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.

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.

Bishopdale

RFA Bishopdale after World War 2

 

After arrival, the Bishopdale was anchored about eight miles off shore as a fuelling ship for the assembled American and British fleets and was busily engaged in her work when on the 14th December the American cruiser USS Minneapolis was approaching to refuel from the tanker.

 

Leyte_Gulf

Map showing the location of Leyte Gulf

At about 12:45 hrs, just as the manila lines were being passed across to secure the cruiser, a Japanese Aichi “Val” aircraft was seen approaching the two ships by Petty Officer Gunlayer G. Ridgeway, who was on the aft end of the Bishopdale watching the American cruiser come along side.

 

 

Aichi_D3A_Val

 

Aichi D3A Val

The enemy plane had dived out of the sun toward the two vessels, it looked as though the dive bomber was going to crash into the sea, until it suddenly increased power and headed toward the two ships, passing over the cruiser and diving to pass over the Bishopdale.

Unfortunately the plane struck the starboard fore deck of the tanker with her port wing and somersaulted, the undercarriage struck the starboard bridge wing, instantly killing AB Stuart Savage, who was manning one of the machine guns. The plane then crashed into No3 starboard wing tank, exploding on the tank top with the bombs detonating on the ships side.

The fore end of the tank was blown away by the explosion, the side plating was blown inward, the forward pump room was destroyed and No 2 tank was holed, this caused flooding in these compartments and the ship began to take on a heavy list to starboard. The burning fuel from the crashed aircraft ignited the fuel in the ships damaged tank, fortunately the discharge pipe in the bottom of the tank had not been damaged in the explosion, so the bulk of the fuel was quickly pumped into an empty tank aft.

The ships Chief Officer, Mr W. E. Tate immediately started to fight the fire, assisted by 3rd Officer J. S. Waine and 4th Engineer R. H. Learie and the two pump men. They sprayed “foamite” into the burning tank, and had the fire extinguished within ten minutes. While this was going on, the Chief Engineer, Mr D.C. Leathley and acting 3rd Engineer N. W. Brown quickly manned the aft pump-room and flooded the surrounding wing tanks to bring the ship back on an even keel. The ship was operational again within 30 minutes of the attack and able to resume fuelling duties, despite the damage caused to the ship.

As the cleanup operation commenced, the extent of the damage was revealed, both of the forward deck discharge pipes were fractured, the forward starboard lifeboat had been destroyed, along with the launching davits. Both the fore and aft flying bridges had sustained damage over about twenty feet and the pipe work and electrical conduits underneath this structure were damaged.

The stirrup rails used for fuelling at sea were split in three places, the upper bridge guard rails, the bridge awning spars and stanchions were missing, as was the starboard signal lamp and the IFF antennae. In addition to this the standard and steering compasses and their gimbal rings on the starboard bridge wing were severely distorted and strained and there was extensive damage to the radio room feeder cable.

It had been thought at the time that the Japanese aircraft that struck the Bishopdale was a ‘Kamikaze’, but this was later discounted after two parachutes and three human legs were found amongst the debris on the deck, even more surprising was the discovery of the aircraft’s engine, which was found at the bottom of the damaged No 3 tank.

 

USS_Minneapolis

USS Mineapolis

USS Minneapolis had quickly severed the mooring lines when the attack occurred and backed away from the stricken ship, however she quickly rendered medical help to the Bishopdale as soon as the fires were brought under control and sent a medical party across to the ship. AB Savage, who had been killed when the aircraft struck the ships bridge was removed to the cruiser, along with the first pump man Sheik Allen St Hassan and second pump man Omer Abdoola, both of whom were suffering from severe burns and shock.

For this action the ship's master, Captain Murray W. Westlake, RD, RFA was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the Chief Officer, Mr W. E. Tate along with Shiek Allen St Hassan and Omer Abdoola were awarded a Mention in Despatches, unfortunately the Second Pump man Omer Abdoola died of his wounds and was sent ashore for burial with AB Savage.

After clearing away the debris caused by this incident, RFA Bishopdale was ready to resume fuelling operations after about 30 minutes and hoisted her fuel flag, unfortunately the USS Minneapolis did not return to finish refuelling and no other vessel would approach the tanker, after another 3 days at the anchorage the ship was ordered to proceed to Brisbane, where she underwent repairs to the extensive damage.

Copyright © 2008 – 2017 Christopher J White

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