Clan Line

Captain John Bax
Source: "Gathering of the Clans" by N.L. Middlemiss
Merchant Fleets by Duncan Haws
Research: Terry Robins

Part Six

"In these anxious days I would like to express to all Officers and Men and in The British Merchant Navy and The British Fishing Fleets my confidence in their unfailing determination to play their vital part in defense. To each one I would say: Yours is a task no less essential to my people’s experience than that allotted to the Navy, Army and Air Force. Upon you the Nation depends for much of its foodstuffs and raw materials and for the transport of its troops overseas. You have a long and glorious history, and I am proud to bear the title “Master of the Merchant Navy and Fishing Fleets” I know that you will carry out your duties with resolution and with fortitude, and that high chivalrous traditions of your calling are safe in your hands. God keep you and prosper you in your great task."

H.M. The King’s Message. September. 1939

Three of the CLAN Cameron class steamers were requisitioned by the Admiralty while still on the stocks at Greenock Dockyard and were completed as H.M.S. ATHENE, H.M.S. ENGADINE and H.M.S. BONAVENTURE, the first two as seaplane depot ships. H.M.S. BONAVENTURE was commissioned into the Royal Navy on 23rd January 1943 as a depot ship for ‘X’ craft midget submarines and for the next two years operated from secret hideouts on the coast of Scotland for operations against enemy occupied Norway. On 22nd September 1943 her midget submarines made the daring attack on the Tirpitz in Altenfjord and she also conducted all the training for midget and human torpedoes. She carried out in total, three operations off the Norwegian Coast and then her craft took part in the D- Day operations. H.M.S. BONAVENTURE sailed for the Pacific on 21st February 1945, with a second flotilla of midget submarines for operations against the Japanese. A few weeks before Japan surrendered they penetrated the defences of the Jahore Strait and torpedoed the Japanese cruiser Takao. They also cut the marine cable between Singapore – Saigon – Japan, which forced the enemy to use radio, which could be picked up and deciphered by the Allies. She also flew the flag of an American Admiral commanding submarines of the U.S. seventh fleet for a while. The Officers and Men of the flotilla won four Victoria Crosses. After the war had ended she was used as a Navy Transport steaming over 60,000 miles between Australia, Japan, China, Malaya and the Philippines. She rescued 85 survivors and a dog from the frigate H.M.S. AIRE, aground on the notorious Bombay Reef, on Christmas Eve 1946. Bombay Reef lies just off the main Hong Kong to Singapore shipping lanes. In spring of 1947 the H.M.S. BONAVENTURE returned home for a thorough overhaul before returning to Clan Line service in early 1948 as CLAN DAVIDSON.2







(2) 1948 1962

Official No. 182100 Grt 8067 Nrt 3697

463.8 x 63.0 x 29.9 Feet.

27.10 1942 launched and 1.1943 completed as H.M.S. BONAVENTURE (picture above) having been purchased by The Admiralty while still in the stocks. 23.1.1943 commissioned as a depot-ship for midget submarines in Scottish waters for operations against the enemy controlled Norway. 2. 1943 blown ashore at Castle Toward from her anchorage in Rothesay Bay, ending up close to rows of tied up conventional submarines. 21.2.1945 sailed to Far East for midget submarine operations against Japanese. 5.1947 returned to U.K. 1948 entered Clan Line Service as CLAN DAVIDSON. 25.12.1961 arrived Hong Kong for scrapping.

