Rochester Castle

ROCHESTER CASTLE was built in 1937 by Harland & Wolff at Belfast with a tonnage of 7795grt, a length of 474ft 2in, a beam of 63ft 4in and a service speed of 15 knots although she attained 19 knots during trials.

Delivered on 29th April 1937 she was the first of a class of four ships which were slightly larger than the earlier 'R' class.

She made her maiden voyage to Port Natal on 12th May and was subsequently deployed on the South Africa - UK refrigerated fruit run.

Speech Delivered by Dr. Paul Borg Oliver, Mayor of Valletta.

On the occasion of the conferment of the title of.


to the veterans of Operation Pedestal August 1942

Almighty God we give thee the simple prayer of all those who stood at the foot of the unbeaten bastions, on the ramparts of the dauntless Fort St Elmo, on the dry shores of the Grand Harbour and on the bare roof tops of the shattered homes in Valletta and the Three Cities as they emotionally greeted the convoy ships sailing in the harbour in the month of August 1942.

Minister, colleagues, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen. It is a great pleasure and honour for me, as Mayor of Valletta and on behalf of my colleague councillors and all the people of Valletta, to welcome you to Malta on the occasion of the 60th Anniversary of Operation Pedestal.

May I point out from the start that Malta`s gratitude and indebtedness to you all and all your colleagues are infinite.

The passage of time will never strike off our memory of this glorious event, for your suffering was our suffering and your hopes were our hopes and guided by the noble virtues of courage and, to quote Winston Churchill, "The strength of Malta revived"

I am not a witness to the siege, of course my age gives me away. I have never felt the suffering of hunger, the yelling of sirens, the blast of bombs and the fear of dying out at sea away from my family. These must have been your thoughts and feelings as they must have been of all those who experienced these bitter moments of distress.

It appeared that this was the beginning of the end for you and Malta.

Yet I am human, so allow me to share with you the grief for all those who died at sea or on land to give me and many others the meaning of life.

We stand here today at the St. James Cavalier, the former NAAFI as all of you know it, in remembrance of one of Malta`s most difficult yet glorious moments - a turning point in our history.

We stand here today,to give homage to those who gave their lives for others and to honour you, the survivors, of Operation Pedestal for the outstanding noble virtues you have shown throughout your service.

During this operation,the Ohio, alone, was singled out, ferociously attacked by the enemy. She was torpedoed and holed, fire broke out, her boilers blew up and her engines failed. She was twice abandoned and twice reboarded. Repeated attempts to tow failed, but the tanker did not sink, Ohio with the help of all the other vessels in the operation shaped the fate of Malta.

The ships resistance was equalled by the power of the seamen who, with no time for food or rest manned the crippled ships to port.

For everybody, then, it was felt that this was the beginning of the end, this time, of war, of course.

Standing battered and bloody, Operation Pedestal and Malta made a great history and paved the way to victory over the forces of the Third Reich.

It is for these reasons that the Valletta City Local Government has agreed to confer, for the first time, the title of HONORARY CITIZEN OF VALLETTA to you present and to others in absentia.


MV Rochester Castle

London Gazette 8 September 1942:

Wren, Richard - Captain - DSO

Binfield, Edward John Lieutenant - Commander - RNR DSC

Culpin, Arthur James - Chief Officer - DSC

Massee, George Corporal - RM CH/ 21556 - DSM

Pierson, Arthur Sergeant - 4th MAA RA 1487381 - DSM

Turney, Joseph Act/Able Seaman - RN C/JX 335638 - DSM

London Gazette 9 February 1943:

Icke, Kenneth - Second Radio Officer - MID

Lochhead, David Cargill Broadwood - Cadet - MID

London Gazette 14 September 1943:

Dryden, Henry Norman - Second Officer - DSC

Mattocks, Frank Edgar - Chief Engineer Officer - DSC

Hesse, John James - Able Seaman - DSM

Inglis, Percival - Able Seaman - DSM

Swain, Ronald - Deck Boy - DSM

Brebner, Peter Frederick Herbert - Intermediate Fourth Engineer Officer - MID

Knight, Cyril George - Engine Room Storekeeper - MID

Knowles, Thomas Michael Kenneth - Second Radio Officer - MID

Lee, Jeffrey Barrett - Senior Fourth Engineer Officer - MID

Leeds, Robert Ferguson - Cadet - MID

McDonald, Ian Forbes - Junior Second Engineer Officer - MID

Thompson, Marriott - Electrician - MID

White, Horace Frederick - Chief Steward - MID

To mark 70 years since Operation Pedestal, Malta produced a series of stamps to commemorate the event

Under Attack, Rochester Castle and Brisbane Star

By John Alan Hamilton

Imperial War Museum London

As Malta edged inevitably towards starvation and surrender in the summer of 1942, a major naval undertaking was being put in train to enable Malta to survive.

