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               RJF HUDSON CEng., PhD., BAppSc., Extra First Class M.O.T
                     DMS., FIMarEST., FIMechE., MCMI.

Dr Hudson was formerly Chief Engineer and Technical Superintendent of The Indo-China
Steam Navigation Co (HK) (Jardine Matheson & Co)
August 2005
        This paper sets out to eulogize one of the world’s foremost marine engineers. Little, if
        anything has been written about John Lamb yet this memorably ingenious man was the
        originator of the successful use of furnace oil as fuel in compression ignition marine oil
        engines. For this work he received the Denny Gold Medal from The Institute of Marine
        Engineers. The first trans-Atlantic voyage successfully completed under gas turbine-
        electric power by a commercial vessel was pioneered by John Lamb. For his paper
        reporting upon this work he received a second Denny Gold Medal. His paper reporting to
        the Institution of Mechanical Engineers upon the dangers surrounding diesel engine
        crank case explosions earned him the coveted Herbert Ackroyd Stuart triennial prize. His
        WW2 work making wooden lifeboats fireproof was recognised by his OBE. His
        meticulously crafted technical books remain testimony to the life of this remarkable
        marine engineer.

Steam engines had been propelling ships across oceans for 90 years by the time John Lamb went to
sea in 1911. Almost 75 years had passed since Brunel’s paddle steamer Great Western began to
operate. Hans Reynold’s ingenious roller chain debuted in 1880. Ackroyd Stuart had an airless fuel
injection pre-combustion chamber engine working in 1890, the year John Lamb was born. Rudolph
Diesel and MAN had a cold starting air-blast compression ignition engine working in 1892. Anthony
Michell’s all-conquering thrust pad was in production in 1905, going to sea first in a Denny-built ship
in 1913. Despite their enormous size, the reciprocating steam engines used could not satisfactorily
handle the pressures and very large volumes of steam that were required to provide the power
necessary to propel new ships such as the Carmania, Mauretania and Lusitania on the Atlantic run, so
the engines chosen for these majestic passenger liners were turbines, newly designed by Charles
Parsons. The added benefit of this decision was the fact that these turbines required a boiler coal fuel
consumption roughly 20% less that did reciprocating steam engine propulsion of equivalent power.
While they were commercially successful in their era, turbine efficiencies remained worryingly low.
For example the Mauretania consumed 1½ lbs of coal per horsepower-hour which equates to a general
efficiency of 11.5%. More than 1000 tons of coal per day were shovelled by the boiler room stokers.
The obvious demand for improvement in propulsive efficiencies chiefly depended on using steam
pressures and temperatures greater than the 200-250 psi with no superheat, that were currently in
vogue. Improved turbine designs suitable for higher pressures and temperatures were readily available.
But advances in steam boiler designs were not. The praiseworthy metallurgists had further work to do.
As a separate matter the bulk of world shipping handled seven-seas cargoes. They required powers
only of the order of 1500 IHP. Owners were therefore making do with reciprocating steam engines.
Coal was also readily available for their Scotch-type boilers at their ship’s ports of call. But as a result
of their higher efficiency, compression ignition engines of this power were gaining popularity for
marine propulsion. This was in direct ratio both to their reliability, and to the port-availability of fuel
that they used. The age of diesel engine ship-propulsion was gaining great momentum.

Author’s Biography
Richard Hudson joined The Indo-China Steam Navigation Company (Jardine Matheson & Co) of Hong Kong from
Australia, as a junior marine engineer in 1951. He obtained his First Class Steam Certificate in London in 1955 and his
First Class Motor Endorsement at Newcastle-Upon-Tyne in 1960. He obtained his Extra First Class Certificate by
examination held in Hong Kong and is the only marine engineer to do this. He was appointed a seagoing Chief
Engineer at 26 years of age in 1956, Assistant Superintendent Engineer in 1962 and Chief Superintendent Engineer in
1968. He was awarded a post graduate Diploma in Management Studies (HKU) in 1972. He retired in 1974 but was
retained by his employers for many years as a consultant. He received his BAppSc (1987) and PhD (2002) from
Queensland University of Technology. He was a founding committee member (secretary) of the Hong Kong Branch in
1965 and is a past branch chairman. He is presently a member of the Queensland Panel IMechE.
The part that John Lamb played in the technical strides that kept Britain at the forefront of world trade
with all the economic benefits that this bestowed, was to successfully get diesel ships to reliably and
economically use cheap thick furnace oil as fuel in place of their normal refined thin diesel oil and as a
corollary, point out to others in the field the way to obtain successful and reliable diesel engine use.
Then he went further. He successfully introduced gas turbines for ship propulsion using furnace oil.

