The ‘Fresh’ class of water tank vessels were launched during World War 2 and during their early years 12 of the 14 ships in the class were manned by the RFA.  These vessels would have been a familiar sight around the naval dockyards and anchorages, taking fresh water and boiler feed water to warships and auxiliaries.


The RFA Service having passed through the Wave, Old Tide and New Tide classes of steam ship from 1945 to 1963 saved the best to the end before all RFA steam ship construction ceased in favour of motor ships. The three ships built in 1965 were easily the best steam RFA’s and possibly some of the best British steam ships ever built. I cannot comment or Resource or Regent as I never went onboard them but I do know they were a totally different animal, Foster Wheeler boilers and English Electric turbines – one wonders why the change from reliable B & W boilers and PAMETRADA turbines successfully used in the New tides and all the additional training necessary for two distinct classes of ship.


In September 2010 the RFA Historical Society was approached by Wing Commander Clive Mitchell, Royal Air Force,  the Assistant Defence Advisor at the British High Commission in Pretoria, South Africa.  Wing Commander Mitchell was preparing a citation for an Elizabeth Cross to be presented to Mrs Diana Hutton-Squire, sister of 3rd Engineer Officer Andy Morris who had perished when RFA Sir Galahad (1) was bombed and set on fire at Bluff Cove, Falkland Islands on the 8 June 1982.
RFA Historical is extremely proud and honoured to have been able to assist Wing Commander Mitchell trace ship mates of 3rd Engineer Morris and make the presentation of the Elizabeth Cross a moving and momentous occasion.


60th Anniversary of the explosion of RFA Bedenham at Gun Wharf, Gibraltar





On 27 April 1951 the naval armaments vessel RFA Bedenham, while unloading at Gun Wharf, Gibraltar was sunk when a lighter alongside of her exploded. This caused the ship to explode and sink.  There was heavy loss of life and vast damage through out the City.



Back in the 1950’s some of the RFA’s fleet of tankers were hired out to commercial companies on charter. RFA Wave Emperor was one such tanker which was chartered to the Esso Standard Oil Company, and engaged in freighting oil from the Caribbean to various ports on a fixed term contract.


I joined the Merchant Navy in 1943 as a 15 year old cabin boy and spent two weeks at T.S Triton, a catering training school in the West India Docks in East London.  While I was there I also did one day’s training on aircraft recognition, how to load gun magazines and how to fire an Oerlikon gun, this was done on a double decker bus to enable me to become a D.E.M.S gunner, and yes, it was all done in a day, heaven help us.



For the Master of RFA Wave Governor, Captain Walter L. Holtam RFA, the voyage out to Brazil in November 1957 in ballast was reaching its end.

Captain W. L HOLTAM

The ship was off Curacao when he received a report that six of the Lascar crew had thrown themselves over the side and were swimming ashore.

AlcidesDuring World War 2 the Admiralty secured the services of a number of Norwegian tankers to supplement those under RFA command. These tankers were hired from their owners and placed under RFA management. They retained their Norwegian Masters and crews – which were mainly of mixed nationalities.

On 11 January 1952 RFA War Hindoo was along side in Singapore Naval Base with HMS Comus berthed outboard of her. The Royal Naval ships crew had to cross the deck of the RFA to gain access to their ship. On one particular evening some of the RN crew were coming back to their ship (no doubt after a few wets) and were not particularly quiet while crossing over the deck of the War Hindoo.




James Smith


While we should all be familiar with the name of the 100-eyed giant of mythology, this name has also been borne on at least 4 different other occasions during the last Century or so by ships serving their country in times of need. We will have a look at each of them in turn out of interest.

Argus 03


Battle of the Atlantic 70th Anniversary


6th  – 11th May 2013 World War 2 and Arctic Convoy Week                                                        Loch Ewe

8th  – 13th May 2013 Battle of the Atlantic 70th Anniversary                                                         London

8th May 2013 BOA70 Exhibition open on HQS Wellington and at HMS President                          London

8th May 2013 BOA70 Themed evensong at St Paul’s Cathedral                                                   London

9th May 2013 BOA70 Planned Fleet Air Arm Flypast                                                                   Greenwich

10th – 12th May 2013 Battle of the Atlantic 70th Anniversary                                                        Londonderry

11th May 2013 BOA70 Memorial Service, Merchant Navy Memorial, Tower Hill                              London

11th May 2013 BOA70 Unveiling of International Sailor Statue at Peace Square                             Londonderry

12th May 2013 BOA70 Parade and Wreath Laying on The Foyle                                                   Londonderry

22nd May 2013 BOA70 Naval tea party                                                                                       Kirby Lonsdale

24th – 28th May 2013 Royal Navy and International                                                                      Liverpool

25th May 2013 BOA70 Charity Royal Marine Band concert at the Philharmonic Hall,                       Liverpool

25th May 2013 BOA70 Anglican Cathedral followed by parade and Fly past                                    Liverpool

27th May 2013 BOA70 Visiting ships open to the public and 1940’s party at St. Georges Hall,         Liverpool

28th May 2013 Royal Navy and International ships depart headed by THV Patricia                           Liverpool


For further details on Battle of the Atlantic 70th Anniversary commemorations, please contact the Merchant Navy Association at:


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During 1963, the RFA HQ in London began to appreciate that simple communication to RFA personnel afloat about current events in the RFA service was not being covered adequately in the “Naval Store Journal”. This was a two monthly glossy magazine produced for shore store establishments in which the RFA was given ½ page covering mainly Captain and Chief Engineer appointments.

To overcome this lack of internal publicity and communication section 2A of the Naval Store Department then located at the Empress State Building in London produced and distributed a RFA News Letter to ships at sea. This was a 20 to 24 page newsletter “Duplicated” onto softish paper then in vogue with government departments, the heading from news letter number 6 appears below.

