RFA Bustler




Previous name:
Subsequent name:                  Mocni    Smjeli

Official Number:                      181183

Class:                                     BUSTLER Class Fleet Tug

Pennant No:                           W 72 / A240

Laid down:                             1 February 1941
Builder:                                  Henry Robb, Leith

Launched:                              4 December 1941
Into Service:                           1959
Out of service:                        1973
Fate:                                      Scrapped


Items of historic interest involving this ship: -


Background Data:   At the outbreak of WW2 there was a need for modern Fleet Tugs to augment the existing numbers, and experience dictated use of a proven, pre-war design to be built in a commercial shipyard. The answer was provided by Henry Robb of Leith who built 8 ships of this Class for the Royal Navy , making them the first RN Fleet Tugs powered by 2 x 8 cylinder diesel engines. The tugs were ordered in pairs. Oil fuel capacity was 405 tons which gave a range of about 1700 miles. As completed, the Class was armed with 1 x 12 pdr AA gun, 1 x 2 pdr AA, 2  x 20 mm AA  and 4 x Lewis .303 machine guns and had a complement of 42. They were designed for ocean towing, salvage and rescue and had a 30 ton bollard pull but were not suitable for harbour work. Early in the War they were involved in trials of pressure-minesweeping methods, where a dumb barge was towed behind the tug with the aim of exploding mines intended for merchant ships and warships. Unfortunately the pressure wave created by the tug alone was sufficient to detonate the mines, so the trials were abandoned. Post-War, the Class was ripe for commercial charter and eventually 6 of the Class saw service as RFA’s


4 December 1941 launched by Henry Robb Ltd, Leith as Yard Nr 321 named HMS BUSTLER

27 May 1942 sailed Methil in convoy EN90 to Oban arriving 29 May 1942

1 September 1942 arrived at Gibraltar in company with HMS Salvonia (later RFA Salvonia)

3 September 1942 sailed Gibraltar towing the ss Durham (having suffered mine damage and lost her rudder) to the UK escorted by HMS VETCH and HMS LADY HOGARTH

13 September 1942 arrived Falmouth with the ss Durham in tow under escort of HMS VETCH

HMS Vetch

© Imperial War Museum

24 September 1942 sailed to assist ss Defoe on fire, with an explosion on board and chlorine gas escaping from her cargo at 52.11N 19.32W

9 January 1943 Seaman John Robert Fairless discharged dead. He is buried in Hull Eastern Cemetery, Yorkshire. Donkeyman Thomas Norlan discharged dead. He is buried in South Shields (Harton) Cemetery. They both were drowned

17 January 1943 ordered to sail from Cambletown with all despatch to assist the 4,438 ton Belgian ship OSTENDE which had beached at Loch Na Lathaich. The ships Master believed he had been mined or torpedoed 266 degeress 9.5 miles from Skerryvore Light. One bulkhead beetwen 1 & 2 holds burst and flooded up to water level. Bow fast in 4 fathoms, astern in 6. 

1 February 1943 ordered to tow MMS 141 to the Clyde and assisted by tug Trillium 

17 February 1943 sailed Loch Ewe in convoy UR63 arrived Reykjavik on 24 February 1943 - reported by NOB Iceland

12 March 1943 ordered to Aultbea to take over the tow of ss Ariguani to the Tyne

2 April 1943 sailed Cambletown to provide assistance to ss Ocean Viceroy with defective steering at 350 degrees Inistrahull 5 miles

6 April 1943 sailed Liverpool in Convoy ON 177 arriving at Halifax on 21 April 1943

23 June 1943 towed HMS MANXMAN from Gibraltar as part of convoy MKS15G to Loch Ewe arriving 6 July 1943



8 July 1943 arrived Newcastle with HMS MANXMAN in tow

19 October 1943 sailed Reykjavik in convoy RU94F to Loch Ewe

20 January 1944 with Empire Treasure in tow at 50'00" N 30'11"W

15 June 1944 sailed Southend in Convoy ETC 10 to Seine Bay arriving the next day

10 July 1944 sailed Portsmouth and joined convoy FTC 32 from Seine Bay to Southend arriving the next day

From 12 August 1944 used in laying the Pluto fuel pipeline from the UK to France to provide fuel for the invasion army

1944 was awarded the Normandy 1944 Battle Honour

6 November 1944 Assistant Steward William Begg Short discharged dead. He is buried in Shotts (Kirk of Shotts) Cemetery. He drowned.

