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Famous Four Stackers: RMS Aquitania

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After White Star’s  Olympic proved successful even though she was not intended to be fast, Cunard planned a third four funneled liner which entered the water in April 1913. This was intended to give Cunard their own trio of large transatlantic liners, however Lusitania was sunk in 1915. Now this new ship would replace Lusitania and continue the tandem crossings from Europe to America and back.

The name Aquitania was derived from a Roman division of southwest Gaul extending from the Pyrenees to the Garonne River known as Aquitaine.

There was great sucHMHS_Aquitaniacess with Mauretania and Lusitania. This new, larger ship was ordered to compete with White Star. This ship was not intended to hold any kind of speed record. She was built for stability and luxury. Her dimensions slightly exceeded those of White Star’s Olympic trio. 

Her maiden voyage came the day after the disaster that sank the Canadian Empress of Ireland, so the world’s gaze was not completely focused on the first voyage of this great ship. A month later, Europe was at war. She made only three round trips across the sea before being requisitioned by the Admiralty. She was painted wartime gray and sent out to transport troops. In 191hmtaq5, she was converted into a hospital ship and became HMHS Aquitania. After the Britannic struck a mine and sank, Aquitania returned to trooping duty with a brief lay-up in 1917. Aquitania was repainted with the odd ‘dazzle’ paint scheme as a type of camouflage. On one single voyage, she transported over 8,000 soldiers.

By 1919, the war was over and Aquitania was sent for a refit. Her coal burning engines were converted to burn oil which was much less dirty and much more efficient. She was also fitted with a new wheelhouse located directly above the original to increase visibility.

As time progressed, Aquitania proved to be a very popular and profitable liner. The 1920s proved to be the time for this heroic ship. During the prohibition years, she took Americans on ‘booze cruises’ to nowhere to allow Americans to escape the laws. (A British ship does not have to abide by American laws.) Open immigration in the US had ended by the 1920s but ocean liners were still the only means of travel between continents.  Celebrities and politicians favored Aquitania over other ships, nicknaming her ‘the ship beautiful.’

Cunard had plans for a new liner to replace Aquitania in the late 30s. These plans were thwarted by the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939. Queen Mary has entered service and has been repainted gray and has began transporting troops. Aquitania was enlisted to perform the same duties. Aquitania_in_her_twilight_years

This ship began transporting American and Canadian troops to Europe, but then she was called for trooping service between Australia and North Africa. When the focus of the war moved to the Pacific, Aquitania was again called upon to serve. She transported Australian troops to New Guinea and Netherlands East Indies. Aquitania sailed more than 500,000 miles, and carried nearly 400,000 soldiers, to and from places as far as New Zealand, Australia, the South Pacific, Greece and the Indian Ocean.

When the war was over,  Aquitania transported warbrides and their children to Canada under charter from the Canadian government. After this, Aquitania was removed from service. Her hard use during the war had worn out this grand lady. She was too expensive to be refit in order to comply with safety codes and was sent off to the scrap yard in 1950.

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FAMOUS FOUR STACKERS: Olympic, Titanic and Britannic

 

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Postcard for RMS Olympic in 1911

RMS Olympic:

In the early 20th century, there was quite the competition on the Atlantic shipping immigrants from Europe to the United States. Ships were considered national symbols and stood for technological might. Germany, France, Italy, Sweden, Canada and the United States all tried to one-up each other. It was a battle of ship building on both sides of the Atlantic. The United States began the competition much later than the European countries. Great Britain ruled the waves on and off for about fifty years. The great Cunard Line was Britain’s national pride. White Star began as a British company, but was bought by the Oceanic Steam Navigation Company which was American owned.

When Cunard introduced their two ocean greyhounds as a response to the German four funneled liners, White Star saw the need to compete. They would plan not two, but three very large four funneled liners of their own. They were not to be focused on speed, but size and luxury. Their names would have Greek influence and they were to stun the world. They were to be called Olympic, Titanic and Gigantic. They were to be the epitome of style on the seas.

Passenger accommodations aboard were greatly improved over any other Atlantic liner of the day. There was much publicity about this massive project undertaken by White Star.

