There were 6 ships in this Class, 4 of which were conventional commercial tankers, one slightly smaller than the other three, launched for the Shipping Controller towards the end of WW1 and placed under management of the British Tanker Co Ltd, London who used them mainly on commercial work. They were all transferred to Admiralty ownership in 1919/20 but remained with the same names under BTC manning until the Admiralty undertook their manning in 1937 when they were renamed. After this they were employed in filling naval tanks at world-wide bases in company with other RFA freighting tankers.



RFA DarkdaleIn the 1930’s the then Director of Stores William Gick CBE [later to become Sir William Gick CB, CBE] was becoming concerned about the age of the RFA Fleet, especially those ships which were nearing the end of their useful service life, and it was decided that the RFA needed a fleet of modern tankers to service the needs of the Royal Navy.

HMS_OlnaBy the middle of the Second World War the Naval Staff started to give some serious thought to a fast fleet tanker, the ship or ships that were envisioned would have a speed of around 18 knots and would be able to keep up with a Naval Task Force, whilst supplying them with fuel oil, lubricating oil, aviation spirit and water as well as some stores.

EddybeachThe Eddy class were a part of the RFA’s post World War 2 construction programme and were designed for Fleet Attendant duties in naval bases around the world.  The original plan called for ten ships in the class, but two were cancelled during construction and the other eight members of the class were to all intents and purposes redundant as soon as they were built, as the advances made in Replenishment at Sea techniques during the Second World War had overtaken their intended use.

RFA Black Ranger 2At the beginning of World War 2 the Admiralty owned a number of tankers, unfortunately most of these were either small or old, the modern tankers that the Admiralty had started to acquire, the “Dale” class were slow in comparison with those used by the US Navy.  One other drawback attributed to British tankers, was their lack of refuelling capacity, in short for much of the war they could only refuel by the astern method, abeam refuelling was still largely in the experimental stage and not anything like as developed as that used by our American allies, as became quickly apparent when RFA Tankers were first used in the Pacific Fleet Train.


The Ranger class were designed by Rowland Baker and were intended to replace the “Belgol” class of 2,000 ton tankers, however as their was a distinct lack of tanker capacity during the war, the “Belgol” class remained in service throughout the war.

Ordered in 1915, the 6 Admiralty-designed ships in this Class, also known as the TEXOL CLASS. were powerful twin screw ocean tankers which were very advanced for their day. Strangely enough, all of them were built by different shipyards. They were designed to act as Escorts on Atlantic Convoys during the First World War, whilst also bringing cargoes of oil fuel from the United States to Britain.

They were originally designed with names of oil bearing countries with the OL suffix, but their military appearance and Naval names caused difficulties with the United States Neutrality Act. Various modifications were made and all 6 were then placed under the commercial management of Messrs Lane & MacAndrews Ltd with LEAF names in common with other converted ships running as Admiralty tankers under that firm’s management.

retainer 22There were 2 handsome looking ships in this Class which had originally been built as cargo / passenger liners for their owner’s China – Hong Kong – Amoy – Indonesia trade and carried 48 x 1st Class passengers in luxurious 2-berth cabins with separate dining saloons for European and Chinese palates. No 2nd Class passengers were carried, but there was a steep social drop in accommodation in 8 and 10-berth cabins for 320 Steerage Class passengers. Both ships proved surplus to requirements almost at once, mainly for political reasons, and were purchased by the Admiralty. They remained on charter to commercial companies until they were finally taken in hand for conversion into Armament Stores Issuing Ships.

In 1908 the then Director of Stores Sir John Forsey was rumoured to have recommended the construction of a group of oil tankers for the Admiralty account and the 5-strong BURMA GROUP was the result, with BURMA herself having the distinction of being the first oil tanker ever to be constructed to the order of the Admiralty. These vessels were very similar but were in no way sister ships. BURMA was fitted out with the express object of oiling the British Fleet at sea, being capable of towing another vessel and supplying her with oil fuel, or else being towed by a Dreadnought and supplying her with oil fuel at the same time. She could fuel vessels alongside from four different positions at the same time and carried about 2,500 tons of oil in 12 tanks. She had 2 powerful pumps in her pump-room which were capable of discharging 400 tons of oil per hour. In addition, she was also fitted with electric lighting and steam heating and a powerful steam driven fan for the purpose of exhausting her tanks of heavy and dangerous vapours which remained after the oil had been discharged. She conducted a number of OAS experiments.

