On 3rd April 1913, Hapag’s Vaterland was launched by Prince Rupprecht of Bavaria. Initially Ballin had wanted to call the liner Europa, but political pressure from the Emperor forced him to change this just before the launch. The three liners in this group – Imperator, Vaterland and Bismarck – were not strictly sisters, with variations in length, breadth and gross tonnage, and interior differences. However they shared a common profile and were generally regarded as sisters.
Once the speeches were made, the Prince released the traditional bottle of champagne and the hull slid slowly into the River Elbe. Three tugs moved in and towed her to the fitting-out berth. Meanwhile the principal guests enjoyed a festive dinner held at Hamburg’s City Hall. Sadly she had a very brief career as Vaterland, and was interned at New York at the outbreak of the Great War. Later she was seized by the US authorities and renamed Leviathan, becoming America’s first superliner.
On the 3rd April 1934, after 27 months of enforced idleness, the first of the shipyard workers, some 400 men, returned to the yard, at 7.00am, escorted by pipers from the Dalmuir Parish Pipe Band in full regalia. The first thing they had to do was clean off rust – around 130 tons of it – and birds’ nests and bird droppings from the hull of liner 534 – later better known as Queen Mary. Lloyd’s surveyors inspected the structure, and reported that overall the state of the steelwork was quite remarkable. The other major concern was whether or not the hull had suffered any distortion from sitting on the stocks for so long. To everyone’s relief, the construction had been sufficiently thorough to support the hull throughout the period of enforced idleness and she passed a Lloyd’s inspection. On 26th May 1934, official permission was received from the Government to resume construction. Soon thousands of men were back at work, in the yard and the many outside suppliers.
Work had been suspended on 11th December 1931, when Cunard ran out of money, at the height of the Great Depression. Apart from a few men retained for essential maintenance, thousands were laid off, along with several thousand more at the various suppliers of components and parts. Finally in October 1932 the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Neville Chamberlain, asked Lord Weir to look into the problem and make recommendations. As a result, Cunard and White Star merged, in return for which the UK government agreed to provide financial assistance for the completion of Hull 534 – later Queen Mary – with enough for a later sister ship. The North Atlantic Shipping (Advances) Bill was approved in the Houses of Parliament on 27th March 1934, and signalled the start of the end of the Depression.
At 8.00pm on 2nd April 1912 Titanic raised her anchors and prepared to leave Belfast. She headed down the Lough and into the Irish Sea. From there she headed into St George’s Channel, past the north Cornish coast, round Land’s End and into the English Channel. As dusk fell she approached the Isle of Wight, then into Spithead. During the trip, Captain Smith took the opportunity to conduct several more tests.
She stopped at the Nab lightship around 10.00pm to collect the local pilot then rounded the Brambles sandbanks into Southampton Water, and headed for Southampton. She was met by five Red Funnel tugs – Ajax, Hector, Hercules, Neptune and Vulcan – to assist her through the channel and into Berth 44 at the White Star Dock. Arriving at high tide, around 11.30pm on 3rd April 1912 the tugs turned her so that she faced downstream, then eased her in towards Berth 44. She was warped in and by just after midnight on 4th April 1912 she was secured at her dock. Earlier Olympic had beeen docked at Berth 44. She sailed on her tenth crossing at noon on 3rd April, leaving the berth vacant and ready for her sister.
White Star’s Majestic, under Captain Parsell, sailed on her maiden crossing from Liverpool on 2nd April 1890. After stopping at Queenstown on 3rd April, she arrived in New York on 10th April, taking 6 days 10 hours west then 6 days 8 hours 58 minutes east, the best maiden voyage to that date.
Majestic (yard number 209) had been launched at Harland & Wolff on 29th June 1889, and was delivered on 22nd March 1890. She had two triple-expansion engines, each in a separate engine-room, driving twin propellers. There were twelve double-ended and four single-ended boilers, supplying steam at 180psi. The masts did not have yards, and no sails were ever carried. Accommodation was initially listed as 300 First Class, 170 Second Class and 850 Third Class.