In the time spent trying to piece together some of the components that comprised John Lamb’s
character and seeking clues to thereby build up a picture of him, principal attributes emerge. One of
his first attributes is that he appears to be an immensely private man. In his autobiography, “Backward
Thinking”, where he has the forum to discuss his wartime seafaring experiences including the seven
times that ships upon which he was serving were sunk in World War 1, he offers no discussion. Nor
does he comment upon the permanent injuries he suffered as a result. He lost his left eye in 1915
when he was 24 years of age and serving at sea. His only reference to this incident is in humorous
context, and only then as an aside to his recounting the torpedoing of a later ship he was serving on, in
1917. On this occasion the perilously damaged vessel was eventually brought to safety by the ship’s
engineers after they had managed to re-start one of the two main diesel engines. This followed their
prevention of the vessel sinking because of a dangerously flooding engine room. As further evidence
of his reticence, Mr Lamb was married yet nowhere in his writings does he mention this. Nor does he
offer any complaints about the inordinate time away from home that he was compelled to endure at sea
and elsewhere, in service to his shipping employers. As his own career advanced, his belief in the
value of technical education for younger marine engineers and for those less able than himself was
translated into a notable willingness to disseminate to others as much of his technical knowledge as he
was able. Later on in life, when others of his advancing age were probably doing something thought
by custom to be far more relaxing, for more than three years he devoted three hours every day seven
days a week, to write a new edition of one of his books in which there were one thousand pages and
three hundred drawings. He did this on top of all the responsibility that occupied his normal day’s
work. He knew from his own life-long experience and the difficulties that he had to overcome
himself, how hard is the path of the ambitious man who has had no introduction to the stores of
accumulated knowledge in his youth. Beginning at an early age, Mr Lamb became a prolific technical
author. In his many books, papers and contributed technical and other articles, it is clear that erudition
rested comfortably upon him. His extensive knowledge could only have been acquired from his own
experiences and the motive for its translation could only have been acquired from his childhood home
life and teaching. His meticulously detailed books described the theory, designs, maintenance and
operation of marine propulsion systems. His books also covered most of the auxiliaries and other
machinery items that are associated with marine engineering plant. Even today Lamb’s books are
considered by many marine engineers to be among the most respected classics in the field. His written
clarity is exemplified by the fact that he required no sketches, drawings or photos to construct his
book, “Questions and Answers on the Marine Diesel Engine”. His ability to appreciate the special
educational needs of young marine engineers ensured that his books found a permanent place in their
luggage. Perhaps he was shaped by his own correspondence school experience as a youth at
Gateshead. The practical directions of his books was not a case of Lamb eschewing the theoretical
concepts of his technical work, more to the point it was a case of Lamb the practical man, the
empiricist. This course must have been chosen by him because despite the wealth of theory in the
field, Lamb did things that nobody did before. He achieved technical results that nobody else had
achieved. His pioneering wartime work of converting oil tankers to merchant aircraft carriers is just
one of an abundance of other innovative things that he did in his life that confirms in many minds
Lamb’s tenacity of purpose. The work he did to demonstrate the effectiveness of low grade boiler fuel
oil as a reliable substitute for better quality refined diesel oil, was the result of his unshakeable belief
in the superiority of diesel engines and their ability to use cheaper fuels for marine propulsion. He
demonstrated both technical and economical results. His results were unchallenged. His courage did
not exaggerate itself into foolhardiness nor did caution act as any damper upon the technical advances
he undertook. There was blended into Lamb’s character a large measure of both humility and empathy.
For example he was deeply affected by the terrible ordeals that tanker men suffered when their ships
were attacked in World War 2. He dreaded the news because he, himself, had suffered similar
horrifying experiences at sea in tankers in World War 1, during 1914 –1917.

From 1940 onwards, Lamb held the position of Chief Marine Superintendent with the Anglo-Saxon
Petroleum Company. Of the 208 ships owned by the company and its subsidiaries at the beginning of
the war, eighty-seven were sunk and fifty seriously damaged. Some 1750 officers, seamen and naval
gunners lost their lives in these ships and many more were permanently and in some cases horribly
maimed. Many of these men were personally known to Mr Lamb. It is therefore not surprising that at
a time when British ships were being sunk at an appalling rate and despite the many other vital
wartime responsibilities Lamb carried in his wartime job, he accepted an invitation from the UK
Wartime Tanker Tonnage Committee of the Petroleum Board to chair a specially convened committee
to quickly develop unsinkable fireproof lifeboats. The UK ocean-going ships of whatever purpose
offered little protection for men who, having survived bomb and torpedo attacks, faced the horrible
ordeal of seeking salvation from their sinking vessels through dangerous seas of blazing oil in wooden
lifeboats. It was obvious to all that replacing the existing wooden lifeboats, particularly those on
serving tankers, was not feasible in the short term. Mr Lamb therefore set about their conversion into
fire-resisting craft. Such was his faith in what he had accomplished at the end of his work, with two of
his assistants seated inside his converted lifeboat with him, Mr Lamb exhaustively tested his converted
lifeboat afloat in the midst of blazing fuel oil. It passed all tests.

With the advent of these newly improved, fitted and fireproofed lifeboats, coupled with redesigned
boat-launching devices, the chances of safety and rescue of seamen set down in lifeboats in the midst
of seas blazing with oil had improved enormously. Lamb had led his team to a major achievement. A
further example of Lamb’s life long concern for the betterment and welfare of his fellow man was
further utilised by his service upon the committee that enquired into the accident in the engine room of
the MV Reina del Pacifico on September 11, 1947. This was the official Ministry of Transport
committee chaired by Lamb. It convened in the County Courthouse in Belfast and sat over eighteen
days in April/May 1948 to enquire into the awful deaths of twenty eight men operating the ship’s
engines during repair sea trials. Built by the famous Harland and Wolff shipyard at Belfast, the 17 708
dwt passenger liner was powered by four Burmeister and Wain blast injection diesel engines.
Following refit by her builders, the ship experienced serious overheating of various pistons and
cylinders upon sea trials. Upon returning from further sea trials eight days later, overheating was
again observed and the engines stopped. Five minutes after re-starting the engines an explosion
happened in No 2 crank chamber of the port outer engine. Three further explosions occurred in the
crankcases of the port inner, starboard inner, and starboard outer engines. In the instant that followed
the sheets of flame, the engine room was a shambles, parts blown apart, blackened, without lighting
and full of thick smoke. The appalling result was the horrible deaths of twenty eight men with many
more extensively burned or otherwise injured. The Lamb committee identified the causes of the
tragedy; their 1948 report could not establish responsibility. Harland and Wolff and the owners,
Pacific Steam Navigation Company shared the compensation costs.

