On 21st May 1940 the British Hospital Ship Maid of Kent was destroyed by enemy action while collecting wounded soldiers at Dieppe. Maid of Kent, and her sister Isle of Thanet, were cross-channel ferries that had been requisitioned at the outbreak of WWII and converted into hospital ships. As well interior work, they were both painted in the internationally-recognised livery of white hulls and a broad green band, with large red crosses on the hull and funnel. They were also always brightly illuminated.
Maid of Kent had been sent to Dieppe on 18th May 1940, under Captain Addenbrooke, along with another ferry, Brighton. Soon after arrival the harbour was attacked by the Luftwaffe, but the ship escaped damage. Further attacks followed but each time the hospital ship escaped attention. It probably helped that a large area of lawn beside the quay had been covered with white chalk and a large red cross had been sprayed on, and also a large white canvas had been stretched between the mainmast and the stern flag post, with a large red cross painted on.
On 21st May a train pulled up alongside Maid of Kent, and stretcher cases were taken off and laid on the quayside, waiting to be taken aboard. Then, at 5pm, the Luftwaffe attacked again. The first wave of bombers attacked the harbour but missed the hospital ship. However, the second wave of bombers swept in, and Maid of Kent was hit. One bomb dropped straight down the funnel into the engine-room, and another two hit the afterdeck: the ship was completely ablaze within a few minutes. Seventeen of the crew were lost, along with 11 RAMC personnel. The train was strafed by the aircraft and burned out, but none of the injured soldiers on the quayside were further hurt. The vessel was abandoned in the early hours of the following day.
On 13th May 1921 Kaiserin Auguste Victoria was purchased outright by Canadian Paciﬁc and renamed Empress of Scotland. Her interiors were reﬁtted at Liverpool for the Canadian trade, with accommodation for 459 in First Class, 478 in Second Class and 960 in Third Class. Empress of Scotland then sailed on 21st August 1921 to Vulcan’s yard at Hamburg where she was converted to oil burning, and the engines overhauled. Additional lifeboats were installed, and she was repainted, with a black hull, a white forecastle, white riband and green boot topping. After her reﬁt, Empress of Scotland sailed on 22nd January 1922, from Southampton to New York, followed by two Mediterranean cruises.
Constructed at the Vulcan shipyard at Stettin as Yard Number 264, Kaiserin Auguste Victoria was built to a design from Harland and Wolff in Belfast. She was launched on 29th August 1905: 677.5 feet long, 77.3 feet beam and 50.2 feet draft, and 25,037 registered tonnage. The maiden voyage between Hamburg and New York was on 10th May 1906. Docked in Hamburg at the outbreak of the Great War, Kaiserin Auguste Victoria was handed over to the Allies in early 1919. She was ceded to the Shipping Controller on 27th March 1919, then chartered by the US Shipping Board: on 8th April she made the ﬁrst of ﬁve round voyages, repatriating American troops. The Reparations Commission then determined she should pass to Great Britain, and she was initially placed under Cunard’s management from February 1920 until early 1921, running between Liverpool and New York, before being put up for sale.
Sant’ Anna was a trans-Atlantic liner that had been converted into a troopship for service during the Great War. She had been requisitioned in 1915, and initially carried French troops to the battles at Salonika. On 11th May 1918 she was carrying 2,025 troops from Africa and France from Bizerta to Thessaloniki, escorted by two British sloops, HMS Cyclamen and HMS Verhana. In the early hours she was torpedoed by German submarine UC-54, and sank off the coast of Tunisia. At least 605 of those aboard died in the sinking.
Sant’ Anna had been built for the Fabre Line by Forge & Chantiers de la Méditerranée, and made her maiden voyage on 27th July 1910, from Marseilles to New York. She was 470 feet long, 9,350grt. She could carry 70 in First, 150 in Second and 1,850 in Third Class. When commissioned the First Class was advertised as having no inside rooms, telephone in every cabin and an outdoor Parisian café, all remarkable attributes for such a vessel at this time.
Majestic left Southampton on her maiden voyage on 10th May 1922, under Commodore Sir Bertram Hayes. Local pilot George Bowyer was responsible for guiding the vessel from her berth and into Southampton Water and then out to sea, assisted by six tugs. Her ﬁrst port of call was Cherbourg, where continental passengers boarded, before she headed out for the north Atlantic and then New York. On board were 655 passengers, comprising 362 in First Class, 127 in Second Class and 166 in Third Class. Not outstanding ﬁgures for a maiden voyage, but adequate. For much of the journey she steamed at 25 knots, but Commodore Hayes did not push her, preferring to let the engines bed in.
Clearing Quarantine, Majestic arrived in New York in the afternoon of 16th May, having taken 5 days 14 hours 45 minutes to cover 3,058 miles at an average 22·7 knots. Majestic ﬁnally docked at Pier 59, at West 18th Street, but as she was docking she rammed the side of Pier 59, damaging a 12 foot section of a corrugated steel shed at the pier head. Ten tugs helped her dock, and she was secured at 4·22pm. Finally White Star could offer the three-ship express liner service that they had originally planned for the Olympic class, running Majestic alongside Olympic and Homeric.
Cunard and White Star Lines ceased to exist as an independent entities on 10th May 1934, as the companies finally merged. The resulting corporation was owned 62% by Cunard Steamship Co. and 38% by Oceanic Steam Navigation Realisation Co., a new company created to satisfy the claims of the creditors of Oceanic Steam Navigation Co. The combined fleet totalled 25 ships, 15 from Cunard and 10 from White Star. Very quickly most of the White Star fleet were sold or scrapped, ofﬁces closed and sold and employees made redundant. Cunard were determined to be dominant. The new company, Cunard-White Star Line, Ltd. was ofﬁcially registered on 11th May.