History of Leith, Edinburgh

Archive for 2010

Christmas at South Leith Church

Sunday, December 19th, 2010

Henry Robb Limited

Friday, December 17th, 2010

Henry Robb, Limited, known colloquially as Robbs, was a British shipbuilding company based in Leith Docks on the east coast of Scotland. Robbs was notable for building small-to-medium sized vessels, particularly tugs and dredgers. for more click here

Royal visit to Henry Robb’s-1943

Friday, December 17th, 2010

Click on image to enlarge

Source-Leith Built Ships on War Service

(Please note that Henry Robb’s is now closed)

Making Records

Friday, December 17th, 2010

H.M.S. ” Sidmouth ” is a sister ship of the ” Stornoway.” She saw a great deal of service as leader of a minesweeper flotilla. In August 1942 she was one of the minesweepers which swept the channel ahead of the raiding force which attacked Dieppe. On one occasion she made a record by sweeping a distance of 600 miles in seventy-two hours.

Another of her more exciting exploits was the invasion exercises 1943, when she in led her flotilla to within three miles of the French coast without being observed.

source-Leith Built Ships on War Service

Three Sisters

Friday, December 17th, 2010

Shortly before the war, the New Zealand Government entrusted us with the building of three minesweeper training ships. They were
the ” Moa,” ” Kiwi,” and ” Tui,” and were launched during the spring
and summer of 1941 in that order.

Although each ship made the long journey to her home country as
soon as she was completed, they eventually came together in the 25th
Minesweeper Flotilla of the Royal New Zealand Navy. Together the
three sisters went northwards and carried out operations in the region
of the Solomons and New Caledonia, where they operated with the
American Fleet.

Early in 1943 ” Kiwi ” and ” Moa ” were in company when they picked up a large 1500 ton Japanese submarine of the “I” Class, which was subsequently proved to have been carrying stores and important reinforcements of personnel to Guadalcanal. ” Moa ” stood off while ” Kiwi ” carried out so fierce an attack with depth charges that the submarine was soon forced to surface. The ” Kiwi ” immediately sprayed the submarine from end to end with all the gunfire she
possessed, but this was not enough, and, disregarding the intense reply from the Japanese guns, she put on all the speed her engines could give and rammed the enemy ship three times in rapid succession.

The excited watchers on the ” Moa ” saw the extraordinary spectacle of the ” Kiwi” slipping slowly over the submarine like a vessel stranded
on an island. The action was so fierce that there were very few survivors either of the crew or the passengers from the enemy vessel.
Even the best Leith workmanship could hardly be expected to survive such rough usage undamaged, but an examination at New Zealand’s own Devonport revealed nothing more serious than a dented bow. Lieut.-Commander G. Bridson, as he then was, added the D.S.O.
and the U.S. Naval Cross to his D.S.C. for this exploit.

On the very next evening the ” Moa and ” Tui ” were mixed up in a brisk fight with enemy landing craft off Guadalcanal and inflicted much damage on the enemy without receiving any themselves.

In addition to the award of the D.S.O. to Lieut.-Commander Bridson, Lieut.-Commander Peter Phipps, R.N.Z.N.V.R., Commanding Officer of the ” Kiwi,” received a bar to his D.S.C. ; Lieutenants J. F. A. O’Neill and W. A. Laurie, R.N.Z.N.V.R., received the D.S.C.; and Able Seamen A. E. J. Dalton and J. T. Washer were awarded the D.S.M. for the action in which the Japanese submarine was destroyed.

The following months saw much the same routine until one day, when the ” Moa ” was riding at anchor in Toulagi, a formation of Japanese planes came in behind a returning Allied formation and carried out a very fierce bombing attack on shipping in the harbour. ” Moa ” received a direct hit and sank. ” Kiwi ” and ” Tui,” still together, continued their operations over a wide area of Pacific waters. They had at least one other kill to their credit. It was only a few weeks after the loss of the ” Moa ” that they contacted another ” I ” Class enemy submarine and depth-charged it until it was forced to surface, where it was finished off by United States aircraft, the satisfaction of whose crews was increased when they discovered from a survivor that it was the ship which carried out the first bombardment of the Californian coast soon after the Japanese came into the war.

