RFA Polavon


RFA Polavon


The former Polavon at the point of capture by the German Auxiliary Cruiser Wolf


Previous name:                           Gutenfels
Subsequent name:                      Turritella,   Iltis  

Official Number:                          136811                                           

Class:                                         Distilling Ship / Oiler

Pennant No:                                Y4.147

Laid down:                              
Builder:                                       Flensburger Schiffsbau Gesellschaft, Flensburg
Launched:                                   18 November 1905

Into Service:                                August 1914 captured by the Royal Navy.

Out of service:                         
Fate:                                           Scuttled by German Prize crew on 5 March 1917


Items of historic interest involving this ship: –  


Background Data:   Some official lists, marked as  “Lists of RFA’s” show vessels which spent some time as RFA’s during the First World War. These records are extremely sketchy and some of these vessels were “Yard Craft”, partially or wholly Dockyard manned, partly by RNR or Reserve Fleet personnel. Some of the Depot Ships staffed by skilled civilian Dockyard workers were for a time White Ensign. The Director of Stores was understood to be concerned with their manning and operationally they remained under Admiralty control



18 November 1905 launched by Flensburger Schiffsbau Gesellschaft, Flensburg as Yard Nr: 254 named GUTENFELS for Deutsche Dampschiffahrts-Gesellschaft Hansa, Bremen

January 1906 completed

7 April 1906 sailed Colombo while on passage from Calcutta for Port Said

21 April 1906 sailed Port Said for Boston and New York

19 June 1906 sailed New York for Singapore, Manila and Yokohama

1 August 1906 berthed at Singapore from New York

1 December 1906 sailed Hamburg for Calcutta

15 December 1906 passed Sagres when on passage from Hamburg

22 December 1906 arrived at Port Said

21 February 1907 arrived at Suez from Calcutta

27 April 1907 arrived Port Said from Hamburg when on passage to Calcutta

19 June 1907 sailed Calcutta

8 July 1907 berthed at Singapore with Calcultta pilot who had been unable to get off the ship when she had cleared the port of Calcutta due to cyclonic weather

9 July 1909 chartered by the Hansa line to the United States and Australia Steamship Company

27 July 1909 sailed New York for Fremantle, Western Australia under the command of Captain Diedricksen

10 September 1909 arrived at Fremantle, Western Australia from New York to discharge at Victoria Quay

16 September 1909 sailed Fremantle for Port Adelaide

22 September 1909 berthed at Port Adelaide from New York and St. Vincent Cape Verde

27 September 1909 arrived at Melbourne sailing on 30 September 1909 for Sydney, NSW

2 October 1909 arrived at Sydney NSW sailing on 5 October 1909 for Brisbane

11 October 1909 arrived at Brisbane sailing on 13 October 1909 for Newcastle and Singapore

17 November 1909 berthed at Singapore with a cargo of 7,700 tons of coal for Penang

8 July 1910 sailed New York for Malta

25 July 1910 arrived at Malta while on passage for Port Said and Aden

1 September 1910 berthed at Calcutta from New York from Aden and Colombo

20 March 1911 arrived Bombay

3 June 1911 passed Gibraltar sailing east bound

30 June 1911 arrived Madras from Hamburg when on passage to Calcutta

22 September 1911 arrived New York from Hamburg

2 April 1912 sailed New York for London

22 August 1913 ran aground while approaching Sarawak Wharf, Labuan

23 August 1913 refloated. Loaded bunkers and salied for Rangoon on 25 August 1913

17 April 1914 arrived at Port Said while on passage from Hamburg for Karachi

August 1914 arrived at Port Said from Antwerp and berthed. The ship was seized by the Egyptian Army and the Captain of the Port directed that she leave the port with a new Captain and crew. Four miles outside the port the ship was stopped and seized by HMS WARRIOR as a prize and was taken to Alexandria

6 January 1915 after several days of hearings at the Prize Court at Alexandria the ship was deemed a Prize of War  Renamed RFA Polavon for service as a distilling ship/oiler

Press cutting Polavon

Press cutting from the
Manchester Evevning News of 8 January 1915 

1915 placed under civil management – Anglo Saxon Petroleum Co.

16 October 1915 Lieutenant Thomas E Thompson RNR appointed in Command and Engineer Lieutenant Frederick C Pavitt RNR appointed as Chief Engineer Officer

1 January 1916 pink list location shows her to be a Distilling Ship under the Command of the Vice Admiral, Eastern Mediterranean

22 January 1916 at Mudros HMS USK alongside drawing sweeping gear



In September 1916 whilst at Naples undergoing repairs to her sternpost and rudder allocated for conversion to a tanker.

October 1916 sent to Hong Kong for conversion work.

15 December 1916 when almost ready for trials, she was considerably damaged by fire which required a  further three weeks work.  Renamed Turritella.

7 January 1917 arrived Tarakan, Borneo to load her first cargo of fuel oil.

23 February 1917 sailed Colombo, Ceylon with Captain T G MEADOWS in command

27 February 1917 when on passage from Ceylon to Port Said with a cargo of fuel was captured by the German auxiliary cruiser Wolf in position 07.00 N 63.00 E, 600 miles west of Minikoi. Prize Crew placed on board. Ship renamed Iltis (translates as Polecat). Fitted out by the crew of the Wolf as a minelayer/raider by the addition of 5.2cm gun and 25 mines – both taken from the Wolf. Command given to Kaptain Leutenant Brandes with orders to lay her mines off Aden. Two of the crew were killed having jumped off the ship to avoid capture and were last seen swimming towards the shore  – Chief Officer Alan Campbell Cleland, (23) and 2nd Engineer A Steers both of whom are remembered with pride on the Tower Hill Memorial. The other English members of the crew had been taken prisoner on the Wolf. One of those taken prisoner was 2nd Officer Cecil Reginald Rosen who ended up as a prisoner of war at Karsruhe Prisoner of War Camp. After World War 1 and his release 2nd Officer Rosen continued in the RFA, was promoted and on 17 October 1922 made Acting Master of RFA Scotol

1 Cecil R Rosen

2nd Officer Cecil R Rosen RFA


5 March 1917 mines laid off Aden.  Then intercepted by HMS ODIN in the Red Sea and scuttled by her prize crew

March 1918 when the prize crew scuttled the ship by detonation of explosive charges some Chinese Firemen – her original crew – were still onboard in the engine room. They were killed. Members of the Prize crew were tried for Murder at Bombay in February/March 1918 – information from the New York Times and the Windsor Record, Ontario, Canada of 9 March 1918. Confirmed from the National Archives at Kew that on information from the Indian Government no such trial(s) took place.


1. the top picture is of the Gutenfels prior to her capture by the Royal Navy

2. lower picture is the moment of her capture by the German auxiliary cruiser