Bombed but not out
Convoy WP 169 left Milford Haven on the 9th June 1942, amongst the ships on this small coastal convoy was RFA Ennerdale bound for Portsmouth where the convoy was due on the 11th June.
Image Ennerdale
RFA Ennerdale
On the evening of the 10th June whilst the convoy was approximately 10 miles from Portland Bill, they were attacked by up to nine enemy twin engine bombers.  As the enemy planes swept across the starboard beam of Ennerdale they were engaged by the starboard guns and the fire was so accurate that the planes veered off across the stern releasing bombs as they went, the bombs fell in the sea close to the stern off the ship, but did no immediate damage.
Image Heinkel 111
German Heinkel 111
The planes then climbed away from the ships in preparation for another attack, though before they came round again an object was seen off the port quarter.  Within a few minutes one of the enemy bombers was spotted making a run in over the starboard bow, as it came within range all of Ennerdale’s guns opened fire and the bomber was seen to sustain damage to the port wing of the aircraft.  The plane dropped a stick of one or two bombs close to the starboard bow, the bombs passed under the ship and detonated close to the port side, a tremendous concussion was felt throughout the ship and a plume of water was seen to shoot up to about 75 feet, as it feel back it cascaded over the ship flooding the bridge.
Image Convoy under attack
Convoy under attack
A few minutes later another plane approached the convoy from ahead and was again engaged by all guns, this plane was also hit by very accurate fire from the convoy and passed close to Ennerdale without dropping his bombs. As the attacking aircraft flew away the ship resumed her course, and it was then found that she was taking in water in one of the deep tanks which fortunately was empty at the time.
On closer inspection it was found that the shell plating on the port side between frame 168 and 170, was dished in, inspection of the forward pump room found that the three cargo pumps had also received damage from the bomb blast, the damage put this pump room out of action as the forward pump had its steam lines split at the connections and the pipe cradles were also damaged, as well as the cylinder feet, suction valves and three way casting for the filling and discharge lines.  The centre pump, which was used for lubricating oil, had the cylinder feet and the three way valve damaged and unserviceable, and the after pump had sustained damage to the mountings.
The damage was reported to the Admiralty, who decided to put her into a dry dock to assess the damage that could not be seen, repairs were quickly made to the ship and she was soon back at sea and steaming for the 

Convoy WP 169 sailed from Milford Haven on 9th June 1942, amongst the ships on this small coastal convoy was RFA Ennerdale bound for Portsmouth where the convoy was due on 11th June. Ennerdale_Bombed_but_not_out

SS Louise Moller Sweeps Past

Nationalist Warship claiming to be the RFA Black Ranger

as a RN Frigate Stands By



On 28 October 1949 the British tanker Louise Moller (previously RFA Rapidol) swept past in defiance of a Nationalist gunboat in the Yangtse Estuary in international waters to run through the Shanghai sea blockade successfully and delivered half a million gallons of diesel oil for Caltex.


A Chinese crew member of RFA War Bharata was found guilty on 25 November 1926 at a Court in Singapore on charges of being in possession of firearms and ammunition. He was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment, ten strokes of the cat and a fine of $100 or three months’ imprisonment by Mr E E Colman, the acting District Judge.

The accused was arrested by the Harbour Board police in possession of seven automatic pistols and 600 rounds of ammunition.

The Background to the Requirement for Convoy Rescue Ships:




James R. Smith

 RFA Historical Society consultant



During WW2 the British Merchant Navy suffered enormous losses in both ships and personnel – a total of 32,952 registered seamen which equated to a 17.8% loss of the total strength.

This is put in perspective when one considers that the Royal Navy lost just 9.7% of its personnel!  Between September and December 1939, 126 British merchant ships were lost as a result of enemy action and whilst these figures dropped to 66 in the first quarter of 1940, the Admiralty’s prediction of higher losses bore fruit when 216 British ships were sunk in the third quarter of that year which rose to a staggering 263 vessels lost in the final quarter of that year. After the fall of France, this was mainly due to the increased effectiveness of submarines and the presence of long range bomber aircraft which were now based on the French Atlantic Coast. During this same period, numerous Allied vessels were also lost.

From 1940 a number of Norwegian owned tankers which had escaped the German occupation of their country were placed under RFA management and used almost exclusively in the carriage of oil to British Naval bases at home and overseas from the Caribbean and also the Persian Gulf.

The tankers were operated by their Norwegian crews with the addition of DEMS gunners for their protection.


The RFA National Memorial was dedicated on 11 October 2012 at the National Memorial Arboretum, Croxall Road, Alrewas, Staffordshire in the presence of His Royal Highness the Earl of Wessex KG, GCVO, ADC.

The Earl is Commodore-in-Chief of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary.


RFA Memorial 


 The RFA Memorial

Memorial 2

The RFA Memorial (2)


RFA Ennerdale arrived at Penang on the 26 November 1945 and was given sailing orders to depart on the 3 December; bound for Singapore. On the way down to Singapore Ennerdale was requested to rendezvous off the Perak River to collect some spare landing craft there for onward transport to the Naval Base at Singapore.


A correspondent of the Glasgow Herald in October 1953 told his readers that Admiral the Earl Mountbatten, the Fourth Sea Lord, had described the ships of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary as ‘Fairy Godmothers of the Fleet’. The Admiral went onto say – ‘It is, of course, appropriate, for the Fleet could not operate without the faithful RFA’s which work silently and efficiently, and are largely unknown to the public.’