In Total, Clan Line lost 30 ships during World War ll, of which 16 were torpedoed by submarine, 6 were bombed or hit by aerial torpedo, 3 were mined, 3 were lost by collision, one was sunk by a German Raider and one was lost by fire and stranding CLAN CHISHOLM was the first causality of the war on 17th October, 1939 when two torpedoes slammed into her in the darkness 300 miles of Cape Finisterre. She had sailed independently as far as Port Said with a full cargo from India, and had joined a slow 9-knot convoy at Gibraltar on the last lap. After the Convoy Commodore had been sunk four days out, CLAN CHISHOLM went to full speed and headed away from the area of apparent danger, but four hours later she met the same fate. Twenty-Four hours later, CLAN MACBEAN from the same convoy came within100 feet of ramming a U Boat, which had surfaced and was shelling her and after missing with a torpedo. There was no time for the U Boat gun crew to get below before the crash dive, and they were probably lost. CLAN MACBEAN escaped unharmed by the bold, attacking move of her Master Capt. E. Coultas. Masters of Merchant ships continually under the threat of Submarine torpedo attack cannot as a rule hit back, unless the submarine surfaces, but patiently have to avoid areas of danger or at times, even back track. However, they can hit back with their guns, if they have any, at aircraft and surface vessels. Herbert Cayzer who had taken the title of Lord Rotherwick in 1937, highlighted the need for equal priority to be given to supplying Merchant ships with guns, in a speech on becoming President of The Chamber of Shipping in February, 1941, so that no vessel was left without a means of repelling an attack. The actions when Clan Line ships did hit back, mostly in the Mediterranean, are indicative of their fighting spirit. Indeed, The Company became known as The Scots Navy on account of the sleeve rings of the Officers being identical to those worn by Royal Navy Officers.

(2.) 1937 – 1939.

Official No. 165915. Grt 7256 Nrt 3671

463.7 X 63.0 X 29.9 Feet.

5.8.1937 launched and 10.1937 completed by Greenock Dockyard Co. Ltd. Greenock (Yard No 429) for The CLAN Line Steamers Ltd. 17.10.1939 torpedoed and sunk by U48 in position 45° N 15° W approx, while homeward bound from India, having sailed in convoy from Gibraltar on 13.10.1939

(2) 1948 – 1960

Official No. 168840. Grt 7129 Nrt 4250

425.1 X 57.0 X 34.8 Feet.

10.1942 completed by Todd-Bath Shipbuilders, Portland, Maine (Yard No. 24) as OCEAN COURIER for The Ministry of War Transport. Larringa Steamship Co., Liverpool, appointed managers. 30.7.1944 damaged by E-boat torpedo in the English Channel. 1948 purchased by The Clan Line Steamers ltd, and renamed CLAN MACBEAN. 20.8.1960 arrived Hong Kong for scrapping, sold for £59,000.

(3) 1938 – 1959

Official No. 165951 Grt7529 Nrt 3689

463.7 X 63.0 X 29.9 Feet.

8.9.1938 launched and 12.1938 completed by Greenock Dockyard Co Ltd., Greenock (Yard no 434) for The Clan Line Steamers Ltd. 16.8.1940 damaged by bombs in Tilbury Dock 6.8.1959 arrived Hong Kong for scrapping.

On 15th November, 1940 CLAN FORBES and CLAN FRASER sailed from the Clyde in convoy with two other ships to take part in the first West to East supply convoy run to Malta since the entry of Italy into the war. The other two ships had left by Gibraltar and on 27th November carrier fighters had dealt with the first hostile aircraft. At nightfall the two Clan vessels took leave of their heavy escort and made a dash through the Pantellaria Channel. During the following afternoon bombs were dropped all around the Merchant Ships, with CLAN FRASER being heavily straddled, but to the relief of everyone both ships entered Grand harbour, Valletta. Four other Merchant ships that had made the passage from the eastern End of the Mediterranean were already in port. It was a proud moment for The Clan Line for five of the six ships flew their house flags, the others being CLAN FERGUSON, CLAN MCCAULAY and LANARKSHIRE of the Scottish Shire Line. Early in January 1941, CLAN MCCAULAY made another run to Malta and had a miraculous escape from destruction while in Port. There had been a gale on the night of 17th and 18th January and her Master had asked next day, to be moved to another berth as his anchors had dragged. The ship had begun to move when an air raid started and two heavy bombs crashed into the water just where she had been anchored a few minutes earlier. CLAN FRASER arrived at Piraeus with a cargo of Military stores on 4th April 1941, after another transit of the Mediterranean. On the evening of 6th April, she was struck by three bombs during an air raid, one hitting her forward, one amidships and one aft. Seven crewmembers were killed. The remainder evacuated the ship and for five hours CLAN FRASER burned, glowing red from bulwarks to water line, she then blew up with a tremendous explosion. The explosion did tremendous damage to the Port of Piraeus and other shipping, together with shaking buildings 15 miles inland. CLAN CUMMING was in Port with CLAN FRASER having made the voyage through the Mediterranean in convoy from Gibraltar, leaving on 6th January. She had safely sailed again from Piraeus after discharging her cargo of war materials. She had a heavy escort but was torpedoed on 18th January and returned to Piraeus to dry- dock. When CLAN FRASER exploded the force sent CLAN CUMMING rolling on to her beam ends, and a steel plate measuring 23 feet X 3 feet landed on her bridge top, while half of CLAN FRASER’s windlass crashed through No 4 hatch and started a fire. Later a section of the CLAN FRASER bridge structure weighing 12.5 tons was found nearly a mile away and thirty feet of her 80-ton derrick was found in a park. On 14th April, CLAN CUMMING got a seaworthy certificate and sailed that night, shooting down a plane on the way out, but ran into a minefield and sank after a heavy explosion.


