RFA Somersby/Reliant

   RFA  Somersby/Reliant




Ian Richardson




 ss Somersby before RFA service

 RFA Reliant 2

RFA Reliant


Before the Second World War Sir R. Ropner & Co. Ltd., were the owners of one of the largest fleet of cargo carrying tramp ships flying the Red Ensign, with 45 ships owned at the beginning of September 1939 and a further 3 delivered in 1940.  During the war 33 ships wholly owned by the company and a further 11 vessels managed on behalf of the British Government were lost to enemy action.  Three further ships were lost by accidental causes.

The contribution to the war effort was great, but so were the losses.  These losses amounted to 391,139 deadweight tons and 234,489 gross tons.  A total of 638 personnel were lost including 17 masters, 2 apprentices and 7 passengers.  Because of the success of company vessels in both the First and Second World Wars, by fighting back against U Boats  the firm earned the title “Ropners’ Navy”.

Following the end of the war it was necessary for the company to replace the ships lost and to build up the fleet again. Advantage was taken of the opportunity to purchase Standard War Built Ships, many of which had been managed by the company on behalf of the Ministry of War Transport.

A total of 6 Empire Ships were purchased.  Five of these ships had been built by Wm. Gray and Co., Ltd. of Hartlepool.  This company had been responsible for building many of the pre war ships ordered by Ropners’.  Six Standard Built Ocean Ships built in the USA, and two Liberty Ships also built in the USA were also purchased.  Additionally one managed Empire Ship built in the USA in the 1920’s and one German War Prize were also absorbed into the company.

The company had always been involved in the “Tramp Shipping” trade, where the vessels went where and when cargoes needed transporting.  However a large part of the business following the end of the war involved ships sailing between the US Gulf and UK/Irish ports.  It was therefore decided to commence a “Liner” service whereby the ships were placed on a regular timetable and regular route.  This was usually between New Orleans and London/Liverpool, although ships also called at Bremen, Hull and Dublin.

The motor ship mv “Moorby”, (1936) which had survived the war, inaugurated the Ropner Liner service, sailing from Hull on the 28 September 1946 loading at New Orleans and Houston for London and Bremen.

Following the early success of the Ropner Gulf Line, and indications were that there was potential to develop the service further it was decided to build two purpose built cargo/passenger liners.  These identical sisters were “Daleby” and “Deerpool” being built by Sir James Laing and Sons, Sunderland.  Both ships were delivered in 1950 and could carry 12 passengers being 5,171 tons gross and 7,770 deadweight.

Following the profitability of these two ships in the Liner trade it was decided to build two larger cargo/liners, also capable of carrying 12 passengers.  These were to become “Somersby” and “Swiftpool”.  “Somersby” was also built at the yard of Sir J. Laing and Sons, Sunderland whilst “Swiftpool” the larger of the two was built at the yard of the Caledon Shipbuilding and Engineering Co., Dundee.

“Somersby” was ordered early in 1952 from Sir J. Laing and Sons, at Deptford,  Sunderland.  She was yard Number 801 and was launched on the 9 September 1953 by Miss Merle Ropner, elder daughter of Co. Sir Leonard Ropner Bart M.P. one of the company directors.  Her name followed the pattern of the other ships of the Ropner Shipping Company being named after villages in Yorkshire or Lincolnshire ending in “by.”   Somersby being a small village north east of Horncastle in Lincolnshire.  Ships of the Pool Shipping Company carried names ending in “pool.”

The ship had a gross tonnage of 5893 tons and deadweight of 9200 tons.  A length overall of 469 feet (440 feet between perpendiculars) a beam of 61.4 feet and a summer dead-weight draft of 26 feet 2.5 inches. Built to Lloyds Classification +100A1+LMC+RMC class 1 ship open shelter flush deck.

Her accommodation was designed to carry 12 passengers, housed in four double and four single cabins.  The accommodation was of a particularly high standard for the time, as was the accommodation for the officers and crew.

She was fitted with a Doxford 6 Cylinder 2 stroke Diesel engine developing 7500 BHP for a service speed of 16 knots.  The engine was built by Hawthorn Leslie at their engine works at St. Peters near Newcastle on Tyne.  The engine works had no facilities for installing the engines into ships, nor did Laings Deptford Yard have the facilities for engine installation alongside their premises.  “Somersby” was therefore towed from the Wear to the Tyne to have the engines installed by North East Marine at their Wallsend yard, using a floating crane.

