07 August 2017

Steam Powered Vessel Which Helped with D-Day Saluted by Royal Navy  

River Thames Celebration for an Old Warhorse

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Shipping News Feature UK – Last week saw a celebration in the Pool of London with one of the last coal fired twin-screw steam tugs in the world saluted by the Royal Navy to mark her 90th birthday. The ST Portwey, which was built on the Clyde in 1927, came under the command of the Royal Navy during the Second World War when she was based in Dartmouth and carried out rescues of vessels and crews sunk by enemy action in the Channel.

In 1944, Portwey was involved in preparations for the D-Day landings. Landing crafts were massing in the Dart and sometimes required Portwey’s help. Under the command of the US Navy the tug also rescued damaged vessels from the disastrous American Slapton Sands exercise Operation Tiger in April 1944, which was detected and attacked by German torpedo boats and when around 750 US servicemen perished.

In 1967 she was destined for the scrap yard but was bought by Richard Dobson who, together with a bunch of like-minded enthusiasts, saw her returned to full working condition. The recent celebration saw the old tug steam up the River Thames and alongside HMS President, the Royal Navy’s permanent shore establishment in London, and was saluted by Commander Richard Pethybridge, who said:

“It was a real honour to salute this little steam tug which is one of hundreds of tugs and other vessels that were taken under command during WW2 and carried out sterling work. The Royal Navy and its warships could not have worked as well as they did without the help and support of vessels like Portwey and their crews, which put themselves in harm’s way to carry out rescues, tow ships, and remove all sorts of debris from the channel. It seemed fitting that we should salute a 90 year old veteran which gave such sterling service and is still steaming thanks to a group of dedicated volunteers.”

Today ST Portwey is being preserved and run by a charitable Trust. The tug is manned by a small group of volunteers who raise money to keep the veteran running so that future generations can see a steam tug in action. After visiting HMS President the steam tug and its volunteers steamed down river to Gravesend where it was on show for the rest of the weekend (5-6 August) and open to the public as part of the town’s ‘Something for the Weekend’ event. The Chairman of the Trust Steven Page said:

“It was a great honour for the tug to be saluted by the Royal Navy on its 90th Birthday and for them to recognise not only the role that the tug played during WW2 but the work that the volunteers do in raising funds to keep her running.

“We want future generations to see Portwey in action and our next goal is to get her to her 100th birthday, but if this is to happen we need more volunteers and we need to generate thousands of pounds to keep her running. Donations to the Trust are very welcome as are corporate sponsors that we can work with in a variety of ways.”

Donations to support the Trust which is dedicated to keeping the Portwey afloat can be made here.

Photo: ST Portwey receiving Royal Navy salute from Commander Richard Pethybridge (Courtesy Martyn Goddard)

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