RFA Birchleaf - after RFA service as British Birch


Previous name:                    Oldbury
Subsequent name:               British Birch

Official Number                    139174

Class:                                  Emergency Wartime Construction LEAF Group Freighting Tanker

Pennant No:                          Y7.155

Laid down:
Builder:                                  Short Bros., Pallion, Sunderland
Launched:                             19 August 1916
Into Service:                          24 December 1916
Out of service:                      1920
Fate:                                      Broken up


Items of historic interest involving this ship: -


Background Data:   During WW1, eighteen vessels of varying types were acquired second hand and converted or purchased and converted while on the stocks, or in a few cases building as tankers. Some were converted after serving with the Dummy Battleship Squadron by the insertion of cylindrical tanks in their holds. All were originally intended to operate as RFA’s, however owing to reasons of international law and the operation of the US Neutrality Act, these oilers became Mercantile Fleet Auxiliaries being renamed with the LEAF nomenclature and placed under civilian management although operationally they remained under Admiralty control


19 August 1916  launched by Short Bros Ltd, Sunderland as Yard Nr 391 named RFA OLDBURY

24 December 1916 completed and placed under management of Lane & MacAndrew  Ltd, London as an oiler transport and renamed BIRCHLEAF.Base port Devonport

17 January 1917 arrived Halifax with extensive machinery defects. Ordered to New York for repairs to be completed 

31 May 1917 an Admiralty report on this ship showed she had only completed one outbound trip to Halifax, Canada during which she had suffered serious defects to her engine resulting in having to sail to New York for repairs, in particular to her camshaft. These repairs were expected to cause a delay of about 4½ months - source MT23/808 at the TNA

29 October 1917 berthed at New York having sailed from Bo'ness, Firth of Forth. Captain Ellis Moris Roberts as Master with 42 crew

23 February 1918 attached and damaged by a German Submarine U91- Kapitanleutenant Alfred von Glasenapp - while enroute in ballast from Milford Haven to Oran and was beached she was later refloated and sent for repairs.The submarine fired a torpedo and with gunfire hit the submarine. Two killed and the Master was taken prisoner. The attack took place 20 miles from The Skerries. Able Seaman John Winchester Long and Sailor John Wright both discharged dead - both drowned. They are both remembered with pride on the Tower Hill Memorial as they have no known grave but the sea. Kapitanleutenant Alfred von Glasenapp, in the same submarine, previously also attacked and damaged RFA Elmleaf on 24 December 1917  

11 May 1918 re-entered service after repairs were completed

8 December 1918 passed the Lloyds Signal Station on the Lizard and arrived at Falmouth from Port Arthur

9 December 1918 sailed Falmouth

12 January 1919 sailed Plymouth for Gibraltar

26 January 1919 arrived at Port Said from Gibraltar

3 February 1919 Fireman E Ellis discharged dead having died in the British Hospital, Port Said suffering from cancer of the stomach. He is buried in Port Said War Memorial Cemetery, Egypt



Image from British War - used with permission


15 July 1919 arrived Suez from Aden

8 September 1919 sold to the British Tanker Company

12 October 1919 renamed British Birch

5 December 1919 arrived at St Vincent, Cape Verde Islands

9 February 1920 for his attack on RFA Birchleaf (see 23 February 1918 above), RFA Elmleaf and other shipping Kapitanleutenant Alfred von Glasenapp was named as a war criminal in a list of those sought by the Allies for trial as such - the list was published this day. Glasenapp served at the start WW2 in the Kriegsmarine as head of Marine Conscription

17 June 1920 arrived at Philadephia from Dieppe

11 August 1920 arrived at Suez while on passage from Abadan for London

24 September 1920 reported by radio to the US Naval Communications Service she was 66 nmiles SW of Nantucket Light Vessel