Originally due for completion in December 1953 delays in the fitting of the engines was further compounded by delays due to bad weather meant “Somersby” was not completed until 4 March 1954.

Whilst sailing from the builder’s yard at Sunderland to London she made an average of 19.2 knots down the east coast.  She sailed on her maiden fare-paying voyage under the command of Captain J. Kenny from London to Miami and averaged 16.4 knots on the journey.

Early in 1957 the decision was made by the Directors of Sir Ropner & Co. Ltd., to pull out of the “liner” trade.  This had been made unprofitable by competition from United States and continental companies, and strikes in the UK that often delayed sailings or meant that ships were diverted to continental ports making it difficult for passengers to make their way home in the U.K.

All four ships of the Line were retained but put on the “tramp trade” going where and when a cargo was available. 

In the early 1950’s the shipping market went into decline and as a result many ships were either sold or scrapped.  One of the company’s hit by this decline was the China Navigation Co. Ltd.  Like Ropners’ the company had placed orders for two passenger/cargo liners about 9,500 tons gross.  These ships were for the trade between Australia and Asia, but due to the economic situation these vessels became redundant before completion.  They were named “Chungking” and “Chungchow” being built by Scotts on the Clyde.

“Chungking” entered service in 1950 and sailed for under two years for China Navigation, but was bought in 1952 by the Admiralty for use as a Fleet Replenishment vessel.  She was chartered out and managed by Buries Marks until undergoing her conversion to a stores carrier by Palmers at Hebburn from 1954 to1955.

“Chungchow” was taken over upon completion in 1952 and manned by RFA personnel from 1957.

“Chungking” was renamed “Retainer” being scrapped in 1980 and “Chungchow” was re named “Resurgent” being scrapped in 1981.

Following the successful acquisition and conversion of these two ships The Admiralty were quick to spot that “Somersby” might be available for their use for conversion to an air stores issuing ship and quickly made Ropners’ “an offer they could not refuse”.  It is reputed that the offer was in excess of the sum she cost to build, and “Somersby” was transferred to the Admiralty ownership in August 1957.

The ship had not actually been surplus, and the three other ships of the Line, “Daleby”, “Deerpool” and “Swiftpool” were successfully “tramped” for a number of years.  The two sisters being sold to Yugoslavia in 1960 and “Swiftpool” to the British India Line in 1964.  “Somersby” was indeed replaced with a new build – “Willowpool” that entered service in 1960 having been built in Sweden at a discounted price.  “Willowpool” was somewhat larger, and was the last mid engined ship in the owned by one of the Ropner companies. The last mid engined ship in the fleet was the “Lake Atlin” managed on behalf of the Western Canada S.S. Co. Ltd., and sold in 1966.  “Daleby” ended her time on the liner route when requisitioned by the Government between 5.11.56 and 8.1.57 for service in the Mediterranean during the Suez Crisis.

In  August 1956 mv “Somersby” was taken up on charter for 3 months at the time of the Suez Crises.  ss “Bellerby”  mv. “Daleby” and ss “Cedarpool” also owned by the company were chartered and used as part of “Operation Musketeer” and returned either at the end of 1956 or beginning of 1957.  “Somersby” however, does not appear to have directly been used in this Operation and was returned to her liner trade on the 1 October 1956.

On the 3 August 1957 the Admiralty purchased her and the ship became RFA “Somersby” on the 11 August 1957. She sailed as a stores freighter for a few months, used for the de-storing of the naval base at Trincomalee in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) following the withdrawal of the Royal Navy from that island.

The Chief Engineer of “Somersby” upon her transfer was Bill Young and he stayed with the ship during the guarantee period.  However he was soon invited to join the Royal Fleet Auxiliary being poached from Ropners’.  He remained with the Royal Fleet Auxiliary being promoted to Commodore Engineer in 1967 and remained in this rank until he retired in 1972.  He died in 1989.

In February 1958 “Somersby” she was taken in hand for conversion at Smiths Dock, at North Shields for conversion to an Air Stores Issuing Ship. The conversion consisted of extending the superstructure aft to provide extra accommodation for personnel, re shaping her internal spaces and adding another steel deck.  Holds were refitted with shelving and storage for the carriage and easy access to spare parts.  Extra generating capacity and naval radio installations were also added during the refit.  Two extra boats in the form of 42 feet Naval Stores Tenders were carried on the extended superstructure. These tenders were used for transferring stores in harbour or at an anchorage, and also when appropriate for beach parties! She had 700 tons of ballast added and her gross tonnage was increased to 8460 tons with deadweight of 9290 tons on a maximum displacement of 13737 tons. (Light displacement 4447 tons)  Her maximum speed was now 18 knots, and a service speed of 16 knots; she carried 1298.5 tons of bunkers that gave her an endurance of 50 days.



RFA Somersby


She carried between 30 and 40,000 types of aircraft spares and general Naval stores, from ¼ inch washers to 2-ton flight deck tractors.  Her six holds were fitted out to make her, at the time, one of the most up to date travelling store rooms afloat, and any one of the thousands of different items of stores could be located by the civilian stores officers on board and taken up on deck within a few minutes.  The very latest automatic tensioning winch, which was fitted on deck, permitted the converted ship to transfer stores even in rough conditions   She was extensively equipped for replenishment at sea with 6 RAS points – forward heavy rigs to port and starboard and with light jackstays to port and starboard, after heavy rig to port and starboard.

The conversion was completed on the 23 September 1958 and she was re named RFA “Reliant.” at Rosyth. She retained her Ropner – West Hartlepool port of registry, and was allocated pennant number A84 with International Call Sign GRLK.  The ship carried a crew of 102 – 110 Royal Fleet Auxiliary personnel (British officers and Chinese Ratings) and the ship also carried the regular RFA black top to her funnel.

She sailed from Chatham for the Far East on the 4 November 1958 where she was to be based in support of the Royal Navy Aircraft Carriers East of Suez.

Upon arrival in the Far East, one of the first tasks undertaken by “Reliant” was to be part of a convoy along with RFA’s “Resurgent” and “Tidesurge” taking the role of merchant ships. This was part of an exercise taking place between the 1 and 21 December 1958 involving the cruiser HMS “Ceylon,” destroyers HMS “Cheviot” and “Cavalier” the frigate HMS “Cardigan Bay” and the U.S. Submarine USS “Sablo.”

Early in 1959 RFA “Reliant” was in support of HMS “Albion” (in aircraft carrier role) when the carrier was flagship of FO2 FEF during visits to Australia and New Zealand.

In July 1959 HMS “Centaur” arrived in the Far East, and on the 18 August 1959 HMS “Albion” left the area for the U.K.

RFA “Reliant” then supported HMS “Centaur” in the Middle and Far East until that carrier left for the UK.  On the 18 April 1960 HMS “Centaur” commenced the northbound transit of the Suez Canal ceasing to be the operational carrier east of Suez, being replaced by HMS “Albion” which took up her place in the Far East once again.

In May 1960 RFA “Reliant” was the first RFA to fly a Commander in Chief Flag (Vice Adm. Dave Luce) on passage from Singapore to Hong Kong.

 HMS “Albion” remained in the Far/Middle East until December 1960 when she returned to the UK to be taken in hand for conversion to a Commando Carrier.

RFA “Reliant” returned to the UK in August 1960 and was refitted by Henry Robb, Leith when 49 feet by 52.5 feet helicopter cargo platform was fitted on her stern.  Although the ship did not carry a helicopter this allowed helicopters carried by the aircraft carriers she was supporting to either land, or to pick supplies from the deck.  Empty containers could also be dropped for replenishing prior to collection.  The cost of this refit was estimated at £403,000.

She was also equipped with a refrigeration installation and some 30300 cubic feet in insulated storage for victualling and NAAFI stores, and she lost the black top to her funnel to improve appearance.

Following this refit RFA “Reliant” returned to the Far East in support of the carriers operating in that area.

In June 1961 RFA “Reliant” was operating with the carrier HMS “Victorious” in the Far East, when because of a threatened invasion of Kuwait by Iraq, the carrier was sent with all haste to the Persian Gulf, after the British Government received a plea for help on the 27 June 1961 from the Government of Kuwait.

