Many years ago, I joined a warship which was named after a castle.  The castle proper is a humble pile of stones compared with many of Britain's fine castles, some still being lived in to this day, but its name ranks as high as any in British history.  It has a view without equal!  It is Tintagel Castle in Cornwall, and I joined HMS Tintagel Castle.

At that time I was 16 years of age [having joined the Navy when aged 15 at HMS Ganges at Shotley near Ipswich Suffolk] and I was a Boy Telegraphist: the date was the 8th February 1955.  Not long before in late 1954, the ship had made the local and then the national headlines because two crew members, one a seaman and the other a national serviceman cook had had a quarrel which resulted in the seaman stabbing to death the cook.  Also, shortly after I joined, a leading seaman called Jan Trigg set fire to the 'tiller flat' [part of the stern end of the ship] as an act of arson, and so the ship had gained a name for infamous acts and I recall my mothers letters to me being pre occupied with my safety.  On the pluses side, HMS Tintagel Castle had taken part in either the film "THE CRUEL SEA" or "ABOVE US THE WAVES", and I remember watching the <correct> film and proudly pointing out to the uninitiated 'my' ship:  the only problem was that the films were about WW2 stories and the ship should have been dressed accordingly i.e., wearing the pennant numbers K399 instead of F399.

The ship had the pennant numbers F399 painted on its sides and its stern  <F = Frigate>, but in reality she was built for the second world war as a Corvette, and earned Battle Honours escorting Convoys and seeing-off German U-Boats in the Atlantic* - the letter C in Corvette couldn't be used because it was reserved for Cruisers, and in any event ships were grouped under Flags of the alphabet and not as the first letter in their type of ship name.  Corvettes just happened to come under Flag K Superior so they had to use the letter K.  In 1943, the Admiral brought back the term 'frigate' to designate a new class of twin-screwed escort vessels: since the Castle-class had but a single screw, they were definitely NOT frigates.  She was one of several based in the Second Training Squadron on Portland Dorset, engaged in anti submarine warfare [ASW] training for the many students belonging to the TAS [Torpedo Anti Submarine] branch accommodated ashore in the near-by naval establishment of HMS Osprey.  I can vividly remember my first experiences at sea, learning what being in the Royal Navy was all about.  I can't say that I enjoyed all of my experiences, but I did learn and grew to accept my lot with confidence, and after a time, the bad sides were much easy to bear when one realised that ones peers were sharing the same feelings.  However, it couldn't have been all bad for I went on to serve thirty years, leaving the navy when I was 45.

There were many of these small Castle Class Corvettes built [some 40 I believe] but not all served in the Royal Navy, some being sold to friendly countries fighting against the axis forces on the side of the allies, or, if sold after the war, to former brothers-in-arms. I left the ship to join the massive aircraft carrier HMS Eagle, and from there I joined HMS Tyne for the Suez War of the last quarter of 1956.  In 1952, twentyfour Castle Class Frigates were operational on the books of the Royal Navy, Tintagel being one of them, but also at that period, there were thirtynine British merchant ships also named after a castle - and a couple chose the same castles as did the R.N., - sailing on the high seas!  For me, as a 'radio tenderfoot' as it were, things could have been confusing especially when one realises that ships have at least TWO NAMES each and that warships have THREE NAMES each.  In the case of a merchantship, her size, superstructure and company colours marks her out for how she earns her living <passenger liner, oil tanker, cargo carrier etc> but after that, next comes her name and radio international callsign; her place of registration, painted on the stern, could also be used for recognition.  A warship has a name, a radio callsign, but also a visual callsign [a pennant number], and a true expert in warship recognition would need but one of these names to recognise the ship.  Obviously, one can tell by the colour, size, overall shape etc what type of a warship the vessel is, and moreover, the prefix SS or RMS would apply to the merchantman whereas, the British warship has the prefix HMS [Her Majesty's Ship], but we will ignore these facts, and the facts presented by the ships ensign for the purposes of this page. 

