The British Pacific and East Indies Fleets

The forgotten fleets that fought the Japanese in the Pacific and Indian Oceans



Depot/Accommodation Ship

Pennant No. B377


Battle Honours






Builder: Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Co. yard, Govan, Glasgow, Scotland

Displacement: 17,491 tons

Length: 6o0 ft

Beam: 72 ft

Draught: 29 ft

Speed: 17 Knots

 Crew complement: 328 (civilian manning)


Commanding Officers

CCdr. Ernest Colin Coats DSO, DSC, 10.11.1945 - 04.1946






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Early history

The Union Steam Ship Company liner M.V. AORANGI was built by the Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Co. yard, Govan, Glasgow, and was launched on June 17th 1924. She operated on the Vancouver-Sydney service and could carry 947 passengers in three classes, and had a complement of 328 officers and crew. At that time she was the largest diesel powered liner in the world. She departed Southampton on January 2nd 1925 on her maiden voyage to Sydney Australia; after passing through the Panama Canal she reached Vancouver on January 29th. She departed Vancouver on February 6th following the route that was to be her regular route, Vancouver to Honolulu, Suva, Auckland, and arrived at Sydney on March 3rd.

She was hired in October, 1940 to transport troops from New Zealand for Fiji; she was then transporting troops and airmen from Australia to Canada. The British Ministry of War Transport requisitioned her for war service in September 1941 and she left Sydney for the United Kingdom for service as a Troop Ship.

Aorangi made her first Atlantic crossing in the Trooping role in convoy TC.14 that departed from Halifax, Nova Scotia on October 9th 1941 carrying 2,126 Canadian troops, arriving at Greenock on October 17th. Her second voyage was carrying 2194 troops to Singapore via Freetown and Durban, with convoy WS.12Z; this sailed from the Clyde on Wednesday, November 12th 1941, and arrived at Freetown, Sierra Leone on Tuesday, November 25th. Three days later the convoy continued southwards, arriving at Durbin on December 19th 1941. AORANGI sailed from Durban with convoy WS.13/DM.1 on December 24th; DM.1 detached from WS 13 on December 31 1941 and made for Singapore, arriving there on Tuesday, January 13th 1942. After unloading she sailed independently for Australia January 16th (It is not known which ports she called at in Australia or the route and dates of her return voyage.) Her third trooping voyage was from Halifax to the Clyde as part of convoy NA.6; departed Halifax Saturday, March 21st 1942 and arrived on the Clyde Saturday, March 28th.

In April 1942, she made her fourth Trooping voyage to the Far East, sailing with convoy WS.18 from the Clyde on Wednesday, April 15th 1942; Arrived Freetown Wednesday, April 29th sailing for Capetown on May 3rd, arriving on the 15th. AORANGI sailed independently for Aden on May 19th. She next appears in New York City on July 1st 1942 as part of convoy AT.17 that arrived on the Clyde on July 12th. She sailed for her third WS convoy on July 28th 1942 carrying 3,090 troops, WS.21, departing from the Clyde for Aden via Freetown and Capetown. After calling at Freetown 10-15th August, she arrived at Capetown on the afternoon of August 27th. She sailed from Capetown on August 30th joining convoy WS.21A that formed at sea before proceeding to Aden where it dispersed on September 16th; after an 8 hour stop at Aden she proceeded to Port Tewfik, Egypt, arriving on the 20th. At Port Tewfik she disembarked Royal Air Force personnel via lighters as she lay in the harbour 1. Her destination after Port Tewfik is not clear.

Her whereabouts between October 1942 and April 1943 are not known. AORANGI is next recorded as sailing Monday, April 26th 1943 from Casablanca for Freetown in company with S.S. CLAN LAMONT and H.M.S. BOREAS escorting. From Freetown she joined convoy WS.29 on May 6th and arrived at Capetown on May 19th. From Capetown she joined convoy WS.29A that formed of the coast and set course for Aden; AORANGI detached from the convoy of Mombasa and proceeded to Kilindini. She departed Kilindini for Colombo as part of convoy KR.5 on June 16th 1943, arriving there on the 27th. She sailed the following day for Bombay in convoy MB.39, arriving there on Friday, July 2nd.

