Being the war-time history of the firm of
HENRY ROBB Ltd
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 friends 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 3,000 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 of this long and bloody conflict.
Our contribution also involved design and pioneer work, particulary in connection with big rescue tugs and the preparation of patterns for prefabrication, so the work could be spread amongst engineering firms not used to shipbuilding and increase output of ships.
We also designed for the Pacific Campaign the “B” Class coaster and at the request of the Admiralty these designs were passed onto 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 pipelines 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 there 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 Advisor 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 the 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.
THE FIGHTING SHIPS
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 the 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 Loftsmen 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 scheme.
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.
To be continued.