The Flower Class Corvette

With war appearing more and more inevitable, the British Admiralty embarked on a course of rearmament. One ship type that they would need in vast numbers was small escorts for coastal convoys. For this they turned to the firm of Smith's Dock who took the design of one of their whale catchers and modified it into what was to become the classic Second World War small ship - the Flower Class Corvette.

The Flower as designed was 205' overall, with a beam of 33' and a top speed of 16 knots. Their speed may not have been great, but it was greater than that of a submerged U-Boat, and they could turn inside anything else afloat.

Armament consisted of a 4" gun on the bow and (if they were lucky) a 2pdr Pom-Pom in a bandstand aft, this was initially rounded off with a pair of Lewis machine guns on the bridge. Many went to sea with a quadruple .50 machine gun mount in place of the 2pdr, and many more Royal Canadian Navy Flowers originally mounted a pair of twin .50s in this position. Eventually 20mm Oerlikons replaced the bridge guns. These early Flowers looked very much like quaint little merchantmen masquerading as warships with their short focsle, merchant type bridge, large vents around the funnel and on the engine room casing.

Canadian Flowers

Concurrent with Britain rearming, Canada began to look for ways in which she could also bolster her small navy (six destroyers). Although they wanted to be a 'big ship navy', the decision was made to build Flowers in Canada as the design was simple enough for small yards with no experience in warship construction (this was also the rationale in many of Britain's yards).

Canadian Flowers differed from their British cousins in many small details, most visible of which was the resiting of the aft bandstand from its original position in front of the engine room skylight, to aft of it. this was to allow the 2pdr a wider arc of fire without fear of hitting the mainmast.

As Canada was short of minesweepers, It was decided to fit the first 54 RCN Flowers with minesweeping gear, consequently the stern was squared off to provide increased space for the winch, davits, floats and depth charge racks. A second method of increasing space was one that benefitted the crew in a way not originally anticipated when the galley was moved from its position at the extreme end of the engine room casing to directly behind the bridge. This drastically shortened the distance that the mess attendants had to travel to pick up their meals. On early RN corvettes the crews still had to walk all the way to the rear of the casing regardless of the weather.


Experience soon showed that although the Flowers were excellent sea-boats, they were also very wet and had an excessively lively motion to them, somewhat akin to a cork. While nothing could be done about the latter characteristic, the former was alleviated by extending the fo'c'sle aft to abreast the funnel. This also gave additional space to the growing complement that were required for all the additional weapons and sensors that were now coming into widespread use.

Another change was in the appearance of the bridge. Gone was the mercantile bridge with its narrow walkways and enclosed compass house. In its place was an open bridge with wide wings mounting 20mm Oerlikons on each side and a Type 271 Radar on the rear.

Type 271 was one of the great innovations of the sea war, and it allowed the previously blind escorts to see at night and in fog. Now they could become the hunters. Usually mounted at the rear of the bridge and offset to port to allow a view directly astern, the 271 'lantern' is a feature readily apparent on most Commonwealth ships so fitted.

Sadly the RCN was slow to adopt 271, instead they turned to their own scientists and asked them to come up with a comparable set. This they did in record time, which was quite the achievement and says a lot about their skill. However the SW1C only worked well in ideal conditions, in operational use it was an utter failure, and its upgrade, SW2C was no better.

A second failure of the RCN Staff was its deciding to wait and see if the RN modifications were beneficial, and then arguing over who was responsible for carrying them out. This had the sad result that RCN Flowers soldiered on with the short focsle and no radar well after their RN cousins had been so fitted.

RN-Owned, RCN-Manned

This isn't strictly true, there were nine RCN Flowers that were as well equipped as any RN Flower. When Canada agreed to allow construction of Flowers in Canadian yards, Britain ordered ten for their own use. These ten were built to the British design, and as such differed from their RCN sisters in the details mentioned above. Upon completion, they were manned for passageto the UK by men intended for transfer to other RCN ships already based in the UK. Once they arrived in England, the RCN was asked to leave these men where they were, and to take over operational use of these ten Flowers. This had the curious result that they were British ships, with Canadian names and Canadian crews, but all expenses paid for by the British. As a result of this, the nine survivors (Windflower was sunk in 1941), were upgraded well ahead of other RCN Flowers. TThese ten ships can be distinguished by their British appearance, and Flower name – RCN owned corvettes took on the name of Canadian cities and towns.

One other result of the RCN taking over these ships was to have consequences in how RCN escorts were viewed by the RN. The British took no account for the fact that these ten ships were undermanned and untrained, instead they took this to be an indication of the state of the RCN and this was to cloud their judgement on the ability of the RCN for the next 2-3 years. Another complaint was that RCN escorted convoys had higher losses than their RN cousins. Although true, nothing was made of the fact that the RCN also escorted the bulk of the slow SC convoys, and consequently they spent more time within range of the wolf packs.

After the 'poor showing' of the RCN in covering SC42 the decision was made to withdraw the RCN from the North Atlantic and move them to the Gibralter run and also to have as many trained to RN standards as possible. Once this was accomplished the RCN returned to the North Atlantic and ultimately were responsible for escorting half of all convoys between Britain and North America.

Increased Endurance Flowers

Starting with HMS Samphire in 1942, new-build Flowers were completed with increased flair to the bows to improve their seakeeping. Tthese ships can be readily told apart from their earlier sisters by the added height to the bow, as well as the raised platform for the 4" gun to clear the new bow. With the raising of the bow, the bridge also was raised a level. Later the gun platform was enlarged and extended aft to allow for the installation of the hedgehog mount on the starboard side, with R.U. stowage on the port side.

The RCN also constructed their later batches to this design, and when the US entered the war, some were transferred to them and manned by the USCG . These USCG Flowers had various changes made to their appearance. Some had unshielded 4" guns, US radars, new bridge, an added 3" gun at the rear of the casing and numerous other changes.

An interesting little sidelight is that Canada built Flowers for Britain, that were then transfered to the US, at the same time that Britain gave other Flowers to Canada in return for minesweepers that Canada was building for the RN in return for some frigates that Britain was building for the RCN. This actually made sense as it best utilized the industrial capacity of each country in such a way as to allow for continuous production without the need to retool for the new ship types needed by each nation.

Postwar use*

Almost as soon as hostilities ended the corvette fleets of Britain and Canada began to disband, with most going to the scrapyard. However, some survived into the 1960s, 70s and in one case to the present day. Of the rest, 52 ex RCN corvettes went to mercantile use and became whalers, freighters and even luxury yachts. Sudbury became a salvage tug on Canada's West coast, Shediac a Dutch whaler, Norysd and Beauharnois to the Mediterannean where they were used to smuggle Jews into Palestine. A further 24 were transferred to foreign navies - mainly those in South Amercia . In the 1970s the hope was to purchase the former HMCS Lousbourg II back from the Dominican Republic, however she was damaged beyond repair in a hurricane. This left but one Flower - HMCS Sackville.


* I plan a future section devoted to these postwar Flowers