HMS Nabob

This post is an amalganation of several posts on HMS Nabob and some aspects of my late Father’s time in the Royal Navy. There are comments from various people whose families have links with HMS Nabob survivors. I will try and add them all into this post. 20th November 2011

Today is a very special day, and it is thanks to the world that has been opened up by the internet. I have just received, from one of the very few survivors of HMS Nabob – Andy Lucas, living in Ontario, a book on HMS Nabob. I will be eternally grateful to Andy, and his brother John for their kindness in writing to me, and arranging to send this wonderful momento of the ship my father served on during the war. I can never thank them enough.

I wish them both, and Tony Madonna also one of the few crew who still survives, every best wish, and my gratitude.

In memory of John Kavanagh Snr. ( Kavanagh, John, FX-104016, Air Mechanic/A )

I would love to have a translation of this commentary. This is the only film footage I can find of HMS Nabob. Click the link to view.

I have decided to link together several posts and the images contained ing them on HMS NABOB in order to make it easier for anyone searching the subject to find information. Here are the results, together with some new photographs.

Posted November 1st 2011
I have just been sent this photograph of the damage incurred by a German torpedo on HMS Nabob. My BIG BIG thanks to Lindsay (whoever you are!) for this rare piece of pictorial history. I have not found this image anywhere else.

HMS Nabob

Posted 15th November 2010
Officers 852 Squadron

August 21st 1944, HMS Nabob. Aircraft ready for strike

“HMS Nabob.Pacific Ocean. January 1944″

Marked as 759 (Spitfire) Maintenance Squadron, HMS Heron, August 1943

A rare photograph taken on HMS Nabob showing one of the major hazards of operating an aircraft carrier during the Russian Convoys – scraping ice from the decks. Note the Swordfish aircraft, which were probablbly the only craft that could get airborne in these conditions. Landing was probably impossible though.

HMS Nabob, I believe at San Francisco

Marked “HMS Kempthorne coming alongside to take off the wounded. August 22nd 1944″

“HMS Kempthorne drops two patterns of depth charges hunting U-Boats. August 23rd 1944″

John J Kavanagh

John J Kavanagh

Posted 2nd November 2009
I’ve been trying to piece together some of my late father’s experiences from old photographs – not an easy task, as he rarely spoke about his wartime experiences as he found it too painful (he lost a good many friends). He certainly served on HMS Nabob, which I think was one of the so called “Liberty Ships” donated during WW11 by America. His primary role was as an Air Frame Mechanic, working on a variety of aircraft, including Swordfish.

A reasonable history of the ship can be found on the link below. I know that he joined the ship firstly in San Francisco, was aboard her when she was torpedoed whilst on a convoy. At some point he was at Murmansk, but I am not sure if this was aboard HMS Nabob. I will try and dig out out a photo or two of the Tirpitz, which Nabob was involved in attacking (Operation Goodwood). He was with the ship at this time.

The photo below was taken after Nabob was torpedoed, and she can be seen to be listing to starboard. She managed to limp back to Scapa Flow, but with extensive damage she was taken out of action for the remainder of the war

HMS Nabob

HMS Nabob

Added 20th November 2011
Photograph marked “HMS Kempthorne. Two members of HMS Bicarton’s crew buried at sea. August 23rd 1944″

The Grumman Avenger;-
Grumman TBF Avenger
Designed to replace the Douglas TBD Devastator, the TBF Avenger was first flown on August 1st, 1941. Capable of staging torpedoes, drop bombs and rockets, this single engine aircraft could also be outfitted with a combination of machine guns and cannons, which allowed it to act as a dogfighter. The robust Avenger design gave it the ability to withstand enemy air attacks and allowed it to serve throughout WWII, with dire consequences for the Japanese fleet. Postwar, the Avenger was still in service—retrofitted for other important functions including electronic warfare, anti-submarine warfare and target towing.

© Copyright 2003-2011 The Flying Mule, Inc.

852 Squadron Dance. Date unknown.

This is my father (on the right) with a shipmate. I have some vague recollections that this may be a John Whitehead?

There is some guesswork on this image. It seems to have been taken from a boat, which would account for the angle. However, the ship does seem to have a list, which may indicate that it is an image of her after being torpedoed and returning to Scapa Flow.

