1940 - 1973
closing years of the 1920s and the following first of the 1930s
were to become the time in which some of the greatest passenger vessels
ever built came to life. The years following the First World War had not
seen much development in naval design - at least not in the matters of
size and speed. The first shipping company who sought out to change this
was the White Star Line, which had ordered their third Oceanic by
Harland & Wolff. That ship was intended to be the first ever to exceed
a thousand feet in length, but the company's already strained financial
situation was worsened when The Great Crash struck. The order of the Oceanic
was cancelled, and the unfinished hull was broken up and turned into the
26,000-ton Britannic who was introduced in 1930.
|The giant Queen Elizabeth,
growing on the stocks.
Line, which was planning their new champion - the Normandie - was
not immediately affected by the crash, and could continue with the construction.
Launched in 1932, the Normandie set out on her maiden voyage in
1935 and proved to be the very latest in ship technology.
Line had not been resting to deal with this competition. The keel of their
own supership had been laid in December 1930, but the construction was
brought to a halt a year later due to the poor economic situation. Unlike
the White Star's Oceanic however, the uncompleted ship was not broken
up. Cunard had hopes of continuing the work soon, but it was not until
the merger with White Star Line in 1934 that money could be raised for
the job. Then finally, after two years and nine months of uncertainty,
hull no. 534 was launched and named Queen Mary.
1936, the Queen Mary embarked on her maiden voyage. By now, the
Normandie had been in service for a year and had already captured the Blue Riband
for France. But on her sixth round trip voyage, the Mary took it
from her, putting the prestigious award in British hands for the first
time in seven years. This was the beginning of a fierce battle between
the two Leviathans. In 1937, the Normandie bettered the Queen
Mary's record and regained the Blue Riband, but by August 1938 the
grand Cunarder had again taken it back from her.
the rivalry continued. But by now, it was only a matter of time before
the Queen Mary was given something that the Normandie never
had - a running mate of equal size and speed. Cunard was now close to make
reality of their old dream, a two-ship weekly express service across the
Queen was, like her older sister, built by John Brown and Co. Ltd.
In this new ship, one would find what the Queen Mary lacked. Since
the Normandie had broken new grounds with her very decorative interior
and exterior design, the Cunard Line had been criticised for making the
Queen Mary a ship of the 'old breed'. Her design was clearly similar
to those of the Aquitania and the first Mauretania, and the
interiors was not near as daring as those on the Normandie. With
this in mind, Cunard decided that the new ship would be somewhat more modern.
She would have two funnels instead of three, and the old-fashioned well
deck found on the Queen Mary would not be present on her sister.
The bow was angled forward to give her a speedier look, not to mention
a greater length. Her projected tonnage close to 84,000 tons meant that
she would become the largest passenger vessel ever built, a title that
she would keep for another 57 years!
|The world's largest ship,
in preparation for her secret maiden voyage.
new ship grew in size on the stocks of her slipway, the political situation
in Europe became tenser by the day. As Adolf Hitler and his German Reich
became more aggressive, another great conflict was becoming a serious threat
to the world. As Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth arrived at the John Brown
shipyards to launch the new Queen Elizabeth on September 27th
1938, a great war seemed inevitable. But before smashing the bottle against
the bows and sending the new vessel into the water, the queen chose to
speak of peace instead of war:
|'We proclaim our belief,
that by the grace of God, and by Man's patience and good will, order may
yet be brought out of confusion, and peace out of turmoil. With that hopeful
cry in our heart, we send forth upon her mission this noble ship.'