Olympic passed her sea trials with flying colors, and set sail on her maiden voyage in June of 1911. On the very day she left for that first trip across the ocean, her sister was launched.

Olympic suffered damage after  a harrowing collision with the British cruiser HMS Hawke. Both ships were required to be removed from service for repairs. The damage to Olympic wasn’t severe enough to keep her down for long.

When the Great War erupted, many ships were called into wartime duty. Olympic was no exception. She was painted in a dazzle color scheme meant as a sort of camouflage and was used as a troop transport.

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Dressed for war

During the war, Olympic is reported to have carried up to 201,000 troops and other personnel. She gained the nickname ‘Old Reliable’ by the troops and was considered a celebrated war hero.

After the war, Olympic returned to her peacetime service as a transatlantic liner. First, she would undergo a refit and there were changes to her interiors.

With the loss of two sister ships, Olympic needed Atlantic running mates. Germany was forced to give White Star two of their liners as repayment for sinking dozens of British ships during the war. The Columbus became Homeric, and Bismarck became Majestic.

The Olympic class liners were different from other liners of the day as the third class passengers were not forced to sleep in dormitory style rooms with dozens of people occupying one space. There were individual rooms with two to ten beds. This allowed for more privacy and boost morale of the class. The accommodations aboard were a vast improvement over other ships in each class aboard. The first class was quite opulent and posh. Second class was as first class aboard other ships.

Although she was the most successful of the three ships designed, Olympic’s career was not without mishap. In September of 1911, Olympic collided with the British cruiser HMS Hawke. The British cruiser was designed to sink other ships by ramming them, so the damage to Olympic was decently severe. There was no loss of life in this incident, but questions were raised about the liner’s size. An inquiry stated that the suction current produced by Olympic’s massive hull pulled the Hawke into her side. The completion of Titanic was delayed to allow for the repair of her sister.

A woman named Violet Jessop was aboard Olympic when the collision with the Hawke occurred. She also survived the sinking of Olympic’s sister Titanic, and their sister Britannic later during The Great War. A biography of Miss Jessop’s life has been released and it is quite the read.

RMS Olympic in NYC

RMS Olympic in NYC

In October of 1912, Olympic was removed from service due to the sinking of her near twin, Titanic. This was needed to upgrade the safety features which included more than doubling the number of lifeboats. Water tight bulkheads were extended up to B deck instead of the D or E deck as originally designed. This configuration had spelled doom for Titanic and correction was required.

Another incident for Olympic happened in 1934 during a period of heavy fog. The sea lanes approaching the American shore were marked by light ships. Olympic rammed and sank the Nantucket lightship killing 7 of the 11 crew members aboard. The survivors were rescued by Olympic, but the others could not be saved.

Olympic enjoyed a decently long career, being loved by many despite her similarity to her doomed sister. Her service went on through the merger of White Star with Cunard. The introduction of the Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth meant that the older White Star ships had become obsolete. Olympic was withdrawn and sent to the scrap yard.

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RMS Titianic

This particular ship is so widely talked about, that I will only touch on the most important aspects. Resources about details are widely found in books and on the internet. Titanic is iconic because of many reasons. Her demise was a world changing event.

The second of the Olympic class liners planned for the White Star Line was highly celebrated as she would be larger than her slightly older sister Olympic. This ship was advertised as nearly unsinkable and attracted the quite wealthy and ostentatious American and European travelers. Aboard the fateful maiden voyage were the likes of Isidor Strauss, founder of Macy’s department stores, the Countess of Rothes, Sir and Lady Duff-Gordon,  Colonel Gracie, Mr. and Mrs. John Astor (one of the wealthiest men in the world), Benjamin Guggenheim, and a variety of other extremely well to do people.