All three ships and their crews were very popular with the Americans, nor were they forgotten at home. They were visited by statesmen and high officers, and to the many gifts from the white population of New Zealand were added native Maori weapons, cloaks, and maps.

source-Leith Built Ships on War Service

Tough ]ob

Friday, December 17th, 2010

As leader of a group of minesweepers in Greek waters, the ” Staffa ” was engaged in almost non-stop minesweeping for six months —from November 1944 to May 1945.

Her Commanding Officer, Lieut.-Commander Geoffrey Syrett, R.N.V.R., of Weybridge, Surrey, described the Greek operations as ” one of the toughest minesweeping operations of the war.” Every known type of mine was encountered in profusion and the ” Staffa ” completed over 6500 miles steaming without a refit. She was one of four minesweepers of the same class which accounted for fifty-five mines between them in three weeks.

The ” Staffa ” has the distinction of being the only Mediterranean
minesweeper to fly the C.-in-C.’s flag. Admiral Sir Andrew Cunningham,
now First Sea Lord, directed, when he was C.-in-C., Mediterranean,
that in appreciation of the work accomplished by the ‘sweepers, one
should be granted the privilege of flying his flag. The honour was
conferred upon the ” Staffa ” and the flag was retained to occupy an
honoured place in the wardroom.

Source-Leith Built Ships on War Sevice


Friday, December 17th, 2010

Still another trawler, H.M.S. ” Sword Dance,” came in for severe punishment while on the important work of minesweeping. During an attack by Heinkels, bombs dropped all round the ship, some as close as 30 feet. The blast was heavy enough to cause some internal damage, but no leaks developed in the hull and the trawler was able to reach port under her own steam. Some months later the ” Sword Dance ” sank as the result of a collision while on convoy duty.

source-Leith Built Ship on War Service

First Blood

Friday, December 17th, 2010

H.M.S. ” Basset “—an armed trawler, the pioneer of all subsequent
trawlers—was the second ship to be built at Leith for the Royal
Navy. Completed before the war, her service was uneventful until
April 1942, when she was attacked by four Messerschmitt no’s.
” Basset” returned such spirited fire that one of the aircraft exploded
in mid air. The second was so badly damaged that the machine turned
half a loop before the pilot could recover control. Pieces fell off and the
aeroplane began to lose height. The pilot tried to make the English
coast, but crashed into the sea. There were no casualties among the
crew and the ship sustained no damage. Her Commander reported that
she stood up very well to the bombing attacks.

H.M.S. ” Mastiff “—also built before the outbreak of war—was
an improved ” Basset,” but before having an opportunity of seeing
much service, was mined and sunk.

H.M.S. “Ringdove,” a ship specially designed for laying controlled
minefields, steamed about 60,000 miles, laying such minefields
round British harbours and later at the mouth of the Scheldt. She
figured in many air raids, and her company, by gallant exertions, saved
Lowestoft railway station and other important buildings during one
raid. She had a narrow squeak from a ” V ” bomb in the Scheldt.
H.M.S. ” Redstart,” a sister to, and worked in conjunction with,
” Ringdove,” was sunk during operations in December 1941.
H.M.S. -“Hazel”

The strength and endurance of the Tree Class Anti-Submarine
Trawlers were exemplified by H.M.S. “Hazel” during her eleven months’
service in northern waters. She was unlucky during this commission—
unlucky in two ways. Whatever convoy she escorted on any route, she
ran into no enemy, but plenty of bad weather. Even on her way home
she ran into gales and one of her boats was stove in. But she withstood everything and always returned safely to her base.

Once the ship was kept pinned to a quay by a gale for three days,
and on another occasion, when a big merchant ship alongside was
blown out of harbour, the crew of the ” Hazel ” stayed up all night in
a successful effort to hold the ship to her buoy. The gale blew a house
down and broke windows all over the town. The ship’s Commanding
Officer was then Lieut.-Commander R. Dwyer, R.N.R., and he frequently drove the ship through 30 feet seas. ” It was like being on
a gigantic scenic railway,” he said.

source-Leith Built Ships on War Service


Friday, December 17th, 2010

At the commencement of the war the Firm was instructed by the
Admiralty to proceed with the construction of a number of Flower Class Corvettes from master drawings circulated to all builders.