&As part of convoy CF.13 AORANGI sailed from Capetown to Pointe Noire in the Congo, sailing on Wednesday, August 4th 1943, arriving on the 11th; this was the return journey from the Far East to Algiers. She departed Pointe Noire for Freetown as part of convoy CF.13A on the 13th and arrived at Freetown on the 24th. From there she sailed on August 25th with CF.13B for Gibraltar, arriving there on the 31st. She sailed from Gibraltar with convoy KMF.25A, which was bound for Alexandria, but detached to proceed independently to Algiers. On leaving Algiers, she joined the Liverpool bound convoy MKF.26 off Oran, arriving at Liverpool on December 9th 1943.

AORANGI was to make one final trooping voyage in 1944, a round trip from the UK to Malta, departing from the Clyde in convoy KMF.29 on February 21st carrying 1,559 troops. She returned with convoy MKF.29 that had left Port Said on March 2nd for Liverpool, carrying 4,143 troops; she arrived at Liverpool on March 16th 1944 and entered a Liverpool dockyard a few days later.

D-Day Depot Ship

The ship was to be converted into a depot ship for the support of 150 tugs that would be involved in the D-Day operations; after conversion, she would be able to provide supplies and spares, engine repairs, hospital facilities and accommodation for reserve tug crews for the vessels that where involved with towing the artificial Mulberry harbours across the Channel. During her time on Operation Neptune Aorangi provided services to 1,200 vessels, and the hospital looked after hundreds of wounded men brought back from the landing beaches. She left Liverpool on April 29th 1944 and arrived at an anchorage off Lee-on- Solent on May 5th. This area of the Solent, off the town of Lee-on-Solent, was the marshalling area for the tugs; a signal tower atop a cinema in the town was used as the control centre for the whole operation. The Solent was very crowded by the end of May and many of the tugs were dispersed; AORANGI moved to Southampton where she remained in this role until she was relieved in the second week of July 1944 by the destroyer depot ship EMPRESS OF RUSSIA.

Allocated to the East Indies Fleet

AORANGI arrived on the Clyde on July 13th 1944 and on July 25th entered the Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Co. yard, Glasgow, for further conversion work to equip her as a submarine depot and crew accommodation Ship. It was intended that she operate as a depot ship for the 8 'T' class and 2 'S' class boats of the reconstituted 4th Submarine Flotilla at Trincomalee and would leave the UK in February 1945 (Winrton, Forgotten fleet p.249). Her departure for the Far East was delayed until March 1945, she departed the Clyde on March 31st with convoy KMF.42 bound for Trincomalee via Bombay and carrying 433 service passengers.

In April there was a reorganisation of the submarine forces in the Far East in light of changes in enemy activities; the depot ships were reallocated to new bases for operations, ADAMANT went to Freemantle (replacing MAIDSTONE which went to Subic Bay as part of the BPF) while WOLFE serviced the 2nd Submarine Flotilla at Trincomalee. On arrival at Trincomalee AORANGI was given new orders, there was no role for her to fill with the East Indies Fleet in Ceylon and she was sent to operate at Freemantle. She sailed from Trincomalee on V-E Day, May 8th 1945, escorted by H.M.S. ODZANI, the occasion was celebrated at sea on passage With convoy WO.4B, arriving there on Tuesday May 18th 1945.

AORANGI was to spend the next two months in Freemantle harbour working alongside HMS ADAMANT , the depot ship of the 4th Submarine Flotilla that had arrived there in mid April, she was responsible for nine 'T' class boats and the Submarine minelayer RORQUAL.

