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HMS Cardigan Bay

RFA Cardigan Bay

UK Royal Fleet Auxiliary
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RFA Cardigan Bay

The potted history of HMS CARDIGAN BAY DATA


A Short History 1944-62
(Kindly submitted By Shipmate Paul Morel)

HMS CARDIGAN BAY was launched in December 1944 as one of a new class of anti-aircraft frigates designed for service in the Pacific War Zone but completed too late for wartime operations. The ship commissioned on 25 June 1945 at Leith and worked-up in Scottish waters but on 15 August VJ Day was declared and CARDIGAN BAY was to serve with the Mediterranean Escort Force for the next 4 years.

Duties included the Palestine Patrols, to intercept ships carrying illegal Jewish immigrants to Palestine, and patrols in the Adriatic and Red Sea. In February 1946 CARDIGAN BAY assisted in the salvage of the SS GRADISCA, aground off Gavdos, and in October carried out surveillance in the Corfu Channel after the mining of HM Ships SAUMAREZ and VOLAGE by Albania. In July 1947 CARDIGAN BAY was involved, together with a cruiser and several destroyers, in the interception and boarding of the illegal immigrant ship PRESIDENT WARFIELD. In January 1948 CARDIGAN BAY intercepted the PAN YORK and PAN CRESCENT and escorted them to Famagusta.

In 1949 CARDIGAN BAY was transferred to the Far East, reaching Singapore in August for service in the 4th Frigate Flotilla. Over the following years the ship was to carry out patrols and bombardments during the Malayan Emergency; Yangtse Estuary and Formosa Strait patrols to assist British merchant ships under harassment by Chinese warships during the civil war between Chinese Communists and Nationalists; and complete 5 Operational Tours during the Korean War, 1950-53.
CARDIGAN BAY's first Malayan coastal patrol began in September 1949, followed by Yangtse patrol in November. She was under refit at Singapore when the Korean War broke out on 25 June 1950 and, after another Malayan patrol and bombardment, was diverted on passage to Japan to assist, and eventually negotiate the release of, the British merchant ship SHUN LEE, which had been arrested by Chinese Nationalists in the Peshan Islands.

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During the Korean War, Kure and Sasebo were CARDIGAN BAY's Japanese rest and replenishment bases and the ship reached Kure in late November to begin her first Korean coast patrol as part of a UN Task Group. During December and early January the ship assisted in the evacuation of Inchon and patrolling the harbour entrance. Although some RN ships were also deployed on the Korean east coast, CARDIGAN BAY operated only on the west coast, with an island base at Chodo. Tasks included blockade, bombardment and keeping many of the strategic islands off the west coast in UN control. Enemy shore batteries and minefields were constant threats and the coast was navigationally hazardous. In winter there was extensive pack-ice. Patrols alternated with maintenance and exercise periods at Hong Kong and Singapore.

In July 1951 CARDIGAN BAY carried out the urgent and hazardous task of salvaging a crashed Russian-built MiG-15 jet fighter. The wreckage lay in shallow water, south-west of Hanchon, some 100 miles behind enemy lines, within range of shore batteries and in an area of mud banks and treacherous tides and at the end of a narrow channel, supposedly mined. UN aircraft provided guidance along the approach channel to the wreckage, which a US helicopter had marked with buoys. CARDIGAN BAY, a US Navy crane-bearing landing craft and a South Korean launch completed the task early on 21 July. UN aircraft provided air cover and the cruiser KENYA provided long-range radar cover. Before leading the convoy back to Chodo, CARDIGAN BAY bombarded a gun position. Next day the MiG-15 wreckage was transported to Inchon and handed over to the US 5th Air Force. The UN were anxious to discover the secrets of the MiG-15, which in vital functions outclassed the US jets. There was no enemy interference with the operation.

Within days, CARDIGAN BAY was ordered to initiate a 'show of force' bombardment in the Han River where ships' boats had to take many soundings to locate the negotiable channels among the mudbanks. CARDIGAN BAY, HMAS MURCHISON, HMNZS HAWEA, a South Korean frigate and patrol craft began the operation in the western channel and bombardment began on 25 July. On 27 July, after a hazardous return down channel, and joined by MORECAMBE BAY, the ships negotiated the eastern channel and began bombardments, which CARDIGAN BAY and other ships variously continued until November when CARDIGAN BAY returned to Singapore for refit.

The ship resumed Korean patrols in January 1952 and between then and April was intermittently involved in bombardment and illumination in the Taedong estuary to protect various strategic islands from invasion, an operation known as 'Smoking Concert'. CARDIGAN BAY also took part in the subsequent defensive patrols which became known as the 'Battle of the Islands.' The ship returned to Hong Kong in May and after Squadron manoeuvres began her 4th Korean tour in June. In January 1953, on her last Operational Tour, the ship carried out bombardments in the Sokto area, amid pack-ice, and in April bombarded gun caves on Wolsari Peninsula. By late April the ship was back on Malayan patrol, bombarding terrorist positions, then in May took part in an exercise with French naval units.

Armistice in the Korean War was declared on 27 July 1953. The Korean War had gained CARDIGAN BAY her only Battle Honour.

The ship returned to the pattern of Malayan and Hong Kong patrols, Chinese warship surveillance, exercises and also Korean guardship duties which continued for some time after the war ended. Other duties included anti-piracy patrols off Borneo and Indonesia in 1954 and 1955, training of Malayan RNVR and numerous flag-showing visits.

By now the ship was well into obsolescence, but in January 1957, after a 9-month refit, she re  commissioned as Leader of the 3rd Frigate Squadron and took part in a series of major exercises before undertaking detached service in New Zealand waters until January 1958. Re commissioning in March 1958 she continued the usual pattern of exercises and visits before joining in the escort of HMY BRITANNIA on passage to Borneo in March 1959.

CARDIGAN BAY's final commission began in October 1959 and after a major SEATO exercise in April and May 1960 and a Malayan patrol in August, the ship took leave of Hong Kong in October. In November she left Singapore for the last time, for a South Pacific tour ending the year in Western Samoa. In January 1961 she continued to Pearl Harbour, Californian and Central American ports, then via the Panama Canal for her first and last Caribbean cruise, reaching Devonport on 7 April. CARDIGAN BAY entered Devonport Reserve at the end of June, after 16 years' service, and in March 1962 was towed to West of Scotland ship breaking at Troon, where destruction was completed by early September.

Paul Morel
December 2004