‘Fresh’ Class Water Tank Vessels

The ‘Fresh’ class of water tank vessels were launched during World War 2 and during their early years 12 of the 14 ships in the class were manned by the RFA.  These vessels would have been a familiar sight around the naval dockyards and anchorages, taking fresh water and boiler feed water to warships and auxiliaries.




At the end of the war, all of the class manned by RFA crews came under dockyard control and became PAS vessels.  A member of the RFA Historical Society, Mr Peter Madden a former senior engineering officer with the RFA, actually worked on one of these ships during his apprenticeship, here is his story.


PAS Freshford


As part of my apprenticeship as an Engineer Cadet in the RFA I had to spend the summer of 1963, prior to going to sea, in Portsmouth Dockyard.  Start time was 7 am and we clocked in at No 4 Boathouse and we were introduced to Mr Smart.  He informed the four of us that we would be working with a gang called “Fitters Afloat West” and that I should walk along the road, collect an ill fitting brown boiler suit on the way, and on to No 4 dry dock and find a fitter called “Arfer” who was to look after me for the next 8 or so weeks.

In No 4 dry dock was a Port Auxiliary Service (PAS) fresh water tanker “Freshford” (ex RFA) as this was as near to an RFA as possible i.e. not a warship.  She had been on layup on the trot out in the harbour for a couple of years and was being brought back into service and given a quick and dirty refit to give another 5 or so years work. Freshford was one of 12 or so water tankers built during the war to provide water, either potable or boiler feed to ships.  I think they must have had limited water capacity of about 200 tons as the engine and boiler room stretched to just under the midships wheelhouse.

I duly found “Arfer” who wished to be known as “Art” looking at the deck steam main line that ran from the underside of the wheelhouse to the windlass forward, about 60 feet in length with a few bends thrown in.  The pipe was constructed of two inch diameter steel pipe with four bolt flanges.  It had suffered in layup due to the frost and had to be renewed.  Art gave me a 2lb club hammer and a chisel and asked me to remove the flange nuts so that the pipe could be dismantles, taken to the pipe shop and be re-made.




Not being used to such work it was not long before the knuckles on my left hand were red and bruised and started to bleed with the mis-hits of the chisel.  It took me some time to get into the swing of things with 8 to 10 hits of the hammer to crack each nut off.  I could not reach the bottom inside nut due to the curve of the tumble home.  I worked all day and the next to get the nuts off but still could not get the inner bottom nuts split.  This is where “Art” came into his own.  He only had a few months to go to retire after over 45 years in the yard and got an extra 6 shillings (30 pence) a day to look after me and this increased his pay and hence his final pension which made him look on me a bit more favourably.

I’m sure that “Art” was short for “Artful” after all that time in the yard as Art had a word with a welder working nearby who burned the nuts off in about 5 minutes and it cost me 5 cigarettes, the currency of the yard for favours.  He also found a pair of leather gloves rather belatedly.

Once the pipes had been consigned to the pipe shop we turned our attention to the windlass.  The bearings were stripped down, the crank pins and main bearings checked for true and the white metal bearings scraped in using engineers blue and after messing around with shim leads were taken.  These were thin strips of lead left in the bearing, the bearing tightened up and then released and the thickness of the squashed lead would give some indication of the internal bearing clearance, about 2 thou per inch of pin diameter.  The scraped bearings had to be covered with the engineers blue dye for about 80% of its surface.  The windlass was reassembled and connected to a nearby air compressor (more cigarettes) and turned over as there was no steam.

We also worked on the steering engine in a similar way. This engine was located under the wheelhouse.  The wheel was connected directly to the differential valve on the engine which controlled the direction of operation of the engine, the hunting gear driven by the engine ran to return the differential valve to its central or neutral position.  In doing so it moved chains laid down each side of the deck via rollers etc to the rudder stock and moved the rudder.




We then went into the engine and boiler room to work on the ‘Weir’ cargo pump.  This was the only independent pump in the engine room, all the rest being driven off the main reciprocating engine.  The pump was stripped down and Art explained the rather complicated workings of the Weir pump valve gear.  Being a single cylinder, a complex method of putting steam at each end of the cylinder was required.  The movement of the piston rod moved an auxiliary valve at the back of the valve box and this admitted steam to the bells surrounding a shuttle valve which moved over and applied steam to the opposite side of the pump piston.  The shuttle reversed position toward the end of the stroke and steam was applied to the other side of the piston.

The pump was in good condition requiring only a light grind of the valve faces to ensure minimum leakage.

I was taken off the Freshford after about a week and sent to work on HMT Grinder which was a diesel electric paddle tug which was one of a number designed to go under the over hang of aircraft carriers.  The starboard paddle had been damaged in an “accident” with a floating log platform which kept ships about 6 feet from the jetty side.

This class of vessel was of some importance to the operations of the Royal Navy and it is interesting to have a look at the class as a whole, as well as the brief careers of the individual members of the class.