30 July 1945 Sub Lieutenant John James Kirton RNVR discharged dead. He is buried in South Shields (Harton) Cemetery in Sec. Q. Grave 8796



Courtesy and © of The War Graves Photographic Project


1 December 1945 sailed through the North Channel with German type V11C submarine U1004 in tow for destruction under Operation Deadlight. Sunk by gunfire

8 December 1945 sailed the North Channel with German type V11C submarine U485 in tow for destruction under Operation Deadlight. Sunk by gunfire from HMS/m Tantivy north of Tory Island at 56.10N x 10.05W

11 December 1945  sailed through the North Channel with German type V11C/41 submarine U997 in tow for destruction under Operation Deadlight. The submarine was sunk as an aircraft bombing target by 248 Sqd RAF on 13 December 1945 at 55 50N 10 05W

16 December 1945 sailed through the North Channel with German type V11C/41 submarine U1301 in tow for destruction under Operation Deadlight. The submarine was sunk as an aircraft bombing target in position in position 55.50N, 10.05W

21 December 1945 sailed through the North Channel with German type V11C submarine U637 in tow for destruction under Operation Deadlight. The submarine foundered in tow and sank at 55.35N  07.46W

5 February 1946 sailed from Lisahally, Northern Ireland towing German submarine U2518 to Cherbourg, France - Operation Thankful - where she entered the French Navy as FNS Roland Morillot (S613) on 13 February 1946. She went out of French Naval service on 12 October 1967 and was sold for scrapping on 21 May 1969

Roland Morillot

FNS Roland Morillot (S613)

7 February 1946 took shelter in Dublin Bay due to problems with the tow and rough weather then to Kingstown harbour

10 February 1946 sailed from Irish waters to Cherbourg arriving 13 February 1946

29 November 1946 Sub Lieutenant (E) William Gennis Royal Navy discharged dead. He is remembered with pride on the Liverpool Naval Memorial

1946 chartered by the Admiralty to Metal Industries (Salvage) Ltd at £6,000 per annum.

14 April 1947 called with other tugs to RMS Queen Elizabeth which was aground in Southampton Water off Bourne Gap Buoy. Later the High Court awarded £15,000 to the Bustler.

23 April 1947 HMS WARSPITE was en route from Portsmouth to a breakers yard on the Clyde under the tow of Bustler and the tug Metinda III in very heavy weather. The battleship went aground on the Mountamopus Ledge off Mounts Bay, Cornwall. She was driven further ashore by the heavy weather and was, in the end, broken up where she lay.

21 January 1948 in the North Sea in foul weather managed to get a tow line on an former German cruise ship Sierra Cordoba which had been drifting out of control for 20 hours. The ship had been on her way to the breakers when she broke her original tow and drifted towards the Danish shore

23 January 1950 passed the Lloyds Signal Station on the Lizard sailing east

24 January 1950 sailed Falmouth together with RFA TURMOIL to give assistance to the Norwegian ship Sado which had broken down 35 miles off Ushant. BuSTLER took the Sado in tow to Portsmouth

19 February 1950 passed the Lloyds Signal Station on the Lizard sailing west with HMS SUSSEX in tow

23 February 1950 arrived at the River Clyde from Portsmouth with HMS SUSSEX in tow for the ship breakers yard

1 March 1950 sailed from Campbeltown to assist in the search for 27 members of the crew of the tanker Clam which while under tow by the tug Englishman broke her tow and went aground on the coast of southwest Iceland. The remainder of the crew were rescused by breeches buoy

7 September 1950 sailed Port Said for Malta having towed a suction dredger from Savanna, Georgia

13 September 1950 berthed at Malta from Port Said

15 September 1950 sailed Malta towing the stern half of the destroyer HMS SAUMAREZ to Gibraltar. HMS SAUMAREZ was mined in the Corfu Channel in 1946

23 September 1950 arrived Gibraltar from Malta towing the mine-damaged destroyer HMS SAUMAREZ

13 March 1951 towed into Falmouth the aft portion of the Panamanian tanker Janko which, while on passage from Abadan to Gothenburg, ran into gales in the Bay of Biscay off Cape Finisterre and broke into two.

