ARGUS QUARTET

by

James Smith

 

While we should all be familiar with the name of the 100-eyed giant of mythology, this name has also been borne on at least 4 different other occasions during the last Century or so by ships serving their country in times of need. We will have a look at each of them in turn out of interest.

Argus 03

The first one we will look at was launched at Barrow under that name for Sunderland owners on 5th July 1883 and entered service later that same year. Sold to Irish owners in 1894 she continued to ply her trade as a cargo vessel of some 1238 grt until she was requisitioned for Admiralty service as a Collier Transport on 31st July 1914 and for the next 3 years she led a busy life transporting coal to different places around the British Isles while at times even going as far afield as the north of Norway. A blight on her career occurred on 14th January 1916 when she collided with and sank the small 689 grt British-registered coaster LARCHWOOD off Bull Point, Devon.

Her own end came the following year after she sailed from Lerwick in the Shetland Islands on 20th October 1917 for Tromso in Norway carrying coal and coke and subsequently disappeared! A report was received the following day to say that she had been in collision with an unknown vessel in the North Sea but it was not until 22nd February 1918 that she was officially posted as missing, along with her crew of 18 men.

The next ARGUS to look at was launched at Paisley on 25th June 1906 and entered service about 6 weeks later as a small cargo vessel of just 704 grt for Goole Owners. She too answered the call to arms when requisitioned on 8th September 1918, strangely enough for service as a Collier Transport too!

ARGUS 1906

After a short period she was transferred to the Home Trade Branch as a Transport carrying beans before seeing out the rest of the War again as a Collier. She at least managed to survive not only WW1 but also WW2, after which she was sold to Panamanian and then Maltese owners until she too became a casualty of the sea when she sprang a leak and foundered in the Mediterranean 43 miles south of Malta on 30th May 1955.

The next ship to bear the name actually had quite an illustrious start to life as she had been ordered as a luxury Italian liner by Lloyd Sabaudo of Genoa. She was laid down at Dalmuir on the Clyde in June 1914 and her planned name was CONTE ROSSO, which on completion was to have joined her Owner’s Genoa to New York route. On the outbreak of WW1 in August of that year, work on this ship was halted, as was work on another Italian liner being built on the Tyne for Navigazione Italiana Generale also of Genoa which was to be named GUILIO CESARE . This had been laid down in December 1913, but was not finally launched until 7th February 1920 and was completed  in March 1923, but the planned CONTE ROSSO had a totally different career than originally planned. A new replacement ship with this name was launched for the same Owners on 10th February 1921 and was completed a year later

At that time the Admiralty was looking for a suitable hull which could be modified to allow wheeled aircraft to both take off but more importantly to land back on again, which up until then had not been possible. The two incomplete liners met their requirements and CONTE ROSSO was duly purchased by the Admiralty in October 1916. The reason for her choice was perhaps twofold: - in 1912 her builders had submitted plans to the Admiralty for an aircraft carrier with a full length continuous flight deck but these were not accepted and secondly, her machinery installation was at a more advanced stage than that of the Tyne-building ship.

The original design showed a 2 island concept with a flight deck running between them which were each surmounted by a funnel for the release of exhaust gasses. The islands were connected by braces with a bridge sitting on top of them. A large net could be strung between them to stop out-of-control aircraft.

Furious 02

After the sea trials of the carrier HMS FURIOUS had revealed serious turbulence problems with her superstructure, the decision was made to do away with the 2-island concept and instead exhaust gasses were ducted aft underneath the flight deck. In April 1918 the ship was ordered to be completed as flush-decked with a bridge underneath the flight deck, running from side to side and a retractable pilot house was fitted in the middle of the flight deck which could be used when not operating aircraft.

The ship, now named HMS ARGUS was finally launched on 2nd December 1917 and commissioned on 16th September 1918, too late to be of much use in WW1. She did however serve with distinction in WW2 until becoming an accommodation ship at Chatham in December 1944 until 6th May 1946 when she was approved for scrapping. She was sold to T.W. Ward on 5th December 1946 and arrived at Inverkeithing for demolition later that month.

The final (and present) bearer of the name started life as a 1108 TEU  (Twenty Foot Equivalent Unit) container ship which was launched at Genoa on 28th November 1980 as CONTENDER BEZANT and was completed 8 months later. The outbreak of the Falklands War in April 1982 showed the need for additional ships to provide support and she was duly requisitioned in May that year and was sent to Devonport for conversion into an Auxiliary Aircraft Carrier.

Cont Bezant Corporate

MV Contender Bezant during Operation Corporate

She sailed from there on 20th May for service during what became known as Operation Corporate. On the successful completion of this task, she was returned to her Owners in November 1982 and continued in her container ship role.

On 1st March 1984 she was purchased by Harland & Wolff Ltd. for a lengthy conversion at Belfast into an Aviation Training Ship to replace the much smaller RFA ENGADINE, arriving there on 29th March. Almost exactly 3 years later she was formally renamed RFA ARGUS and on 3rd March 1988 her conversion was completed. After a Service of Dedication she entered service on 1st June that year.

argus charity 3

Since then she has been kept very busy, initially in her role as an Aviation Training Ship but later as a Primary Casualty Reception Facility, seeing service in both Gulf Wars. She has often been in the Headlines, most recently when she sailed from Falmouth on 17th October 2014 to act as a Forward Base for Medics treating the outbreak of ebola in the Sierra Leone region of West Africa.

This present ARGUS is actually the 10th Admiralty / MoD owned ship to bear this proud name.

Copyright © 2008 – 2017 Christopher J White

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