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Titanic at Southampton

 

Fourteen years before the Titanic’s maiden voyage, a book was published called Futility. In this book, a ship, the largest the world had seen, carrying the rich and famous, hit an iceberg in the north Atlantic and sank. Thousands of people died because there were not enough lifeboats for everyone. Who was to know that this exact event would actually take place. The name of the ship in this book: Titan

As Titanic was preparing to leave Southampton on her first voyage on April 10, 1912,  there was a near-collision. The Titanic’s engines created a suction that pulled the SS New York from her moorings. The two ships came within feet of hitting. There was a fire in one of the coal bunkers as the ship left port. There were a variety of things that attempted to keep Titanic from beginning her maiden voyage to New York. After this near mishap, quite a few people left the ship when it stopped in Cherbourg.

On the fourth night of her maiden voyage, April 14, Titanic struck an iceberg in the North Atlantic and sank bow first in just under three hours. The lack of lifeboats for all passengers and people not believing the ship would actually sink cost the lives of 1,517 people.

New York Times reports Titanic disaster

New York Times reports Titanic disaster

The aftermath of this great disaster brought about changes in regulations. Now it was required that a ship carry more than enough lifeboats for every person on board, the look out crew must have proper equipment to see ahead of the ship, watertight bulkheads must extend above the waterline and the International Ice Patrol was founded to keep track of drifting ice in the commercial sea lanes. A very long and drawn out investigation revealed many problems with the operation of the ship and not only the White Star Line, but all other shipping lines were required to change. Never again would the sea take the lives of so many people due to oversight and negligence.

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From James Cameron’s ‘Titanic’ 1997

Over the years, the sinking of this ship has been debated and talked about all around the world. Theories developed that seem absurd. One of these is that because of the collision between Olympic and Hawke, the Olympic was swapped with Titanic. The theory states that the damage to Olympic was worse than conveyed and was swapped with her sister and purposely sunk.

World interest in the wreck of Titanic was sparked again in 1985, when famed oceanographer Robert Ballard located the sunken ship two miles beneath the Atlantic’s surface. It was then confirmed that the ship had broken in two at the surface. 73 years after that fateful night, lights were shined on the RMS Titanic. Conversations and debates were sparked again about that night in April of 1912.

Public fascination with the story of how the great ship went down has led to books and movies. ‘A Night To Remember’ was a very popular book written by Walter Lord based on the eyewitness accounts of survivors. This book was later turned into a very popular motion picture in 1958. Other films would include several films called Titanic before 1958, ‘The Unsinkable Molly Brown’ in 1964, ‘Raise the Titanic’ in 1980 based on a fictional novel by Clive Cussler, ‘Titanica’ narrated by Leonard Nimoy which was a documentary film made in the IMAX format, ‘Titanic’ in 1997 directed by James Cameron and winner of 11 Academy Awards, ‘SOS Titanic in 1979, ‘Ghosts of the Abyss’ which was another IMAX documentary based on the underwater dives by James Cameron to film 1997’s ‘Titanic’, and ‘Titanic II’ about the rebuilding of the ship and another untimely demise (not a very good movie). There have been several miniseries made for television on the subject as well.

Clive Palmer, and Australian billionaire announced his plans to recreate Titanic as accurately as possible but still falling within the newest safety guidelines set by SOLAS. I believe this to just be a massive and expensive rumor. As of 2015, not a single part of this ship has been constructed. No other ship disaster in all of history has stayed in the attention of society.

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HMHS Britannic

After the sinking of the now legendary RMS Titanic in 1912, the final Olympic class liner required many changes. Most of these changes were made before this ship ever entered the water. Her hull was wider than the previous Olympic liners partly due to a new double hull design and redesigned expansion joints.

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HMHS Britannic painting by Ken Marschall

 

It was finally launched on 26 February 1914 as the Britannic. White Star announced that it would begin sailing the Southampton-New York route in the spring of 1915. The outbreak of World War One changed this and it was converted into a hospital ship with over 3,300 beds. On 13 November it was fitted out medically and on 8 December commissioned as a hospital ship and handed over in International Red Cross livery. The Britannic arrived at Liverpool, from Belfast, on 12 December 1915, but it did not leave on its maiden voyage to Mudros until 23 December.

