In the Beginning
The White Star liner Olympic, sister ship of the ill-fated Titanic. Cunard’s famous flagship RMS Queen Mary and RMS Queen Elizabeth. The Mauritania, SS United States, Bremen, France, the SS Nieuw Amsterdam. SS Statendam or the French Line’s flagship Normandie; each are just a few of the liners with which the Calshot regularly served and assisted in both peacetime and at war.
This is a class of vessel, uniquely associated with the great ocean liners of the past.
Built by John I Thornycroft & Co of Southampton, their latest build is a commission for The Southampton, Isle of Wight and South of England Royal Mail Steam Packet Company Limited. Holding the record for the longest company name in the United Kingdom, today it’s more commonly recognised as Red Funnel.
On Monday 4th November 1929 their latest vessel is ready to be launched. She is to be christened by Mrs Hilda White, formally naming the tender ‘Calshot’. Once entirely constructed, it wouldn’t be until 1930 she undertakes sea trials.
In doing so, she would gain a certificate to transport 566 passengers at a time, split between her first class and second class saloons, as well as on the promenade decks.
Once constructed, a feature of Calshot was her open Starboard and Port decks. However, this often exposed the vessel to the elements, resulting in increased passenger discomfort during the less favourable Solent weather.
In the first-class forward lounges, passengers benefited from a bar, stewardess service. Fixed seating consisted of upholstered covered, padded seating, spanning around the edge of the forward room. A normality today, but of superior comfort then when compared to second class accommodation.
In Second Class, accommodation was towards the rear of the main deck. For steerage and emigrant passengers, a companion ladder led down into the lounge from the deck above, by comparison, this area had wooden slatted seating only.
However, heating throughout the vessel was by steam radiators.
Red Funnels specified role for Calshot was not just to manoeuvre the grand ocean liners of Southampton, but to also take passenger, their baggage, mail, provision and ship stores to and from vessels lying at anchor outside the docks, usually at Cowes Roads.
She was as much a workhorse for the people of Southampton, as she was a smaller Ocean Liner to convey the wealthy and famous. In this she did, from transporting film stars and politicians, world-famous celebrities and leaders of nations – all while delivering the Sunday post.
On 27th May 1936, the RMS Queen Mary was to depart Southampton on her Maiden Voyage. Huge crowds wished her bon voyage, on the most memorable day. Calshot was in attendance to support the RMS Queen Mary, a role she carried out many times for various grand liners over her career.
World War II
During World War II, the Calshot was to be requisitioned by His Majesty’s Government and serve as HMS Calshot. From October 16th 1940 until September 1st 1945, the vessel was to become a central role in defending Britain and orchestrating the Normandy Landings.
Calshot ferried American service members from the liners at anchor to the quayside.
HMS Calshot wasn’t the only vessel to be obtained for the war effort. Both Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary were acquired, becoming vessels of Her Majesties Service. They would each receive a full navy grey hull, with the challenge of transporting service members between America and Britain. A dangerous shipping corridor, now challenged with destroyer U-Boats sinking any vessel daring to make the passage.
It would become one of Calshot’s key roles to assist in the transport of the American servicemen from ship to shore.
HMS Queen Mary managed to cross the Atlantic a total of 86 times during the war, navigating past hostile Nazi forces to allied Britain. Between them, the Queens managed to transport 1,500,000 service members with the assistance of HMS Calshot safely. At the time, it was the view of Winston Churchill that this effort alone shortened the war by one whole year.
Once complete, the Clyde Admiralty Berthing Officer sent a letter of thanks to Captain Chisman and his crew. He wrote:
“It did not take long to find that the Calshot could be depended upon to do anything, at any time, and do it efficiently, thereby giving complete satisfaction at all times.
My best wishes go with you in your new sphere of activities, knowing well that whatever your particular job may be, the Calshot can be depended upon to give her best”.
In May 1944 the Admiralty ordered HMS Calshot to return to the south coast, for her home port of Southampton. Over the next nine-months, the tender would prepare with haste for her ultimate war role – the Normandy landings.
