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DEPARTMENT OF THE NAVY -- NAVAL HISTORY AND HERITAGE COMMAND
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Baffins


A bay, more commonly known as Baffin Bay, on the southern coast of Texas, emptying into the Laguna Madre that follows the Gulf shore between Corpus Christi and the mouth of the Rio Grande and separates Padre Island from the Texas mainland.


(ACV-35: displacement 11,420; length 495'8"; beam 69'16"; extreme width 111'6"; draft 26'; speed 18 knots; complement 890; armament 2 5", 16 40 millimeter, 27 20 millimeter; aircraft 28; class Bogue; Type C3-S-A1)


The aircraft escort vessel, AVG-35, was laid down on 18 July 1942 at Seattle, Washington, by the Seattle-Tacoma Shipbuilding Company, under a Maritime Commission contract (MC hull 246); redesignated an auxiliary aircraft carrier, ACV-35, on 20 August 1942; named Baffins on 23 August 1942; launched on 18 October 1942; sponsored by Mrs. Laurence Bennett; and commissioned at the Puget Sound Navy Yard on 28 June 1943, ­Capt. William L. Rees in command.


Though commissioned in the United States Navy, Baffins had been assigned to the United Kingdom under lend-lease only five days before her commissioning.  She remained in the Puget Sound Navy Yard for almost three weeks after entering active service.  During that time, she was redesignated an escort carrier, CVE-35, on 15 July 1943.  On 18 July 1943, the warship embarked upon the short voyage to Vancouver, British Columbia.  Decommissioned at the start of the mid watch on 20 July 1943, Baffins was turned over to the Royal Navy. 


Renamed Ameer--a transliteration of amir, the title given an Afghan ruler--and assigned the pennant number D.01, the new escort carrier soon commenced outfitting according to Royal Navy standards.  These alterations included a lengthened flight deck, the installation of ASDIC, the modification of fire-fighting and ventilation systems, and the alteration of bomb and torpedo stowage to allow the accommodation of either American or British ordnance.


Her conversion complete, Ameer sailed to Great Britain and, in May 1944, escorted Convoy KMF-31 from the United Kingdom to the Mediterranean on the first leg of her voyage to report to the commander of the British Eastern Fleet at its base, Trincomalee, Ceylon.  There, she joined her sister ships Battler (D.18), Begum (D.38), and Shah (D.21).  Early in 1945, Ameer was assigned to Force 61 as cover for Operation Lightning, the amphibious assault by the 3d Commando Brigade (two Royal Marine units and one Army unit) on Akyab, Burma.  However, the Japanese forces evacuated that key area 48 hours ahead of the scheduled invasion, rendering a heavy bombardment unnecessary.  The landings, carried out on 4 January 1945, proved excellent training and, more importantly, netted the Allies an excellent all-weather airfield, as well as gave them control over the Mayu and Kaladan Rivers and the mouths of the waterways of South Arakan.


Next on Ameer's agenda came Operation Matador, an amphibious thrust to capture the strategic port of Kyaukpyu--located at the northern tip of Ramree Island, south of Akyab across Hunter's Bay-­and the key airfield near the port.  In Allied hands, the field would allow the Allies to resupply their forces fighting inland as far south as Rangoon.  As originally conceived, Matador did not call for an aircraft carrier in its early stages.  However, a reconnaissance carried out on 14 January 1945 disclosed Japanese forces busily placing guns to sweep the landing beaches.  This discovery led to a summons for heavy support.  Escorted by the destroyer Raider (H.15), Ameer departed Trincomalee on the afternoon of 18 January, and the battleship Queen Elizabeth followed soon thereafter escorted by destroyers Norman (G.49) and Pathfinder (G.10).


On 21 January, an hour before the 71st Brigade was to land, Queen Elizabeth opened fire with her main battery while planes from Ameer spotted for her.  The light cruiser Phoebe also joined the bombardment, and RAF Liberators and Thunderbolts of 224 Group bombed and strafed to soften up the beaches.  The assault troops landed unopposed and secured the beachhead; the following day, the 4th Brigade landed.  Next, on 26 January, Ameer provided air support for Operation Sankey, the amphibious assault on Cheduba Island to the south.  The Royal Marine force that landed there found the effort to have been wasted on a deserted island.  Meanwhile, the Japanese forces remaining on Ramree Island were harried into the crocodile-infested mangrove swamps.  Nevertheless, 500 Japanese escaped despite the intense blockade instituted to destroy them.


