To justify this subject title and research, one must return to the days of our then, large aircraft carriers of the early 1950's onwards, indeed, the largest ships we ever had.  We also must do this before the new carrier [HMS QUEEN ELIZABETH] - the other, HMS PRINCE OF WALES will never ever be an operational carrier - comes to fruition and joins the Fleet. The 'old' carriers were both fully operational [HMS EAGLE and HMS ARK ROYAL], with the EAGLE just edging the ARK ROYAL into second place as the biggest displacement at 50,000 tons, whereas, we are given to believe that the new 21st century HMS QUEEN ELIZABETH is  to be 65,000 tons.

In between, we had the last of our battleships, HMS VANGUARD, but at only 45,000 tons with no requirement for the provision of aircraft fuel [AVCAT], and a much reduced crew [EAGLE's complement = Crew + Squadrons Embarked].  Her RAS requirements were therefore of a lesser magnitude, even with the Royal Family embarked in 1947 for the South Africa Trip, and as such are out of the running for record logistics required and supplied.

After the EAGLE [and ARK ROYAL which stayed in operational commission for a much longer period] came "small ships", originally known as "through-deck-cruisers" and were HMS ARK ROYAL, HMS INVINCIBLE and HMS ILLUSTRIOUS, all struggling to weigh-in  at 20,000 tons, and after them, came the new assault ships, viz, HMS ALBION, HMS BULWARK and HMS OCEAN, the latter, OCEAN, weighing in as our largest displacement ship in the mid-20000 tons range just out doing the ARK ROYAL, which, not that long afterwards, left Portsmouth for a towed voyage to a Turkish breakers yard. Many 'tears' were shed as she awaited her fate and during her voyage to Turkey, but few remembered her as she passed Gibraltar entering the Mediterranean, heading for her grisly fatal cutters and burners end.

Now, given the established norms of common sense based on facts that these are smaller vessels, with smaller crews and that they do not roam the seas and oceans of the world for lengthy periods as did ships of the pre mid 1970's navy, their logistic requirements are obviously smaller/less than ships of the ilk of EAGLE and ARK ROYAL. Thus, their statistics will be very much smaller and of no consequence for the subject matter of this page. Of some interest is the knowledge that the crew of the QUEEN EIZABETH is less than a 1000, virtually the same as the smaller through-deck-cruiser carriers, meaning that her provisioning will be a great deal less than for the EAGLE and ARK ROYAL. Equally, the QUEEN ELIZABETH is propelled by diesel-electric technology requiring less fuel than the direct shaft drive of the EAGLES engines: another potentially large logistic saving.

My researches take me to the daily records of the EAGLE and the ARK ROYAL. Since I was once a crew member of the EAGLE, and that as previously stated, EAGLE was slightly heavier than was the ARK ROYAL, I have opted to use the EAGLE data.

In her journal/ sea log magazine called "EAGLE EYE" this one dated May 1968, is listed her largest RAS's delivered either by heavy jack stay, helicopter, boat transfer or fuel via derrick gantries [tankers]. I have copies of her LOGREQ [a signal, usually, although it could be conveyed to the naval stores departments/depots by other means], specifically stating her liquids and solids shopping list {Logistic Requirements} to be delivered at her next Port of Call, or at a pre-arranged rendezvous at sea with ships of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary  [RFA]. The LOGREQ also listed spares required to rectify defects; specialist stores, and a whole host of enhancements designed to make a long period at sea more bearable. Beer, for example, was a NAAFI [Navy Army Air Forces Institutions] civilian  item on the list, whereas, wines and spirits for the wardroom were a civilian item brokered through the well known company of Saccone and Speed Limited. That other famous naval tipple, RUM, was a navy supplied item from naval victualling yards, which was withdrawn as a lower-deck perk in 1970. The lower-deck has two separate divisions, junior rates and senior rates. When rum was withdrawn, junior rates were issued with beer in lieu of the proverbial tot.  Senior rates, PO's and CPO'S, were treated rather better. They were allowed to build [or rebuild] bars into their messes with optic facilities so that they could sell spirits in addition to beer. This allowed them to 'entertain' their guests in a more traditional way, allowing them to offer spirits and mixers instead of just beer and illegal rum, usually neat without a mixer. Illegal rum came in two varieties, the privately bottled neat rum which men kept from their daily issue [for example, drinking only half their issue and pouring the other half into a 28 ounce bottle privately procurred,  to keep for private entertaining later on usually when in harbour], and a mess bottle called "The Queens" used to ply the glasses of official mess guests as opposed to private guests. The neat rum which filled this "Queens Bottle" came from spillage when supplying neat rum to the junior rates before water was added to make it "grog". In a very real way, the spillage robbed the junior men of their just and full issue, resulting in a tot of grog which could have been stronger had the spillage not occurred. Every sailor in every vessel and shore establishment where rum was issued to men aged 20 and over, knew of the short changing: every senior rates mess had a "Queens Bottle" and many senior rates has their own private bottle.  The habits of 'bottles' were illegal but tolerated by and large! See also this page. Finally on the subject of RUM, in addition to the two alternatives-to-rum-issue mentioned [beer to juniors and optics to seniors] the Navy set up a TOT FUND using money hitherto spent on the procurement and issue of rum to the fleet. This TOT FUND benefitted all on the lower deck in some way or other, providing add-on features [libraries, games, better social areas etc]than had been available prior to the withdrawal.

