RFA Racer



lower image HMS Racer in 1884


Previous name:                       HMS Racer
Subsequent name:                                                                          

Class:                                      Salvage vessel - MARINER CLASS Sloop (originally)

Pennant No:                            X 76 / X 57

Laid down:                              9 April 1883
Builder:                                   Devonport Dockyard
Launched:                               6 August 1884
Into Service:
Out of service:                         6 November 1928
Fate:                                Broken up by Hughes Bolckow of Blyth.


Items of historic interest involving this ship: -

Background Data:   She was one of a Class of six gun vessels designed by Nathaniel Barnaby, the Royal Navy Director of Naval Construction, which were all re-rated as sloops before they entered service. The Class consisted of: HM ships ACORN, ICARUS, MARINER, MELITA, RACER and REINDEER, three of which were converted into Salvage Vessels. They were originally powered by a 2 cylinder horizontal compound  expansion steam engine produced by Hawthorn Leslie

9 April 1883 laid down

6 August 1884 launched by HM Dockyard, Devonport as the screw gun vessel HMS RACER by Miss Maud Wright neice of Rear Admiral Charles T Curme Superintendent of the Dockyard

26 November 1884 was re-rated as a sloop

9 April 1885 commissioned for the Cape of Good Hope and West Coast of Africa Station. Hull cost £37,000 and her machinery cost £12,000

28 April 1885 at sea off Plymouth testing her equipment 

29 April 1885 undertook full power trials off Plymouth

11 May 1885 Commander Edmund H Oldham Royal Navy in command

10 June 1885 joined the British Evolutionary Squadron, formed to test the practical efficiency of the material of the Fleet

29 August 1885 sailed Plymouth for the Cape of Good Hope

12 September 1885 berthed at Maderia and then sailed for Cape Coast Castle and the West Coast of Africa

20 November 1885 was at Cape Coast Castle

23 February 1886 was at Sierra Leone

31 March 1886 suffered defects in her engines - the Admiralty were advised that she would have to return to the UK for repairs or sail to the Dockyard at Simonstown 

4 August 1886 refit of her engines completed at Simonstown for Sierra Leone

3 October 1886 arrived at Bathurst

October 1886 employed on duties for the Niger River Expedition

27 January 1887 proceeded 200 miles up the River Gambia

17 June 1887 arrived at Las Palmas

27 June 1887 berthed at Gibraltar - sailed the 2 July 1887 for Malta to relieve HMS CONDOR

June 1887 joined the Mediterranean Squadron

1 October 1887 at Port Said as the senior officer's ship

December 1887 ordered East to Sakim in the Soudan

14 December 1887 reported in the UK press of this date that an enquiry was to be held into the cause of the breakdown of the machinery in HMS RACER - she was designed to steam at 11kts but it was found unsafe to steam her at more than 8kts as her 'machinery was little more than worthless' 

31 December 1887 at Sakim firing heavily at rebels

1888 to 1889 served in the Mediterranean

21 November 1888 Ordinary Seaman B Strong discharged dead. He is buried in Khartoum War Cemetery in Plot 5 Row C Grave 13



Courtesy and © of The War Graves Photographic Project


3 December 1888 Shipwright C Revell discharged dead. He is buried in Khartoum War Cemetery in Plot 5 Row C Grave 12



Courtesy and © of The War Graves Photographic Project

20 December 1988 together with HMS STARLING the ship was engaged in the battle of Gemaizah - a port in Eastern Sudan - British forces lost 12 killed the Mahdi forces lost about 1,000 killed. Soudhan Medals for the crews of both ships with a Gemaizah bar were presented on 29 March 1890

