|Admiral von Tirpitz/Tirpitz/Empress
of China (II)/Empress of Australia (I)
1922 - 1952
the Hamburg-Amerika Line, or HAPAG, put the Deutschland into service
in 1900, it marked the beginning of the company’s managing director Albert
Ballin’s quest to establish the line as the foremost in the world. The
Deutschland soon proved her worth by conquering the coveted Blue
Riband, but the glory was won with a costly lesson learned – such high
speeds often meant reduced passenger comfort, due to vibrations in the
ship’s structure. Albert Ballin realised this fact, and it did not take
him long to decide that the Hamburg-Amerika would do just as the White
Star Line had done in Britain already: give up speed and instead set the
aim for size and luxury.
plans truly became reality in 1913, when the first of three new mammoth
liners entered service – the Imperator. At more than 52,000 tons,
this ship exceeded even the White Star Line’s Olympic-class liners
in size. Germany was indeed a powerful nation on the high seas.
the Imperator and her two forthcoming sister ships were intended
for the highly prestigious North Atlantic run. To cover more ground, Albert
Ballin also commissioned some smaller liners for other trades, such as
the route to South America. One of these ships was ordered from the Stettin-based
Vulkan-shipyards. She was intended to serve as the company’s lead ship
on the South American run, and upon her launch on December 20th
1913, she was given the name Admiral von Tirpitz. This choice of
name was indeed an odd one, as Admiral von Tirpitz, who had done much to
improve Germany’s navy, was a man with anti-British sentiments and views.
Albert Ballin did not share these thoughts, and he feared that a war between
the two nations might be at hand. Perhaps this was the reason why the ship’s
name was shortened to just Tirpitz in February 1914.
was designed to operate between Germany and the west coast of South America
via the Panama Canal, which was soon to be completed. Constructed for emigrants
in steerage, the ship was also fitted with many luxurious amenities in
As on the Imperator-class
liners, the Tirpitz had her funnel uptakes split in two, run alongside
the superstructure to rejoin at the base of the funnels. This arrangement
left much space in the centre of the superstructure, thus making it possible
for the ship’s decorators to give her spacious public areas.
|The Tirpitz during
fitting out at the Vulkan shipyards of Stettin.
machinery was also of a new kind. She was fitted with turbines, but the
problem with such were that they could only turn in one direction, thus
making it necessary with a special reversed turbine for going astern. In
addition to this, the quality of gear-cutting equipment was low and created
a big problem for the ship’s engineers. To solve the problems with the
gears, HAPAG decided to adopt a new German invention – hydraulic transformers
instead of conventional mechanical gearing. This type of machinery had
already been successfully used on the HAPAG 2,163-ton ferry Königin
Luise, and it was hoped that it would perform equally well on the Tirpitz.
the new Tirpitz was grand on the inside with state-of-the-art machinery,
her outward appearance left a little more to be desired. The proportions
seemed off somehow, with a rather large superstructure and somewhat thin
funnels. Also, an engine room access hatch amidships made the space between
the second and third funnels 8 feet wider than between the first and the
second. The gap could also be noted between the sixth and seventh lifeboats
on each side. This asymmetry was indeed not at all pleasing to the eye.
Ballin’s fears of a war were indeed justified, and later in 1914 they became
a reality. With the shots in Sarajevo, the First World War was a fact.
In Stettin, work was still being done on the Tirpitz when the news
of war arrived. Work was immediately halted when it was clear that all
shipyards had to deal with Navy orders.
during the war, when the Germans felt confident of victory, work started
to turn the Tirpitz into a Royal Yacht, aboard which the Kaiser
intended to lead in the defeated British fleet. True, the Tirpitz
would become a part of the British fleet, but not exactly in the way the
Kaiser had planned…
Great Britain and her allies stood victorious over the Kaiser’s Germany.
The following year, the warlords converged at the castle of Versailles
in France to dictate the peace agreements. These could be summed up in
one word – ruthless. Germany was given the entire blame for the war, and
was sentenced to give up all their ships as reparations for allied vessels
sunk during the war. This of course included the Tirpitz, which
was still lying at the Vulkan shipyards in Stettin, waiting for her future
of 1919, the Tirpitz was officially handed over to the British,
and she was to be completed in Hamburg. Work was soon under way, but was
delayed when a fire broke out on board. The fire was easily extinguished
though, and work could soon continue to complete the now six year-old vessel.
1920, the ship was finally completed and sent to Hull, where she arrived
with another former HAPAG-liner, namely the Kaiserin Auguste Victoria,
who had also been given to the British. Her first task with her new owners
was garrison troop replacements with P&O as managers. When she was
finished with this mission, she was laid up at Immingham for a few months
in wait of more work.
25th 1921, the Tirpitz was acquired by the Canadian Pacific
Railway Company and renamed Empress of China. The following months
she was sent back to her original builders to have her engines converted
to oil-burners. When this refit was completed, she was sent to the shipyards
of John Brown & Co. to be fitted out according to Canadian Pacific
requirements. Canadian Pacific’s intention was to use the former Tirpitz
on their Pacific run between Vancouver and the Orient.
by the summer of 1922, the ship was again renamed on June 2nd,
this time to Empress of Australia. The refit had increased her size
slightly, from her original 21,498 tons to 21,860. On June 16th
she left the Clyde for Vancouver, from where she would finally start her
commercial service, a little less than nine years after her launch! Painted
black with a white band running along
her hull, the Empress
of Australia was ready for her pacific route.
|To be more suited for cruises,
the Empress of Australia was repainted white in 1929.
