THE SHIPBREAKING INDUSTRY
by Frank C Bowen, c 1930's
In the days of the "wooden walls," a ship
condemned to destruction was often burned or even carefully "lost" in
some convenient spot. To-day the shipbreaking
industry is run on scientific lines, and nothing is wasted.
LAST OF A CUNARDER. The
Servia, 7,392 tons gross, was broken up at
Lancashire, She was built for the Cunard
Line in 1881 at
Glasgow. Her length was 515 feet, her breadth 52 ft. 1 in.
and her depth 37 feet. Many old established businesses, engaged solely in
shipbreaking and the disposal of the material, have
extensive yards provided with the most up-to-date equipment. The Industry has
been revolutionised by the introduction of the oxy-acetylene burner, which cuts
through steel plating as if it were butter.
THE business of shipbreaking is one of the numerous industries which have
grown up round shipping and the sea. It was apparently first practised in the
dismantling of ships which had been driven ashore in bad weather.
Those who had the legal right to a wreck, and often those who had
not, used the materials for building their huts ashore or for any other
Shipbreaking as an industry does not appear until a later date,
but in Tudor days it was the regular practice to break up worn-out warships in
the dockyards and to work all the material that was still serviceable into new
hulls. The frequent shortages of seasoned timber, especially in wartime, made
this practice necessary and it saved infinite trouble and labour with primitive
tools in the making of new parts. Many of the ships so built, however, showed
weakness from the first.
When there was no
shortage of material, and the ships could be carefully and leisurely built, it
was not as a rule worth while breaking up a wooden ship. She was generally
taken to some quiet spot and left to fall to pieces with the minimum of trouble
to her owners. Even naval ships were sometimes treated in that way and to the
present day small vessels and barges which have no sale value will often be
carefully “lost” in some out-of-the-way corner. Harbour masters and conservancy
authorities are careful to check this practice wherever possible; but even the
responsible for the best-controlled port, in the world, often has trouble in
As a rule, however, even
the oldest ship has some value - in
Great Britain, at least. There are many old-established businesses
engaged solely in shipbreaking and the disposal of
the material. This latter part of the business calls for great ingenuity. One
of the pioneers was the firm of Castle, which started its shipbreaking
business at the
at Millbank on the
Thames in 1838. The firm specialized in the breaking up of wooden warships
there and as the size of ships increased, farther downstream. Turner's famous
picture “The Fighting Téméraire" shows that ship
being towed to Castle's yard. The timber of old, wooden warships, especially
hard oak and teak, makes excellent material for garden furniture. It has
wonderful weathering properties and is almost everlasting, needing neither
paint nor varnish. It can be put to other purposes as well, as it was in 1922
London, rebuilt their premises and made excellent use of
the oak from the old training ships Impregnable and Hindostan
which had been broken up on the
For many years Castle's
took the greatest care of the figureheads of the ships which they broke up.
When, after a long period of neglect, the Admiralty suddenly realized that such
trophies were of great value to the morale of the Service, it was enabled to
make the famous dockyard collections principally through the co-operation of
the scrappers. A number of figureheads are stil1 to be seen at
Millbank, and others have gone to museums all over the
country. The late King George V was particularly interested in relics made from
the material of old ships. On the breaking-up in 1910 of the cruiser
Melampus, which he had commanded when he was Duke of York,
he had a garden chair made from her teak for his own use and a suite of garden
furniture for Queen Alexandra. Even today there is a big sale for articles,
large and small, made from man-or-war teak; but in modern ships this material
is virtually confined to the deck.
Shipbreaking can he practised only where the conditions and
labour are suitable. In the countries where these are not suitable the
merchants have to rely on imports, and a surprising number of ships are
employed carrying full cargoes of the materials of their predecessors. In the
United States, where labour costs are excessive,
shipbreaking can be done only when the ship is of a type
which lends itself to mechanical treatment. Wooden ships do not, and for a long
time it was a usual American practice to recover all that was really worth
while from a wooden ship by burning her.