Everything a Royal Navy vessel uses comes to it courtesy of the RFA, especially if that vessel is in the middle of a shooting war. During that southern hemisphere autumn of 1982, it was the RFA's duty to keep the Fleet at sea.

Christmas Island ChartOperation Grapple was the name given to the series of British Nuclear tests of the Hydrogen bomb, they were conducted between 1956 and 1958 at Malden Island (now called Kirimati) in the Central Pacific and at Christmas Island. There were nine tests, which was the start of Great Britain becoming part of the Nuclear Powers.

All of the bombs were exploded in the air, rather than on the ground, to reduce the effects of nuclear fallout, the first three bombs were dropped from Valiant aircraft and detonated at around 18,000 feet, around 30 miles south of the island.

Throughout the RFA’s history, the fleet has been given some odd and unusual tasks to perform, some odder than others.  In 1947, with the Second World War not long over, the RFA were seriously considered for the operation of an Aircraft Carrier, well it is unusual!

In late 1940 the German Navy wanted to send two surface raiders – the battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau into the Atlantic to attack Allied convoys. Operation ‘Berlin’, as the attack was called, commenced on 28 December 1940 when both ships attempted to breakout into the Atlantic but the operation had to be postponed due to the ships suffering storm damage with Gneisenau returning to Keil and the Scharnhorst to Gotenhafen (Gdynia).


The bell presented by RFA Fort Victoria is rung

Sea cadets in Barnsley, Yorkshire joined in a unique occasion at 8.12am on Friday, 27 July 2012, as a three-minute chorus of bells signaled  the start of the London 2012 Olympics.

Led by their commanding officer Chief Petty Officer Caroline Devonport, six sea cadets aged 12 to 17 rang the ship's bell presented by RFA Fort Victoria and which is kept on permanent display at Barnsley Town Hall following the adoption of the ship by the borough in 1992.

Olympic Bell Ringing 029

Barnsley's 'All the bells' celebration on the Town Hall steps is part of the cultural Olympiad and it was among hundreds of such events taking place simultaneously across Britain.

CPO Caroline Devonport said it was great for the sea cadets in Barnsley to take part in such an event.

"It's a great time to be a sea cadet with the unit's 70th anniversary on 1 September and the 20th anniversary of the unit and town's affiliation with RFA Fort Victoria," she said.

In 1961, the President of Iraq, Abd al-Karim Qasim, had claimed that Kuwait was part of his country and he announced that Iraq was going to annexe Kuwait.



President of Iraq, Abd al-Karim Qasim

On 27 June the Amir of Kuwait asked the government of Saudi Arabia and Great Britain for help.  With the news that the Iraqi’s were amassing a large armoured brigade in preparation for a rapid dash over the border, the then Commander in Chief Middle East, Air Marshal Sir Charles Elworthy  answered the call and prepared to send troops and equipment to the beleaguered country.

The History of RFA Sir Tristram / TV Tristram


by Ashley Smith


TV Tristram, formerly RFA Sir Tristram (L3505), is a static training vessel and former landing ship logistics of the Round Table-class. Launched in 1966 and transferred to the Royal Fleet Auxiliary in 1970, she served in the Falklands War of 1982 and sustained major damage in an air attack at Fitroy. After a rebuild in 1984-85, Sir Tristram would go on to serve in further conflicts including the Gulf and Iraq Wars.


By Graeme Andrews


For more than 20 years the heaviest ship in the Royal Australian Navy was the Tide class fast fleet tanker, HMAS Supply, ex RFA and HMAS Tide Austral.

During the early 1950s it became apparent to the leaders of the RAN that there was a need for a ‘Force multiplier’ to allow the generally short-legged ships of the RAN to work further and longer at sea. The light fleet carrier HMAS Sydney was capable of refuelling her escorts as was the later carrier HMAS Melbourne. Using the carrier to top up the smaller ships had the effect of reducing the carrier’s fuel range. Thus, the idea of a fleet replenishment tanker, as was used during the Second World War by the US and German navies was well received.

How a run ashore became a disaster

On 13 April 1925 at about 11.30pm in the River Medway off Upnor, Kent the ship’s boat of RFA Bacchus (1), containing 11 of the crew were returning from a run ashore, when it was struck by a motor lighter and sank immediately. Five of the crew were saved and six were drowned.

Royal Navy ‘War Games’ training in 1937 was a far grander affair than to-days ‘Thursday War’.

In July of that year Britain was at ‘war’ with ‘Blue’ whose naval forces had been bottled up in Blue’s distant home waters by the Royal Navy with the exception of a cruiser (skilfully played by HMS Southampton – mounting twelve 6 inch guns) and a suitably disguised armed merchant cruiser with an assumed armament of four 6 inch guns (even more skilfully played by RFA Prestol). These two ships were tasked by their Admiral to interrupt the essential; sea-borne supplies of the United Kingdom. Against these two ships with their evil plan were Royal Naval forces – the aircraft carrier HMS Glorious, the cruiser HMS Newcastle, the destroyer HMS Brazen playing the part of another cruiser. The Fleet Air Arm was also present with No’s 802, 812, 823 and 825 squadrons.


The story of the NAV Upnor incident


A remarkable incident took place off the south coast of Ireland during the closing phase of direct British influence in the island of Ireland. Remarkable in that it was an act of piracy.


In Hong Kong’s Marine Court on the 28 October 1921, the Magistrate, Lieutenant Conway Hake RNR gave his judgement in the case in which John Walter Edward Drake, Junior Engineer Officer of RFA Pearleaf was charged at the instance of the Master, Alfred S Leech RFA with absenting himself without leave from his duty in the engine room or stokehold at 1am on 16 October 1921 under the Transport Discipline Regulations


Seventy years ago, on the 22nd October 1941, R.F.A. Darkdale was torpedoed by the German submarine U.68 while at anchor off Jamestown Harbour, Island of St. Helena, South Atlantic Ocean.