John Lamb was born on the 24th of August 1890, in the village of Forrest Hall, just outside the city of
Newcastle-upon-Tyne, in Britain. He was born in the period when Britain’s entire technical prowess
that emanated from the Industrial Revolution continued to bear fruit. The nation’s increasing
prosperity was coming at great social and environmental cost, a cost slowly being seen as unacceptable
and in need of correction. At the year beginning the century, 11 million tons of coal were mined in his
district to produce among other things, 273 000 tons of iron. Trevithick’s steam locomotive had
successfully pulled a load of ten tons of iron, seventy passengers and five wagons the distance of nine
miles between Pennydarren and the Mertyr-Cardiff canal. Stephenson’s Stockton and Darlington
railway had opened in 1825 and five years later the Liverpool and Manchester railway transported 445
047 passengers through the year. Cotton shipping imports through Liverpool increased from 450 000
tons in 1800 to 1 224 000 tons in 1834. Whereas in 1850 two thirds of industry’s power to produce
goods was supplied by man or his horses, by 1873 the Industrial Revolution became powered by
mechanical engines, all invented and built by local British engineers. This was the year that an electric
dynamo capable of long life was built using principles developed by British physicists, only to be
overtaken by alternating current generators driven by steam turbines invented by Charles Parsons. It
was at Newcastle-Upon-Tyne’s Forth Banks power station that Parson’s turbines were first used for
electricity generation in 1888. In 1880, only ten years before Lamb’s birth, the smoke from burning
sulphurous coal killed 2 000 British people in one week. Coal slag heaps, mud, ashes, and steel cables
were commonplace, as were the coalmines in the area where Lamb was born. Yet it was the coal that
beneficially produced the steam for Charles Parson’s turbines. Until this time, the only cheap
electricity came from generators allied to falling water. Coal had certainly brought great benefit but its
use had come at great environmental cost. This was the era when Master Lamb, at barely fifteen years
of age, began his fitter’s apprenticeship at the Gateshead engineering works of Clarke Chapman & Co
Ltd, the same company to which Charles Parsons had been formerly connected. Clark Chapman were
renowned for their manufacture of many types of steam driven machinery. Master Lamb’s working
days began at 6am and concluded at 5pm with the break at noon on Saturdays. His pay was 5/- per
week. Living at home with his mother, and to help her pay for his schooling, John took an extra job.
Rising at 4.30am three mornings every week, he would cart bundles of magazines and journals from
their distribution suppliers in Newcastle to his local newsagent’s shop. The money he earned enabled
him to enrol as a mechanical engineering student with the International Correspondence School. Their
fee of £10 was very large in those days and so he arranged to pay it by means of 10/- per month
instalments. At risk of not being able to make these regularly required payments, John hit upon the
idea of joining with twenty or thirty other ragged boys buying and selling newspapers. He did this in
his bare feet, so that he could run faster than the others. With these few extra shillings he paid his
school fees and with the little money that was left over, he acquired a few second hand textbooks.
The next year he enrolled at his local school to do four nights of tuition per week. He was enrolled at
the Shipcoat Council School, Gateshead-on-Tyne from 1898 to 1905. He attended evening classed
from 1905 to 1910. He took the mechanical engineering courses with the International
Correspondence Schools from 1907 to 1910. Later, when serving at sea, on having exceeded the
required one year sea service by 24 days, and after a two day’s attendance at South Shields Marine
School and upon successfully completing the Board of Trade examination he was awarded his Second
Class Steam Certificate. He was 21 years of age. His sea service had been obtained as fourth engineer
aboard SS Duffield. This was a ship of 6 000 dwt, with two coal fired 100 psi Scotch-type boilers.
The main engine was of 1 200 IHP and triple expansion. The steering gear was steam driven. There
was no shipboard electricity and therefore no refrigeration; lighting throughout was by kerosene wick-
lamp. The Duffield sailed with a cargo of steel rails from Middlesbrough to Port Sudan. Before
returning to the UK, the Duffield traded for 12 months carrying coal, trading between Calcutta,
Colombo and the Red Sea port of Djibouti.

Now in possession of his Second Class Certificate, Mr Lamb sought further employment back at sea.
Applying to his old company for another position, he was told that providing he paid his own fare to
join the Duffield at Cardiff, they would offer him a job as third engineer. Since he couldn’t afford to
be without work, while not to his liking, the young John Lamb rejoined the Duffield. Upon returning
to Newcastle after 13 months further sea service while in possession of his Second Class Certificate,
and one month more than the examiners required, the young John Lamb successfully completed the
four-day examination for his First Class Steam Certificate. He was 22 years of age.

In 1914 John Lamb was 23 years of age. With his Chief’s ticket he had just been appointed as Second
Engineer of his first motor ship. It was a new ship. Builders of diesel engines at that time must have
had supreme confidence in their capabilities as diesel engine designers or else, as the author suspects,
they had little or no understanding of the enormous power of rough seas upon small ships, particularly
tankers in ballast. Engineers who have kept watches in the engine rooms of early triple expansion
engine steamships will readily recall the dangerous action of flailing crossheads and valve links as the
engine raced in heavy seas. Watchkeepers were required to monitor bearing temperatures by “feeling”
them by hand, as the engine operated. Top-end bearings were felt as they ran up and down in their
guides. To monitor bottom-end temperatures watchkeepers extended their outstretched hands into the
crankpit above the rotating crankshaft and hand-felt the bearing by touching it in the space between the
rod and the crankweb as the crankshaft revolved and the bottom-end crankpin swept past before their
face. Aspinall inertia governors tried hard, but never properly did the job of slowing the engine speed
when the propeller was flung clear of the water. Then, when the propeller was sent deep, the governor
was always late in supplying the engine with the steam it required to keep the revolutions meaningful.
It was the nature of those steam engines to require that all the moving parts be lubricated by hand.
This included the crosshead bearings and guides, the bottom-end bearings and the crankshaft main
bearings. It will be readily understood that hand lubrication of bearings was a hit or miss affair in
normal circumstances. In heavy seas it was doubly worse. The job itself was always hazardous and in
rough seas it was also very messy. Oil was continually thrown everywhere by the rotating and
reciprocating parts. Mr Lamb’s new ship had two main propulsion diesel engines. In accordance with
triple expansion steam engine design, both diesel engines on Lamb’s ship had likewise open front
crankcases. The diesel engine bearings were similarly hand lubricated but being two-strokes, the
bearing pressures were never relieved in the same way that steam forces relieved bearing pressures in
steam engines. Aspinall inertia speed governing mechanism that was initially designed for steam
engines was also utilised on early diesel engines but in heavy seas this mechanism continued to offer a
similar primitive performance. Combustion blow-past, smoke, fuel-oil fumes and lubricating oil was
everywhere. Bearing temperatures were likewise monitored by watchkeepers “feeling around” by
hand, again a procedure carried over from steam engine practice. But the method was much more
dangerous with Lamb’s diesels because steam engines normally ran at speeds about 80 rpm, whereas
the diesels on his ship were designed to run at 160 rpm. Attempting to “feel” by hand the
temperatures of rotating bottom end bearings on revolving crankshafts that were continually racing in
rough seas, even at reduced engine revs, was fraught with danger. In heavy seas hot bearings were
commonplace. They invariably suffered damage as a result.

