but simultaneously transferred under the Lend-Lease program to the United Kingdom and commissioned by the Royal Navy as HMS Attacker the same day.
Attacker served throughout the war, first as a convoy escort in the Atlantic. After further conversion by the Royal Navy in October 1943 as an assault carrier, the ship was busily engaged in the Mediterranean and later the Pacific theatres of war. In late August, Attacker witnessed the Japanese surrender of Penang in Malaya, as part of Operation Jurist.
She had been laid down on 17 April 1941 as the merchantman Steel Artisan (hull 160) under Maritime Commission contract by Western Pipe and Steel Company, San Francisco, California for the Ithanian Steamship Company and was launched in late September. She was then requisitioned for conversion to a carrier in December 1941 to be named USS Barnes but selected for transfer under Lend-Lease to the British.
HMS Attacker was the lead ship in the Attacker class of eight escort carriers, just one of the 38 escort carriers built in the United States for the Royal Navy during the Second World War. She was built at the Western Pipe & Steel shipyards, who also built three other ships in the class. Once completed she was supplied under the terms of Lend-Lease agreement to the Royal Navy. There was a ships complement of 646 men, who lived in crew accommodation that was significantly different from the arrangements that were normal for the Royal Navy at the time. The separate messes no longer had to prepare their own food, as everything was cooked in the galley and served cafeteria style in a central dining area. They were also equipped with a modern laundry and a barber shop. The traditional hammocks were replaced by three-tier bunk-beds, 18 to a cabin which were hinged and could be tied up to provide extra space when not in use.
Attacker's dimensions were: an overall length of 492.25 feet (150.04 m), a beam of 69.5 feet (21.2 m) and a height of 23.25 ft (7.09 m). They displaced 11,420 long tons (11,600 t) at deep load. Propulsion was provided by four diesel engines connected to one shaft giving 8,500 brake horsepower (6,300 kW), which could propel the ship at 17 knots (31 km/h; 20 mph).
She had the capacity for up to 24 anti-submarine or fighter aircraft, which could be made up of a mixture of the British Hawker Sea Hurricane, Supermarine Seafire, Fairey Swordfish or the American Grumman Wildcat, Vought F4U Corsair or Grumman Avenger. The exact composition of the embarked squadrons depended upon the mission. Some squadrons were composite squadrons for convoy defence and would be equipped with anti-submarine and fighter aircraft, while other squadrons working in a strike carrier role would only be equipped with fighter aircraft. Aircraft facilities were a small combined bridge–flight control on the starboard side and above the 450 feet (140 m) x 120 feet (37 m) flight deck, two aircraft lifts 42 feet (13 m) by 34 feet (10 m), and nine arrestor wires. Aircraft could be housed in the 260 feet (79 m) by 62 feet (19 m) hangar below the flight deck.
The ships armament concentrated on anti-aircraft (AA) defence and comprised two 4 inch dual purpose, AA guns in single mounts, eight 40 mm AA guns in twin mounts and twenty-one 20 mm AA cannons, in single and twin mounts.
Before entering service with the Royal Navy she was sent to Burrards shipbuilders in British Columbia for some modifications. These modifications, 150 of them in total, were paid for by the Canadian government. Further modifications to turn her into an assault carrier were undertaken by the Caledon Shipbuilding & Engineering Company in Dundee, Scotland. This work included installing an operational telephone system with over 100 telephones. A new briefing room with an army plot was installed and extra cabins were built providing an additional 140 bunks.
Attacker was designed to accompany other ships forming the escort for convoys. The anti-submarine aircraft employed were initially the Fairey Swordfish and later the Grumman Avenger, which could be armed with torpedoes, depth charges, 250 pounds (110 kg) bombs or the RP-3 rocket projectile. As well as carrying out their own attacks on U-Boats, these aircraft identified their locations for the convoy's escorts to mount an attack. Typically anti-submarine patrols would be flown between dawn and dusk. One aircraft would fly about 10 miles (16 km) ahead of the convoy, while another patrolled astern. Patrols would last between two and three hours, using both Radar and visual observation in their search for U-Boats. Attacker also had a secondary role, providing oil and provisions for her accompanying destroyers. This could be a lengthy process and was done on the move. It took 40 minutes from firing a line across to the destroyer to start pumping oil, while it took another two hours to pump 98 tons of oil and a further 35 minutes to disconnect the hose pipe and secure the equipment.
Attacker served throughout the war, first as a convoy escort in the Atlantic. After further conversion by the Royal Navy in October 1943 as an assault carrier, the ship was busily engaged in the Mediterranean and later the Pacific war theatres. In late August, Attacker witnessed the Japanese surrender of Penang in Malaya, as part of Operation Jurist.
In September 1945, Attacker was present at Singapore as part of Operation Tiderace, sailing immediately afterwards for the Clyde to de-store and enter reserve. HMS Attacker was awarded Royal Navy honours for her contribution to the Battle of the Atlantic (1943–44), for support to the Salerno landings (1943) and to the South France and Aegean campaigns in 1944. The vessel left British waters in December 1945, being formally received back into United States’ custody at Norfolk Navy Yard, Norfolk, Virginia on 5 January 1946 and struck from naval service on 26 February 1946.
In February 1947 the ship was sold into merchant service — to National Bulk Carriers of New York — who, in preparation for conversion to a cargo ship, arranged for the removal of the vessel's flight deck and other wartime fittings. However, the work then stopped and eventually the vessel was offered for re-sale. In 1950 it was bought by the Vlasov group and placed under the nominal ownership of Vlasov's American subsidiary, Navcot Corporation. Renamed Castel Forte, the ship remained idle whilst suitable employment could be found.
In 1957, Vlasov secured a charter from the Australian government for Castel Forte to carry British migrants to Australia. During the conversion to a passenger liner the ship was renamed Fairsky and was operated by Vlasov's Italian managed company, Sitmar Line. On completion of the refurbishment in June 1958, the "new-look" vessel began a long career as a migrant-carrying ship, which was to last until 1970. On 23 June 1977, while operating as a cruise ship, Fairsky hit a submerged wreck and was beached to prevent sinking. The damage was temporarily patched and the ship refloated six days later. When the full extent of the damage became known, Sitmar decided against permanent repairs and they offered the vessel for sale.
Having been reprieved from going straight to the breakers, in 1978 work began to convert the vessel to a static floating hotel and casino named Philippine Tourist. However, the ship was badly damaged by fire on 3 November 1979 and subsequently scrapped in Hong Kong, the hulk having arrived there under tow on 24 May 1980.