The launch was a success,
and soon afterwards the Queen Elizabeth was towed to her fitting-out
wharf in the River Clyde. But with the war coming closer every day, work
had to be suspended as many of the nation's navy vessels needed refurbishment.
on September 1st 1939, the first day of war came. Hitler marched
into Poland, and thereby made enemies of Great Britain and her allies. As the conflict
grew, the Queen Elizabeth lay unfinished and waited for a decision
to be made about her future. Many suggestions were made, and one of those
quickly dismissed was that she would be sold for scrap. Some proposed to
sell her to the United States or convert her into an aircraft carrier,
but in the end it was decided that she would be put to best use as a troopship.
action had to be taken fast. Being the great ship that she was, the Queen
Elizabeth was a prime target for German Luftwaffe-pilots. To have this
great ship sunk would have been a serious blow to the allied forces.
conversion into a troopship could not be done in the UK, because of the
threat of German bombers and saboteurs. The engines of the great liner
was installed, and in February 1940, she left her wharf and headed out
to open waters. But with what destination? False rumours had been spread
that Queen Elizabeth would go to Southampton to be fitted out as
a trooper, and only the crew of the ship knew that it was not so. Some
guessed that she would head for Halifax, but at this stage very few knew
of her destination. Once out at sea, Captain John Townley opened his sealed
orders that told him to head for New York, which he did at full speed with
a crew of only 400. Later that day, a squadron of Nazi bombers were spotted
over the Solent, where the Queen Elizabeth would have been travelling
if she was going to Southampton. The deception of the enemy had worked.
|A beautiful aerial view
of the Queen Elizabeth steaming down the Hudson.
a four-day combined maiden voyage and sea trials, the grey-painted Queen
Elizabeth arrived in New York harbour, and was moored alongside her
sister and the Normandie. For two weeks they lay together, the three
largest vessels in the world. But on March 21st, the Queen
Mary left New York bound for Sydney, Australia. There she would be
transformed into a trooper, capable of carrying 5,000 soldiers.
meantime, the Queen Elizabeth remained in New York to be fitted
out with some basic equipment such as electric wiring and light fittings.
The launch gear that had still been attached to her hull during the dramatic
maiden voyage was removed and the bottom of the ship was refurbished as
it had been in water for two whole years. After this, she too left for
1941, the Queen Elizabeth arrived in Sydney. The conversion into
a trooper was soon underway, and when finished the Queen Elizabeth joined
the Queen Mary in transporting troops between Sydney and Suez. Unfortunately,
this route was in much warmer climate than the two ships were constructed
for. With no air-conditioning and very little ventilation, the two Queens
were not very comfortable means for the soldiers to be shipped. In these
harsh conditions, it was not uncommon that fights broke out among the troops.
But by the end of 1941, an event occurred that would put the Queens
back on the North Atlantic where they belonged.
7th 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. As the United
States entered the war, great carrying capacity was needed to transport
their forces. What could be better suited for this than the two mighty
Cunarders? The two Queens were sent to America, where their carrying
capacity was greatly increased from 5,000 to 15,000 people. The Americans
was permitted the two vessels as they thought best, with Great Britain
paying the bill. In return, Great Britain was sent aid in the form of American
the duration of the conflict, the Queens contributed to the war
effort by transporting massive amounts of troops. Each ship usually carried
a whole division, with the record set by the Queen Mary on July
25th, 1943 with 16,683 souls on board. During these voyages,
the ships were carrying lifeboat accommodations for only 8,000 people.
This was a serious matter, but it was also one that had to be overlooked
- it was a true case of total war. In November 1942, the Nazis announced
in radio that the German U-boat U-704 had torpedoed the Queen
Elizabeth and sunk her. Naturally, this was all a propaganda ploy,
but on many of these trooping voyages, rumours were circulating that one
of the Queens had been sunk. But every time, this was proved to
be false when the mighty vessels arrived at their destinations in their
grey wartime livery. Soon, they were both nicknamed 'The Grey Ghost'.
|The Queen Elizabeth's interiors were
done in a late Art Deco fashion. This photo shows the First Class Main Foyer.
the day of victory came. On May 7th 1945, peace reigned in Europe,
and four months later, on September 2nd, the Japanese forces surrendered.