1939 – 1941

Official No. 165960. Grt 7529 Nrt 3524

463.7 X 63.0 X 29.9 Feet.

20.12.1938 launched and 2.1938 completed by Greenock Dockyard Co. Ltd. Greenock (Yard No 435) for The Clan Line Steamers Ltd. 17.4.1941 bombed by aircraft and exploded with great force while berthed at Piraeus with a cargo of ammunition. CLAN FORBES had been disguised by the carpenters and fitters of the Clyde as the submarine depot ship H.M.S. MAIDSTONE with a dummy funnel.

(2) 1938 – 1941

Official No. 165924 Grt 7264 Nrt 3676

463.7 X 63.0 X 29.9 Feet.

18.10.1937 Launched and 1.1938 completed by Greenock Dockyard Co Ltd. Greenock (Yard No 430) for The Clan Line Steamers Ltd. 11.10.1940 damaged by bombing at Liverpool. 19.1.1941 damaged by Torpedo off Piraeus but reached port. 15.4.1941 hit a min and sank in the Gulf of Athens.

(2) 1938 – 1942

Official No.165937 Grt 7347 Nrt 3563

463.7 X 63.0 X 29.9 Feet.

22.3.1938 Launched and 6.1938 completed by Greenock Dockyard Co. Ltd. Greenock (Yard No 432) for The Clan Line Steamers Ltd. 21.9.1940 attacked by aircraft at Alexandria. 12.8.1942 torpedoed and sunk by aircraft, 20 miles North of Zembra Island while on a Malta Convoy from Gibraltar.

(2) 1936 – 1963. Official No. 164100. Grt 10448 Nrt 6406

477.1 X 61.2 X 40.2 Feet.

7.8.1936 Launched and 11.1936 completed by Greenock Dockyard Co. Ltd. Greenock (Yard No425) for The Clan Line Steamers Ltd. 19.1.1941 bombed and damaged at Malta. 1960 registered under Houston Line Ltd. 18.11.1963 arrived Dalmuir for scrapping.


1940 – 1963

Grt 9816 Nrt 5822

505.3 X 64.7 X 27.4 Feet

Sister Ship Of CLAN MACDONALD. 4.

1940. Commenced service with the Ministry of Shipping and allocated to the Middle East as a cold storage for the military until Nov 15th when she sailed on her first convoy to Malta. During 1941 she saw service on the U.K to Port Said and Alexandria with supplies for Malta.
In 1942 she sailed in convoy WS 19 which included 15 troopships for the Middle East and in 1946 reverted to her normal Scottish Shire’s Line Australian Service till 1952 when she was transferred to the South African Service.
In 1959 she was renamed UMGAZI when transferred to Bullard, King & Co. In 1960 she was again transferred to the jointly owned SAF Marine, Springbok Line. And renamed GYSBOK until 1961 when she became South African Farmer of Safmarine. 1963. Broken up in Japan.

CLAN MACDONALD was Convoy Commodore ship for the passage through the Mediterranean with munitions bound for Piraeus in January 1941. She survived repeated attacks by high-level dive – bombers and was shelled as she passed through the narrows. She arrives safely and discharged her cargo. She then went via the Suez Canal as far as Brisbane and returned to U.K where an enemy bomber dropped two bombs very close to her while she was at anchor.

