HMS Reaper in Wartime Service
The Seattle-Tacoma Shipbuilding Company laid down the ship that would become the HMS REAPER on June 5, 1943. The ship was to be the US Navy escort carrier USS WINJAH. Within the month the decision was made to transfer the ship when completed to the Royal Navy as a Lend Lease agreement. The ship was launched on November 22, 1943. Royal Navy Captain J.F.H. Sawyer took command of the HMS REAPER on February 18, 1944. On February 21 she was commissioned as the HMS REAPER (D82).
On May 25, 1944 Able Seaman Thomas J. Holland died from injuries. The HMS REAPER began its maiden voyage in June. Its mission was to ferry aircraft to Gibraltar. After offloading the aircraft the REAPER sailed to Norfolk. There 36 F4U Corsairs and personnel of 1849 & 1850 NAC boarded the REAPER. It sailed as an escort with convoy MKF 034 from September 10 to September 14 and with convoy GUS 056 from October 28 to November 15. On December 9 the REAPER collided with the Dutch Troopship TEGELBURG. On May 9, 1945 Steward Lewis Clarkson died of an illness. On July 19, 1945 the REAPER sailed on its most famous voyage. At Cherbourg, France it took on 40 airframes. These were 39 German aircraft and one P-51 Mustang. The REAPER docked at pier 14 in New York Harbor on July 31st.
The REAPER was ferrying Avengers, Corsairs, and passengers to Sydney, Australia when the war ended. After unloading its planes and passengers the ship underwent some “deficit rectification”. Leading Seaman Hilary Cope died from unspecified causes on September 18th. On September 28, 1945 the REAPER left for Hong Kong. Its mission was to deliver relief supplies and to pick up former Prisoners of War (POWs) and civilian internees and bring them to Australia. On its next voyage it took New Zealand military personnel from Australia to New Zealand and in New Zealand picked up 203 British POWs and civilians and took them back to the United Kingdom. Its voyage to the UK involved stops in Singapore and Bermuda. When it stopped in Bermuda it dropped off Admiral Sir Ralph Leatham who assumed his post as the new Governor of Bermuda. The Royal Navy decommissioned the HMS REAPER on May 13, 1946 and returned it to the U.S. Navy. The U.S. Navy sold her to the Blue Star Line, Ltd. on February 12, 1947. The Gulf Shipbuilding Corporation converted the ship for merchant service. It served as the merchant ship SS SOUTH AFRICA STAR from 1948 until 1967. Nichimen Jitsugyo K.K. purchased the ship and in May 1967 scrapped it in Nikara, Japan.
HMS Reaper’s Legacy
The lasting legacy of the REAPER is the surviving Luftwaffe aircraft it brought to the United States. Most of these surviving aircraft belong to the Smithsonian. Some of them have been restored to mint condition and are on display. Some aircraft are undergoing restoration, and other aircraft are in storage in various states of disrepair. The other surviving aircraft are at the Air Force Museum in Ohio or other aviation museums in the United States.