Sea Breezes – Otranto

From the brush of David Bray

The venerable ‘Sea Breezes’ magazine which celebrated its centenary in 2019, is featuring some of David’s paintings in a series called ‘From the brush of David Bray’.

First up is the painting of Otranto arriving at Tilbury. Here’s the story behind it.

OTRANTO was built by Vickers, Barrow-in-Furness in 1926 for the Orient Line’s Australian service. One of five near-sister ships built in the 1920’s, she was 20,032 tons gross, twin-screw steam turbine, 20 knots. She sailed in passenger service until the outbreak of war in 1939, when she was requisitioned as a troop transport.

Otranto arriving at Tilbury

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In 1942, Otranto was converted into a Large Assault Ship, equipped with landing craft under davits. She participated in Operation Torch; the North Africa landings, then the Sicily invasion, and Salerno. Reverting to troopship service until 1948, she was refitted for passenger service at Cammell Laird’s, Birkenhead. Eventually she was sent to Faslane for scrapping in 1957.

The picture shows the vessel arriving at Tilbury from Australia. She is coming up on the last of the flood, and the river pilot is disembarking. She will shortly turn “four and one” in the river preparatory to going alongside the Tilbury Landing Stage, which was completed in 1930. The starboard anchor is cleared away ready for the starboard turn, if needed. One of Watkin’s tugs is coming in to make fast for’ard. The Mate is in charge on the foc’sle while the cadet is keeping out of the way hoping not to get his hands dirty! (A critical observer might comment that Orient Line didn’t routinely employ cadets, only taking navigating officers holding Extra Master certificate).

In the background can be seen the Tilbury Landing Stage, a spritsail Thames barge, and one of the Gravesend ferries on her regular crossing from Tilbury.

The original painting is owned by marine surveyor Alan Knight, in Halifax, Nova Scotia.