She would be stripped of
the fittings, which were easily removed and then towed inshore at the top of
high water, at a spot where there was a large rise and fall. She was then set
on fire, generally assisted by barrels of tar or some such fiercely burning
material, and by the time the ebb had finished there was little more than a
heap of ashes left on the foreshore. From these the metal fastenings and the
copper sheathing could be collected with little difficulty and sold for further
Even in countries where
labour is cheap, the materials of wooden ships could be profitably used again
only when they were of oak, teak or similar timber. The majority of ships were
of soft wood, which did not last for any time as garden furniture, but these
were cut up into small pieces. Before the war of 1914-18 the shipbreakers could generally get £2 a ton for such wood to
be burned as logs in open hearths. While labour was cheap this would show a
reasonable return when combined with the sale of the metal fittings, hut the
price paid to the owners had to he low.
COUNTRY "WOODEN WALL."
H.M.S. St. Vincent was built at Devonport in 1815 and was broken up on the
Thames in 1906. She had a length of 204 ft. 11 in., a beam of 54 ft. 7 in. and
a displacement tonnage of 4,672. The timber of old wooden warships, especially
hard oak and teak, is almost everlasting and needs neither paint nor varnish.
It makes excellent material for garden furniture, and can even be incorporated
in the structure of a new building.
When ships built of iron
or steel began to wear out, the business altered completely. It was impossible
to break them up with the primitive tools of the wooden scrapper - in some old
iron men-of-war it was necessary to use explosives -but the material that could
be melted down and re-rolled into ship plates fetched a sufficiently high price
to justify a good deal of expense. In the early days of that side of the
industry it was by no means an easy task to break-up a metal-hulled ship, hut
labour was cheap and the greater part of it could be practically unskilled. (continued)
ON THE FIRTH OF
FORTH, Shipbreaking at Bo'ness,
West Lothian. The American liner Columbia, almost
completely stripped of her fittings, is awaiting her turn to be broken up while
men are dealing with the San Sylvestre (left), The
Columbia, formerly the Belgenland, was built at
Belfast in 1917. She had a gross tonnage of 27,132, and her main dimensions
were: length, 670 ft. 5 in., beam 78 ft. 5 in. and depth 44 ft. 8 in. The San
Sylvestre, of the Eagle Oil and Shipping Co., Ltd., was
Tyne in 1911. She had a length of 420 ft. 6 in., a beam
of 54 ft. 7 in. and a depth of 32 ft. 5 in. Her gross tonnage was 6,213.
QUEEN OF THE ATLANTIC. The famous Mauretania, of the Cunard
White Star Line, in the dock at Rosyth, on the Firth
of Forth. Only one of her four
funnels remains in position. Another, just removed, is lying on the deck. The
Mauretania, and her sister ship, the Lusitania
(torpedoed and sunk in 1915) were built for the Cunard
Line in 1907. In that year the Lusitania took the Blue Riband of
the Atlantic: from Germany with an eastward average of 23.61 and a westward
average of 24.25 knots. In 1909 the Mauretania logged an eastward record at 25.89 and a westward
record at 26.06 knots. This record stood for twenty years. The Mauretania, built at Newcastle on Tyne, had a gross tonnage of 10.696. Her length was 762
ft. 2 in., her beam 88 feet and her depth 57 ft. 1 in.
SS Mauretania passing St Abbs to be broken up at
Rosyth (1935), from Chief Officer George Smith,
Royal Naval Shore Signal Service
INTERNATIONAL TREATY, two British super-dreadnoughts at Cox and
Danks' Yard, Queenborough, Kent. This photograph shows the deck of H.M.S.
Orion, with H.M.S. Erin in
the background. The Orion, a battleship of 22,500 tons displacement, was
completed in 1912. She carried ten 13.5-in., sixteen 4-in. and four 3-pounder
guns, in addition to three torpedo tubes. The battleship Erin had a displacement of 23,000 tons and similar armament, except that she
had five torpedo tubes. She was completed in 1914. The scrap price of a warship
is calculated at so much a ton displacement. Age has comparatively little
effect on the price, but the condition of the plates is an important factor.
The Admiralty takes adequate precautions against the divulgence of naval
secrets by the sale of ships.
