On 13th April 1877 White Star Line’s Germanic arrived at New York, having completed the crossing from Queenstown to Sandy Hook in 7 days 11 hours 37 minutes to set a new Blue Riband record. Her average speed over 2,830 miles was 15.76 knots. After a period in which the record had changed hands very frequently, this record was to stand for over 5 years, until Guion’s Alaska averaged 16.07 knots for a crossing on 16th April 1882.
Germanic had been launched as Yard Number 85 at Harland & Wolff’s Belfast yard. Externally identical to Britannic, she was fitted with conventional engines and propeller and not the dropped shaft tried and discarded on her sister. Handed over on 24th April 1874, she made her maiden crossing from Liverpool to New York on 20th May 1874. In July of that year she gained her first eastbound record and on 7th August 1874 gained her first westbound record. Over the following years she was rebuilt several times and changed owners. By 1950 she was being used as a floating hotel in Turkey, as Gulcemal, and was finally broken up later that year. Over 76 years of service – a tribute to the builders!
On 6th April 1941 Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth met at sea for the ﬁrst time, off Sydney Heads, Australia. Although they had been together briefly docked in New York, this was their first meeting at sea. Three other large liners joined them, together with an escort of cruisers and destroyers, to prepare for a major troop convoy.
Soon after, they sailed in Convoy US10 with Mauretania, Île de France and Nieuw Amsterdam. They headed for Fremantle, where they topped up fuel and water tanks on 16th April, and reaching Trincomalee by 25th April. Queen Mary had 5,724 Australian troops, Queen Elizabeth had 5,633, Île de France had 3,269, Nieuw Amsterdam had 2,642 and Mauretania had 3,891 New Zealanders. They reached Port Suez safely on 6th May.
Celtic (yard number 335) was launched at Harland & Wolff on 4th April 1901. She was the ﬁrst ship to exceed Great Eastern’s gross tonnage and the last ship to be ordered from Harland & Wolff by T.H. Ismay. She was the ﬁrst of the group that was to become known as the “Big Four”. These were designed primarily as passenger liners, with the carriage of cargo a secondary matter, even though she could carry 17,000 tons! Celtic had two quadruple-expansion engines with eight double-ended boilers working at 210psi. When built she was designed to carry 347 passengers in First Class, 160 in Second and 2,350 in Third.
Celtic was handed over by Harland & Wolff on 11th July 1901. After completing her trials, she arrived in the Mersey. Under Captain Henry St George Lindsay, she began her maiden voyage, from Liverpool to New York, on 26th July. She arrived in New York on 4th August, taking 8 days 46 minutes for the crossing. J. Bruce Ismay missed the maiden voyage for business reasons but was aboard for the second voyage.
On 3rd April 1913, Hapag’s Vaterland was launched by Prince Rupprecht of Bavaria. Initially Ballin had wanted to call the liner Europa, but political pressure from the Emperor forced him to change this just before the launch. The three liners in this group – Imperator, Vaterland and Bismarck – were not strictly sisters, with variations in length, breadth and gross tonnage, and interior differences. However they shared a common profile and were generally regarded as sisters.
Once the speeches were made, the Prince released the traditional bottle of champagne and the hull slid slowly into the River Elbe. Three tugs moved in and towed her to the fitting-out berth. Meanwhile the principal guests enjoyed a festive dinner held at Hamburg’s City Hall. Sadly she had a very brief career as Vaterland, and was interned at New York at the outbreak of the Great War. Later she was seized by the US authorities and renamed Leviathan, becoming America’s first superliner.
On the 3rd April 1934, after 27 months of enforced idleness, the first of the shipyard workers, some 400 men, returned to the yard, at 7.00am, escorted by pipers from the Dalmuir Parish Pipe Band in full regalia. The first thing they had to do was clean off rust – around 130 tons of it – and birds’ nests and bird droppings from the hull of liner 534 – later better known as Queen Mary. Lloyd’s surveyors inspected the structure, and reported that overall the state of the steelwork was quite remarkable. The other major concern was whether or not the hull had suffered any distortion from sitting on the stocks for so long. To everyone’s relief, the construction had been sufficiently thorough to support the hull throughout the period of enforced idleness and she passed a Lloyd’s inspection. On 26th May 1934, official permission was received from the Government to resume construction. Soon thousands of men were back at work, in the yard and the many outside suppliers.
Work had been suspended on 11th December 1931, when Cunard ran out of money, at the height of the Great Depression. Apart from a few men retained for essential maintenance, thousands were laid off, along with several thousand more at the various suppliers of components and parts. Finally in October 1932 the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Neville Chamberlain, asked Lord Weir to look into the problem and make recommendations. As a result, Cunard and White Star merged, in return for which the UK government agreed to provide financial assistance for the completion of Hull 534 – later Queen Mary – with enough for a later sister ship. The North Atlantic Shipping (Advances) Bill was approved in the Houses of Parliament on 27th March 1934, and signalled the start of the end of the Depression.
At 8.00pm on 2nd April 1912 Titanic raised her anchors and prepared to leave Belfast. She headed down the Lough and into the Irish Sea. From there she headed into St George’s Channel, past the north Cornish coast, round Land’s End and into the English Channel. As dusk fell she approached the Isle of Wight, then into Spithead. During the trip, Captain Smith took the opportunity to conduct several more tests.