“Scots-American Club, Kearny, New Jersey” Written in a different handwriting to my father’s October 1943. “An evening that will always remain a happy memory.Mam,Dad and Ruth”

“Squadron, Mass. USA”

“Happy days at Squadron, Mass.”

If anyone can identify the bridge in this shot I would be grateful. Photograph not dated.

Alcatraz? Undated.

I presume that these are from the VE Day Parade, but where I cannot tell.

Comments copied from other Nabob posts

Ben Taylor CANADA says:
November 3, 2010 at 3:06 pm (Edit)

My father also served on the Nabob – as a gunner. The Nabob flew Wildcats and Avengers. The Nabob did serve on the Murmansk run. She was topedoed of of iceland and limped back to Scapa Flow with a skeleton crew all the crew that remained on board were volunteers (even the padre left)My father found out at a reunion some 50 years later that if the Nabob could not make steam in a given period of time she was so be sunk with all hands by her own convoy.After making steam she was being followed by the sub that torpedoed her – aircraft were scrabled and catipolted from her deck – these planes sunk the sub – they could not land back on Nabob and had to ditch in the ocean – airmen where picked up by the Nabob. Crewmen killed in this action are buried at Scapa Flow.

Ben, I’m really grateful for that information, which is not contained in any available documents. I’ll dig out a few more pictures shortly and add then onto my blog under HMS Nabob.
Reading some of the information on the web, I was also interested in the so called ‘mutiny’aboard Nabob en route to Canada. Mine you, with a Captain called “Horatio Nelson” it was not surprising that conditions of service might have been ‘behind the times’.


I really hope that there is some sort of message alert on this. I have managed to lose the address of the former Canadian crew that you sent me. Please can you send the message again to

February 15, 2011 at 1:11 pm (Edit)

A special thanks to Ben. I have just received a copy of ‘ “Nabob” The first Canadian Manned Carrier ‘ from Andy Lucas, one of the few remaining survivors of HMS Nabob.The author of the book is Betty Warrilow, published by the Escort Carriers Association. This book is indeed a rare treasure, which will in time be handed down to my son. My thanks and best wishes to Ben, Andy & John Lucas, and of course Tony Madonna in Arizona

George Billing NEW ZEALAND says:
May 20, 2011 at 3:39 am (Edit)

Joined Nabob in Brooklyn, New York Jan 1944. Paid her off in Rosyth Dry Dock in August/September 1944. Only three of us paid her off – 4-Ring Captain RN, Ldg. Storesman, and me Ldg. Writer. Was the very last naval man to leave her after completing the decommissioning paper work. Strangely Betty Warrilow’s book only mentions Canadian Personnel, not Royal Navy Personnel, ie. the Fleet Air Arm Pilots and support Ratings, and me. I was the only non-Canadian Crew Member having been taken on to handle the pay and records of the U.K. guys.
A few of the “facts” you have are not absolutely accurate, ie.
only one plane flew off the search for the sub., piloted by the Flight Commander and he landed back on the sloping flight deck, but hit the crash barrier of the end of the flight deck, because the arrester wires were unoperable. By the way, if you go into the “drink” up there, you don’t survive. I am now 86, but have vivid memories of it all.

LIndsay Kenyon says:
October 27, 2011 at 3:33 pm (Edit)

Thanks for putting this together . Unfortunately I’m writing this one week after my father’s passing. My father Frank Kenyon was on the Nabob as well and in the last few years shared his experiences, esp. around the day it was torpedoed.

I appreciate all this info and will share pics, stories when I have it more organized.
Thanks again for this info. it is great to read especially at this time.

JohnK says:
October 27, 2011 at 5:23 pm (Edit)

Hi Lindsay. My condolences to you on the passing of your father. There are but a handful of ex-HMS Nabob survivors left. Their memories are precious, and the part they played in earning the freedoms we have today is immeasurable.

If you come across and further information or photographs they would be very much appreciated.

