The British Pacific and East Indies Fleets

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



Hospital Ship

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Pennant No.


Battle Honours







Builder: Swan, Hunter & Wigham Richardson Ltd, Wallsend, Newcastle-upon-Tyne

Displacement: 4, 691 Gross tons

Length: 429.8 ft

Beam: 53.3 ft

Draught: 22.9 ft

Propulsion: 2 x  Swan, Hunter & Wigham Richardson Ltd Triple-expansion steam engine, two propellers, 6.400 Bhp

Speed: 13 Knots

Armament: None

 Crew complement: Unknown


Commanding Officers


Senior Medical Officer

Surg. Captain O. D. Brownfield, OBE, MB, BS (act) July 1940

Surg. Captain K. A. I. MacKenzie, Mb, BCh (act) Sept 1942

Surg. Captain L. F. Strugnell, MB, BS, MRCS, LRCP Dec 1943

Surg. Commander. R. G. Anthony, MB, chB Jan 1945






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VITA,  Naval Hospital Ship No.8

Early history: WW1 Military Hospital Ship

VITA was a 4, 691 grt Passenger/Cargo ship ordered by the British India Steam Navigation Co. Ltd., (B.I.S.N.) Glasgow from Swan, Hunter & Wigham Richardson Ltd, Wallsend, Newcastle-upon-Tyne. She was laid down as Yard number 934 and launched on August 24th 1914. Designed to accommodate 2,748 passengers; 32 1st, 24 2nd, and 2,694 deck passengers and 2,800 cubic feet of refrigerated cargo she was the third of four V-class ships to be delivered and for the British India Steam Navigation Co. for their Bombay to Persian Gulf service; the others being named VARELA, VARSOVA and VASNA. Completed in October 1914 at a cost of £119,700.

On October 17th 1914 she was requisitioned for military service, on departure from her builder’s yard she sailed as an Indian Expeditionary Force Troopship. The S.S. VITA was manned by her B.I.S.N. crew, Captain F. R. Commack in command and was to be based out of Bombay, the port from which she would have sailed on commercial service.

She initially operated in the Persian Gulf but in November 1915 she sailed for France to embark troops. She embarked the men and equipment of the 16th Infantry brigade at Marseilles on December 21st 1915, after calling at Malts the SS VITA entered the Suez canal on January 3rf 1916, arriving at Basra on the 20th and disembarked her troops the following day. She now remained at Basra and was to be employed in a medical capacity in March, when she embarked a Medical Officer with practical knowledge of Plague and an Assistant Surgeon skilled in Bacteriology for passage to the Troopship NILE which had am outbreak amongst the troops on board. She departed Basra on March 2nd and on rendezvous the decision was taken to transship the men to VITA for passage to Basra; on the 7th it was decided to Quarantine and disinfect troops on both the VITA and NILE.

VITA on completion of her conversion into an Indian Expeditionary Force hospital ship

On her arrivals at Bombay on completion of her Quarantine period VITA was chosen for conversion into a Hospital Ship. Her transformation into a Hospital Ship appears to be rudimentary, possibly carried out at the Royal Indian Marine Dockyard at Bombay. She emerged with a capacity to accommodate 405 wounded and sick in patients in 10 wards. Including 32 officers, 16 British and 16 Indian, 9 Warrant Officers, and 364 other ranks in cots and berths.

VITA was an “Indian” Hospital Ship under the military command of the Indian [Army] Medical Service (I.M.S.). The ship continued to manned by her B.I.S.N. crew and the hospital was staffed by a mix of army units under Major S. H. Lee Abbott,, I.M.S. as senior medical officer also Officer Commanding Troops. She carried a large Indian staff along with the British one. There would have been as many as 100 Indian staff members on board filling a variety of roles such as sub-assistant surgeons, dispensers, Hindu and “Mohammedan” cooks, tailor, sweepers, dhobis, ward orderlies and servants. Doctors and Surgeons were drawn from both the RAMC and I.M.S. In addition to their medical duties, these men also filled administrative duties, for example the roles of Adjutant, Surgical & Medical Stores officer, C.O. RAMC, and C.O. Indian Personnel.

