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.

23rd March 1943 –
Windsor Castle sunk

windsor castle sinkingOn 23rd March 1943, Union Castle’s Windsor Castle was attacked and sunk some 110 nautical miles north-west of Algiers, while in Convoy KMF-11. This was a fast convoy of nine merchant vessels and 10 escorts, heading from the Clyde to Algiers. She was hit by an aerial torpedo around 2.30am, but did not sink until some 13 hours later. This gave the escorting vessels ample time to rescue the 2,699 troops and 289 crew aboard: only one crewman died in  the attack. Subsequent descriptions stated that the troops lined up on deck almost as if on parade, and quietly waited for orders to enter their respective rafts or transfer to the escorting destroyers. There was no panic or confusion at all; the troops were subsequently taken to Algiers and landed, albeit without any of their kit or equipment.

Windsor Castle-05Originally ordered from Harland & Wolff, in Belfast, along with her sister, Arundel Castle, the order for Windsor Castle was transferred to John Brown’s yard on the Clyde, because of wartime shortages of materials. She was the last of the four-funnelled liners to be built. Launched on 9th March 1921, she was handed over in April 1922. In 1937 both Arundel Castle and Windsor Castle were rebuilt by Harland & Wolff: the forepart was lengthened and modernised, new turbines were installed and two fatter raked funnels replaced the four thin stovepipes. Both were popular ships on the run to South Africa.

Windsor Castle-03In 1939 both Windsor Castle and  Arundel Castle were requisitioned for use as troop transports. They were painted in a simple plain grey camouflage scheme. After several successful convoys, including one in which a bomb hit her but failed to explode, her luck had run out.

22nd March 1924 – Olympic in New York collision

olympic departs new yorkOn 22nd March 1924, as Olympic was backing out from Pier 59 in New York, with 1,170 passengers aboard, she collided with Furness Withy’s Fort St George. The Furness ship had been heading down the Hudson, apparently in a race with Royal Mail’s Arcadian: both vessels were competitors on the service to Bermuda. The damage to the smaller vessel was quite extensive: the mainmast was snapped off and there was considerable damage to her decks, later estimated at £35,000. Passengers were transferred to Arcadian, which had also stopped at the scene.

Furness Withy's Fort St GeorgeInitially it was thought that damage to Olympic was relatively slight, and after an hour at Quarantine while the steering mechanism was checked, she continued with her crossing. However it was later found that the cast steel stern frame had been broken and would need extensive and expensive repairs. On a later arrival at Southampton on 16th October 1925, Olympic was sent back to Belfast for an overhaul and refit, during which her stern frame was replaced, a major operation. The three castings needed were delivered in December and by early January had been fitted. The opportunity was also taken to weld repairs to hull cracks that had been found. Unfortunately the new stern frame was not successful, and in following years various efforts were made to reinforce it and to stop the corrosion that was occurring. In July 1927 a Federal Court attributed complete fault for the collision to Fort St George proceeding at high speed and not navigating far enough to the New Jersey shore, and then not porting soon enough when she saw Olympic.

wandillaFort St George had been built by Beardmore’s for Adelaide Steamship Co., as Wandilla, in 1912. After serving as a troop transport in the Great War, she was acquired by Furness Withy for the Bermuda service in 1921. In 1935 she was sold to Lloyd Triestino and renamed Cesarea, and in 1940 was requisitioned by the Italian navy and renamed Arno. She was sunk on 10th September 1942 by aerial torpedoes dropped by the RAF.

21st March 1938 – Berengaria withdrawn from service

post fire, sotonOn 21st March 1938 a formal statement was issued by Cunard, announcing that Berengaria was to be permanently withdrawn from service and placing her up for sale. No serious offers were received, because everyone was aware of the expense of the rebuild, to enable her to regain the necessary certification for passenger-carrying.

bere, final soton, 1936Berengaria had suffered a number of fires, many in her later years as the insulation on the wiring broke down. A major fire had broken out on 3rd March 1938, while she was docked in New York, resulting in serious damage to many areas – even some deck plates were buckled. Following an inspection by the US Steamboat Inspection Service, her certificate of seaworthiness for US passengers was revoked. Berengaria sailed for Southampton on 4th March, empty of all passengers, many of whom had been transferred to Queen Mary, along with most of the stewards.