31 October 1920 sailed Shields to New Orleans

24 November 1920 cleared New Orleans for Avonmouth

25 November 1920 sailed Port Eads to Avonmouth and London

16 December 1920 arrived Avonmouth from New Orleans and Plymouth then to Manchester arriving on the 19 December 1920

23 December 1920 sailed Manchester for Abadan

8 January 1921 arrived at Port Said when on passage to Abadan

27 January 1921 sailed Abadan for Bombay

11 April 1921 sailed Abadan for Suez

20 April 1921 sailed Port Said for Swansea

27 May 1921 arrived Port Said from Swansea

19 June 1921 sailed Abadan for Swansea

2 September 1921 sailed Abadan for Swansea

5 July 1922 passed Perim when on passage from Abadan to Swansea

11 July 1922 sailed Suez

26 July 1922 at Swansea

14 August 1922 sailed Port Said for Swansea

17 September 1922 arrived suez from Abadan for Swansea

28 October 1922 sailed Suez when on passage from Swansea to Abadan

10 November 1922 arrived at Abadan from Swansea

19 December 1922 passed Perim

24 December 1922 arrived at Suez from Abadan

26 December 1922 sailed Port Said for Swansea

9 April 1923 berthed at Swansea after sailing from Abadan 3 passengers

14 May 1923 sailed New Orleans for Avonmouth

13 June 1923 sailed Avonmouth for Copenhagen

2 July 1923 when on passage from Avonmouth for Abadan passed Perim and Greaser Edward Mahoney discharged dead from natural causes

19 August 1923 at Swansea

31 October 1923 at Swansea

24 December 1923 at Abadan

14 May 1924 at Abadan

22 June 1924 arrived Swansea from Abadan

1 September 1924 sailed Port Said

30 September 1924 passed Gibraltar

10 October 1924 sailed Suez

24 October 1924 at Abadan

1 November 1924 sailed Abadan

18 November 1924 sailed Port Said for Swansea

6 December 1924 arrived Swansea from Abadan

5 January 1925 passed Gibraltar

18 April 1925 at North Shields, River Tyne in refit

24 May 1925 sailed Suez

25 June 1925 passed Perim

16 July 1925 at Swansea

14 August 1925 sailed Suez

12 September 1925 passed Perim

29 September 1925 passed Sagres

4 October 1925 at Swansea

27 October 1925 sailed Genoa for Abadan

7 December 1925 sailed Port Said for Swansea

6 November 1926 berthed at Avonmouth from Manchester

10 December 1926 sailed Falmouth for Abadan

29 January 1927 sailed Aden

23 February 1927 attended on tanker British Merchant reported she had lost her propeller at 45°21N 8°17W in heavy seas, blowing a gale after she sent mayday call requesting assistance

B Merchant

ss British Merchant

24 February 1927 arrived at Falmouth

17 July 1927 passed Perim when on passage to Swansea

26 August 1927 passed Gibraltar sailing east bound

5 October 1927 passed Perim when on passage to Swansea

28 November 1927 when on passage to Galveston radioed she was 60 nmiles NW of Lands End

3 May 1929 sailed Grangemouth to Port Said arriving on 19 May 1929

20 May 1929 sailed Port Said to Suez arriving the next day

21 May 1929 sailded Suez to Abadan arriving 6 June 1929

11 June 1929 sailed Abadan to Suez arriving 29 June 1929

29 June 1929 sailed Suez to Port Said arriving the next day

29 June 1929 at Suez - Able Seaman Charles Thomson discharged dead from smallpox

30 June 1929 sailed Port Said to Swansea arriving 16 July 1929

20 January 1930 berthed at Grangemouth with a cargo of crude oil

25 January 1930 sailed Grangemouth in ballast for Abadan

6 April 1930 sailed Swansea for Abadan

9 June 1930 arrived at Avonmouth from Abadan

3 January 1931 arrived Suez when on passage from Abadan to Swansea

28 February 1931 radioed she was 50 nmile NE of Land's End when on passage to Abadan

26 March 1931 sailed Marseilles for Abadan

10 April 1931 passed Perim when on passage to Abadan

20 May 1931 at Swansea

17 December 1931 sold for demolition to Hugh Douglas & Bryce Ramsay, Glasgow

23 December 1931 arrived to be broken up at Port Glasgow

Additional information

Copyright © 2008 – 2018 Christopher J White

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