November 1951 the Brazilian Battleship Sao Paulo was under tow of Bustler and the tug Dexterous from Rio de Janeiro to a scrap yard in the UK having been bought by BISCO. The battleship, of 20,000 tons with a runner crew having left Rio on the 18 September 1951. In mid October the Dexterous in need of bunkers left the tow and put into Dakar in West Africa before returning a day or so later. The battleship and tugs ran into a heavy gale on the 4 November 1951 off the Azores. By early dusk the gale was so strong that the tows to both tugs parted and the battleship, with her runner crew vanished in the gloom never to be seen again. The Dexterous suffered damage through the bad weather. The running crew of  W. Painter, W P Adams, C R Tait, T McCormick, F J Cornish, W R Ellis, T Mouseau and R Mitchell were all signed on the Tug Bustler as Supernumaries and were registered in the Register of Deceased Seamen as discharged dead - missing drowned

Press Report Western Australian 7 Nov 1951

Press Report from the Western Australian newspaper 7 November 1951


29 November 1951 at 47.52N 7.42W Able Seaman James Grant McDonald discharged dead - drowned

31 March 1952 sailed to assist the New Zealand ship Poronui which reported by radio her steering gear was jammed to the north west of the Canary Islands when on passage from Antwerp to Auckland, New Zealand

13 September 1952 at Sydney, NSW the ss Shahzada was in collision with the River Loddon suffering damage to her hull which admitted water. The ship was towed by Bustler into double Bay where it grounded. Firefloats commenced to pump out water from the hold (loaded with barley) while divers attempted to plug holes in the hull

24 January 1955 at 01.50N 80.12E 2nd Officer Charles Dyer discharged dead - natural causes

11 September 1955 arrived Bombay with Norwegian motor tanker Castor in tow after the latter had suffered considerable damage in the Arabian Sea 11 days earlier when she had been in collision with a fellow Norwegian motor tabker Credo

29 July 1956 sailed Brisbane for Hong Kong with two RAN frigates in tow

1 August 1956 returned to Brisbane with engine defects while towing HMAS's BOWEN and LATROBE from Melbourne to ship breakers in Hong Kong

6 November 1956 while on passage from Australia to Japan towing two LST's one broke adrift and was apparently lost despite a search by a helicopter from HMAS SYDNEY off Mackay  

10 December 1956 sailed Townsville, Australia for Hong Kong with HMAS LABUAN in tow

1959 transferred to the RFA, name unchanged

13 March 1960 Captain R F Dunkley appointed as Master

4 August 1960 along with her sister RFA SAMSONIA she towed the battleship HMS VANGUARD from Portsmouth to the breakers in Faslane

13 August 1960 Mr F J Sullivan appointed as Chief Engineer Officer

19 February 1961 Captain T Winstanley appointed as Master

1 October 1962 the tug IMPETUS was in collision with her at Rosyth

8 April 1963 arrived Gibraltar from Malta with the tug FRISKY in tow for the latter to take up service there

22 July 1963 Mr R C Wood appointed as Chief Engineer Officer

13 February 1964 Mr F B Wilhelmsen appointed as Chief Engineer Officer

February 1965 sailed Malta with RFA SPAPOOL in tow for Singapore

27 June 1967 Captain R H A Adams appointed as Master

5 January 1968 Mr D Hooper appointed as Chief Engineer Officer

15 March 1968 in collision with the LST - HMS NARVIK at Devonport

5 May 1970 towed RFA EMPIRE FRED from the Clyde to Chatham for use as an accommodation vessel

July 1970 while towing HMS ZEST to the breakers at Dalmuir on the Clyde the tow parted. It was reconnected and arrived at the breakers on the 18 July 1970

27 July 1973 purchased by Brodospas Ponuzeca za Spasavanje I Teglenje, Brodova and renamed


4 August 1973 sailed Portsmouth in tow of Yugoslav tug BORAK

1975 Renamed Smjeli by her owners



Tug Smjeli


1989 broken up by her owners at Split

Additional information

Copyright © 2008 – 2018 Christopher J White

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