The British Pacific and East Indies Fleets

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



Naval Stores Issuing / Distilling ship

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Pennant No. B556 / A103


Battle Honours

Martinique 1809
Guadeloupe 1810





Builder: Caledon Shipbuilding & Engineering Company, Dundee, Scotland, United Kingdom

Displacement: 3,154 tons

Length: 320 ft

Beam: 49 ft

Draught: 18 ft

Speed:12 Knots

 Crew complement: 69


Commanding Officers

Captain Robert T Duthie RFA, May 1938
Captain R G Edmonds RFA, 7 February 1939
Mr Thomas Eggleston RFA, 15 March 1939
Captain Frederick S Harvey RFA, 16 February 1940
Captain Walter L Holtam RFA, 14 February 1945

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The Royal Fleet Auxiliary Stores Issue and Distilling Ship BACCHUS

Early history

The second RFA ship to bear the name, BACCHUS was ordered from the Caledon Shipbuilding & Engineering Company, Dundee, on December 17th 1935, as a replacement for her namesake of 1915. Her keel was laid down on February 14th 1936, as Yard Nr 358, and she was launched on July 15th 1936. She was originally built as an Admiralty design 3,154 ton naval stores carrier and initially operated out of Chatham; making regular 5 week runs to Gibraltar and Malta carrying essential naval, victualling and armament stores and occasionally small numbers of service passengers.

She sailed on her first Malta run in late May 1938, followed by a second in July. Her third run, in September, was extended to call at Alexandria, arriving back at Chatham in mid November. She resumed her normal 5-weekly run to Malta in December. She was at Chatham when War was declared on September 3rd 1939, and she made her last Mediterranean voyage later that month. On Saturday, September 16th 1939 while steaming in the Atlantic, 170 miles SW of Fastnet Rock BACCHUS was attacked by a U-Boat (possibly U-31 or U-33)1. she was narrowly missed by a torpedo but her gun crews successfully drove off her attacker.

During war-time she had a crew of 69 which included the captain and officers of the RFA service, lascar seamen, Goanese stewards, and a naval store staff of five headed by a deputy naval store officer who held a temporary commission as Lieutenant Commander RNVR (Special Branch). In addition there were 12 DEMs (Defensively Equipped Merchant Ships) gunners led by a Leading Seaman, and a naval signal rating for lamp work. For self defence she was armed with one old 4-inch breech-loading gun on the poop, a 12-pounder HA/LA gun mounted amidships above the engine room, and four oerlikon guns. For defence against mines she could stream four paravanes from the bow.

On her return to the UK in October she put into Falmouth for conversion into a Distilling Ship. She was fitted with two distilling plants recovered from the First World War Battleship HMS RESOLUTION. On completion of this work she reallocated to the Clyde as a Distilling Ship, Greenock becoming her base port. On March 11th 1940 BACCHUS, in company with RFA PRESTOL and BRITISH LADY and escorts HMS HASTY and HMS HOTSPUR departed from the Clyde for Scapa Flow. She was to remain at Scapa from March 17th 1940 till June 29th 1941 when she sailed for Methil Roads. She arrived at Leith Docks on July 1st 1941 to be modified to operate as a dual Naval Stores Issuing Ship (NSIS)/Distilling ship. She made a short visit to Rosyth on August 5th 1941, returning to Leith Docks on the 8th. She sailed for Scapa the following day, via Methil Roads, arriving at Scapa Flow on August 11th. BACCHUS remained here until February 25th 1942 when she sailed for Liverpool after a brief stop at Lyness.

Allocated to the East Indies Fleet

BACCHUS arrived at Liverpool on February 28th 1942; she was now allocated for service with the Eastern Fleet. Preparations were made to store ship and equipment for a Naval Stores Issuing Ship stocked to equivalent of six months stores for 20 destroyers or corvettes and a Distilling ship capacity of 250 tons per day. She sailed from the UK with Convoy OS-29 for Freetown on May 22nd 1942. The convoy arrived at Freetown on June 11th 1942; from there she sailed for Durban, South Africa.