By now the merchant vessels of the world had transported a vast amount
of people across the globe. The Queens alone had ferried more than
two million to the war zone. During 1946, while the Queen Mary
was busy shipping war brides and soldiers back to their homes, the
Queen Elizabeth was put into dry dock at Southampton. There, 30
tons of paint was used to dress her in the Cunard livery which she had
never worn before; Black hull, white superstructure and orange funnels
with black tops. Her wartime interiors were ripped out to be replaced with
what she was intended for - comfortable and luxurious passenger amenities.
On October 16th 1946, the Queen Elizabeth finally set
out from Southampton on her maiden voyage as a passenger liner. The crossing
was booked solid, and several famous names could be found in the passenger
list, for example Russia's foreign ministers Molotov and Vishinsky, travelling
to the first session of the new United Nations. Commanding the ship was
Commodore James Bisset, who 34 years earlier had been second officer on
the Carpathia when she raced to rescue the survivors of the Titanic.
Queen Mary was finished with her warbride crossings, and had been
put into dry dock to be transformed into the great passenger liner she
was supposed to be. The world that emerged after the war was a different
one, and the two Queens had been modified to meet it according to
the company's new slogan 'Getting there is half the fun'. Ballrooms had
been turned into cinematic theatres and new artwork had been incorporated
in the interiors. Every space of the ships, it seemed, had been meticulously
refurbished and on the Queen Mary, even the officer's quarters were
completely renovated. On board the younger Queen, one could find
art by many renowned artists such as Bainbridge Copnall, Dennis Dunlop
and George Ramon to mention a few. It is also worth noting that artist
Norman Wilkinson, who almost 40 years earlier had provided the two paintings
'Approach of the New World' and 'Plymouth Harbour' for the White Star liners
Olympic and Titanic, had painted the two works 'Elsinore'
and 'Dover Harbour' for the Queen Elizabeth's Promenade Deck smoking
|A fantastic colour photograph, showing
the majesty of Queen Elizabeth.
the high season, on July 31st 1947, the Queen Mary left
Southampton on her first peacetime commercial crossing. The following day
Queen Elizabeth departed from New York harbour and thereby Cunard's
old dream of a two-ship weekly transatlantic express service had at last
become a reality. Now was a golden time for the old Cunard Line, since
they were operating the two greatest ships on the route. The only worthy
rival, the Normandie, had been destroyed by a fire in February 1942,
and so the two Queens ruled the Atlantic waves alone. Not every
arrival was an easy one though, since at times the tugboat were on strike,
and docking had to be done without their assistance. Normally, a tug-assisted
docking took about 35 minutes, but with no such help, it could take over
two hours. Only once did a mishap occur, when the Queen Elizabeth
was turning into the slip between piers 90 and 92 in New Your harbour when
suddenly a strong wind caught hold of her and pushed her bow against the
dockside bending a catwalk beyond recognition.
1940s came to its end and before entering the 1950s,
Cunard managed to erase their old rival's name from the company as Cunard White Star ceased
to exist on December 31st 1949, and emerged as Cunard Steam
Ship Co. Ltd. And so the only traces left of the once proud White Star
Line were the Britannic and the Georgic, both in Cunard service,
but still in White Star livery.
decade continued to be a profitable one for the Cunard Line and their two
Queens, and at first it seemed as if the next decade would be equally
successful. But in 1952, the brand new United States, which took
the Blue Riband from the Mary on her maiden voyage, gave them healthy
competition. But that was equal competition. By the end of the 1950s,
the technology in air travel completely changed the situation. In 1954,
one million people had crossed the Atlantic by sea and some 600,000 by
air. When asked if this was worrying, a director of the Cunard Line responded
'Flying is but a fad. There will always be passengers to fill ships like
the Queens'. But only three years later, the two ways of travel
had one million passengers each and by 1961 the tables had turned completely
with 750,000 going by ship and two million by plane. The world had evolved
swiftly after the war, and with the demand of speed and economy, the airlines
offered a crossing in a few hours that by sea took between three of five
days, thereby making airway the way to travel. As the situation worsened,
the words of the confident Cunard director was proven wrong when on one
crossing the Queen Elizabeth carried only 200 passengers and 1,200
crew. An intolerable situation indeed.
|The former Cunard Queen, now repainted
white and renamed Seawise University. (Photo by and courtesy of Stephen Berry)
the Cunard Line decided to build a new ship to replace the now thirty year-old
Queen Mary. The new ship was at first planned to be one of traditional
design and divided into three classes, but as this would have been financial
suicide, Cunard decided to build a ship with almost no class distinction
that would serve on the North Atlantic during the summer months and spend
the off-season cruising in warmer waters. She would be the QE2.