The capture of Akyab and Ramree had given the Allies the ability to sustain by air their forces in central and southern Burma; and the Royal Navy gradually asserted control of the Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal.  On 22 February 1945, Ameer sailed from Trincomalee in Force 62--along with Empress (D.42), the light cruiser Kenya, six destroyers and six frigates--to carry out Operation Stacey, the first of three photo-reconnaissance missions slated to cover the Hastings Harbor and Phuket Island areas of the Malayan isthmus.  Operating initially in the Andaman Sea, Ameer and Empress--­both equipped with Grumman Hellcat fighters and Avenger torpedo bombers--began the required flights on 26 February and, although plagued with camera failures, carried out their task successfully without enemy interference on the 27th and 28th.  The good fortune to remain undetected, however, did not last.  On 1 March, Japanese planes attacked Force 62.  Ameer's Hellcat fighters downed a Mitsubishi Ki.46 Dinah reconnaissance plane and a Nakajima Ki.43 "Oscar" fighter, while Empress's Hellcats added a second Oscar to the tally.


After a brief rest at the fleet base at Trincomalee, Ameer—along with sister ships Khedive (D.62) and Stalker (D.91)--­returned to sea in Force 63 for Operation Balsam, the third and last series of photo-reconnaissance missions over southern Malaya.  On 20 June, the last day of the scheduled operation, Commodore Geoffrey N. Oliver, Force 63’s commander, released his pilots to carry out offensive sweeps.  Ameer’s Hellcats joined those from 808 Squadron and Supermarine Seafires from 809 Squadron in attacking Japanese air bases at Lhoksemawe, Medan, and Bindjai, strafing targets ranging from buildings and trains to hangars and grounded planes.  The British pilots encountered minimal aerial opposition, but antiaircraft fire claimed one Hellcat.


The following month, July 1945, the East Indies Fleet took up the task of removing Japanese mines from the approaches to potential landing sites.  Between 5 and 10 July, Allied minesweepers destroyed 167 mines moored off the eastern shores of the northern islands in the Nicobar chain.  The sweepers were covered by Ameer, and Emperor (B.98)--supported by the light cruiser Nigeria and the destroyers Roebuck (H.95), Eskimo (F.75), and Vigilant (R.93).  While the ships of the screen bombarded enemy positions on Nicobar in the north and Nancowry to the south, Ameer and Emperor hurled air strikes against these positions before the force retired to Ceylon.


Leaving Trincomalee in her wake on 19 July in company with the veteran battleship HMS Nelson, Ameer sailed to provide cover for Operation Livery, the sweeping of Japanese mines studding the approaches to the island of Phuket, off the Kra Isthmus.  One of the minesweepers, Squirrel (J.301), struck a mine on the 24th, the day the operation commenced.  On 25 July 1945, Ameer encountered the kamikaze for the first time when Japanese suicide planes attacked Force 63.  Hellcats from Ameer and Empress did not intercept the strike and two Aichi D3A Val dive-bombers managed to get close enough to attack.  Nelson and Ameer opened fire, and their antiaircraft barrage splashed one of the intruders.  The heavy cruiser Sussex downed the other.  Sussex later downed her second suicide plane, but a fourth managed to get through and crash into the minesweeper Vestal (J.215) that evening.


Operation Livery proved to be the last one undertaken by the East Indies Fleet.  Less than three weeks later, Japan acknowledged defeat, and hostilities ended in the Pacific.  Decommissioned by the Royal Navy on 17 January 1946, Ameer was returned the U.S. Navy at Norfolk, Va.  The escort carrier briefly resumed her original name.  Baffins was declared "not essential to the defense of the U.S." on 11 February 1946, and her name was struck from the Naval Vessel Register on 20 March 1946.  Transferred to a disposal agency on 13 September 1946, the ship was purchased by Mr. William B. St. John at New York City.  Converted for merchant service, she was renamed Robin Kirk around 1948 and apparently retained that name until she met her end at the hands of Taiwanese shipbreakers in 1969.


Robert J. Cressman



25 September 2005