28th, the Empress of Australia set out on her maiden
voyage, bound for Hong Kong and Yokohama. However, it soon became evident
for the ship’s engineers that something was seriously wrong with her engines.
The boilers were working inefficiently, and the ship could not reach her
desired service speed, thereby putting her behind schedule. And as if this
was not enough, one of the turbines was disabled at the start of her second
voyage, forcing the ship to return to port. The Empress of Australia
was sent off for repairs, and she was also fitted with new oil-burning
boilers to replace the inefficient ones. This helped, but the ship was
nevertheless still a big disappointment for Canadian Pacific.
of all these problems, Canadian Pacific kept the Empress of Australia
on her current run. One of the most dramatic events of her career occurred
on September 1st 1923, when she was to leave Yokohama with about
2,000 people on board. Suddenly a violent earthquake struck, and the ship
started swaying from side to side at the dockside. As an attempt to escape,
the Empress of Australia started to back away from the pier, but
got her propellers caught up in another ship’s anchor chains. The Empress
was left unmanoeuvrable, but fortunately the 4,787-ton Dutch tanker Iris
managed to tow her away from the danger. After a Japanese navy diver had
removed the tangled anchor chain, the Empress headed back into the
harbour to participate in the rescue work, saving more than 3,000 people
with her boats. The ship’s commander, Captain Robinson, was subsequently
given several honours for this heroic act.
this dramatic event, the Empress of Australia remained on her usual
route. However, her engines were still performing badly, and in May 1926,
she was sent to the Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Co. at Govan
to go through a major re-engineering programme. The job would take ten
months and £500,000 to complete, and involved the installation of
a whole new set of Parson’s turbine-engines. The rearrangement of the boilers
became a complicated matter. Canadian Pacific did not want to cut up the
ship’s marvellous interiors, so the old boilers were cut up in the boiler
rooms, and carried off the ship. The new boilers were then lowered into
the forward hold, and hauled into position on skids through the opened
this technically challenging refit, the Empress of Australia was
ready for service again in the summer of 1927. It did not take long before
it was evident that the massive refit was just what the Empress
needed. Her service speed was increased by more than three knots, making
her able to operate easily at a 19-knot speed. In addition, Canadian Pacific
was thrilled to learn that the ship’s fuel consumption had been reduced
by almost a third. These factors, plus the fact that the Empress
had wonderful interiors, made Canadian Pacific decide that she would be
put to best use by serving two purposes, both as a trans-atlantic liner
and a cruise ship.
of Australia’s first voyage since the refit commenced on June
25th, 1927. Leaving Southampton for Quebec, there were a couple
of distinguished passengers on board, namely the Prince of Wales and Great
Britain’s Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin, who were both on the way to the
Diamond Jubilee celebrations of the Canadian Federation. This was the start
Empress of Australia’s
new service, as a trans-atlantic liner between Southampton and Quebec from
spring to late autumn and then as a four-month world-cruise ship sailing
from New York. In 1929 she was repainted white with a blue band along her
of Australia as a World War II troop transport.
to serve Canadian Pacific, the Empress of Australia managed to keep
a reputation as a very beautiful and luxurious ship. In 1939, King George
VI personally chose the Empress to be chartered as a royal yacht
to carry him and Queen Elizabeth to Canada. Some of the ship’s cabins were
converted into royal apartments, and the first class smoking room was turned
into a private dining room for the royals. When finished with this honourable
task, the Empress of Australia remained on her Southampton-Quebec
run for another three months. However, in September 1939, yet another global
conflict ignited in Europe.
of Australia was sent to Southampton where she was to be converted
into a troopship. Painted in grey, fitted with a three-inch gun and with
a carrying capacity of 5,000, the Empress left on her first wartime
voyage to Ceylon and Bombay on September 28th, 1939. Following
this task, the ship then went across the Atlantic to Halifax, from where
she joined a large convoy carrying Canadian soldiers to the battlefields
of Europe. During the entire war, the Empress of Australia enjoyed
a very good luck, and was only seriously damaged once – when she was holed
by the Orient Line’s 14,982-ton Ormonde during the North Africa
campaign in January 1943.
1945, after six years of military service, the Empress of Australia
left Hong Kong with ex-prisoners-of-war and internees on her final wartime
voyage. Upon her return to Liverpool, Canadian Pacific announced that they
no longer had any interest in using the ship as a passenger liner, and
so it was decided to charter her to the navy as a troopship.
end of 1946, the Empress of Australia was sent to the Belfast shipyards
of Harland & Wolff to be refitted as a full-time trooper. In this guise
she operated mainly between Liverpool-Bombay or Liverpool-Port Said. In
November 1950 she was also employed carrying military personnel to Pusan
during the Korean War.
now the ship was old, and the Empress of Australia arrived at Liverpool
for the last time on April 29th 1952 at the end of her 234th
voyage. She was then sold for scrap to the British Iron & Steel Corporation
(BISCO), and on May 8th 1952 the Empress of Australia
sailed for Rosyth to be cut up. Of all the ships that had resulted from
Albert Ballin’s grandiose plans more than 40 years ago, the Empress,
or the former Tirpitz, was the one that had survived the longest
|The Admiral von Tirpitz/Tirpitz/Empress
of China/Empress of Australia - Specifications:
||589.8 feet (179.76
||75.2 feet (22.91
||Originally 21,498 gross
tons, 21,860 gross tons when refitted as the Empress of Australia.
||Originally 2 steam turbines
with Föttinger hydraulic gearing, 16,000 hp. Refitted with 2 Parson's
turbines in 1926, 20,440 hp. Two propellers.
||16,5 knots with original
engines, 19,5 knots after engine refit.