On October 21, 2011, the day the US signed the free trade agreement with Panama, Colombia and South Korea, a group NYU students and faculty headed over to the Panama Canal. The group was eager to see a Panamax approach from the Pedro Miguel locks to the Miraflores locks and then be lowered down to see level for a graceful exit into the Pacific Ocean. In summary, we were looking to see something like this video timelapse.

Instead of seeing a Panamax, we were greeted at the canal by the Titan Crane.

The Titan Crane @ Miraflores Locks
October 21, 2011

The crane entered the canal around 10:30am and lingered until almost 2pm. What
was it? What was it doing?

Determined to know more, Christie Agnese, an NYU Graduate student started doing some research. She learned that the floating crane Titan was built in Germany in 1941 and moved to Long Beach, California in 1948…. In preparation of closing down the Long Beach Naval Shipyard, the crane was sold to the Panama Canal, where it will be used for maintenance work on the canal and its lock doors, etc (Argonautics.com, 2010).

The “Titan” was actually one of three built by the Germans. Of the other two, the British got one but lost it in a storm while towing it across the English channel, and the Russians got the other, but no one seems to know what ever became of it. While in Long Beach, the Titan was known as either “Herman the German”, or simply the “German Crane (Wikipapia.org, 2009).

So in summary, we witnessed a piece of German engineering in action.  According to Christie, “what was really interesting about the Titan is how it was transported it from California to Panama”.

They used the “dry transportation option using a self-propelled heavy-lift vessel. This method was selected the wet tow approach was out of the question since that’s what sunk the sister crane in the English Channel and they couldn’t take it apart because of the following reason:

“Since limited crane capacity is available in Panama, the crane needed to be delivered fully erect, as re-assemble upon arrival was not an option” (Argonautics.com, 2010, para 2).

According to Christie, is this essentially saying that no one would know how to put it back together in Panama if they took it apart? Not sure if that’s what it is saying, but if it is then that DOES say something about the type of complex German engineering this machine really has.

It turns out the Titan was installing a one of the doors on the first set of Miraflores locks on the eastern side. Oh, and yes, we did finally see a Panamax!


Titan crane analysis (2010). Argonautics.com Retrieved from http://www.argonautics.com/Projects/Titan%20Crane%20Analysis.htm

Titan, floating crane, Panama (2009). Retrieved from http://wikimapia.org/9957480

What is the capacity of a Panamax Vessel? Retrieved from http://www.ehow.com/facts_5033238_capacity-panamaxvessel.

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3 thoughts on “Panama Canal – Titan Crane

  • November 1, 2011 at 12:04 am

    That was truly an impressive day at the canal! I can't believe we were lucky enough to witness all that we did! 1. Watching the Titan move into the canal, 2. Seeing the Titan in action carrying a 100 yr old lock door, 3. Seeing the lock door being soldered onto a canal hinge and 4. Watching a Panamax that traveled from quite a distance! Singapore! Unforgettable!

  • November 6, 2011 at 7:23 am

    The Titan crane was great to watch in person. I had a feeling there was something special to this crane. The history behind this gigantic industrial toy is interesting. The crane traveled around the world before finding its home in Panama City, Panama. The Panama Canal is a must see for all visitors to Panama.

  • January 18, 2016 at 12:27 pm

    I worked at Long Beach Naval Shipyard from 1976 to 1995 as a welder and was assigned to many jobs that required support from the German Crane. At the end of your article it is stated that no one seems to know what became of the crane that Russia seized at the end of WWII. As part of my indoctrination into the workforce at LBNS, I was told that the Russians lost their crane in a mountain pass while transporting it back to their country. It turns out that neither of these statements is accurate. The crane is currently located at the Admiralty Shipyard in Saint Petersburg. Here is a link to a news article that was posted today: http://finance.yahoo.com/news/kremlin-just-launched-claims-quietest-204149914.html The third photo near the bottom of the article clearly shows the German Crane that was salvaged by Russia.

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