The Queen Elizabeth was dry docked and given a major refit. She
was given a new lido deck and an outdoor swimming pool on the stern - all
to make her capable of cruising arrangements. She was also fitted with
complete air conditioning for the same reason. After the refit she began
serving in her new role, as a combined transatlantic liner and cruise ship.
But even in this guise she could not make profits. And in addition, the
now ageing Queen Elizabeth was not suitable
as a running mate to the new QE2. Therefore, Cunard Line revised
their plans for the two old Queens. The Queen Mary would
be retired in 1967, and her younger sister would stay in service for another
year, while the new Queen Elizabeth 2 was being built.
31st 1967, Queen Mary left Southampton on her 516th
and last voyage. Sold to the city of Long Beach, California for $3,400,000,
she would be turned into a dockside hotel. She arrived at her final port
of call on December 9th, and was officially removed from the
British registry and handed over to her new owners two days later. A year
later, in October 1968, the time had come for the Queen Elizabeth to
leave the Cunard fleet, when she left New York harbour dressed in flags.
She had been sold for $7,750,000 for use as a floating hotel and museum
in the Port Everglades, Florida. But as such she would never be used.
new owners ran into financial difficulties, the Queen Elizabeth was
not given enough attendance and started to suffer from the harsh climate.
Two years later, when her owners could see no other way out, she was auctioned
off to the highest bidder, namely the Taiwanese shipping tycoon C. Y. Tung.
He wanted to turn her into a floating university that would tour the world
but before he could do so, the ship had to be laid up in Florida to have
her engines repaired, as they had been damaged when water had entered the
deteriorating hull. Finally, she left Florida bound for Hong Kong, but
during the voyage she had much problems with her machinery.
in Hong Kong, work started on turning her into a floating university. Renamed
Seawise University, the old Queen Elizabeth was stripped
down and then built back up. She was given new equipment in order to bring
her up to modern safety standards, and her interior was given a new, more
oriental look. Soon, she would set out on her maiden voyage in this new
|The tragic demise of
the Queen Elizabeth. Note the collapsed bridge. (Stephen Berry collection)
January 9th 1972, five mysterious fires broke out through the
ship. The fire protection system was still not complete, and there was
not much the workers could do to fight the raging blaze. The great superstructure
eventually melted in the extreme heat and finally caved in on itself. Fireboats
arrived at the scene and started pumping water onto the burning hulk, but
as the water filled the vessel, she began leaning over on her starboard
side. As with the Normandie thirty years earlier, the sheer weight
of the water had now spelled doom on the ship.
fell over the now dying vessel, she was listing at a greater angle. By
the next morning, she had rolled over and was now lying on her side on
the bottom of the harbour. To salvage the devastated vessel would not be
much use, and it was decided that she would be sold for scrap. But before
that she would stand in the spotlights one last time. In 1974, Queen
Elizabeth briefly appeared in the James Bond-movie 'The Man with the
Golden Gun', where she served as the secret Hong Kong headquarters of the
MI6. Filmed in 1973, the Queen Elizabeth had already been removed
from Hong Kong harbour by a Japanese scrapping firm at the time of the
film's premiere in late 1974.
the glorious days of the Queen Elizabeth, the largest passenger
vessel for 57 years, not surpassed until the arrival of the Carnival cruise
ship Destiny at 101,000 tons in 1997.
|Queen Elizabeth - Specifications:
||1,031 feet (314.9
||118 feet (36 m)
||39 feet (11.9 m)
||83,673 gross tons
||Steam turbines turning