The ship exploded, turned over and sank within five minutes taking forty one members of her crew down with her. This was the single greatest loss of life on any RFA which has been sunk during the 106 years of the Service's existence.

At 03:00hrs 6 June 1956 an RAF Sunderland flying boat with a surgical team lead by Squadron Leader Agnes R D Bartels M.B., B.S., F.R.C.S., L.R.C.P., RAF on board left Singapore in answer to an emergency call for urgent medical assistance from RFA Fort Charlotte.



RFA Personnel who served on ships directly in support of the Suez Canal Conflict may now apply for the Naval General Service Medal 1918-62, with the ‘Canal Zone’ clasp.Naval_General_Service_Medal_1915-1962


When Britain maintained overseas bases the RFA supplied a regular 12 passenger cargo shipping service to supply and maintain these outposts of the British Empire. Commercial companies – Orient/P&O had 99.99% of the traffic.

Norwegian ships in RFA Service

Sunset and evening star
and one clear call for me!
and may there be no moaning of the bar
when I put to sea
But such a tide as moving seems asleep
too full for sound and foam
when that which drew out the boundless deep
turns again home
Twilight and evening bell
and after that the dark!
and may there be no sadness of farewell
when I embark
For though from out our bourne of Time and Place
the flood may bear me far
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
when I have crossed the bar.



When Germany invaded Norway on the 9 April 1940, the Norwegian ships that were in allied or neutral waters at the time were requisitioned by the Royal Norwegian Government, which early in the war had managed to escape to the UK (The King of Norway was evacuated in June 1940).  The Norwegian Shipping and Trade Mission was established in London at the end of April 1940 and the name became abbreviated to Nortraship, following a suggestion from the British Post office.


Several offices were subsequently opened in various parts of the world.  The three main offices were in London, New York and Montreal, with sub-offices in several cities in the UK, USA and Canada, as well as Bombay, Calcutta, Cape Town, Reykjavik, Santos, Suez and Port of Spain.


Dozens of ships of every type and size now came under allied control and were made available for vital convoy work, bringing in much needed supplies for the allied war effort, of these a number of tankers were requisitioned by the Admiralty for service as RFA’s, they were all employed on freighting duties, supplying oil to the many Royal Naval bases around the world.


Whilst these ships retained most of their original Norwegian crews, there was a need to supplement some of the crews with seamen from various nationalities including British, American, Canadian, Australian, Greek, Chinese and Indian Merchant Seamen.  To a man, they all served as RFA seamen and every one of the ships in this list was sunk by enemy action, this is the story of the Norwegian RFA connection.

For those familiar with the modern RFA fleet the sight of the two One-stop replenishment ships, RFA’s Fort Victoria and Fort George are an awe inspiring sight, these huge vessels are capable of supplying fuel, food, ammunition and other stores to Royal Navy ships whilst underway, and can extend the operational range of modern warships to allow them to conduct protracted operations anywhere in the world.

In 1982, during the Falklands Conflict a plan was hatched in Argentina to destroy British ships in Gibraltar harbour. This plan was approved by Admiral Jorge Anaya, who kept it secret from the Junta.

Surviving veterans from one RFA tanker could be honoured for their service in the Second World War.  RFA Bishopdale, a Dale class tanker, was loaned to the Royal Australian Navy in 1941, and took part in the fierce fighting for the Philippines at the latter end of the war.



RFA Bishopdale in 1943


Bishopdale was launched on the 31st March 1937 and spent the beginning of the war on the North Atlantic convoy routes, before being lent to the Royal Australian Navy at the end of 1941.  The ship arrived in Sydney in April 1942 and served with the Australian fleet until October 1945, during which time she survived two brushes with disaster.  On the 5th August 1942 the ship survived striking a mine in Noumea harbour as she was sailing to Brisbane, this disaster put her out of the war until February 1943.


“See How They Run”

Fun onboard with the Rodents


Phil Lippant


Imagine the Naval Health Officer of the Port of Portsmouth, complete with cocked hat, frock coat, gold braid, epaulettes, and all the other trimmings, walking, with that splendid dignity which pertains to Naval Health Officers, down the Dockyard one fine morning with his sword in one hand and a rat-trap in the other!

On the 8th June 1982, at the height of the Falklands conflict RFA Sir Tristram was in San Carlos Water with her sister ship RFA Sir Galahad when Argentinean Skyhawk jets attacked both ships.


RFA Bishopdale arrived at San Pedro Bay, Leyte Gulf in the Philippines in the early part of December 1944, to join the British Pacific Fleet Train that was beginning to assemble there, in preparation for the push by the Allies across the Pacific to the Japanese homeland.

Australian yachtswoman Anne Lise Guy set sail from Mooloolaba, Queensland in November 1993 aboard her 11 metre yacht “Wildflower” to circumnavigate the Antarctic continent, and for three months everything was fine as she slowly tacked east toward South America.

RFA Petroleum arrived five days late at Portsmouth on 2nd February 1914 with a cargo of oil from Port Arthur Texas, USA after experiencing terrible weather during her passage home.

The wartime Convoys to Russia started in August 1941 after the German invasion of that country and began with Operation Dervish, Gauntlet and Strength, the first of the famous PQ series of Convoys sailed in September of 1941.  It is reputed that the designation for this series of Convoys came from the initials of Commander P. Q. Edwards, who was responsible for the planning of these early operations.

News Flash

It has been confirmed that RFA Fort Victoria was involved along with the USS De Wert in rescuing an Italian ship held by Pirates.

