The story of the toughest little fighting ships of the North Atlantic war.....
The Flower Class Corvette is the best known Escort Ship of all time, purpose built for the task and based on merchant design to enable it to be constructed in merchant ship yards. Designed as an all weather depth charge platform they carried only rudimentary surface and AA weapons. Although intended to act as coastal escorts they were actually used in both the Atlantic Theatre and the Russian Convoys.
By no stretch of the imagination was the Flower Class Corvette heavily armed, initially they carried only a single 4" gun, salvaged from obsolete ships, and a couple of machine guns. Her main weapons were the depth charges.
If the Destroyer was the greyhound of the high seas then the Flower Class Corvette was the terrier of the seas. From a requirement for small cheap escort ships the task was given to Smith's Dock of Middlesbrough, who had a long experience of building tough little ships for the whaling industry, they quickly came up with the design of the Corvette and it was excepted by the Admiralty and they were built in some form or another right through to the end of the war, with almost 300 Flower Class Corvettes built, it is believed that it was "Churchill" with his usual wit that christened the ships "Flower Class" a name that was to confuse the enemy as much as the men who had to report to the ships for duty.
But the ships for all there failings were to prove invaluable in a battle that was to determine whether Britain could continue to fight.
They packed a crew of around 90 into a ship originally designed for 30 to 35 and a which could "roll on wet grass" made living conditions on the very wet; but they proved ideal for the role of coastal escort, tough, economical, could be built in a month to six weeks in a small yard, the Flower was adopted by the Canadians, the Americans, the French and the Norwegians, even the Germans, with four captured in build stage at the collapse of France were completed and pressed into service with the German Navy.
With the fall of France the impetus of the U-Boat war switched to deep water, often beyond the Western Approaches. U-Boats no longer had to risk the dash through the English Channel, or the gruelling long haul up around the Faeroes Gap of the Denmark Strait, under the constant threat of air attack. They could now safely leave from there "Pens" on the west coast of France, and move right into the battlefield of the North Atlantic.
The need to escort ships deeper into the Atlantic put a huge strain on an already overworked escort fleet and the Flowers were forced to take up the strain.
The last remaining Flower Class Ship now open to the public in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
The shipyards in Canada were to start there own Shipbuilding industry with the build of many Flowers for the Canadian Navy, and the yards in Britain were to build many, many more, in fact the Leith Shipyard of Henry Robb went on to build 8 of the class, and were also to pioneer, with the use of their Loftsmen, the ability for other non shipbuilding companies to be able to build modules for the ships, enabling the lead yard to build ships in a very short span of time.
Top speed was 16 knots in short sprints, sufficient to charge at a submerged U-Boat, but inadequate to pursue on the surface, the general tactic was to force the submarine to dive and keep it down with depth charges while the escorted ships escaped and more capable Sloops, and later Frigates, were called up to make the kill. The Flowers had a remarkable range of 4,000 miles at 12 knots, using up only 200 tons of fuel oil.
They were also very manoeuvrable, able to turn in almost there own length.
The basic design remained largely the same; except it was modified with a longer Forecastle to improve sea keeping in the Atlantic, and the Bridge and Charthouse was improved. AA weapons were increased when available, though this was usually just a pom-pom. Originally fitted with mine sweeping gear as well as depth charges this was discarded and allowed 70 depth charges and up to four throwers to be fitted in additional to twin racks deploying astern. Many variants were produced during the war. Later improvements in radar made the Flowers even more of a threat to the U-Boats and a great many U-Boat Captains were to rue the day they crossed the terriers.
The Atlantic was no longer a happy hunting ground for the Wolf Packs.
Yet later designs varied widely, some were converted to full minesweepers (usually the unmodified early ships), most gained extra guns where they could be fitted, and the forward firing Hedgehog spindle mortar in addition to their original fit.
The area of operation often dictated what the ship carried.
Those involved in the Mediterranean and the Russian convoys had priority. The mast, positioned forward of the Bridge, was moved behind the Bridge in most modified versions.
Most Flowers were sold off post war, though some saw service as weather ships for a while, although rugged and reliable they were simply too small to be able to mount modern ASW weapons, and far too slow, by the war's end submarines could even outrun the Flower submerged on a snorkel, and faster boats were to come.
Those little ships by all accounts were well liked by most of the men, who served on them, and they formed a high opinion of the tough little ships, and most were not slow to tell any detractor's from the larger ships just how proud they were to serve on the sappy named "Flower Class Corvette". Around 1 in ten of the total of Flower Class Corvettes was lost during World War II.
The unassuming and tough little Flower played as big a part in the defence of this country as the Spitfire, but while the Spitfire was a sleek thoroughbred the Flower was a snapping little dog.