British Fleets

Australian Oriental Line

Ship

Built

Gross Tons

In Service

Changte

1925

4324

1925-1961

Taiping

1926

4324

1926-1961

Changte served under wartime requisition.

Blue Funnel Line - Ocean Steam Ship Company
The Blue Funnel Line's founding was in Liverpool, England in 1865 and its shipping services spread around the globe. It provided extensive service to Government during the Great War 1914-1918.

As the Second World War opened the Company was operating three ships, well-known to many Australians, between Singapore and Western Australia:-

Ship

Built

Gross Tons

In Service

Centaur

1924

3066

1924-1943

Gorgon

1933

3533

1933-1964

Charon

1936

3703

1936-1964

Among the many Company vessels involved in the Allied withdrawal and evacuation from Singapore and adjacent areas late 1941/early 1942 was another ship of familiar name to Australians, the Vyner Brooke, the massacre of whose survivors tells of yet another horror of war.

Centaur was converted in 1940 to a Hospital Ship and placed on loan to the Australian Government. Following the sinking of HMAS "Sydney" on 19 November 1941, she assisted in the rescue of the crew of the German Raider Kormoran. At 4.10 a.m. on 14 May 1943, while fully illuminated and painted in Red Cross colours, she was torpedoed by the Japanese submarine I.74 off Brisbane, while en route Sydney-New Guinea. The ship sank in three minutes.There was no time to transmit a radio distress call or launch lifeboats. Most of those on board were asleep and had little chance of escape. After 34 hours in the water, on overcrowded rafts or clinging to debris, the survivors were picked up by USS"Mugford" which left Brisbane on escort duty. From a total of 332 persons on board, only 64 survived. Those lost included 45 of the ship's crew and 223 medical and military personnel, including 11 nurses.

Gorgon suffered enemy bombing damage at least twice: in February 1942 during the Singapore evacuation and in April 1943 at Milne Bay, during the Allied landings there, but with her partner vessel Charon survived the war.

The China Navigation Company Limited
The Company's ("CN") formal origin, in London, dates from 1872, with John Samuel Swire as its founder, and this followed some decades of his increasing contact with Far East trade.

The Second World War saw the Company's coastal and ocean fleet comprising thirty seven ships. Of these twenty were lost during the war. Incuded among these were a number which had been seized by invading Japanese forces, many suffering in their hands the misfortunes of conflict. Hong Kong was the hub of the Company's operations.

A number of the CN's vessels became known in the South West Pacific campaign of the war. Perhaps the most visible to many Australian Service personnel was the Anshun, of 3138 gross tons, built 1930. Having been requisitioned by the British Ministry of War Transport and commissioned as a Royal Australian Navy stores ship, she was bombed and sunk alongside the Milne Bay wharf on 6 September 1942.

Vessels lost to enemy action in the area of, and while supporting, the Allied withdrawal from the Far East included Anking (3472gt, built 1925) torpedoed 3/3/42 Tjilatjap, Chekiang (2171gt, built 1914) bombed and sunk Hong Kong (in Japanese hands) by Allies 16/1/45, Chengtu (2219gt, built 1914) mined Macassar Straits (after Japanese seizure), Hsin Peking (2104gt, built 1914) bombed and sunk Manila (after Japanese seizure) 13/12/44, Kiangsu (2661gt, built 1921) gutted by fire Singapore (after Japanese seizure) 10/6/44, Kwangting (2626gt, built 1921) torpedoed off Java 4/1/42, and Taiyuan (2994gt, built 1929) scuttled Surabaya 2/3/42.

The E&A Line
Named for the regions of the globe it was intended to serve, E & A was founded in London in 1872. With a strong focus on relationships with the then Queensland (Colonial) Government, it offered a Singapore-Brisbane-Sydney service from later that year.

With four ships in its fleet at the outbreak of the Great War, it provided trooping and cargo service, generally in equatorial regions. Its vessel Eastern carried Australian Expeditionary Force troops to Rabaul in 1914.

Its involvement with the P & O Company dates from 1946 when the latter took a shareholding interest.

The Second World War found the Company owning the ships Nellore (6856 gross tons, in service since 1929), Tanda (6956 gross tons, in service since 1924) and Nankin (6069 gross tons, in service since 1931). All were lost.