We have all heard of Ballistic Missile Submarines, Guided Missile Destroyers and Frigates, but how many of you have heard of a tanker with a ballistic unguided missile capability, not many I would wager.


In early 1987 RFA Olwen had two very special tubes fitted to her flight deck; each tube was around 30 feet long and 21 inches in diameter and gave the ship the appearance of an old Battleship with the tubes looking like main armament.  One of the tubes had been mounted on a base plate that was cut into Olwen’s flight deck and the other was on a portable platform.  The tubes were steered on two axes and had to be aligned to the ship’s centre line to operate effectively.

In 1919 RFA Birchol – a 1,000 ton harbour oiler was deployed to Archangel, Russia in support of three United States Naval submarine chasers that had been sent to provide immediate naval assistance to that country’s forces in northern Russia.



For RFA Broomdale 1944 was a very bad year with explosions, torpedoes and expressions of displeasure!

RFA Broomdale

On 14 April she had been moored alongside at Bombay when the s.s. Fort Stikine, an ammunition ship, exploded in the harbour and caused death and serious destruction over a wide area. Broomdale suffered damage.



RFA Deployment in the 1960’s

One of the largest RFA deployments in the 1960’s was to support the Royal Navy’s peace-keeping force off Aden during December 1967 and January 1968.

Britain handed over the former colony to an independent Arab administration on the 9 January 1968 and the British Government advised that a strong force of British ships would remain on hand for a period of six months.

RFA Diligence receives a Mayday call






RFA Diligence


On 16 May 2011 RFA Diligence (A132), the Service's Forward Repair Ship received a Mayday call from the German owned, Panamanian flagged 158,000 ton MV Artemis Glory, saying that their ship was under attack by pirates in the Gulf of Oman. The tanker was on passage from Juaymah Terminal in Saudi Arabia to China with a cargo of crude oil.



Operation Lucid

Captain Augustus Agar VC was in charge of the planning and execution of Operation Lucid in September 1940, an attempt to hit the German wooden invasion barges at Boulogne and Calais, France, with incendiary material and set them alight. The plan had the personal backing of Winston Churchill, it was a desperate time and any measure, however risky, that could frustrate the German invasion plans was welcome.


Fort Victoria

The Ministry of Defence Operational Honours and Awards List of 28 September 2012 has announced that that Captain Shaun P Jones RFA and other officers and crew of RFA Fort Victoria have been recognized for service on Operations for the period 1 October 2011 to 30 March 2012


Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) (Civil)

Captain Shaun Peter JONES, Royal Fleet Auxiliary

Shaun Jones
Captain Shaun P Jones OBE RFA


Commander Joint Operations (CJO) Commendation for OP CAPRI 2

Chief Officer Simon K Booth RFA
First Officer Duncan K Vernoum RFA


Fleet Commanders Commendation

First Officer Anthony C Day RFA
Petty Officer Allister F Strachan RFA


Awards to RFA Fort Victoria's embedded Forces


Queens Commendation for Valuable Service

Major Adam Whitmarsh, Royal Marines


Commander Joint Operations (CJO) Commendation for OP CAPRI 2

Lieutenant Alistair J Thompson, Royal Navy
Petty Officer (Reg) Carol Morton-Harrowsmith

The RFA Historical Society sends our heartiest congratulations to Captain Jones and his team for these well deserved awards.




MV Sagar Ratan


Over the past few days ten pirates in two skiffs made repeated efforts to storm the Japanese owned, Singapore flagged, 2010 built, bulk carrier MV Sagar Ratan with boarding ladders. It signalled an SOS as it took evasive maneuvers to defend itself some 150 miles south west of the Omani capital Muscat.




RFA Gold Rover arrived at Portsmouth Harbour on 22 February 2017 to pay off for the last time after over 43 years of service in the Royal Fleet AuxiliaryGold Rover 22 2 17


The articles on this site concerning RFA Hospital ships have, so far, detailed the work of the actual ships and their RFA crews. We must not forget that the ships were first and foremost floating hospitals and as such received and the Doctors and Medical teams treated patients who were mainly military personnel of the British Armed Forces and in the case of RFA Maine (4) these were, in addition, members of the United States Armed Forces fighting and who were injured in Korea.


RFA Limol - a tragedy at Gibraltar 




On 16 February 1936 at Gibraltar a local resident – Francisco Lopez Ramos – was picking grass in the side road which leads to the Jewish Cemetery when he found the body of a man hanging from a tree. He immediately called the Police and Sergeant Bacarese of the Gibraltar Police Force attended and arranged for the body to be removed to the Colonial Hospital.

The body was searched and papers found in the clothing identified the person as Sidney Hullah, an Able Seaman from RFA Limol, a harbour tanker then currently deployed at Gibraltar

An inquest touching upon the death of Sidney Hullah was held the next day before H M Coroner in Gibraltar Mr P G Russo. The ship’s Master, Captain Sidney Mitchell RFA gave evidence and advised the Court that AB Hullah had joined the ship in September 1935. He had last seen him on the 15 February. He was a quiet man who was popular with the other members of the crew. He was a married man with two children.

Chief Officer Frank C White RFA stated that after being called by the Gibraltar Police he attended the Colonial Hospital where he identified the deceased

Frank Charles White

Chief Officer Frank C White RFA

The Coroner recorded a verdict of ‘Suicide while of unsound mind’.

Able Seaman Hullah was later buried in the North Front Cemetery, Gibraltar and is recorded in our Roll of Honour for 1936.


RFA Maine

The Oldest Ship in the Navy

Built in 1902 as the Pacific Steam Navigation Company “Panama”,  His Majesty’s hospital ship “Maine” was, in 1945, probably the oldest ship serving with the Royal Navy.  Bought in 1920 and equipped for her hospital ship duties, she replaced two earlier ships named “Maine” one of which was presented to Britain by the ladies of the State of Maine, USA during the Boer War and was lost in 1914.

