Samsonia with a foredeck gun during World War 2


RFA Samsonia



Previous name:                         HMS Samson,  Foundation Josephine,
Subsequent name:                    Jaki

Official Number:                         181181                                                                      

Class:                                        BUSTLER Class Fleet Tug

Pennant No:                              W23 / A218

Laid down:                                1 February 1941
Builder:                                      Henry Robb, Leith
Launched:                                 1 April 1942
Into Service:                              27 May 1960
Out of service:                           1974 sold to commercial interests
Fate:                                         Broken up


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 eight 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 1,700 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 six of the Class saw service as RFA’s




1 February 1941 laid down as HMS SAMSON

1 April 1942 launched by Henry Robb Ltd, Leith as Yard Nr: 322 named HMS SAMSONIA

Samsonia Cap Tally

14 September 1942 completed and commissioned

6 October 1942 sailed Methil in Convoy EN 146/2 arrived Loch Ewe 9 October 1942

1943 based Campbeltown as a Convoy Rescue Tug

24 February 1943 taking over from HM Tug NIMBLE towed ss ARIGUANI from Gibraltar to Greenock and then to the Tyne arriving 22 March 1943. HM Tug NIMBLE returned to Gibraltar


HMS SAMSONIA alongside ss ARIGUANI at Greenock

21 April 1943 recovered a Lockheed bomber which was adrift on a barge in the Atlantic. Towed for 3 days to the UK

Press Cutting The Chronicle Adelaide 22 Apr 1943

Press Cutting from The Chronicle, Adelaide of 22 April 1943

24 April 1943 orders from the Admiralty to sail to St John's Newfoundland under escort of HMS NORTHERN SUN - source Admiralty War Diary of this day - page 173

May 1943 her Commanding Officer was Lieutenant Commander Owen Jones OBE RNR

26 May 1943 the Hull Daily News reported -


Press Cutting Samsonia


6 June 1943 sailed Cambletown to Greenock for repairs to No: 2 engine

13 July 1943 rescue tug with convoy HX247

22 July 1943 sailed Cambletown to Greenock for an engine inspection - arrived the following day

19 August 1943 sailed Cambeltown for Moville anchorage, Loch Foyle

16 January 1944 sailed from Cambletown to assist ss Barendrecht which was aground in Wigton Bay about 2 miles NE of Burrow Head - holed fore and aft and in ballast. ss Barendrecht refloated and towed to Liverpool

23 January 1944 anchored at Loch Foyle, Northern Ireland having sailed earlier in the day from Campbeltown

25 January 1944 sailed to join convoy ON 221

February 1944 her Commanding Officer was Lieutenant Commander Archibald M Leekie RNR

6 February 1944 berthed at St. John's, Newfoundland

9 February 1944 sailed St John's, Newfoundland with HMS GENTIAN and ss Kelmscott to join convoy HX278 in the swept channel. ss Kelmscott mined - four explosions - she settled but was towed back to St John's

16 February 1944 took HMS HART in tow after that ship had foulled her propellors with RAS gear

1944 Used to tow sections of the Mulberry Harbour from the UK to France for use during the Invasion.

7 March 1944 sailed in convoy JH 97 from St Johns, Newfoundland arriving at Halifax on 10 March 1944

3 May 1944 towed torpedoed USS Donnell DE56 from 450 miles SW of Cape Clear to Dunnstaffnage Bay, Scotland arriving on 12 May 1944. Escorted by HMS CAM and HMS LOCHY



7 June 1944 sailed Weymouth with HMS GROWLER (later RFA GROWLER (2)) towing the old French Battleship Courbet to act as a "Gooseberry" breakwater at Sword Beach during the Battle of Normandy. The Courbet's engines had been removed


The old French Battleship Courbet

15 June 1944 arrived Mulberry A towing Phoenix Unit 24/A1

2 July 1944 sailed in convoy FTC 24 from Seine Bay arriving at Southend on 3 July 1944

10 July 1944 sailed Portsmouth joining convoy FTC32 for Southend also containing HMS BUSTLER (later RFA BUSTLER) and HMS SAUCY (later RFA SAUCY) arriving the next day 

