1936 - Present Day
British shipping industry had always been part of the absolute top in the
world. Ever since the dawn of modern time had the British merchant ships
- and the warships - been a pattern for the rest of the world to follow.
With the revolutionary 19,000-tonner Great Eastern, the British
engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel had set the pattern for the future ocean
liner in 1860. Not only in size, but also in speed was the British an ever-returning
factor on the Atlantic. The White Star Line’s Teutonic and Majestic
held the famous Blue Riband in the early 1890s and the Cunard
Line’s Campania and Lucania took over the prize until 1897.
At that time the Germans snatched the Blue Riband and kept it until the
arrival of the Lusitania and Mauretania in 1907. But those
German liners were not close to the Great Eastern’s size, and not
until the Lusitania did the two factors - speed and size - come
together in one ship. Thereafter did that combination never exist, at least
not for the coming thirty years.
|The giant 'Hull 534'
growing in the yards of John Brown & Co.
War I period had been a time when the British operated old ships from the
early 1910s. These ships were either British-built ships like the
Olympic and Mauretania, or vessels seized by the British
government from the defeated Germans - vessels such as Berengaria
(ex-Imperator), Majestic (ex-Bismarck) and Homeric
(ex-Columbus). These were all distinguished ships but as the 1920s
came to an end, it was evident that the prime ships of the British merchant
fleet were getting old. The prime ships in the world were now owned by
the distinguished French Line (Compagnie Général Transatlantique
- C.G.T.) or the respected Norddeutscher Lloyd. The fabled luxury-liner
Île de France had entered the waves in 1927, and immediately become
one of the most popular passenger vessels on the North Atlantic. She had
replaced the celebrated Paris who had glamorously served the French
Line since 1921. The two German greyhounds Bremen and Europa
came in 1929 and 1930, and with their arrival the grand old Mauretania
finally lost the Blue Riband. Both the Cunard Line and the White Star Line
realised that something had to be done in order to save Britain’s lost
of the British companies to act was the White Star Line. With new enthusiastic
leaders, the company ordered a vessel measuring 1,010 feet - the longest
decided upon to date. The ship’s name would be Oceanic. At the same
time across the English Channel the French Line gave their order to build
a ship bigger still at almost 1,030 feet. The Cunard Line also wanted a
part in the race and started planning a project consisting of building
a 1,020-footer to rival White Star and C.G.T. All of the three ships would
have a service speed of around 30 knots.
would prove, this was a bad time for the construction of new ‘superliners’.
The White Star Line had already severe financial troubles, due to some
bad investments, when they ordered the Oceanic in 1928. Vessel after
vessel in the former so magnificent White Star fleet went to the scrapyards
without planned replacements. The building of the Oceanic made things
even worse for the company. In 1929 came the Great Crash on Wall Street.
This affected the entire world, including the already staggering White
Star Line. On July 29, 1929, they had to cancel the construction of the
Oceanic. Almost the entire keel of the ship had been laid, and the
steel was recycled into a smaller but otherwise similar vessel - the third
|The new Queen Mary
during fitting out after her launch.
Line managed to upkeep the work on their vessel because they were granted
a massive loan from the French Government. This loan was given with the
term that the Government would be given control of the French Line. Back
in Britain, the Cunard Line thought themselves fortunate to not have started
the building of their vessel when the Great Crash came. They figured that
if they could complete the ship before the world’s economy recovered, they
might end up with a very cheap bill for the ship. The work on the unnamed
‘Hull 534’ began in December 1930 on the John Brown Shipyard, but as times
grew harder and harder, Cunard could no longer afford to continue construction
on the vessel. In December 1931 the work was put on hold, but not cancelled.
A skeleton crew was maintained to keep the empty hull in adequate condition,
should construction ever restart.
watched with enviousness as the French Line’s brand new Normandie
slipped into the Loire River at St. Nazaïre on October 29, 1932. It
seemed that the ultra-modern Normandie would be the only of the
projected three 1,000-footers to be realised. In Britain, the giant ‘Hull
534’ sat rusting in its gantry. The Cunard Line had simply not enough money
to make any progress. Desperate, and in nationalistic words, the shipping
company turned to the British Government for a loan that would help them
complete the corroding Normandie-rival. The Government had aided
the Cunard Line before, when producing Lusitania and Mauretania
the work that had stopped four years earlier was not an easy task. The
entire hull was covered with tons of rust, and the gantry and other construction
equipment had to be completely overhauled. The restoration back to the
conditions of 1930 took several months, but since the workers knew that
this would put Britain back in the race, they proceeded with pride and
efficiency. Five months after the work had been restarted, ‘Hull 534’ was
ready for her launch.
