We have collectively all been told that the British Navy learned about underway replenishment using the abeam method with derricks and flexible hoses from the American Navy during the build up of the British Pacific fleet at the back end of 1943 and early 1944. 

This was a vast improvement on the systems practiced by the RN/RFA which was either the stationary side by side method in sheltered waters or the astern method whilst underway in any sort of seaway.


This pre-supposes that the Americans had perfected the underway abeam method sometime before 1943 and were spurred on after the attack on Pearl Harbour to use the technique as a secret force multiplier to magnify their limited fleet’s potential across the Pacific.


This set me thinking on the time line of abeam replenishment – what method did the Germans use in 1942/3 given that the Royal Navy eventually (1945) captured a supply ship with rubber hoses – did this ship also have derricks for underway abeam refuelling or were they fitted after capture by the British as shown in the photo of Nordmark? Rubber hoses seem a luxury in wartime for stationary abeam methods or the underway the astern method even if they are more desirable from a handling point of view.


On recent visit to a friend and his extensive library I found in an Arms and Amour Press book entitled “Warships of the Imperial Japanese Navy, 1863 to 1945” an April 1938 photograph of the Japanese Shiretoko class tanker “Shiriya” with simple abeam fuelling derricks although no hoses are on display.


The ship was launched on 12 November 1921, completed 8 February 1922 and I believe modernised in 1938 (maybe fitting of abeam rig). She was eventually sunk by the American submarine Trigger (SS237) on 21 September 1943 ninety five miles SE of Keelung, Formosa. This was the submarines 6th War Patrol and the Captain's report on his return to Pearl Harbour said - 

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The bow to stern flying bridge is also evident for astern refuelling with semi rigid pipes perhaps.


Does this make the Japanese Navy the earliest user of the underway abeam method and did the Americans learn from them? Did the Germans pass on secrets of their rubber hoses to the Japanese for facilitate the abeam method as they were allies at the time?

Copyright © 2008 – 2017 Christopher J White

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