NO LONGER A STATELY SHIP,
the Cunard White Star liner Doric is in the hands of
the shipbreakers at
Newport, Mon. A crane is removing a section of the
superstructure. The Doric, a twin-screw steamer of 16,464 tons, was built for
the White Star Line at
in 1923. She had a length of 575 ft. 6 in., a beam of 67 ft. 11 in. and a depth
of 41 ft. 2 in. She was broken up in 1936.
fated French liner Atlantique being broken up at Port
Glasgow, Renfrewshire. The
Atlantique, which was condemned after she had caught fire
English Channel, was built in 1930 at
France. She had a gross tonnage of 40,945. Her length was 713 ft. 7 in., her
breadth 91 ft. 9 in. and her depth 57 ft. 8 in. Passengers in the L.M.S. train,
shown in the foreground drawn by an ex-Caledonian Railway express locomotive,
obtain an excellent view of the process of shipbreaking.
(text continued) Great Britain had a big start over her competitors in iron and steel
shipbuilding on account of her natural resources, and many of the foreign
shipbuilders were glad to buy British scrap to work into their new
construction. Well over fifty years ago Denny Brothers of Dumbarton started to
use forgings of scrap steel for their new ships and found that it answered
perfectly. They began making the stems of all their seagoing steamers, a part
of the ship which demands great strength, of scrap steel. They soon extended it
to other parts, experimenting until stern frames up to a considerable weight
could be made of scrap steel without difficulty or risk.
Other firms followed suit
and nowadays the accurate blending of the right proportion of scrap with new
metal is one of the most scientific parts of the work of the metallurgist and
is not only practicable but also economical. The proportion of scrap varies
with the properties of the metal with which it is mixed, so that the demand of
some countries is more than that of others, and it is subject to the
fluctuations of the various industries which use scrap. The current price of
scrap steel is bound to have a big influence on the plans of the
shipowners and shipbuilders. When the price is low the
owners keep their ships running as long as they can and do not order so many
The British scrapping
industry was the pioneer, but it was gradually copied in other countries which
wanted materials for shipbuilding and other purposes and had little or no
natural supply. Many of these countries evolved most ingenious methods of using
the scrap in new manufacture, and in the years preceding the war of 1914-18, as
well as in more recent times,
Japan bought large numbers of obsolete British ships to
break up. The Italian industry which has attained large proportions, started in
1892, and the Japanese after the 1896 subsidy law had been passed to encourage
the native shipbuilding industry.
Sometimes the shipbreaking companies were in a position to run their ship
with a last cargo to the country which had bought her, but the majority were
bought with delivery in
England and were taken out by a temporary crew of runners.
Those going to
Italy were usually loaded with a cargo of coal, which went a long way towards
paying the expenses of delivery even at the lowest freight, and more than one
came to grief on the way out. The owners of liners which had made a great name
for themselves on the passenger services were anxious that the public should
not identify them with a final disaster and frequently insisted that the names
should be changed before they left a British port. The simplest way of doing
this was to chip off the final letter of the name with a chisel so that many
ships have made their last voyage under curious tallies.
THE AFTER END of a famous
battle cruiser H.M.S. Lion. The flagship of Admiral Beatty at the battle of
Jutland, she was among the warships scheduled for scrapping under international
treaty. She was cut in two at Hebburn (Co. Durham),
and the stern part was towed down the
Blyth (Northumberland), to be broken up. Because of a
heavy ground swell, the stern part broke away from the tugs, but it was picked
up again and the destination was reached. The photograph shows the crew hauling
in the broken tow rope. H.M.S. Lion, completed in 1911, had a displacement of
26,350 tons and a speed of 30 knots. She was armed with eight 13.5-in. and
sixteen 4 in. guns, in addition to two torpedo tubes.
Nowadays the British shipbreaking industry is run on the most scientific lines,
and many big firms are engaged in it. A large amount of capital is sunk in the
business. Extensive yards have been acquired and given the most up-to-date
equipment, and a body of skilled and semi-skilled labour has been collected.
Formerly ships were
broken up in dry dock whenever one was available, but that was expensive and
nowadays this is done only in exceptional circumstances. The German ships
salved at Scapa. Flow, for instance, are towed bottom
upwards down to the dockyard at Rosyth, which is now
almost disused, and there dealt with in one of the dry docks left idle by the
departure of the fleet.