As the war developed the need for larger and more powerful anti-submarine vessels became apparent, with the result that the Admiralty designed the River Class Frigates. Owing to the urgent need for these vessels, and in order to expedite construction, part of the drawing office work for the new design was undertaken by this Company, in collaboration with Messrs Smith’s Dock Co., Limited, and others.

With the increasing ferocity of the submarine campaign, the Controller of the Navy realised that a still larger number of Frigates was essential, and in order to meet his requirements the Director of Naval Construction, in collaboration with shipbuilders who had previous
Frigate experience, undertook the prefabricated Frigate design. The
structural steelwork for the prefabricated Frigates was to be prepared
by constructional steel engineering firms all over the country, so that
the steel units could be mass produced and distributed to Frigate shipbuilders for erection. At the same time mass orders for machinery
auxiliaries and equipment were placed throughout the country.
As soon as the design was settled, this firm undertook to lay off
the lines in our large mould loft and to supply the builders with the
loft offsets and other information. In addition, templates were prepared
to enable constructional engineers to carry out mass production of the
steel units ; this involved the preparation of over four thousand templates.

Our loftsman visited the various structural engineers to explain
the method of application of the templates to ensure subsequent accuracy of assembly of the prefabricated steel units when they reached the slipways.

The shipbuilding and structural engineering industries closely collaborated in organising a central drawing office for the preparation
of the vast number of detailed drawings which this system necessitated
and which contributed in no small measure to the success of the whole

The accuracy with which the drawing office, mould loft, and template
work was carried out enabled these very highly specialised
vessels to be successfully prefabricated at a time when the whole war
position depended on the successful transport of munitions of war from
the United States and Great Britain.

source-Leith Built Ships on War Service

Leith Built Ships on War Service

Friday, December 17th, 2010

A NUMBER of friends and clients have suggested that the outstanding war service rendered by ships built in the Victoria Shipyards should be recorded in permanent form.

Accordingly, we have set down in this little book stories of the Fighting
Ships of Leith, in the belief that old friends and new ones alike may
find something of interest.

In the war of 1914-1918, only two small ships were built at Leith for the Royal Navy. During the intervening years the shipbuilding
facilities of the port were consolidated into one efficient unit, ready to
take its share of the burden of national defence. *
During the second world war, the Victoria Shipyards built forty-two vessels for the Royal Navy, fourteen merchant ships, and refitted and repaired nearly 3000 ships of the Royal Navy and Merchant Navy. This means that one new ship was launched on an average every six weeks and a ship repaired every day.

Our contribution also involved design and pioneer work, particularly
in connection with big rescue tugs and the preparation of
patterns for prefabrication, so that the work could be spread amongst
engineering firms and output increased.

We also designed for the Pacific Campaign the ” B ” Class Coaster
and at the request of the Admiralty these designs were passed on to
other shipbuilders so that the maximum number could be built in the
shortest period.

Naturally, all those connected with the Victoria Shipyards were
thrilled as story after story was revealed of how ships which had grown
under our hands and had been launched by visitors from the South or
representatives of ancient Scottish family, had fought gallant battles
with enemies in the sky, under the sea and on the surface across the
world from the Pacific to the Atlantic and then, when the great final
blow was struck, acted as headquarters ships for the invading forces and laid the pipe lines across the Channel to keep them supplied with fuel.

We were also influenced in our decision to write this story by a
desire that all who participated in our work during those six strenuous
years might be able to preserve some tangible record of their share in
the task.

We were encouraged in our efforts through the war years by visits
from many distinguished visitors. It was a proud day when Their
Majesties The King and Queen came to the Victoria Yard. Twice,
Mr Peter Fraser, the Prime Minister of New Zealand, was our guest.
The First Lord of the Admiralty, Mr A. V. Alexander, also paid us two
visits, as did Lord Westwood, Chief Industrial Adviser to the
Admiralty, the Controller of the Navy, and many others.

Whilst we are justly proud of the part played by Leith-built ships
in the great campaign, we realise in all humility that no success would
have been possible but for the superb courage, gallantry, and supreme
self-sacrifice shown by officers, engineers, and men of the Royal and
Merchant Navies, to whom we pay our humble thanks.

We are indebted to the Admiralty and to the owners and officers
of the various merchant ships for their co-operation in supplying the
information contained in this book.

source-Leith Built Ships on War Service

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