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Vessel type Oil tanker
Year launched 1935
Cargo type Oil
Country of build The Netherlands

Built in the Netherlands for Royal Dutch Shell, the 12,248dwt tanker Rapana was requisitioned by the UK Admiralty in the Second World War and became the first ship to be converted into a Merchant Aircraft Carrier (MAC).

The build

Built at the Wilton-Fijenoord yard in Schiedam, Rapana came into service in May 1935. The vessel was initially operated for the Shell subsidiary NV Maatschappij La Corona, and ran between Europe and Curaçao and in the Mediterranean until it was switched to the Anglo-Saxon Petroleum Company's fleet in 1938.


Soon after the outbreak of war in 1939, Rapana was requisitioned for service as an oiler and sailed from Liverpool on its first Atlantic convoy at the end of September. Over the next three and a half years, it took part in further convoys in the Mediterranean and to destinations such as Bermuda, Curaçao, Aruba, Trinidad, Guantanamo, Key West, Halifax, and New York.

In October 1942, faced with mounting merchant ship losses in the Atlantic, the Admiralty decided that nine Rapana-class tankers should be converted into MACs to provide increased air protection to convoys in the middle of the ocean.

Aircraft carrier

Rapana became the first ship to serve in the new role, emerging from the Smith's Dock Company yard in North Shields in July 1943 after six months of work. The superstructure was replaced by a flight deck, and small bridge island was fitted on the starboard side, along with arrester gear, a safety barrier, and additional generators to provide the power for extra radar and communications equipment.

Rapana carried four Fairey Swordfish aircraft on the flight deck and continued to transport crude oil cargoes. By the end of the war, the ship had taken part in a further 14 Atlantic convoys – mainly between Liverpool and New York – even though the MACs had been originally planned as a temporary measure until more effective convoy protection could be put in place.


At the end of the war, Rapana was reconverted into a tanker and returned to Shell's UK fleet, mainly running once again between Europe and Curaçao. In 1950 the ship was transferred back to La Corona and renamed Rotula. After a further seven years of commercial service, the vessel was laid up at the end of 1957 and sold for scrapping in Japan in January 1958.

Rapana Fact File


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