On the Waterfront: The Royal Fleet Auxiliary’s post war tankers on the Wear
While the Wear made a massive contribution to the UK’s merchant shipbuilding output during both world wars, a significant number of naval vessels were also launched.
While the Admiralty was quick to make use of Sunderland’s shipbuilding resources during wartime, these were soon forgotten in favour of established naval building rivers once peace returned.
It was therefore with delight and some surprise when the Admiralty announced on June 30, 1953 that Wear yards were to build two single-screw steam turbine Tide-class replenishment tankers for the Royal Fleet Auxiliary.
The class comprised six replenishment oilers launched between 1954 and 1962, four being built on the Tyne and at Belfast.
The Wear order was shared between Sir James Laing and Sons Deptford yard and Joseph L Thompson and Sons’ North Sands yard, the ships being Tiderange and Tiderace.
Tiderange was built by Laings, being launched on July 1, 1954 by Kathleen Parham, wife of the Fourth Sea Lord, Admiral Frederick Robertson Parham, who acted as Chief of Supplies and Transport at the Admiralty.
Praising Laings’ workforce, Vice-Admiral Parham said: “She [Tiderange] may not be quite as lovely as the Torrens or as beautiful as the old sailing ships which Laings built in days gone by, but much thought has gone into the construction of the Tiderange.
“Such skill can only be produced by men, from the director to the junior workmen in whom is ingrained a knowledge and love of ships.”
Tiderace went down the ways at North Sands on August 30, 1954, being launched by Lady Elizabeth Davis, wife of Vice-Admiral WW Davis, Chief of Naval Staff after some shipyard workers has given up their holidays during atrocious August weather to ensure the ship was launched on time.
Speaking at the post-launch reception, Mr R Cyril Thompson, Chairman of the builders, said: “Two weeks ago, we were so disheartened by the weather that we felt like ringing the Admiralty and telling them that we should have to postpone the launch.
“The men, however, were keen to have a go at finishing her on time and thanks to their efforts, we have been successful.”
Both vessels were 583 feet in length with a displacement on 26,000 tons.
After fitting out, they were towed to the Tyne for engine installation by North-East Marine Engineering Co (1938) Ltd.
Tiderange was commissioned on August 30, 1955, receiving the pennant number A98. She was renamed Tidesurge in 1958 to avoid confusion with other members of the class. Decommissioned in 1976, she was broken up at Valencia, Spain in 1977.
Tiderace (pennant number A97) was commissioned on January 25, 1956. She was renamed Tideflow in 1958 and decommissioned in 1975, arriving at Bilbao, Spain to be scrapped in 1976.