Class particulars

Builder: Lytham Shipbuilding and Engineering Co Ltd, Lytham, Lancashire

Length: 121 feet                           Beam: 24.5 feet                         Draught: 10.5 feet

Displacement: 285 tons gross

Machinery: 1 x 3cylinder triple expansion engine by builder, Scotch return tube boiler, single screw.

Speed: 9 knots

Crew: 8

A class of fourteen vessels, all of which were built by Lytham Shipbuilding and Engineering Co Ltd, at Lytham in Lancashire. Twelve of the class served as RFA vessels on Yard Class Agreement during the war, being transferred to the Admiralty Yard Craft Service to join the other two members of the class between 1945 to 1947.  They were a development from the Blossom and Fountain classes and were known under their technical name of the 200 ton class.



Class List

Freshwater – Laid down on the 29 November 1939, launched on the 23 March 1940, in service 10 September 1940.  Sailed from Seine Bay (b Channel) on the 19 September 1944 on Convoy FBC 78 and arrived in Weymouth Bay on the 11 September 1944, the following day she arrived in the Bristol Channel.  Sold out of service in 1968 to commercial interests and renamed Rio Grande.




Freshet – Laid down on the 26 March 1940, launched on the 6 July 1940 and in service on the 10 December 1940, with Pennant number X 102. Sailed on Convoy UR 4 on the 28 December 1941 in tow of the tug Husky, bound for Reykjavik where she arrived on the 2 January 1942. Ceased to be an RFA vessel on the 9 November 1945, when she was sold out of service.




Freshbrook – Laid down on the 19 June 1941, launched on the 5 November 1941 and in service on the 17 April 1942, with the Pennant number X 107.  The vessel ceased to be an RFA on the 2 January 1946 and was allocated to the Admiralty Yard Craft Service with the Pennant number A 213.  Broken up at New Waterway in August 1963.





Freshener – Laid down on the 6 November 1941, launched on the 16 March 1942 and in service on the 22 July 1942 with the Pennant number X 109.  Stricken in 1971.


Freshlake – Laid down on the 18 March 1942, launched on the 15 July 1942 and entered service on the 14 November 1942, with the Pennant number X 120.  Sailed in two Convoys during World War 2, the first was Convoy EN 238 sailing from Methil on the 4 June 1943, arriving at Loch Ewe on the 6 June 1943.  The second convoy was Convoy RV 130 which sailed from Reykjavik on the 8 August 1944, arriving at Loch Ewe on the 12 August 1944.  Broken up in August 1980. 


Freshmere – Laid down on the 16 July 1942, launched on the 23 November 1942 and entered service on the 22 March 1943 with the Pennant number X 117.  Sold in December 1975 and scrapped the following year.





Freshpool – Laid down on the 26 November 1942, launched on the 11 March 1943, she entered service on the 3 July 1943 with Pennant number X 99. Sailed on Convoy TBC 3 departing Southend on the 10 December 1944 and arriving at Milford Haven on the 13 December 1944. In 1975 she was sunk as a target.



Freshwell – Laid down on the 18 March 1943, launched on the 2 July 1943.  In service on the 30 October 1943.  The vessel was sold and broken up at Passage West, Haulbowline Industries in January 1968.



Freshburn – Laid down on the 7 July 1943, launched on the 29 October 1943.  Entered service on the 1 April 1944, with the Pennant number X 60.  Broken up at Holland March in March 1982.





Freshford – Laid down in November 1943, launched on the 23 March 1944.  In service on the 18 July 1944 with the Pennant number X 63.  Sold out of service on the 16 August 1967 and broken up at Antwerp.




Freshtarn – Laid down in March 1944, launched on the 22 August 1944.  Entered service on the 22 December 1944 with the Pennant number X 47.  Sold in 1969.





Freshpond – Launched on the 28 August 1945, she entered service on the 22 December 1945 with the Pennant number X 76.  Sold out of service in 1977 and renamed ‘Dunkmouse’.


Non RFA Craft.


The following two ships never served as part of the RFA fleet, they were manned and operated by the Director of Stores. 


Freshspring – In service 1947 as a Fleet Water Tanker under control of the Admiralty Yard Craft Service.  During the 1950’s she was based on Malta.  Returned to the UK, where she served on the Clyde as a PAS vessel.  Laid up in the Gareloch in 1977 and subsequently put up for sale.  Sold in 1979 to a Bristol based company to evaluate alternative ship fuels.


Freshspray 01



Freshspray – There is no information available on this vessel.


These vessels provided a valuable service to the fleet during their careers, at the end of which six were sold for scrap, four were sold out of service, one was lost to an accident and one was sunk as a target.  Two of the vessels that were sold out of service are still around, the first which was the former “Freshspring” is lying in the River Severn at Gloucester awaiting a survey, so that she can be preserved and put on dsplay.




The other vessel that is known to be still around was the former “Freshwater” which was sold out of service in 1968 to commercial interests, she continues today as the “Porto Grande” in Mindelo, Cape Verde Islands, though she looks a little different to the ship that was launched by Lytham Shipbuilding in 1939.