If Britain were to push back Germany, and change the tide of war, only a large scale amphibious assault would prevail. Logistically, it was challenging, but the concept of Mulberry Harbours was central to success. In Southampton, tugs were actively involved in manoeuvring sections of these Mulberry Harbours, ready for the fight across the English Channel.
An invasion of mainland Europe would take place at five key areas, labelled Gold, Juno, Omaha, Sword and Utah. It would become known as Operation Neptune, and HMS Calshot was to serve as the Headquarter ship for the Juno landings. She would become one of the 436 vessels involved in the Juno landings, made up of 321 landing crafts, and 115 ships.
Today, Calshot is a scarce survivor of the 6,939 crafts, that made the armada that stormed Normandy during the invasion.
At the end of the War, HMS Calshot was de-requisitioned, (and extensively reconditioned by her builders) on September 1st 1945. She returned to the Red Funnel fleet in June 1946 in peacetime colours, to continue her towage and tendering duties.
At the stern of the vessel, the original second class accommodation was removed, with additional crew cabins constructed. For Calshot, this signalled the demise of class division onboard ships. It would be accurate to state that tugs are always on standby duty, ready to set off and assist any vessel in need should the emergency arise.
On August 7th 1950, the 2,066-ton’s s.s. Sheaf Arrow was in trouble off Portland Bill. Complications with the vessels pump were decisive, and Calshot contacted the vessel, offering to tow the ship to Weymouth Bay for repairs.
In early December of 1950, the tanker Esso Manchester, on passage from Fawley to Saltend, developed boiler trouble. Calshot rendered assistance, along with the Paladin.
December 24th 1956 the Panamanian vessel ‘Valencia’ was disabled off Portland. Calshot and Paladin sailed that afternoon. ‘Valencia’ was contacted and towed throughout a very rough night towards Southampton. The job was transferred to a Belgian tug on Christmas Day, and the Red Funnel tugs returned to Southampton.
Complimenting their long career together, one of Calshot’s last Red Funnel duties was assisting the RMS Queen Mary into the King George V Graving Dock for overhaul.
Red Funnels’ time with Calshot was drawing to a close. She would sell to an Irish subsidiary of Holland America Line, Port & Liner Services Limited, with a decision to rename her the ‘Galway Bay’.
As a result of the transfer, the vessel was to sail to Holland for an extensive refurbishment and modernisation. In the process, her triple-expansion steam engines were to be replaced, with twin diesel engines. Built by Bolnes of Krimpen, it was a conversion that also brought about the shortening of Calshot’s funnel.Finally, with a new type of motive power and renewed external appearance, it was time for a change of livery to reflect the Holland American Line ownership.Based in Galway, Ireland, the Galway Bay (Calshot) would be used to ferry passenger from the liners in the Bay to the pier at the harbour.
However, this activity was short-lived, and the vessel was used for regular sailings to the Aran Islands of Inishmore, Inishmann and Inisheer. Stretching across the entrance of the Bay, the islands could regularly make use of at least 400 passengers from Galway.
It wasn’t until 1971 that Galway Ferries Limited purchased the vessel.
For the next sixteen Summer seasons, she would undertake a regular passenger service from Galway to Kilrona, taking thousands of tourists to their leisure time.
A Return to Southampton
Back in Southampton, there were plans afoot to develop a Maritime Museum in Ocean Village. Southampton City Council decided in 1986 to purchase the Galway Bay (Calshot), as a tribute to the people of Southampton who built and crewed the tender tug.In October 1986, displaying the Irish tricolour flag at her stern, the Galway Bay arrived back at Town Quay in Southampton.
Once returned, essential maintenance work was carried out below the waterline. It was decided to shot blast, and repaint the hull, before updating her livery to reflect the black and cream colours of Red Funnel.Later, at a renaming ceremony on October 25th 1990, the ‘Galway Bay’ name is forfeited, giving way to her original title of ‘Calshot’. In attendance is the Mayor of Southampton and Councillor Mrs Mary Key.Sadly, due to not being able to raise sufficient finance, the proposed Maritime Museum could not be built at Ocean Village, and the project subsequently stalled.
