The core part of the RFA’s work has always been and always will be the supply of fuel, stores and ammunition to ships of the Royal Navy, more recently whilst underway, or by what is termed a RAS or Replenishment at Sea. It is also true that the RFA, has over the decades taken on additional responsibilities and duties that make it today one of the most potent force multipliers in the world, but the core of our activities remains the all important RAS.
Zombies are roaming the planet, cities are falling and mankind faces extinction if we don’t fight back. In Cornwall a hive of activity is centred on the small port of Falmouth where USS Madison makes ready for sea, her decks a fevered scene, on her flight deck a small Dauphin helicopter sits poised ready for action.
© Captain Paul Kehoe RFA
On the 30th of November 1948 two engineer's from RFA Wave Protector appeared before Mr Justice W. Harding in the the Criminal Court in Valetta, Malta.
In 1942 the Allies planned to invade and occupy the part of North Africa that was under the control of the Vichy French Government and stop the Germans and Italians from using it. Planning for the invasion was begun early in 1942 and on the 22nd October, the first of the invasion convoys sailed from the Clyde.
The “Wave” class of 21 ships (20 to be RFA’s) were built to a standard 1943 wartime design with slight variations in layout and complied with the builder’s normal construction plans and details. The designs changed and differed across the three builders and the actual equipment and the amounts of ferrous and non ferrous metals available changed as manufacturing ability and priorities changed during the war.
In 2004 during an exhibition in Sydney, Australia the famous British company Rolls Royce unveiled a series of four Naval ship concept designs based on a fast monohull that would, if one particular design had been adopted, given the RFA a unique vessel.
At the beginning of 1943 the Admiralty decided that it needed more tankers to support the Royal Navy, so a decision was made to acquire two 15 knot tankers that were being built by Harland and Wolff, these tankers were of the Standard Design and the keel of the first had just been laid, both of these ships would be taken over on completion.
The Admiralty was aware that the main function of these ships, which were to be manned and operated by the RFA, was to be refuelling at sea.
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 -
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?