The RFA Athelstane (above) was instrumental in the rescue of the survivors of the Hollyhock.

She was a merchant tanker on charter or requisitioned by the Admiralty. Thus I think that MFA for Merchant Fleet Auxiliary is more correct. She does not appear in lists of official RFA vessels, although some publications do incorrectly refer to her as an RFA.

The tanker was a WW1- Ztype single screw tanker with engines and all superstructure amidships, was 5,571 gross, 3,397 net, 400 ft. x 52.3 ft built in 1918 by Irvine’s Shipbuilding and Dry Docks Co., West Hartlepool, (Yard No 595), and named WAR GHURKA for the Shipping Controller (Hunting & Sons, manager).

Purchased in 1919 by the Anglo-Saxon Petroleum Co. (Shell), she stayed as War Ghurka, until 1921, when she was renamed CAPRELLA . In 1924 she was sold to British Molasses Co. and renamed ATHELFOAM. The company became Athel Line in 1926, and Athel Line became well-known specialists in the transport of molasses in tankers.

In 1931 she was sold to G.O. Aarvold & Co. Oslo, and renamed HIRD, but was on charter to Athel. In 1935 she was repurchased and renamed Athelstane.  Her registered owners were United Molasses Co. Ltd.

Athelstane's Captain Henry Moore, photo supplied by Capt. Moore's grandson, David Lingard 

Athelstane's Captain Henry Moore, photo supplied by Capt. Moore's grandson, David Lingard 


The Athelstane was ordered out of the port of Trincomalee to avoid possible Japanese carrier based air attack on the port, but was sunk early in her escape by Japanese aircraft bombs at 07-30 N, 81-56E. All of her crew survived the ferocious Japanese air attack, and helped rescue the survivors of the Hollyhock.

The Athelstane steamed a total of 130,500 miles and delivered 156,800 tons of oil/molasses before her loss.

The Athelstane wreck lies near the wreck of HMS Hollyhock. Below is a video of a dive on Athelstane, reproduced with kind permission of Brian King.