(4) 1939 – 1970

Official No. 165971. Grt 9653 Nrt 5719

481.9 X 9.64 X 27.4 Feet.

15.8.1939 Launched and 12.1939 completed by Greenock Dockyard Co. Ltd. Greenock (Yard No 436) for The Clan Line Steamers Ltd. 1.1941 Convoy Commodore ship on Mediterranean convoy to Piraeus. 196 registered under Houston Line Ltd. 14.3.1966 picked up nine survivors from the tanker WORLD LIBERTY after collision with Norwegian tanker MOSLI in the Red Sea. 6.8.197 arrived Shanghai for scrapping.

On 28th April 1941 while on her way from Durban to Colombo, CLAN BUCHANAN was intercepted by the German Surface Raider PINQUIN after being sighted by the raiders aircraft. Capt. D. Davenport Jones surrendered his ship only when the situation was hopeless, with debris from shell explosions blown into the engine room and the engines were disabled. None of the crew were killed and all were safely transferred to the raider. Ten days later the raider was sunk by the cruiser H.M.S.Cornwall, which picked up as many survivors as she could. In dispatching this Raider, which had become a particular menace to British Merchant Shipping on the high seas, there was heavy loss of life among the CLAN Buchannan crew of over 100 with only 13 survivors.

(3) 1938 - 1941

Official No. 165929 Grt 7266 Nrt 3692

463.7 X 63.0 X 29.9 Feet.

21.12.1937 Launched and 2.1938 completed by Greenock Dockyard Co. Ltd. Greenock (Yard No 431) for The Clan Line Steamers Ltd. 28.4.1941 sunk by German Raider PINGUIN in position 5º 24' N 62º 46' E. Indian Ocean, only 13 survived out of over 100, while on a voyage from Durban to Colombo.


HMS Cornwall

Four Clan ships including the managed EMPIRE SONG were in another convoy that sailed from Gibraltar in May 1941 for Malta. The convoy was subject to heavy air attack and on the night of 8th May, when about 45 miles West of Pantellaria, EMPIRE SONG was badly damaged when she struck mines. Efforts to put out the resulting fires were not successful and internal explosions shook her as she steamed along. When the temperature in No 1 hold had reached 110 degrees the order to abandon ship was given. A Destroyer was badly damaged later during an investigation when EMPIRE SONG blew up. CLAN LAMONT, CLAN CHATTON and CLAN CAMPBELL, the latter suffering from engine trouble, all made it safely to Malta.


1940 – 1941

Official No. 166991 Grt 9228 Nrt 4950

463.8 X 63.0 X 29.9 Feet.

18.6.1940 Launched and 1940 completed by Greenock Dockyard, Ltd. Greenock. (Yard No 443) as EMPIRE SONG for The Ministry of Shipping. Cayzer, Irvine & Co Ltd. Appointed managers. 9.5.1941 mined and sunk in the Mediterranean near the Island of Pantelleria while on a Malta Convoy from Gibraltar.

As HMS Lamont

(3) 1939 – 1961

Official No. 165965 Grt 7673 Nrt 3524

463.7 X 63.0 X 29.9 Feet.

22.3.1939 Launched and 12.1939 completed by Greenock Dockyard Co Ltd. Greenock (Yard No 438) for The Clan Line Steamers Ltd. 6.1944 crossed the English Channel five times with Invasion Troops for Normandy, serving as a Landing Ship Infantry (LSI) 25.7.1944 commissioned into The Royal Navy and renamed H.M.S. LAMONT six days later. 2.8.1944 sailed for the South West Pacific to assist the United States Navy, but was rejected and used for training, trooping and an accommodation ship for British Pacific Fleet at Manus, Admiralty Islands. 1946 returned to the U.K. via Panama Canal and fitted with extra accommodation for ferrying troops between Tilbury and Cuxhavan. 1947 re-entered Clan Line Service. 31.8.1961 arrived Mihara, Japan, for scrapping.

Part Seven