As a rule the shipbreaking firm carefully selects the position of its
yard, used exclusively for the purpose, with many factors in mind. It must be
as handy as possible to the steel works to save transport expenses, for railway
rates are heavy on pieces of any size and it is costly to handle them. The site
must have a foreshore as long as the ships to be scrapped, and at high water
sufficient depth for them to be floated in, although this demand is reduced by
making the ship as light as possible and then driving her ashore at full speed.
This is an impressive sight and the fact that it ruins the bottom of the ship
is of minor importance. It has to be broken up anyhow. A 1O-feet rise and fall
of tide is necessary, at least. The foreshore must not be exposed to the full
force of the waves or the work would frequently have to be suspended. The best
bottom is one that is hard and shelving, while the longer it dries at low water
the better. These are the ideal conditions, but it is not always possible to
find them in a convenient situation.
In contrast to the tools
used in the old wooden scrapping yards, the equipment of a modern establishment
is exceedingly elaborate and expensive. The first necessity is plenty of
power, for many of the machines are ponderous by the nature
of their work. Big electric motors are the favourite sources of power.
Plates of hard steel up
to 2 in. in thickness, and about 8 feet long, are within the power of the big
shears, which cut through them with remarkable ease. Shell plates that can be
detached from the hull entire and swung into the yard are there cut into convenient
pieces. Sections that are too large cost much to transport but the breakers do
not want to do any more work than is necessary for economy.
There is usually a good
deal of cast iron in a ship, especially in the engine room, and this is still
broken up into convenient pieces by the methods that have been in vogue for
three-quarters of a century. A heavy ball, made of some material which is not
easily fractured, is suspended on a wire to a jib of considerable height. Steam
is the simplest means of hauling it up to the top, where it depresses a
trigger. The winch barrel is then declutched and the ball comes down with a
crash on the cast iron to be broken. The dropping ball, as it is called is the
principal reason for the vicinity of a scrapping yard being an undesirable
The industry has been
revolutionized within recent years by the introduction of oxy-acetylene
burners, which cut their way through the steel plating as though it were
butter. They are extensively used in every yard, although their introduction
led to a good deal of labour trouble, for the operation of a burner needed only
two men instead of a gang of about twenty-five by the older methods.
The use of these burners
in foreign yards left no alternative to their adoption in
Great Britain, and now it would be quite impossible to break up a
steel ship economically without them.
The shears and the
oxyacetylene plant are used for cutting the scrap into convenient size for the
ordinary steamer would load badly with the bigger pieces, and the railways
probably would not consider carrying them at all. Tramps are almost invariably
used for the transport of scrap and the charterers
want to get the utmost use out of the tonnage for which they are paying. A ship
making her last voyage to one of the shipbreaking
countries in Europe, or even out to Japan, will often take a cargo of scrap
from other ships, but the demand for transport is far too big to be completely
satisfied by that means.
In the old days there was
an appalling waste in the process, for as a general rule the shipbreakers were interested only in the steel or metal for
which they had a market, and anything else was disregarded. Really fine
furniture, good for many years' service, was either smashed
with an axe and fed into the furnaces, or else given as a present to anybody
who cared to take it away. Many a waterman round the yards, made welcome to any
odd thing that he cared to take away, has found a good market for it ashore.
That, however was in the old days.
NEWPORT, MONMOUTHSHIRE, the
Cunard White Star liner Doric waiting to be broken up. She is shown in process of disintegration
in the photogravure illustrations (fourth down). The Doric was involved in a collision
off the Portuguese coast in 1935 and her passengers were
rescued by the Orion
Among the pioneers or the
more efficient system of to-day was Thomas W. Ward, Ltd., whose business was
founded by Thomas Ward at
Sheffield in 1878. To begin with he was interested only in
steel, but he loathed waste and set about eliminating it. Gradually the organisation
grew until it is now one of the biggest in the industry. The firm has scrapping
Preston, Morecambe (Lancs),
Grays (Essex), Milford Haven (Pembroke), Inverkeithing
(Fife), Briton Ferry (Glamorgan),
Hayle (Cornwall) and other places. With this magnificent
organization the firm copies the example of the
Chicago pork packer who boasts that he uses every part of
the pig except the squeak. Every section formerly wasted
is put to good use. The furniture has its regular market ashore and afloat. Many
a tug or small passenger steamer carries the washbasin of some Atlantic queen
of the past. Every item of auxiliary machinery - motors, pumps, and hundreds of
other machines - is carefully taken down, cleaned and reconditioned by experts
and sold for many years of further use.