Now, there is an EXCELLENT reason for me mentioning CASTLE class warships and merchantships together here, because the truth of the matter is that at least one of those merchantmen became a warship, in fact, an AIRCRAFT CARRIER, and, after the war, for many a long year, these ships sailed under the BLUE DUSTER instead of the RED DUSTER, meaning that their Masters were ex R.N., officers or were officers in the various Naval Reserves [RNR, RNVR etc] and not just Master Mariners in the Merchant Navy: the word 'just' is not intended to be a put-down - far far from it!

The following text tells their story which is of great interest to us historically as a maritime nation.  Tonnage cannot be compared because for merchant ships it is GROSS tonnage, a measure of carrying capacity where 100 cubic feet = 1 ton, whereas for warships it is DISPLACEMENT tonnage, actual weight of the ship when fully armed, crewed, fuelled and watered, but the Castle merchantman would have dwarfed the Castle warship.
 

As fate would have it, the Second World War was declared on 3rd September 1939 before the new service was able to settle down and become established. All the mailships were conscripted into government service as either armed merchant cruisers or troopships. The mail run, in the meantime, was serviced by smaller, older passenger ships, namely the "Dunbar Castle", the "Llandovery Castle", the "Llandaff Castle", the "Llanstephan Castle" and the ageing "Gloucester Castle".

The fleet suffered quite extensively and most of the surviving vessels required a lot of work done to them before they could be returned to commercial operations. The "Pretoria Castle", completed in 1939, was converted by the navy into an aircraft carrier and it took until March 1947 to restore her to passenger ship status with a new name, the "Warwick Castle" - * See below for picture. . New buildings were resumed and in 1948 two 28705-ton steam turbined mailships entered service, the "Pretoria Castle" and the third "Edinburgh Castle". These were followed in 1950 by the 18400-ton "Bloemfontein Castle" which was intended to provide a reasonably priced passage for emigrants to South Africa and Rhodesia. The need never arose and the vessel was, consequently, re-deployed on a one-ship, economy class only, intermediate service from London to Beira via the Cape. The 17 knot ship was always the 'odd one out' and in 1959 she was sold to the Greek-owned Chandris Line.

During 1950/51 smaller steam-turbined vessels, the "Rhodesia Castle", the "Kenya Castle" and the "Braemar Castle" were completed for the round Africa service to join the pre-war built motor ships "Dunnottar Castle", the "Durban Castle" and the "Warwick Castle", all built between 1936 and 1939. The round Africa service was operated alternately via the Cape and via the Suez Canal from London, the journey time being approximately 6 weeks.


"Pretoria Castle" 
(Photo: UCPSC 15/175)
 
"Edinburgh Castle" 
(Photo: UCPSC 23/200)

The company was also trading with refrigerated fruit ships and general cargo vessels but after the war it faced fierce competition for freight from old established companies including Sir Nicholas Cayzer's Clan Line and Lord Vestey's Blue Star Line. Common-sense prevailed to prevent counter-productive rivalry and in 1956 the Union-Castle Line and Clan Line merged under the umbrella of the British and Commonwealth Shipping Co. However, the companies maintained their individual identities with only a double house flag to notify a change of ownership.

By the end of the 1950's the passage time to Cape Town was down to 13 days but an 11 day service was envisaged and in 1957 construction of the 28582-ton, steam turbined "Pendennis Castle" was commenced. With accommodation for 187 first-class and 475 tourist-class passengers she entered service in 1959 and was quickly followed in 1960 and 1961 by the "Windsor Castle" and the "Transvaal Castle".

Also by the end of the 1950's the Union-Castle Line was co-operating very closely with the South African Marine Corporation (Safmarine)} and already one of the general cargo ships the "Drakensberg Castle" was sailing under the South African flag. In 1966, however, it was the turn of the passenger liners and the "Pretoria Castle" and the "Transvaal Castle" were renamed "SA Oranje" and the "SA Vaal" and eventually re-registered in the Republic of South Africa.
 


