Vessel name on Arrival: Polar Chief

Original Builder: Palmers Shipbuilding & Iron Company of Jarrow

Original Yard No: 724

Official Number: 106869

Vessel Type: cargo

GRT: 6983

Year Built: 1897

Arrival Date: 22/06/1952

Breakup Started: 23/06/1952

Date First Beached: 27/08/1952

Date Breakup Completed: 12/01/1953

Draught For’d: 4' 0"

Draught Aft: 8' 0"

Name Changes:


S.S. Polar Chief was an 8,040 GRT tanker which was built in 1897 as the cargo-liner S.S. Montcalm.


In 1914 she was requisitioned by the Admiralty, serving initially as a troopship. In October 1914, she was converted to a dummy battleship and renamed HMS Audacious. In 1915 she became a depot ship, followed by conversion to a tanker in 1916, when she was sold into Royal Fleet Auxiliar (RFA) service and renamed RFA Crenella.


In 1917, she survived a torpedo attack off the coast of Ireland. In 1919, she was sold into merchant service as SS Crenella.  In 1923, she was sold to Norway and renamed Rey Alfonso. In 1927, she was sold back to British owners and renamed Anglo-Norse.


In 1929, she was rebuilt as a whaler and renamed Polar Chief. Although laid up in Tønsberg in September 1939, she escaped to the United Kingdom before Germany invaded Norway.


Polar Chief was requisitioned and passed to the Ministry of War Transport, being renamed Empire Chief. In January 1942, she ran aground off Reykjavík, Iceland. She was refloated and temporary repairs made to enable her to be returned to the United Kingdom for permanent repairs. In 1946, she was returned to her owners and renamed Polar Chief. She served until 1952 when she was scrapped at a Clyde shipbreakers.


Built by Palmers Shipbuilding and Iron Co Ltd, Jarrow on Tyne as their Yard Number 724, the ship was 445 feet 0 inches (135.64 m) long, with a beam of 52 feet 2 inches (15.90 m) and a depth of 27 feet 6 inches (8.38 m).


She was propelled by a triple expansion steam engine which had cylinders of 30 inches (76 cm), 50 516 inches (127.8 cm) and 81 12 inches (207 cm) diameter by 54 inches (140 cm) stroke. Three double-ended boilers supplied steam at 220 pounds per square inch (15 bar). The engine developed 664 horsepower and could propel the ship at 12 knots.


Vessel History

Montcalm was built for the African Steamship Company and placed under the management of Elder Dempster Lines. On 3 September 1897, she made her maiden voyage from Avonmouth, Gloucestershire to Montreal, Canada.


On 13 November 1898, she was chartered to the Atlantic Transport Line. In 1899, a rebuild left her at 6,981 GRT. Montcalm made eleven trans-atlantic voyages between 1898 and 1900. On 5 April 1900, she sailed from Liverpool for Cape Town as a transport ship in support of the Second Boer War.


Montcalm then made six return voyages from Cape Town to New Orleans, carrying horses or mules. In June 1902, she was placed in service on the Avonmouth – Montreal route.  In 1903, she passed to Elder Dempster Lines when that company absorbed the African Steamship Company.


In August 1914, Montcalm was requisitioned by the Admiralty. She was initially used as a troopship carrying members of the British Expeditionary Force. In October 1914, she was converted to a dummy battleship, mimicking HMS Audacious, whose name she carried. It was intended that she be used as a blockship in 1915, but she was used as a depot ship.  On 9 January 1916, she was transferred to the control of the British Shipping Controller and placed under the management of Frederick Leyland Ltd, Liverpool.  The United Kingdom Official Number 106869 was allocated.  Between August and October 1916 she was converted to a tanker and placed under the management of Lane and MacAndrews. On 18 November 1916 she entered service with the Royal Fleet Auxiliary as RFA Crenella, under the management of the Anglo Saxon Petroleum Company.


On 26 November 1917, Crenella was on a voyage from Queenstown to Montreal when she was torpedoed by U-101, when 146 nautical miles West of Queenstown.  Crenella was in ballast for this voyage. Although damaged in the attack, Crenella managed to reach port.  The United States Navy's O'Brien-class destroyer USS Cushing assisted in damage control and escorted Crenella back to Queenstown.  In 1919, Crenella was sold to the Anglo Saxon Petroleum Co Ltd.  On 19 October 1920, she was sold to the Velefa Shipping Co Ltd, London, and placed under the management of Runciman & Co Ltd., although she was then laid up.


In 1923, Crenella was sold to Christian Nielson & Co, Larvik,  Norway and renamed Rey Alfonso. She was used as a whale oil depot ship.  In 1925, she was sold to H M Wrangell & Co, Haugesund and in 1927 she was sold to the Anglo-Norse Company, Tønsberg. Rey Alfonso was renamed Anglo-Norse. She was placed under the management of Hans Borge. Later that year, she was sold to the Falkland Whaling Company and renamed Polar Chief.  At this time she was 7,166 GRT, 5,512 NRT. Her port of registry was JerseyPolar Chief was rebuilt as a pelagic whaler in Gothenburg, Sweden. She was placed under the management of the South Georgia Company.


Polar Chief was laid up during the 1930 whaling season. She was then returned to service. By 1934, the Code Letters QFMT had been allocated. These were changed to GFMT in 1937. In 1939, her she was recorded as 8,040 GRT and 6,279 NRT. Polar Chief was laid up at Tønsburg in September 1939, but managed to escape to the United Kingdom before the German invasion of Norway in April 1940. In April 1941, Polar Chief was requisioned by the MoWT. She was placed under the management of Christian Salvesen & Co Ltd, Leith


Polar Chief was a member of Convoy HX 156, which departed Halifax, Nova Scotia on 22 October 1941 and arrived at Liverpool on 5 November. Polar Chief was renamed Empire Chief in November 1941.  On 16 January 1942, Empire Chief ran aground at Reykjavík, Iceland. She was refloated on 7 March and temporary repairs were made before she was towed back to the United Kingdom in May 1942.  Empire Chief was a member of Convoy HX 251, which departed New York  on 7 August 1943.  She was carrying fuel oil and armoured fighting vehicles. She was also a member of Convoy HX 266, which departed New York on 13 November 1943. Empire Chief was carrying fuel oil and depth charges.


In 1946, Empire Chief was returned to the Falkland Whaling Co Ltd and regained her former name Polar Chief.


She served until 1952, arriving on 29 April at Dalmuir, West Dunbartonshire for scrapping by W H Arnott Young Ltd. In July 1952, her hulk was towed to Troon,  where final demolition was completed by the West of Scotland Shipbreaking Co Ltd.


Other Information:


19-05-1897    :  Launched

August 1897  :  Completed


Dimensions  :  135.6 metres  x  16.0 metres


Propulsion       :  Triple Expansion steam engine

Vessel Speed :  12.5 knots