The Commander in Chief Middle East, Air Marshall Sir Charles Elworthy prepared to send troops and equipment, (Operation Vantage) and 42 Commando were ear marked for embarkation on HMS “Bulwark” having been recently converted to a Commando Carrier.  She sailed from Karachi on the 29 June 1961 for the Persian Gulf.

The Royal Navy Task Force consisted of HMS “Victorious” (later relieved by HMS “Centaur”) HM Ships “Camperdown”, “Finnisterre,”  “Saintes”, “Cassandra” (Destroyers) “Loch Fynne,” “Loch Ruthven”, “Loch Insh”, “Llandaffe”, “Yarmouth” and “Lincoln” (Frigates) the landing craft HMS “Messina” and the 108 Minesweeper Squadron from Malta.  Royal Fleet Auxiliaries in support included RFA’s “Reliant”, “Wave Master”, “Wave Ruler”, “Orangeleaf”, “Pearleaf”, “Fort Constantine”,Fort Dunvegan”, “Fort Sandusky” and “Retainer”.

The Arab League had managed to gather together to provide protection for Kuwait and the crises was averted and the Task Force disbanded.

RFA “Reliant”, returned to her usual duties in the Far East and the ship underwent a refit at Hong Kong in 1962.

In mid 1963 RFA “Reliant” was supporting HMS “Ark Royal” and HMS ‘Hermes”.  HMS “Hermes” left the Far East for the UK in August 1963 and because of mechanical problems HMS “Victorious” was sent to the Far East to replace HMS “Ark Royal.”

During her commission in the Far East from 1963 to 1964 HMS “Victorious” was served most of the time by RFA “Reliant”.  “Victorious” left Aden on the 13 September 1963 en route to Singapore.  She rendezvoused with HMS “Ark Royal” in the Straits of Malacca near Singapore, and then “Ark” headed off to the Middle East in company with the frigate HMS “Plymouth”.

The work up of HMS “Victorious” was delayed due to mechanical problems.  However she sailed on the 16 October 1963 from Singapore to resume operational duties and her aircraft squadrons re joined the ship.  Accompanying the carrier were the warships H.M Ships “Loch Alvie” “Alert” “Amphion” and the Royal Australian Frigate “Quiberon”.

Shortly after sailing from Singapore RFA “Retainer” topped up the carrier with ammunition but on the 19 October 1963 failure of an auxiliary fuel pump on the centre propeller shaft caused the ship to withdraw for repairs to Hong Kong.

En route RFA “Tidereach” provided more fuel and RFA “Reliant” passed over some 80 tons of stores.  HMS “Victorious” then proceeded to Hong Kong for the repairs to be carried out.

HMS “Victorious” was in Hong Kong for 14 days, following which she left in company with HMAS “Quiberon” and “Vendetta,” HMS “Salisbury” RFA’s “Reliant”, “Retainer,” and “Tideflow.”    Exercises were carried out with the submarine HMS/M “Anchorite.”

During this period 18 RAS’s were carried out between “Reliant” and “Victorious” which used up about 7 tons of food and stores each day.

The crew of “Reliant” quickly got to know the ways of those on board “Victorious” and always understood even when items came back over the forward rig which had just been passed over the aft rig during the same RAS!

On the 2 January 1964 HMS “Victorious” left Singapore for Exercise “Cocktail” once again RFA “Reliant” was in support.  The exercise was carried out with the New Zealand Frigate HMNZS “Taranaki” and HM ships destroyer “Diana”, frigate “Lincoln” and submarine “Andrew”

Following these exercises HMS “Victorious” accompanied by HMS “Diana” and RFA “Reliant” headed off to Mombassa before sailing to the island of Gan.

At this time there had been an army revolt in Tanganyika, and fearing this might spread, HMS “Victorious” was ordered back to Mombassa on the 23 January 1964 and on the 28 January 1964 to Dar es Salaam to take over from HMS “Centaur.”

During this deployment the diving team from HMS “Victorious” returned RFA “Reliant” to operational status on four separate occasions.  Twice in six weeks her screw was badly fouled when leaving Mombassa by a six inch manila rope and at sea by some 35 turns of heavy jack stay wire.  To carry out the second job a team was flown to her by helicopter, and the screw was cleared at anchor after four hours of diving.

