The Rise And Fall Of The World’s First Heavy Load Ship

Due to the rapidly increasing scale of huge container shipping fleets which can in total carry unfathomably large loads around the world, it is important to look back at the pioneers in heavy equipment shipping that made it possible, not least because they have a fascinating story.

The first-ever modern powered ship that was designed to carry heavy loads belonged to a freight company that at one point the world’s largest freight shipping company.

Deutsche Dampfschiffahrts-Gesellschaft Hansa, often simply known as DDG Hansa was initially formed in Breman in 1881 but had grown to become one of the largest fleets in shipping pre-1914.

They lost all but one of their ships to the First World War, but by 1920 were back in business and had centred on a business model of shipping fully constructed railway locomotives to India.

In 1929, the SS Lichtenfels was constructed, constructed by heavy lift ship Skibs A/S Christen Smiths Rederi, initially to transport locomotives between England and Belgium.

It had a crane that allowed it to lift up to 120 tonnes and DDG Hansa would buy three sister ships as the market for locomotives in India increased.

After a surprisingly short decade in service, the Second World War would lead to it being moored in Eritrea, then part of the Italian Empire along with nine other merchant ships.

Tragically the ship would ultimately be sunk deliberately in April 1941 as part of the Blockade of Massawa in an attempt to stop the allies from conquering Eritrea. This attempt would ultimately prove unsuccessful but the Lichtenfels would not be salvaged until 1950.

DDG Hansa’s fortunes would not fare much better. After losing their entire fleet again as well as their headquarters due to the Allied bombing campaign, they would resume freight to India and Iran in 1950 with three borrowed ships and started to build up a reputation again in heavy shipping.

Unfortunately, their attempts to update their fleet in the late 1970s could not have come at a worse time; an economic recession and a weak Deutsche Mark caused massive losses for the company.

The final blow was that their business with Iran, long their most successful route, had been completely halted by the Iranian Revolution under Ayatollah Khomeini, causing the company to declare bankruptcy in 1980.