Relics of Famous Ships
The other firms in the
industry all work on the same system nowadays, with results that depend largely
on the size and organization of the firms, but everything is carefully priced.
The old sailor who wants a ships bell to hang in his
hall, as so many old sailors do, no longer gets it at so much a pound for old
Recently there has been
an additional method of finding a market for everything, and that is a
wel1-advertised sale by auction or private treaty of everything that is
portable, before the ship goes to the scrappers' yard. This was done with the
famous Great Eastern nearly fifty years ago, and with one or two other
particularly well known ships; but the custom was then allowed to lapse for many
It was revived when the
famous Cunarder Mauretania
went to her last berth. Most people in
Great Britain, and many people in the
United States, were keenly interested in the old ship and an
auction sale of all her furniture and fittings, lasting for several days,
brought big prices. The ship herself was nearly thirty years old, but her
furniture had been kept right up to date and as soon as there was any sign of
wear it had been replaced by new.
always contribute a large proportion of the material that comes on to the
scrapping market. The progress of warship design is so steady, and the
competition so keen, that the older ships are always going to the
shipbreakers in a steady stream. Even when international
agreement periodically postpones the bigger ships being cleared off the list by
giving them longer agreed lives, the smaller vessels go to the yards in
undiminished numbers. The scrapping of men-of-war is always worth while, so
that there is the keenest competition to get hold of them. Before the war of l914-18
they were collected in batches in one or other of the anchorages popularly
known as "Rotten Row" and periodically offered for sale by public
auction. The bidding was supposed to be strictly controlled, certain ships
being reserved for national buyers only, whereas others, of smaller importance,
could be bought by anybody.
The modern routine is
quite different. All the sales are conducted by private treaty and any question
as to the price realized, whether it is raised in Parliament or outside, is
always met with the statement that its divulgence would be against public policy.
In spite of the change, the scrappers are still as eager as ever for any
warship that is on the market. There is a big weight of steel in her hull, and
the breaker can usually rely on getting 60 per cont of her displacement in
heavy scrap, and 10 per cent in light scrap. The
proportions vary with the type of ship. Brass, copper, lead and cast iron are
also yielded in considerable quantities, and the carefully-built
watertube boilers and heavy bearings, all of the best metal
to be obtained, show good profits.
The Admiralty takes
precautions against Service secrets being divulged by
the sale of ships. All gear of a confidential nature,
especially that connected with gunnery control, is carefully
removed. A good deal of it will be useful in other ships, but almost the same
care is taken even if it is obsolete and useless.
A Ship's last Berth
After the Armistice there
were hundreds of men-of-war to be disposed of, as well as a large number of
merchant ships which had been kept in commission beyond their normal life owing
to the war boom in freights.
Shipbreakers did well out of the business, but there arose a
craze for scrapping and a number of mushroom concerns sprang up all round the
The price of a ship for scrapping
is usually fixed at so much a ton gross for a merchantman and so much a ton
displacement for a man-of-war.
The expert eye of the
scrapper assesses her value remarkably quickly – bronze propellers, metal in
the engine-room, furniture that can be used again and a hundred and one other
When there was a glut of
steel on the market, and the price was depressed, many shipowners
who were hard hit by the slump were obliged to sell their ships for as little
as six and seven shillings a ton gross, about the lowest level in the history
of the business.
As industry revived, so
the price revived as well, the passenger ships being always just a little ahead
of the cargo vessels. The £78.000 given for the
Mauretania worked out at £2 10s 10d a ton, gross, and the
£100,000 which was given for the Olympic was £2 3s. a
ton. If £2 a ton gross is given for cargo vessels the market is in a flourishing
Shipbreaking is an industry which has grown vastly of recent
years and has every chance of further expansion as the demand for steel appears
to get bigger and bigger. To the lover of ships there is always something sad
about a scrappers' yard where a beautiful yessel is
ruthlessly cut up into lumps of dead material.
