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Friday, January 24, 2020

Whilst Brocklebank never seemed to generate as much publicity as some of the other Liverpool based shipowners, such as the Ocean fl eets Blue Funnel, Elder Dempster etc, in their own way they were, in fact, originators of some fairly forward looking developments in ship construction and engineering. Some were successful and some did not stand the march of time, however, the design and machinery of their fl eet inevitably followed trends, common to that pursued in their particular facet of their trade routes.

The construction by Cammell Laird & Co in 1920 of their MV Fullagar for the company, marked what is generally accepted as the first electric welded hull for ocean going service, and as such, was closely monitored by Lloyds Register. Her robust construction being proven later by being easily repaired after grounding.

The ship’s Cammell Laird- Fullagar diesel engine was built by Wm Beardmore which was also the first diesel engine in the Brocklebank fleet. She was followed by the MV Malia in 1921 which had twin engines of this type.

Whilst the former vessel’s hull fabrication marked an important milestone in ship construction, the, somewhat, complex design of these engines did not find lasting favour and, in fact, the Malia was re-engined twice before her ultimate demise as the Bank Line Kelvinbank, when she was torpedoed by U-510 on 9 March 1943. Oddly enough, this ship, and the 1924 Lycia, had Cunard names, whether originally intended for their fleet or whether their Mediterranean route was to be transferred to Brocklebank, is unknown.

Whether the lack of ultimate success of these early diesel engines had soured Brocklebank, nevertheless, they reverted back to steam propulsion for a period of over 40 years until the advent of the MV Markhor II built by Alexander Stephen in 1963.

Whilst the economy of diesel engines had long been proved and adopted by many cargo liner companies, operating on similar trade routes, it is sometime difficult to ascertain the reason for their longstanding preference for steam machinery. Possibly, in the days of coal fired ships, the price of this fuel and relative low cost of native stokers had perceived advantages. Certainly, the last steam turbine ships in the fleet were considered a choice posting for the Engineer Officers.

The Mahanada (II), by Charles Connell at Glasgow in 1914, had two single reduction steam turbines, the first in the fleet, and considered quite a rarity among cargo ships at that time. She was followed by the similarly powered Manaar (I) in 1917, but either triple or quadruple steam reciprocating engines were utilized until the turbine engined four following large ships.

The quartet, Mangalore, Mathura (I), Manipur (II), and Magdapur (I), were delivered between 1920- 21 with dimensions to the absolute limit which could dock in the Kidderpore dock at Calcutta (now Kolkata), but trading conditions were such then, that they were considered too large and were laid up in Rothesay Bay for nearly four years, the Mathura (I) being used as a floating accommodation hotel for the company’s staff and families. With little prospect of being sold, and the lay up costs being significant, what followed was an almost off-thecuff remark by Colonel Austin Bates in his response to his brother Denis Bate’s complaint as to the expense involved, “Ships too big? Elementary my dear Watson, make them smaller!”

Paper cut outs were made of the ships profiles and it was found that a split between the bridge and funnel to take out No 4 hatch would coincide where the hull shape was more or less constant, thus facilitating a match up at each side of the cut.

Analysis showed that the projected cost of shortening, provided ten years future service which more or less balanced the cost of scrapping. Smith’s Dock Company were given the contract on the basis that if the first was not successful it would be cancelled.

The larger Mathura (I) and Mangalore, of 518 feet, were shortened by 37ft 6 inches and the shorter Magdapur (I) and Manipur (II) at 499.6ft by 26ft 6 ins, the whole operation being carried out in drydock without any unforeseen difficulties.

During WWII, the company lost 16 ships and ten survived the conflict, but by 1950, 11 new ships had entered the fleet, augmented by war-built standard vessels; the Mahsud (II), Makalla (II), Mandasor (III), and Liberty Malabar (II). All except the Mahsud (II) having been managed by Brocklebank during the latter stages of the war. The Makalla, built as Fort Ville Marie, had three claims to fame; the first of the Canadian Forts and Parks built on the Canadian east coast, the very first in Canada, and the only one to serve her whole life in the management and ownership of one company. Another, rather dubious claim, was her nickname in Brocklebanks as ‘Vile Mary’!

The Johnston Warren Lines of Liverpool, Rowanmore, was chartered as the Madulsima for two years and I saw her at Maldives Gan Island on occasion with a Brocklebank funnel far from her usual stamping grounds.

The Maihar (I) and Mahsud (I) were the only two ships in the fleet being survivors of two wars, albeit the Mahsud had her bottom blown out by a limpet mine whilst at anchor off Gibraltar on 8 May 1943 and was subsequently beached for two years before being patched up and towed back to Britain to be repaired. Her engine was renewed, but apparently the boilers were only refurbished causing subsequent frequent problems, possibly hastening her sale for scrapping in 1955. The veteran, Maihar, had had a charmed life, with only minor mishaps during the two conflicts. She soldiered on until being broken up in 1962. At that time, she was the first in the fleet to have a permanent swimming pool fitted, as well as four new boilers, other new machinery and refurbished accommodation. I joined her immediately after her protracted refit by Alex Stephen & Sons at Glasgow, during 1957-58, for two deep sea voyages.

