Ausonia was requisitioned in 1915 for use as a troopship. She operated in the Mediterranean and as far as India. She had a skirmish with submarine U55 on 11th June 1917, but survived. She was not so lucky the second time. On 30th May 1918, while en route from Liverpool to New York, in ballast, she was attacked by submarine U62. She sank some 600 miles off Fastnet. This was the submarine, under Captain Hashagen, that had earlier sunk Storstad, the collier that had rammed and sunk the Empress of Ireland. Although there were no passengers aboard Ausonia, there was a crew of 130. Of these, 44 were lost in the attack or on two of the lifeboats that disappeared. The rest were rescued on 8th June by HMS Zennia – all were in serious distress by then through hunger, dehydration and exposure.
The liner had been built in 1909 by Swan, Hunter & Wigham Richardson’s at Newcastle, for the Cairn-Thompson Line, and named Tortona. She was 450 feet long, 7,907grt, and had been designed for their Canadian service. In 1911 she was acquired by Cunard and renamed Ausonia.
Docked at Liverpool, following two days of public inspection and guided tours, Aquitania was moved to the Prince’s Landing Stage. She was berthed at the Landing Stage at approximately 1pm on 30th May. By 2pm the London Boat Train had arrived, and by 2.40pm all the passengers were embarked. The ropes were cast off and Cunard’s newest liner left for her maiden voyage. Total complement for this trip was 1,055 passengers. The actual crossing was unremarkable – the average speed for the trip was 23.10 knots: logged distance from Liverpool to Ambrose Channel Light ship was 3,181 miles in 5 days 17 hours 43 minutes. She passed the Ambrose Light Ship at 5am on Friday, 5th June, and by 9.15am she was off Pier 54, escorted by a huge flotilla of welcoming boats. She ﬁnally docked at 9.35am.
The legendary career that was opening up in front of Aquitania was to see her safely through two World Wars, carrying 1,200,000 passengers over some 3 million miles during her life of nearly 36 years. Aquitania was never involved in any major incident, and received virtually no bad publicity. One of the few unfortunate events in her career happened the day before her maiden voyage – the Canadian Paciﬁc liner Empress of Ireland was hit and sunk by Storstad, a Norwegian collier, in heavy fog off the mouth of the Saint Lawrence, with the loss of over 1,000 lives. In spite of this disaster, Cunard claimed that no passengers cancelled their voyage. The effect on this sinking, so soon after the loss of the Titanic, subdued interest in the maiden voyage of the new Cunarder.
In preparation for Olympic’s sea trials, four tugs – Alexandra, Herculaneum, Hornby and Wallasey – were sent over from Alexandra Towing in Liverpool. They joined Harland & Wolff’s yard tug, Hercules. On 28th May 1911, the five tugs moved in and swung Olympic round to face Belfast Lough. The next day Olympic was towed out into Belfast Lough where she anchored briefly. The compasses were adjusted and the wireless system was tested. She then headed for the Victoria Channel and the open sea, to conduct her sea trials.
For two days, Captain Smith conducted a complex and thorough series of tests and manœuvres. These were designed to enable him and his senior officers understand their new command, at that time the largest vessel afloat. During one sequence of speed trials, the liner was said to have reached a maximum of 21¾ knots. Also aboard was a Board of Trade surveyor, Francis Carruthers. Olympic returned to Belfast Lough on the morning of 31st May, in time to form part of the backdrop for Titanic’s launch.
On Wednesday, 27th May 1936, passengers steadily embarked and their luggage was carefully checked and then taken aboard Cunard’s new flagship, Queen Mary. The final preparations for departure were made: five boat trains were needed to bring passengers from London. Fares ranged from £102 return for Cabin Class to £33.10s.0d for Third Class. During the day 18 special excursion trains had brought thousands of spectators to Southampton.