DOWN IN DRY DOCK.
The German battleship Konig Albert at
Rosyth, Firth of Forth. This warship, completed in
1913, had a displacement tonnage of 24,120 and a speed of 21 knots. She had ten
12in., twelve 5.9in. and fourteen 3.4in.
guns, in addition to six torpedo tubes. She was among the
German warships scuttled at
Flow in 1919. Raised by
Metal Industries Ltd., after an immersion of nearly seventeen years, she left
Scapa Flow on
April 29, 1936, for Rosyth Dockyard. In
Germany, numerous British warships sold for scrap have been
broken up at the old Imperial Naval Dockyard at
Although useful building material and parts from old
ships have always been re-used, ships were more likely to be
abandoned to fall to pieces in some out of the way place. What
warship salvage did take place, was usually in the Royal Dockyards - Devonport, Portsmouth,
Chatham, Sheerness, Pembroke Dock.
See Royal Naval
The pioneer of wooden shipbreaking and the re-cycling of
material and parts was Henry Castle’s of Baltic Wharf, Millbank,
on the River Thames in 1838, and later at Charlton and Woolwich.
Turner’s famous painting “The Fighting Temeraire” shows
her being towed to Castle’s yard.
They specialised in wooden warships,
and for example, Liberty’s of
London, the famous shop, was rebuilt in 1922 using oak from
Impregnable and Hindostan that were broken up on the Thames. Castle’s also
kept the figureheads, which were later restored by the Admiralty and
displayed at dockyards and shore establishments.
This is at least the second case of scrapyard "dealers"
doing a great service for British heritage that I am
aware of. The other was Dai Woodham of Barry, South
Wales who held on to over 200 steam locomotives instead
of scrapping them.
Rise of the Industry
In the 1880’s, Denny Bros, of Dumbarton started using
scrap steel in the building of new ships, and was followed by other
pioneer of iron and steel shipbreaking including the re-cycling of brass, copper, lead, cast iron, and all other useable
material and parts was Thomas W Ward Ltd of Sheffield,
founded in 1878. Ward’s
first yard was at Preston, Lancashire in 1894 (or 1899).
Another steel-maker who moved into shipbreaking was George
Cohen around 1890.
Both before World War 1 and after, countries with few
iron-ore resources, bought British ships for their scrap
steel. These included Holland, Germany, Italy (from 1892),
and Japan (from 1896)
major warship scrapping was due to the First Sea Lord, Admiral Fisher,
who championed the all-big gun Dreadnought. His policy
was that ships "to weak
to fight, too slow to run away" should be taken out of
service. As a result, 154 ships were removed
from the effective list in 1905. Many were sold for scrap,
with the first 29
auctioned at Chatham Dockyard in April 1905, and sold for £138,000.
