30th June 1900 – major fire at Hoboken Piers

PiersWithKaiserFriedrich-redAround 4·00pm on Saturday, 30th June 1900 fire broke out at Hoboken, in New York. Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse and Main were at Pier 2, Bremen and Saale were at Pier 3. They were surrounded by coal barges, lighters and canal boats, laden with bales of cotton and drums of oil and petroleum products, including turpentine. An explosion amongst cargo on Pier 3 set stacked bales of cotton on fire: the flames spread rapidly. The fire spread fast on the dry, wooden piers; forty dockers died before they could run to safety. The flames jumped across adjacent piers before spreading ashore, destroying many build­ings. Local fire crews responded but had little effect.

Hoboken fire-redNone of the vessels had steam up, and were in danger of being  destroyed. Harbour tugs moved in to help Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse but were unable to move her. Admiral Dewey, one of the most power­­ful tugs in harbour, then arrived and started towing her clear. Another tug collected a second hawser and together they towed Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse to the middle of the Hudson. Later Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse was towed across the river. Damage was slight, mainly singed paint and wood­work.

SaalePaintPeeling-redTwo city fireboats, Van Wyck and New Yorker, arrived and played their firehoses on the burning liners, in a hopeless attempt to quell the fires and save some of those aboard. Saale was towed clear, blazing furiously. She was abandoned and left to drift, ending up near the Statue of Liberty and later sank: 109 crew died. Bremen and Main drifted clear and later both went aground at the Wee­hawken Flats: 12 died on one and 44 on the other. In total several hundred people died – exact figures were never accurately established.

bremen after fire-redDamage to the three liners was severe. Around 27 barges and other river craft were destroyed and the three NDL piers and the Scandinavian-American (Thingvalla) Pier were gutted: sev­eral ware­­houses were burnt out. Insur­ance esti­mates totalled $4,627,000. One hundred victims were buried in a mass grave at the Flower Hill Cemetery in North Bergen, New Jersey. Bremen underwent temporary repairs before returning to Ger­many for a complete overhaul and was extended by 25 feet. Main was refloated and towed to Newport News, where she was repaired and returned to service with NDL. Saale was sold to Luckenbach Shipping and rebuilt as a freighter, J.L. Luck­en­bach, with a single funnel and new engines.

29th June 1944 – Toyama Maru sinks, up to 5,400 lost

toyama maru dockedToyama Maru was a Japanese troop transport in World War II. On 18th June 1944 she left Moji, Japan in Convoy KATA-412, heading for Okinawa. There were troops of the 44th Independent Mixed Brigade aboard, plus a large cargo of petrol, stored in the lower holds in cans.

sturgeonAt 7.30am on 29th June 1944 she was spotted off Taira Jima, Japan, by the US submarine USS Sturgeon, under Lt Cmdr Murphy. Four torpedoes were launched; three hit, one of which exploded the petrol. In the subsequent intense fire and explosions the hull broke in two, and she sank in a minute. Survivors were rescued by the escorts. Some reports say there were over 6,000 troops aboard, with 5,400 lost. Other reports say around 4,000 aboard with 3,674 lost. The latter is more credible, given the size of the ship. Original documents were destroyed by the Japanese at the end of the war, so the true figures will never be known. However, it is accepted as one of the ten worst maritime disasters in history.

toyama maru in suez canalToyama Maru was laid down on 4th August 1913 at the Mitsubishi Dockyard, for NYK Line. Completed on 3rd June 1915, she was 445 feet long, 7,089grt. In 1935 she was sold to Nanyo Kaiun, and some 18 months later sold to Ono Shoji Gomel. On 29th January 1941 she was requisitioned by the Japanese Imperial Army and assigned Army number 782. After being involved in several Pacific actions including the Philippines and Singapore, she was used to transport prisoners of war in the most appalling conditions. She was then transferred to transport Japanese troops to various theatres of war, until her final convoy.

