HMSAS Lesotho (AC-1908 (CVE-1931))

HMSAS Botswana (AC-1908 (ADV-1932))

 

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Outside of the main battlefleet, the Southern African Navy required some dedicated training vessels to help train the enormous amount of trained personnel required by an ever expanding fleet. The two Minotaur class armoured cruisers were exactly what was required for these duties. One would pound up the eastern coast while the other was on the western coast of Africa and every now and then they would switch for navigation training purposes.



HMS Shannon as transferred and re-christened to HMSAS Lesotho in 1922. Converted to an aircraft carrier 1932.

The two ships meandered through their training duties for eight years, when at age twenty decisions were being made as to their futures. Having just the one aircraft carrier (Eagle) at this stage was proving a problem for the Southern African Navy. The Eagle had to undertake the training duties for pilots, training with the battlefleet, and go through the normal servicing/refit periods. It was during these refit periods that the need for a second aircraft carrier was most felt. Looking through the options, the Southern African Navy could either build a new ship or convert an existing ship. The Navy had just received the new battlecruiser Transvaal and the coffers for a new ship were empty. A conversion of an existing ship was the next best they could do. The requirement was fairly broad, a ship over 500 feet with good speed. The only ships in the Southern African Navy that passed those requirements were the battleships and battlecruisers that were felt to be too modern to waste on an unknown quantity. The two ex-Minotaur class armoured cruisers were deemed to be just what was needed.

The armoured cruiser Lesotho was to be converted first. A hangar deck of just over 300 feet was inserted from the forecastle break to the stern of the ship with a flight deck being mounted above that from stem to stern. The hangar was deemed big enough to hold 18-20 aircraft with folding wings. Two elevators were fitted at either end of the hangar to transfer the aircraft from the hangar to the flight deck.The original defensive armament was the four 4" anti-aircaraft guns. The biggest problem with converting these two ships is that they were the last of the large Royal Navy ships to be completed with triple expansion engines. For the ships to be useful then they needed to be re-engined with turbine machinery. What made these conversions possible was that this was a time of modernisation of all the older battleships. Those that were having a new set of engines and other machinery installed could provide the necessary used turbine machinery for these two ships. So it proved with two sets of machinery being sourced from two Australis battleships undergoing rebuilding. The Lesotho was taken in hand in 1928 with completion of the rebuilding being slated for 1931. The Botswana was to be taken in hand in late 1929 with completion for some time in 1932.

With the crash and following depression of 1929-30 the work of converting the Botswana was stopped. At the end of 1930 work was slowly restarted but now the ship was to be converted to an Area Defence Vessel for placement and training duties on the west coast of Africa. The machinery of the Botswana was not updated and the ship served on with its triple expansion machinery. The number of boilers was reduced and the speed went down to 15 knots, more than enough for its duties. The little periods of unrest, up and down the African coast during the 1930's, had the Botswana only using the back half of the hangar for four aircraft, while the front half carried a company of Marines which could be landed from ships boats. The work on Lesotho was slowed during this period but not cancelled. The Botswana was parked at St Helena operating her own air wing and supplying support to a squadron of flying boats providing ASW patrols to the coasts of Africa and South America. The Lesotho spent the initial period of the war operating with the Eagle in the recapture of the Falkands Islands. On completion of that campaign the Lesotho returned to its training duties, which included a trip from Simonstown to Sierra Leone and back with each graduating class. This gave great service to the convoys on that route.


Swordfish floatplane that was the main aircraft assigned to the ADV Botswana.
 

Displacement 14,600 tons std 17,200 tons full load
Length 519 ft
Breadth 75 ft
Draught 24 ft
Machinery 2 shaft triple expansion, 27,000shp (orig)

2 shaft steam turbines 33,000shp Lesotho 1931+

Speed 23 knots orig, 25 knots Lesotho
Range 4000 miles at 15 knots orig (5500 at 18 knots Lesotho)
Armour 6" side, 1.5" deck
Armament As received 1921

4 x 9.2" (2x2)

10 x 7.5" (10x1)

8 x 3" QF (8x1)

4 x 3" AA (4x1)

 

As CVE

4 x 4" (4x1)

12 x 20mm (12x1)

 

 

 

As ADV

2 x 9.2" (1x2)

4 x 7.5" (4x1)

6 x 4" (6x1)

16 x 2pd (4x4)

15 x 20mm (15x1)

Aircraft nil 18-20 08-10
Torpedoes nil
Complement 875
Notes HMSAS Lesotho (ex Shannon)

HMSAS Botswana (ex Minotaur)

 

HMSAS Lesotho (ex-Shannon) as received from the UK in 1921.

 

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