Delivered after a Construction Time of Nine Years

Sometimes fate badly afflicts to ships as well. The lightship Elbe 1 was keel-laid, built, sunken, lifted and finally delivered – after nine years.

In early 1939, MEYER WERFT was contracted to build three lightships: The waterway authorities ordered the Elbe 1 and the Borkumriff, the marine ordered the lightship Außenjade. With the beginning of World War Two, the National Socialists stopped civil shipbuilding orders. The plans for two lightships vanished into a bottom drawer for a time; only the construction of the Elbe 1 was slowly continued. Only an elderly shipbuilder and an apprentice could continue to build the ship after her launch. In 1942, the lightship was completed, except for the interior design, and waited for better times to come at the shipyard’s harbor.

When troops approached Papenburg in 1945 during the last weeks of the war, shipyard workers sank the ship in order to protect her from the bombing of the Allies. The ship was lifted in summer 1945. Initially there was no way to continue its construction. There were simply no tools, materials or electricity.

Only in the end of 1945 50 people started working at the shipyard again. Since there were no means of transport, repair orders had priority. In 1948 the Elbe 1 finally faced her completion. This turned out to be a stroke of luck for MEYER WERFT and for the whole shipping industry in Papenburg: Since the Elbe 1 was financed by local funds, the authorities supported the idea of actually delivering the ship.

However, this was only possible, if the railroad bridges in Papenburg and Weener, destroyed during the war, were to be rebuilt as bascule bridges. Thanks to the Elbe 1 exactly this happened.

The problem regarding the passage under the bridge was solved. MEYER WERFT now mainly had to deal with day-to-day problems of the post-war period. Though the workers succeeded in repairing the mechanical equipment of the lightship, which was also sunken 1945, everything else was lacking.

The shipyard managed to procure the timber needed for the interior fittings for a shipment of coals from their stocks. But where was the paint for the coat supposed to come from? Joseph-Franz Meyer indeed managed to provide buckets with red, green and white lacquer. But then the unthinkable happened: Because the railway staff was careless shunting the freight cars, a wagon derailed. Instead of having all the colours needed for the ships’ paint, only a huge colour stain remained at the railway station.

Due to the currency reform in 1948, overnight all needed goods, including paint, could once more be bought. Thus, the Elbe 1 could be completed within three months and be transported to the desired position at the mouth of the Elbe – 9 years after the initial keel-laying. There she was anchoring and fulfilled her mission, helping other ships to navigate.

In 1988 a 172 years long career ended for all lightships that were at the mouth of the Elbe at Cuxhaven: Also the Elbe 1 ended her career as an active lightship and was handed over to the WSA Cuxhaven. Only one year later, the Förderverein Cuxhaven adopted her; later on she was used as a museum-lightship. Her final adoption took place in 2002 by the Feuerschiff-Verein ELBE of 2001 e.V. Cuxhaven. In contrast to a lot of other museum ships, the Elbe 1 is able to journey to maritime events in other ports.