24 July 1944 sailed Portsmouth joining convoys FTC45 arriving back at Portsmouth 29 July 1944

29 July 1944 sailed Seine Bay to Southend as part of convoy FTM52

2 August 1944 sailed Seine Bay in convoy FTM 57 arrived Southend 3 August 1944

23 January 1945 sailed from Liverpool in convoy ON280 as rescue tug - detached on 27 January 1945

11 April 1945 together with RFA ENVOY passed Gibraltar towing AFD 32 from America, via San Juan, Puerto Rico to Oran

13 April 1945 arrived at Oran with AFD 32 in tow with RFA ENVOY and HMS MEDIATOR

29 April 1945 sailed from Gibraltar in convoy MKF 43 arriving at Liverpool on 5 May 1945

26 June 1945 allocated to Tilbury for Phoenix towage

30 November 1945 sailed Le Harve Roads with Ole Weggar in tow for Falmouth escorted by HMRT's Earner and Empire Pixie and the salvage vessel American Salvor

January 1947 - 1952 charter by the Admiralty to Foundation Maritime.Ltd, Halifax, Nova Scotia

14 June 1947 passed the Lloyds Signal Station sailing east while towing ss Edward E Sparford

24 September 1947 while on passage from St. John's, Newfoundland to Halifax diverted to assist in the salavage of the freighter Mont Sorrell aground on Cerbeus Rock, at the entrance of the Strait of Canso, 120 miles east of Halifax, Canada. RCMP Cutter French also standing by. Vessel refloated three days later.



As 'Foundation Josephine' when chartered out


28 December 1947 towed the British registered freighter Brockley Hill into Halifax after a tow of some 400 miles. The freighter had radioed for assistance during a storm.

14 September 1948 the steamship Leicester was abandoned by crew in hurricane force winds 200 miles south of Cape Race, Newfoundland.

26 September 1948 the Leicester was located by the Foundation Josaphine with a heavy list on her. She was 800 miles from Bermuda and St. John's Newfoundland, 900 miles from Halifax and 1,100 miles from New York

27 September 1948 a tow was connected to the Leicester with some difficulty and the tow was commenced to Bermuda. 

9 October 1948 Foundation Josephine blown onto Ferry Point, Bermuda. Leicester was blown into Whalebone Bay

22 October 1948 Foundation Josephine refloated

18 November 1948 towed into Halifax and entered dry dock for 3 months for repairs 

20 August 1949 sailed from Sydney, Nova Scottia to the 4,200 ton Panamanian registered ship Evgenia which loss her steering 80 miles S.E. of Halifax. HMCS Iroquois stood by as the crippled vessel was towed into Halifax

7 November 1949 the Gloucester Citizen reported -

Samsonia 7 11 1949 Gloucester Citizen

5 February 1950 sailed from Halifax to the Norwegian registered freighter Gudvor reported to be 500 miles east of St John's New Foundland taking in water and with defective steering

8 February 1952 took the Metcalfe ship Industria in tow to Newport News, USA after the later lost her stern post and rudder when 900 miles east of Bermuda on the 4 February 1952

20 February 1952 off Cape Cod took in tow the stern section of the tanker Fort Mercer which had split in two in a storm. She was originally to be towed to Block Island R.I. Fifty seven of the tanker's crew were rescued, six were killed and eight were missing presumed dead.

23 February 1952 the stern half of Fort Mercer arrived safely at New York under tow

17 November 1952 returned to the Admiralty renamed SAMSONIA pennant number A218

14 August 1956 by a secret signal the Admiralty ordered the C in C Portsmouth that the SAMSONIA and RFA WARDEN, when stored, should sail towing Lifting Craft 10 & 11 from the UK to Malta. The Lifting Craft would have civilian crews. On arrival both tugs whould remain temporarily on the Mediterranean Station

22 September 1956 at Malta as HMS SAMSONIA entered Grand Harbour

1 January 1958 as HMS SAMSONIA berthed at Portsmouth Harbour

15 January 1958 as HMS SAMSONIA sailed Portsmouth to the River Tyne towing HMS MERMAID

17 January 1958 as HMS SAMSONIA moored alongside Bergen Quay on the River Tyne

19 January 1958 as HMS SAMSONIA sailed the River Tyne to Devonport and berthed alongside No 4 Jetty

22 January 1958 as HMS SAMSONIA sailed Devonport to the River Tyne towing HMS HART

24 January 1958 as HMS SAMSONIA at 1925hrs berthed at Palmers Yard, Jarrow alongside HMS HART. At 2315hrs sailed the River Tyne to Portsmouth