Cunard would carry through a launch, they needed a name for the ship. After
many suggestions the name Victoria had been decided upon. The name
referred to the successful British queen of the 19th century,
and this needed a royal request - a required formality. Sir Percy Bates
and Sir Ashley Sparks, two men of the Cunard management, were selected
to inform King George V of the decision. Sir Ashley put it this way: ‘Your
Majesty, we are pleased to inform you that Cunard wishes your approval
to name our newest and greatest liner after England’s greatest queen’.
The king misunderstood the request - undeliberately or not - and replied:
‘My wife will be delighted’. Cunard could do nothing; you do not correct
the king in such a delicate matter. The present queen was named Mary, so
the new name for the vessel was destined to be Queen Mary.
|The beautiful Queen Mary powering
at high speed on her sea trials.
anecdote has been wildly criticised ever since Frank Braynard published
it 1947 in his first book ‘Lives of the Liners’. However he was finally
proven right in 1988 when he attended the same dinner party as Eleanor
Sparkes, daughter of Sir Ashley Sparkes. She opened the conversation with
her table neighbour Braynard by telling her ‘favourite ship story’. She
told the exact same anecdote that Braynard had published in his book. Ever
since have the story been more respected.
day of September was a rainy day. Nevertheless had loads of enthusiastic
British nationalists, ship-buffs and of course the thousands of workers
and designers that had worked on the Queen Mary gathered around
the titan bow. The gathering was crowned by the royal family standing on
a special designed platform with a glass-screen to prevent the royalties
from getting soaked. The queen dropped a bottle of Australian wine against
the bow, and thereby the ship started its motion towards the River Clyde.
The Queen Mary was a very long ship; the longest constructed in
Britain. The river had had to be further dragged to receive the 1,018-feet
hull. But in spite of this, the stern grounded on the opposite end of the
river because of the unaccounted speed the ship had reached on its way
down the slipway. But there were no damages and the fitting out could commence.
the fitting out, the design of the ship became more and more apparent to
the world. Supposed to be a rival to the French Normandie, the Queen
Mary could not compete in modernity and sleekness. She represented
the British conservatism, and one could say that she was a larger replica
of the 1914-built Aquitania. But in size the Queen Mary seemed
to overshadow the Normandie. At 81,000 tons, the Queen exceeded
the 79,280 French gross tons. But just as the British would claim to have
the largest ship in the world, the French Line announced that the Normandie
would be enlarged to over 83,000 tons before the Queen Mary’s maiden
voyage. The French seemed to have every advantage.
|The Queen Mary's First Class
Dining Room. Note the large map at the far end wall.
the Queen Mary was finished fitting out and left the River Clyde
on March 24, 1936, the Normandie had already sailed on the transatlantic
route for almost a year. After a not too dangerous run-aground in the narrow
river, the Queen headed for Southampton. Once there, the royal family
would once again visit the ship. The queen toured the Queen Mary
with interest, and in spite of her all-through conservative mind, she seemed
to have enjoyed the tour. That evening she wrote in her diary: ‘Toured
the new Queen Mary today. Not as bad as I expected’.
Mary was a modern ship, but not ultra-modern as the Normandie.
If the Normandie had entered service after the Queen Mary, the Queen
would possibly have been talked about as the most beautiful liner ever
built - inside and out. But now it was the contrary. Every critic compared
the ship with the Normandie. The British combination of traditionalism
and modernity was considered too sterile by the some critics of the 1930s.
But whatever said, the Queen Mary was a beautiful ship -
inside and out. Her interiors had over fifty different woods, collected
from all over the British Empire. Inside the Queen Mary’s staterooms,
you could easily make out that you were on a ship. Previous liners had
disguised their interiors to palaces and manor houses, but the Queen
was not afraid of looking like a ship. Around the vessel nautical touches
were displayed and the round portholes were proudly exposed. The first
class lounge was a two deck high creation with little groups of tables
and chairs cosily put together around fireplaces and in the room’s corners.
But perhaps the highlight of the ship was her first class dining saloon.
