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.
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
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?
Thank you for stopping by ‘The Ocean Liner Blogger’s’ blog. If you have a passion for the era of the transatlantic passenger liner, then you are welcome to read and comment to your heart’s content!
Not long ago a friend of mine insisted that I start a blog about a passion of mine. I have many passions, but there is one passion that just won’t quit! I love American history. I also love ships, specifically the transatlantic passenger liners that brought immigrants to this country. Many people don’t realize that ocean liners are important to our national heritage. Without these marvels of engineering and purpose, the United States could not be everything that it is today. At the turn of the century when immigration was booming, the only way to cross the Atlantic Ocean from Europe was by ship. These ships became national symbols or ‘ships of state.’
For many people, upon hearing the term ‘ocean liner,’ there is only one name that comes to mind. Don’t get me wrong, RMS Titanic is well known for a variety of good reasons. (None of these reasons should have to do with the DiCaprio/Winslet film by James Cameron. The story in that film is undeniably false.) To true addicts such as myself, the term ‘ocean liner’ evokes images of grand ships with names like SS United States, RMS Majestic, SS Ile de France, RMS Mauretania, SS Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse and many, many more.
Imagine yourself living in Europe around 1913, just before the First World War. You are a poor Irish farmer who has decided to try to make something of yourself, but realize that you cannot do this where you are. The threat of war looms over you. America is calling your name. You gather your family and sell nearly everything you have. You have begun the greatest adventure of your life. All of your money goes to paying for a train ticket to the nearest port town, we’ll say Queenstown, Ireland, and steerage class tickets aboard one of the largest moving objects ever made by man. Your train pulls into the station and everyone is unloaded. Here, you go through customs. Your body is thoroughly inspected from head to toe to ensure you carry no parasites or diseases. Your family is poked and prodded. Tomorrow is sailing day. The women and the men are separated, and you are led into a room full of bunks. Here is where you sleep. The food is not that great, but it is enough to last until you get aboard ship. The journey to port has exhausted you, but you cannot sleep for the fear and excitement of starting a new life. All of the snoring around you does not help. Neither does the smell. When the light of dawn creeps over the horizon, everyone is awakened and prepared for boarding. The steerage passengers are required to board first so the first class passengers are not offended by your presence. Nearly one thousand other steerage passengers around you are led to the ship. The next step of your journey is a week at sea aboard a behemoth you’ve only read about presuming that you can read. Where is the opulence, the service? This is reserved for the first and second class passengers. As a steerage passenger, you are treated as cattle. Only certain areas of the ship are accessible to you…
This is how the journey to the United States of America begins for nearly all immigrants during this age. This nation is built by the poor who risked their very lives to start over in the land of promise. Without the ocean liners to bring these immigrants to New York, this country would not have evolved into the nation it is today. In 1913, the ocean liner is the only way to cross.
Stay tuned for pieces of maritime history!