What follows, is a retype of an article published in the May 1968 'EAGLE EYE' magazine, which having been read in-situ by crew members, was designed to that it could be sent home to loved ones to read at a cost of 6d [Forces Air Mail] {2½pence after decimalisation in 1970}.  It was printed by the RM Detachment of the ships company, although this magazine suggests that a new printer was badly needed - hence the need for a retype.!


"RAS Liquids and Solids" says the programme only too often.  It is very much part of our routine of our life, for how else could we remain at sea so happily and for so many weeks on end?

The art of Replenishing At Sea [hence, RAS] really began during the end of the Pacific War in 1944/45; since then techniques and methods have been so developed and improved that the normal and easiest way for a ship to store and fuel, is at sea rather than in harbour.  Not only is it easier but it makes for much greater operational flexibility - ships can be sent off halfway across an ocean without any delay, knowing that stores and fuel will be available wherever they may be sent.

The ships that carry the fuel and stores are known as Royal Fleet Auxiliaries [R.F.A's], owned and managed by the Navy and manned by Merchant Navy Officers and men of the R.F.A. Service.  In the Store Ships, the Stores Officers and their staffs are civilians of the Navy's Supply and Transport Service who normally work ashore in the Dockyards and in London.

In the EAGLE, we need to embark fuel about every four days when at sea and a typical replenishment would consist of about 2000 tons of fuel oil for the main engines, about 300 tons of aviation fuel for the aircraft, and about 2000 gallons of lubricating oil in drums.  This would take about two hours to embark.  We have usually taken this from a Fleet Tanker of the OLWEN class of which there are three - OLWEN, OLNA and ALMEDA [she was called OLEANDER when she came out to Cape Town with us, but her name was changed to avoid confusion to the frigate LEANDER].  All these ships have supported us during the last year; they are about 22,000 tons and were completed in 1965/66.  We have also fuelled from several of the  rather smaller TIDE class - TIDEPOOL, TIDEFLOW, TIDEREACH and so on, and by the still smaller BAYLEAF and PLUMLEAF.

  Of course after a few weeks at sea, fuelling every four days, we suck even the OLWEN dry; so there are support tankers which, though they cannot fuel a carrier at sea, can embark the fuel from the refinery and then keep the OLWEN topped up by what is known as a pumpover.  We have seen something of the DERWENTDALE, supporting us in this way - her deadweight tonnage is 73000 tons which makes her the largest R.F.A.

The word "SOLIDS" refers to victuals, beer, rum, air stores, general stores of all kinds, and ammunition.  There are eight solids Store Ships in the R.F.A., and we have RAS'd with all of them in the last nine months.  Three of them, RELIANT, RETAINER and RESURGENT, are converted merchant ships and have been with the R.F.A., for some ten years.  RELIANT, whom we have seen most of gives us victuals and air stores; RETAINER and RESURGENT carry ammunition and some victuals.  The other five were built specially for the job of replenishing the fleet at sea and all were completed only last year, 1967.  They are the ammunition and victualling ships REGENT and RESOURCE, and the victuals and stores ships LYNESS, STROMNESS and TARBATNESS.  REGENT and RESOURCE have a gross tonnage of 18000 tons, and each carries a Wessex Mk5 helicopter for vertical replenishment ["VERTREP" of which more later]; the helicopter is manned by an R.N., pilot with a small maintenance crew of nine naval ratings who live in the R.F.A.  The three NESS ships are 14000 tons and have a helicopter deck enabling stores to be transferred by a "VERTREP" but do not carry their own helicopter.