7 February 1889 arrived at Malta

11 March 1889 sailed Malta for the UK

16 April 1889 returned to Devonport with Commander Henry John May Royal Navy in command

10 June 1889 paid off into Reserve at Devonport

21 April 1891 commissioned at Plymouth - Commander Royle Royal Navy as Commanding Officer

10 May 1891 sailed Plymouth for West Africa

26 May 1891 sailed Las Palmas

1 January 1892 arrived at Bathurst

8 January 1892 landed the Naval Brigade at Bathurst


Racer 1891-2 medal

The crew of HMS Racer were awarded the East & West Africa Medal
with 1891 - 1892 clasp - only 89 claps on this medal were awarded
- all to crew members of HMS Racer

24 February 1892 sailed Bathurst for Sierra Leone

9 March 1892 sailed Sierra Leone for Fernando Po and Loanda

27 April 1892 at Bathhurst with HMS Alecto

7 May 1892 arrived at Sierra Leone

25 May 1892 sailed Sierra Leonne for St. Helena

8 September 1892 sailed Loanda for Fernando Po

10 March 1893 at Tristan da Cunha - Captain S Rolleston, Royal Navy  as Commanding Officer

12 June 1893 at Simonstown, South Africa

1893 to 1894 served on the South East Coast of America

24 January 1894 at Rio De Janeiro during Revolution in Brazil

5 September 1894 arrived at Devonport

1894 to 1897 in reserve at Devonport

4 June 1897 arrived at Devonport with a party of Naval Cadets to visit naval establishments - Commander H W Steele Royal Navy was in Command

5 June 1897 sailed Devonport for Dartmouth

24 June 1897 arrived at Portsmouth with a party of Naval Cadets to visit the Dockyard

26 June 1897 took part in the Queen Victoria Diamond Jubilee Fleet Review at Spithead.

1898 after a refit, she commissioned as a tender to Britannia Naval College at Dartmouth

1 June 1898 arrived at Portsmouth with a party of Naval Cadets to visit the Dockyard

19 July 1898 arrived at Devonport with a party of Naval Cadets to visit naval establishments. She sailed the same day for Dartmouth

28 July 1898 arrived at Portsmouth from Dartmouth with a party of Naval Cadets to visit the Dockyard

7 October 1898 sailed Dartmouth for a Channel cruise with Naval Cadets

17 April 1899 Seaman John Broughton Hauger discharged dead having drowned in Dartmouth Harbour - buried in a common grave in consegrated ground

12 February 1900 arrived at Devonport from Dartmouth for a refit

19 June 1900 arrived at Devonport. Captain M F O'Callaghan CB Royal Navy in command

20 June 1900 sailed Devonport to Dartmouth

3 April 1901 arrived at Plymouth from Dartmouth. Commander M S Beatty Royal Navy in command

4 April 1901 sailed Devonport to Dartmouth

1 July 1901 at Teignmouth

22 July 1901 Stoker William James Bruce discharged dead. He had died while the ship was berthing having been scalled to death when a steam pipe burst

23 July 1901 an inquest was held at Dartmouth touching on the death of Stoker William James Bruce which was reported in the Western Times the next day ....

Press Cutting Western Times 24 July 1901

19 May 1902 her deployment as a tender to Dartmouth Naval College ended and her position as tender was taken over by HMS ISIS

2 July 1902 the Exeter and Plymouth Gazette reported ......

Press Cutting 2 July 1902 HMS RACER

7 July 1902 sailed from Dartmouth to Torbay

February 1903 sailed Dartmouth for Portsmouth, where she was used as a tender to Osborne College on the Isle of Wight

6 June 1903 before Newport Police Court, Isle of Wight Sailor William Millard appeared having been charged with assaulting Constable Stevens on 4 Jun 1903. Millard pleaded not guilty. Evidence was given that a group of sailors including the defendant were causing a distubance in the street. The Officer attempted to stop a fight and was struck by Millard in the mouth. Millard was found guilty and due to a good character reference he was not sent to prison but fined 10sh with 6sh costs - in default, as an alternative, he was sentenced to seven days imprisonment. Time was allowed for payment