bere at 108Once in Southampton repairs were started, but after another fire on 16th March Cunard accepted that Berengaria was not worth the cost of the necessary repairs and rebuild. Berengaria was towed to Berth 108 in Southampton’s Western Docks and laid up, awaiting a decision. No interest was shown in purchasing her, as all the other companies were aware of the state of the wiring and the costs that would be involved in refitting such an old vessel. On 19th October, it was publicly announced that she was to be sold for scrap. Berengaria finally sailed from Southampton on 6th December, heading for Jarrow on the Tyne.

20th March 1917 –
HMHS Asturias torpedoed

Asturias peacetimeAsturias was built by Harland & Wolff for Royal Mail Steam Packet Co., running from Southampton to Buenos Aires. Completed in 1908, she could carry 432 passengers in First Class, 223 in Second Class and 775 in Third Class, with a crew of 254. She was 365 feet long, 12,000grt. Requisitioned at the outbreak of the Great War, Asturias was converted to a hospital ship for 896 patients, although she generally carried considerably more. HMHS Asturias initially served at Gallipoli, Egypt and Salonika, carrying sick and injured back to the UK. Later she served on the cross-Channel route for injured troops from France.

HMHS_AsturiasOn 20th March 1917, having unloaded over 1,000 troops at Avonmouth, HMHS Asturias was en route to Southampton, with all lights burning and the Red Cross markings clearly lit. In spite of this she was attacked by the German submarine UC-66. Badly damaged by a torpedo, the captain managed to beach his vessel near Bolt Head. Thirty-one aboard had been killed in the attack, with a further 12 missing. After inspection she was declared a total loss. However, later the government bought the wreck and salvaged her, and she was used as a floating ammunition hulk at Plymouth Harbour.

arcadianAfter the war, Royal Mail purchased the hulk and she was extensively refitted at Harland & Wolff and then returned to service as Arcadian, in 1923. She was used operating luxury cruises to the Mediterranean and Scandinavia, before she was finally laid up in October 1930. She was scrapped in Japan in February 1933, sailing to the scrappers in convoy with White Star’s Baltic and Megantic.

19th March 1914 – Imperator loses its eagle figurehead

1 imp+eagle docked nyAfter a major refit at Vulkan, Imperator sailed for New York on 11th March 1914 on her first sailing of the new season, under a new captain, Theo Kier. However, in mid-Atlantic she encountered a ferocious storm, and the captain was forced to reduce speed to below three knots for some time, just to maintain headway.

3 eagle - damagedIn the evening a huge wave hit the bow: Imperator‘s eagle figurehead was badly damaged and four lifeboats were ripped off the fo’castle. On her arrival in New York on 19th March, an inspection of the storm damage  found that one wing of the eagle had disappeared totally and the other wing was lodged under the anchor chain.

4 cuxhaven no eagle5 imp and scrollImperator  left New York on schedule, and returned to Cuxhaven on 27th March. Two days later the remains of the massive gilt figurehead were removed, and gilt scrollwork, similar to that on the stern, was substituted. However, her official length in the various registers was never adjusted! The stability problems were never completely corrected, but overall the improvements had worked. How much the loss of the eagle helped was not recorded.

The refit had been called for following a serious fire in New York on 28th August 1913. This had taken over five hours to get under control. The directors decided to return Imperator to the Vulcan shipyard, not only to effect permanent repairs to the fire damage but to try to correct her well-known stability problems – her nickname in shipping circles was “Limperator”, as she seemed to always have a list to one side or the other.

2 imperator 02After her final scheduled crossing of the season, in November 1913 Imperator was sent back to the yard for the work to be put in hand. The Grill Room and its heavy fittings were ripped out and replaced by a Verandah Café with lightweight furniture. Much of the heavy panelling in staterooms was replaced by lighter materials, marble baths, etc., were removed. Over 2,000 tons of cement were poured into the double bottom to lower the centre of gravity, and many other measures were effected. Total cost of the refit and other improvements amounted to over £200,000, a not-insignificant sum in 1914, all of which had to be met by the shipyard under the terms of a five-year guarantee.