Stores are made up into loads of just under a ton and can either be transferred by heavy jackstay between two ships steaming side by side at about 12 knots, or they can be transferred hanging under a helicopter - by "VERTREP".  A "VERTREP" is more expensive and rather slower than a jackstay transfer but can be very useful when there are only a small number of loads or when it is operationally undesirable for ships to be "tied together" for several hours.  We in EAGLE made "VERTREP" history on the day we left U.K., 25th August 1967.  We were supposed to have a jackstay RAS at sea with R.F.A., RESOURCE but her engines broke down - so the EAGLE and RESOURCE anchored in Plymouth Sound and the stores were transferred by helicopter - 167 loads, which was then the largest "VERTREP" ever.  Normally we have a "SOLIDS" RAS about every ten days, with an average of 150 loads each time.  Speedy transfers and speedy removal of the stores from the Flight Deck are vital so that the ship can resume flying as soon as possible after RAS.  We have eight ways of getting the stores off the flight deck - three bomb lifts which take the stores vertically down three or more decks, a storing trunk down which stores can be lowered six decks by rope, a metal chute for spuds, and three canvas chutes which are rigged in the forward lift well.  Stores slide down the chutes to 4 or 5 deck, through a doorway and eventually to the storerooms ; one chute passes through the sickbay carrying all the beer and flour.  It always seems to rain on a flour day and the doctor always has a long face.  After the stores have left the flight deck, there is the long and tiring business of stowing them in the storerooms.

We've set up a few records this commission.  For example, the Far East Fleet target for transfer of stores is 42 loads per hour for each jackstay.  With RELIANT, we regularly clocked up about 53 loads an hour.  This reflects great credit on everyone - the men working the jackstays, the men in RELIANT who can prepare the loads quickly enough so that the jackstays aren't kept waiting for the next load, and the stores parties in the EAGLE who get the stores off the flight deck and into the storerooms quickly enough to avoid bottlenecks and build-ups.

Our biggest RAS was on the 21st March, the day before we reached Hong Kong.  RELIANT gave us 371 loads in about 4 hours, which was probably the biggest RAS ever undertaken by a British carrier.  The cause, oddly enough, was the London dock strike of October 1967 which delayed all the freights coming out to us by sea, and when it eventually arrived, we got it all at once!

Probably the most valuable RAS in terms of cash was on 27th April when in addition to some 280 ordinary loads from the faithful RELIANT, she gave us five new aircraft engines in exchange for five unserviceable ones which she later transferred to another ship to take them home for repair.  Each engine is worth about 40,000, making a total of about 400.000.  [At the same time we gave another ship about 170,000 in Australian and Hong Kong currency which was  sadly of no more use to us].  Transferring engines at sea is a very recent development - some of them weigh over two tons - but to us in EAGLE it has become like RASing just a part of the normal business of keeping the ship operational.



To compete with this story, you will have had to have served in a big ship, in a true and relevant RAS envelope which starts in earnest in approximately 1948.  I can only think of one ship, namely the Ark Royal [already mentioned frequently in this story], but since I know her story, I will discount it anyway.

Therefore, if you have served in a British warship and have documentary details [proof] that the RAS history of your vessel can out perform that of EAGLE's, I will be pleased to hear from you.

Goodbye and good sailing.

P.S. Given that the relatively small complement of the Queen Elizabeth despite its size [the complement of the EAGLE was over 2500 souls] and the lap of luxury living accommodation onboard, with the 21st century standard of individual crew members  never being disconnected from family ELECTRONICALLY even when at sea, I can't ever envisage her RAS requirements will ever surpass let alone get anywhere near to what the EAGLE's requirements were, except, and it is a possibility, that they add a RAS SOLIDS RFA specialising in the delivery of McDonalds, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Burger King, Ben and Jerry products etc etc! Incidentally, I wonder whether, or how soon, it will take for the QUEEN ELIZABETH to break EAGLE's record of 71 days at sea in one operation?