A small Female nursing staff of Ward Sisters, Staff Nurses and probationary Nurses included women from the Australian Army Nursing Service (A.A.N.S.), the Queen Alexandra’s Military Nursing Service, India (Q.A.M.N.S.I.), Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service Reserve (Q.A.I.M.N.S.R.), and the South African Military Nursing Service (S.A.M.N.S.); they came under the command of an on-board Matron and a Sister-in-Charge. Her medical personnel joined her at Bombay prior to sailing for Basra, Iraq, at the head of the Persian Gulf to begin operations in May 1916, arriving at Basra on May 21st. At Basra she embraced 17 Officers and 341 other ranks for passage to Bombay, arriving back on the 29th. While at Bombay she embarked the personnel of No 33 British General Hospital (BCH) 33 Officers and 187 other ranks for passage to Basra. On arrival there on June 11th No 33 BGH was established ashore in a tented camp at Tanoumah on the right bank of the Shatt-al-Arab River.

VVITA operate between Bombay and Basra until November 1916 when she was ordered to proceed to East Africa; she arrived at Zanzibar on December 9th and Dar-es-Salaam on the 11th before returning to Zanzibar. She sailed to return to Bombay on December 17th. She resumed her normal duties from January 1917 and received some modification work at Bombay in July, including replacing swing cots with fixed double tiered cots in wards 1, 2 & 4 Increasing patient accommodation to 436, the the ventilation system was tested and repaired as well as Wards 1, 2, 3,, 4, 6 & 10 were painted. She then sailed for Basra. On September 10th Major J. Husband, I.M.S., arrived as the new O.C. Troops.

VITA   later in World War One

Reallocated for service in East Africa waters

In October 1917 VITA was again allocated to operate in East Africa, she sailed for DAR-ES-SALAAM on October 24th. On November 3rd she arrived at the Tanzanian coastal town of Lindi where she embarked 410 patients, including African and Indian troops, 78 of which were stretcher cases. She sailed for Dar-es-Salaam the following afternoon. On arrival the next day she disembarked her patients before sailing foe Zanzibar on the 6th. After coaling and taking on stores she arrived back at Lindi on November 10th; this was be her operational area for the next 6½ months.

Once on station her primary function was to sail form Dar-es-Salaam to Lindi, embarked sick and wounded for passage back to Dar-es-Salaam, sometimes as many as three round trips am month. In addition she transported patients from Dar-es-Salaam to Kilindini when required. Calls were made at Zanzibar when she needed to take on coal and water.

In March 1918 she began calling at to Port Amelia, Mozambique, 380 miles south of Lindi. On her first voyage she embarkeded54 Portuguese East African Porters at Dar-es-Salaam and a further 325 were embarked at Lindi; all were disembarked at Port Amelia on the afternoon of the 18th. On the 20th she embarked 299 sick and wounded for passage to Dar-es-Salaam via Lind where she embarked a further 139 patients, arriving at Dar-es-Salaam on the 23trd.

She sailed for a second voyage to Port Amelia on April 5th to embark another 416 sick and wounded on the 8th for passage to Dar-es-Salaam. She then resumed her normal round of voyages until she sailed for South Africa with 383 patients for Simons’ town, departing Dar-es-Salaam on May 18th. Arriving at Durban on the morning of the 25th 143 patients were disembarked. 22 were embarked on the 26th for passage to Cape Town on the 26th when she departed Durban. She went alongside in Cape Town on the morning of May 31st and all patients were disembarked by noon. Sher was at Cape Town for repair work to be carried out and entered dry-dock on June 2nd for a hull scrape and repairs, being undocked on the 5th. While in dockyard hands all ward beds and fittings were repainted. She sailed for Bombay on the 10th calling at Durban and Zanzibar, where she took on stores before arriving in Bombay harbour on the 30th. During her time based out of Dar-es-Salaam VITA carried approximately 12,240 sick and wounded, or 2,000 a month.

Patient transfers between Suez and Bombay

VITA was to spend the next 6½ weeks under repair moored in the stream at Bombay in preparation for returning to operations in the Persian Gulf; a number of personnel changes were also made during this period. Work complete she sailed for Basra on the morning of August 17th, arriving there on the 23rd. On the 25th she embarked 393 sick and winded for transfer to Karachi and Bombay, sailing the same day. She disembarked 190 men at Karachi on the 30th, embarking 2 additional men for Bombay. She arrived back at Bombay on September 1st, and disembarked all patients the next day. More personal adjustments took place, including Major J. J. Robb, IMS relieved Major J. Husband, IMS as O.C. Troops.

