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RFA Bishopdale during World War 2
On 14 December 1944 RFA Bishopdale was at anchor in San Pedro Bay, Leyte Gulf, Philippines when at about 12.50pm, with the Air Raid Signal showing ‘All Clear’, she was awaiting a US naval cruiser to make fast to her port side prior to being refueled. An enemy VAL dive bomber flew from out of the sun and with engines cut out approached the Cruiser’s port quarter. Finding itself too low it opened up to full throttle and came into attack.
During World War 1 discipline formally enforced against RFA Officers resulted in trials by Court Martial. Both RFA Officers and Rating charged with serious offences also faced the prospect of a Court Martial.
Between 29 May 1916 and 11 October 1919 44 Court Martial’s were convened where 39 RFA Officers (one twice) and 5 RFA ratings appeared as defendants.
by Digby Morton
I joined the RFA Wave Prince while docked in Barry, South Wales, in November 1951. There were two deck apprentices, “Hammy” and myself. Captain Henry Colbourne was in command.
We sailed for the Caribbean to load various petroleum products for the Korean War. We loaded in Curacao. We went through the Panama Canal which I found amazing. What I would think of the new canal, I can only wonder. We called at Honolulu on the outward passage.
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.
The Portsdown Underground Fuel Bunker was built during the late 1930s and early 1940s, by Sir Robert McAlpine's construction company, as a bombproof Royal Navy fuel oil reservoir to serve the fleet at the Portsmouth Naval Base. The oil was needed as a guaranteed supply for Royal Navy warships in case oil deliveries to western British seaports were blockaded by the German Navy (a typical underhand Nazi trick). Three were built in the UK the others being at Inchindown some 4 miles to the north of the then naval base at Invergordon and Lyness at the Scapa Flow Naval Base, but the one under Portsdown is one of the largest and best preserved remaining examples. I contacted McAlpines but no records of the construction of the Fuel Bunker exist anymore. In fact very little information exists anywhere. It is my belief that the Portsdown Fuel Bunker had a special purpose and was not just constructed to supply the Royal Navy with fuel during wartime. I think a secondary aim was to ensure an absolutely uninterruptible supply of fuel oil for the D-day invasion fleet of 6 June 1944 and I have shown some evidence of this later on. Other invasion support services like communications and logistics certainly took a very robust approach to their roles, as failure of the landings was unthinkable, but one thing was certain: lack of marine fuel was never going to be a problem.
Requisitioned Auxiliaries of World War 1
Regular visitors to the site will have noticed that not only do the RFA Historical Society research and publish vast amounts of material concerning the ships and the people of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary in order to preserve the facts for posterity but also that there are regular updates to the Requisitioned Ships’ Section.
On the outbreak of WW1 thousands of commercial ships were requisitioned for tasks which were sometimes extraordinarily different to the tasks these same ships had performed in peacetime.
Very large numbers of ship were needed to not only transport vital supplies of food, coal, oil, ammunition and other goods but also to serve in other roles to protect, interrogate or investigate ships which may or may not have been what they appeared to be. Thus something in the region of 3,000 ships were requisitioned for service as Collier Transports alone, nearly 300 ships as Oiler Transports, then many others to serve in such diverse roles as Store Carriers, Armed Merchant Cruisers, Armed Boarding Steamers, Auxiliary Minesweepers and other lesser but still important roles, which resulted in thousands of tons of shipping being lost but more tragically, thousands of lives of Merchant Seafarers too.