On 8th May 1907 Adriatic sailed from Liverpool for New York, on her maiden voyage. Captained by E.J. Smith, among the passengers aboard was the company chairman, J. Bruce Ismay. Adriatic was the largest of the group of ships known as the ‘Big Four’, with bigger engines and an extra four boilers to give her a better service speed. By the time she left Queenstown, she had 2,502 passengers aboard, as well as a large cargo. She arrived in New York on 16th May, having taken 7 days 1 hour 45 minutes for a crossing that had encountered very bad weather.
Adriatic had been built at Harland & Wolff, Belfast, as Yard Number 358. Launched on 20th September 1906, once completed she could carry 425 in First Class, 500 in Second Class and 1,900 in Steerage. She was handed over on 25th April 1907. The Big Four were very distinctive, with two tall, thin funnels and four masts. Noticeably different to the others in the group, she had an extra pair of derricks on the foredeck and an additional deckhouse between the mizzen and jigger masts. She was unusual in that she had a swimming pool, although it was quite small and narrow and was called a ‘plunge bath’, and also had a Turkish bath.
White Star’s Cymric sailed from New York on 26th April 1916, under Captain Beadnell, with very few passengers and a crew of 106. She was loaded with over 18,000 tons of war matériel and supplies for the battlefields of Europe, and was heading for Liverpool. On 8th May 1916 she was intercepted about 140 miles WNW of Fastnet by the German submarine U-20, under Captain Schwieger, who had sank Lusitania just a year earlier. He attacked, without warning, firing a spread of three torpedoes. Five crew died in the attack, and the vessel sank early the next day.
Cymric had been launched at Harland & Wolff, Belfast on 12th October 1897, as Yard Number 316. Originally she was intended as a cattle carrier although in service she was primarily used to carry up to 1,500 in Steerage and about 100 in Cabin Class. Her maiden voyage from Liverpool to New York was on11th February 1898.
On Saturday, 29th April 2017, Disney Wonder became the first cruise liner to pass through the new, larger locks of the expanded Panama Canal. The vessel is some 964 feet long and has a beam of 106 feet, and can carry up to 2,400 passengers. The transit was part of her 14-night cruise from Port Canaveral to San Diego, from where the ship will operate cruises to Baja. Later this year Disney Wonder will be based in Vancouver, operating cruises to Alaska. Previously liners had used the original, smaller locks, which limited the size of vessels that could be accommodated. A spokesman for the Canal Authority said: “Saturday’s historic transit mark s the beginning of cruise lines being able to include the locks in their itineraries, opening up additional transit options”. By the end of this fiscal year, it is expected that around 233 passenger vessels will have transited both the original and the larger locks. The Authority has already received bookings for 18 vessels during the 2018 season. The expanded Canal was opened in June 2016, allowing newer, larger vessels to use the waterway.
On 1st May 1941 the Italian tanker Sangro, a blockade runner, was captured by the British ocean boarding vessel HMS Cavina in the north Atlantic. She was then escorted to the UK by the ocean boarding vessel HMS Camito (F 77) (A/Cdr Barnet, RNR). The German U-boat U-97 had spotted the two ships on 5th May, west-southwest of Cape Clear, but had problems keeping contact in heavy seas and bad visibility. A first attack at 02.02 hours on 6th May 1941 with a spread of two torpedoes and a stern torpedo missed the British vessel. Then at 02.40 she was hit just aft of amidships by another torpedo, but continued at slow speed. U-97 then chased the tanker, which caught fire after being hit by one torpedo. The submarine’s captain thought that Camito might be a Q-ship and left the badly-damaged ship, which later sank: six officers and 22 ratings were lost. The survivors of both ships were later picked up by HMS Orchis and landed at Greenock.
Camito had been completed in June 1915 by Stephen’s of Glasgow, for Elders & Fyffes. She was 426 feet long with a service speed of 14 knots, 6,833grt. She had also been requisitioned in the Great War and commissioned as an escort vessel. In World War II she was commissioned in September 1940 and had been defensively armed with two 6-in guns and an anti-aircraft gun.