 Her next voyage was scheduled to be a return to Basra but this was changed to Suez, and she sailed for Aden on September 13th. On arrival At Port Suez on September 24th. She embarked 426 sick for passage to Bombay on the 29th and sailed the following day. Calling at Aden on October 5th she embarked 28 more sick for Bombay. All patients were disembarked on reaching Bombay on October 11th. She sailed for Suez again on the 16th, arriving three on the 27th. She embarked 432 patients on November 2nd for the return voyage to Bombay, and sailed the following day. All patients were disembarked at Bombay on the 19th. VITA remained at anchor in Bombay bay until December 5th when she embarked 346 patients for passage to Suez, sailing later that day, all were disembarked at Suez on the 16th. For the return voyage 358 patients were embarked on the 20th and she sailed the following day. Calling at Aden on the 26th she embarked a farther 60 patients. She arrived back At Bombay on New Year’s Day 1919 and disembarked all on the 2nd.

Converted into an Ambulance Transport Ship

VITA entered dry dock on January 3rd for repairs and alterations to convert her into an Ambulance Transport. She was undocked on the 6th and moved to Berth 17, Alexandra Dock. A large turnover of medical staff now took place before she sailed for Basra on January 14th for her first round trip in her new role. At Basra she embarked 370 patients on the 22nd for passage to Bushire, Iran and Karachi and Bombay, India sailing that day.

VITA continued to operate as an Ambulance Transport until at least February 28th 1921 which the last recorded wear diary entry for the ship. On release from military service she was returned to the British India Steam Navigation Co. Ltd., and after spending time in dockyard hands for remodelling she entered commercial service on the company’s Persian Gulf routes.



Requisitioned again 1940 for conversion into a Naval Hospital Ship

The S.S. VITA was requisitioned by the Admiralty from the British India Steam Navigation Co. in May 1940. For conversion into a naval Hospital Ship. She arrived at Bombay on May 18th to enter a Dockyard for the work to be carried out but owing to shortage of material and repeated delays the work was not completed until August. Her conversion was not to be straightforward; unlike the conversion of 1916, which resulted in accommodation for 405 wounded and sick, the current conversion would only allow for 240, including 28 officers, all cot cases. Work included creating spaces for use as an operating theatre, X-Ray room, a dispensary and additional toilet and washing areas and accommodations for the small female contingent. The most obvious outward sign of the work was the addition of deck structures fore and aft on the main deck.

She was commissioned as Hospital Ship No.8 on August 3rd 194. She was manned by the a Merchant Navy crew under its British India Steam Navigation Co Captain, the hospital was under the command of Surgeon Captain F O. D. Brownfield, OBE, MB, BS, Medical Officer in Charge with a staff of 8 doctors 1 Warrant Wardmaster, 1 Superintending Sister, 6 Nursing Sisters, and 57 sick Berth Attendants.

Examples of passenger decks converted into Hospital Wards.  Left fixed single and double cots,  right: gimbaled cots able to keep patients on an even keel in conditions were the ship would roll.   Items P1892_05 & P1892_06 from

Allocated for service with the Eastern Fleet

Once operational VITFA was allocated to serve with the Eastern Fleet and she sailed for Aden, arriving there on August 10th. On passage monsoon conditions brought severe weather which caused considerable damage, many windows of her upper deck wards were smashed and about half of her distinguishing lights were washed away. After makeshift repairs she sailed from Aden on the 12th and arrived at her destination, Berbera, Somaliland the same day; here she embarked 127 Indian and 30 European Army patients. She sailed on the 18th, arriving at Aden the same day, here 116 patients were disembarked. Two days later she sailed for Bombay arriving on the 25th. After disembarking the remaining patients the ship entered a dockyard for repairs.

Emerging in September VITA sailed for Aden again, arriving there on September 23rd, this time to take station as the Base Hospital Ship. VITA returned to Bombay on February 10th 1941 to undergo further refitting and repairs; this work was cut short as VITA was urgently required in the Mediterranean. She sailed for Port Sudan via Aden, arriving there on March 6th to embark 200 patients for transfer to Port Suez. She arrived on March 9th, disembarking her patients on the 11th beefier entering the Suez Canal on the 19th and arriving at Port Said on the 20th. She was now on temporary loan to the Mediterranean Fleet and remained at Port Said taking on stores until March 4th when she sailed for Tobruk on active service off North Africa.