The "Llandaff Castle"
 
The " Pendennis Castle"

In 1965 the fleet of seven mail ships necessary for the 11 day, weekly service was completed with the construction of the fast cargo liners the "Good Hope Castle" and the "Southampton Castle. These vessels had accommodation for 12 first-class passengers mainly for people wishing to travel to St Helena and the Ascension Island.

The Union-Castle Line had never been interested in holiday cruising, that is, until 1964 when the company took over the operation of the former Pacific Steam Navigation Co's "Reina del Mar" which was operating out of Southampton. but she did not officially join the fleet, without a name change, until her purchase had been negotiated in 1973.

However, the face of British shipping was about to change, due mainly to the invention of the jet engine and the building of faster, safer aircraft. When the De Havilland "Comet" took to the air, mail could be delivered around the world far quicker than by sea. The Boeing 747 "Jumbo Jet" enabled the mass transportation of people by air. The days of the passenger liner and the regular mail services by sea were numbered. Consequently, in 1977 the passenger/cargo vessel "Southampton Castle" made the last Cape mail run from Southampton to Cape Town. However, the last ship to fly the mail pennant for the Union-Castle Mail Steamship Co was the "Kinpurnie Castle" (ex Clan Ross) . She carried the mail on a voyage from Southampton to Durban calling at the Ascension Islands, St Helena, Cape Town, Port Elizabeth and East London.

Also in 1977, on 19th September, the "Windsor Castle" returned to Southampton at the conclusion of the last mail run, 120 years and 4 days after the "Dane" set sail on the first epic voyage. The Union-Castle mailships would no longer depart from Southampton meticulously at 4 o'clock on a Thursday afternoon, a sailing which was only delayed once when the vessel waited one hour for Sir Winston Churchill to board.

During the 1980's a new breed of cargo carrier, the container ship, was introduced which made the operation of small cargo vessels un-competitive. As a result, the British and Commonwealth Shipping Group abandoned it's shipping operations and the Union-Castle Mail Steamship Co. ceased to operate.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Previously [some many months ago] I had published all British warship callsigns operational in 1952 - see here KEY TO 1952 SHIPS AND THEIR CALLSIGNS and I thought it fitting for this story at least, to publish the Castle Class Frigate callsigns and the Castle Named Merchantship radio callsigns together, so here goes:-

WARSHIPS MERCHANTSHIPS
NAME CALLSIGN NAME CALLSIGN
ALLINGTON CASTLE MZRZ - -
ALNWICK CASTLE MWQF - -
AMBERLEY CASTLE MWLC - -
- - ATHLONE CASTLE GYTK
- - ARUNDEL CASTLE GCZL
BAMBOROUGH CASTLE MWQL - -
- - BARRY CASTLE MCSF
BERKELEY CASTLE MWLD - -
- - BEAUMARIS CASTLE GJWR
- - BLOEMFONTEIN CASTLE GGCR
- - BRAEMAR CASTLE GNZC
- - BRECON CASTLE GJWM
CAISTOR CASTLE MZSB - -
- - CAPETOWN CASTLE GKGM
CARISBROOK CASTLE MWKF - -
- - CARNARVON CASTLE GJSL
- - CLYNE CASTLE GSRX
- - CONISBRO' CASTLE GRCG
DUMBARTON CASTLE MWLG - -
- - DUNNOTTAR CASTLE GYVM
- - DUNRAVEN CASTLE GJYC
- - DURBAN CASTLE GPGP
- - EDINBURGH CASTLE GOHN
- - EDINBORO' CASTLE MCCK
FARNHAM CASTLE MWQM - -
FLINT CASTLE MWKS - -
- - GLENAPP CASTLE MLYZ
- - GROSMONT CASTLE GJYD
HADLEIGH CASTLE MWGL - -
- - HARLECH CASTLE GJRT
HEDINGHAM CASTLE MWLV - -
KENILWORTH CASTLE MWQR KENILWORTH CASTLE MQLP
- - KENYA CASTLE GNCF
KNARESBOROUGH CASTLE MWLJ - -
LANCASTER CASTLE MZSC - -
LAUNCESTOR CASTLE MWLW - -
LEEDS CASTLE MWKW - -
- - LOCHNELL CASTLE GOAV
MORPETH CASTLE MZSX - -
- - NEATH CASTLE MCSN
OAKHAM CASTLE MZQN - -
OXFORD CASTLE MZSN - -
PEVENSEY CASTLE MWRW - -
PORCHESTER CASTLE MWGP - -
- - POWIS CASTLE GKDL
- - PRETORIA CASTLE GOAE
- - RHODESIA CASTLE GMGQ
- - RICHMOND CASTLE GCSP
- - RIEBEECK CASTLE GNGL
- - ROCHESTER CASTLE GZQF
- - ROWALLAN CASTLE GDFT
- - ROXBOROUGH CASTLE GBGS
RUSHEN CASTLE MWGQ - -
- - RUSTENBURG CASTLE GNGR
- - STIRLING CASTLE GYPX
- - SWANSEA CASTLE MCTS
- - TANTALLON CASTLE MQWN
- - TENBY CASTLE GSRW
TINTAGEL CASTLE MWMC TINTAGEL CASTLE MQWT
- - WARWICK CASTLE GRRJ
- - WINCHESTER CASTLE GTPZ

