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

A name given to a series of warships of the Royal Navy beginning in 1797. No documents seem to have survived to explain its original significance.

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Rio Parana--a steel hulled, single screw C 3 type passengercargo vessel--was laid down on 28 December 1939 at Chester, Pa., by the Sun Shipbuilding and Drydock Co. under a Maritime Commission contract (MC hull 60); launched on 18 December 1940; sponsored by Miss Kay Calder Lee; and delivered, incomplete, to the Navy on 2 September 1941 for conversion to an aircraft escort vessel by the Atlantic Basin and Iron Works, Brooklyn, N.Y. On 1 May 1942, the Navy--for record purposes classifying the ship as BAVG 3--turned the ship over to the Maritime Commission for further transfer, under Lend Lease, to the United Kingdom. Turned over to the British four days later, at the New York Navy Yard, she was commissioned in the Royal Navy as HMS Biter (D. 97) on 6 May 1942, Capt. Edward M. C. Abel Smith, RN, in command.


Following outfitting and trials, Biter left New York on 12 June, joined a Britain-bound convoy at Halifax, Nova Scotia, and reached Greenock, Scotland, on 23 June. During July and August, 1942, Biter underwent repairs and alterations before conducting air operations in early September. By late in September, Biter had completed her post repair trials and sailed for Scapa Flow, the British naval base in the Orkney Islands, where she arrived on 1 October.


On 14 October, Biter embarked her assigned squadron, No. 800 (Fleet Air Arm) and--in company with HMS Victorious and HMS Avenger (D. 14) (BAVG-2)--departed Scapa Flow for Greenock two days later. Shortly thereafter, Biter sailed as part of the North Africa invasion force. During Operation "Torch," she screened Convoy KMF 1 and the forces earmarked to go ashore at Oran. Beginning on 8 November 1942, Biter and HMS Dasher (D. 37) (BAVG-4) conducted nearly continuous air operations, losing five "Sea Hurricanes" to combat and a further nine "write offs" from battle or crash damage. Detached on 10 November, Biter sailed for the British Isles on the 12th and reentered Greenock on the 19th.


However, soon thereafter an event occurred which altered Biter's immediate future. When Avenger exploded and went down with heavy loss of life on 15 November 1942 after a single torpedo hit from U-155, the Admiralty decided to modify the ships of Biter's class extensively. Biter completed the necessary modifications by early 1943 and had conducted exercises with her embarked air group in late February. She then carried out antisubmarine exercises with HMS Archer (D. 78) (BAVG-1) before deading for Iceland on 13 April in company with destroyers HMS Obdurate (G. 39) and HMS Opportune (G. 80). Four days later, they arrived in Hvalfiordur and joined the escort a westward bound convoy.


During the convoy ONS 4's passage to Argentia, one of Biter's "Swordfish" teamed with the destroyer, HMS Pathfinder (G. 10) to sink U-203 one of a pair the convoy's escort sank. In May, Biter screened two other convoys, HX 237 and SC 129. In each case, her aircraft searched for and attacked U boats when sighted and guided surface escorts to waters near the enemy submarines. For example, on 12 May, HMS Broadway (H. 90) and HMS Lagan (K. 259) teamed up to destroy U 89. Biter helped to bring three convoys safely into port without loss. Biter carried out these important convoy escort duties through the end of 1944; but the advent of newer escort carriers caused her to be placed in reserve in January 1945.


Transferred to the French government on 9 April 1945, she was renamed Dixmude (A. 609). After the war, the French employed Dixmude in their attempt to regain their colony in Indochina. She departed Toulon on 27 January 1947 with an air group composed of World War II vintage Douglas SBD 5 "Dauntless" dive bombers, as well as 29 French Air Force planes. Reaching Saigon on 3 March, Dixmude sailed for the coast of central Annam 10 days later. Before the end of March, her planes supported two landing operations there.


Dixmude launched the first combat sorties ever carried out by a French aircraft carrier. Apparently, her "Dauntlesses" had performed only patrol duties at first, for one source credited Flotille 4F--the embarked air unit--with making its first bombing attack on 2 April, when the SBD's bombed the Viet Minh stronghold at Tuyen Quang.


Returning to France later that spring, Dixmude underwent voyage repairs before heading back to Indochinese waters a few months later. Her deck cargo on the return voyage consisted of two dozen war-surplus aircraft 12 Junkers Ju. 52 trimotored transports and 12 "Spitfire" fighters. She reached Saigon on 21 October 1947 and unloaded this precious cargo before returning to sea to fly her planes off to land bases at Hanoi and Haiphong for Operations "Lea" and "Catherine." To support these actions, the aging "Dauntlesses" of Flotille 4F conducted over 200 sorties, dropping over 65 tons of bombs.


Her next series of missions--her last as a combat carrier--took her to the coast of Cochin China where she operated into the spring of 1948. While she plied those waters, her planes bombed rebel positions in the Plaine de Joncs and on the Camau Peninsula. Dixmude later conducted aircraft ferrying runs to Indochina. On the first, in the summer of 1948, she took out two fighter groups equipped with the American built Bell P 63A "Kingcobra." On the second, in the summer and fall of 1950, she carried Grumman F6F 5 "Hellcat" fighters and Curtiss SB2C 5 "Helldiver" dive bombers. Subsequently rated as a Transport d'Aviation, Dixmude apparently spent the rest of her active career under the tricolor as a ferry for aircraft.


Dixmude was returned to the United States on 19 January 1951 but was retransferred to France as a grant in aid on the same day. Her designation, BAVG 3, under which the Navy had listed her all this time, was struck on 24 January 1951. Dixmude continued operations in the French Navy into the mid 1950's. Among the tasks she performed was the delivery of 35 Dassault M.D. 450 "Ouragan" jet fighters to the Indian Air Force in Bombay, India, late in 1953. She carried 32 more to the same terminal point early in 1954. Dixmude finished out her French service as an accommodation hulk. The French government returned the ship to the United States at Toulon, France, on 17 June 1966. She then made her last voyage to serve as the target in a 6th Fleet exercise, "Deep Six," that same day.

Robert J. Cressman



6 February 2006