Past and PresentPort of DoverSalvage Tug

DHB Dapper – Past and Present

LR Register Number (1930): 18887

(This article is an “ongoing” project and any pictures/information, via contact form, would be appreciated)

DHB Dapper

Ex RFA Dapper, William E Chapman ?

Steel/Wooden ?  twin/single ? screw built in 1915 by New York S.B. Co, Camden, New Jersey  (Yard No ?) as a Mooring /Salvage Tug/Vessel

Technical Data

  • Length: 124.6ft (overall) ft (between perpendiculars)
    Breadth:  ft
    Depth: 30.5ft
    Draught: 12.8 ft
    Tonnage: 419 gross/364 net/193t deadweight
    Engines: Compound Expansion 2-cylinder (18” & 40”- 27”) J.W. Sullivan, New York
    Power: kW/850 HP
    Speed: 13 knots
    Machinery: Two air compressors supplying 42,000 cu ft fresh air per hour/steam or motor pumps from 12 inch to 4 inch/250 tons “bull-nose lift”
  • LR Register Number (1930): 18887
  • Official Number: 149161
  • Pennant Number: X30/X19
    Port of Registry: Dover/UK


1915: Launched for Merritt & Chapman Derrick & Wrecking as  WM. E. CHAPMAN ?.

March 1915: Delivered.

November 1915: Completed.

1915: To Dover Harbour Board as DAPPER.

1915: Requisitioned by the Admiralty. 

March 1917: Plus other dates over a number of years assisted RFA RACER to recover gold in the HMS LAURENTIC which had been mined and sunk while off Lough Swilly, County Donegal, Ireland

May 1918: Together with H.M. Tugs SONIA, FLYING FOAM, MILEWATER, HEATHERCOCK and FLYING CORMORANT together with a party from H M Dockyard Haulbowline involved in the salvage of SS MANORA, AENEAS and ORIANA.

August 18th 1919: The Scotsman newspaper reported –

September 9th 1919: Involved in the salvage of the schooner MARKUSSUND.

January 28th 1921: Applications for salvage money published in the London Gazette of 28 January 1921 on page 780

February 4th 1921: The Hampshire Telegraph reported –

November 22nd 1921: Sailed Queenstown to Devonport prior to being laid up

November 28th 1921: Arrived at Devonport from Queenstown escorted by RFA BELGOL

March 1923: Out of service.

March 1923: Sold to the Zamardi Landi for £2,700.

March 1923: Sold back to Dover Harbour Board as a salvage vessel/tug.

March 24th 1924: The London Gazette reported –

1924/1925 (Winter): As a wreck lifting vessel extensively overhauled at Dover. She was then described as being “Converted into a very useful tug as well as a lifting lighter. A towing hook had been installed, which necessitated considerable alterations, including the construction of a boat deck further forward. The vessel is quite fast and is full of very useful machinery for salvage purposes……….”

HMS Glatton

1926: Involved in the attempts to salvage HMS GLATTON which had exploded and later sank in Dover Harbour on 16 September 1918. The GLATTON was moved where she had sunk and which caused obstruction to ship movements in the Harbour to a deeper part of the harbour. This was then filled in and the car terminal (as it is now) was built over the ship

HMS Glatton/Dapper

April 27th 1927: At Dover commenced salvage work on raising the two block ship – SS LIVONIAN and SS SPANISH PRINCE – sunk in the western entrance of the harbour during World War 1

Dapper – (Commencing preliminary work for the salvage of Livonian & Spanish Prince)(Dover Express 26th April 1927)

September 21st 1928: At Dover involved in replacing of the gates to Wellington Dock which had been removed on 18 June 1928 for repairs

January 11th 1929: At Dover raised the barge EILEEN which had broken adrift during gales and sunk

February 20th 1929: Off the port of Dover together with the tugs LADY BRASSEY and LADY DUNCANNON salvaged the Belgian steamer VILLE DE LIEGE. The Belgian ship was towed into Wellington Dock, Dover Harbour for repairs.

Roy Thornton Collection

Ville De Liege with Dapper alongside (Roy Thornton Collection)

November 12th 1929: Off Peacehaven near Beachy Head together with the tugs LADY BRASSEY and LADY DUNCANNON salvaged the Italian steamship NIMBO (3,870 tons) which had gone aground. Having been refloated the Italian ship was towed to Southampton for repairs

December 20th 1929: Sailed from Dover to the Downs taking coal to the Spanish steamer MARI which had run out of bunkers to allow her to reach Dover. On reaching Dover the MARI loaded 130 tons of bunker coal

April 4th 1930: Sailed Dover in company of the Dover Harbour Board tug LADY DUNCANNON

April 11th 1930: At the Elbow Buoy, off Ramsgate attended the German tanker NORD ATLANTIC which had been damaged amidships in a collision with the Tilbury to Dunkirk steamer PICARDY.


April 15th 1930: Proceedings in the Admiralty Division of the High Court by the Dover Harbour Board following the salvaging of the Italian steamship NIMBO (see above) resulted in judgement by default being granted to the Dover Harbour Board

January 5th 1931: Sailed Dover to the SS NURTURETON aground on her maiden voyage 1 mile east of Dungeness. With 55 men from Dover to jettison her cargo of coal attempts were made to refloat the vessel

SS Nurtureton

May 1st 1931: The Dover Express & East Kent News published an image of work being undertaken by the salvage vessel DAPPER.

