Passion for Transatlantic Passenger Liners

Ocean Liner

Famous Four Stackers: RMS Aquitania



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.




Famous Four Stackers: Kronprinzessin Cecilie


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.


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.



SS Kronprinzessin Cecilie disguised as RMS Olympic



Kaiser Wilhelm II

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.


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.



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.


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.


Famous Four-Stackers: SS Kronprinz Wilhelm


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.


Approaching 2012 (The 100th anniversary of the most famous event in maritime history)

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?

Facebook Groups, YouTube Videos and Media Coverage OH MY!

Ahoy mateys!

2010 has been a roller coaster year for maritime history preservation. The Independence Seaport Museum in Philadelphia has released an SOS for the condition of the historic US Navy cruiser U.S.S. Olympia. She has not been dry-docked in nearly 60 years. Her condition is deteriorating as her structural integrity has been compromised by decay. Without an infusion of funds, this jewel of the Great White Fleet will sink where she sits. The alternative: deliberate scuttling off the coast of New Jersey to encourage the growth of a coral reef or destruction by a scrap yard.

The S.S. United States Conservancy has been on the move throughout 2010 trying to gain donations toward purchasing the classic ocean liner S.S. United States. Genting International (operators of Norwegian Cruise Line) has listed this ship for sale, but has allowed the Conservancy the opportunity to bid on her purchase at a discount. They understand the importance of this ship in the annals of American maritime history. She still holds the speed record for transatlantic crossing by passenger ship.

Ambassador International, the current owners of the historic steamboat Delta Queen, have listed this legend for sale. After her last congressional exemption and presidential pardon expired in 2008, this legend of the American inland river system was parked as a hotel and restaurant on the Tennessee River in Chattanooga. Her fate is at the hands of the highest bidder, and there are many bidders. Will she return to river service? Will she remain in Chattanooga? Will she be historically compromised by renovation? Time will tell…there could be an announcement any day now.

The MV Kalakala in Washington State is one of very few streamlined riverboats left in the world. In 1935, she was the very first streamlined car ferry ever built. Her current owners have been planning to restore her for others to enjoy, but she was denied state funding for the sixth year in a row. Washington state is considering cancelling all state funded ferry operations in the near future due to the shaky US economy. (Sadly, Kalakala has been sent to the scrap yard as of 2016.)

Three running mates: Delta Queen, Mississippi Queen and American Queen

The riverboat Mississippi Queen was sold for scrap in 2009, but still languishes riverside. She is infested with mold from neglect and damage caused by Hurricane Katrina. Now she awaits an undignified end.  Will a similar fate befall her former running mate, American Queen? The world’s largest steamboat has been laid up in the mothball fleet at Beaumont, TX. There is still hope for her as she is being looked after by people who are interested in her future.

Now we have moved into a new year, and it is one that will mark the fates of many of these historic vessels. If you are a person who enjoys maritime history and hearing the stories of people sailing the rivers and oceans aboard some of the most famous ships and boats in the world, then please understand the importance of telling people about what might happen to our ambassadors of water-transport antiquity. Donating money is always nice, but an outspoken crowd full of interested people is a power that cannot be ignored. Spreading awareness of the possible outcome for each of these noteworthy specimens of historical importance is key to saving them. We must show that we care!

There are different ways of spreading awareness. I use my blog to relay gathered information to an interested group of people. There are videos on YouTube and elsewhere that are fantastic for telling the stories of our water-born legends. Sharing links to newspaper and magazine articles is a fantastic way to share the concern with others. I personally created a Facebook group called “Save Maritime History!” which focuses on the USS Olympia, SS United States and the steamboat Delta Queen. Any way to get public attention at what may happen to these important ships and boats could be instrumental to their salvation.

Examples of great ways to spread the word…

“Save Maritime History!” group on Facebook

Save the USS Olympia video

“Save The Delta Queen” website

News Reel 1952: SS United States video

“Lenfest Awaits Ruling on Foxwoods Gaming License (S.S. United States)

Delta Queen in Nashville, TN video A wonderful way to learn about the history of river steamboats in the US

The story of the very first art deco streamlined ferry MV Kalakala

Delta Queen’s Plea to Congress video

Official website for becoming an SS United States ‘Plank Owner’

The Battle of Manila Bay (USS Olympia stars!) video

Update on the Status of the Cruiser Olympia

A Cruise Aboard the SS United States video

Official website for the MV Kalakala UNFORTUNATELY, KALAKALA has been sent to the scrap yard.

Legend of the SS United States video