Passion for Transatlantic Passenger Liners


FAMOUS FOUR STACKERS: Olympic, Titanic and Britannic




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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.






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.



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.


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.


Mauretania as a hospital ship


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.





More on S.S. United States

I have been meaning to post news about the project to save the S.S. United States. Unfortunately, some of this information has been not easy to come by.

First, is good news. In July of 2010, a Philadelphia philanthropist named H. F. Lenfest donated nearly six million dollars to the SS United States Conservancy. This money was used to actually purchase the ship. She now lies in the hands of the people that can do her the most good. I was actually watching a world-wide live media stream of the official announcement and it was quite emotional. Supporters of the Conservancy were mailed letters from the Lenfest group about the reason for the donation and wishing success with the completion of the now monumental project of finding where she should go (I say New York, which was her home port), and in exactly what capacity this now blank slate should be put back together. She does still sit in Philadelphia for the time being.

Now it is 2013. In the last three years, the Conservancy has been busy trying to keep the S.S. United States in the media. She has been the subject of local and national news broadcasts like CBS Sunday Morning. I personally would love to see Susan Gibbs invited to one of the daytime talk shows such as The View or Ellen, and then a few of the late night shows. There is a blog published by David Macaulay on the Conservancy’s website that includes new cutaway illustrations. Macaulay was himself a passenger on board as a child.

Excitement is growing, more people are talking, we are hearing her name again. Unfortunately the Conservancy has signed an agreement that will limit what they can tell the public. We sit waiting…ImageThis image comes from Flickr member eyetwist that I follow. See it and more of his amazing photos HERE

Famous Four-Stackers: SS Deutschland (Hamburg-Amerika Line)

SS Deutschland

SS Deutschland


Second in line of the famous four-stackers was the Deutschland of Hamburg-Amerika Line, launched on January 10, 1900.

The battle for the Atlantic seaways was raging by the turn of the twentieth century. The British, Italian, French and German passenger shipping lines were waging all out war for having the largest, fastest and most luxurious liners. The Germans had two national lines.

The greatest competition for the North German Lloyd was the Hamburg-Amerika line, or HAPAG.

When the North German Lloyd debuted the Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse, Hamburg-Amerika became envious. They insisted on showing the public that NDL (Nord-Deutscher Lloyd) was not the only German company with ambition. They began construction on their own superliner, to be called Deutschland, the word in German for Germany. The Deutschland was designed to be fast. In fact, she was the only liner built for speed in the HAPAG fleet. She was quick, and won the Blue Ribband award for record speed. She held this record for six years. However, her powerful engines created horrible vibrations. Her rattling so unnerved passengers, that she was re-engined with much less powerful machinery. After her refit, she began cruises instead of taking the transatlantic routes. At this time, she was painted white and renamed Victoria Luise.

SS Victoria Luise

SS Victoria Luise

After the failure of the S.S. Deutschland in regard to smooth operation under speed, HAPAG shifted their focus. They built new piers in Hoboken, New Jersey to accommodate new plans for a trio of monster liners soon to come.

After the Deutschland was a disappointment, her new life as one of the first cruise ships lasted for nearly twenty years. She often hosted German heads of state for naval reviews, and held the reputation of utter luxury. As the S.S. Deutschland, her passenger capacity was over two thousand. After she became the S.S. Victoria Luise, her capacity was less than five hundred. During the First World War, Victoria Luise sat idle in Germany due to operational issues. These engine difficulties caused her to be the only large German ship not to be handed over to the Allies for reparations after war. In 1921, she was rebuilt yet again and given a new name. Two of her funnels were removed and she became the S.S. Hansa. She served as an immigrant carrier for four more years. She was scrapped at Hamburg in 1925.


Back into the SWING! (Or perhaps SWAY)

It has been a long time since I posted, and my life has been in some turmoil. I am in peaceful surroundings again and I believe it is time to begin posting again. There is news about the SS United States, a little about Delta Queen, a ship that I recently discovered needs attention, and some more posts about famous liners in history. I will continue the Famous Four Stackers entries for all 14 ships to begin. Next will be SS Deutschland of HAPAG. I have started a Facebook group connected to this blog I call “Save Maritime History!

Famous Four-Stackers: SS Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse (North German Lloyd)

When many people hear the term ‘ocean liner,’ one image comes to mind. They see a huge ship with four towering smokestacks and usually the name Titanic. Over the course of history, there have been in-fact fourteen grand ocean liners built that sport the famous four funnels. The very first of these was Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse.