So, two ships called TINTAGEL CASTLE and two called KELINWORTH CASTLE - not too much confusion after all eh? As one can see, not that it is overly significant, that all 'CASTLE' warships had a radio callsign beginning with the letter 'M' and that by and large, all 'CASTLE' merchantship callsigns began with the letter 'G'.  It seems strange that the two duplicate sets of ships, Tintagel and Kenilworth, all had callsigns beginning with an 'M' !

Of some detailed and specific interest on this topic is my page WARSHIP PENNANT NUMBERS ? which explains pennant numbers and classes of warships in the greatest of detail.

To finish on, why not have a look at the web site dedicated to the ships and the men like me who served in them:  here is the URL Castle Class Corvette (Frigate) Association

* 'Horses for courses!  This web page, on a general naval web site, cannot, nor does it claim to, go into detail about the ships themselves and what is shown is really all about British ships which were named after Castles and their radio callsigns, information not shown elsewhere on the internet.  For that type of detail you must read the appropriate web site as shown in the paragraph above, or the various shipping line websites.  However, Norman Goodwin of the Castle Class Corvette Association has sent me this text by email, so, to whet your appetite I had added it here.

"Between the 11th December 1943 when a convoy escort  first included  a
Castle Class Corvette and 6th June 1945 - the last convoy escorted by
one of these ships, they  escorted 237 ocean convoys comprising just
under 12,000 mercantile sailings.  Of these only 10 were lost through
enemy action.  The Castles were associated with the destruction of 7
U-boats for the loss of three corvettes (Two in arctic waters).
        The convoy escort vessels were the hardest worked ships in the
Navy.  Not surprising considering that one of the primary duties of the
Navy has always been to protect merchant shipping. The record of one of
these ships is a typical example.
        From the 7th May 1944 to 8th May 1945 Tintagel Castle spent 214
days at sea on convoy escort duty.  Just over 60 per cent percent of the
available days.  The layover period between convoys was in the region of
seven days.  During that period, time had to found for routine
maintenance, as well as the occasional boiler clean, training ashore and
at sea.  Two to three days leave would be given when possible to half
the ship's company. There was little idle time"

For more general reading about Corvettes/Sloops and the Castle Class Corvettes, look at these URL's Sloop-of-war - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia  |  Corvette - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia   | Castle class corvette - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

* Picture of HMS Pretoria Castle as a naval aircraft carrier during WW2, and after the war, converted back to being a Union Castle Ship the "Royal Mail Motor Vessel Warwick Castle" from 1947.

Good bye and good luck!