HMS Menestheus was Turned into a Brewery

  • HMS Menestheus was turned into a floating brewery during World War Two.
  • The ship had on-board fermentation containers for making fresh beer.
  • The floating brewery produced up to 250 barrels of beer per week.
  • The Davey Jones bar sold the beer at 9d a pint.
  • The Canadians installed a dance hall, a movie theatre, and a canteen on the vessel.

The topic of alcohol is often left out when discussing World War Two and yet military authorities regarded beer as an essential amenity for maintaining morale and keeping up the spirits of the fighting men.

Understandably, supplying alcohol was considered an important task for sustaining war efforts using some very innovative ideas. At one point beer kegs were even strapped to the wings of Spitfires such was the need to keep morale of soldiers high.

Still, the logistics of providing alcohol to soldiers on battlefields far away was not an easy task. The long distances often meant that troops received stale, tasteless alcohol.

HMS Menestheus being towed out of False Creek toward English Bay by two tugboats in 1945. Shows the Kitsilano Trestle Bridge (train bridge) in open position with Granville Street Bridge in the background.

In this regard, amenity vessels were widely used because they not only brewed and served alcohol onboard but, in some cases, delivered it as well. One of these amenity vessels sailed around the Pacific to provide fresh alcohol to the worn-out soldiers giving them a much-needed boost and a ‘taste of home’.

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HMS Menestheus

MV Menestheus was launched by the Caledon Shipbuilding & Engineering Co. Ltd. on 6th August 1929. Initially, the ship was a Blue Funnel Liner that carried passengers across the Pacific in relative comfort.

The Royal Admiralty later requestioned MV Menestheus on 14th December 1939 and renamed it HMS Menestheus. Menestheus being an ancient Greek king at the time of the Trojan Wars.

The Royal Admiralty then set about repurposing the Blue Funnel Liner into a minelayer in World War Two. HMS Menestheus proudly joined the 1st Minelaying Squadron based at Kyle of Lochalsh in Scotland alongside other requestioned and purpose-built ships.

Immediate Flow

It was among the minelayers responsible for the Northern Barrage defence system of Britain’s coast. The Northern Barrage was a stretch of minefields that restricted enemy access to the Atlantic Ocean and thus denying them a valuable battlefield. In order to achieve this the British minelayers dropped mines from the Orkney to the Faroe Islands and as far as Iceland.

The Minelaying Squadron laid more than 10,000 conventional contact mines during the campaign. The squadron completed its job in October 1943.

HMS Menestheus was retained with the Canadians transforming the now redundant vessel into an amenities ship in 1944.

Officers having half a pint aboard HMS Menestheus
Officers having half a pint aboard HMS Menestheus

As planned, the floating brewery provided an escape from the fighting for the soldiers who fought in the Pacific during World War Two. Eventually, the Royal Admiralty returned HMS Menestheus to its previous owner, Blue Funnel Line, in July 1946.

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Recreation and Entertainment During the War

The Royal Navy and British Army is renowned for its drinking culture, and this has been firmly written into its history and folklore.

During the war, though, it was difficult to transport fresh alcohol, particularly beer, to distant locations such as the Far East or Pacific Ocean. Moreover, exposure to sunlight, changes in storage conditions, and temperature fluctuations reduced the quality of the ale. Unsurprisingly, skunked beer did not help to boost morale.

The Admiralty had to get creative.

The Royal Navy sent the minelayer to Vancouver in 1944, where it was converted into a floating brewery. In order to do these six fermentation tanks were installed into the hold of HMS Menestheus. The Canadians also installed a dance room, a swimming pool, and a movie theatre on the ship. This was to be a glorious amenity ship.

The Admiralty then commissioned George Brown of the famous Truman’s Brewery to oversee the brewing operations. Under Brown’s supervision, ale production began in December 1944.

The heat from the ship’s boilers, distilled seawater, and malt extract was enough for Brown to start pumping out barrels and barrels of ale.

Eventually the vessel started producing an astonishing 250 barrels of beer per week.

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The Davy Jones bar onboard had only one beer on the menu however: an English Mild Ale having 3.7% ABV. The floating brewery sold the ale for 9d per pint. The stainless steel kegs at the bar preserved the beer’s taste for a long time helping to make the ale a popular choice with the men.

Currently, a technical document displaying the installation of a brewing plant used on the ship is kept at the Imperial War Museum in London.

The End of World War Two

World War Two came to an official end on 2nd September 1945. The plans to repurpose ten more ships into floating breweries ended with the peace.

HMS Menestheus, however, continued its tour across the Pacific. The floating brewery made a stop at Yokohama, Kure, Shanghai, and Hong Kong to serve thousands of troops who were still on occupation duty.

One interesting observation is the fact that the U.S. Navy plans to retire 24 vessels in the next fiscal year. Shockingly, nine of these twenty-four ships are Freedom-variant Littoral Combat Ships. With a budget request of $773 billion, the Pentagon might as well repurpose some of these into floating breweries. I’m sure the troops would agree!