Basis for Rocky: Ransomes and Rapier 45 ton steam breakdown crane at Longmoor 3 July, 1969 - Photo taken by Peter Tatlow
At Longmoor, 45 ton Ransomes & Rapier steam breakdown crane on display during open days - 5 July, 1969
Photo © by Peter Tatlow (with our thanks)

In the prelude to World War Two, the British Government commisioned Ransomes and Rapier of Ipswich to initially build six 45 ton lifting capacity cranes to be held in reserve by the Great Western Railway (4) and Southern Railway (2). R&R's contemporary, Cowans Sheldon of Carlisle were also called upon to supply LNER with six 45 ton cranes. This was a proactive measure recognizing the heavy damage that enemy aerial bombers would soon be inflicting upon the rail network. At time time, the majority of breakdown cranes that were in railway service were of the 36 ton or less lifting capacity. Having these new heavy-duty cranes at the ready to deal with the aftermath of an aerial bombing raid was paramount – damaged locomotives, rolling stock, bridges and girders would need to be moved in order to restore vital rail traffic as soon as possible in wartime Britain.

The major components of the 45 ton breakdown crane consist of:

Major parts of a Ransomes and Rapier 45 ton steam breakdown crane
The major components of a Ransomes & Rapier 45 ton steam breakdown crane

It should be noted that the maximum lift capacity of 45 tons only applies when the jib is at its highest point. In other words, the crane's lifting capacity is significantly reduced the lower the jib is to the ground. During a typical heavy-lifting job, the match wagon and relief bogies were moved out of the way (sometimes by the crane itself!) so that the crane could creep up as closely as possible to its intended load for maximum lift power. Crane stability was enhanced by extending four girder jacks housed within the main carriage.

In total, sixteen 45 ton crane units were built by Ransomes and Rapier between 1940 and 1946, with several later servicing the nationalized British Railways (BR) into the late 1960s. Of that number, less than a handful survive into preservation today. Ex-SR 1560S, one of the first lot of cranes built in 1940 was broken up for scrap in April, 2010. The Bluebell Railway's Ex-LNER 51516 (ADRR 95215) has been relegated to a siding in Kingscote for want of dedicated volunteers and funding to restore it. The news is not all so bleak, however. The Mid Hants Railway includes one of the survivors in their roster - Ex-SR 1580DS (BR DS.1580) built in 1945, fully restored as seen in these YouTube videos of the crane demonstrating its luffing power at Kingscote sidings in September, 2010 (with our thanks to Peter Tatlow for sending us the links).

Below, a few additional brilliant photos of the cranes that Peter Tatlow had taken himself with his camera:
Jib raised, a Ransomes & Rapier steam breakdown crane on display at Longmoor - Photo taken by Peter Tatlow Bridge replacement at Pirbright Flyover, Sat. 6 April, 1963 - Photo taken by Peter Tatlow
Top left: At Longmoor Military Railway - jib raised, a 45 ton Ransomes & Rapier steam breakdown crane on display during open days, 3 June 1967.

Top right: The renewal of the superstructure of the Pirbright Flyover between Brookwood and Farnborough/Ash Vale on the afternoon of Saturday 6 April 1963. The life expired steelwork over the two Up lines has been removed by a 45 ton and a 36 ton Ransomes & Rapier steam breakdown cranes Nos Ds1560 from Nine Elms and Ds80 from Guildford. The new concrete deck has yet to be installed and the whole process repeated over the other two roads, the track on top reinstated and available for traffic by Monday morning.

A Note of Appreciation

The photos featured on this page were generously provided to us from the personal collection of Mr. Peter Tatlow, to whom we are very grateful. If the name is familiar to you, it's because Peter is an accomplished author of railway books and magazine articles, not to mention a speaker on the subject of his many years of researching railway breakdown cranes, rolling stock and Britain's railways.

Peter's latest book Return from Dunkirk - Railways to the Rescue: Operation Dynamo is available for purchase from as well as other well-researched books penned by the author.

Collector's Corner
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