Post World War One

During the Second World War many merchant ships had been sunk and as part of German war reparations, several ships were handed over to Great Britain to compensate the lines for their loss. The White Star Line acquired several ships.

RMS Homeric (1912)

The Homeric was originally built for the North German Lloyd Line under the name of Columbus and handed over to Great Britain.

The WSL bought the ship in 1920. Her name changed to Homeric and was fitted out and completed by late 1921.

She was 775 feet long with a beam of 83 feet and had a gross tonnage of 35,000. She had a twin screw. She could accommodate 2,145 passengers: 750 First Class and 545 Second Class and 850 Third Class. She had a crew of 780 persons.

The WSL lost several ships during the First World War. Their rival company, Cunard had lost fewer ships during the war. Their biggest lost liner was the Lusitania which was torpedoed and sunk in 1915. Consequently after the war, Cunard still had a fleet which could quickly dominate the Atlantic routes.

RMS Homeric (c.1920)
RMS Homeric (c.1920)

The ships handed over to Britain were not ready for active service and needed a lot of work doing to them. Hence until they were ready, Cunard had little competition on the transatlantic route.

Although the Columbus was first laid down in 1912 and launched on 17 December 1913, work was halted in August 1914 and did not resume until 1920 at the Harland and Wolff shipyards.

She was ready for 21 January 1922 and within a month, on 21 February 1922, she departed on her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York. At last, the WSL had three ships servicing the Atlantic: the Olympic, Majestic and Homeric with which to compete with the Cunarders Mauretania, Aquitania and Berengaria.

The Homeric’s speed proved unsatisfactory so a refit was carried out in October 1923. Her engines were totally overhauled and the boilers converted to burn oil. After her refit, she could average a speed of 19.5 knots, an improvement of 1.5 knots. The Homeric was a luxurious popular ship and proved a worthy member of the WSL fleet.

RMS Homeric First Class Corridor
RMS Homeric First Class Corridor

RMS Homeric Third Class General Room
RMS Homeric Third Class General Room

RMS Homeric New Year Cruise 1932
RMS Homeric New Year Cruise 1932

RMS Homeric Guide to Cruising 1932
RMS Homeric Guide to Cruising 1932

By 1927, she began to show signs of fatigue. Cracks had appeared in her superstructure.

In 1928, it was announced by the WSL that planned Oceanic (No 3) would replace the Olympic and the Homeric. However, the WSL could not secure the required finance and the Oceanic was never built. Instead, two smaller ships, the MV Britannic and the MV Georgic were built.

The Homeric commenced her final voyage from New York on 1 June 1932. It was decided to turn her into a “cruise ship” on the Mediterranean Sea.

By 1934, continued financial constraints on the WSL meant that the company had to merge with the Cunard Line and the Homeric became part of the Cunard-White Star Line fleet.

The Homeric took part in King George V Silver Jubilee Fleet Review of 1935 but was laid up later that year and finally scrapped in 1938.

 

RMS Majestic (1914)

RMS Majestic (1914)
RMS Majestic (1914)

The Majestic was originally owned by the Hamburg Amerika Line and named Bismarck. She was built by Blohm & Voss in 1913 and launched on 20 June 1914 by the granddaughter of the German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, Countess Hanna von Bismarck.

Following her launch, fitting out was delayed due to the war. She was 956 feet long with a beam of 100.1 feet and had a gross tonnage of 56,551. She was equipped with 48 boilers which could generate 49,000 kW of power. She consisted of 11 decks with 14 watertight compartments between decks. She could accommodate 2145 passengers: 751 First Class, 545 Second Class and 853 Third Class.

As part of the German war reparations, she was turned over to Great Britain in 1920 in order to compensate for the sinking of HMHS Britannic.

On 5 October 1920, there was a fire on board the Majestic and she was badly damaged. Some suspected that the cause of the fire was sabotage particularly given the resentment that the ship had been passed to Great Britain.

Captain Bertram Hayes received orders from the WSL to take command of the ship and travel to Hamburg and oversee her handover. She had been completed in the Hamburg Amerika Line colours and even the words “Bismarck” were painted on her bow and stern. Her sea trials began on 28 March 1922.

On 9 April 1922, Captain Hayes took command of the ship and straightaway his crew repainted the bow and stern to read “Majestic, Liverpool.” The funnels were repainted in the WSL colours.