In 1965 the ship transferred to the Mediterranean and joined HMS “Eagle” group and sailed east of Suez including service off Aden 

During 1966 RFA “Reliant” operated in the Indian Ocean supporting ships carrying out the Beira Patrol carrying out a 3 ship RAS with the carrier HMS “Eagle” and tanker RFA “Tidepool”. Later that she was back to the Far East year with supporting HMS “Victorious” and HMS “Hermes.”

Along with HMS “Victorious”, RFA “Reliant” paid a visit to Sydney, Australia, on the 27 October 1966.  Other ships in the Group with the destroyer HMS “Hampshire,” the frigates H.M. Ships “Arethusa,” “Cleopatra” and “Leander,” and the submarine HMS “Oberon.”

From 18 to 22 November 1966 RFA “Reliant” was in port in Bunbury, South West, Australia.

“Exercise Candywrap” took place later in November 1966 off the coast of New Zealand, and RFA “Reliant” was one of the ships involved in the first 5 ship RAS.   This operation took place whilst the ships were steaming at 16 knots in the Java Sea. The other ships being the ‘Leander” Class Frigates HMS “Leander” and HMS “Cleopatra” the carrier HMS “Victorious” and RFA “Olynthus” (later re named “Olwen”) as well as “Reliant.”  Astern of this group at the same time was the Destroyer HMS “Hampshire” which was carrying out vertical replenishment trials with RFA “Resurgent” and a Wessex Helicopter of 814 Squadron

The following year (1967) in the Indian Ocean RFA “Reliant” participated in a 6 ship RAS along with HMS “Hermes”, RFA “Retainer, HMS “Galatea” RFA “Tideflow” and HMS “Minerva.”

On the 28 November 1967 “Reliant” was part of the Naval Task Force present at the withdrawal from Aden.  Other ships involved in the final steam past were RFA “Retainer’ RFA “Tidespring” HMS Eagle, HMS Albion, HMS Intrepid, HMS London HMS Ajax and HMS/M Anchorite.

Toward the end of September 1968 one of the largest operations of the time, “Operation Coral Sands” took place off the cost of northern Australia.  It was the invasion of Northern Australia using the plans prepared by the Japanese during the Second World War.

United States forces including the Australian Aircraft Carrier HMAS “Sydney” were the opposing forces, and RFA “Reliant” was one of the vessels supporting the Royal Navy and Royal Australian Navy.

Initially the carrier HMS “Hermes” destroyers, HMS “Glamorgan” “Defender” “Diamond” “Diana” HMAS “Vendetta” the frigates HMS Euryalus, Grenville, HMAS “Parramatta” supported by RFA’s “Reliant” and ‘Olna’ were involved but they were later joined by amphibious force comprising of HMAS Sydney in her role of a troop carrier, Commando Carrier HMS “Albion”, repair ship HMS “Triumph”, Assault Ship HMS “Intrepid” the destroyer HMS “Caprice” and the RFA’s “Tidespring” and “Tabartness.”

Royal Naval units taking part were H.M. Ships, “Hermes,”  “Albion,” “Intrepid”,Triumph”, “Forth” , “Glamorgan,”  “Fife,” “Diana”, “Defender,” “Caprice”, “Euryalus,” “Puma”,Onslaught”, “Cachalot,” “Andrew”, “Bossington,” “Kirkliston” and “Maxton” as well as RFA.’s “Fort Rosalie,” “Reliant”, “Tarbatness,” “Tidespring”, “Gold Ranger” and “Pearleaf.”  HMAS “Sydney” and the tanker HMAS “Supply” also participated.

During the exercise RFA “Reliant” undertook a 4 ship RAS with HMS “Diana”,Hermes” and HMAS “Supply.”

The landing took place at Shoalwater Bay to start a four-day battle for Queensland, the exercise being completed on the 13 October 1968.

RFA “Reliant” was back in the UK in 1969 for refit, spending Christmas at Portsmouth before heading off back to the Far East.  Following refit her name was cut in black and given ½ inch white edging.

Back in the UK early in 1971, RFA “Reliant”  joined the carrier HMS “Eagle”  and the replenishment group consisting of “Resource” and “Tidepool.” Leaving the UK at the end of May and arriving at Capetown on the 1 June en route to the Far East.