Nellore was torpedoed in the Indian Ocean on 30 June 2023 and forty-seven survivors managed to escape in a lifeboat. Twenty-eight days later their boat was washed up on the shores of Madagascar, 2500 miles distant, and by then only twelve survivors remained. Tanda also became a submarine victim, torpedoed off the Indian coast on 6 July 1944.

Nankin on 5 May 1942, was shelled and captured by the German surface raider vessel Thor in the Indian Ocean. She was later lost by sabotage in Yokohama Harbour.

E&A Line an affiliate of BI was involved in Atlantic and Pacific operations and subject to attack from German U-Boats. and in spite of convoy protection , merchant ship sinkings continued at an alarming rate. In March of 1941 some merchant ships were fitted with a launching ramp on which a Hurricane fighter could be launched ,

These ships were known as CAM Ships (Catapault Armed Merchantmen)

"Patia" 5'350 tons, completed 1926, lost 27th April 1941, Weatern Europe, off Northumberland, NE coast of England by German Bombers.

"Springbank" 5'150 tons, completed 1926, lost 27th September 1941, North Atlantic torpedoed by German U-Boat.

MAC Ships (Merchant Aircraft Carriers) These were oil or grain bulk cargo carriers with superstructure removed and a flight deck added. Manned by Merchant Navy Crews, with Fleet Air Arm personnel to maintain and fly the aircraft - A/S Swordfish and Sea Hurricanes. They flew the Red Ensign and some aircraft carried "Merchant Navy" instead of ?Royal Navy" on their fuselage.

7 Empire Class Grain Carriers - 8,000 tons, 12 knots, 4 aircraft launched December 1942-January 1944, Equipped with hangar and lift.

4 Empire Class Oil Tankers - 9,000 tons, 12knots 3 aircraft, launched May-July1943, No hangar orlift aircraft stored on deck.

9 Rapana Class Oil Tankers - 12,000 tons, 3 aircraft , converted 1942/44, Anglo Saxon Petroleum Company tankers "Gadila" and "Macoma" operated under the Dutch ensign

Our convoys were now guarded by formidable surface escorts , reinforced with Escort Carriers, Merchant Navy manned by British and International Pool crews under the Red Ensign and Dutch Flag, giving close and advanced air protection.

While maintaining their Mercantile Marine status and transporting essential wartime cargoes they also defended the convoys in which they sailed. There were twenty of these vessels.





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POSTCRIPT. Many other ships of British merchant fleets were part of the Allies' Pacific and Indian Oceans war effort. While the major part of this site relates to Australian coastal and adjacent Asian and Pacific waters, and while it is ot possible to tell the full story of the British fleets on the wider oceans, one event, of a tragic, horrendous nature must not go without mention. Merchant seamen and many others know it as the "Behar Massacre".

The 111 souls aboard the P & O Hain Lines' Behar (85 crew, 17 Artillery/DEMS gnners and Asdic operators and 9 passengers including two women) were to experience from 9 March 1944, en route from New Zealand and Melbourne to Bombay, an unimaginable ordeal. An account of the events is summarised here, but to learn more, click on Narratives.

On the morning of 9 March, the Japanese heavy cruiser Tone intercepted and opened fire on Behar in the vicinity of the Cocos Islands. The victim was quickly ablaze and sinking, with three of its complement lost by the time four lfeboats were launched, the remaining crew and passengers being taken on board Tone.

That night, on Tone's deck, the calculated murder of 72 of them took place - 53 crew, 15 gunners and 4 passengers (though the women were spared) - by felling and beheading. Those remaining were landed at Tandjong Priok, to see the war out as prisoners of war, with all the privations that meant.

The War Crimes trials brought some justice, but the Behar Massacre became yet another example of the many dangers, and horrors, faced by merchant mariners. See Narratives for more detail from a contemporary diary.

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The Booker Line

(courtesy of bookerline.com)

History

In 1815, Josias Booker, the third of seven sons of a Lancashire Miller, emigrated to Demerara to work in the sugar plantations. One of the first British settlers in Demerara, he learnt his trade quickly and became a planter of some distinction, and by 1818 he was managing his own plantation. Following his success he was joined by two of his brothers, George and Richard, and the firm of Booker Brothers was founded.

