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Passenger Ships - 20th Century

The evolution of 19th-century steamships from sail-and-steam hybrids such as the Britannia to the sleek Lusitania and the Mauretania, the greatest of the transatlantic liners, represented the triumph at sea of the "less is more" school of modern architecture. Inside the ships, the 19th-century's caste divisions held sway, the lavish decor of the saloons and smoking rooms contrasting with the squalor of the immigrant berths and the industrial efficiency of the engine rooms.

When the Lusitania and the Mauretania entered the trans-Atlantic service, they proved the theories of which naval architects and marine engineers had dreamed since the mastering of the ocean began - the combination of luxury, size, and speed in one hull. The Cunarders are twenty-iive-knot, four-anda-half-day boats. They are also palaces. And they are so large that when seen from the deck of a smaller vessel or from a point of vantage along the water front they make comparisons with other boats difficult. The Lusitania and her swift sister are 790 feet long, the largest vessels ever built. But their bulk was not the result of a desire to have them immense; for their dimensions were decided upon merely because the great length and beam and depth were regarded as necessary in the production of the speed required, twenty five knots.

All England went wild with joy when the Lusitania broke all ocean records. Germany beaten and relegated to its proper place! For German success meant more than a preponderance of American patronage; it meant the dawn of a sea power to contest with England her dearest possession - trans-Atlantic supremacy. The victories of the new Cunarders, therefore, were events affecting not only two or three steamship lines; they were occasions of international significance. And back of all these facts was the meaning that the swift White Star boats, carrying thousands upon thousands of reserves, had saved to Great Britain the province of Natal in the Boer War.

All England went wild with joy when the Lusitania broke all ocean records. Germany beaten and relegated to its proper place! For German success meant more than a preponderance of American patronage; it meant the dawn of a sea power to contest with England her dearest possession - trans-Atlantic supremacy. The victories of the new Cunarders, therefore, were events affecting not only two or three steamship lines; they were occasions of international significance. And back of all these facts was the meaning that the swift White Star boats, carrying thousands upon thousands of reserves, had saved to Great Britain the province of Natal in the Boer War. The Germans were inspired chiefly by the desire to attract passengers. In other words, they long ago demonstrated to their own satisfaction that a record-breaking vessel is a paying investment. When the Vulcan Shipbuilding Company at Stettin took the development of the reciprocating engine out of the hands of the British and built the swiftest boats, the Hamburg-American and the North German Lloyd companies fought the battle between them until, in the Hamburg boat, the Deulschland, and the North German Lloyd, the Kaiser Willielm II., the evolution of the reciprocating engine practically reached its limit. That was the only reason the two companies did not immediately order vessels to compete with the Cunarders.

When the Lusitania and Mauretania were launched, speculation as to the probable development in the size of ocean steamships included the 1,000-foot vessel within the range of possibility. There was no lack of prophets to proclaim the ultimate attainment of this prodigious length, but few to consider it more than the dream of a far distant future. Nearly half the space between the 790-foot Cunarders and the 1,000 foot ship, however, was spanned in the new twins of the White Star fleet, the Olympic and the Titanic. The 882 1/2-foot length of these vessels was exceeded by two or three feet in the Aquitania of the Cunard line, and the 900-foot mark was reached by the Europa of the Hamburg-American line.

The most celebrated - or infamous - of all passenger ship tragedies was the loss of the Titanic on her maiden voyage in 1912. Numerous books have been written, films produced and songs scored about this tragedy and with all the publicity given to the film last year there is very little to add. Many known safety features which could have been included in the ship's design and construction were deliberately left out. The Titanic disaster probably had a bigger impact on maritime safety than any other event, partly because it involved the world's largest and newest passenger ship, partly because of the scale of disaster - more than 1,500 victims - and partly because so many of them were rich and famous. Inquiries soon established that the owners had deliberately reduced the planned number of lifeboats because they would have occupied deck space which the First Class passengers might have wanted to use for their morning stroll.

SS Vaterland, a 54,282 gross ton passenger liner, was built at Hamburg, Germany, as the second of a trio of very large ships for the Hamburg-America Line's trans-Atlantic route. When completed in the spring of 1914 she surpassed her slightly older near-sister, S.S. Imperator, as the World's largest ship. Vaterland held this honor until 1922, when the last of the three big German liners, the 56,551 gross ton Bismarck, was delivered after a long delay and almost immediately became the British liner Majestic. The three ships' design emphasized luxury and comfort over speed, though their 23-knot service speed was fast enough for the North Atlantic trade.

The majestic Queen Mary, the grandest ocean liner ever built, was hostess to the rich and famous during the 1930s and considered by many as the only civilized way to travel. World War II saw the Queen Mary's conversion to a troop ship known as the "Grey Ghost", carrying up to 15,000 troops at one time. Along with many other passenger vessels, the military brought the Queen Mary to San Francisco to protect her from being damaged by the Germans while she was still under construction. Then they converted her to a troop ship. They had 10,000 troops on that ship, stacked four high in elaborate cabins which had forty people in them. It took thirty-nine days to zigzag across the Pacific.

Planners had figured out every way possible to haul as many people in as small a space as they could come up with. For instance, the bunks in a hold were about six high. The bunk had a pipe framework with canvas stretched between it. If a Soldier laid on his back, each shoulder would touch and be on top of the pipe on either side. If he tried to pull your knees up, he would hit the bunk above him. And the aisle between the bunks was probably two feet wide. So everybody put their duffel back on bag on the bunk during the day, and then when they went to sleep at night, they threw them down in the aisle, and everybody climbed or walked over top of them. When it come to eating, they had a small narrow table, just wide enough for two trays.

SS America was launched as a luxury liner on August 31 1939. The next day Hitler invaded Poland, and the world was at war. A forerunner to the United States, the America Incorporated the best in American ship design safety features. But sailing as a luxury liner to Europe was not an option. The Navy had her converted from 1,202 passengers to the AP-23 West Point, which carried 5,400 troops (latter to over 8000). She carried over 300,000 troops safely all over the world, sailing without protecting escort ships. Using the ship's speed and maneuverability, her crew outwitted hostile craft at sea. In 1946 the America was restored to her pre-war brilliance.

The highest value cargo of all consisted of people, but by the late 1950s most of them were travelling between the continents by aircraft. There was little reason, therefore, for shipowners to construct new ocean liners to replace veterans like the Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth, although these continued to operate on the North Atlantic until the 1960s.



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Page last modified: 07-07-2011 12:50:59 ZULU