Pre-World War 1 Shipbreaking Yards
Shipbreaking at Bo’ness, West Lothian, was opened in
1905 by P & W MacLellan of Glasgow
at Morecombe, Lancashire, 1905 by Thomas W Ward,
believed in operation until after World War 1 (click for
a moment in time of Ward's, Morecombe)
Ward’s at Briton Ferry, Glamorgan, near to the South
Wales steel industry, 1906 by Thomas W Ward, until
well after World War 2
Tyne yard by
steelmakers Hughes Bolckow, c 1909
Newport yard, Monmouthshire (Gwent) by
steelmakers John Cashmore, c 1909,
Blyth yard, Northumberland by
steelmakers Hughes Bolckow, Blyth, 1912, closed 1980
Post-World War 1 Yards - 1920's
After the war, most naval vessels built pre-1910 were
declared redundant and the Admiralty started selling
them from Spring 1919, including 22 Dreadnought
battleships and battlecruisers, totalling about 500,000
tons. Existing companies opened new yards and new
companies were started up:
Thomas W Ward is believed to have had a total of
13 yards by the 1920's, including the three listed above
(from north to south, west to east):
Inverkeithing, Fife, Scotland, on the Firth of Forth,
Barrow-in-Furness, Lancashire, 1894
Morecombe, Lancashire, 1905
Preston, Lancashire, 1894 or 1899
Lincolnshire, on the Humber Estuary, 1920
Pembrokeshire, Wales, 1920
Glamorgan, Wales, 1909
Briton Ferry, Glamorgan, 1906
Somerset, on the Bristol Channel, 1921
Essex, on the Thames Estuary, 1919
Kent, on Thames Estuary, 1919
north Cornwall, 1920
across from Hayle, Cornwall, 1920
Other Yards opened or in operation in the 1920's
included the following, in alphabetical order. Some of
these were agencies which resold vessels to other firms
Ship Breaking Co, Rosyth & Charlestown (open 1922‑30),
became Metal Industries about 1930
Young, Dalmuir (associated with West of Scotland Ship
Barking Ship Breaking Co (1920‑21)
Batson Syndicate (1922)
C. A., Upnor (1921‑24) and Teignmouth (1921)
A. A. (1922)
Burden, W. & A. T. (1921)
Cardiff Marine Stores (1920)
Cashmore, Newport (1911)
Castle, S, Plymouth (1920-35)
Clarkson, Whitby (1919‑21)
Briton Ferry (from 1897), Felixstowe (1906-10), Swansea
Cornish Salvage Co, Ilfracombe (1920)
& Danks, Upnor (1922), Queenborough (1922), sold to Metal
Industries in 1949. Queenborough yard broke-up
dreadnoughts Orion and Erin in the 1920's.
Demmellweek & Redding, Plymouth
Ship Breaking Co (1922‑23) (possibly Dover
T. E., Cardiff (1920‑22)
Ship Breaking Co, Bo'ness (1906‑20), then McLellan
Fryer, B, Sunderland (1921‑23)
Granton Ship Breaking Co (1919‑26).
Hammond Lane Foundry, Dublin (1920)
A. O, Dover (1929).
Houston, J. W, Montrose (1923).
Hughes, Bolckow, Tyne (1909‑23); Blyth (1912),
also believed Jarrow. Blyth and Jarrow shared in the
breaking-up of battlecruiser Lion in the 1920's.
Jackson, J (1919)
Keen, W. G., Bristol (1923)
King, Garston (1890‑1926)
J. J., Troon (1905‑34)
Lee, J. H., Dover (1919‑22) and Bembridge (1919‑20).
Lithgow, Port Glasgow, Renfrewshire
Loveridge & Co (1919).
& McKee, Porthcawl (1919)
& Gillott, Saltash (1921‑22)
McLellan, B'ness (1922).
Industries, Rosyth (1930) and Charlestown (1935).
Multilocular Ship Breaking Co, Stranraer, (1919‑22).
E. W. (1920).
Plymouth & Devon Ship Breaking Co, Plymouth (1926).
Pounds, Portsmouth (1925‑date)
Purves, Teignmouth (1920)
Richardson, Westgarth, Saltash (1923)
Rijsdljk (Dutch), Upnor (1909‑20)
Ship Breaking Co (1922)
Sales, T. R. (1919)
Breaking Co, Swansea (1922)
Shipbreaking Industries, Rosyth,
Firth off Forth
Smith, J., Poole (1922‑23)
Trading Co (an agency for German buyers).
South Wales Salvage Co (1921)
Stanlee, Dover (1920‑24)
Thomas, J. E., Newport (1921)
Thomas, W., Anglesey (1921)
Towers, J. W., Milford Haven (1920)
Unity Ship Breaking Co, Plymouth (1922‑23)
Ship Breaking Co, Upnor (1914‑24)
of Scotland Ship Breaking Co, Troon (1912), (associated
with Arnott Young)
Willoughby, Plymouth (1920)
Yates, Montague (1919‑20)
Young, Sunderland (1922‑23)
Shipbreaking - 1930's
naval shipbreaking was over by the mid-1920’s, although
three British capital ships did not meet their end until
the early 1930's - battleships Benbow by Metal
Industries, Rosyth in 1931, Marlborough by the same
company in 1932, and battlecruiser Tiger by Wards at
Inverkeithing in 1932.
