A floating dock is built in Durban

The info on this page has been culled from a photo album lent to me by Rob Deane, MD of Elgin Brown & Hamer. It documents the building of a floating dock in Durban during WWII and throws an interesting light on how things were done in those days. There were a couple of newspaper clippings reproduced in the album and I have typed out the first one to make it easy to read. The others are included on this page as pictures which are, however, still readable.

The articles cover the building of the dock and the launch ceremony, on 14 July 1945, at which Vice-Admiral Sir Robert Burnett, of the Royal Navy, made comments revealing just how important Durban had been to the allied war effort. Another interesting thing for me was that, when confronted by a lack of skilled labour, they just went ahead and trained some more. One fact that has not yet emerged is where the dock went after it left Durban. Rob Deane says he believes that it could have ended up in Singapore. Allan Jackson.

An undated newspaper clipping:

Floating Dock Built In Durban

A 17,OOO-TON floating dock, the biggest ever built in South Africa, is now being completed in Durban to Admiralty order.

It presented several problems to the builders, Dorman, Long (Africa), Ltd. To begin with it is customary in Britain and America to build floating docks on slipways. The sections are built on the slope of the runway and slid into the water, where fnally they are built together.

In Durban there was no slipway of that size available, and so it was found necessary to build the dock on the level.

A large cofferdam, in itself quite an interesting piece of work, was built at the head of Durban Bay by the South African Railways and Harbours, and it was inside this that the dock was erected. When it was complete the cofferdam was breached and in 24 hours had filled sufficiently to float the dock, which was then towed away for the final details to be finished off.


Another thing about its building is one which appears to be of some importance to industry in South Africa, provided there is no post-war slump. When the erection of the dock began the builders were told that they must in no way interfere with shipping repairs which, as far as Durban was concerned, were priority No.1. This meant that the normal avenues of recruitment oft trained personnel were closed to them. Yet the dock had to be built.

The company undertook the training of emergency workers and within three months had some 50 men able to hold their own in the skilled work they were doing. Among others a policeman and a baker made first class riveters. These emergency workers, who came from all walks of life, will not be forced to go back to their previous callings when their war work ends. They are registered as industrial workers and will in time qualify for registration with the trade unions.


The indication is that heavy industry has an unsuspected source of trainable recruits ready to hand. The Admiralty standard of workmanship is high, yet it was entirely satisfied with the work of these "emergency" men. Of some 60 men working on the job at one time there was only one regular boilermaker - all the others were emergency workers.

While the dock was being built, a floating crane, itself a craft of
something like 400 tons, was also built in the cofferdam, and a lighter was actually erected on the deck of the dock. When the
dock was ultimately floated, the lighter was floated off as if it had been in for repairs.

The lighter, too, is an interesting craft, for it is designed for removing bilge water from big ships, especially oil-burners. It is in the nature of a huge filter, for it contains machinery which will separate the oil from the water before discharging the water. In this way, water in harbour will be saved from the oily scum that is so often to be seen, and bird and fish life will thus be protected.


As to the dock, which was ordered by the Admiralty in 1942, it was made of steel made in and shipped from Britain, and of the 7,000 tons required, only one shipment, amounting to about 230 tons, was lost through enemy action. The steel was fabricated in Durban and then taken to the site of the dock, where the first plate was laid in September, 1943. Since then, this tonnage of steel has been used, over 1,000,000 rivets have been driven and more than two miles of caulking completed. Although the job is largely rivetted, miles of electric welding have also been necessary.

The dock is a self-contained unit, for it has its own power station, where electric power is generated by Diesel alternators for operating pumps, lighting the whole dock, and working compressors and welding machines. Together with a fitting shop, all these are housed in the walls of the dock, which also contain accommodation for crew and workers, with their amenities.


All the equipment and machinery had to be imported from Great Britain, and there were one or two unavoidable delays, for Britain was always concerned with war shipping and the drain on her resources for the invasion of Europe alone was tremendous. Yet there was never longer than three months delay in shipments coming out, and many of them came on time.

Finally, South African material came into the picture. The timber keel blocks, quite as essential as any of the plant, were made in the Railway workshops of ironwood from Knysna. Thousands of gallons of paint and miles of galvanised piping of South African manufacture were used - and all the work was done by South African artisans who have worked to the very high standard demanded by the Admiralty with complete justification.

Naval authorities say they regard the work with the greatest satisfaction.

View the clipping.

Pictures and clippings

The cofferdam at Bayhead before construction of the dock went ahead.

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The storage yard.

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Under construction.

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Under construction.

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At the launch?? From left to right: BC Wade, DM Shaw, AM Baird & JM Osborne.

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Natal Mercury's leader: 16 July 1945.

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Undated news clipping # 1

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Undated news clipping # 2

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