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On November 21, 1916, Britannic was in the Mediterranean sea just off the coast of Italy when a huge explosion rocked the ship. It is still debated whether this was a torpedo strike, or a mine. The nurses had opened the portholes to bring fresh air into the wards. The damage to the ship wasn’t immediately fatal, but the opened windows caused water to pour in. As it settled by the head abandon ship was ordered. Two boats were lowered and slashed by the still rotating propellers killing 30. One hour after the explosion the ship keeled over to starboard and sank. The survivors were picked up by the escorting destroyers Foxhound and Scourge and the armed merchant cruiser Heroic. Two of the survivors had also been aboard the Titanic. The light cruiser HMS Foresight berthed at Port St. Nikolo and the French tug Goliath also assisted in the rescue. Captain Bartlett was the last to leave the ship and only 30 people died from the large number on board. The Britannic was the largest ever, 48,158 tons, British Merchant Service war loss.The ship lurched to a pronounced list to starboard causing many of the lifeboats to become unusable. 30 lives were lost in this sinking, the largest ship lost in WWI. Violet Jessop, who was serving aboard as a nurse, wrote her account of the mayhem.

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FAMOUS FOUR STACKERS: LUSITANIA AND MAURETANIA

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Lusitania (right) and Mauretania (left)

In the early 20th century, the passenger trade on the Atlantic was booming. Immigration from Europe to the US was most of the cause of the rise in transatlantic travel. There were many major players on the Atlantic lines. England’s presence with the Cunard Line and White Star Line inspired other nations to build fast liners of their own. Germany flexed its muscles with their four very quick, very large liners with the soon to become iconic four funnels. Cunard saw these ships as a threat, and planned their own superliners. These ships would be large, fast, and luxurious. They would also be fitted with the latest engine technology called turbines. Steam turbines were first tested by a very small ship called Turbinia. The success of the trials of Turbinia led to this new type of propulsion to be fitted onto Cunard’s two new superships. These new engines would be able to drive a ship at much higher speeds with much greater efficiency.   American financier J. P. Morgan’s International Mercantile Marine Co. was attempting to monopolize the shipping trade, and had already acquired Britain’s other major transatlantic line White Star. In the face of these threats the Cunard Line was determined to regain the prestige of ocean travel back not only to the company, but also to the United Kingdom. In 1903, Cunard Line and the British government reached an agreement to build two superliners, Lusitania and Mauretania, With talks of war in Europe, the English government agreed to subsidize Cunard’s new builds with the stipulation that if Europe did come to war, their ships could be turned into troop ships and armed merchant cruisers. Little did anyone know how important these ships would become as tension mounted on the world stage. lusitania-dining-1441the largest ship the world. Enter Lusitania in June of 1906. Lusitania was named after an ancient Roman province including approximately all of modern Portugal south of the Douro river and part of modern Spain. Built in Clyde Bank in Scotland by John Brown and Company, she was at the time had yet seen. Following the success of the German greyhounds, ships would continue to increase in size over the next several decades. Lusitania was tested at speeds in excess of 24 knots, easily making her the fastest liner yet. Lusitania was 31,550 GRT and 787 ft long. Her interiors were sumptuous with a First Class dining room rising three decks and topped with an ornate dome. Her interiors were considered brighter than most liners due to the extensive use of plaster instead of wood. She was designed to carry 2,198 passengers and 827 crew members. The accommodations in third class (or steerage) were markedly improved compared to immigrant liners previous. This larger ship design meant more room for the masses of third class passengers making their way to Ellis Island.

RMS Lusitania

Lusitania was Scottish built. Other significant Cunard liners would be as well. Lusitania did not break the speed record on her maiden voyage due to fog, but she did later on. Her fastest recorded speed was 26.7 knots.  She was immediately popular.

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The next year, Lusitania’s running mate Mauretania was completed in 1907. Mauretania’s 31,938 GRT was slightly larger than Lusitania’s 31,550 GRT. Mauretania was also faster, after installing new propellers. Mauretania and Lusitania ran opposite each other on the Atlantic passenger trade, with one ship heading to New York while the other headed to Southampton. This was an efficient way to have continuous trade between the US and Europe. The reduction in travel time by use of high speed made both of these ships quite popular with the immigrants and Americans traveling to Europe. It was a momentous time for Great Britain with these two ships dominating the Atlantic service.