20th June 1934 – Dresden
(ex-White Star’s Zeppelin) sunk

dresden listingIn June 1934 the Nazi Kraft durch Freude (KdF) organisation started operating tourist cruises, chartering German vessels. Dresden (ex-Zeppelin) sailed on her first KdF cruise on 11th June 1934, to Hard­an­ger­­fjord. Because of heavy fog, the captain settled for a trip in Ryfylkefjords instead. Off Stavanger, Dresden picked up two local pilots. She was southbound when, on 20th June 1934, she struck a rock off Kopervik on the Norwegian island of Karmøy. She was able to back away from the rock, but was taking in water, and developed a list to port. However, she was sinking fast and he was forced to beach near Bliks­­havn on Karmøy.

dresden sunkHe ordered abandon ship, but as the first lifeboat was lowered into the water it capsized, throwing the occupants into the water and three women drowned. There was a fourth fatality during the evacu­­ation, but the remainder of the crew of 323 and 975 pass­en­gers were saved. Around 500 were rescued by Captain Pallesen, who had brought Kronprinsesse Martha alongside. Other vessels soon arrived. The following day Dresden rolled onto her port side and sank, leaving only her starboard side visible. Salvage was impossible, and shipwreckers Brødrene Anda from Stavanger and a company from Grimstad bought the rights to salvage the scrap metal.

12th June 1929 – world’s first airmail delivery to Leviathan

1929 pond mail frameFollowing several earlier unsuccessful attempts to develop an airmail system using Leviathan, in 1929 a further attempt was made. A large trap was built on the deck: this con­sisted of a frame attached to the top of the aft deckhouse on the Poop Deck, extending over the side of the ship. This frame was 35 feet wide, and contained a canvas trap. An aircraft would fly low overhead trailing a long cable to deliver and pick-up mail bags. The plan was for the pilot, Lt Cmdr George Pond, to ren­dez­vous with Leviathan some 500 miles out from the US coast. Leviathan sailed from Southampton on 2nd June 1929 with 957 passengers, and was due to be at Grand Banks on 7th June, where the mail pick-up was to be attempted. On 5th June Pond crashed the plane at New York. A Loening seaplane was hastily fitted with the Adams pick-up fitting and he success­fully took off. How­ever, he encountered bad weather and lost his position, and soon after the aircraft was hit by lightning. He was forced to abandon the attempt.

1929 adams mail trapThe next morning Pond attempted again. This time he was successful in finding Leviathan; unfortunately no-one had informed Levi­athan of the repeat attempt so the system hadn’t been set up, and heavy fog hampered the attempt. Eventually the two bags of specially-franked mail were landed on the liner with the regular mail. The company decided to try again on the next crossing. Levi­athan sailed on 12th June 1929 with 2,132 passengers. As she passed Fire Island, some 60 miles out, a small Fairchild monoplane flew overhead, piloted again by Pond from Keyport airport. This time he found Leviathan quite easily. On his first attempt, Pond dropped a bag of mail into the pick-up frame. The collection wasn’t quite as easy, and he had to make 13 attempts before he was successful in picking up and reeling in the mail bag from the Adams frame. A number of photographers were flying alongside to record the event.

1929 air mail envelopeOn 16th July Leviathan headed for Boston for her routine mid-season dry­docking. During the trip another attempt was made to deliver and collect mail using the Adams frame but it was a failure. On the return trip an aircraft finally managed to drop four bags of mail onto Leviathan using the Adams system. However it was agreed the system was not that effective and soon after US Lines abandoned the whole idea.

11th June 1930 – Empress of Britain launched at Glasgow

EoB on stocksOn 11th June 1930 Empress of Britain was launched at John Brown’s Shipyard at Glasgow. Most unusually the Prince of Wales, as Master of the Mer­chant Navy, agreed to launch the liner, accompanied by the Chair­man and Presi­dent of Canadian Pacific, Ed Beatty. Tugs towed the hull to the adjacent fitting out berth, where the next ten months would see feverish efforts to complete the liner.

launch of Empress of BritainMuch of the interiors had been completed before the launch. The major work was installing the engines and boilers, and finishing off the super­structure. There were four propellers, each driven by a single-reduction geared Par­sons turbine. The inboard sets supplied two thirds of the total power, more than enough for the planned World cruises. Total output of the engines was 62,500shp for a service speed of 24 knots; this could be increased to 66,500shp if needed. Astern turbines were fitted to the two inboard turbines.