Dapper – Dover Express and East Kent News 01/05/1931 (The two pumps fitted and under trial at Dover. Captain Iron, who was in charge of the operation, oversees.)

May 1931: Fitted to DAPPER, two pumps used to remove ballast from the “Block Ships”, trialled in Dover.

Dapper – Dover Express and East Kent News 09/10/1931

The first of two pumps delivered to assist in removing ballast from the “Block Ships”. The 4 inch pumps previously delivered were not large enough

September 3rd 1932: At Dover Harbour assisted in the raising of part of the SS LIVONIAN a World War One block ship which had previously been cut in four by divers 

May 4th 1939: Engaged in the raising at Dover of the Royal Artillery Yacht Club’s dragon BESS – raised and towed to the Camber

March 20th 1940: Steamer BARN HILL (5439grt), formerly of convoy HX.25A, was badly damaged by German bombers of KG26, three miles SSW of Beachy Head, in 50°34N, 0°02W.  Five crew were lost, and the steamer was towed towards shore and beached three hundred yards southeast of Langney Point on the 21st.  Salvage vessel DAPPER sailed to the scene at daylight on the 25th and remained there until the fire was extinguished. The steamer’s back broke on the 26th and she was declared a total loss.

April 16th 1940: Panamanian steamer ALBA (3444grt) ran aground on the Goodwins, 3½ miles 55° from Deal Coast Guard Station. Tug LADY BRASSEY and salvage vessel DAPPER sailed from Dover to assist. After jettisoning cargo and the efforts of seven tugs, she was finally refloated at 1830/17th, brought to the Downs and anchored.

Alba -(Being assisted by tugs)

May 24th 1940: Sailed from Dover to assist the British SS BHUTAN which had been badly damaged in a collision

May 30th 1940: Sailed from Dover to assist the Mine Destructor Ship HMS CORFIELD which had been damaged by mining and a fire

September 25th 1940: Requisitioned by the Admiralty and was managed by Risdon Beazeley Ltd, Southampton.

January 20th 1942: Chief Engineer Daniel J Thomas RFA appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire (Civil Division) – MBE and Leading Salvage Hand William Webb awarded the British Empire Medal (Civil Division) – BEM for fire fighting in a bombed ship – details were published in the London Gazette of this date. Chief Engineer Daniel J Thomas was also awarded the Lloyds Bravery Medal  

February 9th 1942: H M FORTS ROUGH (now SEALAND) tower left Tilbury, DAPPER towing ahead, LADY BRASSEY stern tug and CRESTED COCK and KING LEAR (Gamecock’s salvage vessel) lashed alongside.

HM Forts Rough (now SEALAND) with Lady Brassey

February 11th 1942: At 16.45hrs the fort was in position 51°33.66N 1°28.93E, 7 miles SE of Lowestoft. [This first tow, taking three days, was apparently fraught with problems, including hitting a light vessel moored off Gravesend, colliding with three buoys, R1, Mucking 1 and Mucking 2 and weather problems.

April 20th 1942: Assisted HMS COTSWOLD which had been mined in the North Sea to Shotley Spit off Parkstone where she was beached

HMS Cotswold

May 4th 1942: HMS COTSWOLD towed by DAPPER to Chatham

October 5th 1942: Berthed at Great Yarmouth with HMS SHEARWATER – source Admiralty War Diary

July 5th 1943: Sailed to Yarmouth Roads to assist the American Freighter OREMAR which had fouled No 59 buoy and was in tow by HM Tug ST MELLONS to Great Yarmouth – source Admiralty War Diary 

December 25th 1943: Sailed Great Yarmouth together with HMS WORCESTER which was being towed by the tugs Champion and Krooman all escorted by HMS WIDGEON – source Admiralty War Diary.

June 3rd/8th 1944: With U.S. Tug USS ASSCOUAS at Selsey, Sussex for “Special Assignment TN. 4, Phoenix & Spud” (Mulberry Harbour)

Dapper & Asscouas – © Imperial War Museum H39308

July 13th 1944: Ordered by signal from C in C Portsmouth to sail as soon as possible to HMS LST 359 which had been mined in area 16 east off Calshot and was in danger of sinking

April 11th 1945: Towing to the Downs the LADY BRASSEY under the escort of HMS GREY GOOSE – source Admiralty War Diary reporting a signal from DAPPER to the Admiral commanding Dover

December 7th 1945: At the South Goodwins attended the US steamship USO and the French vessel ANDRE THOME both of which had grounded on the sand banks. The USO was refloated. The ANDRE THOME having been refloated grounded herself again

June 26th 1946: Paid off from the Admiralty Salvage Dept and returned to Dover Harbour Board.

January 1951: Broken up at Dover Industries Ltd Shipbreaking Yard, Eastern Docks

May 1st 1951: Certificate cancelled and Registry entry closed 


This article is an “ongoing” project and any pictures/information, via contact form, would be appreciated

All information is believed to be correct and no responsibility is accepted for any errors or omissions. All items included in this article are subject to © copyright. We would like to take this opportunity of thanking:  Paul Wells for his assistance in producing this feature.

Special thanks go to Chris White @ RFA Historical Society  (For granting permission to incorporate their article)

Article © Nigel Thornton and Ray Goodfellow (Dover Ferry Photos Group)

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