The Loftsman
Leith Shipyards

A history of the Ships built at the Henry Robb Shipyard in Leith, Scotland. Also a testimony to the men who built the Ships and to all who sailed in them.
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Leith Shipyards

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The Launch of the M.V.KAITOA in 1956         (Edinburgh Evening News photo)

The launch of a ship is they big day in the life of a shipyard, the only day (apart from visits by politicians) that is when any effort was made to clean up parts of the yard and make it look like a better working environment.

Launch day was the day when the culmination, of all that effort finally took gracefully to the water to start her life as a floating vessel.

Ships were usually launched in the Henry Robb yard at 11 o’ clock in the morning, which of course meant that even if things went wrong then the management only needed to pay you for the one hour before dinner break. The hour that every one got off to attend the launch ceremony, and if it was a large ship there would also be family allowed, into the yard to watch as well.

Getting onto the ship as she was being launched was also regarded as a plum job as you got paid for your dinner hour as well.

Ship’s in the Henry Robb yard were launched direct into the sea down an inclined sliding way, meaning of course that all ships were build with their hulls sitting at an angle of around 4% to the vertical, unlike most modern yards today where they are built undercover and from a flat base.

The launch of the classic ferry South Steyne in 1938.


The preparation for launching a vessel was entirely the job of the shipwrights, they would prepare the ways, for the launch and set up the trigger method for release of the sliding ways along with all the other preparation work that needed to be carried out before a ship was ready to launch.

Once the sliding ways had been placed on top of the standing ways and of course well greased then the shipwrights had to also transfer the weight of the ship from the keel blocks onto the sliding ways, we will go into this in more detail in the Shipbuilding in Leith part of this website. 


The ship would then be sitting on the sliding ways and forward and after poppets if required and she would be allmost ready for the launch.
All the time the painters would be slapping paint onto her hull, in fact if you stood still for too long they would have painted you as well.


 Launch of SCOT II Henry Robb shipyard 1931


The ice breaker Tug SCOT II being launched from the Leith Shipyards of Henry Robb in 1931 she takes to the water in the somewhat spartan sourroundings of the time.



Was the second last warship launched from the Leith Shipyards of Henry Robb Shipbuilders & Engineers.

The yard had an outstanding record of shipbuilding during the Second World War and from the outbreak in September 1939 until the end of hostilities in Europe in May of 1945 the shipyard built and launched a total of 50 (Fifty) ships of all kind.

This meant that a ship was launched every six weeks of the war, a tremendous feat by the men and women of the Leith yard.

They pioneered new methods of Lofting to enable modular construction of the vessels with parts of the ship being built in places that were never designed for shipbuilding nor had ever built parts for a ship before, the completed modules were delivered to the shipyard in Leith and erected as built to help in the quest to build and launch as many ships as possible to help with the war effort.





With the end of World War II there was of course a shortage in ships worldwide and this would prove to be a “Boomtime” for the shipyards over the next ten years or so while the shipping companies that had suffered such huge loses began to build up the peace time fleets again.

It was a time of multiple ship orders and one of the largest customers came back to the shipyard to order more Diesel Tugs for work on the ManchesterShip Canal

One of those tugs was the MSC PANTHER launched in 1950



 As the 1950's progressed the Leith Shipyards of Henry Robb launched the first of three cement carriers for work in New Zealand, very specialised vessels indeed the first to be built was the cement carrier GOLDEN BAY launched in 1953





 Launched the same year as the MV GOLDEN BAY was the Chine shipping Companies MV LONGFELLOW Ship No 428






The survey ship TRIBENI Ship No 493 takes to the waters of the Firth of Forth while launching from the Leith Shipyards of Henry Robb in 1965 seen below in this photograph from The Loftsman Collection.






The Tanker PORT TUDY Ship No 506 was launched from the stocks in 1969 seen here going into the water in this Edinburgh Evening News picture from the time







One very special ship launched at the Leith Shipyards of Henry Robb was the Antarctic Exploration supply vessel the






At the time the worlds mightiest Tug was launched from the Leith Shipyards of Henry Robb

United Towing Companies LLOYDSMAN Ship No 509 was launched in 1971 Seen below being taken in tow by the Leith Dock Authorities tugs in a picture from The Edinburgh Evening News




The Scottish Transport Group (Later Cal-Mac Group) Ferry MV PIONEER Ship No 515 was launched in 1974

Still working away in West Africa now called the "Brenda Corlett"  







One of the Rig Supply ships BALDER LEITH Ship No 532 going into the water in this photograph by Barry Booth a shipwright working at the Leith Shipyards of Henry Robb at the time of her launch in 1982 (Shown here by permission)




 To be continued.




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