The History of Leith

January 10, 2011


DURING the war period we repaired and refitted 2437 Merchant ships. We also dealt with 370 of the Royal Navy ships.
This work included major refits for Destroyers, Sloops, Corvettes, Frigates, and other types.
Our preparation for the war commenced in January 1939, when we were instructed by the Admiralty to convert the Submarine Depot ship “Greenwich” to a wireless telegraphy ship. In addition, the vessel was put through a D.2 refit, which was equal on a merchant ship to the No. 3 Survey. The conversion of this vessel was a major operation
She was fitted with all the latest wireless equipment available at that period, but, needless to say, great advances have been made in that sphere since then. This entailed structural alterations and the building of a wireless telegraphy house, 70 ft. X4o ft. x8 ft., to accommodate all the electrical equipment. She was fitted with two 200 kw. machines taken from the battleship ” Queen Elizabeth,” which was then being modernised.

In order to instal these machines the vessel had to be placed in dry-dock, side plates and frames removed, and the machines launched into position through the ship’s side. The tank top and double floors had to be suitably stiffened and seatings built to take the machines. This work took five months time to complete and entailed the maximum amount of overtime and night shifts in order to complete the vessel
to time.

Later in 1939, after the war had started, the first ” lame duck ” came to us for repair—the Javelin Class Destroyer ” Jersey.” She came in with an extensive hull damage, which necessitated dry-docking. This work occupied some three to four weeks, which we considered a record time for the work. We received the Admiralty’s thanks for the quick turn round. The day the vessel undocked ready for sea, German bombers visited the Firth of Forth and circled round the vessel in the Imperial Dry-dock about the time she was water borne. All the destroyer’s guns were trained on the bombers, but they reserved their bombs for the Granton Gas Works,Forth Bridge, and Rosyth Dry-dock. Incidentally, seven or eight of the bombers were shot down in the Firth of Forth later in the afternoon.

We had the “Jersey” back within twenty-four hours, as she had picked up some boom defence nets when steaming through the gates. The vessel was again dry-docked and the nets, which had become entangled in her propeller blades, removed. The “Jersey” was lost shortly afterwards.

The first major refit was the Tribal Class Destroyer ” Zulu,” early in 1940. She was also suitably stiffened and insulated for the Russian convoys in winter. The First Lieutenant of the ” Zulu ” at that time, Lieut. Beatty, was the officer who received the V.C. for ramming the dock gates at St Nazaire when in command of a Town Class American Destroyer.

The next outstanding destroyer we dealt with was the famous ” Cossack.” She was rammed by a merchant ship in the North Sea in the black-out, and the only thing which saved her from being cut in two was the super-mounted 4.7 gun turret. When the vessel arrived at Leith she was about 6 ft. down by the head and the mess decks were awash.

When the vessel came alongside we found she was commanded by Captain de Pass, with whom we were associated in the 1914-1918 War, when he was a Lieutenant in the ” Indomitable.” A number of bodies were entangled in the wreckage and we had the gruesome task of releasing the bodies by the oxy-acetylene cutting plant. This was an extensive repair which occupied some four or five weeks’ time.

We soon had the ” Cossack ” back again with a bow damage. It was then that the famous Captain (now Vice-Admiral) Vian joined the ship, having lost his ship, the ” Elfrida.” He was anxious to get the repairs carried out in record time as he had important operational duties to meet. The duties he had referred to turned out to be the Norwegian fiord episode when he boarded the famous German tanker ” Altmark ”
and rescued nearly 400 British prisoners of war, mostly sailors and shipmasters, who had been taken prisoner from German raiders in the Pacific and elsewhere. The ” Cossack ” [landed the rescued men at Leith. She suffered damage to the bow and ship’s side during the rescue operations, when we repaired her for the third time.

Another Tribal Class Destroyer worthy of mention was the ” Sikh.” She received damage on her side in the way of the quarterdeck. This occurred in Scapa Flow when the ship was at anchor with the Captain sitting in his bath. The bow of the vessel that rammed her stopped about three inches from his bath. Captain Graham Stokes, Commander of the ” Sikh,” was the officer who was later in a brilliant night action
in the Central Mediterranean when, without hurt or loss to the Royal Navy, he sank two Italian Cruisers, an E-boat, and badly damaged an Italian destroyer. For this action he was made a Companion of the Order of the Bath.

The minesweeping sloop ” Sharpshooter,” which we had through our hands on several occasions, gained considerable public attention when she sank a German submarine while on Russian convoy duty. She rammed the submarine going at full speed, which resulted in a fairly extensive bow damage. This we repaired in the Prince of Wales
dry-dock. Photographs show the stem bent to the form of the submarine.

During the course of the repairs the whole of the “Sharpshooter’s” bow was suitably stiffened to obviate such extensive damage occurring if she had the good fortune to ram another submarine. The Commanding Officer of the ” Sharpshooter” was decorated and promoted Commander for this action.

The ” Alynbank ” was fitted out as an armed merchant cruiser, very heavily armed. She carried eight 4-inch guns—four forward and four aft, four sets of quadruple 2-inch pom-poms, and other lighter armament. She also had concealed 4-inch guns in the ‘tween decks. The ship’s side facing the concealed guns was fitted with quick release drop doors which dropped when the vessel went into action. This vessel usually sailed in the centre of the merchant convoys. On the occasion when she came to us for repairs, she was rammed, we understand, by another ship in the convoy. She was struck amidships and badly holed from the upper deck to the bilge. It was only due to the construction of the vessel—having side ballast tanks—that saved the ship. The repairing and reconditioning of this vessel occupied a period of six or seven weeks before she resumed her very successful career. H.M.S. ” Tyrian.” This vessel is one of our latest class destroyers. An accident at Rosyth resulted in the shattering of the bow and piercing Nos. i and 2 collision bulkheads and crumpling up the steel structure and internal fittings. As the vessel was very urgently required, we worked night and day and completed her in about eight days. We consider this was one of our quickest turn-round jobs, and received the Admiralty’s thanks for our efforts.

