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.
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.
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…This image comes from Flickr member eyetwist that I follow. See it and more of his amazing photos HERE