The suspension of Arctic convoys until the shortening days of autumn released a number of warships from the British Home Fleet for service in support of Operation Pedestal.

On June 18, 1942, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill was in Washington, where the chiefs-of-staff cabled him, urging him to request the loan of the tanker SS Ohio, on the same basis as SS Kentucky. Also requested from the American administration were two other merchant ships, Santa Elisa and Almeria Lykes. The remaining merchant ships were British and all of them were armed with anti-aircraft guns. A large escorting force was assembled to protect the convoy, comprising two main groups of ships, Forces Z and X.

The overall operational commander was Vice-Admiral E.N. Syfret. The convoy was codenamed WS.5.21.S. Just prior to sailing, Rear-Admiral Burrough met with the Convoy Commodore A.G. Venables, and the masters of the individual merchant ships on board his flagship.

The convoy entered the Mediterranean on the night of August 10, 1942. Its codename became Operation Pedestal. Protecting the vessels, the Royal Navy had the three aircraft carriers HMS Eagle, HMS Victorious and HMS Indomitable, the battleships HMS Nelson and HMS Rodney, besides seven cruisers, 32 destroyers, eight submarines and other units.

The following is a chronology of events following the departure of the convoy from Gibraltar:

Wednesday, August 11

1.15 p.m.: The German submarine U-73 fires four torpedoes into HMS Eagle, sinking it in eight minutes. Some 927 survivors out of 1,160 officers and men were picked up from the sea by the tug HMS Jaunty and two destroyers, HMS Lookout and HMS Laforey.

2.50 p.m.: HMS Furious successfully flies off 38 much-needed Spitfires to Malta (Operation Bellows).

Thursday, August 12

4.16 p.m.: The Italian submarine Axum fires four torpedoes and hits three ships, two of which are HMS Nigeria and the anti-aircraft cruiser HMS Cairo, severely damaging the latter. Cairo had to be sunk by gunfire from HMS Derwent north of Bizerte.

8.50 p.m.: MV Empire Hope suffers 18 near misses before a bomb burst and stove in its side, stopping the engines. In seconds, ammunition fuel and aviation spirit explode, setting the stern of the vessel ablaze. The crew abandon ship and are picked up by HMS Penn, the latter firing a torpedo into the doomed merchant ship to sink.

H N Dryden A J Culpin Capt R Wren F E Mattocks H F White Robert Leeds

Rochester Castle unloading at Valetta after her epic voyage

Operation Pedestal - 1942

Rochester Castle - Art Gallery



Left The Clyde

2 August

For Malta


Capt R Wren DSO

Chief Officer

A J Culpin DSC

2nd Officer

H N Dryden DSC

3rd Officer

W Richmond


D C B Lochhead MID

R F Leeds MID

J Whadcoat

2nd Radio Officer

T M K Knowles MID

K Icke MID

Chief Engineer

F E Mattocks DSC

Jnr 2nd Engineer

I F McDonald MID

Snr 4th Engineer


Int 4th Engineer

P F H Brebner MID


M Thompson MID

Chief Steward

H F White MID

Able Seaman

J J Hesse DSM

Able Seaman

P Inglis DSM

Deck Boy

R Swain DSM

ER Storekeeper

C G Knight MID

9.20 p.m.: Two Junkers Ju88s attack Deucalion. One bomb strikes the ship, a tremendous fire breaks out and the aviation spirit and kerosene explode. Captain Brown orders abandon ship and HMS Bramham approaches the merchantman to pick up survivors.

Friday, August 13

12.40 a.m.: The first torpedo attack by Italian MAS-boats and German Schnellboote in the narrows between Pantelleria and the Tunisian coast. MS 22 and MS 16 speed towards the passing cruiser HMS Manchester, loose their torpedoes and withdraw into the darkness. Seconds later Manchester is hit in the starboard side.

Later, many of the survivors reach Tunisia and are taken prisoner by the Vichy French, who intern them in Bon Fichu, with the survivors from SS Glenorchy and SS Clan Ferguson.