The long tables of the old ocean liners had been long gone, and just as
in the lounge the tables were grouped with two to four chairs a each. For
larger companies bigger tables were naturally available. On the short-side
wall a giant map of the Atlantic was mounted. It showed the exact position
of the Queen Mary during a transatlantic voyage. When Queen Elizabeth
entered service after the war, you could see the position of the sister-vessel
as well, and thereby knowing when they would meet on the Atlantic. The
first class accommodations were vast with plenty of elbow room, all with
a light touch of Art Deco, the new type of art introduced by the Île
de France in 1927. One beloved feature was the small and exclusive
Verandah Grill, just below the main mast.
Mary had been intended to have three classes: First, Second and Third.
But the Americans had introduced two vessels during the Depression that
featured three different classes: Cabin (First), Tourist (Second) and Third
(Third). At considerable lower fares than the traditional three-class system,
the American ships attracted the most passengers. The other shipping lines
in the world had to follow. So, when the Queen Mary entered service,
she did it with the new class system.
|The grey-painted Queen Mary in New York
during World War II.
1936, it was announced that the Queen Mary’s maiden voyage would
take place in the beginning of July. It was no secret that the Queen
aimed to snatch the Blue Riband out of Normandie’s hands. The Normandie
had been very secretive about the will to take the Blue Riband in possession
from the Italia Line’s Rex, but when she arrived in New York after
her triumphant maiden record-voyage in 1935, the crew members received
a medallion on which is was printed: ‘Normandie - The Blue Riband’.
All along, the French had aimed at the Blue Riband - the fight for the prize had become a
fight between two rivalling leviathans.
1, 1936, the Queen Mary set out on her maiden voyage. As the voyage
came to its end, the passengers realised that the Blue Riband was in the
ship’s reach. But as a touch of fate, the Queen Mary was surrounded
by fog after two thirds of the voyage. The ship slowed down to a crawl
and the Blue Riband immediately went out of sight. As soon as the fog had
lifted, the Queen Mary pushed her engines to the fullest, averaging
32 knots for the rest of the voyage. When she arrived in New York she had
completed the voyage in four days, twelve hours and twenty minutes. The
Normandie had been 38 minutes faster. But considering that the Queen
Mary had carried through a distance of her voyage at a very slow speed,
the British knew that the Blue Riband soon would be theirs.
they would be. But before any new record-voyage could take place, the teething
problems of the Queen Mary had to be remedied. At a thirty knot
speed, she vibrated violently at the stern, and in bad weather she developed
a nasty cork-screw motion. A third problem was that the funnels allowed
smoke to cover some of the after promenade decks. The lower interiors of
the ship were stiffened and the propellers redesigned. This reduced the
vibration considerably, but the cork-screw motion could not be bettered
- not yet at least. Smoke-washing devices were installed in the funnels,
which erased the problem of soot in the passengers’ throats.
the teething problems remedied, the Queen Mary made another run
for the Blue Riband on August 31. When she reached New York harbour at
the end of the voyage, she had managed the distance in three days, 23 hours
and 57 minutes - the first time the crossing over the Atlantic had been
made in fewer than four days. The next year on March 19, the Normandie
regained the title of being the fastest ship with an average crossing speed
of 31.65 knots. But the Queen Mary was still able to further push
her engines, and in August 1938, the Queen Mary retook the Blue
Riband with a crossing time of three days, twenty hours and forty minutes.
The distinguished honour would remain in British hands for nearly fifteen
years. The Queen Mary had proved to be the faster ship. Even though
the Normandie’s hull was far more stream-lined, the Queen
had much more powerful and efficient engines.
|This colour photograph shows the
Queen Mary in all her splendour.
not only in speed that the Queen Mary outmatched the French ship.
For some reason the passengers favoured the British ship. The Normandie
seldom travelled at full capacity, whilst the passengers flocked the Queen
Mary - the rich and the poor. The conservative British aristocracy
chose her before the French liner - unsurprisingly, but also businessmen
and ordinary tourists. There was something attracting in her homey, unpretentious
interior. The Normandie’s movie-star glitter made people feel as
they were ‘living in a cathedral’. Through the 1930s, the Queen
Mary carried the largest loads of passengers. But as the century was
about to end, the almost forgotten German eagle had once again awoke, and
required revenge for the lost World War I. Another large-scale conflict
was about to strike the world.