On Lamb’s first motor ship the engineers struggled unsuccessfully for three months to keep the
engines operating. After a final breakdown, the vessel was finally towed back to Britain from the Bay
of Biscay. Recognising that their ship’s engines were a technical disaster, the owners replaced them
with new engines of a different design. This was a time when the designs for fuel-injection, reversing,
entablature construction and combustion pressures, i.e., all the relative issues of diesel engine design,
were in their infancy. But more and more diesel machinery was being ordered. There could not have
been much consideration given by owners in those days to the welfare and the onerous workload
placed upon the marine engineers who were called upon to keep these engines operating. What other
explanation can be given in the light of Anglo-Saxon Petroleum, Lamb’s employer, placing an order in
1923 for the construction of twelve 10 000 dwt tankers to be powered by double-acting oil engines,
never before built or tried. The MV Britannic (3) for example, a passenger ship of 26 943 gt,
commissioned from the Harland & Wolff shipyard in Belfast in 1930, had two 10 cylinder double-
acting four stoke engines with blast injection. Each engine developed 13 000bhp. In addition to
electricians there were seven engineers employed on each watch, with the engine room divided into
two compartments. The camshaft areas were generally full of smoke. An oil haze permeated most of
the machinery spaces. Every light had its own halo. Forward of the main engine room there was an
auxiliary engine room that housed four blast diesel engines that drove direct current generators and
four more blast diesel engines that drove the air compressors that provided the 1 000 psi blast air.
Main and auxiliary diesel engine starting air was provided from the 250 psi second stages of the
compressors. This room also housed two Scotch type boilers for machinery and ship services
requirements. As can be readily envisaged, the learning curve required by young marine engineers to
correctly operate all the machinery and the pumping connexions and all the hotel and deck services
would have been immense. This was the era when the major electrical textbook1 for engineer’s
examinations, in providing examples of elementary electrical calculations, said, “No one knows what
electricity really is.” The writer suggests that Mr Lamb had long before recognised the powerlessness
of ignorance and had resolved his life’s work accordingly.

It was during Mr Lamb’s sea service on motor ships between 1914 and 1921 that he wrote “The
Running and Maintenance of the Marine Diesel Engine”, first published in 1919. In 1920 Mr Lamb
was elected to Associate Membership of the Institute of Marine Engineers. It was during his shore
service for Anglo-Saxon Petroleum Company at Singapore between 1921 and 1924 that his book
“Questions and Answers on the Marine Diesel Engine” was published in 1921 with the second edition
following in 1924. Between these years he also submitted his first two papers on the oil engine. Mr
Lamb was promoted from sea staff to shore staff by Anglo-Saxon in 1924. By 1934, the year he was
elected an Associate Member of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, Mr Lamb’s book “Question
and Answers on Diesel, Semi-Diesel and Other Internal Combustion Engines and Air Compressors”,
was in its 5th edition, while the “The Operation of Motor Ship Auxiliary Machinery”, had just been
published. By now he was a Corporate Member of the Institute of Marine Engineers. Between 1936
and 1938 Mr Lamb published four highly informative articles dealing with the operation of marine oil
engines. In particular, “The Operation of Marine Oil Engines”, a paper he presented in 1935 before
the North East Coast District Society of Consulting Marine Engineers and Ship Surveyors, was a rich
provision of the experience he had gained over many years of his superintendency. The same
comments also apply to his 1938 contribution, “Preparing a Diesel Engine for Sea”, clearly written
with junior engineers in mind.

While compression ignition engine propulsion had found great favour with ship owners because of the
savings in fuel costs when compared to steam engine propulsion, until oil companies provided a very
widely distributed supply of refined diesel oil at prices that enabled a motor ship to show a lower fuel
bill than a corresponding steam ship, the progress of diesel propulsion was being constrained.
Furthermore the commercial benefit which results from successfully using furnace oil as fuel in
compression ignition engines in place of refined diesel oil, was obvious to ship owners long before the
Great War, as was the obvious need to replace steam engines by diesel machinery. The cost of

    Ibbetson, W.S. (1935) Electricity for Marine Engineers, E & F.N. Spon, Ltd., London
furnace oil is roughly half the cost of refined diesel oil. Many superintendent engineers of large
shipping companies between the two World Wars had sought to burn boiler oil in diesel engines but
their attempts had not been satisfactory. What made Mr Lamb’s attempt successful, was his
meticulous planning and his personal hands-on involvement. As a corollary to his work, its very
success required shipbuilders and others to implement supportive technical innovations. Among
many other matters, ship design, auxiliary machinery and their allied services all required
manufacturing reassessment. Lubricating oils with different and more specific properties became
necessary. Furnace oil produced problems of abnormally heavy wear and fouling in certain engine
parts, particularly in parts of two stroke engines. Strong acids derived from boiler fuel combustion
intensified corrosion, while more rapid fouling of pistons and cylinders was due to the more highly
acidic combustion products than were produced by diesel oil. Neutralising oil-additives and emulsion
type oils were needed in place of the lubricating oils that were being generally used at the time.
The running of marine diesel machinery upon prolonged load when using furnace oil as fuel failed
because after a comparatively short time carbon would form on the fuel valve nozzles and interfere
with the proper spraying of the fuel inside the combustion space. The resulting incomplete
combustion would cause solid matter to accumulate in the cylinders, the piston rings would jam up and
would permit blow-past and if the engine was a four-stroke, the malfunctioning combustion process
would cause overheating damage to the exhaust valves. Lamb’s interest in the problem took on major
focus when he was made responsible for the technical operation of his employer’s very large fleet of
tankers in 1940. This was the year when 1 059 allied ships were sunk, principally in the Atlantic
Ocean, 471 by submarine. This was the year of Dunkirk, so crucial to Britain’s survival.