1 August 1903 Captain Rosslyn E Wemyss Royal Navy appointed in Command


Captain Rosslyn E Wemyss Royal Navy

31 August 1903 before Portsmouth No 2 Police Court Petty Officer John Roberts of HMS RACER appeared summoned for assaulting Rose Galbraith, a domestic servant, at the Hero Beer House, Meadow Street, Landport with a glass causing her an injury which he admitted. He was sentenced to one months imprisonment with hard labour

23 March 1905 berthed on North Railway Jetty, Portsmouth Harbour

13 April 1905 moored in the Medina River, Cowes with HM Torpedo Boat No: 33 berthed alongside

30 June 1905 Captain Edwyn S Alexander-Sinclair Royal Navy appointed in Command

28 July 1905 arrived at Portsmouth Harbour

10 November 1913 before the Isle of Wight Petty Sessions two cases involving crew members of HMS RACER were heard - 

  1. Stoker Frederick Dobson appeared charged with stealing three tins of paint,valued at 32sh from the Naval Stores at Osborne Naval College. PC Sibbick gave evidence he had seen Dobson pushing a wheelbarrow loaded with the three tins of paint. The paint was found to be missing from the stores. Dobson was convicted and bound over under the First Offenders Act
  2. Sailor John F Brown appeared charged with assaulting Linda Holland, bar maid at the Alexandria, Mediana Road, Cowes. He pleaded not guilty. Evidence was given that he had poured a glass of beer over Miss Holland when she turned down his advances. He was convicted and ordered only to pay the costs of the proceedings

12 May 1915 Chief Petty Officer Griffith Williams G 98523 discharged dead - illness - be is buried in Baglan (St. Catherine) Churchyard, Glamorganshire

Williams G

Courtesy and © of The War Graves Photographic Project

21 August 1915 before the Isle of Wight Petty Sessional Court charges were brought against Stoker William James Wheeler of HMS RACER for assaulting his wife Isabella Wheeler on 13 August. Mrs Wheeler gave evidence that she had collected her husband from a public house. He ill treated their dog and then when they had returned home had assaulted her. Their son gave supporting evidence. Wheeler did not appear in Court but was found guilty and fined 10sh with seven days imprisonment in default

23 December 1915 Chief Petty Officer Ernest Edward Grant discharged dead - he is buried in Portsmouth (Kingston) Cemetery having died at home while on leave from pleurisy

Rebuilt 1916 - 1917 as a RFA Salvage Ship

2 May 1916 Stoker 1st Class George Poole discharged dead. He is buried in Cowes (Kingston) Cemetery, Isle of Wight in Section C grave 271



2 December 1916 Engineer Lieutenant Henry C Hancock RNR appointed as Chief Engineer Officer

24 March 1917 Engineer Lieutenant John B Russell RNR appointed as Chief Engineer Officer

18 April 1917 Lieutenant Horace H Gauld RNR appointed in command. He had previously been in command of RFA Melita from 29 January 1916 until 17 April 1917.



RFA Racer's Radio Room


22 August 1917 Rigger John Tremble charged with assault at Queenstown and detained. Discharged to HMS Eagle. He had signed on on 7 May 1917

5 September 1917 Engineer Sub Lieutenant J Russell RNR was married. The Captain and Officers of RFA RACER gave a silver wedding present -

Wedd Pres to 2nd Eng RACERWedding Present to 2nd Eng RFA Racer 



German U-Boat UC44 alongside RFA Racer having been raised from 14 fathoms
the submarine had been sunk by one of her own mines on 4 August 1917. She was raised by RFA Racer's crew in September 1917 
uc44 mine Fred Collins Salvage Bosun
Salvage Bosun Fred Collins supervising the removal of mines from the German Submarine UC44
uc44 mine back of picture
Description of the actions being taken from the rear of the picture above
Incendiary bomb uc44
Part of an incendiary bomb from UC-44 recovered by the divers from RFA Racer
(Three above images supplied by Tony Babb with thanks)

