The British Pacific and East Indies Fleets

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



Heavy Repair Ship

Motto: None

Pennant No. B301


Battle Honours

Pacific 1945





Builder: Swan Hunter and Wigham Richardson Ltd. Wallsend-on-Tyne, United Kingdom

Displacement: 13,984 tons

Length: 520 ft

Beam: 65 ft 3 In

Draught: 32 ft 4 In

Speed: 15 Knots

 Crew complement: 592


Commanding Officers

Capt. Harry William Cuthbert Hughes, DSO, RN 28 Sep 1939
Capt. Ivan Walter Whitehorn, RN 15 Jan 1940 -Mar 1942

Capt. Charles Cecil Fleming RN 14 April 1944
Capt. Henry Samuel Allan, RNR Aug 1945 - Apr 1946






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Early history

Formerly the liner S.S. AURANIA (III) of the Cunard White Star Ltd, Liverpool: launched February 6th, 1924, she made her maiden voyage on September 13th, 1924 sailing from Liverpool to New York, later transferred to the Liverpool-Quebec-Montreal route in 1925; she was to continue operating this route until 1928 when she began sailing London to Montreal direct. On August 24, 1939 Aurania was requisitioned for war service and was fitted out as an armed merchant cruiser and commissioned into the Royal Navy on October15th.

She was to have a charmed existence in this role; on July 14th 1941 while escorting a convoy from Halifax bound for Reykjavik weather conditions deteriorated, thick fog enveloped the convoy concealing ice fields and icebergs. AURANIA emerged from a fog bank on a collision course with and iceberg, despite evasive manoeuvres she struck the ice Bow on. ||The ship managed to slowly make its way to Halifax for emergency repairs, before making her way down to Newport News, Virginia, for dockyard repairs. Work was completed on September 12th and she returned to Halifax.

On October 21st 1941 was hit by a torpedo from the German submarine U123 while escorting convoy SL 89, from Halifax, bound for the Clyde. The ship immediately listed to port but the flooding was controlled and she managed to reach Rothesay Bay on the 23rd. (It is unclear whether the AURANIA was repaired on her return to the Clyde, but on March 9th 1942 she was purchased by the Admiralty for conversion into a Base Repair Ship.

She was moved to Devonport Naval Dockyard for the radical transformation work. On December 1st 1942 her name was changed to HMS ARTIFEX. Her conversion took nineteen months to complete; she was commissioned as HMS ARTIFEX on May 10th 1944, Captain Charles Cecil Fleming, RN in command. She sailed from Plymouth eight days later, reaching Greenock on the Clyde the following day to begin her work-up and post modification shake-down. By the beginning of June 1944 ARTIFEX had arrived at Portsmouth and is known to have been alongside in the dockyard during the build-up to the D-Day invasion; it is not clear if she had any role in Operation ‘Neptune’, it seems unlikely as she sailed for the Far East 5 days after the Normandy landings.

Allocated to the East Indies Fleet

HMS ARTIFEX was nominated for service with the Eastern Fleet and she joined Convoy KMF.32 for the first leg of her voyage to Ceylon; this convoy departed form the Clyde on June 11th 1944, and arrived at Port Said on June 24th. After passing through the Suez Canal and transiting the Red Sea she sailed from Aden on July 4th, arriving at Bombay on the 10th. She began her final leg on July 14th with local convoy BM.95 Bombay to Colombo, arriving there on July 18th. She was to spend the next six months in Ceylon, before she was allocated to join the British Pacific Fleet.

Reallocated to the British Pacific Fleet

HMS ARTIFEX sailed from Trincomalee for Fremantle on January 25th 1945, in company with he Destroyer Depot Ship TYNE and Repair Ship RESOURCE, the destroyer LEWES, and 7 ships of the 22nd Minesweeping Flotilla provided close escort, while the cruiser HMS. LONDON provided ocean escort. The commercial tanker BATTLE-ROCK sailed in company.

ARTIFEX and TYNE left Freemantle for Sydney escorted by the Sloop HMS CRANE. After a brief stop at Sydney to store ship and refuel, they proceeded to the Fleet's advanced base at Manus, in the Admiralty Islands, arriving there in early March to join the logistic support ships of the Fleet Train, which was assembling there in preparation for moving up to the forward anchorage in the Philippines. ARTIFEX sailed for Leyte Gulf on March 19th in the second Fleet Train convoy, in company with HMS LOTHIAN (flagship Rear Admiral, Fleet Train) HMS SLINGER, HMS TYNE, and the civilian manned ships EMPIRE SPEARHEAD, ARTIFEX, BACCHUS, WAVE KING, WAVE MONARCH, ARNDALE, DINGLEDALE, FORT COLVILLE, AASE MAERSK, DENBIGHSHIRE, ROBERT MAERSK, and THYRA S., HERMELIN; they anchored in San Pedro Bay on the 26th.