Later, with the support of his principals in 1944, Lamb requested the St Peter’s works of Hawthorn
Leslie & Co to build a single cylinder version of the Werkspoor four-stroke engines that powered the
bulk of Anglo-Saxon’s petroleum tanker fleet. Pursuant to his conviction that boiler fuel would be
just as effective in compression ignition engines as distilled fuels providing that the ash, abrasive
matter and the small metallic traces were removed, Lamb engaged the renowned Alfa-Laval
Centrifuge company to do a series of tests upon the different grades of furnace oil that he proposed to
use in his engine tests. It can be well argued that the resulting actions taken by Lamb upon the basis of
the results of tests he requested be made by the Alfa-Laval laboratories, changed the course of diesel
engine design.

Not only was the customary centrifuge design changed in accordance with Lamb’s wishes but an
additional purifier of different design was introduced to extract matter from the fuel that the purifier
could not. New pipeline and heating schemes became necessary. The initial hand cleaning of the ash
and other matter removed by purification-clarification procedures gave way to automatic de-sludging,
making the operation and the machinery spaces far cleaner, far less laborious and properly systematic.

In a hallmark contribution to the knowledge, Lamb presented his results in a notably distinguished
paper “The Burning of Boiler Fuels in Marine Diesel Engines” to the Institute of Marine Engineers at
5.30pm on December 9th 1947. His paper meticulously detailed the results of the many operating trials
he conducted using various grades of furnace oil to operate the single cylinder test engine. He
reported in great detail about cylinder liner and piston ring wear together with all the relevant
temperatures and pressures associated with operating the engine upon varying degrees of load.

Finally, after days of testing, during which sections of the engine were dismantled for running
inspections, improvements, adjustment and cleaning, and confident of success in his project, he put the
engine on full load (530 IHP), for seven days using 1,300 sec (Redwood #1 @ 100º F) boiler oil.
Formerly the engine would have used fuel of about 70 sec (Red #1 @ 100º F).

All the parts used in his test engine for the seven day trial were standard Werkspoor parts. Lamb’s
paper describes in complete detail the condition of all major components of the engine when opened
up for inspection at the completion of the trial. He included a table portraying all the relevant engine
temperatures and pressures and other operating detail with unsurpassed thoroughness. He presented
the results of chemical analysis done upon the carbonaceous deposits taken from the sides of the
piston, to determine whether fuel or lubricating oil provided the major origin. He provided two
comprehensive chemical analyses of the sediment extracted by the purifier and by the clarifier, in
which he detailed percentages of the trace elements and the ash contents in given samples. The colour
of the loaded engine exhaust smoke was critically discussed as was all aspects of fuel injection timing.
But final proof of Lamb’s conjecture that marine propulsion diesel engines could be modified to
operate economically and reliably using furnace oil as fuel, if any proof was needed, was readily
inferable from the power cards taken from the engine during its full load test upon the 1 300 sec oil
(Red #1 @ 100º F). In particular the superposition of two power cards, the one taken when the engine
was running upon diesel fuel and the other taken when the engine was running on heavy fuel at equal
power, to all intents and purposes are identical. The work had absorbed one year. The war was still
progressing and Lamb had shouldered the project in conjunction with all the other arduous maritime
war work for which he was responsible. His success justified his decision to begin fitting the
equipment necessary for the burning of 1 500 sec fuel (Red #1 @ 100º F) upon ships of the Anglo-
Saxon oil tanker fleet.
The first ship he selected was the MT Auricula, a 12 250 dwt 12 knot single screw ship powered by a
four stroke 4 000 IHP Werkspoor diesel engine of eight cylinders with bore, stroke and design size
comparable to his single cylinder test engine. After successful sea trials, the Auricula entered service
to Curacao on August 17th 1946, following the end of the war. Mr Lamb instructed that all details of
the sea performance of the engine using grades of fuel ranging from 1 200 to 1 470 seconds (Red #1 @
100ºF) be recorded. He reported upon the many changes in fuel treatment temperatures and pressures
he implemented as he sought to optimise the economies his ideas had introduced. The results he
reported ranged from accounting for the differences in calorific values of the fuels used, to depicting in
three dimensions the new pipeline layouts he was implementing in his new construction. Almost as an
aside, but a crucial result, he gave evidence obtained from three round voyages, that with all things
considered equal and with diesel oil costing 83/- per ton as opposed to the heavy 1 480 sec (Red #1 @
100ºF) costing 61/- per ton, which had been used by the Auricula, the use of heavy fuel produced
savings in fuel costs of the order of 36%. Obviously greater monetary savings would be applicable to
engines of greater power. All things equal, not only did Lamb’s work translate into cheaper fuel
operating costs, it also reflected advantageously upon the tonnage of the reserve bunkers and cargo
carried over the life of a ship. Noting that a 300 000 dwt tanker today might consume on average 69.5
kg of heavy fuel costing US$13.90 per minute puts Lamb’s contribution into the perspective of today.
Mr Lamb’s lecture consisted of twenty-four pages. The recorded discussion and the author’s reply
comprised a further fourteen pages. Such was the respect accorded Mr Lamb when he presented his
paper at the Institute’s Minories building that the names of his colleagues who attended not only
reflected highly upon Mr Lamb, but also upon the Institute’s as a centre of advanced learning. To
mention only a few of the many internationally known engineers and scientists who made important
contributions to the knowledge, the names of Mr P Jackson2, Mr G J Lugt3, Commander (E) L Baker4
DSC., (RN) are prominent.