>Attacked by enemy bombers April 1941

Tobruk was under almost constant air attack, German aircraft based in Libya lew frequent dive-bomber sorties by day and medium-bomber raids by day and night on the docks, buildings, anti-aircraft sites, artillery positions and the airfields. On arrival at Tobruk on March 7th she embarked 328 Army casualties and 63 Australian Army nursing sisters to be evacuated to Palestine; all were disembarked at Haifa on April 10th. On April 12th she sailed from Haifa and arrived back at Tobruk early on the morning of April 14th. The port was still subjected to enemy air activity during the day, but VITA was able to embark 430 Army casualties, only 25 were cot cases, the remainder were walking wounded. She sailed in the afternoon to return to Haifa, but on leaving the swept channel at 17:26 she was deliberately attacked by a formation of nine German aircraft. Although the ship did not receive a direct hit, one bomb fell particularly close to the starboard quarter; the explosion lifted the stem completely out of the water, and blast did widespread damage throughout the ship. Apart from devastation of much of the super-structure, five wards were wrecked, and the laboratory and dispensary were set on fire; the main damage occurred in the engine room, where pipes were fractured, causing the whole compartment to flood, and both engines and dynamos were put out of action.

Her Bulkheads held, but by midnight No. 3 and No. 4 holds appeared to be flooded, and the ship took on a serious list to port so it was decided to evacuate all the patients and most of the medical and nursing staff. The Australian Destroyer WATERHEN came alongside, and with no sign of panic patients and staff were transferred to her, with the exception of the principal medical officer and warrant wardmaster, who remained on board with the Merchant Navy officers and crew. WATERHEN sailed for Alexandria once all were transferred. Shortly afterwards VITA seemed about to founder, and was completely abandoned.

Despite being attacked by enemy aircraft again a few hours later VITA was still afloat, and it was found possible to tow her into harbour. The Merchant Navy officers and crew were re-embarked and salvage operations were commenced. Within a few days the engine room and holds were pumped dry and minor repairs were effected. The ship was frequently attacked during this period, but on April 21st she was seaworthy enough to be towed away from Tobruk for Port Said. She came under air attack twice on passage but reached Port Said safely on the 25th and was conducted through the Suez Canal to Port Tewfik where she underwent minor repairs and eventually was pronounced sea-worthy and fit to proceed under her own steam at slow speed. On May 13th her Naval complement re-joined her and she sailed for Bombay via Aden, on May 14th. This was an arduous passage made on one engine only, and with her dynamos out of action her lights and fans were disabled. On arrival at Bombay on May 28th she entered a Dockyard to commence a long period of refitting, repairs and reconstruction; this work was not completed until August 4th 1941.

On emerging from the Dockyard VITA sailed for Aden to resume duty as the Base Hospital Ship, she remained on station, apart from a short visit to Assab on August 24 to embark 20 cases, of which eight were casualties following an explosion in the vicinity, until October 6th when she sailed for Port Suez. Arriving on the 12th she embarked 144 patients from that port, all of whom were disembarked at Aden on October 19th. She made a voyage to Port Sudan calling thereon the 26th and arrived back at Bombay on November 10th.


Medical investigation at Addu Atoll November 1941

VITA did not remain in Bombay for long, she was urgently required at Addu Atoll where a minor medical crisis called for investigation among the personnel of the Mobile Naval Base Defence Organisation stationed there. She arrived on station on November 20th to find Approximately 100 patients were seriously ill in a tented hospital ashore, suffering from malaria and an unidentified condition which was later found to be scrub typhus. The typhus outbreak spread in epidemic form and VITA soon had 130 patients on board for treatment. It was dinging this medical emergency that the unsuitability of coal burning ships such as VITA, and her sister ship VASNA, for prolonged, isolated work in the Tropics.; a longer stay was impossible, owing to shortage of food, ice and the need to take on coal and water every 4-5 weeks. As consequence VITA could only stay at anchor for 4 weeks before sailing for Colombo with a full complement of 240 patients, arriving on New Year’s Day 1942 and all patients were disembarked bore she sailed for TRINCOMALEE later that day.


Base Hospital Ship for Trincomalee January 1941

On January 3rd VITA was assigned as the Base Hospital Ship for Trincomalee, but she was also on standby to sail should a medical emergency arise. This situation was also a limitation for coal burning ships; if required to remain at twenty-four hours' notice for steam it was only possible for the ship to remain at anchor for two months before having to refuel. She made a round trip voyage to Madras to embark coal in March sailing on the 5th and arriving back at Trincomalee on March 13th.


