RFA Cairndale


Cairndale 2

RFA Cairndale


Previous name:                         Erato

Official Number:                        167165

Class:                                        1st DALE CLASS Freighting Tanker

Pennant No:                              X36

Laid down:
Builder:                                      Harland & Woolf, Belfast
Launched:                                25 October 1938
Into Service:                             26 January 1939
Out of service:                          30 May 1941
Fate:                                         Sunk


Items of historic interest involving this ship: –


Background Data:  Originally there were to have been ninetween ships in this Class. The first six were purchased off the stocks for the British Tanker Co Ltd whilst building at the instigation of the then Director of Stores, Sir William Gick, who was concerned at the age of the RFA Fleet and ships that were approaching the end of their economic lives. A further two ships were purchased from Anglo Saxon Petroleum Co Ltd for evaluation purposes. At the outbreak of WW2, a further eleven ships were acquired from the MoWT war programme although one of these, to have been named EPPINGDALE, which had been registered in London as EMPIRE GOLD on 21/02/43 and intended for transfer to the Admiralty for manning and management as an RFA and despite five Officers being appointed to her, the intended transfer was cancelled the following day and she thus never entered RFA service. Three of this Class were converted into LSG’s and were then reconverted back into tankers at the end of the War


25 October 1938 launched by Harland & Wolff Ltd, Belfast as Yard Nr: 1014 named ERATO for Anglo Saxon Petroleum Co Ltd, London

16 December 1938 Mr J G Black RFA appointed as Chief Engineer Officer

3 January 1939 Captain Reginald J Harland RFA appointed as Master



Captain Reginald J Harland RFA


23 January 1939 registered at London 16/1939

24 January 1939 sailed on builders trial from Belfast Lough

26 January 1939 completed. After running trials she was purchased by the Admiralty for evaluation purposes and was renamed CAIRNDALE

31 January 1939 on passage to Trinidad

8 August 1939 arrived Old Kilpatrick OFJ from Trinidad

11 August 1939 sailed Old Kilpatrick OFJ and passed the Lloyds Signal Station on the Lizard sailing east for Devonport

14 August 1939 passed the Lloyds Signal Station on the Lizard sailing west

August 1939 sailed Plymouth for the Clyde arriving 21 August 1939

1 September 1939 Mr J B D Payne RFA appointed as Chief Engineer Officer

4 September 1939 sailed Old Kilpatrick, Clyde to Avonmouth and loaded approximately 150 drums of petrol as deck cargo

10 September 1939 arrived at Avonmouth

13 September 1939 sailed Avonmouth – independently to Milford Haven

14 September 1939 sailed Milford Haven in escorted convoy OB4 to Freetown, Sierra Leone to act as base oiler arriving 26 September 1939

7 February 1940 sailed Freetown independently for Dakar – arrived 10 February 1940

12 February 1940 sailed Dakar independently for Freetown – arrived 14 February 1940

1 April 1940 sailed Trinidad independently to Freetown

11 April 1940 sailed Freetown independently to Dakar arriving 14 April 1940

19 April 1940 sailed Dakar independently to Trinidad arriving 27 April 1940

6 May 1940 arrived at Bermuda

7 May 1940 sailed Bermuda in escorted convoy BHX41 joining the escorted convoy HX41 which had sailed from Halifax on 13 May 1941 to the Clyde arriving 23 May 1940

20 June 1940 under going repairs on the Clyde.

27 June 1940 sailed the Clyde to Scapa Flow escorted by submarine tenders HMS BREDA and HMS WHITE BEAR arriving two days later

28 June 1940 while under escort (as above) HMS WHITE BEAR detected a submarine contact at 58°23N, 5°33W. All depth charges were expended by HMS WHITE BEAR and claimed sinking the contact 





29 June 1940 arrived at Scapa Flow

7 July 1940 sailed Scapa Flow with the cable ship ARIEL escorted by anti-submarine trawlers HMS THIRLMERE and HMS WINDERMERE to the Clyde arriving two days later

17 July 1940 sailed Milford Haven to Gibraltar in escorted convoy OG38 arriving 30 July 1940

5 August 1940 at Gibraltar

20 August 1940 Captain Stanley G Kent RFA appointed as Master


1 Stanley Kent

Captain Stanley G Kent RFA

image taken after WW2


13 October 1940 sailed Gibraltar independently to Curaçao arriving 27 October 1940

4 November 1940 sailed Curaçao independently to Gibraltar arriving 19 November 1940

26 March 1941 sailed Gibraltar escorted by corvettes HMS’s FLEUR DE LYS and COREOPSIS for operation PEDESTAL, the refueling British ships in 32°30N, 32°30W

