What is the connection between the famous RMS Lusitania, a merchant vessel torpedoed off the coast of Ireland in WW1, and the Clydebank’s Titan Crane?
On 7 May 1915 the British luxury passenger liner RMS Lusitania was torpedoed, without warning, by the German submarine U-20. The attack triggered a second internal explosion in the forward cargo hold. This event claimed the lives of 1,198 crew and passengers, including women and children, in just under 18 minutes.
Although the vessel was so quickly incapacitated, her construction lasted several years. RMS Lusitania was built in the John Brown’s Shipyard at Clydebank, west of Glasgow, for the Cunard Line Company. She was intended to carry goods and passengers between Liverpool and New York. Construction started on 16 June 1904 when the keel was first laid out in yard no. 367. Almost three years later, on the 7 June 1907, the Lusitania was launched. In length she measured 787 ft (239.9 m) and stood 60 ft (18.3 m) high to the deck. She had a capacity for almost 2,200 passengers, in addition to the 850 members of crew. She was for a short time - before the launch of her sister ship, RMS Mauretania - the largest and fastest transatlantic liner in the world with a top speed of 27 knots.
The decision by the Cunard Line Company to choose the John Brown Shipyard as their preferred shipbuilder still has an impact on the economic and historical setting of the Clydebank area to this day, despite that fact that almost all of the associated buildings and infrastructure were demolished in 2002. Prior to the construction of the Lusitania in 1904, the shipyard was reorganised to accommodate the size of the vessel, which would (in length) out measure the width of the river by over 150 foot. A new slipway was built, the river was dredged, the dock was extended, new infrastructure and buildings were constructed, and additional machinery and equipment were purchased.
One of these new additions is the last surviving relic of the shipyard: the Titan Crane. Sir William Arrol & Co., a Dalmarnock based engineering company, were commissioned to design and construct the crane for a total of £24,600. It was to be the world’s first electronically powered cantilever crane and, on completion, it was the largest of its type. It was designed with the capacity to lift 150 tons and stands 160 ft in height. The crane, erected on the western side of the dockyard, passed its commissioning tests and was accepted by the John Brown Shipyard on 24 April 1907. Here the Titan spent time alongside the Lusitania while the ship was being fitted out in the dockyard. The Titan’s capacity, which was matched by few others, played a large role in shaping John Brown's into a world leading shipyard.
The Titan Crane, along with the dock yard, is now the last surviving relic of the shipyard. On the nights of 13 and 14 March 1941 the Luftwaffe executed a brutal attack on the area, known as the 'Clydebank Blitz'. Despite being a major target, the crane and shipyard survived the assault. By the 1970s the shipbuilding era on Clydebank came to an end and the yard was redeveloped for the construction of oil drilling rigs and platforms. Both the crane and dock were listed on 14 of April 1989 as a Category A listed building, which helped to protect them when the rest of the yard and engineering works were destroyed. In 2004 a local, urban regeneration company took ownership of around 10 acres of the former shipyard, including the crane and dock. After a public consultation the decision was made to restore the crane to its former state and in 2005 work began on a £3.75 million restoration project. In July 2007 the Titan Crane was re-opened to the public.
Although the Lusitania perished less than a decade after she was launched, the impact her construction had on the Clydebank area is still visible today. The Titan Crane, commissioned as part of the shipyard redesign to accommodate the vast size of Lusitania, still towers over the river. It has been given protected status and is recognized as nationally important part of Scotland’s historic environment.
The Titan Cantilever Crane © Crown Copyright Historic Environment Scotland
The prow of the RMS Lusitania © Crown copyright, National Records of Scotland, AAA00697