At 4.33pm, watched by up to 250,000 sightseers, and dressed overall for the occasion, Queen Mary slowly backed out from Ocean Dock. As she headed slowly down Southampton Water, thousands more lined the banks, and a fleet of small boats surrounded her. By 6.30pm she reached the Channel. Next stop was Cherbourg, arriving at 8.47pm. Early next morning she was ready for her first crossing, leaving at 1.39am (BST). On her first trip she carried 1,805 passengers, served by 1,101 crew (although precise figures vary), plus two stowaways and £2·5 million of gold.
The average speed officially logged by Queen Mary on her maiden crossing was 29·133 knots: she passed the Ambrose Channel light ship just after 9.00am local time on Monday 1st June, 4 days 5 hours 46 minutes from Bishop Rock. Not yet quite enough to beat Normandie, but well above her designed service speed of 28·5 knots.
At the outbreak of WWII, Conte Rosso was initially marked with neutrality signs. Once Italy entered the war, Conte Rosso was requisitioned by the Italian authorities in 1940 for use as a troop transport. On 24th May 1941, while carrying 2,729 troops to Tripoli in a convoy, she was attacked and sunk by two torpedoes from the British submarine HMS Upholder (P37), 15 nautical miles east of Syracuse. At least 1,291 aboard were lost.
Conte Rosso was an Italian passenger liner, built in 1922 by Beardmore’s of Glasgow, along with a sistership, Conte Verde, for Lloyd Sabaudo. Her launch on 26th January 1921 was ominous in that she stuck on the slips and was not actually released for a further two weeks. She was 591 feet long, 18,017grt, and could carry 208 First Class passengers plus 268 in Second and 1,890 in Third Class. Her interiors were extremely lavish, and the sisters were considered some of the finest liners of their day. Designed for the service from Genoa to South America, she even had an outdoor dining area for use in warmer climes.
The maiden voyage left Genoa for Buenos Aires on 29th March 1922. Soon after she was placed on the New York service. In January 1932 she was merged into the Italia fleet, along with most Italian liners, but was soon transferred to Lloyd Triestino. She was then operated on the Trieste to Bombay and Shanghai service, and was used by many German and Austrian Jewish émigrés seeking to escape persecution, as they could land at Shanghai without the usual papers needed elsewhere.
On 21st May 1940 the British Hospital Ship Maid of Kent was destroyed by enemy action while collecting wounded soldiers at Dieppe. Maid of Kent, and her sister Isle of Thanet, were cross-channel ferries that had been requisitioned at the outbreak of WWII and converted into hospital ships. As well interior work, they were both painted in the internationally-recognised livery of white hulls and a broad green band, with large red crosses on the hull and funnel. They were also always brightly illuminated.
Maid of Kent had been sent to Dieppe on 18th May 1940, under Captain Addenbrooke, along with another ferry, Brighton. Soon after arrival the harbour was attacked by the Luftwaffe, but the ship escaped damage. Further attacks followed but each time the hospital ship escaped attention. It probably helped that a large area of lawn beside the quay had been covered with white chalk and a large red cross had been sprayed on, and also a large white canvas had been stretched between the mainmast and the stern flag post, with a large red cross painted on.
On 21st May a train pulled up alongside Maid of Kent, and stretcher cases were taken off and laid on the quayside, waiting to be taken aboard. Then, at 5pm, the Luftwaffe attacked again. The first wave of bombers attacked the harbour but missed the hospital ship. However, the second wave of bombers swept in, and Maid of Kent was hit. One bomb dropped straight down the funnel into the engine-room, and another two hit the afterdeck: the ship was completely ablaze within a few minutes. Seventeen of the crew were lost, along with 11 RAMC personnel. The train was strafed by the aircraft and burned out, but none of the injured soldiers on the quayside were further hurt. The vessel was abandoned in the early hours of the following day.