She remained at Durban until Monday, July 20th when she sailed in convoy CM.30 for Aden. The convoy arrived at Aden on Saturday, August 8th. Her movements from here are not known, she next appears at Kilindini from where she sailed for COLOMBO with convoy KR.4 on Monday, September 21st. She developed engine trouble on passage and put into the Seychelles to make repairs, arriving at Colombo on Monday, October 5th. BACCHUS spent the next month working in Colombo harbour before sailing for Bandar Abbas, via Bombay, in convoy MB.17 on November 9th. BACCHUS arrived in Bandar Abbas on November 21st 1942. She remained here until April 10th 1943 when she sailed for Bombay, in convoy PB.35 arriving there on the 17th. BACCHUS next appears in convoy DN.50A from Durban on July 4th 1943, arriving at Kilindini with her escort HMS SONDRA on the 12th. She remained at Kilindini until September 8th before returning to Durban under escort from HM Ships LURCHER and SONDRA, arriving at Durban on September 18th.

On October 3rd 1943 BACCHUS entered the dry dock at Durban, but was undocked two days later, the work incomplete. She was docked again on October 21st and was undocked the following day, work completed. She sailed from Durban with convoy DKA.5, on October 26th; she detached from the convoy and proceeded to Mombasa, where she arrived on November 7th. After storing ship at Mombasa BACCHUS sailed for Colombo with her escort HMS SONDRA, calling at the Seychelles and Addu Atoll where she arrived on November 21st. The following day she sailed in company wit the SS JOHN W. MACKAY and the Destroyer QUICKMATCH as convoy XC.11, arriving at Colombo on November 25th. On December 7th 1943 BACCHUS sailed from Colombo for another round trip to Durban calling at Bombay in Convoy MB.57 , then on to Aden. From Aden she joined convoy AKD.11A on January 9th 1944, arriving at Durban on January 23rd.

Operation ‘TRANSOM’

On Thursday, April 6th 1944 BACCHUS, in company with RFA BELGOL, sailed in Convoy XC.18 from Addu Atoll for Colombo, arriving on Sunday, April 9th 1944, before sailing with the Calcutta bound convoy JC.45 which departed Colombo on April 20th, and detaching for onward passage to Trincomalee. On arrival she joined R.F.A.s EAGLEDALE, ECHODALE, ARNDALE, APPLELEAF, and PEARLEAF to form Task Force 67, a small logistic replenishment force, a ore-runner to the fleet train, in support of a carrier launched bombing raid on the harbour of Sourabaya in Java, Operation ‘TRANSOM’. Task Force 67 sailed at 1100 on April 30th 1944 bound for Exmouth Gulf on the North West Cape of Australia, the RFAs were escorted by the cruiser HMS LONDON, destroyers HMS ROTHERHAM and HNLMS VAN GALEN and frigate HMS FINDHORN. This force was to provide fuel and water for the carriers HMS ILLUSTRIOUS and USS SARATOGA, and they were in position by May 14th; the fleet arrived, fuelled, stored and watered and sailed for the operation which took place on the 17th. The Japanese were taken completely by surprise as they assumed that a strike force could not mount an attack at that distance from the nearest base in Ceylon. On May 19th the fleet returned to Exmouth Gulf after the raid, replenished once again and left for return to Ceylon. The support ships were to follow at their slower speed.

BACCHUS made one more round trip, Colombo – Calcutta in late August/early September 1944 before returning to Trincomalee to support the large numbers of vessels assembling for the new British Pacific Fleet Train in Ceylon. As part of the Fleet Train BACCHUS was tasked with storing BPF destroyers and below; cruisers and above were allocated to the CITY OF DIEPPE, a combined naval and victualling store issuing ship. It was anticipated that BACCHUS would be required to store up to 25 destroyers and escorts during a five-day replenishment period.

Reallocated to the British Pacific Fleet

BACCHUS departed Trincomalee for Fremantle on January 30th 1945, arriving there on February 15th. After four days spent refuelling and storing she sailed for Sydney arriving there on February 27th. After embarking the maximum amount of stores she could safely accommodate BACCHUS sailed for the Admiralty Islands on March 3rd. She joined other elements of the Fleet Train at Seeadler Harbour off Manus Island on March 13th. The assembled ships now formed Task Force 112, and elements of the force began moving forward to be ready to support the fleet at Ulithi Atoll and at Leyte in the Philippines. BACCHUS sailed for Leyte Gulf, with the second Fleet Train convoy on March 19th, in company with HMS LOTHIAN (flagship Rear Admiral, Fleet Train) HMS SLINGER, HMS TYNE, HMS ARTIFEX, and the civilian manned ships EMPIRE SPEARHEAD, WAVE KING, WAVE MONARCH, ARNDALE, DINGLEDALE, FORT COLVILLE, AASE MAERSK, DENBIGHSHIRE, ROBERT MAERSK, THYRA S., and HERMELIN; they anchored in San Pedro Bay on the 26th. An earlier support group comprising of the CVE STRIKER (with replacement aircraft), Sloop CRANE, frigate FINDHORN, destroyer WHIRLWIND and the tankers SAN AMBROSIO, CEDARDALE and SAN ADOLPHO had sailed from Manus on March I7th to be ready to replenish the ships of Task force 57 which sailed for Ulithi Atoll, some 900 miles north of Manus, on March 18th.