8 January 1918 Lieutenant F B Nicholson RNR appointed in command.

3 April 1918 Lieutenant Harold Jones RNR appointed in command. He remained in command until 9 March 1920 when he was demobilised



RFA Racer dressed overall for the Armistice 1918



RFA Racer's Riggers in 1918

Back left to right - Salvage Rigger Henry McDonald, Salvage Rigger Henry Furley, Salvage Rigger W (Lofty) Harris, Salvage Rigger Thomas E Robinson, Salvage Rigger James W Jones, Salvage Rigger B McAteer

Middle Row left to right - Salvage Rigger Herbert Redgrave, Salvage Rigger Thomas Moore, Salvage Foreman William Dole, Salvage Bosun Fred Collins, Salvage Rigger John (Jack) Foulkes

Front Row left to right - Salvage Rigger E Coone, Salvage Rigger Chas G Abrams, Biddy (Ships Mascot)

(Research by Tony Babb)


ships crew 1

ships crew 2 

Image and crew lists kindly donated by the Totnes Image Bank

22 January 1918 ss Admiral Cochrane torpedoed off Berry Head by UB31 under the command of Oberleutnant zur See Thomas Bieber and sank at the entrance into Dartmouth Harbour at 18.30hrs the same day. Was refloated and regrounded in Dartmouth Harbour on 29 January 1918 by RFA RACER



SS Admiral Cochrane salvaged by the crew of RFA Racer


14 March 1918 ss Comrie Castle, a troop ship, torpedoed by UC71 under the command of Oberleutnant zur See Walter Warzecha, 5 miles south of St Catherine Point, Isle of Wight, 9 died in the attack. She was beached and then salvaged by RFA RACER



RFA Racer's pumps working in ss Comrie Castle


24 March 1918 SS Anchoria was torpedoed by U98 under the command of Kapitänleutnant Rudolf Andler in Loch Swilly, Northern Ireland. She was salvaged by RFA RACER



SS Anchoria in happier times



SS Anchoria as approached by RFA Racer sent to salvage her


3 April 1918 Lieutenant Harold Jones RNR appointed as Commanding Officer

10 April 1918 HMS MAGIC was mined of Lough Foyle, Ireland and had her bows completely blown off with about 15 lives lost



HMS Magic with no bow, RFA Racer on her port side and a tug forward

20 August 1918 HMS SHIRLEY, an improved Racecourse minesweeper was mined 25 miles SE of Aberdeen. The mine had been laid on 17 April 1918 by the German submarine U71. The damage to the minesweeper was to the port side. She was towed ashore and beached. RFA Racer's crew assisted in the salavage


 honours board RFA Racer

Honours Board for 1915 to 1918
donated by Tony Babb
24 January 1918 Their Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty advised the Commander in Chief, Queenstown that the King was pleased to approve the following honours to those engaged in the removal of the mines from UC-44

To receive a bar to the Distinguished Service Order

Acting Commander Gervase W Heaton, RN

To be awarded the Distinguised Service Cross

Lieutenant George Davis, RNR

To be awarded the Distinguished Service Medal

Petty Officer Frank Pegrome Eaglestone,  ON 220100 (Chatham)

Mentioned in Despatches

Rigger William McDonald,  RFA

These awards were Gazetted on 7 June 1918


USS Narragansett


USS Narragansett with RFA Racer alongside

1 February 1919 USS Narragansett carrying 2,000 troops from France ran aground on Bembridge Ledge, Isle of Wight during a SE gale and snowstorm.  Towed off by RFA RACER on 17 February 1919

1918 to 1922 involved in the salvage of gold from HMS LAURENTIC off County Galway, Eire. (See RFA Awards for details of RFA crew recognised for the work (one BEM). Non RFA Awards for details of RN divers who were recognised for their work on this task)



During the salvage of the gold from HMS LAURENTIC, out of the salvage season, the ship was laid up at Portsmouth