Reallocated to the British Pacific Fleet

In July she was reassigned to the British Pacific Fleet as a Submarine Spare Crew Accommodation Ship and sailed to join the Fleet Train at Manus in the Admiralty Islands. On her arrival at Manus on July 15th she was taken in hand by the Heavy Repair Ship HMS ARTIFEX and further converted to become the flagship of Commodore Fleet Train; this necessitated the creation of new offices, supplying additional telephones, furniture, etc. She was also fitted out as a Fleet Chart Depot and Fleet Medical Store-Issuing Depot.

Post War history

On August 30th AORANGI and elements of the Fleet Train sailed from Manus for Hong Kong to provide support for ships deployed for the re-occupation of the Colony and to restore services. On September 14th arrangements were made for the crews of the three submarines remaining in Hong Kong (remnants of MAIDSTONE's 8th Flotilla?), together with Staff Officer, Submarines Hong Kong, Cdr. A. F. Collett, DSC RN (formerly the British Naval Liaison Officer, HMS MAIDSTONE) and Spare Crew to be accommodated in AORANGI. (Note: There are newspaper reports of the Hospital Ship AORANGI reaching Darwin on September 22nd and then Brisbane on the 26th carrying 6700 Australian PoWs - this is almost certainly a mistaken ID and refers to the similar named, but dedicated Hospital Ship, ORANJE. At this point the AORANGI did not have the capacity to carry 700 passengers, especially those in need of medical care). By December 1945 AORANGI was fulfilling her original role of an accommodation ship, acting as a transit barracks for men released from war service and awaiting their turn to go home.

At the end of March 1946 108 Allied Prisoners of War and Internees were transferred to AORANGI from the troop ship STRATHMORE on her arrival at Hong Kong, for passage to Australia. AORANGI left the colony soon after the passengers were transferred, and arrived at No. 5 wharf Darling Harbour, Sydney at 09.54 on Friday 13 April 1946. She was released from War Service in May and returned to her owners. It was estimated that during the war years, this ship transported 36,000 troops and evacuated 5,500 refugees from war zones.

The Union Steam Ship Company had leased No. 5 wharf specifically to facilitate the work of refurbishing the ship and restoring her to commercial use. Work began in June but was severely delayed by industrial action being taken by engineers and dock workers in Sydney. Initially the dispute was over the payment of 'dirt' money to those working on AORANGI, during the war the men received dirt money for working in dirty places and the company had refused to pay the extra amount in peace time, the repair crews quit the ship at the end of June. By October a dockyard wide dispute over other working conditions would halt all repair work until the start of March 1947. The AORANGI was moved the Sutherland Dock, Cockatoo Island, on June 30th 1947 for hull work, and returned to No. 5 wharf on July 12th. It would be another year before she was ready; she put to sea for engine trials on Sunday August 1st 1948. The refitting job cost approximately £1,000,000 and was paid for by the British Government.

The M.V. AORANGI left Sydney for Auckland on the afternoon of August 19th 1948, carrying 486 passengers on her first post-war run to Vancouver. Due to more industrial action she left harbour without the aid of tugs. She was to resume a two monthly round trip service; the return leg from Vancouver sailed on September 19th. At the end of her commercial service the AORANGI returned to the Clyde, the river on which she was built, to be broken up for scrap; she departed Sydney on June 18th 1953, arriving at the yard of Arnott Young & Co., Dalmuir, on July 25th 1953.

Last modified: 16 June 2020


Primary information sources

Additional sources:

Tug Tales #14 Feb 1, 2014 Army STs at Normandy: Force Mulberry Details Word  Document

R.M.S. Aorangi II section of the Union Steam Ship Company  web pages. Accessed October 15 2014

Personal diary of James Ashton  R.A.F. covering the voyage from Greenock to Port Tewfik July to September 1942. Thanks to his Granddaughter Emmaline Bruce. Read the extract fro July 25th to September 25th 1942.  Acrobat format




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