After a dispute with the Liverpool Shipowners who had been transporting their sugar, the brothers decided to form their own shipping company, and in 1835 they acquired their first ship, the Elizabeth, a brig built in Scotland in 1832. In the early years Bookers bought and sold many ships, unfortunately a lot of the company's records were destroyed by fire in Guyana, and the complete record of the company's activities was destroyed in London during WW2, but it is known that some of their early ships were; Palmyra, Standard, Lucknow, Lord Elgin, John Horrocks and Lancaster.

In 1846 John McConnell went to Guyana to work as a clerk for the Booker Brothers, where he prospered, and in 1874 founded his own firm of John McConnell & Company. Due to his long and close association with the brothers, the two firms merged in 1900 and became known as Booker Brothers, McConnell & Co Ltd, and the company set up an office in The Albany, Old Hall Street, Liverpool, where it remained until 1941.

The shipping venture prospered, and in 1867 the regular direct service from Liverpool to Georgetown became known as the Liverpool Line. For this service, Bookers owned or chartered vessels continually until 1911, when the line was renamed  the Booker Line and they purchased the vessels, Imataka, Amakura and Arakaka. (The names  Imataka and  Amakura are Arawak aboriginal names of rivers in Guyana, Arakaka is an Arawak place name).

The First World War claimed the Imataka and Amakura. The former was torpedoed and sunk by an enemy submarine in a position 15 miles SSW from Daunt's Rock on April 23, 1917. Soon afterwards the Amakura also fell victim to a submarine 180 miles NW1/2W from Tory Island on June 12,1917.  The Arakaka survived the war years and remained in service with Bookers until she was sold in 1922.

The Amakura and Arakaka were subsequently replaced, but history repeated itself. On June 23 1941, the Arakaka was lost
in the North Atlantic while serving as a meteorological ship with the Admiralty, and on August 25, 1942, an enemy submarine sank the Amakura off the Jamaican coast. Despite their losses, Bookers continued trading with chartered ships until 1946, when the third Arakaka, (2,814GRT) was built, and in 1949 came the third Amakura (2,961GRT).

In the late 1950s Booker Line would charter a vessel for one round trip and this ship would replace the Amakura & Arakaka whilst they were dry-docked.  Moss Hutchison Line’s Tabor made one such voyage in the summer of 1958. At least one other Moss Hutchison ship possibly the Karnak made one of these voyages. (Source: Geoff Holmes)

In the 1960's the Arakaka and Amakura were sold and replaced with 3 new vessels, Booker Vanguard, Venture and Viking, and a fourth vessel, the Booker Valliance, was chartered from Norwegian owners. It was around this time that the company changed its name to Booker Merchantmen Ltd and also changed their funnel colours to blue, white and blue, with a red "B" to replace the former buff, black-topped funnel.

In the early 1970's the Booker Valliance came off charter after 10 years service and was replaced by another chartered vessel, the Booker Voyager, and the company added another ship to the fleet, the Booker Vulcan. Towards the end of the 1970's the Booker Vanguard, Venture and Viking were sold and replaced by East German built  vessels, the Booker Challenge, Courage and Crusade, where they went in to service alongside the Booker Vulcan and Voyager.

The company continued operating with these vessels up until the early 1980's when, due to a decline British shipping and changes in the sugar market, the company was forced to cease trading, the ships were laid up in Liverpool's Huskisson Dock and subsequently sold. Thus, Liverpool's Booker Line, one of the longest serving Liverpool shipping companies, came to an end after nearly 150 years of continuous service.

But what became of the company's founder, Josias Booker?

After returning to Liverpool, Josias Booker was instrumental in forming the Royal Insurance Company in 1841, and was an early chairman. A map of the Allerton district of Liverpool about 1870 indicates an area described as "Mr. Booker's land", and there is also a record of Booker cottages and the fact that above the door of Booker Cottage School with a stone bearing the initials "JB" and the date 1865. Today, Booker Avenue is the name of a Boulevard in Liverpool which runs from Calderstones Park, through Allerton, to Aigburth.

Josias Booker died in 1865, having lived a truly remarkable and eventful life.

War Years

WW1
The First World War claimed both the Imataka and Amakura. The Imataka was torpedoed and sunk by
UC47 in a position 15 miles SSW from Daunt's Rock on April 23, 1917. There are no casualties for the Imataka listed on the Tower Hill memorial site, so it is assumed that all of the crew survived the sinking. The UC47 was sunk off the Bridlington coast, North Yorkshire on the 18th November 1917 by HMS P57 who rammed and depth charged her. 28 crewmen of the UC47 perished in the attack. The UC47 is now a registered war grave and she lies, still surrounded by live munitions, in a position 54° 1 ' 0 '' North - 0° 20' 0'' (GPS).

