BLACK SWAN CLASS SLOOPS

Reviewed by: R. G. Melly

Black Swan Class Sloops – detailed in the original builders’ plans, to give the book its full title, is the sixth book in the series produced by Seaforth Publishing, in association with the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich.  As with the other books in the series, each by a different author, it comprises beautifully reproduced colour drawings of these iconic ships, drawn from the collection held at the National Maritime Museum.  These ‘As fitted’ general arrangements, prepared by the builder, contained a wealth of technical detail, and were updated, as necessary, when a ship was subsequently modified.

In the introduction, the author outlines the genesis of what became the Navy’s last class of warship officially designated as a sloop.  Four Black Swan class ships were laid down in the first two years of the war, designed primarily with an anti-submarine focus.  Nonetheless, these were heavily armed ships, and they were also equipped to deal with the emerging air threat.  These first four ships were followed by a further 27 hulls of the modified Black Swan class which, whilst very similar to the original design, boasted an increase in the beam of one foot.  Inevitably, the detail of the design of these ships varied depending on the chosen shipyard, the availability of weapon mountings and the date of completion.  As the war progressed, the ships received new weapons and sensors (enhanced anti-aircraft defences, hedgehog launchers, radar and additional depth charge holdings), as would be indicated on their own individual drawing sets.

In view of the wide variation in detail between the hulls, the book concentrates on just four of the ships; Black Swan, Flamingo, Starling and AmethystBlack Swan is described as she was supplied in 1940, whilst Flamingo (actually the first of class) is featured as she was updated, post-war, in 1949.  Starling and Amethyst, both modified Black Swan sloops, were selected because of their service histories: Starling is featured as delivered in 1943, whilst Amethyst is shown as refitted in 1950.

Clearly, there is not the space in the book to outline the service histories of all of these ships, so the commentary is restricted to perhaps the two most famous of them:  Starling and AmethystStarling, with Captain ‘Johnnie’ Walker in command, led the 2nd Escort Group credited with sinking 23 U-boats, and, over the course of the War, she became the single most successful anti-submarine vessel, sinking 14 U-boats.  Amethyst forged her place in history with her astonishing escape from the Chinese Communist forces on the Yangtze river in 1949; despite over 50 hits, the ship was subsequently repaired and updated at Devonport in 1950.  The ships played an active part in the war, with six vessels being sunk by enemy action.  Four of the hulls were subsequently transferred to the fledgling German Navy – and one ship is apparently still afloat in Egypt (the ex-Whimbrel)!

The main feature of this book is of course the remarkable reproduction of shipbuilders’ drawings.  In truth, a good set of eyes is required fully to appreciate the skill of the draughtsmen who prepared them; however, the drawings are amply complemented with enlarged details and descriptive keys.  The ships are presented in profile, in plan and also with cross sections looking forward or aft – and all in colour!

The book is a beautifully presented bit of research which brings these remarkable drawings in reach of a wider audience.  It will be of particular interest to naval architects, model makers – and those who have an association with this famous class of warship.