HMS “Eagle”  along with “Reliant”  and escorts HM Ships “Glamorgan” “Danae”, “Achilles” , “Jaguar”, HMAS “Ovens” HMNZS “Waikato” and “Wirangi” carried out exercises between Australia and New Zealand visiting Sydney 4 – 9 August 1971 followed by Wellington in New Zealand later in the month.

During September/October 1971 British Naval Forces finally left Singapore and RAF “Reliant” was supporting HMS “Eagle” during that time.  RFA “Reliant” along with the Frigate HMS “Jaguar” visited Bunbury in Australia from 8 to 14 September 1971.

In 1971 she was granted a Ship’s Badge.  This was a” Joining shackle in a studded chain cable, over wavy sea, on a blue background,” representing the reliable link in the Fleet Train.

HMS “Eagle” left Singapore to sail back to the U.K. arriving back in Portsmouth on the 26 January 1972.  There were no longer any Royal Navy Aircraft Carrier east of Suez and only one HMS “Ark Royal” operational.

After her return to the UK in March 1973 she was de-stored at Portsmouth and then laid up at Rosyth in May 1973.

Following the completion of her major refit HMS “Ark Royal” was put at the disposal of NATO and spent her final years either in the Atlantic or the Mediterranean.   RFA “Reliant” on occasions supported the “Ark” in this role.

Whilst laid up the vessel took on the role of actor, playing the part of a hi – jacked merchant vessel in the BBC Television Series Warship.

This programme ran from 1973 to 1977 and concerned the adventures of a mythical “Leander” Class Frigate, HMS “Hero.”  Initially HMS “Phoebe” (F42) played the role but subsequent ships taking on the part included HM Ships “Danae” “Dido” Hermione”  “Jupiter” and HMAS “Derwent.”  Each time a shot included sight of the pennant number it had to be changed to F42 as in the first programme.

Russian Intelligence Agents operating nearby showed more than a little interest in the ship whilst HMS “Phoebe” was alongside at Gibraltar, but with her gangways emblazoned with the crest of HMS “Hero,” and displaying that name on her stern.

RFA “Reliant” was reactivated in May 1974 and between 6 to 10 October 1974 the vessel was off the Chagos Archipelago in the Indian Ocean where a rare bird was sighted from her decks.

From mid February to early March 1975 RFA “Reliant” take part in Spring Ex. which involved NATO and Royal Naval vessels in the North Atlantic and participated in a 5 ship RAS with HM ships “Ark Royal” “Ashanti” and RFA’s “Olna” and “Resource.”  Most of the ships then moved into the Mediterranean, including in addition to “Reliant” the destroyers, HMS “Fife,” “Norfolk” and “Glamorgan,” frigates HMS “Llandaff,” “Leopard,” “Ajax,” “Ashanti,” “Charybdis,” “Dido,” “Hermione,” “Jupiter,” “Nubian” and “Rothesay,” the submarines “Onyx” and “Olympus” and the tankers “Black Rover” and “Tidereach.” 

In May 1976 she was taken out of service once again until on the 2 September 1976 the Department of Trade advertised “SHIP FOR SALE” in Lloyds List.

“Offers are invited for the purchase of the under mentioned RFA ‘as lying’ at HMS Naval Base, Rosyth…………………”

Offers had to be received by the 28 September 1976.

She was bought by ship breakers at Inverkeithing and was towed the short distance to the breakers yard arriving there on the 23 August 1977 for the demolition to commence.  The spare propeller kept on the ship is now an exhibit at Chatham’s Historic Dockyard.

Throughout her service in the Royal Fleet Auxiliary she was known affectionately as The Yacht.   This was because of her sleek looks, plush wood panelled officer’s accommodation with curved sweeping staircase and “cruising” around the warm climes of the Pacific, Indian Ocean, and South China Seas.  There was also the opportunity to party on remote beaches using one of the Naval Stores Tenders that the vessel carried.  This nickname was restricted to use within the RFA. as The Yacht, could only mean Her Majesty’s Royal Yacht “Britannia” when used in Royal Naval circles!

A builder’s model of mv “Somersby” was also in the entrance hall to the offices of Sir Ropner and Company Ltd., 140 Coniscliffe Road, Darlington from the date the ship was delivered in 1954 until the company ceased trading in 1997.