  P Jackson Director and Manager of Research and Development, William Doxford and Sons (Engineers Ltd).
  G. Lugt Technical Director, Werkspoor Diesel Engines. Amsterdam.
  Commander (E) L Baker DSC. Chief Superintendent Engineer, Alfred Holt and Company, Liverpool.
Probably the most instructive comment on the night was made by Mr C W G Martin (visitor), who
noted “that while furnace oil as fuel had been tried previously, this was the first time that it had been
tried successfully”, thus confirming the distinguished contribution that Lamb had made.
In recognition of this major advance in marine engineering, Mr Lamb was awarded the Institute’s
Denny Gold Medal. This is an annual award given by the Institute to the member who has been
judged to have presented the most worthy paper. The medal is accompanied by a certificate and a
modest monetary award. Three years later in 1950 Mr Lamb presented “Further Developments in the
Burning of Boiler Fuels in Marine Diesel Engines”, a paper equalling in detailed magnitude the value
of his first paper. He reported the results of further sea experience of the MT Auricula and in doing so
provided full, free and frank comments.
The wealth of accurate detail covering all aspects of the ship’s machinery operation could not have
been surpassed. Throughout the paper, where Lamb found problems he discussed them, explained
how he corrected them, and then pointed to the way of the future. While his paper reported largely
upon the Auricula and its eight cylinder four-cycle Werkspoor diesel engine, Lamb also included
discussion about Burmeister & Wain, MAN and Doxford engines thereby extending his use of furnace
oil into the field of two cycle and other makes of engines. Of the many internationally known marine
engineers present on the night of Lamb’s presentation, the remarks of three speakers attesting to the
benefits from Lamb’s work are mentioned. Mr F G van Asperin5 of Werkspoor reported that upon
learning Mr Lamb proposed to use 3 500 sec (Red #1 @ 100ºF) fuel upon the Auricula, Werkspoor
followed his lead by introducing a similar fuel to a supercharged two-stroke engine that was available
upon their test-bed. Mr van Asperin corroborated Lamb’s successful use of furnace oil as fuel.
Commander L Baker remarked that his own results using boiler fuel for the operation of a diesel
generator engine were so satisfactory that all the ships in the Ocean Steamship fleet were being
converted to run on boiler oil. Mr A G Arnold6 also reported experience using boiler oil as fuel in one
of the motor ships in his company, adding that as soon as self-cleaning purifiers were available,
conversion to heavy fuel usage would be authorised. In presenting his results Mr Lamb had
established the employment of furnace oil as fuel for marine diesel propulsion engines.

In March 1952, the Shell tanker Auris crossed the Atlantic from the UK propelled solely by an electric
propulsion system driven by a gas turbine. The voyage was trouble free and the 12 000 dwt tanker
averaged 7.25 kts for the voyage. It was the first time that such a commercial maritime voyage had
been made using a gas turbine. In a paper he presented before a distinguished audience of Marine
Engineers in London in 1953, backed by his directors, Mr Lamb reported in detail the results obtained
over two years of operating the first gas turbine to be used for the purpose of propulsion of a merchant
ship. He presented his reasons for pioneering the use of gas turbines at sea based upon the following
    (i)    When lying idle, the amount of capital not represented by machinery is of the order of 60%
           for cargo ships and 80% of the total in the case of passenger ships. It follows that unless a
           ship’s hull is badly damaged or requires extensive repairs, the bulk of the capital is non-
           productive when machinery is being repaired.
    (ii)   The machinery should be such as to enable its use for propulsion at sea and cargo handling
           in port, in order to fully utilise the capital costs. In the case of standard motor tankers, the
           cargo handling machinery lies idle for 92% of the ship’s operational time. In the case of

    F G van Asperin Technical Director, Werkspoor Diesel Engines, Amsterdam
    A G Arnold Chief Superintendent Engineer. Alfred Holt and company, Liverpool.
             steam ships, while main boilers can be utilised for cargo work, their usage reduces the time
             available for their maintenance and propulsion efficiency can therefore suffer.

The Auris was launched on the Tyne by the Hawthorn Leslie yard in 1948 to Mr Lamb’s technical
specifications. The powering was by four 1 105 bhp diesel engines that generated propulsion by
electric motor. The engine room layout provided for the use of heavy fuel together with provision for
future substitution of one of the diesels by a gas turbine that Mr Lamb had also specified.

In conjunction with Mr Duggan, his assistant and co-author, Mr Lamb’s work took the knowledge
about marine use of gas turbines a major forward step. His comprehensive study documented not only
the two years’ machinery operation but it also established a platform from which further progress in
the field could be made. In an industry where machinery reliability is crucial, such information had
not been known before. Lamb’s conjectures which led to his implementation of a combined diesel and
gas turbine merchant vessel (CODAG) system have translated 50 years on, to such majestic liners as
the new Queen Mary 2 . The Lamb – Duggan paper occupies eighteen pages in the 1953 Institute’s
Transactions. The contributions and expert discussion adds a further eleven pages. The names of the
many engineers of international repute who contributed to the knowledge of the lecture are too
numerous to mention here but they include Sir Harold Roxbee Cox, famous for his aeronautical, gas
turbine and other work; Mr John Bulman a Hawthorn-Leslie director, and Mr B E G Forsling, the
designer of the British Thompson-Houston Auris gas turbine. Such was the esteem afforded to the
authors of the paper that the Institute of Marine Engineers awarded them the Denny Gold medal for
1953. It was Mr Lamb’s second Denny Gold Medal.