The following exchange of signals is reported to have taken place: -


From: HMS Cossack To: RFA Maine

RPC Cocktails 1945 tonight =



From: RFA Maine To: HMS Cossack


Your 1400K. MRU. Have just received a case of leprosy =




From: HMS Cossack To: RFA Maine

Your 1405K. Bring it over, we drink anything here =


RFA Maine (4) was a ‘Slow Boat to China’

On 19 September 1949 the three hundred bed RFA Maine (4) sailed for service in the Far East from her berth in Grand Harbour, Malta G.C. and so started what Lord Fraser of North Cape, First Sea Lord in 1950 described as ‘One of Britain’s most useful contributions to the United Nations effort in the Korean War has been His Majesties’ Hospital Ship Maine’.

RFA ManicaThe Allied naval bombardment of the Dardanelles forts in February 1915 had disclosed the fact that the Turks had concealed their batteries on the peninsula very cleverly, and that airplanes and seaplanes had their limitations as directors of gunfire. Apart from troubles with their engines, there was always the self-evident axiom that an observer moving rapidly through the air cannot spot as accurately as an observer sitting in the basket of a stationary balloon. The Naval Commanders at the Dardanelles sent out an urgent signal for observation balloons, urging that they should be dispatched from England at once, so as to arrive in time for the landing on the Gallipoli peninsula.

1942 was the height of the Battle of the Atlantic, allied ships were being lost in great numbers to the ever present U Boat, especially on the convoys plying between the UK and US and the UK and Africa.

One of these convoys sailed from Liverpool on the 12th May 1942, bound for Freetown, Sierra Leone and one of the ships on this convoy; designated OS 28 was the Royal Fleet Auxiliary 2,000 ton class tanker RFA Montenol.  The ship was making the journey in ballast and in company with the other 32 ships of the convoy, was proceeding with extreme caution.


This tale of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary relates to the history of an early RFA ship with a wooden hull and a set sails as well as a steam engine for propulsion. It details the effects of warfare in World War 1 and of many deaths and to make it a little more interesting finally a few bars of gold. The story also involves an Armed Merchant Cruiser – HMS Laurentic and a German Submarine U80


R38 first flightIn June, 1918 the Admiralty made plans for an air ship to be built which would "be required to patrol the North Sea for six days without support, as far as 300 miles from a home base." It was to have a combat ceiling of 22,000ft, and was required to carry enough fuel for 65 hours at full speed of 70.6 mph. It was agreed that the air ship would be classed as "Admiralty A Class" and was to be designated as the R38.

In January 1918 RFA Sprucol, one of the Admiralty designed 1,000 ton class of oilers, was completed at the shipyard of Short Brothers, Pallion, Sunderland. As a brand new coastal and harbour tanker, the ship was badly needed to service the vast Royal Navy fleet with much needed oil fuel, and as well as supplying this precious commodity, the fuel also had to be collected from Naval storage facilities.


On Friday 6 February 1954 in the Indian Ocean RFA Surf Pioneer lowered a boat to check the tankers draft when its engine failed. A second boat went to its aid when both were carried away by strong currents.


Six British seaman were rescued the next day by local Indian coastal vessels after spending the night in open boats.


The following article was published in the Marine Engineer Officers’ Magazine Issue No 148, Vol: XX,  March – April 1938. This Magazine was the Official Journal of the Marine Engineers’ Association Ltd



RFA War Bahadur with the visible effects of the damage she sustained
while crossing the Atlantic

“In January 1938 RFA War Bahadur sustained a battering by an Atlantic gale of a nature which surely few ships experience and survive. After several days of battling through a 100 mph hurricane and seas of really terrifying size, she reached Plymouth in safety, but only after the enormous volumes of water which had repeatedly crashed down upon her had swept away bridge and wireless room and smashed the lifeboats. Saloon and galley were flooded, and the only place of comparative safety was the engine room, in which the personnel of 33 had at one time to take temporary refuge until the worst of the hurricane had passed.

It was a matter of infinite pleasure to MEA Headquarters to be able to dispatch of Mr J Hutchinson, the Chief Engineer, on the arrival of the War Bahadur at Plymouth, a message of hearty congratulations on the survival of himself, his staff, and the ship’s personnel in general.

Only those with intimate knowledge of ships can appreciate the extreme good fortune of the engine department being spared such wreckage as was sustained by the upper structures, seeing that the safety of all aboard depended upon the security of the engine-room plant. It is good news indeed, and a fine tribute to the engine department staff, that they were eventually able to make port under their own power.”


The Magazine containing this article has been donated, with grateful thanks, to the RFA Historical Society by Mr Jim Williams whose grandfather Second Engineer James Wade-Thomas RFA was serving on RFA War Bahadur at the time related above. The image above comes from the RFA Historical Societies archives.


During the Second World War vast amounts of essential materials were moved by convoy, and when we think of the merchant ships on these convoys, we tend to think of those vessels plying the Atlantic, Mediterranean as well as the convoys to Russia, what most of us tend to forget are the convoys that sailed around the coast of Great Britain, moving essential war supplies, food and fuel to the major ports, as well as to the Naval Bases.


On Sunday 17 January 1954 shortly before 5.00pm RFA Wave Victor was sailing down the Bristol Channel in ballast from Swansea to Fawley, near Southampton. At 5.24pm she radioed she was on fire in the engine room. Five minutes later the message was that the fire was out of control and at 5.37pm the message changed to ‘Preparing to abandon ship’.