Adolf Hitler had reached the very top seat of power in Berlin when he was
declared Reichskansler in 1933. He forbade labour unions and other political
parties. The Jews were to be exterminated in the concentration camps. Another
goal Hitler had was to expand Germany’s borders. At first he only claimed
the surrounding German-speaking parts of Europe. But when he continued
with Czechoslovakia and Poland, the rest of the world could not sit idle
any longer. The British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain declared to
Hitler that if his troops had not left Polish lands by September 3, 1939,
his country with its allies would declare war on Germany. Hitler refused
and the Second World War was a fact.
|The ship's Garden Lounge.
as in World War I, the British, as well as the other participating countries,
would need troop-ships. The Queen Mary and her still-building sister
Queen Elizabeth should be perfect transports. But the two Queens
were not to be used in the absolute beginning of the war. The Queen
Mary lay berthed at Pier 90 in New York harbour together with the Normandie
until 1940. That year, the Queen Elizabeth made her secret maiden
voyage across the Atlantic, and joined the other two leviathans. For two
weeks, the world’s three largest liners were berthed side by side. The
Normandie remained in her peacetime colours, but the Queen Mary
was repainted grey at her pier. When the two weeks had passed on March
21, the Queen Mary sailed for Sydney, Australia where her interiors
were refitted in order to accommodate 5,000 soldiers. Shortly afterwards
the Queen Elizabeth too left with the same destination. The Normandie
was left alone in New York harbour.
rival of the Queen Mary remained in New York, with a French skeleton
crew attending her. However, after some time the Americans seized the vessel.
At first they wanted to convert her into an aircraft carrier, but that
project was abandoned. With the Americans in charge the Normandie
was more and more neglected, and finally a worker on board the ship managed
to set the ship on fire in 1942. When trying to kill the blaze, the New
York Fire Department pumped too much water in the ship’s upper structure.
By the next day the Normandie wallowed over onto her port side,
almost totally burnt out. She was later righted and towed away, but it
was too late. The only worthy rival to the British was forever gone.
having been completed as a trooper in Sydney, the Queen Mary started
to sail between Sydney and Suez together with the Queen Elizabeth. The
two ships had been designed for the cold North Atlantic and as they now
crossed the equator frequently, the soldiers used to pack the upper decks.
The venerable old Aquitania also served in the war, and since she
was built long before the invention of air-condition, she was the most
unfavoured ship because she was so hot. But as the grand old dame she was,
she performed brilliantly throughout the conflict.
attack of Pearl Harbor in December 1941, meant changes for the Queen
Mary. She returned to her North Atlantic run, after having shipped
20,000 American soldiers to Australia in order to strengthen the weak defence
there. In Americans hands, the Queens expanded their trooping-capacity.
Now they should be able to carry 15,000 men - nearly eight times more people
than in peace-time service. Every possible space was remade in order to
give the soldiers somewhere to sleep. To accommodate even more, the soldiers
slept in shifts. On one crossing in 1943 the Queen Mary set the
present record of people on board a ship - 16,683 souls. That crossing
she averaged nearly 29 knots, but had lifeboat accommodation for merely
8,000 people. The Queen Mary continued on the North Atlantic run
for the rest of the war, carrying more troops than she would ever carry
peace-time passengers. Winston Churchill sailed on the Mary several
times to negotiations with his American ally. In his memoires he wrote:
‘Built for the arts of peace and to link the Old World with the New, the
Queens challenged the fury of Hitlerism in the Battle of the Atlantic.
Without their aid the day of final victory must unquestionably have been
one crossing towards Europe in late September 1942, the Queen Mary
was zigzagging north west of Ireland in a convoy of ships. Suddenly the
British light cruiser Curaçoa went across her bow and the
81,000-ton Queen sliced the vessel in half. The Curaçoa
sank immediately with the loss of 338 men. Being in delicate waters the
Queen Mary continued her voyage, seemingly undamaged. When she was
overhauled a hole ‘as big as a house’ was revealed in the ship’s bow. During
later years the Queen Mary have been accused of not zigzagging at
the moment, and therefore confusing the Curaçoa.
Mary leaving Southampton for the last time in 1967.
7, 1945 peace had finally come to Europe as the German forces capitulated.
Total peace was achieved on September 2, when the Japanese signed their
unconditional surrender. By October, the British Government allowed Cunard
to paint the Queen Elizabeth’s funnels in Cunard livery for the
first time. By 1946, she could carry through her ‘maiden voyage’, even
though she had sailed for the past six years. The Queen Mary was
also returned to Cunard shortly after the war and put back in transatlantic
proved to be a prosperous period for the two Queens. They sailed
with plenty of passengers between Southampton and New York. It was not
uncommon with as many as four comings and arrivals a week. The Cunarders
gained immense popularity on the North Atlantic passenger trade route.