Until Mr Lamb published his seminal paper in April 1952 detailing the reasons that were associated
with frequently disastrous diesel engine crankcase explosions, seagoing marine engineers did their job
by necessarily relying upon the diesel engine design criteria of the engine builders coupled with the
assurances provided by classification authority rules. The paper Mr Lamb presented before the
Institution of Mechanical Engineers entitled “Explosions in Enclosed Crankcases of Reciprocating
Engines: Their cause, Effect and Possible Remedy”, created a debate that exposed the flaws in this
trusting and complacent belief. The paper was judged to be of such valuable merit as to earn the
author the Herbert Ackroyd Stuart Prize7 which is awarded triennially by The Institution of
Mechanical Engineers. This is a very prestigious prize. Lamb’s paper reports not only his meticulous
technical investigation of the likely sources and consequences of crankcase explosions, but also points
up the wide divergence of views of the classification authorities on the requirements for crankcase
relief valve venting areas, explosion flame suppression and crankcase strength. The premier UK
classification society, Lloyds Register, in fact had no stipulated design criteria associated with the
internal pressures a marine diesel engine crankcase should be expected to withstand before bursting.
They merely stipulated ‘robust construction’. Where Lloyds Register recommended 1 square inch of
vent area per 5 cubic feet of crankcase volume, the classification society American Bureau of Shipping
recommended an area 2.5 times larger. The more Mr Lamb delved into his topic the stronger the
inferences became that the diesel engine builders, together with the classification societies they utilised
and who were responsible for framing the governing design rules, could well be judged deficient in
their role of safeguarding the sea-going men who operated their approved machinery.

  This is a hallmark triennial prize begun in 1927 under a legacy left to the Institution by Mr Herbert Ackroyd Stuart whose
name was so closely associated with the development of the heavy-oil engine. The prize is awarded for the best paper on
the subject of “The Origin and Development of Heavy-Oil Engines”. It carries with it an Institution certificate and a small
On the issue of crankcase vent area, Mr C C Pounder, the technical director of the internationally
renowned Harland & Wolff shipbuilding and engineering company in Belfast, said that in the fifteen
previous years H&W used a ‘vent areas to crankcase volume ratio’ of 1/10, only recently improving
the ratio to 1/2. On the matter of crankcase construction strength, it could be inferred that one expert
in attendance sought to excuse Lloyds Register by saying that crankcase structures capable of
withstanding internal pressures above 5 psi were difficult to design. Yet another expert volunteered
his opinion that since ‘hot-spots’ in operating compression ignition engines could never be entirely
eliminated he urged the development of non-inflammable lubricants as a solution to the dangers of
explosion. In essence, Mr Lamb’s paper had exposed the overall industry to the inference that it was
deficient in not understanding that the dangerous machinery designs which had culminated in the
shocking deaths aboard the Reina del Pacifico, still prevailed unchanged. Mr Lamb presented results
upon crankcase explosion testing.        He discussed the resulting consequences of two crankcase
explosions suffered by one of his company’s own engines and provided evidence of the effectiveness
of increasing the vent areas. He discussed explosive oil mixtures, temperatures, explosive flame
propagation and pressures. He introduced, tested and reported upon flame retardation traps. He gave
recommendations about the capabilities and the designs of crankcase pressure relief valves and the
way to prevent secondary explosions. Secondary explosions occur when gases unburnt by the primary
explosion cause as a result the formation of a second explosive mixture that is ignited by the original
flame propagation. Then, notwithstanding the major advances he had already reported to his audience
regarding the prevention of crankcase explosion allied with other associated matters, Mr Lamb
concluded his lecture by announcing he proposed to do further experimental work and to report upon it
in due course. He intended to utilise a 1 005 bhp trunk piston engine taken from his Anglo-Saxon tank
ship Auris and by producing controlled crankcase explosions in an operating engine, to provide from
all his tests the crucial design knowledge that was essential to better protect human life. Whether
intended or not, this concluding proposal by Mr Lamb, coupled with the work that he was now
reporting on the night, had the effect of diminishing the credibility of diesel engine builders and the
associated classification authorities. Vaguely referred to but left unmentioned, was the fact that four
full years had elapsed since the twenty-eight men died in the engine room of the Reina del Pacifico. In
essence it could readily be inferred from his paper that Mr Lamb had decided to put himself in charge
of finding the urgently needed solutions to the issues of diesel engine crankcase explosions.
Mr Lamb’s lecture was attended by 153 people, 113 of whom were members of the Institution, many
of them distinguished in their respective fields. The president of the Institution, Sir David Pye,
proposed the vote of thanks to conclude a most memorable night.

Mr Lamb was a member of the North East Coast Institute of Engineers and Shipbuilders. This was a
prominent learned society founded in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne in 1884 with membership drawn from the
many famous shipyards and engineering works in the region.
His contributions to this Institute include,
        The preservation of oil tanker hulls. Trans V69, 1952-53
        Cathodic protection of cargo spaces in oil tankers. Trans V70, 1953-54
        The recovery of oil from sludge in oil tankers. Trans V74, 1957-58
The first two papers were written jointly with Mr E V Mathias of International Paints UK. Such was
the merit of the first paper that the Institute awarded the authors their prestigious M C James medal.
Mr Lamb was also a Fellow of the Institute of Petroleum.