Hostilities between Germany and the rest of Europe came to a head in 1914 and Germany declared war on Great Britain. Mauretania was called on by the Admiralty to be transformed into an armed merchant cruiser. Eventually, she and Lusitania were released from duties and Mauretania was laid up due to falling immigrant trade during the war, while Lusitania resumed passenger service. The decision to have Lusitania run passenger trade during war-time would have dire consequences.

Lusitania was painted dark gray and black to mask the nation she belonged to, but was still required to fly the British flag. In November of 1914, Germany declared the North Sea a war zone. Without warning, Germans would sing ANY Allied ships. On 17 April 1915, a warning was published a warning in Allied newspapers:

Notice! Travellers intending to embark on the Atlantic voyage are reminded that a state of war exists between Germany and her allies and Great Britain and her allies; that the zone of war includes the waters adjacent to the British Isles; that, in accordance with formal notice given by the Imperial German Government, vessels flying the flag of Great Britain, or any of her allies, are liable to destruction in those waters and that travellers sailing in the war zone on the ships of Great Britain or her allies do so at their own risk. Imperial German Embassy Washington, D.C., April 22, 1915.

This warning notice was printed opposite the advertisement for Lusitania’s return voyage back to the UK. A few passengers heeded this warning and cancelled their crossing. However, 1,959 boarded the ship for the voyage.

The Germans decided to break out of the tradition of warning non-military ships and allowing people to escape. This marked the first time human beings would engage in all out war. Even civilians were targets. The U-20 was patrolling the North Sea off the coast of Ireland on May 7. Lusitania was headed past the Old Head of Kinsale. There had been telegraph warnings of enemy activity nearby, but Lusitania was not running at top speed. The British Admiralty ordered six of her boilers to be shut down due to coal rationing for the warships. Lusitania was also not granted an armed escort to the Irish shore. 

Just before 1:30pm, the German submarine spotted something in the distance that appeared to be smoke. As the Lusitania drew closer, it became obvious they had spotted a very large ship. U-20 was ordered to dive.

U-22There was one torpedo shot. Lusitania’s survivors tell of seeing the torpedo come at them through the water. The torpedo hit on the starboard side, just behind the bridge. Passengers and crew were shocked that the Germans would have the gall to attack a ship that wasn’t part of the military, knowing it was carrying civilians, most importantly, Americans. When the torpedo hit, the damage didn’t seem to be too severe at first.lusitania_2898342k

Then there was a second, enormous explosion. To this day, the exact cause of this explosion is unknown. There were rumors that Lusitania was carrying ammunition to the Allies. Some say it was a boiler explosion. Whatever it was, it spelled certain doom. *Note: Upon exploring the wreck of the Lusitania, Robert Ballard discovered the secondary explosion was likely caused by combustible coal dust in an empty bunker.

Lusitania immediately developed a pronounced list to starboard. This list prevented many of the lifeboats from being able to be used. Eighteen minutes after being struck by the torpedo, Lusitania slipped beneath the sea, taking 1,198 people with her, including 114 American citizens.

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RMS Lusitania

RMS Mauretania

RMS_Mauretania_cardWhile Lusitania was built in Scotland, Mauretania was built in England. Completed in 1907, Mauretania was named for an ancient Roman province on the northwest African coast. She was big and she was fast. Immediately, she captured the speed record for both east and westbound Atlantic crossings. She would hold this record for over twenty years. Sumptuous interiors and speedy travel made Mauretania loved by the traveling masses. At the outbreak of The Great War, the Mauretania was called on to be first an armed merchant cruiser. It was later decided she would be better suited as a troop ship. She was painted battleship gray and began carrying soldiers to the front lines. After Lusitania was torpedoed and sunk, she was painted in hospital ship livery and became a floating hospital ship. She then carried over 15,000 wounded soldiers back home.

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Mauretania as a hospital ship

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Mauretania as a troop transport

After the loss of Lusitania, a running mate was needed for Mauretania. Cunard answered this need with another four funneled liner named Aquitania. More on her on another entry.