Rescue of survivors from H. M. Ships HERMES and VAMPIRE, CORNWALL and DORSETSHIRE, April 1942

On the evening of April 8th VITA sailed from Trincomalee bound for Addu Atoll; at 09:30 the next morning she passed H.M. Aircraft Carrier HERMES and the Australian Destroyer VAMPIRE steaming in the opposite direction. They had also sailed on the 8th, ordered to proceed south when news of a Japanese air attack on Trincomalee was imminent; HERMES carried no operational aircraft. Trincomalee was hit on the 9th by a force of 91 Japanese bombers and 41 fighters but the harbour was virtually empty due to the dispersal of the ships. HERMES and VAMPIRE were spotted off Batticaloa by a Japanese reconnaissance plane but the report was intercepted and orders were given for the ships to return to Trincomalee with the utmost dispatch; VITA passed them on course to return to Ceylon.

At 10:35 a Japanese force of 85 D3A Val dive bombers escorted by nine Mitsubishi A6M Zeros commenced attacks on the two ships, claiming at least 40 bomb hits, both of which sank within twenty minutes. VITA immediately turned about and quickly arrived at the scene of the disaster. For the second time in the war she entered a combat zone; enemy aircraft were still attacking with cannon fire, but it is recorded that on VITA's arrival all hostile activity ceased and due respect was accorded to the Red Cross. She lowered boats, and before leaving the area at 19:00 had picked up 595 survivors many of whom were badly burned and wounded. During the whole night the medical and nursing staff worked unsparingly, and all these casualties were landed at Colombo at 200:0 on April 10th.

On the same day she received an urgent summons to resume passage Addu Atoll but was unable to answer it because she needed to take on coal again delaying her arrival until noon on April I 16th. Here she embarked 98 wounded survivors from the Cruisers CORNWALL and DORSETSHIRE, recently sunk by Japanese aircraft. On April 5th the Cruisers CORNWALL and DORSETSHIRE had been sighted by a spotter plane from the Japanese cruiser TONE about 200 miles south-west of Ceylon. As part of the engagement known as the Easter Sunday Raid, a wave of were attacked by a force of 53 Aichi D3A2 "Val" dive bombers attacked CORNWALL and DORSETSHIRE, 170 nautical miles south-west of Ceylon. In the span of about eight minutes, DORSETSHIRE was hit by ten 250 lb and 550 lb bombs and several near misses; she sank stern first at about 13:50. CORNWALL as hit eight times and sank bow first about ten minutes later. British losses were 424 men killed; 1,122 survivors spent thirty hours in the water before being rescued by the light cruiser ENTERPRISE and the destroyers PALADIN and PANTHER the next day, the wounded survivors being put ashore at Addu Atoll to await VITA’s arrival. 98 wounded survivors embarked and VITA sailed for Durban, and after a pause for coaling at Mauritius all were landed at Durban on May 2nd.

During April she had treated 693 casualties, survivors of four ships sunk by the Japanese, many of those embarked on April 9th required emery treatment for burns and other life threatening injuries. The rapid turnaround after discharging this first set of casualties meant she could not take on stores before making all speed for Addu Atoll to embark more victims of the Japanese attacks on British capital ships. On reaching Durban she was seriously short of all medical supplies; local purchase could only account for some of the stores, and an appeal was made to the Royal Army Medical Corps and the local Red Cross Organisation to meet their requirements. While in port she underwent engine repairs and local leave was granted.

She sailed form Durban on May 31st bound for Kilindini where she arrived on June 10th to take up station as the Base Hospital Ship. Relieved by VASNA on July 16th and embarked a full complement of patients for passage before sailing for Durban on July 22nd, arriving there on the 30th. She was in Dockyard hands from July 31st till August 15th for repairs; on emerging from the Dockyard she sailed for Bombay, embarking patients at Mauritius, Seychelles and Addu Atoll, arriving at Bombay on September 13th. She now entered a Dockyard for more repairs and a short refit, work was completed on the 18th. While at Bombay Surg. Capt. K. A. I. Mackenzie, MB, BCh arrived to take over as Medical Officer in Charge.