The Majestic sailed on her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York on the 11 May 1922. The voyage took five days, 14 hours and 45 minutes at an average speed of 22.69 knots. Return voyage was quicker and she maintained an average speed of 24.2 knots. The voyage took five days, nine hours and 42 minutes.

King George V and Queen Mary inspected the ship on 6 August 1922, a day or two after it arrived back at Southampton. The inspection lasted an hour and a half and the luncheon was provided on B-Deck. From 1922 until 1934, the Majestic was the pride of the fleet, their flagship. The following three photographs illustrate some of the opulence of the First Class facilities.

RMS Majestic First Class Dining Room
RMS Majestic First Class Dining Room

RMS Majestic First Class Swimming Pool
RMS Majestic First Class Swimming Pool

RMS Majestic First Class Lounge
RMS Majestic First Class Lounge

Structural defects were repaired in 1924 when a 30 metre crack was detected in her top sides. She underwent extensive refurbishment in 1928 in time for the passenger boom. However, the boom did not last long because the great depression hit in 1929/1930.

In 1934, after the Cunard Line and WSL merged, the Majestic was retired and later planned to be sold for scrap to Thos W Ward on 15 May 1936. The sale could not go through because of the war reparation terms and agreement. Instead she was traded for 24 destroyers ready for the scrapyard equivalent to her scrap value perceived.

The Majestic was converted into a Royal Navy training ship and renamed HMS Caledonia in 1936 and was commissioned in 1937. Following a refit, 1500 trainees would benefit and learn on the ship. Unfortunately, the I caught fire and was burnt out and sank in her moorings on 29 September 1939. The wreck was sold to Thos W Ward in March 1940 but was not raised and towed to be scrapped until 17 July 1943.

HMS Caledonia (c. 1938)
HMS Caledonia (c. 1938)
 

SS Doric (1922)

The Doric (No.2) was built by Harland and Wolff under the keel number 573. She was launched on 8 August 1922 and completed on 29 May 1923. She was 601 feet long with a beam of 68 feet and had a gross tonnage of 16,484. She had a twin screw engine which could maintain an average speed of 15 knots.

The Doric was the last of the WSL ships to be turbine propelled. She could accommodate 2300 passengers: 600 in Cabin Class and 1700 in Third Class. She had a crew of 350.

She set sail on her maiden voyage on 8 June 1923 from Liverpool to Montréal. She served this route from 1923 until 1932. From 1933 she became a cruise ship.

On 5 September 1935, the Doric collided with the Formigny, a French vessel of the Chargeurs Reunis Line, off Cape Finisterre. Emergency repairs were carried out in Vigo, Spain, but on returning to England it was decided that the ship was a total loss and was scrapped in November 1935.

SS Doric (1923)
SS Doric (1923)

On 7 June 1924, Lord William James Pirrie died during on an inspection tour of the South America harbour facilities. His body was transported back on the Olympic. He was buried in the cemetery in Belfast and on his grave there is a plaque featuring the Olympic and is inscribed “RMS Olympic 45,439 tons for the White Star Line, built by Harland and Wolff 1911.”

Upon Pirrie’s demise, Lord Kylsant (Owen Cosby Philipps, the first Baron of Kylsant) had gained control of Harland and Wolff and took over as chairman at the very time when the cost of repairs and loss of ships was putting the WSL at risk.

 

SS Laurentic (1927)

The Laurentic (No. 2) was the second White Star liner to be named Laurentic. She was built by Harland and Wolff under keel number 470. She was launched on 16 June 1927 and completed on 1 November 1927. She was 600 feet long with a beam of 75.4 feet and had a gross tonnage of 18,724.

She had five decks with a triple expansion engine and could average a speed of 16 knots. She could accommodate 1500 passengers: 594 Cabin Class, 406 Tourist Class and 500 Third Class.

Lord Kylsant was concerned about the costs to build the Laurentic so he began to seek control of the Oceanic Steam Navigation Company. He reinstated the “cost plus” agreement with Harland and Wolff. Lord Kylsant was the Chairman and Managing Director of The Royal Mail Steam Packet Co. (RMSPC) and bought the WSL for £7 million and as a result of this, the RMSPC became the largest shipping group in the world.

Following the takeover in January 1927, the White Star Limited was formed with Lord Kylsant as Chairman and Harold Sanderson as Deputy Chairman. 2½ million £1 preference shares were issued raising almost 4 times their face value. A further £2½ million of issued shares was made six months later which put the company at risk because it did not have the necessary reserves to cover the guarantee.

RMS laurentic (1927)

The Laurentic’s maiden voyage commenced on 12 November 1927, departing from Liverpool to cruise around the Mediterranean. She completed her maiden voyage on 31 December 1927. She returned to Liverpool on the 17 April 1928. The WSL transferred her to a different route.

From 27 April 1928, she serviced the Liverpool to Québec route. She serviced this route for most of her career.

She served with the WSL until the Second World War when she was converted to an auxiliary cruiser the Royal Navy as HMS Laurentic2. On 3 November 1940, she was hit by two torpedoes from the German U-boat U-99 and sank. 49 people died.

 

MV Britannic (1929)

The Motor Vessel (MV) Britannic was built by Harland and Wolff under keel number 807. She was the third White Star ship to bear the name Britannic. Her keel was laid on 14 April 1927 and was launched on 6 August 1929. She had the second biggest engine in the world. She had a gross tonnage of 27,666. The Britannic was 712 feet long with a beam of 82 feet. She had eight large cargo holds.

She could carry 1553 passengers; 504 First Class, 551 Second Class and 498 Third Class. She carried 24 conventional lifeboats, two speedboats and two backup canoes. Her trials commenced on 25 May 1930.

Her maiden voyage commenced on 28 June 1930. The embarkation was witnessed by 14,000 people. Whilst under the WSL, she served the Liverpool to New York route but after the WSL merged with the Cunard Line she was transferred to the London to New York line. The new company was called Cunard-White Star Line.

From 1932, Britannic served the same route as her sister MV Georgic. They were the biggest ships to sail the River Thames. The Britannic carried 26,943 passengers in 1937. The Britannic began to suffer from damaged engines and went in for repairs in January 1937. The Cunard brochure about the Britannic described the spacious accommodation.

MV Britannic (1929)
MV Britannic (1929)

First Class public rooms situated on the Promenade Deck include a cocktail lounge, main lounge, long gallery, children’s playroom, the beautiful restaurant situated on a lower deck extends the full width of the ship.

Tourist passengers enjoy the use of a smoking room, a writing room, an attractive lounge, and a cinema where the newest films are shown daily. There is a playroom for children in Tourist Class, and the brightly-appointed dining saloon measures the full width of the ship.

A restful air of quiet and spacious comfort characterises the beautiful First Class staterooms in the Britannic. Practically all of them are fitted with private bathroom or shower. A number of Tourist staterooms, too, have private showers, and all are carefully equipped to provide the maximum comfort and convenience for the passenger.

MV Britannic First Class Dining Room
MV Britannic First Class Dining Room

The Britannic offers a diversity of features to her passengers. In First Class there is a big open sports deck, the full width of the ship, a well-equipped gymnasium and a large indoor swimming pool, while the lengthy Promenade Deck provides a splendid covered walk. Tourist passengers also have generous space for deck sports, and open and sheltered promenades are available to them.

MV Britannic First Class Smoking Room
MV Britannic First Class Smoking Room

In both classes of accommodation there are hairdressing saloons and beauty parlours, fitted with modern equipment. Children’s playrooms, charmingly decorated and well-stocked with toys are features of First and Tourist Class.

MV Britannic First Class Cocktail Lounge
MV Britannic First Class Cocktail Lounge

MV Britannic First Class Main Lounge
MV Britannic First Class Main Lounge

MV Britannic First Class Long Gallery
MV Britannic First Class Long Gallery

In the splendid First Class main lounge, and in the cosy Tourist Cinema on “A” Deck, the latest British and American films may be seen in comfort.

The First Class Library, on the Promenade Deck contains 1,200 books and a wide range of books are available to Tourist passengers in the lounge on “A” Deck.”

MV Britannic First Class Bedroom
MV Britannic First Class Bedroom

MV Britannic Tourist Dining Room
MV Britannic Tourist Dining Room

MV Britannic Tourist Cabin
MV Britannic Tourist Cabin

MV Britannic was requisitioned for war service on 27 August 1939 and converted into a troopship. She primarily transported troops between Glasgow and Bombay. For a brief time she returned to commercial service but was requisitioned again on 23 August 1944 for a tour of Africa and resumption to Bombay.

Between November 1940 and May 1944, she continued to act as a troopship making eight North Atlantic crossings transporting 20,000 American soldiers.

