31st March 1909 –
Titanic’s keel laid

first plates are laid for titanicThe first plates for the keel for Titanic were laid on the keel blocks on 31st March 1909, at Harland & Wolff’s Belfast yard. Built from the same blueprints as Olympic, it was anticipated initially that construction of the second vessel would be faster, based on the experience the workmen had gained from building Olympic. However, con­­struction actually took several weeks more, overall.

building the keel for titanicThere were no problems with the workforce or weather at this time, and there were no pressures or diversions from other constructions within the yard. The logical conclusion therefore is that both White Star and Harland & Wolff were aware of financial shortfalls and construction was not given the same urgency as with Olympic. White Star had needed to get the first liner into service as soon as possible to earn revenue: they weren’t under the same pressure for Titanic.

hydraulic riveting of titanic's keelThe extra time taken throughout Titanic‘s construction when compared to Olympic leads one to wonder about the outcome if she had been built faster and had made her maiden voyage weeks or even months earlier. No iceberg. No collision. No disaster. No loss of life. What effect would this have had on the twentieth century and on history in general!

28th March 1922 –
Bismarck leaves builders

bismarck leaves elbeOn 28th March 1922, Bismarck was towed out from the Blohm & Voss shipyard at Hamburg by two Belgian tugs. She was anchored overnight off Cuxhaven, and then preliminary trials were conducted. Bismarck had been allocated to Britain in late 1919 by the Allied Reparations Committee, after the Great War. In 1921 it was agreed that Cunard and White Star would jointly buy Imperator and Bismarck, but would retain separate ownership. Cunard paid £0.5 million and White Star paid £1 million for their respective vessels, each to be paid in ten instalments. Each line agreed to pay to the other one-half of the net profits of the ship it operated, using a pool system to share the profits.

Bismarch fuelling for trialsFinally, after taking on fuel, on 1st April 1922, still in her original Hapag livery and with “Bismarck” defiantly painted on her bows, she headed out into the North Sea, under Captain Hans Ruser, for her sea trials. There were several representatives of White Star aboard, including Captain Bertram Hayes, to study her performance. This was to be the only time she ever sailed under her German name in German colours with a German captain.

bismarck and tugOn her return to Cuxhaven, the builders were given a final week to finish off work on the interiors. Once completed, on 9th April the German seamen and workers still aboard left on a harbour tender, and immediately after Captain Hayes and the British crew boarded. As soon as Captain Hayes had officially taken command, the British seamen quickly repainted the funnels in White Star colours, then painted out the name “Bismarck” on the bows and stern, replacing it with “Majestic”. Once in command, Bertram Hayes formally assumed the rank of Commodore of White Star’s fleet. Finally, the Red Ensign was hoisted, and later that day Majestic sailed for Southampton, watched in total silence by thousands of Germans, who lined the river banks.

Marpubs at the 2017 British Titanic Society’s sales day

WSL-coverAuthor Les Streater will be on the Marpubs table during the BTS Convention sales day on 8th April at the Grand Harbour Hotel in Southampton, with copies of his book covering the complete history of White Star Line, including the ships and the management. He will also have copies of other books, including individual volumes on Majestic, Berengaria and Leviathan. Also the two books on Queen Mary, and a full history of Aquitania. Available on the table  will be copies of his unique 5-volume set on the classic Art Deco French liner Normandie, available as a set or as individual books.

IMG_0742All the books are brand-new, shrink-wrapped hardback books, A4 size. There are limited stocks of some titles. If you are attending and want a particular book from the Marpubs range, let us know and we will make sure a copy is reserved for you. Books can be signed if required.

25th March 1929 –
Europa catches fire

Europa on fireNorth German Lloyd used the intense public interest in its two new ships to its advantage, announcing that Bremen and Europa would sail on their maiden voyages only two weeks apart. Europa would depart on 24th April 1929, and Bremen would sail on 8th May 1929. However, a three month worker’s strike at Blohm & Voss meant it was increasingly doubtful that the shipyard could guarantee the projected date for Europa. Then, early on 25th March 1929, Europa was swept by fire that allegedly started at four different locations within the ship. Nearly eighteen hours later, at 9pm, the fire was finally brought under control.

Inspectors assess the damage to EuropaInitially, Europa was thought to be beyond repair, but after inspectors surveyed the damage more closely, they estimated repairs could be made for around $3,000,000. Her hull was declared sound, although the turbines and other propulsion machinery were heavily damaged. Unfortunately, in her partially-completed state, the shipyard had insured her for $9,500,000 in the event of a total loss, and not the $15,000,000 insurance value once completed. Before she could be rebuilt, Europa needed to be raised. During the fire, she had been flooded so she could settle in an upright position. Divers sealed every opening in the hull, and the water was pumped out. By 14th April 1929, the hull was afloat once again. Over the next few weeks, buckled plates were removed and the keel straightened. The turbines and heavy machinery were replaced or reconditioned. All the damaged interiors were removed and rebuilt.

Now rebuilt, Europa sails on her maiden voyageAmazingly, just ten months later, on 22nd February 1930, Europa was ready to leave for her sea trials. She left on her maiden voyage on 19th March 1930, heading for New York via Southampton and Cherbourg. Passing Ambrose lightship on 25th March, she had broken Bremen‘s record and gained the Blue Riband, taking 4 days 17 hours 6 minutes for the crossing.

24th March 1936 –
Queen Mary leaves Clyde

backing outFinally Queen Mary was complete. Departure day was chosen as Tuesday, 24th March 1936, to take advantage of the high spring tide to help her down the Clyde. Minimum fuel was loaded, and only the two forward life-boats were fitted. Queen Mary was kept as light as possible, even though the channel had been dredged.  Thousands of local people gathered, local shops closed, and schoolchildren were given the day off.

backing out from slipAt 9.30am, Queen Mary gave four blasts on her siren. The Blue Peter was hoisted at the foremast, and at the main flew John Brown’s houseflag. Tugs moved in and at 9.45am began to ease the liner out from the basin. Five local  ‘Flying’ tugs were used, plus Romsey, specially brought up from Southampton, and Paladin, from Anchor Line. Paladin and Flying Eagle took up forward positions, with Romsey and Flying Falcon aft. Flying Spray, Flying Kite and Flying Foam assisted alongside where needed.

Leaving fitting out bayJointly they pulled Queen Mary, stern first, into the Clyde, before swinging her head round to face seaward. Some twenty minutes of delicate manœuvring was needed. Two local Clyde pilots, Duncan Cameron and John Murchie, were in joint command. Queen Mary slowly headed down river, under her own power. The tugs stayed in close attendance, and were used primarily for guiding the liner through the narrow channel.

starting downstreamAs she approached Dumbarton Bend near Dalmuir, Queen Mary was caught by the freshening wind and swung across the river. Her stern caught briefly on the South Bank, but the tugs quickly pulled her off. She briefly grounded a second time but again without damage. Both times were, however, sufficient to be listed at Lloyds. Travelling at between six and seven knots, it took Queen Mary about four hours to cover the fourteen miles to reach open water, off Gourock, arriving at 2.10pm.

Passing l'atlantiqueAs she arrived she passed the burnt-out L’Atlantique, waiting to head upriver to the shipbreakers.
For the next two days Queen Mary was anchored off Gourock. Tests and trials were conducted on much of her equipment, and the lifeboats were fitted. At night she was fully floodlit. Further compass adjustments were made, anchor tests were conducted, and more fuel was loaded. Then, in the early hours of Thursday morning, she raised her anchors and sailed south, for Southampton.