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.
On 8th May 1907 Adriatic sailed from Liverpool for New York, on her maiden voyage. Captained by E.J. Smith, among the passengers aboard was the company chairman, J. Bruce Ismay. Adriatic was the largest of the group of ships known as the ‘Big Four’, with bigger engines and an extra four boilers to give her a better service speed. By the time she left Queenstown, she had 2,502 passengers aboard, as well as a large cargo. She arrived in New York on 16th May, having taken 7 days 1 hour 45 minutes for a crossing that had encountered very bad weather.
Adriatic had been built at Harland & Wolff, Belfast, as Yard Number 358. Launched on 20th September 1906, once completed she could carry 425 in First Class, 500 in Second Class and 1,900 in Steerage. She was handed over on 25th April 1907. The Big Four were very distinctive, with two tall, thin funnels and four masts. Noticeably different to the others in the group, she had an extra pair of derricks on the foredeck and an additional deckhouse between the mizzen and jigger masts. She was unusual in that she had a swimming pool, although it was quite small and narrow and was called a ‘plunge bath’, and also had a Turkish bath.
White Star’s Cymric sailed from New York on 26th April 1916, under Captain Beadnell, with very few passengers and a crew of 106. She was loaded with over 18,000 tons of war matériel and supplies for the battlefields of Europe, and was heading for Liverpool. On 8th May 1916 she was intercepted about 140 miles WNW of Fastnet by the German submarine U-20, under Captain Schwieger, who had sank Lusitania just a year earlier. He attacked, without warning, firing a spread of three torpedoes. Five crew died in the attack, and the vessel sank early the next day.
Cymric had been launched at Harland & Wolff, Belfast on 12th October 1897, as Yard Number 316. Originally she was intended as a cattle carrier although in service she was primarily used to carry up to 1,500 in Steerage and about 100 in Cabin Class. Her maiden voyage from Liverpool to New York was on11th February 1898.
On Saturday, 29th April 2017, Disney Wonder became the first cruise liner to pass through the new, larger locks of the expanded Panama Canal. The vessel is some 964 feet long and has a beam of 106 feet, and can carry up to 2,400 passengers. The transit was part of her 14-night cruise from Port Canaveral to San Diego, from where the ship will operate cruises to Baja. Later this year Disney Wonder will be based in Vancouver, operating cruises to Alaska. Previously liners had used the original, smaller locks, which limited the size of vessels that could be accommodated. A spokesman for the Canal Authority said: “Saturday’s historic transit mark s the beginning of cruise lines being able to include the locks in their itineraries, opening up additional transit options”. By the end of this fiscal year, it is expected that around 233 passenger vessels will have transited both the original and the larger locks. The Authority has already received bookings for 18 vessels during the 2018 season. The expanded Canal was opened in June 2016, allowing newer, larger vessels to use the waterway.
On 1st May 1941 the Italian tanker Sangro, a blockade runner, was captured by the British ocean boarding vessel HMS Cavina in the north Atlantic. She was then escorted to the UK by the ocean boarding vessel HMS Camito (F 77) (A/Cdr Barnet, RNR). The German U-boat U-97 had spotted the two ships on 5th May, west-southwest of Cape Clear, but had problems keeping contact in heavy seas and bad visibility. A first attack at 02.02 hours on 6th May 1941 with a spread of two torpedoes and a stern torpedo missed the British vessel. Then at 02.40 she was hit just aft of amidships by another torpedo, but continued at slow speed. U-97 then chased the tanker, which caught fire after being hit by one torpedo. The submarine’s captain thought that Camito might be a Q-ship and left the badly-damaged ship, which later sank: six officers and 22 ratings were lost. The survivors of both ships were later picked up by HMS Orchis and landed at Greenock.
Camito had been completed in June 1915 by Stephen’s of Glasgow, for Elders & Fyffes. She was 426 feet long with a service speed of 14 knots, 6,833grt. She had also been requisitioned in the Great War and commissioned as an escort vessel. In World War II she was commissioned in September 1940 and had been defensively armed with two 6-in guns and an anti-aircraft gun.
The Allied Control Commission had a large pool of ex-German liners available to them following the Armistice. Imperator was temporarily allocated by the Allied Control Commission to the United States on 27th April 1919, to be used to repatriate American servicemen from the battleﬁelds of Europe. Having been stuck in the river mud for over four years, four weeks of dredging was needed to free her. Once the boilers were lit the engines were found to be in a reasonable condition, and she sailed for Brest.
On 4th May 1919 she ofﬁcially became USS Imperator, a Navy Transport, and was formally commissioned at 1.00pm on 5th May 1919 as Transport No. 4080. Over the next few days she was reﬁtted to carry 1,000 ofﬁcers, 966 NCOs and 7,939 enlisted men, with a crew of 2,200 US Navy ofﬁcers and men. Leviathan, which had already been converted to a troopship, arrived at Brest on 13th May and a number of experienced officers and crew were transferred to USS Imperator. Troops began boarding both liners for the journey home.