The Vancolite was laid down during 1927 at the yard of A Stephens, Glasgow. It was launched on February 21st 1928 and completed by May 1928. The Vancolite was built for the Imperial Oil Shipping Company Ltd, Toronto, Canada, which was a subsidiary of the Standard Oil Company, New Jersey. The company operated a number of tankers, with the names all ending in 'lite', prefixed by a Canadian related location, for Vancolite presumable 'Vanco' referenced Vancouver. By 1939 they operated nine such ships with this naming convention.
The Vancolite and her sister ship the Victolite were built on the Isherwood " bracketless" system, which by elimination of the brackets connecting the longitudinals at the bulkheads greatly simplified construction and reduced cost of upkeep.
After delivery the two ships would operate in the summer months between Colombia and the St. Lawrence, whilst in winter they would be employed between the Atlantic coast and South American west coast ports via the Panama Canal.
In late June 1928 the Vancolite departed Montreal for South America, stopping at Balboa to take on diesel fuel and to set out her starboard anchor for repairs. Then, on July 9th 1928 passed through the Panama Canal for the first time, her ultimate destination being the oil refineries at Talara in northern Peru.
On November 11th 1934 the Vancolite was headed towards Halifax, Nova Scotia in ballast, on the bridge were the ship's master and Imperial Oil's Marine Superintendent. A gale was blowing out of the north-east and the winds were strengthening. Not far away the new motor vessel Cordelia, 8,500 tons, loaded with refined oil and headed from England to Montreal, was seeking shelter whilst approaching Canso Strait. In the channel at Eddy Point the ship was swung round by the gusting winds and grounded on the nearby Eddy Reef. An SOS was issued and the salvage tug Franklin from Halifax was ordered out but after a false start due to the worsening weather eventually took eighteen hours to reach the Cordelia.
The weather remained calm into the morning helping the anchors and ground-tackle wire hold the ship from going further on to the reef. An inspection revealed the ship's bottom had sustained only minor damage and that the removal of 3,000 tons of oil would allow the ship to float free. A radio call sent out for the assistance of a nearby empty tanker was responded to by the Vancolite, which arrived about 10am and immediately her master & superintendent saw the serious dangers involved. A heavy sea was still running and the forecast of strong easterly winds was not a good one.
Through the use of the tug Franklin and at great risk the Vancolite was eventually positioned stern first and broadside to the Cordelia, using the tug and her anchors to hold the position needed. Many oil hoses linked the two ships together as the cargo was transferred to the Vancolite. By 8pm a gale Force 4 was blowing and the tide had turned. By about 9pm the Cordelia showed signs of freeing herself from the bottom. The oil hoses were quickly disconnected, the Vancolite moved forward under her own power, running over her own anchors and after stopping she then fouled the Cordelia's ground-tackle wire. For the Cordelia freedom came with the use of her anchors and assistance from the tug, making for the shelter of Inhabitant's Bay for repairs. The weather had worsened to Force 7, the tug moved to the Vancolite to free the ground-tackle wire. Fortunately it was found the wire had not wrapped itself round the propellor or shaft, allowing the Vancolite with the help of the tug to immediately make headway away from her perilous position and into to Inhabitant's Bay. The next day after minor repairs the Cordelia regained her seaworthiness and the oil in the Vancolite was returned to her. The action of all involved had saved a ship and her cargo worth over $1 million and untold environmental damage.
1939 - 1945
The arrival of World War II saw the Vancolite primarily used over the Guantanamo - New York/Halifax - Liverpool route, especially after the fall of France.
Convoys recorded as containing the Vancolite include:
HX 18 departed Halifax on January 31st 1940 and arrived Liverpool on February 16th 1940.
The make-up of convoy SC 121 was typical of the slow convoys operating across the North Atlantic, it included the Vancolite, which like most convoys it was in, was one of the largest ships in these convoys. The convoy had commenced from New York City on February 23rd 1943 and was met by Mid-Ocean Escort Force Group A-3 consisting of the USCG Treasury Class Cutter Spencer (the escort commander's ship), the Wickes class destroyer Greer, Flower class corvettes Dianthus, Rosthern, Trillium and Dauphin, and the convoy rescue ship Melrose Abbey. At the outset three of the escorts had defective sonar and three had inoperative radar. Storms would later damage the radio communication system on the Spencer and cause the Dauphin to leave the convoy with damaged steering gear. By March 6th 1943 nine consecutive days of northwesterly Force 10 gales and snow squalls had scattered the convoy, and on this date U-405 sighted the convoy. This information was relayed to other U-boats. On the night of March 6th/7th U-230 torpedoed the British freighter Egyptian, the Empire Impala stopped to rescue survivors and was itself torpedoed after dawn by U-591. By March 8th 1943 the storm had subsided which allowed U-190 to torpedo British freighter Empire Lakeland, four more stragglers were sunk by U-526, U-527, U-591, and U-642.
On March 9th the convoy escort was reinforced by No. 120 Squadron RAF B-24 Liberators from Northern Ireland and by the Wickes class destroyer Babbitt and the USCG Treasury Class Cutters Bibb and Ingham from Iceland. However the losses continued, U-530 sank straggling freighter Milos on the evening of March 9th 1943, a little later U-405 sank the Bonneville, further losses included the Nailsea to U-229, oiler Rosewood ammunition ship Malantic to U-409. The next day flower class corvettes Campion and Mallow reinforced the convoy escort, with the convoy reaching Liverpool on March 14th 1943. Only 76 of the 275 crewmen of the sunken ships were rescued.
GN 50 departed Guantanamo on March 30th 1943 and arrived New York City on April 7th 1943.
The Vancolite was scrapped at Sydney, Cape Breton Island during the second quarter of 1946.
Page added July 22nd 2011: