Blohm+Voss (B+V), also written historically as Blohm & Voss, Blohm und Voß etc., is a German shipbuilding and engineering company. Founded in Hamburg in 1877 to specialise in steel-hulled ships, its most famous product is the World War II battleship Bismarck.
In the 1930s its owners established the Hamburger Flugzeugbau aircraft manufacturer which, shortly before the outbreak of World War II, adopted the name of its parent company.
Following a difficult period after the war, B+V revived its fortunes by becoming a public company under a change of ownership. In 2016 it became a subsidiary of Lürssen and continues to supply both the military and civil markets. The company also carries out related activities, managing a dockyard in Hamburg and undertaking maintenance and repair of large cruise ships. Since the acquisition, it has been concentrated in three areas: warships (new construction), cruise ships and merchants (repairs) and “yacht refitting”. The company has been in operation, building ships and other large machinery, almost continuously for 142 years.
Blohm & Voss was founded on 5 April 1877, by Hermann Blohm and Ernst Voss (or Voß) as a general partnership, to build steel-hulled ships. It established a shipyard on the island of Kuhwerder, near the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg, covering 15,000 m2 (160,000 sq ft) with 250 m (820 ft) of water frontage and three building berths, two suitable for ships of up to 100 m (330 ft) length. The company name was shown with the ampersand, as B&V, until 1955.
Shipbuilding was at that time dominated by the British, with even German customers preferring to buy from them. Initial business was confined to ship repairs, although B&V managed to build and later sell the three-masted barque National. Eventually the first new-build order arrived for the small cargo paddle-steamer Burg, and the business took off. By 1882, the company had gained a reputation for quality and punctuality and was prospering.
Initially, their products were steel-hulled sailing ships designed for long sea voyages. At that time steamships had a relatively short range, while many of the advantages of steel construction still applied to sailing ships as much as to steam. The company built its first steamship in 1900, while still continuing to build sailing ships until the late 1930s.
The Nazi era, 1933–1945
German heavy cruiser Admiral Hipper at Blohm & Voss shipyards in 1939
When Hermann Blohm died, his two sons Rudolf and Walther took over. Ernst Voss left soon afterwards. By this time the company was in financial crisis, so the Blohm brothers diversified into aircraft, setting up the Hamburger Flugzeugbau (see below) in the summer of 1933.
With the rise of the Nazi Party to power in 1933, Germany began to rearm and both companies became increasingly involved in the programme. The shipyard built both civilian craft and warships for the government, including the battleship Bismarck, before manufacturing U-boats in quantity.
In 1944 a subcamp of Neuengamme concentration camp was set up at the company’s shipyard in Hamburg-Steinwerder. It supplied labour to the company from July 1944 to April 1945. A memorial stands on the site of the camp and the company continues to pay an undisclosed amount to the Fund for Compensation of Forced Laborers.
Steinwerder was badly damaged during the bombing of Hamburg in World War II and at the end of it, shipbuilding was forbidden.
In 1933 Blohm & Voss was suffering a financial crisis from lack of work. Its owners, brothers Rudolf and Walther Blohm, decided to diversify into aircraft manufacture, believing that there would soon be a market for all-metal, long-range flying boats, especially with the German state airline Deutsche Luft Hansa. They also felt that their experience with all-metal marine construction would prove an advantage. They formed the Hamburger Flugzeugbau that summer.
Most of the aircraft built by HFB/B&V would in fact be other companies’ designs and major subassemblies, contracted under license, including tens of thousands of aircraft each for Dornier, Heinkel, Junkers and Messerschmitt. Alongside its volume manufacturing the company also maintained its own design office and workshops which continued to develop and build new types throughout the company’s life. The first planes it produced were designated with the official RLM company code “Ha”.
The aircraft produced by Hamburger Flugzeugbau were still commonly associated with Blohm & Voss and this was causing confusion, so in September 1937 Hamburger Flugzeugbau was renamed Abteilung Flugzeugbau der Schiffswerft Blohm & Voss and the RLM changed its company code to “BV”.
Its most significant designs were flying boats, mainly used by the Luftwaffe for maritime patrol and reconnaissance. Most numerous was the BV 138 Seedrache (initiated as the Ha 138), a twin-boom trimotor, while the BV 222 Wiking was much larger. Largest of all was the BV 238 prototype, the largest aircraft built by any of the Axis forces. Other notable types include the asymmetric BV 141, which was built in moderate numbers but did not enter production.
At the end of the war, aircraft production was shut down. Hamburger Flugzeugbau GmBH (HFB) re-emerged in 1956, still under the ownership of Walther Blohm but no longer connected to B+V. It underwent various further changes of ownership and company name, eventually becoming part of Airbus.
After the Second World War, the British continued to demolish the shipyards of Steinwerder. B&V, unable to restart shipbuilding work, all but ceased to exist for several years.
In 1950 B&V created a new subsidiary company, Steinwerder Industrie AG, to manufacture machinery and boilers on the site. Its shipyard fortunes began to revive in 1952 when the new company was allowed to restart ship repair work and the City of Hamburg subsequently guaranteed it credit. By 1953 some 900 workers were back in employment. The building of new ships would later also be allowed again. During this period of resurrection the level of investment required meant that B&V moved out of private hands and became a publicly quoted company, 50% owned by Phoenix-Rheinrohr AG, itself soon to be consolidated into the Thyssen Group. Even so, B&V would never regain its former size. In 1966 it took over neighbouring shipbuilder H. C. Stülcken Sohn.
For many of its new warships, B&V developed a modular approach to the equipment fit which they called Mehrzweck-Kombination (multipurpose-combination) or MEKO, which was intended to reduce costs and ease maintenance. Several classes of MEKO ship have been built, some in significant numbers. They have been sold both to the German Navy and for export.
During the postwar years, B+V built oil rigs and developed a market for other offshore products such as support ships and pipelines. The company has also built ships for numerous commercial customers, including luxury yachts. Eclipse, built for Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, is 162 metres (531 ft 6 in) in length making it the second longest private yacht in the world. B+V still administers the Elbe 17 dry dock at Hamburg.
When Thyssen AG and Krupp merged in 1999, B+V became a subsidiary of ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems.
In December 2001 Blohm+Voss, Nordseewerke and Friedrich Lurssen Werft were awarded the contract to build the first five K130 Braunschweig-class corvettes. The first of them, Braunschweig, was built at Blohm+Voss, launched in April 2006 and commissioned in April 2008. Several problems with the equipment fit delayed commissioning, and the last was commissioned in 2013.
In 2011 ThyssenKrupp agreed the sale of the Blohm+Voss civil shipbuilding division to British investment company STAR Capital Partners. The military division remained with ThyssenKrupp.
In October 2016, regulatory approval was given for Lürssen to acquire Blohm+Voss from STAR Capital Partners. In April 2017 the company announced that it would be laying off about 300 employees.
In September 2017, the German Navy commissioned the construction of five more K130 corvettes by a consortium of North German shipyards including ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems, Blohm+Voss, and the German Naval Yards in Kiel. The Lürssen Group, which would be the main contractor in the production of the vessels, distributed its work between the two sites at Wolgast and B+V Hamburg. The contract is worth around 2 billion euros. In April 2018 the German government announced the detailed work sharing arrangements under which the ships would be built.
The German government also intends to build four new MKS 180 ships. Lürssen submitted a joint proposal with ThyssenKrupp, but in March 2018 it was turned down. Prior to this, ThyssenKrupp and Lürssen had been awarded a contract to build four Baden-Württemberg-class frigates and delivered questionable built ships, that the German navy returned the ships to the builder in December 2017 for refit. There had been similar problems with the first set of K130 Braunschweig-class corvettes delivered by the companies.
Prior to being acquired, Blohm+Voss had allied with the Damen Group to also submit a proposal to build the MKS 180, and that proposal was still under consideration as of 23 March 2018.
Due the decision of this contract, ThyssenKrupp wants to sell its military naval systems yards in Hamburg, Kiel and at Emden.
Information courtesy of Wikipedia.