On June 12th 1917, the Amakura fell victim to an unknown submarine 180 miles NW from Tory Island. I have been unable to find much information about the incident, but two of her crewman were killed and are listed on the Tower Hill Memorial site. The Arakaka, built in1896 survived WW1 and was sold to Hellenic Coast Lines in 1925 and renamed Attiki. She continued to operate  until she was sunk in WW2 by aircraft bombs off Karystos, Doro Channel on 11th April 1941, a remarkable 45  years of service.


WW2

History repeated itself during the Second World War. At 2236 hours on June 22 1941, the Arakaka, which had been on charter to the Admiralty since 1940 as a weather ship, under the command of Captain William Walker, was torpedoed and sunk by U-77 commanded by Korvettenkapitän Heinrich Schonder, in position 47N 40W (East of St Johns). The U-boat misidentified the Arakaka as the Greek steamship Alexandra. The Master, 32 crew and 12 admiralty personnel  all perished. The crew of the Arakaka are commemorated on
Panel 9 at the Tower Hill Memorial, and includes three brothers from Liverpool, John Roberts (24), Leslie Roberts (21), and Stanley (26).

Official admiralty records relating to the sinking of the Arakaka which have since been de-classified show that she was operating with another weather ship, the SS Toronto City (Owned by the Bristol City Line. The ex- Kyrenia, 1937 purchased from Moss, Hutchison Line, Liverpool renamed Toronto City, 1st Jul.1941 torpedoed and sunk by U.108 in Atlantic with all hands). The last message received from the Arakaka was on the 22nd June when she was about 500 miles East of St Johns (LAT 47° 24'N LONG 42°W) and was returning to harbour. The Toronto City was last heard on 1st July when the routine weather report was made at 1300GMT. The Toronto City was, at the time, about 1000 miles East of St Johns (LAT 46°N 48'N LONG 30°W).

These records make fascinating reading and include the last communications with the vessel, concerns by the admiralty that the Arakaka may have been captured by a surface raider. A report from Squadron Leader Portass expressing his concern about the unsuitability of the Arakaka as a meteorological vessel. Crew lists, balance of wages etc. To view these records please click HERE.

Heinrich Schonder left the U-77 in September 1942 and three months later commissioned the type IX-D2 U-boat (U-200) which was sunk on her first patrol with the loss of all hands on 24 June, 1943 Southwest of Iceland by an RAF Liberator aircraft. The Amakura was carrying 2260 tons of general cargo bound for the UK under the command of Captain Thomas Orford with a complement of 44 when she became a straggler from convoy WAT-15. She was sunk by U-558 commanded by Kapitänleutnant Günther Krech off the Jamaican coast in position 17.46 North 75.52W at 10:34 hours on 25 August, 1942. The master, 25 crew members and 5 gunners landed at the Point Morant Lighthouse, Jamaica, but 13 of her crew perished and are remembered on Panel 6 at the Tower Hill Memorial.

The U-558 was sunk by US aircraft on 20 July, 1943 in the Bay of Biscay. Only the commander, the LI and three men of the gun crew survived the sinking. Günther Krech then spent the remainder of the war years as a POW.

 

The Cost of the battle of the Atlantic - Some statistics

  1. It is probable that at least one quarter of the men who were in the British Merchant Navy at the outbreak  of war did not survive.
  2. By May 1945 at least 30,000 merchant seamen had died. Hundreds of men from Allied navies and air forces, as well as many civilian passengers, also died.
  3. In the North Atlantic alone, over 2,200 British and Allied merchant ships were sunk. Of these, no less than 2,003 had been sunk by U-boats. 100 Allied naval vessels and over 600 RAF Coastal Command aircraft were also lost in the Atlantic.
  4. Of the 830 operational U-boats, at least 750 saw service in the Atlantic or British coastal waters. Of these, 510, or two out of three were lost.
  5. Over 18,000 U-boat men died in action. Hundreds more German sailors died while serving on surface warships.
  6. Liverpool ship-owners lost over 3 million tons of shipping. This was more than the entire merchant navies of Norway (2 million tons), the Netherlands (1.5 million tons) and Greece (1.1 million tons).