The Day the US Navy Came to Town

In 1984 I became interested in the work of the Stirling Brothers Robert and James. Robert invented the Hot Air engine in 1816 while a minister at Galston in Ayrshire. His younger brother James trained as an engineer after studies at Edinburgh. James was appointed Engineer to the Dundee Foundry around 1829 and was able then to develop the hot air engine concept as a sideline. He was at Dundee until 1845 when the foundry changed hands to become Gourlays Dundee Foundry. I was a lecturer at University of Dundee and was directed to Dundee City Archives to extend my study of the Dundee Foundry. I was able to see deeds relating to the setting up of the foundry in 1790 and the progress of ownership thereafter. These and other researches led to my producing the document ‘Dundee Foundry 1792-1845’.

I started attending the FDCA monthly meetings and was soon asked to give a  I delivered talks on Dundee Foundry and ‘A Caledon Walk’ which was an account of my early days at the Caledon Shipyard. I have also given talks on ‘Victoria Drummond –Marine Engineer’, Marshall Meek ‘Naval Architect Extraordinary’ and ‘Caledon at War’.

I was invited to join the FDCA Committee to assist in the production of the 2006 conference “Dundee Ships and Shipbuilding”. This got me involved in looking at the Caledon Collection and cataloguing parts as yet unlisted (Ref: GD324).

A group photograph of the American Visitors to the Caledon shipyard, with Admiral Vickery seated in the centre. (Ref: GD324/6/8/3)

When I was surveying the Caledon collection I unearthed a set of photographs from August 1943. These recorded a visit to the yard, on one quiet Saturday afternoon, of a Naval party from the USA, escorted by the Caledon top management. The main visitor was Rear Admiral H.L. Vickery, vice chair of the U.S. Maritime Commission. He was supported by a Naval aide and a senior U.S. Marines officer. The senior Royal Navy officer in Scotland was also in attendance. The photographs project an atmosphere of American bonhomie and generosity with large cigars being enjoyed during the visit.
So what was this about?


Admiral Vickery was responsible for leading the design and  production of 5,500 ocean going ships during WW2. From another, post war, report of the Royal Navy Officer I/C Dundee there were eight escort aircraft carriers repaired or refurbished or converted at Dundee which must have involved the Caledon yard together with numerous repairs to ex US Navy warships. The escort carriers were a success in protecting the Atlantic and Arctic convoys and Dundee would have been the nearest port of Naval repair to Scapa Flow and ships returning from Russia.

The reason for Admiral Vickery’s  visit may well have been connected with assessing the Caledon’s ability to do the proposed work on the US owned, but lent, Escort carriers.
One of these carriers, HMS Speaker, was converted at Caledon from an Escort carrier to an Assault carrier and was later involved in the battle of Okinawa. This would also explain the US Marines presence in the party.


This is still a work in progress but it is a privilege to be able to work on these records and do some detective work to give background to the images.

You can view all of the photographs of Admiral Vickery’s visit to the Caledon Shipyard on our Flickr Page.

David has written a book about the ships built in the Caledon Shipyard using the records held at Dundee City Archives. It was published by the Friends of Dundee City Archives. If you would like to buy a copy please contact the Friends via Dundee City Archives.

4 thoughts on “The Day the US Navy Came to Town

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  1. Hello. I’m interested in the Stirlings and Dundee Foundry. Can you tell me where I can obtain a copy of the documernt referred to above: Dundee Foundry 1792-1845?


      1. Hello. Thank you for the below in response to my recent enquiry. What I am looking for is information about Dundee Foundry in the 19th Century. Do you have anything on this? I would particularly like to see any photographs if such exist – both of the exterior and the interior. Phillip Hills.


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