Auxiliary Craft, Singapore

Discussion in 'The War at Sea' started by Bev Saylor, Aug 16, 2020.

  1. Bev Saylor

    Bev Saylor Member

    Beginning in 1939, the Royal Navy began requisitioning commercial vessels to serve as auxiliary patrol craft and minesweepers. By December 1941 over 50 vessels were in service, and the number almost doubled by the time Singapore fell. For the most part, the ships were manned by personnel from the Malayan Royal Navy Voluntary Reserve and the Malay Section, Royal Navy. Can anyone tell me how these vessels were organized? It would seem logical that they divided into Flottilas or Groups, with separate units for minesweepers and anti-submarine vessels. But, other than a statement that they were all under a "Captain, Auxiliary Craft" I have been unable to find out anything. Thanks for any information/leads you can provide!
  2. Roy Martin

    Roy Martin Senior Member Patron


    This may get you started, I have written quite a bit about these ships in my book Ebb and Flow. As you will most, possibly all the ships were manned by their original crews, supplemented by the reservist that you mention. This was particularly so at the time of the escape, when they were supplemented by many, including survivors from the Repulse and the Prince of Wales. If you look at the tragic tale of HMS Li Wo you will get some idea of the manning in Feb 42:

    'The principal Singapore-based shipping company was the Straits Steamship Company, which was associated with the smaller Sarawak Steamship Company. When war reached the Malay Peninsula, the company's ship, the Lipis, was requisitioned by the Royal Navy. A few days later the Kudat, Kelantan and Vyner Brooke joined her. In January 1942, these ships were then joined by the Ampang, Rompin, Relau, Hong Kwong, Sin Kheng Seng and Hong Thong.i

    All were hurriedly armed; the Masters and officers remained with their ships and were given temporary ranks in the Royal Naval Reserve (RNR) and the crews were retained under the T124 scheme.ii All fifty one of the company's ships were controlled by the government, thirty one sailing under the White Ensign. The company also took over the management of several other vessels, including some former Yangtze river steamers.

    When the Japanese landed in Sarawak in December 1941, the larger units of the fleet escaped, but most of the smaller vessels of the Sarawak Steamship Company were captured or sunk. Penang was bombed on 11 January 1942 and the Company asked the Naval Authorities if they could move their ships south, permission was refused and another seven of their ships were captured. By the end of January five more Straits Steamship Company vessels had been sunk. On 20 January the HMS Raub, under the command of Captain Lawes, was bombed off Belawan and capsized alongside the quay while the crew were attempting to make repairs. At about the same time the HMS Larut, under Captain Cleaver, was bombed and sunk at Sabang. The Master, officers and crew set off through Sumatra, where the engineers commandeered a train in Belawan and ran it south from there they crossed to Java.iii

    The Sarawak Company's HMS Jarak and HMS Tapah had been employed as minesweepers. In late January 1942 the Jarak under the command of Captain Hooper, formerly Chief Officer of the Kedah, went north to Batu Pahat to rescue 1,000 soldiers who were trapped there.iv The Hai Hing and the Klang sailed with refugees on 12 January 1942. The Sunetta and British Judge, both tankers, and the Talamba, the Aorangi and the Armilla, followed independently. Some or all may have had refugees aboard. On 16 January 1942 the Narkunda, Captain R. Lear, sailed with 407 passengers who were landed in Australia. Between then and 28 January, seven merchant ships sailed, again some with evacuees. Convoy NB1 left on 28 January 1942, the merchant ships were: the Cap St Jaques, the Darvil, the Ekma, the Ipoh, the Islami and the Pangkor and then the Rohna, all carried passengers. The Darvil and the Ipoh took 1,000 RAF personnel and their families to Palembang. The Pangkor is also listed as having RAF personnel aboard. The Islami (Mogul Line, Bombay), carrying about 1,000 Japanese women and children, succeeded in reaching her home port with her passengers.'

    i The transcription of Chinese names into the Latin alphabet results in a wide variety of spellings.

    ii See Introduction

    iiiFor this service Captain Cleaver was made an MBE in 1947.

    iv WO 222/2569 says about 2,000 were rescued 'by the Navy' it also says 'The Sikh battalion fought magnificently'
    CL1, Dave55, timuk and 1 other person like this.
  3. Roy Martin

    Roy Martin Senior Member Patron


    As for the husbandry of the requisitioned ships, this seems to have remained with the previous owners, or where they were in occupied territories, with a local (Singapore) company. I often wonder whether the senior officers even had time to get naval uniform made - I suppose being Singapore they could be knocked up overnight! The only photographs I have seen of Acting Temporary Lieutenant T Wilkinson VC are in hs MN Master's uniform.
    timuk likes this.
  4. Bev Saylor

    Bev Saylor Member

    Roy, Thanks for the prompt response! I knew the vessels requisitioned during the chaos of early 1942 came into service with their existing crews supplemented by a few reservists, and very little organization. But many of the auxiliary vessels were requisitioned in 1939-40 (one website listed over 30 of them), and I assumed (hoped) that the Royal Navy would have organized them into A/S and M/S Groups, similar to what the RAN & RNZN did with the ships they requisitioned. Looking forward to reading your book, Amazon says it will be here Wednesday...
  5. Roy Martin

    Roy Martin Senior Member Patron

    Bev, thanks for the order. The book covers the whole war, not just the retreat from Singapore. I can't be sure about the management of the ships that were requisitioned earlier, Li Wo and her sister were two such. I do know that they started their naval service still with their merchant crews in the main.
    Last edited: Aug 17, 2020
  6. daisy1942

    daisy1942 Junior Member

    Hi Roy,

    Long time no chatting. In your post (copied below) you mention MV Aorangi. Do you have any further details about her? Was she in the same convoy into Singapore with the Empress of Asia? We think Dad may have been on board as part of 6HAA.



  7. timuk

    timuk Well-Known Member

    No. MV Aorangi was in Convoy DM 1, arrived Singapore 13/1/42. Empress of Asia was in Convoy BM12, arrived Singapore 5/2/42.

    Roy Martin and CL1 like this.
  8. daisy1942

    daisy1942 Junior Member

    Thanks Tim,

    the convoy number should prove useful too!

  9. timuk

    timuk Well-Known Member

    MV Aorangi left UK 12/11/41 as part of Convoy WS 12Z. With other ships from this convoy it then formed DM 1 (Durban to Malaya) in South Africa.

    CL1 likes this.

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