A sailor of the RFA Bacchus (2) fell asleep at the wheel and the ship deviated 104 degrees off course a Singapore Court was told on the 20 May 1957.



In early 1940 the Dutch ship builders Rotterdam Dry Dock Company at Rotterdam were building a 10,746 ton tanker to be named Papendrecht for her owners Van Ommeren’s Scheeps. (Yard No 220). The ship was launched on 17 April 1940 and construction continued but on 10 May 1940 German Forces invaded Holland and the country surrendered six days later.

The Police in the USA reported in July 1954 that seven Chinese members of the crew of RFA Surf Pioneer had jumped ship while she was berthed at Baton Rouge, Louisiana loading oil.


(Well not quite an LSL, more a CBL)


CBL Sir Tristram


On the 30th October 2009 an enterprising young man from Northern Ireland will attempt to sail his car-boat, yes I did say car-boat and what’s more it is home made! from Donaghadee in Northern Ireland to Portpatrick inScotland, and all in support of ‘Help for Heroes’.



A group of students from Westside School, Gibraltar visited RFA Lyme Bay on 18 December 2014. The Gibraltar Defence Police Community Liaison Officer organised the trip to give the students an insight into life on board the vessel.

The students were given a tour of the ship and met with a variety of crew members who explained her operational role.

GIB UNC 2014 376 EMAIL 009

 MoD Copyright

On the 6 June 1944 the Allies landed on the north west coast of France, in what was the largest amphibious operation ever mounted.  The planning behind this operation was truly monumental and began two years before the first soldier set foot on French soil.  The allies plan was audacious, in that it exploited their maritime power to allow them to place men and equipment in large numbers on the defended shores of France in Operation Overlord.


King Idris I of LibyaOn 1 September 1969 the Libyan Army staged a successful coup against the administration of King Idris – Idris 1 – the King of the sovereign state of the United Kingdom of Libya.

The King was in Turkey for medical treatment when the “Revolutionary Command Council” (RCC), which composed of some twelve young Army Officers under Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, took charge of the Country. In early December it was announced in London that Britain had agreed with the RCC to withdraw all British Forces from that country by 31 March 1970.



and the

Admiralty Cover-Up


The World War 2 naval action, which culminated in the Battle of the River Plate, had its makings with the sailing from Wilhelmshaven, Germany on the 21 August 1939 of the Panzerschiffe or pocket battle ship Admiral Graf Spee and her subsequent sinking of nine merchant ships in the South Atlantic and Indian Ocean between 30 September and the 7 December 1939.

The Censor of RFA Thrush

HMS Thrush was a Redbreast class 1st class gun boat which had been launched on 22 June, 1889 at Scott’s of Greenock. In 1906 she became at Coastguard ship, by 1915 a cable ship and in 1916 a salvage ship and at the same time she joined the Royal Fleet Auxiliary fleet.

The De Havilland Comet aircraft was introduced into commercial service on the 2 May 1952 when the first of the nine Mk 1 Comets operated by B.O.A.C. (what later became the long haul division of British Airways) flew from London to Johannesburg – the aircraft was G-ALYP or ‘Yoke Peter’. 

Of the nine BOAC Mk 1 Comets five crashed although not all with fatal consequences – the first, G-ALYZ only last 26 days in service when it came down, on take off, from Ciampino Airport, Rome on 26 October 1952. This was adjudged to be through a design fault in the aircraft. 

When the Armistice to end World War 1 was signed on the 11 November 1918, a group of RFA vessels were operating with the British Grand Fleet at Scapa Flow, amongst these was the ‘Belgol’ class oiler RFA Fortol which had only been completed at the shipyard of Archibald McMillan and Son, Dumbarton in May 1917.


The Ensign of the RFA


Thomas A Adams MBE


The 2017 builder’s trials of our new man-of-war, the aircraft carrier QUEEN ELIZABETH have been undertaken with the ship sailing under a Blue Ensign defaced by a horizontal Yellow Anchor. A flag that will be frequently, but incorrectly, identified by old RFA hands and by eminent naval historians, as the old RFA Ensign.

The first suggestion that public ships which were not men of war should wear some distinctive flag comes from Samuel Pepys in his Sub Notes about Flags and Colours drawn up circa 1687. However, it was 1864 when the colour of Ensigns was settled to those we use today - white, blue and red. The Blue being described as: “A blue flag with union flag in upper canton to be used by ships of the RNR, or by merchantmen commanded by officers of the reserve who have been duly licensed, or by yacht clubs that have been granted special permission.” It also added the flag could be defaced with seal of the public office that they represent. One of these was the plain Yellow Anchor of the Transport Office – placed horizontally. This flag was recorded as the Transport Ensign, later to become known as the Admiralty Blue Ensign and was common to most naval auxiliaries.


New RFA Ensign

Roseleaf Califol


RFA Roseleaf came into service in 1916 as RFA Califol but was then renamed as Roseleaf and was home ported at Portsmouth. She had survived the Great War but under the civil management of Lane & MacAndrew Ltd. She was under the command of Captain Charles J. Rudder and had been used to carry oil from the United States to the United Kingdom under the Red Ensign.



The first RFA Hospital ship was launched as s.s. Swansea at West Hartlepool by William Gray & Co as a cargo, passenger and cattle ship in 1887 but by 1888 she had her name changed to s.s. Maine.

The following article is taken from a magazine published in the latter stages of the Second World War, it’s year is unknown, but it is from the papers of AB Douglas Mee, who served on RFA Orangeleaf from 1942/43 and reproduced with the kind permission of his family.

By December 1942 the crew of RFA King Salvor were very busy helping to clear the sunken ships which littered the ports of North Africa. These ships had either been sunk through enemy action or by Allied Forces scuttling them to prevent them falling into enemy hands. In addition the ship was on immediate notice to sail to try and save Allied ships which had been the victims of enemy attack and were in danger of sinking.