Sauturday, August 14

2 a.m.: MV Glenorchy is hit by torpedoes from the Italian torpedo boat MS 31. Captain Leslie, mindful of the aviation spirit stowed all over the deck, orders his men to abandon ship. Some 124 souls, including the 25 passengers, survive the attack and are ordered to take the boats. MS 31 approaches the sinking ship and picks Chief Officer Hanney and eight men as prisoners.

3 a.m.: A second wave of Italian MAS-boats and German Schnellboote attack the convoy. MAS 552 and MAS 554 torpedo the Wairangi in its port side. Captain Gordon decides to scuttle the ship. The boats are lowered and later the ship is sunk.

3.30 a.m.: Schnellboote S30 and S36 torpedo the American Almeria Lykes and the ship is hit forward in No. 1 hold, where a stow of bags of flour absorbs much of the explosion. However, Captain Henderson orders the crew to abandon ship and 105 men board three boats.

4.15 a.m.: An Italian torpedo boat, MAS 564, closes in from the starboard side of the American ship Santa Elisa and fires a torpedo at point-blank range. The detonation takes place amid aviation spirit. The master orders the crew to abandon ship and the survivors are picked up by HMS Penn.

8 a.m.: Two Junkers Ju88s make a concentrated attack against Waimarama. Four bombs explode amid spirit and ammunition. A vast sheet of flame roars high up into the sky. The survivors are picked up by HMS Ledbury.

9.55 a.m.: HMS Tartar sinks HMS Foresight with a torpedo and heads at high speed to Gibraltar.

11 a.m.: Captain Tucket of Dorset orders the crew to abandon ship and they board the boats. During the evening the ship is hit by bombs and sinks.

11.30 a.m.: A tremendous effort is made to tow the crippled tanker Ohio into harbour. Speed is worked up to a gratifying six knots, with a steady enough course. Morale rises accordingly and to cheer everyone up, Chattanooga Choo-Choo, is played loudly from HMS Penn’s PA system.

6.30 p.m.: Rochester Castle, Port Chalmers and Melbourne Star enter Grand Harbour. As the battle-scarred vessels slide between the arms of the breakwater, the Royal Malta Artillery band plays from the ramparts of Fort St Elmo to welcome the surviving ships.

Sunday, August 15

2 a.m.: With HMS Penn and HMS Bramham edging Ohio along the shore, HMS Ledbury lends its power to shove the tanker’s bow to make the turns off Delimara and Żonqor Points.

6 a.m.: Brisbane Star, which was hit by a torpedo two days before, has been sailing independently, heading round Cape Bon and keeping inshore. Spitfires fly over the ship and remain flying over until it enters the harbour early in the afternoon.

8 a.m.: On the feast of Santa Marija (the Assumption of Our Lady), the broken-backed and almost derelict hull of Ohio makes the tight turn inside the mole, rounds Ricasoli Point and heads up Grand Harbour. The crews on the ships are greeted by crowds, cheering deliriously, lining the ramparts and bastions while bands play God Save the King, The Star-Spangled Banner and Rule Britannia. However, at the same time Maltese children start shouting “We want food, not oil!”

Tears sting red-rimmed eyes as the Ohio proceeds towards Parlatorio Wharf in French Creek.

Churchill recognised the sacrifices made to resupply Malta at all costs: “In the end five gallant merchant ships out of 14 got through with their precious cargoes. The loss of 350 officers and men and of so many of the finest ships in the merchant navy and in the fleet of the Royal Navy was grievous.

“The reward justified the price exacted. Revictualled and replenished with ammunition and vital stores, the strength of Malta revived. British submarines returned to the island, and, with the striking forces of the Royal Air Force, regained their dominating position in the Central Mediterranean.”

As Operation Pedestal drew to a close, the unloading of the merchant ships, code-named Operation Ceres, also reached its final phase. The cargoes of Port Chalmers, Rochester Castle and Melbourne Star had been unloaded, and the discharge of Ohio and Brisbane Star was rapidly completed. For the authorities, the 568 Pedestal survivors remained a liability, and they were moved out of Malta as quickly as possible.

Although 53,000 of the 85,000 tons of supplies loaded on the merchant ship finished on the bottom of the Mediterranean, the remaining 32,000 tons enabled Malta to stave off the target date for the island’s surrender, which was the first week of September 1942

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