Starting at the beginning, construction on the ship, then known only as “Hull Number 534”, began in December 1930 on the River Clyde by the John Brown & Company shipyard at Clydebank in Scotland.
Bremen and Europa were being planned by Germany’s Norddeutscher Lloyd (NDL). White Star was planning their largest liner yet, the Oceanic. Cunard needed to up their game and planned a slightly larger and much faster ship than Oceanic. However, all was not right in the world. The year before a massive stock market crash began the Great Depression. Work stopped on hull 534 in 1931 and what was built sat idle.
In 1933, Cunard applied to the British Government for a loan to complete hull 534. They leaned on the idea of national pride and a history of Britain ruling the Atlantic. The loan was seriously considered, but there was
a condition. Cunard would merge with the White Star Line, which was Cunard’s chief British rival at the time and which had already been forced by the depression to cancel construction of its Oceanic. Both lines agreed and the merger was completed on 10 May 1934. Work on Queen Mary resumed immediately and she was launched on 26 September 1934.
To sail first class (or Cabin class) aboard Queen Mary was to mingle with some of the most famous people in the world. Dignitaries, politicians, film stars and directors…the list was quite extensive.
People like Bob Hope, Elizabeth Taylor, David Niven, Judy Garland, Marlene Deitrich, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Walt Disney all came aboard. Remember, from 1936 when Mary entered service to 1967 when she was retired, the ocean liner was the only way to cross the Atlantic Ocean.
Just a few years after Queen Mary made her debut, the European international situation was turning dire. A madman had risen to power in Germany. In August of 1939, Queen Mary was at sea, heading to New York. When she arrived, she was given strict orders to stay at port on the Hudson. Hitler had begun his invasions and a neutral country was the safest place for her to be. Also stuck in New York was her rival, Normandie. When France surrendered to the Nazis, Normandie was seized by the US government. February of 1940, another monster of a liner would join them. This was Mary’s running mate, RMS Queen Elizabeth.
Queen Mary was painted battleship gray in preparation for the inevitable call to duty. The three giants lay at their piers until March 20, 1940. On that day, Queen Mary had orders to sail for Australia. She became His Majesty’s Troop ship, Queen Mary and the world’s fastest transport. Her sumptuous interiors were removed and replaced with bunks. The woodwork was covered up. Sailing in a zigzag and at top speed, no German submarines could catch her. Even with her speed, she was given strict orders not to stop for any reason. She was following her orders when she collided with her escort HMS Curacao on October 2, 1942, killing 239 people.
Queen Mary and her partner Queen Elizabeth were invaluable to the war effort. Over the course of the conflict, Queen Mary had sailed 339,000 miles and carried 105,000 troops. On top of the troops, Queen Mary also carried Sir Winston Churchill who conveyed orders from his stateroom. Sir Winston actually stated the he believed the cooperation of Cunard’s queens shortened the war by two years.
Following the end of the war, Queen Mary had the distinguished task of delivering war brides to the US and Canada. More than 13,000 brides were ferried across the sea to meet their husbands after their duties were finished. It was during these voyages that Queen Mary beat her best speed to that point, at just under 32 knots.
Following her final repatriation voyage in September 1946, Queen Mary was released from military service and returned to Southampton for a complete refit. She would be returned to her pre-war magnificence. On 31 July 1947 Queen Mary sailed on her first post-war voyage, in service with Queen Elizabeth as was originally planned. They were the only two ship weekly transatlantic runners. Both ships were very popular.
In 1952, Queen Mary finally had to give up her title of Atlantic speed queen to the brand new SS United States, which was the flagship of her namesake. The record is still held by the United States to this day.
In 1958, the Boeing 707 made its first commercial flights across the sea. This meant certain doom for fast ocean liners. Even the fastest ship can’t outrun a passenger jet. Cunard tried cruising with their large liners. In 1966, a seamans strike cost Cunard ₤4 million. At the rate Queen Mary was losing revenue, this made keeping her in service no longer economically feasible.
After the realization that the age of the ocean liner was coming to an end, Cunard opened bidding for the venerable Queen Mary. The city of Long Beach, California won the bidding and plans were made to have her moved to the Pacific. This required one very long final voyage. Queen Mary was too large to navigate the Panama Canal, so she had to sail the long way around the tip of South America.
The final departure from Southampton on Halloween of 1967 for the Queen Mary was an enormous send off. The Royal Air Force and Navy gave a roaring send off. It was a somber celebration for an icon of the Atlantic. Queen Mary visited a few ports along the coast of South America, such as Rio de Janiero. Rounding Cape Horn, the southernmost point of South America, passengers paid one pound to round the horn on a double deck bus brought on board from London. Most of the time, rounding Cape Horn is dangerous. The weather is often horrible and rip currents fierce. However, everything was calm for the Queen.
While approaching Long Beach on December 9, hundreds of small pleasure craft came to meet her. It was a celebration just as big as the one that saw her depart Southampton for the final time. Queen Mary moved into position and her engines were stopped, this time for good. Now was the task of converting the ship into a static attraction. Hotel, gathering place, museum. These were the plans.
Per agreement with the city of Long Beach and Cunard, machinery was removed. This meant removing her funnels and going in from the top. This resulted in much of her interior being rearranged. Queen Mary Hotel opened November 2, 1972.
Since her establishment in Long Beach, Queen Mary has been used as a filming set for several movies, a few television episodes and music videos. One of the most memorable uses was the 1972 movie The Poseidon Adventure where a large ocean liner named Poseidon was hit by a rogue wave and turned upside down.
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 success 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 1915, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
So many people in this world are familiar with the date of April 15. What does April 15th mean to you? Not only is it American ‘tax day,’ but it marks the anniversary of the most famous world changing maritime disaster in all of history. This was the “Night to Remember.” Hollywood has made many films about this night. There have been countless books published and music albums, television parodies and even a Broadway musical released about this night. In the year 1912, April 15 became a date that would change the world. Nightmares were born this night, as approximately 1,500 came face-t0-face with their own mortality, amongst the ice fields and frigid temperatures of the North Atlantic Ocean.
By now, you realize the identity of this event. However, that is probably due to a Hollywood production directed by James Cameron. While I laud this film because of set decoration and design, special effects, core love story, and a renewed spark in the interest of this historic night, it is far from truth. There are details to the story of the wreck of the RMS Titanic that weren’t even touched in this film. In fact, it nearly angers me that most of my friends think that EVERY four funneled ocean liner they see a photograph of is RMS Titanic.
With this said, I’d like to ask a few questions. Can anyone name the very first four stacker in history? Can you name the last four stacker in history? Do you know why the Olympic class liners were built? Can you name RMS Titanic’s two sisters? (Titanic was a ‘middle child.’)
This is the introduction to a series of informational blogs that will highlight the careers of each of the only fourteen four funneled ocean liners in maritime history. Never forget the lesson we learned due to the disaster of RMS Titanic, or the ships that led to and followed her concept. Never cease to learn about immigration history, world history, and maritime history. Ships are celebrated because of their personalities and the connections they have with millions of American immigrants who came to the United States aboard these very vessels. Some have broken speed records. Some have been admired for interior design. All should be celebrated as amazing pieces of technology. Come take a look at the histories of the very ships that shaped our perceptions of the classic ocean liner. What ship first captured your attention?