Mauretania continued carrying transatlantic passengers until 1923 when she was painted white and sent out cruising. By this time, she had served as a speedy ocean liner, an armed merchant cruiser, a hospital ship, a troop transport, and now a cruise ship. She maintained her popularity with the public and gained the nickname ‘The Grand Old Lady.’

In 1929, Mauretania’s speed was bested by a new German liner named Bremen. A few attempts were made to regain this record, but this old ship had pretty much seen her day as the fastest in the world. She began ‘booze cruises’ during the prohibition, solidly retaining her popularity. Mauretania was retired in 1934. She joined the aging Olympic at the scrapyard in Rosyth.

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Famous Four Stackers: Kronprinzessin Cecilie

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SS Kronprinzessin Cecilie

The new Kronprinzessin Cecilie was completed in December 1906. She was named after Crown Princess Cecilie of Prussia. No ship before her had such a large engine fitted aboard. Before her maiden voyage, the Cecilie sank in the harbor of Bremerhaven. It took nearly a year to repair her and ready her for her first Atlantic crossing. Her interiors were slightly more understated than her predecessors and the passengers loved it. A few of her first class suites actually had private dining rooms for those who wished privacy during a meal.

The Kronprinzessin Cecilie served the Atlantic run between Bremen and ports in the United States. On one voyage returning to Germany, the Great War erupted in Europe. On this voyage, she was carrying massive amounts of gold and silver. She returned to port in America to avoid the now enemy British ships. She took haven in Bar Harbor, Maine, and then on to Boston. While in Maine, the captain had her funnels repainted so she would resemble a White Star ship, namely the Olympic.

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SS Kronprinzessin Cecilie disguised as RMS Olympic

In 1917, Kronprinzessin Cecilie was turned over to the US Navy and renamed USS Mount Vernon. She was refitted as a troop transport intended to carry American troops to the battlefront. She was struck by a German torpedo squarely in the center in 1918. She fought back against the u-boat and was able to return to Boston under using her own engines. She was repaired and returned to service. After the war, she returned to the US where she sat. At the outbreak of the Second World War, she was deemed too old to be useful. She was scrapped in Baltimore in 1940.

 

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SS Kronprinzessin Cecilie disguised as RMS Olympic

FAMOUS FOUR STACKERS: Kaiser Wilhelm II

 

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Kaiser Wilhelm II

This is another German marvel from the North German Lloyd, SS Kaiser Wilhelm II. She was launched August 12, 1902, at the Vulcan Company in Bredow near Stettin. She was a great leap forward in liner design for her time. She was the largest liner in the world at the time of her introduction.  She was also one of the ‘safest’ ships afloat. Her capacity was 775 first class passengers in 290 rooms, 343 second class in 107 rooms, and 770 third class. In addition to being large, she was also built to be fast. She won the Blue Riband for the fastest eastbound crossing in 1904. This ship was not the first to be named Kaiser Wilhelm II. There was another built in 1889

Kaiser Wilhelm II saw regular service on the Atlantic run. Her popularity with the immigrant trade had much to do with her appearance. Her paired four funnels towered overhead. Her speed made her even more attractive. Her accommodations in each class were impressive for her time. Her massive first class dining room was three decks high with a stained glass rectangular dome allowing sunlight through.

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First class dining room aboard Kaiser Wilhelm II

The first World War broke out and the Kaiser was steaming west. Every effort was made to keep her from encountering British cruisers and she arrived late in New York two days later. In 1917, she found herself in New York again as the United States entered the war. She was seized. Just before the Americans came aboard, the German crew sabotaged her engines.

The United States worked to repair the damage and began converting the Kaiser to a troop transport. During this refit, she housed American troops. The Kaiser Wilhelm II was renamed Agamemnon and she began carrying men destined for war. Speeding back and forth across the Atlantic, she often encountered German u-boats. There was also a severe outbreak of the flu aboard.

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Agamemnon

After the war ended, Agamemnon transported soldiers back to their homeland. Nearly 42,000 soldiers were ferried home between her decks. Quite a bit more than she took to the front lines. The United States decommissioned her late 1919 and the War Department took control of her to continue her transport mission.