With regards John

LIndsay Kenyon says:
October 28, 2011 at 12:34 pm (Edit)

Hello Ben/John

I have found a picture of a Ken Taylor. Any chance Ben this is your father??

jim says:
November 11, 2011 at 2:20 am (Edit)

my uncle was lost aboard the nabob he is buried in scotland David MELROSE jr he is remembered on the cenotapah of his home town collingwood ont. canada any crew pics available thanks

November 11, 2011 at 9:47 am (Edit)

James, thank you for your comment. I am always searching for more images, and may have a few more in my possession that I have missed. I will add them soon.

Quoting from my main source of information ( “Nabob” The first Canadian-Manned Aircraft Carrier , by Betty Warrilow. ISBN 0-9693438-0-9 . Published in Canada by Escort Carriers Association. c/o Curator Percy Warrilow, R.R. #Owen sound, Ontario, N4K 5N8 . Printed by Stan Brown Printers Ltd, Owen sound, Ontario ) ;-

Melrose, David, A-5395, AB; Roman Catholic: next of kin: Father, Collingwood, Ontario; ****; D>D>22:08:44. David was born 16th february, 1919, at Leith, Scotland; was a sailor on the Great lakes in Canada prior to joining Nabob.

Don Mc Neille wrote: “I was aquainted with David Melrose. How this came about I cannot remember but we used to talk together whwen we met. I was able to identify David when he was brought up from below in a blanket and placed in a casket…

In 1970 my wife and I had a trip home [to Scotland]…{At the cemettery where the Nabob men are buried} we were able to find all the members of the ship. David was facing the cross…

david’s siter, Mary (Melrose) Ford, Terrace , BC, was a child at the time of his death. Her search for her brother’s friends and shipmates has been very helpful in this history’s research”

James, It is significant that your message comes at this time. Today is the 11:11:11, and in one hour I will be standing in silence, remembering all those who have given their lives in order that we enjoy the freedoms they earned to this day. I can only pray that mankind will find a peaceful way of resolving our differeneces, and that the world becomes a more tolerant place. Please let us learn the lessons of history.

Some information I have gleaned from the net which may prove interesting

Vought F4U Corsair

A total 2,012 Corsairs saw service with the Fleet Air Arm during WW2 and the immediate post-war period. Royal Navy Corsairs all had 41cm clipped from their wing-tips which enabled below-deck storage on British carriers which were smaller than the American carriers for which the Corsair was originally designed. 1842 Sqn was formed in February 1944 and shipped to the USA to train on Corsairs. When training was completed the squadron returned to the UK and embarked in HMS Formidable. In August 1944 along with Indefatigable, Furious, Nabob and Trumpeter, Formidable and 1842 Sqn took part in Operation Goodwood, a series of four attacks upon the German Battleship Tirpitz. The infamous German battleship, which was moored in a Norwegian Fjord, posed a serious threat to convoys sailing from the UK to Russia and had already been attacked on a number of occasions. During the Goodwood attacks the Corsairs attacked flak positions and JT590 received serious damage to the starboard elevator but returned to the carrier and landed safely.

Vought F4U Corsair
Designed to meet a US Navy requirement for a single-seat carrier based fighter, the F4U was first flown on May 29th, 1940. This versatile aircraft saw service with both the Navy and Marine Corps in WW II and in the Korean War. During its lifetime, the Corsair underwent numerous improvements such as a lengthened fuselage, a high visibility bubble-top canopy and folding inverted gull wings that provided clearance for a large propeller. Its performance advantage, 400 mph capability, the ability to withstand punishment and six .50 Browning machine guns made the F4U a devastating weapon against aircraft, ground targets and ships.

© Copyright 2003-2011 The Flying Mule, Inc.

Grumman TBF Avenger
Designed to replace the Douglas TBD Devastator, the TBF Avenger was first flown on August 1st, 1941. Capable of staging torpedoes, drop bombs and rockets, this single engine aircraft could also be outfitted with a combination of machine guns and cannons, which allowed it to act as a dogfighter. The robust Avenger design gave it the ability to withstand enemy air attacks and allowed it to serve throughout WWII, with dire consequences for the Japanese fleet. Postwar, the Avenger was still in service—retrofitted for other important functions including electronic warfare, anti-submarine warfare and target towing.

© Copyright 2003-2011 The Flying Mule, Inc.