6 April 1941 with HMS/m PANDORA at 32°30N, 32°30W

Hms pandora sub


8 April 1941 in the North Atlantic 330 nautical miles (610 km) west of Madeira, Portugal (33°00′N 23°52′W) ss Helena Margarita was torpedoed and sunk by the German Submarine U-107 (Kapitänleutnant Günther Hessler) with the loss of 27 of her 36 crew. Her remaining 9 crew members (the Master, six crew and two DEMS Gunners) were rescued by RFA CAIRNDALE on 14 April 1941

11 April 1941 operation PEDESTAL cancelled toegther with HMS/m PANDORA returned to Gibraltar, arriving on 17 April.

1941 the ships engineers of RFA CAIRNDALE constructed a lectern and presented it to the Minister and congregation of St. Andrew’s Church,  Governors Parade, Gibraltar



The Lectern is still in daily use in the church (2010)


17 April 1941 berthed at Gibraltar under the escort of HMS/m PANDORA

28 April 1941 in drydock at Gibraltar

   25 May 1941 fitted for OAS operations, she sailed from Gibraltar with the store ship City of Dieppe escorted by HMS/m SEVERN to act as the oiler for Force H,  the Squadron hunting the German battle cruiser BISMARCK and patrolled in the vicinity of 43°00 N 35°00 W. After the BISMARCK was sunk, she was ordered to return to Gibraltar

30 May 1941 when in position 35°19N 08°33E, 100 miles NW of Casablanca in the Eastern Atlantic under escort of HM corvettes COREOPSIS and FLEUR DE LYS torpedoed with two torpedoes by the Italian submarine Guglielmo Marconi and sank in four minutes.  Four members of the crew were killed and have no known grave but the sea. The three who died are remembered with pride on the Tower Hill Memorial and one on the Halifax Memorial, Canada. Her Master and other survivors were saved by the rescue tug  HMS ST DAY and were landed at Gibraltar. The wreck of the ship is recorded as where she was attacked – details above



Three of those who died are recorded on the Tower Hill Memorial


One – Able Seaman Norman Cameron Macallister – is also remembered in Old Monkland Cemetery, Coatbridge, Lanarkshire, Scotland




3 June 1941 onboard HMS MAIDSTONE at Gibraltar a Court of Inquiry was held to investigate the sinking of RFA CAIRNDALE with Captain George A W Voelcker Royal Navy as President and with the members being Commander E T Cooper Royal Navy of HMS WISHART and Lieutenant G E Luckett Royal Navy of HMS FAULKNOR

4 June 1941 the Court of Inquiry submitted its report to the Vice Admiral commanding the North Atlantic. The report indicated that the President and members were of the opinion that –

  1. the CAIRNDALE had been torpedoed by a submarine from the port side. One torpedo had passed ahead, one torpedo had hit the No: 3 cargo tank and one torpedo had hit the engine room
  2. the Commanding Officer of HMS FLEUR DE LYS should have given detailed instructions as to the speed and zig-zag to be carried out by the escort
  3. there was no good reason for HMS FLEUR DE LYS to have been stationed on CAIRNDALE’s quarter and to have remained there for 1¾ hours abaft her beam when the Commanding Officers expressed intention was to cover the whole of the port side of the ship
  4. the Commanding Officer of HMS FLEUR DE LYS had commited a serious error of judgement in ordering RFA CAIRNDALE to cease zig-zagging after the Royal Naval screen had taken up their stations. With the known presence of submarines in the area every possible precaution should have been taken and the zig-zagging of the tanker was an obvious precaution
  5. it was unfortunate that flag and sound signals from the tanker had been rendered useless by the explosion
  6. the small spread of the torpedoes suggested that the submarine fired from close range and evidence from those who sighted their track confirmed their firing position. From this position of attack (1000 yards on the tankers port beam) HMS FLEUR DE LYS would have been at extreme asdic range at the moment of firing. This emphasised the bad stationing of FLEUR DE LYS in the position abaft the beam of CAIRNDALE   

The Flag Officer Commanding North Atlantic in a signal to, among others, the 1st and 2nd Sea Lords at the Admiralty stated that the loss of RFA CAIRNDALE appeared to have been a combination of stupidity and lack of experience by the Commanding Officer of HMS FLEUR DE LYS and so he did not intended to try him before a court-martial but it was evident that he was unsuitable for command of his ship and as such was relieved of that command

18 July 1941 registry entry closed on advice from the Admiralty



1. Her and her sister RFA CEDARDALE were similar in dimensions (but not in appearance) to the six British Tanker Company ships purchased at the same time. In addition, they had  two tanks built into their foreholds with a separate system, which held 75 tons of cargo lubricating oil. Two of the main cargo tanks had been blanked from the main cargo line to carry 1000 tons of petrol