ARTRIFEX's repair teams were hard at work almost as soon as she anchored; the fleet carrier HMS FORMIDABLE arrived in San Pedro Bay on April 4th having developed cracks in the bulkhead carrying the stern tube of her centre propeller shaft while on passage from Australia to the operational area. This resulted in flooding of the stern tube compartment, the ship's own divers at Leyte Gulf did repair work, and repairs to the bulkhead were carried out by ARTIFEX, allowing the ship to join in the operations as planned. A few weeks later emergency repairs were made on the Landing Ship Infantry (Large) HMS GLENEARN; she had suffered serious damage and loss of life when her forward petrol tank exploded. She was on route from Sydney in company of HMAS NIZAM and HMAS NORMAN with supplies for the Fleet Train when the explosion occurred on April 18th off New Guinea. Engineers from ARTIFEX made modifications to the Petrol storage system, as well as making her safe for a return voyage to Sydney where she was to be properly repaired.

At the end of April when the carriers of Task Force 57 completed phase one of strikes against the Japanese homeland, operation ICEBERG I, (March 26th to April 20th) and withdrew to Leyte in the Philippines between April 23rd and May 4th. The Fleet Carrier HMS Indefatigable took up position near the repair ships HMS ARTIFEX and HMS RESOURCE. She required repair to damage from a hit by a 550lb bomb-carrying Zeke Kamikaze off Okinawa on April 1st; her damage control teams managed to return her to operational condition but damage to her Island superstructure and armoured flight deck required the services of the heavy repair ships. Damaged armoured plates and steel work was removed and replaced within six days, allowing the ship to continue operations with the fleet as planned.

The ships of TF57 withdrew from the forward area on May 25th on completion of ICEBERG operations and proceeded to Manus and Australia for replenishment. The Fleet Train also withdrew to Manus sailing in two convoys, one on the 20th and the second on the 25th.

At Manus ARTIFEX worked on HMS AORANGI, a Submarine Spare Crew Accommodation Ship, was taken in hand on her arrival at Manus for conversion into 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. The Hospital Ship GERUSALEMME was also repaired at Manus after suffering a serious fire on board (date of incident unknown). Starting on August 20th a team from ARTIFEX carried out repairs on the Destroyer HMAS NEPAL while she docked by Admiralty Floating Dock No. 20.

Post War history

On September 4th the Fleet Train sailed from Manus for Hong Kong to provide support for ships deployed for the re-occupation of the Colony and to assist in restoring services ashore. ARTIFEX (and many other vessels) were loaded with emergency medical supplies and teams were put ashore to repair the hospital. Her crew also repaired other local services like parts of the tramway system and generators.

ARTIFEX was due to leave Hong Kong in early February for Sydney, but she was delayed by boiler problems and did not arrive in Australia until the third week of February, arriving at Brisbane for repairs. She entered the Cairncross dock and conducted a period of defect rectification and a boiler clean.

On leaving Brisbane she prepared for the return voyage to the UK, calling at Sydney and then Freemantle where she arrived on April 7th; she was to spend 10 days alongside at berth No. 5 North Wharf where she took on passengers and stores, including 1,728 cases of foodstuffs for the UK. She sailed from Freemantle for Colombo on April 17th. Still suffering boiler problems she limped home, finally arriving at Barry Docks in South Wales in June 1946.

ARTIFEX was initially placed in reserve at Gareloch but by 1948 she was being used as a training vessel attached to HMS CALEDONIA, the RN training establishment for shipwright artificer apprentices at Rosyth, ARTIFEX was berthed at the south-west corner of the basin, two miles from CALEDONIA. She remained in that berth until 1955 when she was then placed in reserve and finally laid up, placed on the disposal list and sold for scrapping. HMS ARTIFEX Left Rosyth under tow on January 7th 1961 for breaking at La Spezia, Italy.

Last modified: 23 February 2023


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Comments (17)

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Topic: A History of H.M.S. ARTIFEX
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Kevin Adderley
Jul 2022
Kevin Adderley (UK) says...

My dad , Kevin Adderley , served on the Artifex in WW2. I recognise many of the places mentioned from my dads stories. They spent some time in Gladstone, Queensland, where they were billeted with local families. My dad stayed in touch with his hosts, the Buttetworths, until his death

James W Burke
Mar 2022
James W Burke (Ireland) says...

My Uncle Dennis George Burke served on HMS Artifex as Able Seamen. He got the Burma Star. Didn't know much about his time in WW2 but he worked for the Port of London Authority afterwards, on a swing bridge. Taught me chess as a kid ;-)

Trevor Love
Jul 2021
Trevor Love (Elizabeth East, South Australia, Australia) says...

Hi looking for a crew list from ww2, my father in law was on this ship James William Bailey, believed to be a CPO, so looking for any information for my wife, her father died when she was 13 and has limited information about her father

Steve Mills
Apr 2021
Steve Mills (UK) says...

Hi everybody,

My father in law, who is no longer with us was a petty officer on the artifex, he told me a story of pedro the monkey, does that ring any bells?

Does any body have photos of the artifex?

My email is:

Susan teare
Jul 2018
Susan teare (Oxfotd) says...
John, my father Don Jacobs was also an Electrical Artificer on the Artifex. Sue
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