WW1 LEAF Group Freighting Tankers

The WW1 LEAF Group Freighting Tankers


by James R Smith


The outbreak of World War 1 authorised the Admiralty (under the “General Authority of the Crown”) to requisition any completed British-registered vessel and this was later enlarged to include any partly-built ship by British shipbuilders. The 18 vessels which ultimately made up this LEAF Group were a result of this. They were not all sister ships and were of varying dimensions and age. Some had already seen Admiralty service as units in the Special Service Squadron during which , following conversion from cargo ships, by Harland & Wolff Ltd., at Belfast, they had masqueraded as Dummy Battleships or Battle-Cruisers under the White Ensign until the disbandment of the Special Service Squadron in July 1915. They were then purchased by the Admiralty for conversion into tankers which were then intended to serve with the Fleet Coaling Service which, later during WW1, morphed into the Fleet Fuelling Service as Royal Fleet Auxiliaries. All were renamed with the – OL suffix viz:



Original Name                                Masqueraded as                       Planned Oiler Name   


      Cevic                                 Battle-Cruiser HMS Queen Mary                          Bayol

    Lake Erie                                 Battleship HMS Centurion                               Saxol

  Montezuma                                Battleship HMS Iron Duke                               Abadol

  Mount Royal                               Battleship HMS Marlborough                           Rangol

     Patrician                                 Battle-Cruiser HMS Invincible                           Tarakol


The other 13 ships in this Group were all vessels which were under construction when acquired by the Admiralty for completion as tankers which were also originally intended to serve as Royal Fleet Auxiliaries. They too were allocated Admiralty names all but one beginning with the – OL prefix viz:
















In order to minimise possible perceived breaches of neutrality, particularly where the USA was concerned, it was strongly felt that it would be necessary to attempt to conceal the true Admiralty identity of these vessels, now being known as deep-sea freighting tankers or overseas oilers. A plan was hatched to run these vessels on mercantile lines under management of a private commercial company, with all naval fittings being removed to further conceal their Admiralty identity. The firm chosen to run them was Lane & MacAndrew Ltd, London who were to become responsible for the re-registering and renaming of all 18 vessels.. There is no evidence to support the idea that any of them had actually ever been registered under their Admiralty-allocated OL names, which were quickly dispensed with and replaced with the Lane & MacAndrew Ltd-allocated LEAF-suffixed names viz:





ASHLEAF ex-OLGA                                                  FERNLEAF ex-OLEANDER

ASPENLEAF ex-SAXOL                                            HOLLYLEAF ex-OLEASTER

BAYLEAF ex-BAYOL                                                LAURELLEAF ex-OLALLA

BEECHLEAF ex-OLMOS                                           LIMELEAF ex-OLIGARCH

BIRCHLEAF ex-OLDBURY                                         MAPLELEAF ex-RANGOL

BOXLEAF ex-OLINDA                                                OAKLEAF ex-ABADOL

BRIALEAF ex-OLETTA                                               PALMLEAF ex-OLIPHANT

DOCKLEAF ex-OLEARY                                            ROSELEAF ex-CALIFOL

ELMLEAF ex-OLIVET                                                 VINELEAF ex-TARAKOL


Despite all appearances e.g. the LEAF names appeared in Lloyds Registers with the “Owners” shown as Lane & MacAndrew Ltd., but this was a deliberate and covert subterfuge and the ships all actually remained as Government property, They served as Oiler Transports under the Red Ensign with a Y7-prefixed number which clearly defined them as Mercantile Fleet Auxiliaries and thus none of them ever entered operational service as Royal Fleet Auxiliaries – a fact often overlooked or misconstrued which over the years has led to misguided and perpetuated errors concerning their true identities.

Within Admiralty and Ministry of Shipping documents these tankers were also known as Overseas Oilers.

After the Armistice the disposal of, what were considered surplus tankers, became a point of interest.

December 1918 it was approved by the Finance Committee that surplus Admiralty-owned vessels would be disposed of centrally by the Ministry of Shipping. The Director of Stores presumed ‘financial adjustment’ between the Ministry of Shipping and the Admiralty would be made for vessels paid for by Navy Votes on a basis of exchange of ship-for-ship rather than on a financial basis – in lieu the Admiralty received 15 ‘Z’ tankers (War class). Of the ships being disposed of some of them subsequently served as tankers in the Anglo Saxon Petroleum, Co Ltd and the British Tanker Co Ltd fleets. These LEAFS should not to be confused with the Admiralty’s six-strong TRINOL (or FAST LEAF ) Class of Fleet Attendant  Tankers which were all still in service on the outbreak of WW2