USS Surprise, HMS Heliotrope & China’s Linyi

USS Surprise, HMS Heliotrope & China’s Linyi

World War 2

The career of the USS Surprise, HMS Heliotrope and China’s Linyi, one ship for 3 nation’s for 3 decades.

USS Surprise (PG-63), was a Temptress-class patrol gunboat Built during World War II. She was originally built as the British Flower-class corvette HMS Heliotrope, and was in front line service with the Royal Navy for the first years of the Battle of the Atlantic. At the beginning of the United States entry into the war she was loaned and operated by the United States Navy for the rest of the war from 1942–1945.

Wearing Measure 16 – Thayer System colors, whose patterns are identical on both sides of the hull. National Archives photo 19-N-66637 from “Naval Camouflage 1914-1945: A Complete Visual Reference”, by David Williams

HMS Heliotrope was built in Sunderland England, as part of the 1939 emergency building programme. She was laid down on 23 October 1939 and launched on 5 June 1940. The ship was completed and fitted out and entered service on the 12th of September 1940.

Named after the flower heliotrope, the second Royal Navy ship of that name. 

As built, Heliotrope had the short forecastle that was a feature of the early Flower-class corvette, and which initially affected their sailing habitability. This was rectified and changed during her next refit, with the enclosed deck extended back to be level with the funnel.

HMS Heliotrope was then assigned to the Western Approaches Escort Force for service as a convoy escort against U-boats. In this role she took part in all the duties and tasks that escort ships would do such as protecting convoys, searching for and attacking U-boats which attacked ships in convoy, and rescuing survivors of sunk ships.

In just 18 months service Heliotrope managed to escorte 18 North Atlantic, eight Gibraltar and four South Atlantic convoys in total transporting the safe passage of over 750 ships.

She took part in four major convoy battles, In October 1940 Heliotrope was part of the escort for HX 79, which was attacked by a U-boat wolfpack which managed to sink 12 ships. In May 1941 she joined HX 126 which had nine ships sunk and in return one U-boat damaged. In August 1941 she joined SL 81 which saw five ships sunk, but one U-boat was destroyed and two severely damaged. In October 1941 she was with HG 75 which had four merchant ships and one escort sunk, and one U-boat destroyed in return.

After Germany declared war on the United States due to a shortage of US escort ships initially Heliotrope was transferred to the U.S. Navy at Hull, England, on the 24th of March 1942, she was one of a group of corvettes transferred to the U.S. Navy under reverse Lend-Lease. She was commissioned as USS Surprise on the same day. She was delivered with British radars and guns installed, and over the course of her U.S. Navy service was gradually converted to U.S carry US equipment and weapons. The 4-inch gun was mounted forward with the 3-inch gun on the aft.

4 inch guns on HMAS Sydney. 3-pounder saluting guns also visible, which indicates photo was taken before July 1940 refit when these were removed

On her first mission USS Surprise sailed from Lisahally Co. Londonderry, Northern Ireland on the 24th of April 1942 and escorted a convoy to Boston, Massachusetts. Then she was given a short overhaul and proceeded south and then for the remainder of 1942 escorted convoys in the Caribbean Sea, mainly between Trinidad and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. In January 1943, she extended her range into the South 4 inch guns on HMAS Sydney. 3-pounder saluting guns also visible, which indicates photo was taken before July 1940 refit when these were removed and, in 1944, performed escort runs between Trinidad and Recife, Brazil.

Surprise would then return to the United States. In May 1944, she returned to the North Atlantic escorting convoys until the end of World War II in Europe in May 1945, she rotated between Newfoundland, Greenland, and Iceland convoy runs and weather patrol duty mainly during this time.

After the war Surprise was decommissioned on the 20th of August 1945 at Chatham, England and returned to the Royal Navy on the 26th of August, and struck from the Naval Vessel Register on the 17th of September being obsolete by war’s end.

She was transferred and sold to China in 1947, and, after a period of short service during the Civil war she was taken into the People’s Liberation Army Navy service as the Linyi and was converting to a gunboat for the navy, and she was finally retired in 1972 and scrapped serving 3 Navy’s.

Historian Harry Gillespie : Collected Works

Harry Gillespie is a writer who resides in the UK with his family. His work focuses on Naval & British history with a specific look at 20th century warfare and ships. From World War 1 to The Falkland Islands Campaign.

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World War 2

USS Surprise, HMS Heliotrope & China’s Linyi