The Brave Bustler Class Rescue Tugs of WWII

There were 8 diesel rescue tugs built during WWII by Henry Robb’s Yard: Bustler, Samsonia, Growler, Hesperia, Mediator, Reward, Turmoil and Warden.

Bustler, Growler, Mediator, Samsonia, Hesperia and Reward were ordered by the Admiralty to dimensions of 190 x 38.6 x 19 with a deadweight of 538 and speed of 16 knots.

They were built with “British Polar” diesel engines of type M 48 M with 8 cylinders. The GT of Bustler, Samson, Growler and Hesperia was 1100 and of Mediator, Reward, Turmoil and Warden 1136.

The keels began to be laid on 31st January 1941, the first launch was on 4th December 1941 and the first to sail was on 21st May 1942.

It is quite a muddle in the order book, with an attempt to record all of these orders on one double page spread, and so it’s not absolutely clear when each and every one was lauched and sailed, nor whether the trial trip recorded was for the Bustler or another.

Whichever one it was, the trial recorded in the order book was carried out at the Isle of Arran and the speed made was 16.01 knots under conditions of a slight sea and a northerly force 4. She is recorded as having achieved full ahead to stop in 2-3 seconds and stop to full astern in 1-3 seconds.

Below are a few details about these 8 fine little work-horses, only one of which did not manage to make it through the war. Some are very famous for their struggles at sea to rescue other shipping, more of which in some future posts.

You may also be interested in: Bustler Tug Model in Museum

Copyright: Ruth Patterson 2011

About Ruth Macadam

Great Granddaughter of Henry Robb. School teacher.
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31 Responses to The Brave Bustler Class Rescue Tugs of WWII

  1. John Stevenson says:

    ” The Brave Little Rescue Tugs of WWII ”

    Would take issue with you on the headline to the article.
    At over 1100grt these were NOT “little” rescue tugs .
    They were built as “deep sea salvage/rescue tugs with a range of 3000 miles under towing conditions and operated all over the world during WW2.
    In the 1950’s “Englishman” towed a 12000 dwt cargo vessel I was serving on from Piraeus to Palermo , without assistance
    At the time they were built they were among the largest naval tugs on the world

    • Fair point, well made, title changed!
      Thank you John

      • John Stevenson says:

        Ta !
        Always look forward to your new/updated information
        Thank you !!

        Am nearing completion of the research for an “A to Z of Leith Shipbuilders ” and starting to put it all together .
        Absolutely amazed that I now have over 160 companies/individuals who operated ship/boatbuilding businesses in Leith/Newhaven/Granton/Portobello from the start of the 18th C .
        Just hope I live long enough to finish it !!!

      • wow, i will look forward to that, sounds fascinating!

  2. Bill Patterson says:

    Dear Ruth
    The Turmoil was the centre of attention when it tried to save the Flying Enterprise in the English Channel when she began to founder further out to sea. Captain Carlsen and his First Mate Dancy stayed on board to the last moment. Turmoil almost managed to tow her to port but just failed to make land. Carlsen and Dancy were both persuaded to abandon ship before she sank.

    • Post on the turmoil in the pipeline, hopefully it will be up tomorrow or friday 🙂

      • Pat Leech says:

        My name is Pat Leech and I was an AB on the Turmoil for a couple of years and still in contact with the radio officer in Cobh,let me know if I can help with any tales
        Regards Pat Leech

      • Ruth Macadam says:

        Thank you Pat, I would be delighted to hear about your experiences, thank you

      • Pat Leech says:

        Hi Ruth
        Many thanks I will put together some comments on trips and get back to you.may I suggest that you contact Sean Cowman who was the radio officer and he can give you some tales especially about rescuing and towing a ship from official receiver in Appledore !! (

    • Apologies to all for the delay in the post on the Turmoil, it is partly done, but a nasty bug over the weekend put paid to my hopes of finishing it. However, I’m up and at it again, so it will be here in the next few days!

    • Roy Martin says:

      Just noticed – Ken Dancy was the Mate of the Turmoil, not the Flying Enterprise.

  3. Bill Patterson says:

    The tugs were naturally named the Bustler Class

  4. Pingback: Turmoil – Bustler Class Rescue Tug | Henry Robb's Shipyard

  5. Chris White says:

    Sorry but HMRT Growler – the tug, was never named or renamed Marquess of Anglesea or Branksea that honour was given to Growler the Army transport launched in 1890 by Edwards & Symes, Millwall and which was taken over by the Admiralty in 1914 as a Naval Stores ship. She was sold out of service after WW1 and by 1927 was owned by the Branksea SS Company. She sank in 1940 while being towed to Scapa Flow.

