Online Magazine

A Whale of a Time: HMS Ajax in the Antarctic, 1937.

Posted by Dean Stoker, on August 11th, 2019


This article recounts the visit to South Georgia of the Royal Navy light cruiser HMS Ajax during her Spring Cruise in 1937. Very shortly after arrival her crew were invited to observe a whale being processed at the factory station at Grytviken.

Having captured and killed the whale, the carcass was towed to the factory where it was winched onto a platform called a ‘flensing board’. The surrounding area had buildings containing ‘digesters’ which extracted oil from the whale flesh.

No vestige of the carcass was wasted. Teams of ten men called ‘flensers’ extracted the oil with the aid of ‘flensing knives’. Huge fillets of blubber, up to 90 feet in length, were detached from the carcass with aid of the flensing knives and winches.

The process of extracting the remaining flesh and the bones from the carcass was undertaken in a separate building. The jaw was stripped of its baleen which was cleaned and shipped separately. The remaining solids were processed as artificial fertilizers and animal feed. The oil was used in soap and margarine manufacture.

Each season between three and four thousand whales of various kinds were killed and processed by these methods.

To read the full article Become A Member

Join The Navy Records Society today from only £20/year and gain access to an ever-expanding archive.

Become A Member