RFA Darkdale, a Dale class tanker based on a pre-war Shell design, was launched at Glasgow on the 30 July 1940 and after completion and trials sailed on her first freighting voyage from the Clyde on 21 November of the that year (Convoy OB246). She arrived at Curacao on the 6 December. The Master was Captain T H Card RFA who had been appointed to the ship on 5 October 1940.

 

RFA Darkdale, a Dale class tanker based on a pre-war Shell design, was launched at Glasgow on the 30 July 1940 and after completion and trials sailed on her first freighting voyage from the Clyde on 21 November of the that year (Convoy OB246). She arrived at Curacao on the 6 December. The Master was Captain T H Card RFA who had been appointed to the ship on 5 October 1940.

RFA Darkdale

 

RFA Darkdale

 

She sailed via Trinidad to Bermuda and then crossed the Atlantic to anchor in Belfast Loch on 8 February 1941 with a cargo of petrol (Convoy BHX104). In this convoy was another RFA – RFA Delphinula. Darkdale then sailed for the River Clyde arriving on 14 February.

 

After this voyge there were various repairs to be carried out and these were undertaken between 20 and 27 February and also in May/June 1941. She finally sailed in ballast on the night of 21 June 1941 (Convoy OB 338) arriving at Curacao on 12 July. She loaded and sailed on 15 July to the island of St. Helena in the South Atlantic arriving on 4 August 1941.

 

RFA Darkdale had become the South Atlantic oiler anchored off Jamestown.

 

While stationed at Jamestown the crew went ashore and made many friends among the local residents.

 

On the 21 October 1941 the Captain and the Chief Engineer were ashore dining in the Garrison Officer’s Mess and four other members of the crew were relaxing ashore as well. Shortly after midnight the German Submarine U68 torpedoed RFA Darkdale which exploded and rapidly turned over and later sank taking all the 41 crew who were onboard down to their deaths.

 

RFA Darkdale Crowd

 

RFA Darkdale before slipping beneath the waves

 

Local boats were launched to seach for any survivors but none were found.

 

William McKernan

 

Junior Engineer William McKernan RFA

who died on RFA Darkdale

 

neil-macmillan

Able Seaman Neil Macmillan

who died on RFA Darkdale

 

On Saturday 25 October 1941 a memorial service was held on the Wharf at Jamestown overlooking where the Darkdale had exploded and sunk. The service was led by the Rt. Hon the Lord Bishop of St. Helena assisted by ministers of other local churches.

 

The Band of the Salvation Army led the hymns.

 

Those attending included the Governor, the Officer Commanding the St. Helena Defence Force, the survivors from the ship, leading members of the community both from Jamestown and also from outlying districts . A Guard was furnished by the Army. One hundred and twenty wreaths were sent and were later strewn around where the wreck had sunk.

 

Captain Card send a tribute to each family who had lost a father, a brother or son expressing his personal sympathy in their breavement and adding the following tribute: -

 

“The Officers and Crew of the Darkdale were a fine body of men no praise of mine can be high enough for them and it is with bitter regret and everlasting sorrow I have left them ‘asleep’ in the deep waters off St. Helena.”

 

Subsequently a memorial plaque was erected on the Jamestown cenotaph naming all those who died – both RFA officers and men and also Maritime Artillery gunners.

 

 

Cenetaph

 

 

Jamestown Cenotaph

RFA Darkdale Memorial

RFA Memorial

 

U68 was commanded by KrvKpt. Karl-Frederich Merten who survived the war (dying on 2 May 1993) and RFA Darkdale was the second ship that this submarine had sunk.

 

 

Merten

KrvKpt. Karl-Frederich Merten

 

U68

German submarine U68

 

The submarine had been commissioned on 11 February 1941. KrvKpt Merten had handed over his command to another officer on the 21 January 1943.  U68 was sunk on the 10 April 1944 in the North Atlantic north west of Maderia by aircraft from USS Guadalcanal. 56 of the crew died and 1 survived.

Copyright © 2008 – 2017 Christopher J White

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