Meanwhile, in 1990 it was the 150th Anniversary of Cunard. It marked the commencement of regular passenger travel across the Atlantic, from 1840 till 1990. Due to the Calshot’s life long tie-up with the RMS Queen Mary and RMS Queen Elizabeth, both in times of peace and times of war; it was determined appropriate that she became involved with the celebrations.On July 29th 1991 the Calshot was opened to the public at a permanent berth on Town Quay, Southampton.
The Mayor of Southampton and Admiral of the Port, Councillor Brian Welch, invited Alistair Whyte, Managing Director of Red Funnel Group, to present Calshot to the public. Among the guests in attendance, there were more than thirty former employees of Red Funnel, who had each worked on Calshot throughout her career.
Four years on, and in 1995 the Calshot was hauled up the slipway at Husbands Shipyard, for her regular hull and general maintenance work.
Fortunately, the Calshot remained moored alongside the Southampton City Council’s wharf, with the local authority endeavouring to maintain the vessel, with the additional aid of companies and volunteers.
Yet, after a time, the difficult decision was made to offer the vessel to other interested parties. It was at this stage that Terry Yarwood and Jim Delderfield became involved with the ship, and made a decision to form ‘The Tug Tender Calshot Trust’, to restore the vessel.
Now featuring the Trust’s involvement, the Calshot is once again was moved to Husbands Shipyard for regular maintenance and repairs. The Charity makes a request to the Associated British Ports for a berth at the Eastern Docks, to which they kindly agreed. Calshot returned to the Port of Southampton, Berth 42, on 17th December 1998.
On 4th November 1999, a reception was held in the Queen Elizabeth II terminal, courtesy of the Associated British Ports (ABP) to celebrate the 70th Anniversary of Calshots launch.
It was in that month that the National Historic Ships Committee declared Calshot a National Treasure, and a key part of Britain’s maritime heritage. Today the Calshot is now designated to be of ‘Pre-eminent National Significance’, in the Core Collection of the National Historic Fleet.
In 25th September 2000, the Calshot was featured on the television programme ‘Heritage – Love It Or Lose It!’, where Ross Benson hosted an interview with the Trust.
On the 19th May 2003, one of the two bridge telegraphs were restored by Eastleigh Colledge students and safely returned to the ship.
On 4th November, 2004, the 75th Anniversary of the launch of Calshot was celebrated in the Queen Elizabeth II Terminal by kind permission of Associated British Ports, and later on board Calshot. The Guest of Honour was the Lord-Lieutenant of Hampshire, Mrs Mary Fagan. Also present was the Mayor of Southampton, Councillor Dennis Harryman, the Sheriff of Southampton, Councillor Edwina Cooke and many guests from the port community.
Into Charity Ownership
Ownership of Calshot is transferred from Southampton City Council to the Tug Tender Calshot Trust, on May 10th 2005. As a symbol of transfer, the ships bell was handed over by Councillor Peter Wakeford, Deputy Leader of the Council, to the Chairman of the Trust.
That year, the Trust started a programme of refurbishment. Accompanied by 17 Port and Maritime Regiment REME volunteers, the replacement of metal window surrounds on the Starboard side was completed, and work began on replacing all metal panels on the port side undercover alleyway.
After being in cold layup for ten years, the port and starboard engines were once again operational on January 30th 2007. In the eighteen months that followed, Vosper Thornycroft built a funnel Extention, restoring the vessels funnel to its original height of thirty-feet.
On November 11th 2008, the final departure of the Cunard liner Queen Elizabeth 2 takes place, with 160 guests assembled early onboard Calshot to salute QE2 on her final voyage to Dubai. As numerous vessels escorted QE2, the most famous liner in the World, she left the Port of Southampton for her last time, complete with a sky filled with fireworks.