She stopped at the Nab lightship around 10.00pm to collect the local pilot then rounded the Brambles sandbanks into Southampton Water, and headed for Southampton. She was met by five Red Funnel tugs – Ajax, Hector, Hercules, Neptune and Vulcan – to assist her through the channel and into Berth 44 at the White Star Dock. Arriving at high tide, around 11.30pm on 3rd April 1912 the tugs turned her so that she faced downstream, then eased her in towards Berth 44. She was warped in and by just after midnight on 4th April 1912 she was secured at her dock. Earlier Olympic had beeen docked at Berth 44. She sailed on her tenth crossing at noon on 3rd April, leaving the berth vacant and ready for her sister.
White Star’s Majestic, under Captain Parsell, sailed on her maiden crossing from Liverpool on 2nd April 1890. After stopping at Queenstown on 3rd April, she arrived in New York on 10th April, taking 6 days 10 hours west then 6 days 8 hours 58 minutes east, the best maiden voyage to that date.
Majestic (yard number 209) had been launched at Harland & Wolff on 29th June 1889, and was delivered on 22nd March 1890. She had two triple-expansion engines, each in a separate engine-room, driving twin propellers. There were twelve double-ended and four single-ended boilers, supplying steam at 180psi. The masts did not have yards, and no sails were ever carried. Accommodation was initially listed as 300 First Class, 170 Second Class and 850 Third Class.
Herbert Haddock was appointed on 27th March to command Titanic. Then it was announced that E.J. Smith was to be given command, and Haddock would transfer to Olympic. E.J. Smith arrived in Belfast on 1st April and signed on as Titanic’s captain. There were 78 stokers and trimmers plus 41 officers and senior crewmen aboard for the trials. Twenty Scotch boilers were fired up late on 31st March, as they would take between 8 and 12 hours to reach operating temperature and steam pressure. Once at the operational level, the fires were banked down to maintain an even heat. On 31st March five tugs – Herald, Herculaneum, Hercules, Hornby and Huskisson – arrived from Alexander Towing in Liverpool. Overnight the weather deteriorated and by 10.00am, when Titanic was expected to leave, the north-west wind was too strong and it was decided to delay the trials for 24 hours, to avoid risking the liner in the narrow confines of the Victoria Channel. The next day the weather had improved sufficiently, and the trials were concentrated into just one day: it was considered this would be sufficient.
On 2nd April 1912 the crew were aboard early; the stokers and trimmers opened up the boilers from the night before and were soon busy getting everything on line and the steam pressure up. The tugs moved in and at 6.00am helped Titanic down the Victoria Channel and into Belfast Lough. Hornby was on the starboard bow line, Herald was leading, Herculaneum was on the starboard line and Huskisson on the port line. Once into the Lough the little group came to a halt, the tugs cast off and returned to Belfast. The engines and rudder were tested, and the compasses adjusted. Smith ordered the blue and white international code signal to be hoisted – “I am undergoing sea trials”. Titanic then completed several hours of manœuvring trials, speed runs and testing various items of equipment. After lunch, Titanic headed south for around two hours in a continuous power test, before heading back to Belfas, during which she averaged 18 knots during a total run of 80 miles. Titanic was back at Belfast by 6.30pm. After testing the anchors, Francis Carruthers, the Board of Trade surveyor, signed Titanic’s certificate of seaworthiness, valid for one year. With this formality completed Thomas Andrews, on behalf of Harland & Wolff, handed Titanic over to Harold Sanderson as the official representative of White Star Line. At this point Titanic was registered at Liverpool, with the official number 131,428.
NDL laid the keel for its next great liner, Kaiser Wilhelm II, on 1st April 1902, at the Vulcan yard at Stettin. On 12th August 1902 the launch was attended by the Kaiser, dressed in full Admiral’s uniform. An older NDL liner of the same name was renamed Hohenzollern to free the name. The new liner was again designed to be quickly converted into an armed merchant cruiser should the need ever arise. Accommodation was planned for 700 First Class passengers in 290 cabins, plus 359 in Second Class and 799 in Third Class/Steerage. There were two principal suites, each with a drawing room, dining room, bedroom and private bathroom. There were also de luxe suites and large staterooms, each with their own bathrooms.
Once launched she was taken to the fitting out yard for completion. The main dining room on Kaiser Wilhelm II measured 108 feet by 69 feet, and rose through three floors to a skylight between the pairs of funnels. It even included two minstrels’ galleries. The smoking room was horseshoe-shaped around a funnel casing and also had the beneﬁt of a large skylight. Further aft was a Vienna Café, which allowed both ladies and gentlemen to meet and mingle socially. For those ladies preferring to stay separate there was also a Ladies’ Salon.
Canadian Pacific’s latest liner, Empress of Russia, sailed from Liverpool on 1st April 1913, heading for Vancouver via Gibraltar, Suez, Colombo, Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Nagasaki and Yokohama. She arrived at Vancouver on 7th June 1913, under Captain Beetham, after a brief stop and civic reception at Victoria. Thousands gathered to welcome her at the quayside.
CPR had ordered two new vessels from Fairfield’s in 1911 – Empress of Russia (Yard No 484) and Empress of Asia (Yard No 485). They were 592 feet long, and 16,810grt. Both were equipped with turbines driving four propellers, giving a service speed of 19 knots and a maximum speed of 20.5 knots. Initial accommodation was listed as 284 in First Class, 100 in Second Class and 808 in Asiatic Steerage, with a crew of around 560.
Both vessels were intended for the trans-Pacific service from Vancouver to Yokohama. Over the years they were to be extremely successful sisters, and were always popular with passengers. First Class in particular was very well-appointed.