East Africa base Hospital Ship and Patient Carrier Duties, September 1942 - August 1943

VITA left Bombay on September 27th to undertake a voyage to Durban via Aden and Port Suez. She called at Aden on October 2nd and arrived at Port Suez on the 7th. She sailed the following day for Aden, calling there on the 13th before proceeding to Durban, arriving on the 24th. It is assumed she was carrying patients for transfer during this voyage. At Durban she was under reappear from October 25th until November 5th, she sailed for Mombasa on the 6th, calling at Diego Suarez on the 13th, and arrived at Mombasa on the 16th for Fleet duties. She was to remain stationed at Mombasa until February 8th 1943 when she sailed for Durban, arriving on the 15th.

She now began a period of duty as a patient carrier embarking her first patients at Durban, sailing for Mauritius on the 21st, arriving on the 27th. After embarking more patients she sailed for Diego Garcia on March 3rd, calling there on the 8th before calling at Addu Atoll on the 12th before arriving at Colombo on the 16th. From there she sailed for Bombay on the 22nd, arriving on March 26th. After disembarking her remaining patients she was to enter a Dockyard for more work on April 1st.

She was in dockyard hands for two months under refit, work also included in improved ventilation, the creation of additional special departments and improved living conditions. On completion of this work she was allocated for temporary service in the Mediterranean as a patient carrier, sailing from Bombay on May 30th she arrived at Port Suez on June 11th. She remained here until July 6th when she entered the Suez Canal, arriving at Port Said on the 8th and sailed for Tripoli the same day arriving on the 11th. She sailed for Syracuse on the 24th and arrived at Alexandria on the 28th. She sailed for Port Said on August 4th and after transit through the Canal arrived at Port Suez on the 6th.

VITA Naval Hospital Ship No.8

Return to the Mediterranean and Operation Avalanche

On August 15th she sailed for the Mediterranean again, arriving at Alexandria on August 16th. VITA was to join the Hospital Ships ABA and OXFORDSHIRE allocated to support the Allied landings near the port of Salerno, Sicily, codenamed Operation AVALANCHE planned for September 91th 943. On September 3rd she sailed for Algiers, this voyage took her first to Catania and Port Augusta, Sicily where she arrived on the 7th before sailing west along the North African coast arriving at Algiers on the 14th to disembark her patients before sailing for Salerno on the 15th. She arrived in the assault area in Salerno bay on the 18th (D+9) in company with HMHS ABA to embark casualties for treatment and for evacuation; she remained on station for 4 day, sailing for Bizerte on the 22nd. She next sailed for Oran, arriving on the 26th, three days later she arrived at back at Bizerte. She arrived back in Salerno bay on the morning of October 4th to embark more casualties for evacuation to Bizerte, sailing at 18:00 the following day. She arrived at Oran on October 10th. Four days later she sailed for Taranto, Italy arriving on the 17th, sailing for Catania on the 19th and arrived back at Algiers on October 23rd. she sailed for Catania the next day calling there on the 31st before reaching Naples on November 2nd, Algiers on the 8th and Tripoli on the 12th. On November 14th she sailed for Alexandria, arriving on the 17th, and Port Said on the 23rd. She now entered a Dockyard for repairs, the work took nearly a month, and she arrived back at Alexandria on December 22nd. On December 27th Surg. Capt. L. F. Strugnell, MB, BS, MRCS, LRCP arrived on board as the new Medical Officer in Charge.


Return to duties with the Eastern Fleet and a continuation of Carrier duties

VITA sailed from Alexandria on New Year’s Eve 1943, having embarked patients, including Indians and East Africans suffering from a variety of tropical diseases, for passage to Durban calling at Aden, Karachi and Bombay, Colombo and Mauritius. On arrival at Durban on February 12th she again underwent repairs, entering a Dockyard on the 19th. On completion of the work on February26th she sailed for Mauritius where she spent three days. Sailing on March 6th she continued on to Diego Garcia and Addu Atoll before arriving at Colombo on March 12th. After a week in port she sailed for Durban again on the 20th, this time calling at Seychelles, Diego Garcia, and Kilindini arriving at Durban on April 9th. He sailed on the return leg on April 12th, calling at Mauritius, Diego Garcia and Addu Atoll before arriving back at Colombo on the 29th.