5 March 1919 Salvage Rigger John R Foulkes was discharged from RFA Racer having signed on on 11 December 1916 when the ship was in Portsmouth in refit



Salvage Rigger John R Foulkes' Discharge Certificate


12 August 1919 the Scotsman newspaper reported this day -

Press cutting The Scotsman 12 8 19

17 January 1920 sailed from Portsmouth

29 March 1920 Lieutenant in command James C N Macmillan OBE appointed as Master

23 April 1920 Commissioned Gunner Albert B Baldock appointed as Chief Engineer Officer

21 May 1920 The Times newspaper reported this day

Racer sails Times 21 May 1920

17 September 1920 due to very rough weather only seven bars of gold have been recovered so far from the wreck of HMS Laurentic

1921 the crew were awarded a total of £58.17sh.0d for salvaging gold from HMS Laurentic during 1920

5 April 1921 sailed from Portsmouth Harbour for Devonport and Londonderry attended by Drifter No: CD 1


RFA Racer - the Laurentic salvage team (David Masters)

31 July 1921 due to salvaging difficulties the divers had only recovered about 20 bars of gold despite enjoying fine weather at Lough Swilly

12 October 1921 paid off at Portsmouth with the ship in charge of a care and maintenance party

1922 the crew were awarded a total of £330.1sh.10d for salvaging gold from HMS LAURENTIC during 1921

1 March 1922 Captain George C Brock RFA appointed as Master and Mr R McWhannell RFA appointed as Chief Engineer Officer


RFA Racer's Football Team 1922


14 March 1922 an RFA crew were signed on

27 March 1922 sailed Portsmouth for Londonderry

30 March 1922 arrived at Londonderry and loaded bunker coal

31 March 1922 sailed Londonderry for Buncrana arriving the same day

1 April 1922 commenced weighing all four sets of moorings which had been oaid in a sheltered position for the winter months

2 April 1922 fine weather continuing. All hands employed refitting the moorings and slinging them ready for laying in position at the wreck of HMS LAURENTIC

27 April 1922 grounded off Moville Pile Light, Lough Foyle, Northern Ireland. Captain George C Brock RFA cautioned to be more careful in future. Their Lordships considered the ship was anchored much too close to the shoal off Moville

22 May 1922 berthed at Londonderry to resume salvage operations on HMS Laurentic

27 May 1922 Stoker J Simpson logged as deserting

16 June 1922 sailed to Londonderry to transfer salvaged gold to a bank. The ship then sailed to Ardrossan for boiler cleaning

18 June 1922 Lt Commander DAMANT Royal Navy reported to the Admiralty that recovery work has resulted in -

29 May 1922 - 6 bars of gold recovered

30 May 1922 - 13 bars of gold recovered

31 May 1922 - 1 bar of gold recovered

1 June 1922 - 4 bars of gold recovered

7 June 1922 - 7 bars of gold recovered

8 June 1922 - 6 bars of gold recovered

9 June 1922 - 6 bars of gold recovered

10 June 1922 - 7 bars of gold recovered

12 June 1922 - 2 bars of gold recovered

15 June 1922 - 1 bar of gold recovered

TOTAL - 53 bars of gold

20 July 1922 by this day this season, the crew of Racer had recovered about one million pounds of gold from the wreck of HMS LAURENTIC. The gold was brought to Lough Foyle and transfered to HMS VANCOUVER for conveyance to Portsmouth

HMS Vancouver


9 October 1922 sailed from Lough Swilly to Londonderry

10 October 1922 loaded bunker coal and sailed Londonderry to Portsalon

11 October 1922 sailed to the wreck site but diving conditions were unfit

12 October 1922 sailed to the wreck site and commenced diving - 5 bars of gold recovered. The air compressor broke down

13 October 1922 directions were given by the Admiralty for the ship to return to Portsmouth due to the breakdown on the large air compressor onboard

