Previous name:                          West Lynn     HMS Willamette Valley
Subsequent name:     

Official Number:                         167640                                                   

Class:                                       Special Service Freighter - Q ship    

Pennant No:                               X39

Laid down:                             
Builder:                                      Napier & Miller Ltd, Old Kilpatrick, Glasgow
Launched:                                  1928
Into Service:                               17 September 1939
Out of service:                            29 June 1940
Fate:                                         Sunk


Items of historic interest involving this ship: -


Background Data:   In 1939 Winston Churchill gave authority for a number of merchantmen to be requisitioned for service as Q-ships, although for security purposes they were referred to as Special service Freighters. A fleet of 9 small mainly coal-burning vessels were acquired , 6 for deep-sea work and 3 for coastal work. All were commissioned as HM ships under their original names but were given RFA cover names and on entering harbour and while in harbour they wore the Blue Ensign, behaved as RFA’s and adopted the RFA commercial practices. None of them was really suitable for their intended roles and met with a complete lack of success. Their Q-ship service officially ended on 2 March 1941



14 August 1928 launched by Napier & Miller Ltd, Old Kilpatrick as Yard Nr 268 named WEST LYNN for Reardon Smith Line Ltd (Sir William Reardon Smith & Sons, Managers) Cardiff

1928 completed and transferred to the subsidiary Oakwin Steamship Co Ltd

1931 renamed WILLAMETTE VALLEY by her owners

27 June 1931 signalled her owners 'Proceeding Colombo making water. Port pumps are preventing water from gaining. Later her owners reported the situation had improved and the ship was making for Suez

12 May 1932 berthed at Geraldton, Western Australia from Japan to load a cargo of wheat

15 May 1932 a ships football team played a Geraldton, Western Australia side at football. The game resulted in a 2 - 2 draw. Profits from the match were donated to the 'Visiting Nurse Scheme'

21 May 1932 having completed loading her cargo she sailed Geraldton to Fremantle arriving 24 May 1932

27 May 1932 sailed Fremantle, Western Australia for Las Palmas

19 June 1932 passed Table Bay, South Africa

29 June 1933 discharging 8350 tons of Australian wheat at Hull

5 December 1933 in collision with German tanker mv Wilhelm A Riedemann at Balboa damage caused - stem twisted, slight leaking in the fore peak cauking river seams, fitting cement box

13 October 1934 at Poti, Russia 1st Engineer Arthur Ivor Lewis discharged dead - pneumonia

15 October 1934 sailed Istanbul

6 November 1934 grounded at Cape Henry near Norfolk Virginia subsequently refloated.

9 November 1934 arrived at Baltimore

21 November 1934 at Mobile

3 August 1935 sailed Los Angles

5 September 1935 berthed at West India Dock, London

12 September 1935 at West India Dock, London Apprentice Richard Chillingworth G Taylor discharged dead - accident

10 December 1935 at Portland Oregon

17 December 1935 sailed San Francisco

14 May 1936 ay Hakodate, Hokkaido, Japan

22 July 1936 at Balboa, Republic of Panama

5 February 1937 at Rotterdam

2 March 1937 at Poti, Russia Ordinary Seaman George Ottosen discharged dead - accident

18 March 1937 sailed Algiers for Baltimore

17 May 1937 sailed Panama for Yokohama, Japan

22 June 1937 at Yokohama, Japan

29 September 1937 in collision with unknown vessel in dense fog while on passage from Rouen to Bristol

24 February 1939 arrived at Sydney, NSW, Australia

17 September 1939 requisitioned by the Admiralty for conversion into a Special Service Freighter at Chatham Dockyard

26 September 1939 commissioned as HMS WILLAMETTE VALLEY

29 November 1939 Chief Steward William Willard discharged dead - illness

January 1940 conversion completed. Cover name RFA EDGEHILL. Complement 89 under command of Commander. Robert .E.D. Ryder Royal Navy. Armed with  9 x single 4-inch guns, 1 x 12 pdr gun, 4 x Lewis machine guns, 4 x single 21-inch torpedo tubes, 100 x depth charges and was fitted with Asdic



Commander Robert E D Ryder Royal Navy 


29 June 1940 torpedoed by German submarine U51 in the North Atlantic at 49.27N, 15.25W and sunk - 67 (60 RN, RNR or RNVR and 7 Merchant Navy) of the crew were killed - all remembered with pride on the Chatham and Liverpool Naval memorials. There were 24 survivors.. It required 3 torpedoes to sink her.

The following members of the crew received the following awards: -


Posthumous Mention in Despatches


Lieutenant Edward Francis Michael Seymour Royal Navy

Mr Peter Richard Starkey, Assistant Radio Officer

Termporary Surgeon Lieutenant Hamish Alexander Wallace MRCS, LRCP, RNVR

Petty Officer Walter Alfred Keyse X6077 RNSBR


Mention in Despatches


MIdshipman Michael G A Whittle RNR

Stoker Petty Officer Eric N Lockwood KX/76797

Mr Thomas W Pearson, Chief Radio Officer




  1. This ship was a Q ship - a commissioned Naval vessel which would assume its RFA name on entering harbour to hide its genuine identity. She never served as an RFA.
  2. Commander Robert E D Ryder Royal Navy was awarded the Victoria Cross. During 27-28 March 1942 he led the naval force in Operation Chariot, with the aim of wrecking the gates at the entrance to the huge dry dock at St Nazaire, the only one in western France capable of accommodating the German battleship Tirpitz. The force, commanded by Ryder in MGB 314, comprised sixteen motor launches, a motor torpedo boat, and the destroyer HMS Campbeltown which, loaded with explosives on a time fuse, was to ram the dock gates. It also included 257 commandos, who were to demolish dockside installations. Just before 1.30am on 28 March, Ryder’s force reached its objective, where the Campbeltown succeeded in ramming the dock gates. Ryder remained on the spot to conduct operations, going ashore at one stage to look around. Returning to MGB 314 - by then under intense close-range fire - he organised the evacuation of men from the Campbeltown and the rescue of as many commandos as possible. After being in action for well over an hour, MGB 314, still under fire and full of dead and wounded, at last withdrew and eventually reached England. The Victoria Cross awarded to Ryder was one of five won during the raid. 


Additional information

Copyright © 2008 – 2017 Christopher J White

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website, by continuing to use the site you agree to cookies being used. More info.