The Allied Control Commission had a large pool of ex-German liners available to them following the Armistice. Imperator was temporarily allocated by the Allied Control Commission to the United States on 27th April 1919, to be used to repatriate American servicemen from the battleﬁelds of Europe. Having been stuck in the river mud for over four years, four weeks of dredging was needed to free her. Once the boilers were lit the engines were found to be in a reasonable condition, and she sailed for Brest.
On 4th May 1919 she ofﬁcially became USS Imperator, a Navy Transport, and was formally commissioned at 1.00pm on 5th May 1919 as Transport No. 4080. Over the next few days she was reﬁtted to carry 1,000 ofﬁcers, 966 NCOs and 7,939 enlisted men, with a crew of 2,200 US Navy ofﬁcers and men. Leviathan, which had already been converted to a troopship, arrived at Brest on 13th May and a number of experienced officers and crew were transferred to USS Imperator. Troops began boarding both liners for the journey home.
On Sunday 5th May 1935 Normandie was ready for sea. In the afternoon the engineers started up the engines: at 5.00pm she eased away from the quay, and with the assistance of harbour tugs moved out into the Atlantic. Speed trials were performed over a measured course at Les Glénans, off the south coast of Brittany, on Monday and Tuesday. This was followed by handling trials. Normandie reached 30·156, 32·125 and 31·925 knots over three consecutive runs, without some of the boilers being fired up.
Tests included 8 hours continuous sailing in the Atlantic, during which she reached an average speed of 30·894 knots. There were three days of manœuvering and emergency handling trials, and equipment testing. Fuel consumption was even lower than expected. As soon as the trials were completed, Normandie headed for Le Havre, arriving on 11th May, where Captain Pugnet docked the massive liner without needing tugs, which were only used to swing the liner round as she entered the harbour.
In 1938 tragedy again hit CGT. Lafayette, the largest motor-ship in the French Line’s fleet, was undergoing a refit at Le Havre, and was due to re-enter service on 17th May. Around 9.30pm on 4th May 1938, Lafayette caught fire and burned out at the quayside at Le Havre.
The fire broke out when a furnace was lit, igniting oil and spreading to the adjacent oil tanks. By midnight the First Class area was well ablaze, followed by a series of explosions in the early hours of the morning. During the night the fire was so intense the town was illuminated. At one point the fire trapped fifty firemen and crew, who had to be rescued using emergency ladders.
Later that morning, once the fire was under control, it was clear that the vessel had been completely gutted. She was later declared a total loss and sold for scrapping in Rotterdam. She had to be towed to the scrapyard.
In 1896 Norddeutscher Lloyd (NDL) ordered a new liner from Vulcan’s at Stettin, the Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse. This was to be the wonder ship of the age, designed inside and outside to be a record-breaker. Designed by Robert Zimmerman, she was the world’s first four-funnelled liner, and when completed would be the largest ship in the world. During construction the plans were adapted so that she could be quickly adapted to become an armed merchant cruiser or a naval auxiliary, with the upper deck strengthened to take gun mountings. There were 16 transverse bulkheads extending to the upper deck, plus a longitudinal bulkhead in the engine-room, and the double bottom had 22 sub-divisions. Safety was paramount!
On 4th May 1897 the Kaiser arrived at the shipyard by special train from Berlin, to witness the launch of Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse. The hull was christened by Mrs George Pate, wife of the President of Vulcan’s, and the Imperial party then watched the hull slide into the River Oder. It was then collected and taken to the fitting-out wharf, where she was completed. NDL was determined that the liner was to be the most luxurious possible for the passengers as well as the fastest. Every convenience was included for their comfort.
Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse was immediately popular, with passengers and crew. Overall the design was so successful that in the following years a further three liners were built at Stettin based on this outline, with the distinctive grouping of four funnels in two pairs. Later that year she gained the coveted Blue Riband from Cunard, crossing in 5 days 17 hours 8 minutes at an average 22.35 knots.