H.M.S. “Fame.” This destroyer came to us for damage repairs in 1942—the damage being received in a sea action. The ship’s side was badly damaged by bomb near misses. A number of officers, who were unfortunate enough to be in the wardroom at that time, lost their lives.

We had the vessel in our hands for about two months. This destroyer, with others, escorted the battleship ” King George V.” from Portsmouth to Rosyth Dockyard for completion, due to the heavy bombing she was experiencing while fitting out at Portsmouth.

We had the ” Fame ” back again in 1944 with much more extensive damage, which needed a period of several months to repair.

Later in the war we had two Town Class American Destroyers, the “Ludlow” and “Leeds,” for large refits. In addition to bringing the “Ludlow” up to British standard, three sets of turbines were removed from this vessel for reblading. This entailed major structural removals, in addition to practically gutting the engine-room.

“Cap Norte.” This 15,000 ton vessel arrived in Leith as a German prize early in 1942, and lay at the buoys for some considerable time waiting the result of the Prize Court’s decision. We were given the contract to make a thorough overhaul of her machinery and boilers. As the machinery was in a bad state of disrepair we had several months
work ahead in reconditioning the machinery. The ship was later fitted out as a troop carrier, but due to lack of key berth facilities, she was removed to another port to be completed.

S.S. ” Dalemoor.” The ” Dalemoor,” owned by Messrs Runciman & Co., Newcastle, on passage from the United States of America to this country with a full load of bulk grain in the lower holds and bagged grain in the ‘tween decks, was bombed off Fraserburgh by German bombers and set on fire, fore and aft. She was abandoned by the crew,but was later picked up by trawlers and salvage tugs. They were successful in subduing the flames and eventually towed the ship to the Leith Roads where we inspected the vessel, as she was too deep drafted to come into the port due to the amount of water the grain had absorbed while the salvage tugs were subduing the fire. Eventually, after part discharging the cargo in the Roads, the vessel was brought into Leith and discharged. All the bridge and deck-houses were blasted overboard as a result of the bombing. The ship’s side, port and starboard, from the stem to the engine-room was badly buckled, from the deck to the water-line, forecastle deck, the main deck and ‘tween decks right back to the boiler room were so badly buckled with the heat that a complete renewal was necessary of decks, beams and shell plates, and all deck fittings. Something like 400 tons of new steel was involved in the refit, and the reconditioning of the ship involved five and a half months.

As a matter of interest the Captain’s safe was found buried in the coals in the cross-bunker. Apart from the indentations in the safe it was found in good working order. The ship’s papers were all found intact after-the safe was opened. It must have been blown a considerable height in the air by blast as it was buried deep under the coals in the bunker. We have the ship’s safe in our possession.

S.S. ” Isle of Thanet.” The ” Isle of Thanet ” in peace time was a cross-Channel passenger ship belonging to the Southern Railway. She came to us to be fitted out as a troop carrier and, in addition, to be fitted out as a landing craft carrier in preparation for D-Day. The landing barges were hung to the ship’s side by means of special cranes
on deck. She carried three landing craft on either side, and special disembarking doors were fitted to the ship’s side to enable the troops to walk from the mess-decks straight into the landing crafts. The landing crafts were self-propelled and each landing craft was capable of carrying one hundred troops each.

S.S. ” Isle of Guernsey.” The ” Isle of Guernsey,” also a peacetime cross-Channel passenger ship, was fitted out as a troop ship very similar to the ” Isle of Thanet,” and was used more or less for the same purpose on D-Day.

S.S. ” Pacific President.” The ” Pacific President ” was owned by Furness Withy Line and loaded a cargo of cased oil in Leith for New York. After leaving Leith she ran over Herwit Rocks in the Firth of Forth and sustained very heavy bottom damage. She was dry-docked in the Imperial Dry-dock. The bottom plating from the stem to the
after end of the No. 2 hold was so badly set up that it pierced the tank top of the vessel.– To add to our other difficulties, she had five or six hundred tons of oil fuel in Nos. i and 2 double-bottom tanks which had to be dealt with before the major repairs could be commenced. The entire bottom of the vessel, including all double-bottom floors, centre girder, and a considerable part of the tank top were entirely renewed, from the stem to the after end of the No. 2 hold. This involved between eleven and twelve weeks in dry-dock.

After the ” Pacific President” left Leith on completion of this extensive damage repair, bound for New York, she was never heard of again and completely disappeared.

Whirley Crane Ships. We had four of this type of vessel through our hands. They were built in Canada and were used for D-Day operations. The outstanding feature of the Whirley Crane Ships was the 3 5-ton travelling electric crane which travels fore and aft on rails built up on girders at the hatch sides. The type of work that we were concerned with on the Whirley Crane ships was the|building up of the Whirley Cranes on the deck. It was found that they could not cross the Atlantic in winter with the Whirley Cranes in place on deck. It was, therefore, found necessary to dismantle the cranes and jibs, stow them in the ship’s holds, lash them secure, and when the ships arrived in this country the cranes had to be re-erected on deck, rewired, and tested. In addition, we fitted four lines of wagon rails in the holds to take the wagons. Empty ammunition wagons were then loaded into the holds of the vessel to ensure that they could be safely stowed before the vessels went on their operational duties.

source-Leith Built Ships on War Service

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