26 January 1958 as HMS SAMSONIA berthed at Portsmouth alongside HMS REDPOLE moored against the North West Wall

March 1958 towed HMS/m TURPIN with engine defects from Kingston, Jamaica to Devonport via the Canary Islands - the tow of 5,200 miles,  took 29.5 days which became the longest tow in submarine history, and they arrived on 8 April 1958

17 September 1958 sailed Malta towing HMS CHILDERS to Gibraltar where the destroyer was to be laid up

5 January 1959 as HMS SAMSONIA berthed in No 2 basin at Portsmouth alongside HMS WARDEN - later the same day sailed Portsmouth

14 January 1959 as HMS SAMSONIA sailed Portsmouth

23 January 1959 AFD26 towed from Portland to Portsmouth

6 November 1959 collided with the frigate HMS HARDY at Portsmouth

20 April 1960 Mr J T Coulson appointed as Chief Engineer Officer

27 May 1960 transferred to the RFA as RFA SAMSONIA.  Captain J B Gibson MBE (Lieut-Commander RNR) appointed as Master

4 August 1960 used to tow HMS VANGUARD from Portsmouth to the ship breakers on the Gare Loch, Scotland along with her sister RFA BUSTLER

15 August 1960 arrived to assist tugs CAPABLE and RFA AGILE at Barrow towing Admiralty Floating Dock No 59 to be used as a fitting out berth for atomic powered submarines.

15 September 1960 arrived Barrow towing AFD 59 from Portsmouth

22 August 1962 berthed at Malta from Rosyth

18 October 1962 caused damage to Princes Pier, Greenock

12 September 1964 Captain R F Dunkley appointed as Master

1965 based at Devonport

6 May 1965 towed tug CAREFUL from Portsmouth to Pembroke Dock

19 July 1965 with RFA TYPHOON towed HMS ROBERTS from Devonport to the breakers yard at Inverkeithing arriving in berth there on 3 August 1965


HMS Roberts


23 May 1966 Mr F J Sullivan appointed as Chief Engineer Officer

29 May 1966 sailed from Devonport to sea

6 January 1967 towed HMS SHEFFIELD from Portsmouth to Rosyth with RFA TYPHOON

10 July 1967 towed the dockyard tug TID68 from Portland to Pembroke Dock

20 February 1967 Captain T Winstanley appointed as Master

10 July 1968 Captain R F Dunkley appointed as Master

3 November 1968 collided with the frigate HMS SIRIUS  at Portsmouth

28 November 1968 transferred to the PAS as Samsonia

11 July 1969 sailed Portsmouth with RFA AGILE and RFA REWARD and HMS VICTORIOUS in tow to the breakers.

16 July 1969 arrived with HMS VICTORIOUS at the ship breakers yard at the Gare Loch with RFA AGILE and RFA REWARD

October 1969 towed HMS MAIDSTONE to Belfast for use as a prison ship under Army control

24 October 1969  HMCS Kootenay - a Canadian Destroyer suffered an engine room explosion while 200 miles off Plymouth killing eight and injuring nine (one of whom died later as a result of his injuries). Samsonia while off the Sciliy Isles returning from the HMS MAIDSTONE tow (see above) sent to provide assistance and towed her back to the UK. Six of the crew of the HMCS Kootenay later received bravery awards for their actions in saving life and fighting the fire.

9 October 1970 in the Pentland Firth in bad weather suffered a mechanical breakdown while towing HMS STALKER

25 August 1973 offered for sale in the Times. 'As is' lying at Devonport Dockyard

1 September 1973 offered for sale a second time in the Times. 'As is' lying at Devonport Dockyard

28 February 1974 sold to Brodospas-Brodus Split, Salvage, Towage and Demolition Enterprises, Split and renamed Jaki - refitted on the Tyne

11 May 1979 deleted from the register and laid up at Sveti Kajo. Cannibalised for parts for Smjeli [ex RFA BUSTLER]

3 September 1987 broken up by her owners at Split

Additional information

Copyright © 2008 – 2018 Christopher J White

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