Having always fitted Scotch fire tube boilers in their ships, the company took a seemingly bold step when they installed higher pressure Foster Wheeler water tube boilers, HP and LP turbines double reduction geared and diesel generators to the four ships built between 1945 and 1947. These being; the Magdapur (II), Manipur (III), Maidan (II) and Mahronda (III), colloquially known to the Engineer Officers in the fleet as the “black four!”. With personal experience of three foreign trips as Engineer Officer on the Manipur (III), I could perhaps concur with that description, one saving grace being that reluctance by many to do a second trip resulted in my promotion each voyage!

On the Manipur (III), a holdover from WWII requirements were hand grab bars attached under the boatdeck deckhead outside the cabin portholes, to assist a quick exit.

Brocklebanks continued with few exceptions; the more or less standard profile of two hatches forward, one amidships between bridge and funnel, and three on after deck until the 1952 Maipura, which had a solid block superstructure with three hatches forward and aft, being the first in the modern fleet to have this profile.

The trio, Mahseer (II), Matra (III) and Manaar (III), completed between 1948 and 1950, were easily identified by the three “cricket stumps” arrangement of samson posts on the after deck of the first pair.

These above four ships, however, reverted back to Scotch boilers as did the Masirah (II), which introduced the final steamship centre castle layout, a configuration continued with the advent of the Makrana, Mawana, Mangla and Mathura (II). The first pair having a rather odd combination of one water tube boiler and two Scotch boilers, as if they were making a tentative toe in the water with water tube boilers with back up of the trusty Scotch type. Steaming on a single water tube boiler at sea, the watchkeepers would need to be alert for any problems. The last two being wholly with water tube boilers and were all completed between 1957 and 1960, the last ship being the final steam ship in the fleet.

The sisters, Maskeliya and Maturata, had a cut down superstructure on these which was reputed to lessen top weight as stability was reaching critical. Comments by serving officers confirm their propensity to take a list when turned sharply. The pair were completed in 1954 and 1955, respectively, and introduced bipod masts, the first domed funnels in the fleet, reputed to be copied on the Cunard quartet Saxonia, Ivernia, Carinthia, Sylvania. Also, possibly the first British merchant ship to fit two AC electric drive cargo winches as an experiment on the Maskeliya to assess suitability. A first again, when in 1959, Mangla went all AC current being handed over in Feb 1959. Reportedly, the first such application on a cargo ship in the UK, beating the B I Bulimba by one month.

In 1963, we saw a complete break with the past with the commissioning of the new profiles on the diesel powered Markhor (II) and Mahout (II) from Alex Stephen & Sons, Glasgow. The first motor ships in the fleet in 42 years, to break from their long standing builders, Wm Hamilton of Port Glasgow. This change was possibly due to the, then current, Brocklebank superintendent Engineer, Captain Sydney Jenks, who had a favourable impression of Stephen’s technical staff.

Another change in 1969, was the later adoption of white hulls, with a 22 inch deep blue band, instead of the traditional black hull and white band.

Prior to construction, a 1/12 scale mock-up of the engine room, with all machinery, pipework etc, was built to ensure the optimum layout and, as a result, a more compact engine room was achieved, and two frames spaces were gained for cargo volume. Bridge control of the main engines was installed on the Mahout (II), this being the first such installation on a ship with Sulzer diesels and was marketed by the builders as the Mahout system. The design was later sold to several other companies, but without effective marketing, it never gained widespread usage.

Even more revolutionary, were the Maihar (II) and Mahsud (III), completed in 1968 and to Y-ARD designs. The first Brocklebank ships to be built abroad since 1774, and the last to be built as ordered by T & J Brocklebank, but actually delivered to Cunard- Brocklebank Ltd.

Completed by A/B Lindholmen Varv, Gothenburg, Sweden, they had twin V-Pielstick diesel engines geared to single variable pitch propeller, bow thruster, transom stern, Hallen type masts, deck cranes, bridge engine controls and a host of other refinements.

All these new profiles made it difficult to proudly fly the blue and white house flag at the foremast.

Alas, the pattern of trade was changing fast, including the, now seemingly unstoppable, introduction of containerization, resulting in the first ship being laid up and sold out of the fleet in 1978 and lost after collision in 1981. The second being laid up in 1977 and sold next year, being broken up in 1990.

A confirmation of the sense of the continuing loyalty to the company, when operated as T & J Brocklebank, is displayed by many former serving officers, of all ranks, on the Ships Nostalgia website.

Read the rest of this article with additional pictures in Sea Breezes Magazine - September 2019 Issue
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