Between April 1943 and May 1944, six grain carriers and thirteen tankers were hastily converted to become Merchant Aircraft Carrier Ships (MAC ships). Essentially they were merchant ships with a flight deck capable of operating three or four Swordfish or Martlets. A typical deck length of a MAC ship could be as short as 425 feet compared to 500 feet for an escort carrier.

Fairey Swordfish landing on the deck of the Empire MacKay in the North Atlantic in 1944.

The Fairey Swordfish proved to be outstanding operating from MAC ships.  With its low speed, good manoeuvrability and inherently tough design the Swordfish was the only aircraft that could fly from these short decks and have enough fuel and weapon load to be viable. However, even these remarkable aircraft faced almost insurmountable challenges. The flight deck was only 16 ft 6 in wider than the Swordfish wing span, and a Swordfish fully loaded with rockets and depth charges might require rocket assisted take-off gear to launch in unfavourable wind conditions.

There can be little doubt that the MAC ships’ contribution to the Battle of the Atlantic was important and highly valued by the seafarers they protected.