The scuttled German capital ships raised at Scapa Flow (see
"Cox's Navy") were broken up by Metal Industries at
Rosyth in the mid-1930's.
The only other major breaking was in 1936 when the Navy
exchanged 34 old warships, mainly destroyers
plus sloops Godetia and Iroquois with Ward's in
part exchange for liner Majestic, which was converted to
training ship Caledonia.
there was little warship scrapping until post World War 2.
Post-World War 2
During World War 2 the British Iron & Steel Corporation
(BISCO) was formed, and most of the ships from then on were sold to this body
allocated to various yards for scrapping. This included
11 battleships and battlecruisers by 1949.
The following yards in the post-war period were obtained
from the excellent series “To Sail No More”:
Shipbreakers & Ship Repairers, Blyth
Brechin, Granton, west of Leith
Valley Shipbreakers, Millom, near Barrow
MacLellan, P & W, Carriden
Queensborough Breakers, Medway
Shipbreaking Industries, Faslane and Rosyth
J A, Forth
Other warship breaking yards from a variety of sources
Charlestown and Rosyth
Plymouth, Ramsgate and Richborough
Cove & Distinn
Demellweek & Redding,
Dohmen & Habets,
Hayes, Pembroke Dock
Houston, J.W., Montrose
King, Garston and
Lithgow, Col J.
Marple & Gillet, Saltash
Charlestown and Rosyth
Midland Iron & Hardware Co,
Plymouth & Devonport Shipbreaking
Pounds, J H,
Richardson Westgarth, Saltash
Robinson, Brown & Joplin, possibly mercantile only
"The Shipbreaking Industry"
by Frank C Bowen, from the two volume "Shipping Wonders of the
World", edited by Clarence Winchester in the 1930's
“To Sail No More”, Parts 1-5, published by Maritime Books, 1997-2000
Conway's "All the World's Fighting Ships"
Ward's Shipbreaking Yard, Morecombe in 1921/22
with thanks to Andy Malcolm, 3 July 2011
Andy asked me to help identify the ships in this interesting photograph. My
That was an interesting challenge. I am 99% sure the large
vessel in the foreground is 1st class cruiser DIADEM (466ft), sold 9/5/21, which
would make the year 1921/22. I then looked for all British warships, destroyers
and larger, scrapped at Wards, Morecombe in the early 1920's. The only problem
is that Wards had lots of yards and ones sold to Morecombe may have ended up
elsewhere and vice versa.
By date of sale, with length (a good way or comparing the
ships), I have:
TEVIOT, small destroyer, 222ft, sold 23/6/19
ALBION, old battleship, 420 ft, 11/12/19
ADVENTURE, scout cruiser, 395ft, 3/3/20
USK, small destroyer, 222ft, 29/7/20
Then all sold 9/5/21:
DIADEM, 1st class cruiser, 466ft
EDGAR, 1st class cruiser, 387ft
MERSEY, coastal monitor, 266ft
KEMPENFELT, destroyer leader, 325ft
PEYTON, destroyer, 274ft
So from LEFT TO RIGHT, TOP TO BOTTOM, I have:
MERSEY, coastal monitor, 266ft on her own on the outside (95%
Then three alongside each other, note how there lengths
diminish, left to right:
probably ADVENTURE, scout cruiser, 395ft, 3/3/20, slim hull, scrapping already
well advanced (75%).
KEMPENFELT, destroyer leader, 325ft (90%)
PEYTON, destroyer, 274ft (90%)
top right might be perhaps:
USK, small destroyer, 222ft, 29/7/20 although I would have expected her to have
disappeared by 1921/22, and
ALBION, old battleship, 420 ft, 11/12/19 her remains at and below waterline.
Scale appears about right, but again I would have expected her gone by then.
finally DIADEM - four funnels, two masts, squared off
superstructure near stern.
That only leaves EDGAR, 1st class cruiser, 387ft. I suppose she could be in
the "ALBION" position, but demolition seems too far advanced compared with the
other 9/5/21 sales. Maybe she's moored off picture or gone to another Ward's