In the 1920s, the Agamemnon was removed from service as a transport and renamed Monticello. This ship would never sail again. She sat for decades and was considered too old to be useful in a new World War. She was scrapped in 1940.

Welcome 2015!

After moving two more times, I think I am finally settled for a while. In a new/old town with a new job, I hope to be adding more ships to this blog. There has been some exciting hints into happenings with the SS United States, and some sad news for the venerable Delta Queen.

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The happenings with the SS United States have been quite secretive due to agreements with donors and project coordinators.  Every so often there is an email or a post in social media about things moving forward. I’m excited to finally see this speed queen be towed to her new home. I sincerely hope it is to her home port of New York.

The Delta Queen had been serving as a boutique hotel in beautiful Chattanooga, TN since 2009. The harsh winter of 2013-14 with its single digit temperatures (thanks to a phenomenon called ‘polar vortex’) water pipes aboard froze and burst, just as her congressional exemption to the SOLAS laws were approved. Instead of returning to service, she must be repaired. Since moving from Chattanooga, I’ve been attempting to find out what has happened to her since that awful winter.

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Famous Four-Stackers: SS Kronprinz Wilhelm

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The third four funneled liner from history was also German. Her name was Kronprinz Wilhelm. She was the successor to the wildly popular Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse. She entered service in 1901 on the on the North Atlantic immigration route.  She was quite fast and caught the Blue Ribband speed record in 1902. She was considered to have beautiful interiors. Her magnificent first class dining salon rose three decks with a glass dome overhead. Her suites were fitted out in the best satins and silks. As with the other German four funneled liners before her, she followed the pattern of pairing the funnels in pairs.  A person could tell from a distance they were looking at a German greyhound. Germany was very proud of their new ship.

The onset of war means the ships that belong to the involved nations often get used for purposes other than what they were originally designed for. During the First World War, the SS Kronprinz Wilhelm became an armed merchant cruiser. She was to begin raids on allied commerce. She was staffed with a crew specially trained in search and seizure, expecting to capture ships belonging to the enemy. She was successful with at least 15 of these seizes. First Class Dining Room- SS Kronprinz Wilhelm First Class Music Room - SS Kronprinz Wilhelm kronprinzf

Coal is a very important element in the stories of the early superliners. It was the fuel for the engines. Without it, a ship can’t go much of anywhere. During WWI, coal supplies became very difficult to find. These big and fast ships burn tons and tons of coal in order to maintain speed. This fact and an outbreak of sickness aboard resulted in SS Kronprinz Wilhelm’s internment in 1915. She was laid up in Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth. She was in American territory because the US was still a neutral country. She would be safe in this environment.

In 1917, after the sinking of the RMS Lusitania by a German u-boat, the United States entered The Great War. SS Kronprinz Wilhelm was seized by the US government and renamed USS Von Steuben. She returned to her previous war time roll of being an armed merchant cruiser, but this time for United States. By the time Von Steuben returned to the seas, America and the Allies controlled most of the Atlantic. There was not much need for an armed merchant ship. (Had she remained in German hands, she would have been more active.) Von Steuben was reassigned to be a troop transport. For four weeks she stayed along the American east coast, taking men and supplies from one port to another. On Halloween of 1917, she embarked on her very first transatlantic voyage under her new name. Von Steuben received a bit of damage from colliding with the USS Agamemnon, which was also began her life as a German ocean liner SS Kaiser Wilhelm II. This resulted in men being thrown off the ships forcibly due to the accident. Von Steuben headed to Halifax, Nova Scotia for coal in December of 1917 and was rocked by a massive explosion. This explosion was not on Von Steuben. It was the SS Mont Blank, a French ammunition ship. The explosion devastated the shore line and caused a tsunami wave to crash into the land. The blast could be heard and felt for miles. Von Steuben stayed to help on the scene. She then headed toward Philadelphia. During the next months she went to Cuba and Panama.

This ship made it’s way into history’s sunset in 1923 when she was scrapped, but not before having her name changed again to USS Baron Von Steuben,and then back again to Von Steuben. She was scrapped in Boston.

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