Built as a cargo liner, used as a tramp and converted into a Naval Air Stores Ship, mv “Somersby”/RFA “Reliant” was a happy and popular ship whether flying the red or the blue ensign, and she served her original owners and the RFA well.

Whilst researching this article studying photographs of carriers and assault ships, “Reliant” can often be seen anonymous in the back ground, like a bridesmaid at a wedding, seen and not heard however she fulfilled a vital function keeping the carriers operating in the Middle and Far East until they were no more.  With their demise she was used for general replenishment duties and in major exercises before succumbing to the breakers torch in 1977.


History of the names.

“Somersby” (1)  Built in 1913 by Ropner and Sons Stockton,  3347 gross tons, wrecked in 1923 near Corunna.

Somersby (2)  Built in 1930 by Wm. Gray and Co., West Hartlepool  5768 gross tons.  Sunk by U111 13 May, 1941.

Somersby (4).  Built in 1971 by Harland and Wolf, Belfast 57255 gross tons.

Chartered to Broken Hill Pty., Australia whilst being built and re named “Iron Somersby” before completion.  In 1986 when the charter ended re named “Somersby” but put up for sale immediately and sold in 1987 being re named “Chia Yun.”   Scrapped in 1991.

“Reliant.” (1)  Built as “London Importer” in 1922 by Furness S.B. Co., Haverton Hill, Middlesbrough.  7938 gross tons. Purchased and converted to Stores Support Ship in 1933. Sold to Maltese owners in April, 1948 be re named “Anthony G.”  Re named ”Firdausa” in 1949 and scrapped in Pakistan in 1963.

“Reliant” (3)  Built as “Astronomer” by Gdansk Shipyard Poland for Harrison Line and completed in 1977.    27870 gross tons.  Was taken up from trade during the Falklands Conflict in 1982 and refitted in 1983 with the U.S. “Arapaho” containerised system, allowing merchant ships to be quickly converted to carry helicopters .Re named “Reliant”  in July 1983 she was not a success and was decommissioned in May 1986. 

Still on charter at the time the “Arapaho” equipment was removed and returned to the U.S. the vessel was then purchased by the Royal Navy, as this was the cheaper option rather then refit her and return her to her owners under the terms of the charter.  She was then immediately sold at a knock down price to Panamanian owners, and in October  1986 she was re named “Admiralty Island” and in 1989 “Wealthy River.”  She was scrapped at Alang, India in July 1998.


Ropner Record  1946 – 1955 (House Magazine of Sir R. Ropner & Co. Ltd.)

The Ropner Story    Ian Dear      Hutchinson Benham  1986.

The Late John B. Hill – Former Marine Superintendent, Houlder Brothers Ltd..

Captain (E) B. Nolan MA. Chief .Eng RFA (rtd)

Ms. Lorna Read, Naval Historical Branch (Naval Staff) Ministry of Defence.

Mr. Tom Adams (World Ship Society).

Marine News (World Ship Society)

Aircraft Carriers of the Royal and Commonwealth Navies.  D. Hobbs.Greenhill Books 1996.

Jane’s Fighting Ships   1967 and 1975.

Navy News

The following books by Neil McCart all published by Fan Publications;

HMS Hermes, HMS Victorious, HMS Eagle, Fearless and Intrepid.

Royal Fleet Auxiliary 1905 – 85  Tony James Maritime Books.

Royal Fleet Auxiliary in Focus.   Jon Wise.  Maritime Books.

The Royal Navy in Australia 1900 – 2000.   Ross Gillet and Vic Jeffrey.  Maritime Books. 

Cats and Cathedrals  P. Boniface  Periscope Publishing  2006.

British Warships  H.T. Lenton Hippo Books 1962.

Commission Books of HMS Hermes, HMS Victorious and HMS Leander (available on the internet).

Crisis Do Happen  (The Royal Navy and Operation Musketeer, Suez 1956) Geoffrey Carter Maritime Books 2006.

British and Empire Warships of the Second World War.  H.T. Lenton.  Greenhill Books  1998.

Ships of the Royal Navy (An historical index (volume 2)  J.J College.  David and Charles 1969.

British Warships and Auxiliaries.  Mike Critchley Maritime Books 1986.

Warship World.  (Autumn  1986)

Flight Magazine.   (December 1967).