Encyclopedia Titanica

Features of Fitting Out

The giant floating crane and the Jackal


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Features of Fitting Out

The Floating Crane

One of the iconic structures present during the fitting out of the ‘Olympic Class’ liners was the large floating crane. This crane, which towered over many of its surrounding structures, was needed to install the various items of the ship such as the boilers, engines, funnels and more. Though associated with the ‘Olympic Class’ vessels, the history of this crane actually goes further back.

Floating Crane

In October of 1906, Harland & Wolff’s solicitor would make to the Belfast Harbour Commissioners a proposal,

“…as to a large floating crane, and stated that they, Harland and Wolff had been going into the matter for some months previously, and that, although they would prefer the Commissioners should provide the crane, they were then prepared to give out a contract for the supply of the same, and he asked the Commissioners for certain facilities in connection within….”[i]

It was determined however, that,

“The facilities referred to in connection with this crane would cost the Commissioners a large sum of money, and the whole matter is still under consideration. Belfast Harbour is amply equipped with cranes sufficient for all ordinary shipbuilding work, including a crane erected at very considerable expense capable of dealing with lifts up to 100 tons. The Commissioners believe that at other shipbuilding centres in the Kingdom facilities of this character are provided by the shipbuilders themselves.”[ii]

On July 12, 1907, the President of the Board of Trade was asked ‘whether his attention’ had been,

“…called to the statements made by the right hon. Alexander Carlisle, managing director of the firm of Harland and Wolff, shipbuilders, of Belfast, on 27th June last, in that city, to the effect… that Messrs. Harland and Wolff were obliged to purchase in Germany a new floating crane, as the Harbour Commissioners refused to get one which would enable the firm to put the boilers and engines on board the new Holland-American liner at present building; that in 1906 the Harbour Commissioners refused to consider the erection of a crane, or to allow Messrs. Harland and Wolff to get one themselves…”[iii]

Harland and Wolff eventually did order a crane for themselves, as noted in the ‘Engineer’ in its contracts between February 1 and April 13, 1907, which read that the Grangemouth and Greenock Dockyard Company,

“…has contracted to build a large floating pontoon on behalf of Messrs. Harland and Wolff, Belfast, which is reported to be for a large electric jib crane capable of lifting 150 tons to a height of 120ft., which will be supplied by the Benrather Company, Germany, whose huge dockside cantilever cranes at Barrow and at Dalmuir, are notable recent productions.”[iv]

This is followed by the June 1907 publication ‘The Steamship’, which would also write of the contract,

“Grangemouth and Greenock Dock Yard Co., have booked an order to build a large floating pontoon for Messrs Harland & Wolff, Belfast. The dimensions are – 150 by 85 by 13 ft. On this pontoon a large electric crane, capable of lifting 150 tons to a height of 150 ft., will be erected and supplied by the Benrather Maschinenfabrik Actiengesellschaft, Benrath, Germany.”[v]

The construction was essentially a large rotary tipping crane constructed by the German company Benrather Machinefabrik Actiengesellschaft of Benrath, near Dusseldorf, Germany. The crane would rest on a large pontoon constructed by the Clyde establishment Grangemouth and Greenock Dockyard Co. Ltd of Scotland[vi]. The pontoon carried an enormous amount of ballast to counteract the weight of the crane and the material it was to lift. The pontoon contained a powerful boiler, engine and dynamo, and an electric pump to drain its various compartments. Also housed aboard was a complete generating set of 300hp, thus allowing the crane to be self-contained and as such, mobile.

The whole structure would be built in the Musgrave Channel in Belfast harbor, at a total cost of £35,000. The publication ‘Engineering’ would state,

“…a new 150-ton floating crane built for Messrs. Harland and Wolff, Limited, Belfast, by the Benrather Maschinenfabrik Actiengesellschaft, of Benrath, near Dusseldorf, Germany. The crane has a hinged jib, and is provided with two lifts. The crane is carried on a steel barge 150 ft. long, 60 ft. broad, and of 13 ft. depth. The barge is fitted with boiler and electric plant for working the crane, the latter being controlled from the house on the crane itself. The crane can swing completely round on deck, and its total height above deck is 230 ft. It has been tested to 200 tons. About 800 tons of ballast are carried as counter-balance for the crane.”[vii]

Once finished the tug Hercules[viii] at the head of the crane and a smaller tug at the rear moved the crane from the Musgrave Channel to the Abercorn Basin for exhaustive testing. The total time of operation, from moving the crane around the entrance of the Musgrave Channel, down the river to its berthing place, was 1 hour and 35min, due to the extreme care taken as there was a large amount of valuable shipping within the vicinity of where it was manoeuvred.

The testing itself was of a progressive nature, starting at 5 tons and going up to 200 tons on its large hook. This 200 tons exceeded the required working load by 50 tons, or 33½ percent. Both smaller hooks were tried in the same manner, including extra loads of the same proportions.

