England’s Blue Funnel Ship Achilles
By James Donahue
The Achilles was among the later steamships built for the once great Ocean Steamship Company that carried mostly freight
between England and the Far East between 1852 and 1941. The company survived the war and still operates today as Ocean Trading
and Transport Company, Ldt.
Built in 1920, the Achilles was launched as a 528-foot-long cargo vessel but because of world unrest, was quickly put
into service in various war efforts. In December, 1926 the steamer transported 1,000 troops and horses to Shanghai during
what was known as the China Affair.
When World War II broke out, Achilles was sold to the British Admiralty and converted for use as a destroyer depot
ship and used to supply other naval vessels operating in the North Atlantic and later the Mediterranean. She was armed with
four by four inch guns and carried a ship’s complement of 674. The ship’s name was changed at that time to HMS
The vessel survived the war and was scrapped at Barrow, England in 1948.
The Ocean Steamship Company is remembered as the Blue Funnel Fleet because the ship’s funnel’s displayed
a distinct blue color. Founded by Albert and George Holt in 1852, the shipping company became so successful that by 1913 it
boasted a fleet of 77 ships.
The company operated successfully throughout World War I with few of its ships lost before fighting ended in 1918.
The Great Depression had its effect on the company. This, followed by World War II and the Japanese occupation of China
and much of Southeast Asia brought an end to the Europe-Far East trade. Half of the Blue Funnel fleet was sunk in the war
and the Liverpool headquarters was bombed.
The company emerged from the war bruises but still intact and has continued to operate successfully ever since. In
1967 the Blue Funnel and Elder Dempster Line fleets merged. In 1972 there was another acquisition of William Cory & Son
The company operates today as Ocean Trading & Transport Co. Ltd.