VITA next sailed for India on May 3rd, calling at Cochin on the 5th before arriving at Bombay on the 7th to enter a Dockyard. Work was to take four weeks, she sailed on June 7th for Colombo, arriving on 10th. She moved to Trincomalee on the 14th to take up the duty of Base Hospital Ship remaining here for nearly a month before arriving back at Colombo on July 10th. She sailed to return to Trincomalee on the 16th and remain on station until September 16th when she moved to Colombo again for week before resuming her station October 24th when she was finally released to return to patient carrier duties. She sailed from Colombo on October 28th to make another run to Durban, calling at Seychelles and Mombasa on passage, arriving at Durban on November 27th. She again underwent repairs before sailing to return to Ceylon on December 17th. Calling at Mauritius and Addu atoll, arriving at Combo on January 4th 1945. While in Durban the Eastern Fleet had been renamed as the Eat Indies Fleet, VITA now being on that unit’s strength.


Base Hospital Ship Trincomalee and Cochin January to April 1945

VITA now resumed Base Hospital Ship duties at Trincomalee from January 8th until April 4th when she returned to Colombo. On January 30th Surg. Commander. R. G. Anthony, MB, chB arrived on board as the new Medical Officer in Charge. In April she was temporarily reassigned to act as Base Hospital Ship at Cochin where she arrived on April 7th. This was only a short assignment however, she sailed for Madras on April 24th, for active service in the Bay of Bengal, arriving there on the 28th.


Operation DRACULA May 1945

Operation DRACULA, the airborne and amphibious attack on Rangoon by British and Anglo-Indian forces launched on May 2nd 1945. At Madras VITA embarked as many medical stores as she could muster before sailing for Kyaukpyu, Ramree Island, Burma on May 2nd, arriving on the 4h. The amphibious assault was unopposed; the Japanese had left Rangoon. The first troops landed in Rangoon Town at 17:00 on May 3rd. VITA arrived at Rangoon on May 9th and embarked 100 casualties for transport arriving at Sandheads on the 17th and Calcutta on the 18th. She required further repair at s at Calcutta, sailing for Chittagong on June 1st where 275 Army patients were embarked on the 3rd and delivered to Madras on the 6th. She departed Madras for Trincomalee on June 10th.


Base Hospital Ship Trincomalee June to October 1945

VITA now resumed her duties as base hospital ship at Trincomalee starting on June 12th these duties, apart from a brief journey to Colombo and one to Madras, lasted until October 22nd and proved to be the ship's busiest period of the war, 1,813 out-patients alone being treated on board.


Release from Wartime service

After 5½ years’ service as a Naval Hospital Ship VITA was to be prepared for decommissioning and returned to her owners; her time at Trincomalee was her last tour of duty as a Naval Hospital Ship. By mid-October 1945 she was being run down to paying off, her medical staff leaving the ship before she sailed for Bombay on October 22nd. Arriving at Bombay on the 27th she entered a dockyard for refitting, and the removal of all Admiralty equipment before work switched to converting her back to Civilian use. She was released from War Service on January 27th 1946 and returned to her owners the British India Steam Navigation Co.

During the war years approximately 3,685 patients were treated in H.M. Hospital Ship VITA, whose valuable work is evident despite time lost in her periods of coaling and in Dockyard hands.


Civilian Service

She entered commercial service as the S.S. VITA, a passenger, Cargo, mail ship on the Calcutta to Rangoon service in May 1946. Her post war career was brief however, sonly 3 years, she was sold for scrap and was broken up by Hindustan Iron Works at Bombay beginning on May 20th 1949.



Last modified: 02 June 2023


Primary information sources

Additional sources:

BT 389/31/97 WW2 Ship's record card held by the UK National Archive

WO-95-4152-1, WO-95-4152-2, WO-95-4152-3 Hospital Ships Line of communications units, HHMS VITA June 1917 – February 1921 held by the UK National Archive

(1954) Surgeon Commander J. L. S. COULTER, D.S.C., R.N., ‘THE ROYAL NAVAL MEDICAL SERVICE’ London, Her Majesty's Stationery Office





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Drafted to

Coming home

In March 1946 I joined 812 squadron, aboard HMS Vengeance, spending some time ditching American aircraft north of Australia. Eventually we sailed for Ceylon ( Sri Lanka ) landing at Trincomalee and setting up a radio section at Katakarunda. In the belief that we were exhausted we were sent to a rest camp at Kandy for a few weeks. We moved down to Colombo to pick up Vengeance and returned to Portsmouth via the Suez Canal . I was discharged in November 1946.

Gordon Theaker