The Loftsman
Leith Shipyards

A history of the Ships built at the Henry Robb Shipyard in Leith, Scotland. Also a testimony to the men who built the Ships and to all who sailed in them.
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Home Ships Built in Leith 1939 to 1945 HMRT GROWLER - Yard No 328 - Bustler Class Rescue Tug - Royal Navy - Built 1942

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HMRT GROWLER - Yard No 328 - Bustler Class Rescue Tug - Royal Navy - Built 1942



Bustler Class Ocean going rescue tug.

 HMS GROWLER Ship No 328 (With Deck Gun)  
Owners   Royal Navy
Registered     Keel Laid    31/01/1942
Type of Ship    Ocean Rescue/Salvage Tug Launched    10/09/1942
      Commissioned    16/03/1943
Ship Details          
Length Overall    205' 0" Launch Details    
Length B.P.    190' 0" Weather    
Beam    38' 6" Time to Water    
Depth Mld     19' 0"      
Draught    16' 11"      
G.R.T.    1100 tons      
Complement     42 Officers and Men      
Engines    2 x 8 cylinder Diesels (Atlas Polar)

producing 3020 bhp

Props    1      
Speed    16 knots      
Armament     1 x 12 pdr AA gun, 1 x 2 pdr AA, 2  x 20 mm AA  and 4 x Lewis .303 machine guns      
Other known names   1947-Caroline Moller, 1952-Castle Peak, 1958-Welshman, 1963-Cyclone (pennant A 111), 1983-Martial     
Current Status   Broken up in 1985    
Content on will be added as and when available. 

HMS GROWLER complete with forward deck gun

(photo is from Historical RFA)

Ships History

Once a ship had been built and launched she then had to be out-fitted, and then complete sea trials
before being handed over to her new owners, in the case of a ship for the Royal Navy this meant she also had to be commissioned as fit for purpose, once commissioned she was then considered ready for action and would take her place in the fleet.

  The BUSTLER Class of tug was designed and built in the shipyards of Leith, and Henry Robb where to provide 8 ships of this Class for the Royal Navy, making them the first RN Fleet Tugs powered by 2 x 8 cylinder diesel engines. The tugs were ordered in pairs. Oil fuel capacity was 405 tons which gave a range of about 1700 miles. As completed, the Class was armed with 1 x 12 pdr AA gun, 1 x 2 pdr AA, 2  x 20 mm AA  and 4 x Lewis .303 machine guns and had a complement of 42. They were designed for ocean towing, salvage and rescue and had a 30 ton bollard pull but were not suitable for harbour work. Early in the War they were involved in trials of pressure-minesweeping methods, where a dumb barge was towed behind the tug with the aim of exploding mines intended for merchant ships and warships. Unfortunately the pressure wave created by the tug alone was sufficient to detonate the mines, so the trials were abandoned. Post-War, the Class was ideal for commercial charter and eventually 6 of the Class saw service as Royal Fleet Auxiliaries.

 His Majesties rescue Tug GROWLER was another of the much needed type designed and built at the Leith Shipyards of Henry Robb, she was to go on and have a very interesting service life at war and for a long time during peace.

War Service

"GROWLER" was put to good use as a rescue tug first in the battle of the Atlantic. She was also one of the tugs along with her sister ship BUSTLER that took part in Operation Pluto just after D-Day, this was the operation to supply the invading armies with enough fuel to allow them to take the fight inland to Germany, and it was in fact an amazing feat.
Along with the Mulberry Harbours that were constructed immediately after D-Day, Operation Pluto is considered one of history's greatest feats of military engineering. The pipelines are also the forerunners of all flexible pipes used in the development of offshore oil fields

Operation Pluto was the name given to the giant spools (floating drum) that carried the pipeline from the British mainland to the coast of France, the way that all future underwater pipe lines would be based on, GROWLER and BUSTLER along with another smaller tug towed the drums around 72 miles and they were escorted by two "Flower Class" Corvettes one of which happened to be another ship built in the Leith Shipyards of Henry Robb, she was the Corvette "DIANTHUS". 


BUSTLER and GROWLER towing the huge pipe spool drum to take fuel across the channel.


Another photo of the huge drum codenamed (Conun-Drum) being towed across the English Channel to the coast of France at Cherbourg.



The photo above gives some idea of the scale of the huge drums, this is one that slipped a tow and was washed up on the French Coast.


4 May 1945 Was part of Force 135 for Operation Nestegg - the Channel Islands Liberation

To be Continued

 After the war she was based in Singapore from 1946, then in 1947 she was chartered to Moller Towages Ltd., Hong Kong, she was then renamed Caroline Moller. 1952 Re-chartered by Moller to Hong Kong Salvage & Towage Co Ltd., renamed Castle Peak.