By any hallmark the contribution to the art and the science of engineering by John Lamb was clearly
superb and a wonderful example to engineers of his own and future generations. Associated in this was
the generous manner in which the directors of Anglo-Saxon Petroleum Company (Shell), supported
Mr Lamb in all of his enterprises during his association with them. Their manner is worthy of
emulation today in as much as the directors of his company never sought applause that correctly
belonged to Mr Lamb and generous because by permitting Mr Lamb to publish all his work, benefit
was brought as much to others as it was brought to Anglo-Saxon, since Lamb’s published work
contained technical and other detail which normally would never be made available to other
superintendent engineers and ship-owners. This was a period of Britain’s commendable sharing of
technical knowledge. It was also the period where there was no agenda by any of Britain’s leading
ship or associated machinery engine builders or owners, to cloak the brilliance of any individual under
the euphemism of ‘team work’, as appears is the management practice of today using the cerement of
‘Corporate Innovation’. Rather, it was those engineers at the forefront of technical and innovative
expertise who were eulogised. It has also been the writer’s experience that all new ideas and
innovations can be traced to an individual author, the spark, and not to a conforming ‘team’ nor to
‘management’, per se.

Accolades belong rightfully to the creative person responsible and it seems to be the duty of the
professional engineering bodies to their members to positively identify and promote this. The writer
suggests that the award of a MSc or a Doctorate by a university at the behest of a professional
engineering body, upon the basis of published excellent innovative work identified to an engineer,
should be warmly encouraged by the profession. It is difficult to conceive a better way to promote
both national advantage and professional prestige.

Mr Lamb was a professing Christian. He came from a life that was all struggle and encounters with
difficulty; groping in the dark after greater light but always persevering in dedicated earnest. The
awards accorded to him were recognition by his peers that he was not only marching in the front line
with his colleagues but was carrying the banner.

John Lamb O.B.E died on the 12th August 1958, aged 67. He was survived by his wife and their
married daughter. In the world of technical education with its incalculable value to the prosperity of all
nations, Mr Lamb’s contribution in the marine engineering field was sovereign.
Let us therefore honour Mr Lamb a hero, as an engineer.

The author would like to thank Mr J McRae of the Institute of Marine Engineers, Science and
Technology and Mr K Moore of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers for their helpful research of
their library records. Further appreciation is expressed to the Institution of Mechanical Engineers for
providing details of Mr Lamb’s Membership. The author was also aided in this work by recollections
and notes received from Ian Buxton, Richard Carter, Anthony Wickens, Tom Scott, Maurice Clyde
and other engineering colleagues residing on the UK North East Coast, and gives his thanks
accordingly. Thanks are also given to Maurice James of the Sydney Branch IMarEST, who sailed as a
junior engineer on both the Britannic and the Georgic, for his recollections.

The diesel engine drawings are abstracted from Marine Diesel Oil Engines - A manual of marine
engine practice 9th edition, Sothern and Bowden (authors), James Munro & Co Ltd Glasgow
(publishers), to whom the author acknowledges with thanks.

The bibliography is a list of contributions to the science of engineering published by Mr Lamb
contained in the IMarEST library. This present work focuses upon certain selected topics. Therefore
not all the references mentioned are referred to directly in the work.
       Backward Thinking (1954) John Lamb Publications
       Oil Tanker Cargoes – their safe and efficient handling (1954) Charles Griffin & Co Ltd.
       The Operation of Motorship Auxiliary Machinery Vols 1 (1934) and 2 (1935). Charles
             Griffin & Co Ltd. London.
       Questions and Answers on the Marine Diesel Engine (1965). Charles Griffin & Co Ltd.
       Questions and Answers on the Construction and Operation of Diesel, Semi-Diesel and
       Other Internal Combustion Engines, & Air Compressors
              (1946) Charles Griffin & Co Ltd. London.
       The Running and Maintenance of the Marine Diesel Engine. 3rd Edition (1927) Charles
             Griffin & Co Ltd. London
       The Running and Maintenance of the Marine Diesel Engine. 5th Edition (1945) Charles
             Griffin & Co Ltd. London
       The Running and Maintenance of the Marine Diesel Engine. 5th Edition (1949) Charles
             Griffin & Co Ltd. London
       The Running and Maintenance of the Marine Diesel Engine. 6th Edition (1958) Charles
               Griffin & Co Ltd. London
Journal Articles.
       The Burning of Boiler Fuels in Marine Diesel Engines (1948)
       Diesel engine operation Notes (1938)
       Fuel combustion adjustments of diesel engines (1936)
       Further developments in the burning of boiler fuels in Marine diesel engines (1950)
       Operation of a marine gas turbine under sea conditions (1953)
       The operation of marine oil engines (1936)
       Preparing a diesel engine for sea (1938)

Appendix 1 depicts Mr Lamb’s application to join the Institution of Mechanical Engineers and
indicates his election as an Associate Member in 1934.
Appendix 2 depicts Mr Lamb’s transfer from Associate Member to Member in 1950.

Appendix 1

Appendix 2

It seems essential to the writer that the professional engineering bodies retain a tight scrutiny upon the
content of university and other qualifications they accept for any level of professional membership.
Engineering is, as the original charter of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers emphasises, both an
art and a science. Any assessment of qualifications for eminent membership must include
consideration of one or both of these aspects as associated to engineering.

Engineers who decide upon the steelwork restoration of a ship following severe grounding such as was
experienced by the Nottingham, or the safe repairs required to a high pressure water-tube boiler after
an incendiary superheater-uptake fire, or a grounding that has moved the bedplate of a 30 000 kW
diesel engine, do so utilising vanguard experience gained over many years. The experience they bring
to a task embraces ingenuity, intuition and wisdom. Their decisions are trusted.

As a corollary, in the world’s shipping industry the value of actual marine engineering experience
deserves preponderant regard in the award of a Chief Engineer’s certificate. Difficult to quantify yet
readily recognisable by peers, experience is the pathway to leadership and is therefore a crucial
component, above all supervacaneous learning, in the status of Chartered Engineer.
Mr Lamb was an exemplar of this attribute.

“Lord, Thou hast made this world below the shadow of a dream,
        An',taught by time, I tak' it so - exceptin' always Steam.
From coupler-flange to spindle-guide I see Thy Hand, O God -
        Predestination in the stride o' yon connectin'-rod”.

                     McAndrew And His Engine – Rudyard Kipling


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