RFA SpaThere were six single-screwed Admiralty-designed ships in this Class, which were all coal-fired and originally intended for full career service with the RFA. Several of them transferred to Dockyard Service later in their careers, either with the Port Auxiliary Service or it’s successor, the Royal Maritime Auxiliary Service. A couple of them were also employed by the Army at times, particularly in bases where adequate water supplies were difficult to obtain, while another one of the Class was for some years employed as a carrier of high test hydrogen peroxide fuel for the experimental submarines HMS EXCALIBUR and HMS EXPLORER, being specially converted for this task by Vickers Armstrong Ltd and based at Barrow-in-Furness. The advent of the nuclear-powered submarine finally made this technology redundant. A further two ships were chartered to the War Office for service in the Mediterranean and Far East. The three ships completed during WW2 were defensively armed with 1 x 12 pdr and 2 x 20 mm A.A. guns.

There were six ships in this Group which were all former Port of London Authority hoppers used for working with the dredgers. As the demand for fuelling ships became more acute as WW1 progressed, these ships lent themselves to rapid conversion into tankers by plating over the bottom sludge door joints and installing a pipeline and pumps.

All six were triple expansion engined and single-screwed coal burners which varied between 700 and 870 tons. As PLA ships they were numbered from No 3 to No 8 inclusive and when they were chartered by the Admiralty, they were renamed after salient features of the River Thames with an OL-suffix e.g. PORT OF LONDON AUTHORITY HOPPER NO 3 was renamed BARKOL after Barking and so on. After the end of the War, which they all survived, they were returned to their owners and resumed their previous names. All are shown in Official Documents as having served as Royal Fleet Auxiliaries.

RFA AirspriteIn the early years of the Second World War two ships were ordered to increase the number of vessels available to carry petrol in bulk.  Both of these vessels were built by Blythswood Shipbuilding and were designed and constructed to be of the single deck type of ship, with poop and forecastle, like the Ranger class and like that class had a straight stem, raked slightly forward and a cruiser type stern.

RFA Fort BeauharnoisBy the autumn of 1940 the losses of Merchant ships was becoming acute, and there was an urgent need to replace this lost tonnage if the country was to survive, the capacity of British shipyards was full, and so a team was despatched to the United States and Canada to seek out sources of new shipbuilding.


This team, which was known as “The British Merchant Shipbuilding Mission” was given Government authority to buy or have built sufficient ships of around 10,000 tons deadweight to feed demand, they were armed with a set of drawings prepared by J. L. Thompson and Sons of Sunderland, these drawings were of the “Empire Liberty” design, which to all intents and purposes became the Canadian “North Sands” type of ship.

RFA Tide AustralThe ‘Tide’ class of Fleet Tankers were the first purpose designed and built replenishment tankers for the Admiralty and they incorporated lessons learned from the Second World War, especially operations with the Pacific Fleet Train and a need for a fast replenishment tanker that could keep up with a task force.

Hebe 1962In September 1960 it was announced that the Admiralty was to charter 2 small single-screwed Admiralty-designed freighters from a commercial company which would be built specifically for Admiralty sea freighting duties. They were designed to carry the greater proportion of their bulk cargo of naval stores in specially-designed containers which would be constructed by Chatham Dockyard which would become known as chacons, thus setting a pattern of containerisation which was followed in ever-increasing steps in the commercial world.

Wave_Master1By the early part of 1943 the Admiralty had decided to take over two 15 knot tankers of the standard “Fast” type, to supplement their overworked tanker fleet.  These two tankers were being built by Harland and Wolff as the “Empire Sheba” and “Empire Venus”, arrangements were made to take them both over once completed.


These two tankers were to be placed in the Royal Fleet Auxiliary fleet and as such their main duty would be the fuelling at sea of ships of the Royal Navy, so some consideration had to be given to the special arrangements needed to equip these ships to fulfil this function.

InnisshannonJohn M Paton was a Glasgow ship owner who formed the Coasting Motor Shipping Co Ltd in 1912 in order to build and operate a fleet of small motor vessels for service in the British coastal trade, all with the INNIS-prefix to their names. He originally ordered 12 vessels in 1912, and this was followed by orders for 6 further vessels shortly afterwards. These ranged in length from 66 ft between perpendiculars – the reason being that the ships built by McGregor's Yard at Kirkintilloch were limited by the locks on the Forth and Clyde Canal – to 116 ft between perpendiculars. They were built by four different Yards and had four different machinery arrangements although all were motor vessels.

Copyright © 2008 – 2018 Christopher J White

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website, by continuing to use the site you agree to cookies being used. More info.