How RFA Caribbean became part of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary and her subsequent loss is best told in three parts.

dunottar castle at Dartmouth

She was built on the River Clyde at Govan by Fairfield Shipbuilding & Engineering Co as Yard No: 348 and launched on 22 May 1890 and named Dunottar Castle for the Castle Mail Packets Co Ltd of London and she was the first Union Castle liner to have 2 funnels. Her Lady Sponsor was the Lady Currie wife of the then Chairman of the Castle Line.


RFA Darkdale, a Dale class tanker based on a pre-war Shell design, was launched at Glasgow on the 30 July 1940 and after completion and trials sailed on her first freighting voyage from the Clyde on 21 November of the that year (Convoy OB246). She arrived at Curacao on the 6 December. The Master was Captain T H Card RFA who had been appointed to the ship on 5 October 1940.


By 1942 the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbour and crippled the American fleet, they had invaded Hong Kong and captured Singapore from the British and were busily expanding their empire across the Indian Ocean.

Captain Stanley Kirby, Master of the s.s. Pass of Balmaha, had a full load of petrol to deliver to Tobruk, a besieged city on 17 October 1941. The ship was to make an escorted journey from Alexandria, as she had done several times before, but on this occasion Captain Kirby had a problem – he lacked two watch keeping officers and without them the Army in Tobruk wouldn’t receive its fuel.


In the Great War the RFA was effectively split in two with those ships which would visit America being placed under civil management and operated under the red ensign while the rest of the fleet continued under the blue RFA ensign. Those ships operating under the RFA ensign found their senior officers being appointed to the Royal Naval Reserve (RNR) while most of the rest of the crew, including some junior officers, were appointed to the Mercantile Marine Reserve (MMR). As such they all were subject Royal Naval rules and discipline.


The RFA's that weren't 


or the


Decoys and Dummies of World War Two




James R. Smith



The RFA Cover-Names Q-Ships



Small merchantmen armed with concealed guns which could be quickly unmasked when they were stopped by an enemy submarine had been in service as decoys, or Q-Ships, as early as November 1914. Perhaps the first successful Q-Ship was the collier PRINCE CHARLES which managed to sink U-36 off the Orkneys on 24 July 1915. During the course of World War One a total of eleven enemy submarines were sunk, forty two were seriously damaged and a further forty three were slightly damaged.



By Lt Cmdr Chris Howat, Royal Navy (Retd) and Commodore Barry Rutterford, RFA (Retd)

Most people will probably never have heard of Rockall, so what and where is it?  Rockall is a small, uninhabited granite islet in the North Atlantic around 300 miles west of the island of St Kilda, Scotland.  The size of the islet is surprising at 102 feet long by 83 feet wide and about 70 feet high.  Rockall has an interesting history considering its isolation, but over the years it has been claimed by Ireland, Denmark, Iceland and of course the United Kingdom.

RFA Nucula, a tanker was built as the s.s. Hermione and completed in Newcastle by Armstrong, Whitworth & Co in September 1906 for C T Bowring & Co Ltd of London. She was completed as coal burning but converted in October 1907 to oil-fired. By April 1908 she was sold to the Japanese company Toyo Kisen Kaisha and her name was changed to Soyo Maru when Bowring had a new tanker named Hermione completed. She carried oil from California to Japan.


Darkdale0003The following story is a very moving account of the sinking of the tanker ‘RFA Darkdale’ off Saint Helena on the early morning 22nd October 1941, it is told by Arthur ‘Steve’ Stevens a native of Saint Helena, who served as a Merchant Seaman and then in the Royal Navy during the Second World War. He later returned for further service in the Merchant Navy before settling in England.  The story tells of the events of that tragic morning, as well as Steve’s endeavours to erect a permanent memorial to those who lost their lives.


On an October night almost sixty nine years ago, the small island of St Helena, in the South Atlantic, was shaken by a series of explosions.  Some residents in the lower part of Jamestown, the island’s only town and port, were literally lifted from their beds by a series of explosions to find, with others living in surrounding areas that had also been rudely awakened, the night sky filled with an orange glow.

Darkdale remembered

Ten years after writing about the sinking of the British oil tanker Darkdale and tragic deaths of the majority of its crew in Jamestown harbour, St Helena during World War II, my hope that some mark of remembrance of their sacrifice would be established reached a heartfelt satisfactory conclusion.

In the early 1960’s whilst Cliff Richard was strutting his stuff, skirts were getting shorter and hair was getting longer the Ministry of Transport asked Yarrow’s Admiralty Research Department to seek tenders for the installation of a nuclear reactor power plant in a 65,000 ton deadweight commercial tanker hull with the designation Y127, the ship itself had not actually been designed and the tender was for the feasibility of designing, installing and after care of the nuclear power plant.


The Theft of a Bread Roll and Egg on the Face

At the Silver Jubilee Fleet Review of July 1935 the massed lines of 157 Royal and Merchant Naval ships were drawn up in the Solent for the Sovereign – King George V – to receive the salute of his Navy and his Fleet.  His Majesty’s Royal Yacht – the Victoria & Albert steamed along the lines of ships and the crews were called to attention to cheer the King and the Royal Family.

The core part of the RFA’s work has always been and always will be the supply of fuel, stores and ammunition to ships of the Royal Navy, more recently whilst underway, or by what is termed a RAS or Replenishment at Sea. It is also true that the RFA, has over the decades taken on additional responsibilities and duties that make it today one of the most potent force multipliers in the world, but the core of our activities remains the all important RAS.


Copyright © 2008 – 2018 Christopher J White

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