RFA Darkdale


RFA Darkdale


Previous name:                      Empire Oil

Offical Number:                      165991                                                                         

Class:                                      1st DALE CLASS Freighting Tanker

Pennant No:

Laid down:                               October 1939
Builder:                                     Blythswood Shipbuilding Co Ltd., Glasgow
Launched:                                23 July 1940
Into Service:                             November 1940
Out of service:                         22 October 1941
Fate:                                        Sunk off Jamestown, St. Helena, South Atlantic Ocean.


Items of historic interest involving this ship: –


Background Data:  Originally there were to have been 19 ships in this Class. The first 6 were purchased off the stocks fro 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 2 ships were purchased from Anglo Saxon Petroleum Co Ltd for evaluation purposes. At the outbreak of WW2, a further 11 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 5 Officers being appointed to her, the intended transfer was cancelled the following day and she thus never entered RFA service. 3 of this Class were converted into LSG’s and were then reconverted back into tankers at the end of the War


23 July 1940 launched by Blythswood Shipbuilding Co Ltd, Scotstoun as Yard Nr: 61 named EMPIRE OIL for the MoWT and originally intended for management by Eagle Oil Transport Co Ltd, London

5 October 1940 Captain Thomas H Card RFA appointed as Master and Mr Alexander B McIntyre RD RFA (Lieutenant Commander (E) RNR (Ret)) appointed as Chief Engineer Officer


Alex Bain McIntyre photo

Chief Engineer Officer Alexander B McIntyre RD RFA


14 November 1940 sailed on trials from Tail of the Bank

15 November 1940 completed. Acquired by the Admiralty and renamed DARKDALE

19 November 1940 damage sustained by the British trawler s.s. OTTERHOUND whilst alongside

21 November 1940 sailed the Clyde in Liverpool escorted convoy OB246 under charter to Anglo Saxon Co Ltd to Curaçao to load gasoline – single voyage. Arriving 11 December 1940.

14 December 1940 sailed Curaçao independently to Trinidad arriving 16 December 1940

21 January 1941 sailed Bermuda in escorted convoy BHX104 which also contained RFA DELPHINULA  to Belfast Lough arriving on 9 February 1941

13 February 1941 sailed Belfast Lough to Greenock arriving 14 February 1941. To drydock for unspecified repairs

28 February 1941 caused damage to the British tanker s.s. PETROPHALT in Loch Long


Petrophalt 01



7 March 1941 sailed the Clyde independently to Oban 

5 May 1941 sailed Oban independently to the Clyde arriving the next day

13 May 1941 sailed Tail of Bank to River Clyde for repairs

21 June 1941 sailed in Liverpool escorted convoy OB 338 dispersing on 3 July 1941 to sail independently to Curaçao arriving 12 July 1941

15 July 1941 sailed Curaçao independently to Jamestown Bay, St. Helena

4 August 1941 arrived Jamestown Bay, St Helena to act as Fleet Oiler there, carrying  3000 tons of fuel oil, 850 tons of aviation spirit, 500 tons of diesel oil and also some lubricating oil. Caused slight damage to the Norwegian tanker m.v. Nyholm prior to arrival

7 August 1941 refuelled HMS ORION alongside





21 August 1941 refuelled alongside HMS ALBATROSS

25 August 1941 refuelled alongside the Armed Merchant Cruiser HMS CILICIA



© IWM (A 13139)

26 August 1941 refuelled alongside HMS JUPITER

30 August 1941 refuelled alongside HMS AVON VALE

31 August 1941 refuelled alongside HMS ERIDGE

17 September 1941 refuelled alongside with the aircraft carrier HMS EAGLE (part of Force F) – damage was caused by the tanker to HMS EAGLE during the night when fenders were smashed and jump nets and a ladder leading to the flight deck carried away due to the prevailing swell





18 September 1941 refuelled alongside HMS DORSETSHIRE (also Part of Force F)




image taken in August 1941

23 September 1941 refuelled alongside HMS ENCOUNTER and HMIS SUTLEJ

24 September 1941 refuelled alongside HMS REPULSE

Between 25 September 1941 and 27 September 1941 loaded fuel from the Norwegian tanker Egero on three occasions supply about 8,000 tons of fuel oil

22 October 1941 whilst anchored in position 15°55.03 S 05°42.15 W off Jamestown Harbour torpedoed by German submarine U68 (Kapt Karl-Freidrich Merten) – reported that Darkdale exploded and turned over and sank. The U-boat fired four torpedoes but the Jamestown Harbour Master reported hearing only three explosions.

The U-Boat Captain reported in the submarines log: –

On course 20° shifted to the port side behind the tanker.  In so doing closed to under 300 meters, after turning again to port [to open out], boat brought about [with one engine ahead and the other reversed]

To shooting position, course 148°, tanker bow left, target angle 80-100°, range = 500 meters, 56 meters water.  Distance from 15 cm battery 1800 meters, light battery 2000 meters. 

Boat must be seen at any moment, especially from the high shore. Therefore decide to hit the tanker a devastating blow.