At he end of April when the aircraft 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 between April 23rd and May 4th.

During this period BACCHUS was utilised fully; the store issuing schedule was a tall order, both in the actual issue to individual ships and the time required to assemble each ship's requirement. It was necessary for BACCHUS to prepare the bulk of the store demands several days in advance. To facilitate this a destroyer was detached from the fleet a few days in advance bringing all the various store demands ahead of the main force's arrival. It was this that enabled her, working flat out, to be ready for the first vessel to be stored, HMS UNDINE upon her arrival alongside at 1300 hours on April 23rd. The first three store loads were pre-assembled on deck and those on the fore-deck were hoisted aboard the customer, UNDINE took only 15 minutes to transfer 10 tons of stores, once complete the remaining two loads moved forward and a new third load was begum. she was constantly required to move around the fleet, the target was five store issues a day , but in addition she was delivering fresh water to anyone who needed it. BACCHUS remained at Leyte until mid May 13th, arriving back the RN Base Manus on May 21st.

Back at Manus she continued working, mainly as a water carrier, before she was on the move again on July 12th. The distances from Manus to the fleet's operating area off Japan were so great that a number of oil tankers and supply ships, including BACCHUS, BROWN RANGER, EAGLEDALE, FORT WRANGLE, SAN ANTONIO, GUDRUN MAERSK, and KELANTAN, were sent forward to Eniwetok in the Marshall Islands, providing a shorter supply line to support the fleet. They operated there until August 6th before sailing to return to Manus. Three days after she arrived back at Manus the Japanese surrendered on August 15th.

Post War history

With hostilities over attention now turned to reoccupation of former commonwealth territories and the repatriation of PoWs; BACCHUS, in company with the HMS DEER SOUND, RFAs RAPIDOL, SALVESTOR, SALVICTOR and GREEN RANGER, escorted by HMAS GAWLER, LAUNCESTON and TAMWORTH, sailed from Manus on August 30th bound for Hong Kong. This small convoy arrived off Hong Kong on September 9th 1945. BACCHUS provided support for ships deployed there for the re-occupation of the Colony and to restore services.

BACCHUS departed Hong Kong on October 9t, arriving back at Manus on October 20th. She sailed for Sydney two days later, arriving there on October 31st. She remained at Sydney until February 16th 1946 when she sailed for Hong Kong. On arrival there on March 7th she entered a dockyard to undergo a conversion back into a stores freighter.

On emerging from the dockyard she resumed service as a Royal Fleet Auxiliary vessel and remained in service until being laid up at Singapore on April 13th 1962. She was purchased on August 14th 1962 by Chip Hwa Shipping & Trading Co Ltd, Singapore and renamed PULAU BALI. No record of commercial use under this name, she appears to have remained anchored in the outer roads of Singapore Harbour until August 12th 1964 when she was beached at Singapore prior to breaking up for scrap.

1. See the list of U-boat attacks on this date on - two occurred on this day and in roughly the same area, against the SS Arkleside and SS Aviemore.

Last modified: 23 February 2023


Primary information sources

Additional sources:

The Naval Review Vol 81 No 1, January 1993, 'RFA Bacchus in the Fleet Train' (Lionel Hall).  pp55.

Historical RFA History of RFA BACCHUS (II)





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At the end of June 1945, the Admiralty implemented a new system of classification for carrier air wings, adopting the American practice one carrier would embark a single Carrier Air Group (CAG) which would encompass all the ships squadrons.


Sturtivant, R & Balance, T. (1994) 'Squadrons of the Fleet Air Arm’ list 899 squadron as conducting DLT on the Escort Carrier ARBITER on August 15th. It is possible that the usual three-day evolution was cancelled due to the announcement of the Japanese surrender on this date and was postponed for a month.


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