Shipping & Shipbuilding News -  30 July 2007 - The Brightest Maritime Daily

Feature: The Story of the Clyde Bank Shipyard
As giant shipyard crane is opened to the public, Shipping Times looks at the history of one of the world's most famous shipyards...


Part Three: The Roaring Twenties
( continued from Part Two )

Through the 1920's a wide variety of vessels were built, from cross channel steamers, to cargo vessels, and of course ocean liners. But not in the same league yet as the pre-war race for larger ships.

However, a four stacker did appear! This was in a way a bonus order for John Brown, as the order for two vessels for the Union Castle company had gone to the Belfast yard of Harland & Wolff. Due to capacity restraints, the order for one of them, the WINDSOR CASTLE was given to the Clydebank yard and completed in 1922. At around 19000 tons she was smaller than the mega-ships of earlier years, but imposing nonetheless. Younger readers may not be aware of the singular livery of the Union Castle Line: with their lilac hulls and red and black funnels, they made for an arresting and gorgeous sight. With her four funnels the WINDSOR CASTLE was amongst the most pleasing.

The colourful WINDSOR CASTLE. Unfortunately her appearance was altered radically in a refit in the 1930's. Her four stacks became two and her bow was 'modernised' The effect was in the author's opinion affected! She came to grief in WW2 being sunk by aerial torpedo 23rd March 1943. Miraculously out of over 3000 troops and crew aboard, only one lost his life.

The Cunard connection kept going in the twenties with the construction of two vessels for the company, the FRANCONIA of 1923 and the AULANIA of 1925. They were typical builds of the day for Cunard with one single funnel, but the FRANCONIA was the largest at 20,000 tons whilst 'little' AULANIA boasted a mere 14,000 tons.

A much more significant relationship for the period though came from another company, the Canadian Pacific Steamship Co. In 1921 and '22 they built the sisters MONTCALM and MONTCLARE for service from Liverpool to Canada. Twin funnelled liners of 16,400 grt they would end their days as depot ships. MONTCLARE came to be a familiar sight when based of Rothesay on the Isle of Bute.

Brown's built more ships during the decade for CPR. In 1925 they produced for the Canadian company two handsome coastal passenger steamers for services between Seattle, Victoria and Vancouver, the PRINCESS MARGUERITE and the PRINCESS KATHLEEN. They were unusual in design to modern eyes, with three close packed funnels amidships and elegant counter sterns and powered by the now seemingly ubiquitous marine turbine engines.

Another coastal steamer the PRINCESS ELAINE came in 1928 and although she too had three funnels, her tonnage was less than half of the 1925 vessels at 2125grt.

The magnificent EMPRESS OF BRITAIN, the first of the giant liners. She was the largest vessel of WW2 to be sent to the bottom by U-boat. A sad end to an unjustifiably unsuccessful liner.
But the bigger vessels were appearing again by this time. First of all came the DUCHESS OF BEDFORD and the DUCHESS OF RICHMOND for Canadian Pacific of around 20,000 tons in 1928. These two would become better known to a later generation as EMPRESS OF FRANCE and EMPRESS OF CANADA. The FRANCE survived until she was scrapped in 1960 but the other one met a bad end in Liverpool on the 25th January 1953 when she caught fire in the Gladstone Dock. Her burned out and and sunken hull remained in the dock for over a year before a half million pounds salvage operation righted her. This was a phenomenal sum of money, and it was ill-spent. The poor old girl was declared a total loss and she was scrapped.

Although the depression set in after 1929, CPR came to John Brown again and this time it was for a much larger vessel. In 1931 they produced the handsome EMPRESS OF BRITAIN - she was a truly beautiful big liner of 42,348 grt and with three massive funnels she was to become one of the most familiar looking of vessels and was the last word in luxury. Unfortunately her career was never profitable, in fact it was said she was the least profitable liner on the North Atlantic.

Her life was cut short in 1940 off Ireland when as a requisitioned troopship she was bombed by German aircraft and set on fire. After being evacuated the ship was inspected and towing operations began, but the next day she was torpedoed by enemy action and sank. As an interesting aside, it was rumoured she had been carrying gold bullion and it was later admitted, years later, that she had been, but it had been taken off. In 1995 a team of divers found her and located the bullion room. The government had not been lying, there was no bullion, just the skeleton of some unfortunate who had been employed in it's removal!

Continue to Part Four: The Queens

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