    • Hi Chris
      Thank you for correcting the error, glad to know this before the book is finally up and running! This is why i put posts up on the blog, to ensure i get as much support as possible to keep things accurate. I shall look through my notes to find where the information came from and ensure that I update my source with your facts too.



      • Chris White says:


        You should find further details of HMRT Growler and the other Growler, both of which became Royal Fleet Auxiliaries, on my web site at Six of the class served as RFA’s for short or longer periods. None of them have complete details on the web site – more research is necessary. I make frequent visits to the National Archives at Kew and these will have to continue.

      • fantastic, thank you Chris, i will check this out once the school term has finished and ive written all my students’ university references!


  6. Mike Mudd says:

    Dear Ruth,
    I have just regitstered to follow your blog as I have an interest in one of the forerunners of Robbs; Ramage and Ferguson. Specifically I am researching the Navy of Thailand and in 1892 the yrd built a protected cruiser for what was then Siam. If you or anyone lese has any source information in partticular plans, I would appreciate any help. Please mail me at Best regards and merey Christmas. Mike Mudd

    • Hi Mike

      Thanks for getting in touch.
      I will let you know if i come across any relevant information, but your most likely source to track this down is the national archive in Edinburgh which has records of the old yards and many plans of ships from them too. Unfortunately, as I have a great deal to do tracking down Robb’s information, I cant really side-track just now. Maybe you know someone in Edinburgh who might be able to do that for you.

  7. Roy V Martin says:

    Dear Ruth,
    Great site. You may know that these tugs were designed just before the war by Henry Robb for Overseas Towage and Salvage Ltd. They were to be competition for the Smit tug ZWARTE ZEE. OTS were said to have requested a steam tug, but Robbs persuaded them to accept twin diesels with a single propeller. In fact the BUSTLERS were a quarter more powerful than the ZZ, having a bollard pull of about 30 tons, against 24 for the Dutch tug. When the Admiralty needed to revitalise the rescue tug fleet they first ordered tugs based on OTS’s NEPTUNIA and SALVONIA, but soon realised that they needed something much punchier and OTS suggested the tug that Henry Robb had on the drawing board.



  8. Pingback: Model of The Bustler in National Museum of Scotland, Chambers Street | Henry Robb's Shipyard

  9. Bill & Suzanne Patterson says:

    Suzanne Patterson(nee Robb) remembers that one of the Bustler class tugs was sunk when towing a Mulberry Harbour for D-Day – perhaps was the Mediator??
    Bill Patterson

    • Roy Martin says:

      I think that the only Bustler that was lost was the Hesperia (ex Hesper) in Feb 1945. The Admiralty tug that was lost while towing a Mulberry unit was the Sesame

      • Ruth Macadam says:

        Looks like a bit more research is needed on my part to reconcile the different pieces of information coming in here, but thank you all, this is all helpful stuff to point me in the right directions to get the ships chapters absolutely right!

      • john mcdonald says:

        HMRT Sesame was hit by a torpedo and sank within 5 minutes,she didnt have time to hook up and tow before she was hit,my Uncle died in the engine room that day,survivors were picked up by HMRT STormking.

      • Ruth Macadam says:

        Thank you for sharing this John.

  10. Roy V Martin says:

    Thank you John, what I was trying to point out was that HMRT Sesame was not a Bustler class tug.(she was one of the Assurance class).
    Writing in the Towrope, the newsletter of the Deep Sea Rescue Tugs Association, one of the crew of the Stormking says: ‘On the return trip (from Arromanche) ‘Stormking’ came upon another Unit floating on the surface, boarding the Unit we found the towrope to be bar tight so we knew there was a tugboat on the end of it. It was HMRT ‘Sesame’ that had been torpedoed by an E-boat with a large loss of life.’
    I am also in touch with one of the three survivors from the Sesame, unfortunately all he can remember is that one minute he was working on deck, and next he was in the water.
    I am writing a history of the Admiralty Deep Sea Rescue Tugs and Salvage Vessels and would be grateful for any information. When I worked for Risdon Beazley we salvaged the HMRT Reward

    • john mcdonald says:

      Roy would you have the names and possible emails to the Sesame survivors,it would sure be nice to give my mom some sort of closure as her brother John Melady was in the engine room when she was hit .

      my email is

  11. Patrick Leech says:

    hi Ruth
    Let me know if I can help you with any info for the two years until she was sold,I was a deck hand (AB-EDH) under captain MCleish I paid off in Pembroke dock but only because she was sold otherwise I would probably still be on her!!
    Had wonderful and very exciting times all over the world.
    Pat Leech

  12. Ray gill says:

    I went to sea on the RAF Bustler when l was 14 years old and worked in the galley from 1967 till 1969 and had lots of good trips to gib Malta and all around the uk.

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