The pontoon and crane's figures were:

Height of Crane from Pontoon: 233ft

Height of Pontoon: 13ft

Width of Pontoon: 85ft

Length of Pontoon: 150ft

Total Weight: 200 tons

Lifting Weight of Large Hook: 150 tons

Lift Height: 149ft

Radius: 100ft[ix]

List During Max Load: 4 degrees

Lifting Weight of Small Hook: 50 tons

Radius: 140ft

Lifting Weight of Smaller Hook: 5 tons

Floating Crane


Jackal and Olympic

Another feature commonly associated with the fitting out if the ‘Olympic Class’ liners was the tug Jackal. The Jackal was originally a gunboat that served in China before it was acquired by Harland and Wolff to be used as a tug, and subsequently a floating electric generator station, which supplied electricity for lighting and power during the fitting out of the Olympic and Titanic. This idea is said to have come about due to the hardships of providing uniform electricity to a ship under construction in a harbor, as it would shift from point to point, though it also seems that, though Queen's Island was covered in cables leading from the shipyard's main power plant, Olympic laid just out of reach of these.


It was erroneously published, and subsequently repeated, that the 1500hp engines were uncoupled from the propellers and coupled to run the dynamos. This, however, was not the case, the propellers were uncoupled but were ready for use when needed.[x] Instead the electric plant aboard consisted of four independent Allen engines, put on the main deck, which took steam from the main boilers and exhausted into the main condensers. The dynamos being shunt wound had a capacity of 80kw each (for a total of 320kw) which supplied a current between 100 and 125 volts. Also fitted aboard was a powerful steam fire pump, with hydrants being placed all over the ship, with a fire drill being carried out once a week.[xi]

The publication 'The Shipbuilder' would state that a,

“Special electric plant has been arranged for temporary lighting purposes, as many as four thousand 16-c.p. lamps being required to enable the work to be carried on satisfactorily,” and of the 6,000 men that the building of the two vessels employed 1/6 worked the night shift.[xii]

Picture Reference

1: A Diagram of the Floating Crane – Scientific American: Supplement, Vol. 64; November 2, 1907

2: Drawing of the Floating Crane; Engineering, Vol. 86; October 9, 1908

3: The launching of the Olympic. The Jackal can be seen off the Olympic's starboard side, second boat up. - World’s Work (Author’s Collection)


[i] The Parliamentary Debates; July 29, 1907 (pgs. 453-454)

[ii] The Parliamentary Debates; July 29, 1907 (pgs. 453-454)

[iii] Parliamentary Debates; 1907 (pg. 196)

[iv] The Engineer; May 3, 1907 (pg. 262)

[v] The Steamship, Vol. 18; June 1907 (pg. 477)

[vi] Marine Engineer and Naval Architect; May 1, 1907 (pg. 378) The publication 'The Shipbuilder' would erroneously state the builder as Sir WM. Arrol & Co., Ltd. Distinguished Liners from The Shipbuilder 1907-1914 Vol. 1; Compiled & Edited by Mark. D Warren; Blue Ribbon Publishing, 1995 (pg. 135)

Mechanical World and Metal Trades Journal; May 3, 1907 (pg. 209)

The Syren & Shipping Illustrated Vol. 1; July 1, 1908 (pg. 88)

[vii] Engineering Vol. 86; October 9, 1908 (pg. 471)

[viii] The tug Hercules was built by Messrs. Napier, Shanks & Bell Yorker in yard 30 for the Clyde Shipping Company. It was named by Miss Annie Swan of Greenock. The tug was similar to the tugs Gulliver and Conqueror, built by the same company. All were supplied with Rankin and Blackmore's patent twin-screw engines. Hercules was also equipped with special appliances for assisting at wrecks, &c., when required. It was acquired by Harland and Wolff on November 11, 1900.

Official Number: 90028

Launched: March 21, 1885

Tonnage: 197grt 3nrt

Length: 1250ft

Breadth: 21.6ft

Depth: 11.2

(http://www.clydeships.co.uk/ & Marine Engineer and Naval Architect Vol. 7; April 1, 1885 (pg. 23)

[ix] The publication Scientific American (as noted in end note 2) states, “The English crane is still more powerful, lifting 150 tons 100 feet from the axis of rotation, or 57 feet from the side of the float. With smaller loads the extension can be considerably increased. Weights of 10 and 20 tons can also be lowered from the extreme ends of the arms, at a considerable distance beyond the points of attachment for very heavy loads.” (pg. 280)

[x] The Electrical Journal Vol. 66, 1911 (pg. 203)

[xi] The Electrician Electrical Trades Directory and Handbook; 1911 (pg. 569)

The Electrical Journal Vol. 66, 1911 (pg. 203)

The Engineer December 2, 1910 (pg. 597)

Electrical Review Vol. 57; July 2-Dec. 31, 1910 (pg. 1350)

Scientific America: Supplement Vol. 71; June 17, 1911 (pg. 383)

[xii] Distinguished Liners from The Shipbuilder 1907-1914 Vol. 1; Compiled & Edited by Mark. D Warren; Blue Ribbon Publishing, 1995 (pg. 126 & 135)

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Encyclopedia Titanica (2020) Features of Fitting Out (Titanica!, ref: #169, published 6 August 2020, generated 20th November 2022 02:25:32 AM); URL : https://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/features-of-fitting-out.html