Four independently aimed shots with shifting impact points.  First two Etos then 2 Atos, depth 4 meters.

Port diesel ahead AK turned hard to starboard, after 32 seconds detonations at intervals of 1-2 seconds of all four torpedoes.

1st hit:  stern superstructure

2nd ”    centre

3rd  ”    forward third

4th  ”    centre

After the third detonation flames flicker up, after the 4th one giant tongue of flame.  Nothing more is seen of the tanker, however the water burns with 20-30 meter high flames.  Masts bridge, part of the superstructure travel through the air.

Since the boat first needs to pick up speed in order to turn around, I am afraid of getting into the flames.  Moreover the boat is lit as bright as day, the entire coast, harbour, barracks, and batteries are all illuminated in the red glow.


41 crew members were killed – for details of their names see the Roll of Honour [1941]. The Captain & Chief Engineer were ashore


Memorial in St. James’ Church, Jamestown, St. Helena
Courtesy and © of The War Graves Photographic Project

The crew who were lost are also remembered with pride on the Tower Hill Memorial, London

Darkdale1 TH

Darkdale2 TH


and on the Cenotaph on the sea front at Jamestown, St. Helena within sight of where the ship was sunk and where they died



 4th Engineer Officer George Andrew Rodgers RFA is also commemorated in the Book of Remembrance at Peterborough Cathedral  – albeit in error the Book of Remembrance shows 4th Engineer Rodgers as a Sub Lieutenant (E) Royal Navy

23 October 1941divers examined the wreck and shipping was diverted clear of St Helena


Darkdale 2015 1

courtesy of  the Major Moss album and with grateful thanks to the St Helena Museum


25 October 1941 a memorial Service was held on the Wharf overlooking the spot where she had exploded and sunk

RFA Darkdale sunk museum copy

courtesy of and with grateful thanks to the St Helena Museum

Canon and Bishop conducting memorial service 25 10 41

courtesy of and with grateful thanks to the St Helena Museum


RFA Darkdale’s bow


29 April 2009 during a visit to St Helena by RFA GOLD ROVER a memorial service was held at the Jamestown Cenotaph and wreaths were laid


Darkdale Memorial Jamestown St Helena 

RFA Darkdale Memorial in Jamestown, St. Helena



Captain Paul Minter RFA, Commanding Officer, RFA Gold Rover lays his wreath at the RFA Darkdale memorial in Jamestown, St. Helena

© The St. Helena Independent acknowledged


November 2012 HMS PROTECTOR visited St. Helena during a South Atlantic deployment and took multibeam images of the wreck of RFA DARKDALE

Dkdale side scan 1

Dkdale side scan 2

These multibeam images are © Crown copyright 2012 produced by the MOD and are reproduced on the Historical RFA website with the permission of Defence Intellectual Property Rights

5 December 2013 a highly detailed report on the RFA Darkdale was published this day after the ship had been examined by the Salvage and Marine Operations Department of the Ministry of Defence. This reported that the wreck lies broken in two sections some 600m offshore of Jamestown. The bow section lies in approximately 30 m of water on a heading of 035 degrees and is inverted with the deck lying very slighly angled to starboard. The stern lies on its port side on a heading of 056 degrees approximately 8 m from the bow section in 40m of water

21 February 2014 the MOD’s Salvage & Marine Operations Department has this day invited tenders for the removal of the oil on RFA Darkdale. The date for submission of tenders is given as 17 March 2014

2 July 2015 the lead ship Pacific Dolphin arrived in Jamestown Bay from Cape Town to commence removal of oil from RFA Darkdale

Between 2 July 2015 and 7 July 2015 divers working for the Ministry of Defence have removed 38 high explosive shells from the wreck of RFA Darkdale off Jamestown, St Helena and these have been dumped in deep water (over 1,000 m deep) some 2 miles off the coast

8 July 2015 the second ship under contract to the MOD’s Salvage & Marine Operations Department, the Pacific Supporter, arrived in Jamestown Bay to join in the work in the removal of oil from RFA Darkdale. She carried moorings and oil spill equipment


Pacific Supporter

Pacific Supporter when using a previous name


13 August 2015 the MOD team completed the removal of all the oil in Darkdale’s tanks into the tanker Golden Oak and as a final act of rememberance of those who were killed when the ship was sunk flew the RFA Ensign on the ship


Darkdale Ensign1




On the previous morning a resident of the Island who lived in a cottage along the cliff tops above James Bay, rushed into town to report that he had spotted a submarine. He was not taken seriously and his claim was not relayed to the Master of RFA DARKDALE. He had in fact spotted U-68, one of the first German submarines to venture to the South Atlantic. On the evening in question, the Master, Chief Engineer and Purser were dining with the Garrison Commander in the military barracks above Jamestown, 2 Ratings lay in Jamestown Hospital  and a further 2 Ratings were on a run ashore, trying to get back to their ship when the torpedoes struck at approx 00.15. Only 37 names are inscribed on the Tower Hill Memorial.

The first British ship sunk south of the Equator during World War 2.