The idea to found the Elsflether shipyard can be traced back to shipbuilding engineer Franz Peuss. His plan was well received in various Oldenburg circles and the Grand Duke of Oldenburg sponsored the founding of the shipyard right from the beginning. On 12 October 1916 Elsflether Werft public limited company goes public and Peuss, initiator and founding father, is appointed to its board of directors.
Over 100 years of craftsmanship in shipbuilding
The Elsflether shipyard knows how to move with the times, and has been doing so since 1916. To this day, flexibility remains one of our strengths. We’ve put together a brief overview of our company’s progression through 100 years of shipyard history.
After a short preparatory phase the Elsflether shipyard begins its first ship repairs in 1917. Little by little the shipyard grows in size. A side slipway with a 450t-loading capacity as well as a first motorised launch are built and used for ship repairs.
Special business connections led to both national and international orders in the years that followed. As of 1925 the Elsflether shipyard started building numerous freight and cattle carrier vessels as well as oil, water and coal lighters for export to Columbia and Mozambique. At the same time 23 inland cargo ships were manufactured for the Mannheim-based ‘Rheinschifffahrt Aktiengesellschaft’.
As a result of inflation, the initially listed share capital of 500,000 Marks is increased to 5.5 million Marks by 1923 and set at 330,000 Reichsmarks after the currency changeover. In the 1930s Elsflether Werft AG recorded a sharp decline in orders, which was compensated by sideline projects. One of these was a three-wheel delivery truck by the name ‘EWAG’, which was capable of transporting a payload of 500 kg.
After the death of Franz Peuss in 1935, leadership of the shipyard is assigned to shipbuilding engineer Walter Behrendt. For Behrendt, after a look at the accounts, this meant finding a quick solution to compensate for the lack of orders. Drawing on the wealth of experience available at the Elsflether shipyard he quickly developed an inland tanker ship that soon attracted buyers. Thanks to Behrendt’s pro-active business approach the shipyard recovered and expanded just three years later with new machinery, halls and offices.
The Elsflether shipyard receives its first order from the German war navy. Four seagoing motor rinsing lighters were delivered the same year. After the outbreak of the war, the original order for the construction of war steamers is postponed in favour of more urgent tasks, such as supplies for submarines and other warships. Two years later the shipyard receives an order for the construction of minehunters and tankers that were used for supplying fleet units out at sea.
There was little physical damage to the shipyard after the war had finished. But the military government did not allow any new shipbuilding until the Washington Agreement was signed in 1951. Instead the shipyard rebuilt bridges and repaired boats. The shipyard had faced a challenging time until Behrendt’s late return at the end of 1948. Thanks to his business connections the shipyard succeeded in partly circumventing the new-build ban by undertaking ship renovation work.
In collaboration with the Hamburg-based Robert Bornhofen shipping company the Elsflether shipyard started work on two 4200 TDW-new-build ships in 1952. This order saw the ‘WALDECK’ and ‘WILHELM DOERENKAMP’ christened. This was followed by the 7000 t full scantling vessel ‘ROBERT BORNHOFEN’ in 1955; until that point, the largest ship that had ever docked at the shipyard.
In February 1962 Elsflether shipyard fell victim to catastrophic floods. The works premises and offices were so deep under water that the head of the response team could only reach the halls and office building with a row boat. Part of the archive was lost. All work was suspended for ten days for rebuilding.
After Edmund Behrendt jun. assumed his father’s post in 1962, the shipyard celebrates its 50th anniversary for years later under his leadership. After a crisis in the new-build sector, the situation eased and four 7,510 TDW cargo ships were delivered in 1966, four 8,998 TDW ships in 1967 and another six 11,916 TDW ships in 1968. In view of growing order volumes the shipyard extended its pier and dock length and modernised its machinery parks and storage systems.
At 128.4 metres in length, with draught of 8 metres, a payload of 8,850 tonnes and a cost of 16 million euros the ‘VISURGIS’ was the biggest ship ever built at the Elsflether shipyard. In May 1971 the freighter was launched in front of well over 1,000 spectators. From the 1970s onwards the shipyard started to focus on specialised shipbuilding faced with pressure from competitors in the Far East.
Behrendt jun. resigns from the board of directors. He is succeeded by Erhard Bülow. Orders for new-builds declined steadily in the 1980s too. Almost a third of production capacity was dedicated to naval orders. Two orders for yachts followed during that decade. The 55.5 metre-long ‘PUKA PUKA’ and the luxury ocean-going yacht ‘ONYX’ with 900m² sails launch in 1986 and 1990 respectively.
Repair business was booming and became the Elsflether shipyard’s main line of business – particularly after the majority share takeover by Friedrich Lürssen. As a subsidiary of the Lürssen shipyard the staff at Elsfleth now work almost exclusively on repair orders.
The repair works on the ‘GROSSHERZOGIN ELISABETH’, the ‘LISSY’ for short, established the Elsflether shipyard’s excellent reputation, particularly in the region. Nonetheless, the preceding and following years brought with them more losses than gains. And so the last ship built at the yard was launched in 1994. The first German passenger cruise ship, rigged as a barquentine, the ‘LILI MARLEEN’ has three masts and an area of 1,200m² and lavish on-board facilities.
For two years the future of the shipyard was unclear. In 1994 bankruptcy proceedings are initiated due to excessive indebtedness. It was not until 1996 that a rescue plan was announced in the eleventh hour; the shipyard had been undertaking small conversion and repair works up until that point. While staff were resigned to the fact that they were going to lose their jobs, new financial backers were found under the leadership of the Rohden shipping company family. The Elsflether shipyard was newly established as a GmbH & Co. KG (limited partnership with a limited liability company as general partner) in 1996.
Kurt Wiechmann takes over management together with Gerhard Rohden and Dieter Griebel. Under the new company name the shipyard primarily undertakes repair, conversion and maintenance work. The average annual capacity utilisation at the shipyard is 80%. The shipyard was back “in the black” from the first year.
The 130 metre-long and 20 metre-wide ‘HEA’ bulk carrier, a four-hatch ship with two deck cranes, is evidence that the shipyard is well equipped to take on ships of this size too. Yet another major order followed in 2001; the sister ship ‘LIA’ of the same size was brought to the yard for an overhaul. The German Navy remains a regular client.
The Elsflether shipyard is awarded the contract for the overhaul and modernisation of the ‘GORCH FOCK’ to prepare the training sailing vessel for another 25 years at sea. The traditional sailing vessel still often docks at the Elsflether shipyard for conversion and repair works.
The shipyard is reconverted into a public limited company by resolution of the 2008 general shareholders’ meeting. Kurt Wiechmann is replaced by his son Klaus Wiechmann as Technical Director in 2011 after 53 years of service at the yard.
The shipyard opened its doors to the public for its 100th anniversary. More than 7,000 guests attended the Elsflether shipyard open day. Together with the visitors the shipyard celebrated with a rock concert, offered tugboat rides and opened their halls and workshops up the public.