Built and repaired

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archive photo of several large ships in a dock surrounded by cranes

Cammell Laird's fitting-out basin, September 1940. Image courtesy of the Liverpool Daily Post & Echo.

I believe shipbuilding is vital both as an industry and as a means of remaining independent and self-sufficient in times of crisis.

A strong navy is essential for an island nation because the vast majority of goods travel by sea. The Second World War demonstrated how important it was to be able to make and repair ships quickly to enable Britain to survive against terrible odds.

Three of the most famous warships of this period - the Prince of Wales, Ark Royal and Rodney – were built at Cammell Laird’s shipyard in Birkenhead.

During the war the yard constructed more than 100 warships, mainly submarines, and several merchant ships. On average Laird’s completed one ship every 20 days while also doing a great deal of ship repair and conversion work.

Between 1939 and 1945 more than 100 warships and 2,000 merchant ships were repaired by the company.

Photographs on display at the Merseyside Maritime Museum's Battle of the Atlantic gallery include the launch of the Prince of Wales battleship on 17 March 1939. Merchant and war ships are seen in Laird’s fitting-out basin in September 1940 (pictured).

During the war more than 20,000 men and women were employed on Merseyside in vital ship repairing. Among the main firms involved along with Cammell Laird were Harland and Wolff, Archibald Brown and Grayson Rollo Ltd.

Employees at these yards worked round the clock to mend thousands of merchant and naval ships. Their contribution to the war effort was enormous.

As well as repairing damage due to enemy action and the fierce Atlantic weather, they also fitted merchant ships with guns and other war equipment. Everything was done to tight schedules so that ships would spend the least possible time in port.

Salvage teams from the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board with help from the Liverpool and Glasgow Salvage Association saved more than 200 ships which had been sunk and stranded in the River Mersey and its approaches.

These salvaged ships, most of which had been bombed or mined, were invaluable to Britain later in the war. A map shows major ship casualties in the Mersey docks and river. About half (21) of the ships shown were salvaged – the rest were eventually broken up and removed.

Harland and Wolff workers are seen working on a section of the hull of SS Merton on Tranmere beach, Birkenhead, in 1942. The Merton had been salvaged after sinking in the Mersey off Brunswick Dock.

A new Maritime Tale by Stephen Guy appears every Saturday in the Liverpool Echo. A paperback – Mersey Maritime Tales (£3.99) – is available from the museum, newsagents, bookshops or from the Mersey Shop website (£1 p&p UK).