Their size made people choose them because of the safety and the famous
reliability. Together with the Normandie, the Queen Mary
and the Queen Elizabeth were the largest vessels ever to use the
port of New York. Since they both had the extraordinary deep draught of
39 feet the harbour constantly had to be dragged. Sometimes the Queens
had to move with the ever-changing tide. At some occasions when one of
the Queens arrived in New York they found that the docking personnel
was on strike, and the giant ships had to dock for themselves, relying
on their own manoeuvrability. The process to dock with the tug-boats took
about half an hour, but without their aid it could take two hours.
the post-war years, the Queen not only enjoyed popularity among
the average passenger, lots of celebrities chose to take the Queen Mary
for the voyage to America or Europe. Some of the most noted names are Charles
Boyer, Spencer Tracy, Madeleine Carroll, Sir Winston and Lady Churchill
and of course the beautiful Greta Garbo.
however, in the fifties was not pleasant for the Queen Mary. In
1952 she lost the Blue Riband to the brand new American ship United
States. With engines designed for aircraft carriers she developed 240,000
horse power. With that power she cruised across the Atlantic
with an average speed of over 35 knots. There was no way the Queen Mary
could re-capture the lost honour. But, as mentioned, the Queen Mary
enjoyed such popularity that losing the Blue Riband did not effect the
number of passengers sailing on her. But soon another threat came.
the first aerial connection between Europe and America opened. This meant
that a passenger could choose to travel across the Atlantic at 30 or 35
knots on board the Queens or the United States, or make the
voyage at 500 knots in an aeroplane. More and more of the liner’s passengers
now instead went across the Atlantic inside a small air-borne machine,
than on a comfortable ship.
|Today, the Queen
Mary serves as a floating hotel at the city of Long Beach, California.
of Cunard’s vessels now started to concentrate on cruising for tourists
on voyages without destination. The second Mauretania’s planned
‘sister’ Caronia of 1949 went into service as a genuine cruise ship.
Even the two Queens made some cruises to Nassau and the Canary Islands
in the early sixties.
could not keep up the declining Queens. In 1967 it was announced
that both the Queen Mary and the Queen Elizabeth would be
withdrawn from service. The future plans for the two vessels were many.
Some investors thought of turning the Queen Mary into a giant immigrant
ship between Britain and Australia, others wanted to make her into a giant
floating high school at the Brooklyn waterfront. But the highest bid was
made by Japanese scrap merchants - $3,250,000.
Elizabeth was sold to a Hong Kong business tycoon and was to become
the floating university Seawise University. Sadly, she suffered from the
same tragic end as the Normandie when she, almost completed, caught
fire and was capsized by water-pumping firemen. She remained on the spot
and was scrapped in 1973.
Mary was the only one left. Would she too disappear from the face of
earth? Fortunately, as a touch of fate, the Californian city of Long Beach
made a higher offer than the Japanese scrappers; they were willing to give
as much as $3,450,000. The Queen Mary was saved! She was chartered
by a New York travel agency for the voyage to California. On this last
sentimental voyage she carried cruise passengers from Southampton around
South America to Los Angeles. After forty days at sea she reached her destination
on December 9, 1967. Well in Long Beach the Queen Mary was relieved
of her propellers and underwent a $72,000,000-refit (!) into the ‘Hotel
Queen Mary’ emerging in May 1971. She has remained there ever since. Some
years ago she was in financial trouble, and the Japanese scrappers reappeared.
She managed to get through that, and today her future looks very bright.
the years, the Queen Mary has been the natural place to go when
making movies about ships. In the early 1970s the film ‘The Poseidon Adventure’ about the ageing vessel Poseidon hit the screens. The plot was
about an old distinguished liner that capsized on her final cruise before
retirement. And in 1979, the Queen Mary played the role of the Titanic
and could be seen in the movie ‘S.O.S. Titanic’. The recent Titanic-film
by James Cameron has made the interest of the liner grow even bigger.
She lies secure outside Long Beach and as far as my knowledge goes, there
have not been any S.O.S.-signals lately.
|The Queen Mary - Specifications:
||1,018 feet (310.9
||118 feet (36 m)
||39 feet (11.9 m)
||81,235 gross tons
||Steam turbines powering
four four-bladed propellers.