The German Emperor Kaiser Wilhelm II became quite jealous of Britain’s monopoly of transatlantic records when he toured the White Star Line’s RMS Teutonic in 1889 while attending a naval review at Spithead. Determined to show the world that the German Empire had what it took to hold its own in the race to trans-ocean dominance, work began on a new breed of ocean liner that would shatter records for size, glamor and speed. The North German Lloyd introduced the magnificent Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse in 1897, which would eventually become known as the world’s first ‘superliner.’

This wonder of German engineering was born at the Vulcan Shipyard in Stettin and completed her maiden voyage from Bremerhaven to New York City on September 19, 1897. Thousands of people gathered at the shorelines to catch a glimpse of this new liner with so many funnels. This was the first ship they had ever seen with four smokestacks. Soon the number of funnels on a ship was associated by immigrants with the size and safety, to the point where passenger shipping companies would falsely advertise the amount of funnels a ship had, resulting in rioting on sailing day as people would refuse to board a ship unless it had the proper number of funnels.

The Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse was a big ship, but she did not have the distinction of being ‘the world’s largest ever built,’ thanks to the pride of Isambard Kingdom Brunel named Great Eastern. However, the giant Great Eastern was retired and broken up by 1889.

The Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse was fast, and she grabbed the Blue Riband speed award in November of 1897 eastbound, and then took the westbound record from Cunard Line’s Lucania in March of the next year. Germany would not give up the speed record until 1907, when Britain’s Cunard Liner Mauretania set a record that lasted for 20 years.

The exterior size and profile of this new German triumph were distinctive, but not as much so as her interior decor. For the first time in maritime history, one designer was called on to create the interiors of an entire ocean liner. Johannes Poppe chose a Baroque revival style that was taking Germany by storm. This style which embraced exaggerated ceiling heights and ornately carved and gilded accents bordered on the just plain gaudy. However, this decor was embraced by the transatlantic traveling masses and the Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse became very popular.

Just as many of the transatlantic liners throughout history, this new ship was designed with war in mind. Should the need arise, she could be transformed into a military auxiliary cruiser. She would eventually use this ability with the advent of the First World War. The Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse has the distinction of having the world’s very first commercial wireless telegraph system installed aboard in 1900, and it was demonstrated by Marconi using wireless systems aboard the Borkum Island lighthouse and Borkum Riff lightship as well as several British stations.

As liners grew bigger, the chances of accident grew as well. On June 30, 1900, a massive fire broke out at the German docks in Hoboken, New Jersey. This event, which would become known as the Great Hoboken Pier Fire of 1900, destroyed 3 German liners and a host of smaller craft as well as millions of dollars worth of property on the Hudson River. The Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse managed to escape the flames that killed over 300 people, but not without some damage. She was pulled away from her pier fifteen minutes after the fires broke out, and the small fires that did spread to the ship were quickly extinguished. The North German Lloyd vessels Bremen, Saale, and Maine were destroyed. In 1906, the Kaiser was damaged after trying to cross the path of the Royal Mail ship Orinoco. She was hit broadside, killing five passengers and leaving a 70 foot wide hole in her side. The court proceedings following the incident placed all blame on the commander of the Kaiser.

In 1914, the world plunged into the greatest war ever seen to that point. The Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse was requisitioned by the German navy, Kaiserlich Marine, and transformed into an auxiliary cruiser. She sank two freighters and spared passenger ships when they were discovered to have women and children aboard. While refueling off the coast of the western African coast of the Spanish colony of Rio de Oro, she was surprised by the British cruiser HMS Highflyer. Severely outgunned and running low on ammunition, the commander of the Kaiser ordered her scuttled and sunk. She became the very first passenger ship sunk in World War One. Her remains were not scrapped until 1952.

  • Name:     Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse
  • Launched:     May 4, 1897
  • Maiden Voyage:     September 19, 1897
  • Tonnage:     14,349 grt
  • Length:     655 feet or 200.1 meters
  • Beam:     65.8 feet or 20.1 meters
  • Propulsion:     Triple expansion reciprocating engines driving twin propellers
  • Speed:     22.5 knots
  • Passenger Capacity:     1506 passengers (206 first class, 226 second class, 1074 third class) 488 crew
  • FATE:     Scuttled at the Battle of Rio de Oro, August 26, 1914 wreck later scrapped in 1952 on the spot in the shallow waters

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?