In 1954 she returned to UK Admiralty, re-renamed RFA Growler (pennant A 111).

1958 Chartered by United Towing Co Ltd., Hull renamed Welshman. Then in 1963 she returned to Admiralty service at Devonport, renamed Cyclone (pennant A 111). RMAS from 1970.


GROWLER after her return to the British Admiralty and re-named CYCLONE (A111)

(photo from RFAAPlymouth)

1977 Laid up at Gibraltar. she was then sold in 1983 to Eagle Tugs Ltd., Georgetown, Cayman Islands, and based in Mombasa, renamed Martial.

1985 Arrived Gadani Beach, Karachi for scrapping by Adam Hardware Industries, Karachi.

So she was to meet with her enevitable end after 42 years of service and too many adventures to mention here.

We try here to give as full an account of her history as time and research permits, if you know of missing info or you have any photographs of her, then please get in touch and we shall update her story as we go along.

Tales from the Ship

Here you will find the stories from the men and women who sailed on the ships, what was it really like to be working on a ship in a raging sea and in the pitch dark of night, the real stories some funny some sad, some good and some bad.

Dedicated to all the brave men and women who sailed the vessels from the Leith Shipyards.

It was a special breed of man who served on the rescue tugs during wartime, when the normal dangers of this type of service were even more extreme.George-Caldwell-Wilson

The above is a photograph of George Caldwell Wilson who served some time on her during the dark days of World War II (photo was sent in by his Grandson, and reproduced here with permission)

To be continued.

Should you know of anyone who may have sailed on her, then please feel free to get in touch so that we can add the story here.






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0 #8 Brian Tomlinson 2016-11-02 09:03
I was a cabin boy on the Welshman when she was based in Falmouth. We towed a great lakes grain ship from Quebec to Genoa . During this voyage the towing master , Captain Bond passed away. The master was Captain Chinery (not sure of spelling). I remember when I first boarded her in Hull . Written in the alleyway were the words 'Boston to HongKong' . I believe she had towed an aircraft carrier there for scrap. Epic tow.
I was very happy aboard although I was very young , 15, at the time I still have the memories.
Does anyone have a good photo of the 'Welshman'?
0 #7 Iain 2016-01-23 08:39
Hello John

I would be really interested in seeing the things he has. Unfortunately the Tugs were under restrictions on reporting so not a lot information is in the public domain.


Iain :-)
+1 #6 John Pinkerton 2016-01-22 21:42
My Great Uncle, Victor Williamson, from Portadown Co Armagh, was the radio officer on HMS Growler during WW2. My brother has his diaries and a few bits and pieces which might be of interest..
0 #5 Iain Wilson 2014-10-19 18:20
Hi Brian

I have been doing a bit of reading on the web (I also bought a dvd about the tug boats) about the rescue tugs. It is a pity that during wartime there was an embargo on photographing and filming on them. I have found bits and pieces about them but information is scarce.
I know that my Grandad served on her from August 1942 until the end of the war and would have been aboard when they were towing the Mulbrerry harbours into place.

From what I have read and heard these were a group of servicement who were extremely brave and serverd under extreme conditions (like most others).

I know my grandad was severely affected and nexer slept in a dark room after the war
+1 #4 Brian Tomlinson 2014-10-19 10:34
I served on the Welshman (Growler) as a cabin boy . Then on station at Falmouth. She had an inscription written on a panel in the port side alleyway that read "Boston to Hong Kong". We were towing a great lakes cargo boat from Quebec to Genoa when the captain passed away . He was Captain Bond who had been involved towing the Mulberry harbors during WW2. The navigating officer was a Captain Chinery. I have great memories of an unforgettable experience
0 #3 Iain Wilson 2013-04-28 09:16
I have just been told that my Grandfather, George Caldwell Wilson, served on onother merchant ship before he joined the Growler.

Apparently he could not swim and the ship he was on was sunk and he floated about for a while in a life jacket. He never learned to swim and then was posted to the Growler.

I have been told that he was on the SS Empire Curlew. This was not sunk.
0 #2 Iain Wilson 2011-06-12 21:11
I did read a small snippet of information regarding the tug while visiting Eden Camp near Scarborough. There was a couple of sentences which indicated that the Tug had been 'Adopted' by (I think I have this correct) a High school in Partick.
0 #1 Iain Wilson 2011-06-12 21:07
My Grandfather, George Caldwell Wilson, served on this tug during world war 2. I would be very interested to hear from anyone who has any links to this tug.
I would also be interested to hear from anybody who has any information about this tug and her service during the war period.(You can contact Iain through the website should you have any interesting information on "GROWLER"

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