Thursday, April 28, 2011

Herman the German

Herman the German lifts the Spruce Goose in 1980.

An icon on the Port of Long Beach's skyline for nearly 50 years was the floating crane YD-171, located at the Long Beach Naval Shipyard. The crane was, of course, much better known by its unofficial nickname, "Herman the German" and it made its home at the Port from 1948 until 1996.

The nearly 375-foot-tall crane came by its "German" moniker honestly; it was one of three giant floating cranes seized by the Allies from the Nazis at the end of World War II. The Russians and British each had sister cranes but were unable to transport them successfully to their home countries.

The Navy carefully dismantled Herman and shipped it to Long Beach via the Panama Canal, reconstructing it in Long Beach at a cost of $350,000 (about $3.2 million today). The crane was erected here in January 1948 and after extensive testing put into operation on New Year's Eve, 1948.

Some interesting facts about YD-171: its hoisting capacity was 386 tons (but tests took that up to 425 tons), it used 11,681 feet of wire rope and its three 900-horsepower diesel engines at full load used 144 gallons of fuel per hour at 100% load.

Herman lifted ships, parts of ships, and even other cranes, but one of its most notable lifting jobs was in the early 1980s, when the crane was used to lift the Spruce Goose in preparation for its move to the dome next to the Queen Mary.

After the closure of the Naval Shipyard in the early 1990s, it was decided that Herman was no longer needed at the Port of Long Beach (its diesel emissions were a concern as well) and the crane was shipped in 1996 to Panama, where it is still in operation at the Canal. No longer "Herman the German," now the crane is "la Titan."

Read an article on Herman's move from Long Beach to Panama

Herman the German photo gallery

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

My father, William Sawyer Hanson of Whitman and Weymouth Massachusetts was the last living crew member on the US Navy ship that towed "Herman the German" from Germany to Long Beach, California. He claimed it was so wide, that it scraped both sides of the Panama Canal when it went through. Coincidently, my father, a Bosun's mate, was an underage Veteran and a brief history of that voyage is included in volume one of a book series called "America's youngest warriors" He and my mother visited Herman in the 1980's and I have some great pictures of it.

Kenneth Stanger said...

That's Awesome.. I am from San Pedro CA, I am only 31 but I remember it being dominate figure in the harbor skyline. My dad would tell me the story about how the Russians took apart the crane and shipped to the Russia just find they couldn’t put it back together so essentially sold the metal for scrap.. I would love to see those pictures.

Kenneth Stanger said...

That's Awesome.. I am from San Pedro CA, I am only 31 but I remember it being dominate figure in the harbor skyline. My dad would tell me the story about how the Russians took apart the crane and shipped to the Russia just find they couldn’t put it back together so essentially sold the metal for scrap.. I would love to see those pictures.

Anonymous said...

I'm from Panama, now the home of the crane (wich we call the 'Titan' as the article say), but sadly, most panamanians don't know nothing about the historic significance of this fine piece of machinery. Fortunately the Panama Canal Authority takes good care of her, apart from some modifications for the heavy lifting work in the maintenance of the 600 tons lockgates. It really seems like being designed to do this job.

Fernando said...

Awesome crane, anything that works on the water is usually massive. I did some work at the dry docks, we have some fairly large cranes that can do over 60tonne, there is a massive crane that can do 250 but its just there as decoration as has not been in service for years.

Anonymous said...

I'm working on the Canal Expansion in Panama. Just saw Titan float by the job site yesterday on her (his?) way back to Gamboa after doing some work at the Miraflores Locks. I also used to live in San Pedro (early 90s) and vaguely remember seeing the crane there too. One more connection (maybe I stretching a bit here) I have is that my home base is now Portland, OR, just a few miles north of where the Spruce Goose now resides.

Anonymous said...

She's always been The Titan, that was the name painted on her when I was stationed at NAVSTA LB from 1989-1994. "Herman the German" was her nickname.

Anonymous said...

My Uncle, Donald Weston was the crane's main operator for nearly a decade beginning in the late 50's. He told me many stories - like how the labels and operations manual was in German, and a "former" Nazi engineer was brought over with the crane and spent 8 months instructing the operators, translating and supervising the rebuilding of the crane - 2 weeks before he was to be shipped back to Germany....he disappeared to live a new life in the U.S. Another story was the ultimate fate of the crane the British took as a prize - they endeavored not to disassemble the crane and instead tow it on a barge across the English channel. Long story short....it now sits at the bottom of said channel.

Oksam926 said...

I worked at Long Beach Naval Shipyard from 1976 to 1995 as a welder and was assigned to many jobs that required support from YD-171. As part of my indoctrination into the workforce at LBNS, I was told that the Russians lost their crane in a mountain pass while transporting it back to their country. It turns out that this statement is inaccurate. The Russian version of the crane is currently located at the Admiralty Shipyard in Saint Petersburg. Here is a link to a news article that was recently published and that contains photographic proof that a second version of Herman the German still exists: http://finance.yahoo.com/news/kremlin-just-launched-claims-quietest-204149914.html

The third photo near the bottom of the article clearly shows the floating German crane that was salvaged by Russia and is still in use today.