On 13th May 1921 Kaiserin Auguste Victoria was purchased outright by Canadian Paciﬁc and renamed Empress of Scotland. Her interiors were reﬁtted at Liverpool for the Canadian trade, with accommodation for 459 in First Class, 478 in Second Class and 960 in Third Class. Empress of Scotland then sailed on 21st August 1921 to Vulcan’s yard at Hamburg where she was converted to oil burning, and the engines overhauled. Additional lifeboats were installed, and she was repainted, with a black hull, a white forecastle, white riband and green boot topping. After her reﬁt, Empress of Scotland sailed on 22nd January 1922, from Southampton to New York, followed by two Mediterranean cruises.
Constructed at the Vulcan shipyard at Stettin as Yard Number 264, Kaiserin Auguste Victoria was built to a design from Harland and Wolff in Belfast. She was launched on 29th August 1905: 677.5 feet long, 77.3 feet beam and 50.2 feet draft, and 25,037 registered tonnage. The maiden voyage between Hamburg and New York was on 10th May 1906. Docked in Hamburg at the outbreak of the Great War, Kaiserin Auguste Victoria was handed over to the Allies in early 1919. She was ceded to the Shipping Controller on 27th March 1919, then chartered by the US Shipping Board: on 8th April she made the ﬁrst of ﬁve round voyages, repatriating American troops. The Reparations Commission then determined she should pass to Great Britain, and she was initially placed under Cunard’s management from February 1920 until early 1921, running between Liverpool and New York, before being put up for sale.
Sant’ Anna was a trans-Atlantic liner that had been converted into a troopship for service during the Great War. She had been requisitioned in 1915, and initially carried French troops to the battles at Salonika. On 11th May 1918 she was carrying 2,025 troops from Africa and France from Bizerta to Thessaloniki, escorted by two British sloops, HMS Cyclamen and HMS Verhana. In the early hours she was torpedoed by German submarine UC-54, and sank off the coast of Tunisia. At least 605 of those aboard died in the sinking.
Sant’ Anna had been built for the Fabre Line by Forge & Chantiers de la Méditerranée, and made her maiden voyage on 27th July 1910, from Marseilles to New York. She was 470 feet long, 9,350grt. She could carry 70 in First, 150 in Second and 1,850 in Third Class. When commissioned the First Class was advertised as having no inside rooms, telephone in every cabin and an outdoor Parisian café, all remarkable attributes for such a vessel at this time.
Majestic left Southampton on her maiden voyage on 10th May 1922, under Commodore Sir Bertram Hayes. Local pilot George Bowyer was responsible for guiding the vessel from her berth and into Southampton Water and then out to sea, assisted by six tugs. Her ﬁrst port of call was Cherbourg, where continental passengers boarded, before she headed out for the north Atlantic and then New York. On board were 655 passengers, comprising 362 in First Class, 127 in Second Class and 166 in Third Class. Not outstanding ﬁgures for a maiden voyage, but adequate. For much of the journey she steamed at 25 knots, but Commodore Hayes did not push her, preferring to let the engines bed in.
Clearing Quarantine, Majestic arrived in New York in the afternoon of 16th May, having taken 5 days 14 hours 45 minutes to cover 3,058 miles at an average 22·7 knots. Majestic ﬁnally docked at Pier 59, at West 18th Street, but as she was docking she rammed the side of Pier 59, damaging a 12 foot section of a corrugated steel shed at the pier head. Ten tugs helped her dock, and she was secured at 4·22pm. Finally White Star could offer the three-ship express liner service that they had originally planned for the Olympic class, running Majestic alongside Olympic and Homeric.
Cunard and White Star Lines ceased to exist as an independent entities on 10th May 1934, as the companies finally merged. The resulting corporation was owned 62% by Cunard Steamship Co. and 38% by Oceanic Steam Navigation Realisation Co., a new company created to satisfy the claims of the creditors of Oceanic Steam Navigation Co. The combined fleet totalled 25 ships, 15 from Cunard and 10 from White Star. Very quickly most of the White Star fleet were sold or scrapped, ofﬁces closed and sold and employees made redundant. Cunard were determined to be dominant. The new company, Cunard-White Star Line, Ltd. was ofﬁcially registered on 11th May.