14 October 1922 at wreck site raising moorings

15 October 1922 sailed for Portsmouth

16 October 1922 Commander Dammant Royal Navy reported to the Admiralty that during the 1922 'season' diving on the wreck could only be done on 77 days out of 198 days. Bad weather had prevented diving on many of the other days with some periods lasting 15 days. During the 'season' a total of 895 bars of gold had been recovered. During the four previous 'seasons' a total of 904 bars of gold had been raised - thus a total of 1,799 bars of gold had been raised. He believed that between 600 to 700 bars were still buried in the wreckage

26 October 1922 grounded on How Bank, Isle of Wight - was refloated and proceeded to Portsmouth. There was no court of enquiry and their Lordships approved no further action was necessary

4 November 1922 directions were given by the Admiralty that the ship was to be paid off at Portsmouth with a care and maintenance party remaining onboard

7 November 1922 the ship was paid off this day at Portsmouth

27 February 1923 The Times newspaper reported this day

Times Racer 27 Feb 1923

3 April 1923 sailed from Portsmouth Harbour for Londonderry

30 August 1923 Portsmouth Evening News reported -

Ports Evn News 30 Aug 23 Press Cutting RACER

19 October 1923 berthed at Portsmouth Harbour

29 October 1923 paid off at Portsmouth Harbour with a Care and Maintenance party remaining onboard

1 April 1924 sailed from Portsmouth Harbour to resume salvage operations on HMS LAURENTIC. On this date there were still 154 bars of gold valued at £240,000 in the wreck

4 April 1924 arrived off Lough Swilly and laid one set of moorings which the ship had brought from Portsmouth

5 April 1924 raised three sets of mooring from their winter position in Ballymacstocker Bay, refitted them and laid the in position around the wreck. Anchored at Portsalon

25 June 1924 since the ships arrival for the 1924 'season' a total of 115 bars of gold had been recovered

20 September 1924 anchored at Rathmullan

26 September 1924 berthed at Portsmouth Harbour. The total amount of gold bars recovered during the 1924 'season' amounted to 129. Thus the salvage operations since HMS LAURENTIC sank amount to 3,186 bars of gold recovered from the 3,211 which went down with the vessel

11 December 1924 the Times Newspaper reported that -

Times Racer 11 December 1924

1925 as a final reward the crew were paid a total of £1,000.0sh.0d for salvaging gold from HMS Laurentic during 1924

14 October 1925 berthed on the Upper TBD Trot, Portsmouth

1925 placed on the Sales List

22 May 1926 berthed in No: 3 Basin of Portsmouth Dockyard together with RFA KIMMEROL

6 November 1928 sold for breaking up by Hughes Bolckow of Blyth.

10 November 1928 sailed from Portsmouth Harbour to the ship breakers yard



Ships of the same name


Racer. A Cutter of 203 bm, 75 x 26 feet by Baker of Sandgate, launched on the 24 April 1810.  Stranded off the French coast on the 24 May 1810 and captured by the French.

Racer. A schooner of 250 bm, 93.5 x 25 feet, 12 x 12 pdr carronade, 2 x 6pdr, American privateer Independence, captured on the 9 November 1812.  Wrecked in the Gulf of Florida on the 10 October 1814.

Racer. A cutter of 123 bm, 63.5 x 22 feet built by Pembroke Dock and launched on the 4 April 1818, armed with 2 x 6 pdr, 4 x 6 pdr carronade.  Ordered to be sold at Malta on the 4 May 1830.

Racer. A brig sloop of 413 bm launched by Portsmouth Dockyard on the 18 July 1833.  101 x 32.5 feet armed with 14 x 32 pdr carronade, 2 x 12 pdr.  Sold to Wilson and Company in September 1852.

Racer. A wood screw sloop of 579 bm, 151 x 29 feet by Deptford Dockyard, launched on the 4 November 1857.  Armed with 11 x 32 pdr guns.  Broken up at Portsmouth in 1876.

Additional information

Copyright © 2008 – 2018 Christopher J White

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