Fairey Swordfish Mk II

During WW2 the Atlantic convoys suffered great losses and in large part that was due to the lack of air cover. There were simply not enough Carriers for the job. The solution was to use grain and oil carriers fitted with a flight deck whilst still able to carry their usual cargos. These ships carried a flight of three or four Swordfish armed with rocket projectiles or depth charges. The Swordfish used on these ships were all part of 836 Sqn which provided flights for 19 MAC ships with a total of over eighty aircraft making it the largest ever Fleet Air Arm squadron. They operated in frequently atrocious weather conditions with maintenance work often carried out on the open flight decks. LS326 was one of these aircraft on board HMS Rapana. She is a survivor and still flies today as the founder member of the Fleet Air Arm Historic Flight and has been repainted in her original wartime colours.

Fairey Swordfish Mk II
This spotter-reconnaissance aircraft, built by the Fairey Aviation Company for the British Royal Navy, was first flown on February 22nd, 1934. Nicknamed “Stringbag” after a housewife’s string shopping bag, the Swordfish could carry an unlikely combination of loads. It could lift off a carrier deck with a standard torpedo, although this made it vulnerable to fighter attack. Its low speed and stable stance made it easy to line up for a torpedo attack, as it did against the German Bismark and on the Italian naval base at Taranto, where 21 Swordfish destroyed three battleships, a cruiser, two destroyers and other warships.

© Copyright 2003-2011 The Flying Mule, Inc.

1st May 2012;-

I may be doubling up on some of the images. My grateful thanks once again to the Canadian contingent for sending me these latest images. If anyone can add any further information on them I would be very grateful.

9th May 2012
My special thanks to a young friend of mine – Matthew Churchill – for his amazing painting skills. I have been considering putting together a small diorama of HMS Nabob for some time. Ridiculously I started with a 1/72 scale as I had always worked with this scale as a kid when making Airfix models. I came across a Corgi diecast model of the exact Grumman Avenger that served on HMS Nabob. After that I found a set of 1/72 figures which exactly fitted the period.I knew that i would not have the skill to do them justice, and asked an unsuspecting Matthew to take on the task. I think that he has done a truly amazing job!

These are a first few images. I will do some more work on them soon.

…and before any purist have a go, the Swordfish is marked with HMS Ark Royal marking – I know!

6 Responses

  1. Lynda says:

    My grandfather, who has passed away now, also served on the HMS Nabob. Rev Robert Blair. He became a Minister after the war because he felt that he must have been saved for something. Peace to you. Peace to your family.

  2. John Donovan says:

    My late father Leslie Donovan was a TAG in 852 Squadron. He was aboard HMS Nabob. What a surprise to see him in that picture of the Squadron Dance. Fantastic. Thank You

  3. Mr Royston Wilkes says:

    My uncle Harry Wilkes was a steward on board the Nabob and he was one of those who lost their life I remember him coming to visit us in his naval uniform wearing his white silk scarf and picking me up I was only 5 years old at the time, I am still trying to find out where he would be buried.

  4. Don Buxton UNITED KINGDOM says:

    Dear Mr Royston Wilkes, your search for your Uncle is now complete – – he lies at rest in Dunfermline (Douglas Bank) Cemetery, Fifeshire, Scotland.

    I hope that this information helps you to complete your quest for information as to his whereabouts.

    P.S. my father, Leonard Buxton, L/FX 106249, Air Fitter Electrical with 852 NAS was aboard HMS Nabob when she was torpedoed 22 August 1944. My Dad was one of the lucky ones who survived.

  5. Nick Roberts UNITED KINGDOM says:

    My father Eric Roberts was a pilot with 852 (Avenger) squadron -pictured on the far right (As you look at it) of the squadron photograph you’ve included above.

    Its the first time I’ve seen the picture of the torpedo damage. I’m amazed how the ship got back to the UK with that level of damage – bearing in mind that Fleet Carriers, such as the Ark Royal, which were double the tonnage of Nabob and which were armoured, sank after one torpedo hit. The actions of the damage control crew must have been outstanding.

    FYI, the squadron commander was the famous Bobby Bradshaw:-

    The RN Fleet Air Arm museum, at Yeovilton, Somerset, England has a digital video made by the Ships Surgeon showing aircraft operations and aspects of everyday life on the ship, both before and after the torpedo attack.

Leave a Reply