After the war, she was completely refitted. The Cunard-White Star Line launched a huge promotional campaign following which she made her first commercial trip from London to New York via Cobh, (formerly Queenstown until 1920), Ireland on 22 May 1948.

MV Britannic Postcard (c. 1930s)
MV Britannic Postcard (c. 1930s)

Between 1950 and 1955, several minor incidents occurred including a minor fire which damaged cargo but it did not endanger the ship in danger.

On 15 August 1960, Cunard decided to withdraw the Britannic from service. She made her final voyage from Liverpool to New York via Cobh on 11 November 1960.

She arrived in New York on 11 November and had returned back to Liverpool on 4 December. On 16 December 1960, she left the Mersey to be scrapped by Thos W. Ward.

 

MV Georgic (1931)

The Motor Vessel (MV) Georgic was built by Harland and Wolff under keel number 896. She was the second White Star ship to bear the name Georgic. She had a gross tonnage of 27,759 and was 683.6 feet long with a beam of 82.4 feet. She could accommodate 1636 passengers: 479 First Class, 557 Tourist Class and 600 Third Class. Her forward funnel was a dummy and housed the radio room and the engineers' smoking room.

MV Georgic (1931) pictured on front of the ship’s note paper
MV Georgic (1931) pictured on front of the ship’s note paper

She was launched on 12 November 1931 but not fully fitted out until 10 June 1932 after which her trials began. It was hoped by the WSL that she would have been ready in time to transport some of the 25000 Americans to the Eucharistic Conference held in Dublin from 22 June to 29 June 1932. She was not ready and her maiden voyage commenced on 25 June 1932 sailing from Liverpool to New York arriving twelve hours ahead of schedule.

The Georgic was designed as a “Cabin class” ship. Passengers enjoyed their surroundings which were equal to any deluxe liner of the day.

A Letter written on ship’s notepaper and posted whilst passenger was on board MV Georgic
A Letter written on ship’s notepaper and posted whilst passenger was on board MV Georgic

One passenger wrote in a note posted on board the ship “…the 3rd Class on this ship is really grand what a change there must have been in the last few years.”

The Georgic continued to serve the Liverpool to New York route until 11 January 1933 when she took over the Southampton to New York route whilst the Olympic underwent an extensive engine overhaul.

On 10 May 1934, she was amalgamated into the Cunard - White Star fleet and from 3 May 1935 she served alongside her sister ship MV Britannic on the London, Southampton, New York. She was the largest ship to serve the Thames until she returned to the Liverpool - New York service in September 1939.

On 11 March 1940, she was requisitioned by the British Government and work commenced to transform her into a troopship on 19 April 1940. She made several successful trips from Andesfjord and Narvik and from Brest and St Nazaire. She made trips to Iceland and Halifax, Nova Scotia,

On 22 May 1941, the Georgic sailed under the command of Captain A.C. Greig from the Clyde to Port Tewfik, Gulf of Suez. She harboured at Port Tewfik on 7 July 1941 and was bombed by German aircraft operating from Crete on 14 July 1941. Her fuel caught fire and ammunition exploded in the stern area which caused the engine room to flood and she half sank.

On 14 September 1941, it was decided to salvage the vessel and the hull was raised on 27 October 1941. She was towed by the Clan Campbell and the City of Sydney and arrived at Port Sudan on 14 December 1941 where work began to make her seaworthy.

On 5 March 1942, she left Port Sudan but encountering a strong north-westerly gale and one of her tows, the St Sampson, suffered damage and took on water and foundered and was rescued by a hospital ship, the Dorsetshire. The Pauline Moller (a tug) and the Haresfield (a British steamship) helped the Recorder to assist the Georgic to Karachi. Captain W.B. Wilford of the Recorder was awarded the OBE. At Karachi, the Georgic underwent repairs until she was seaworthy to sail to Bombay for further repairs.

By January 1943, the Georgic sailed to Harland and Wolff, Belfast for a full refit. By December her exterior had undergone change and her forward funnel had been removed and the foremast had been shortened to a stump. She was now owned by the Ministry of Transport, with Cunard-White Star Line as managers.

She served as a troopship carrying troops between Italy, the Middle East and India until 1948 when she returned to the ownership of the Cunard Line to offer an immigration service between Liverpool, Australia, and New Zealand. She retained her White Star livery and could accommodate 1,962 passengers. Her first crossing was made in January 1949.

Between 1950 and 1954, the Georgic was chartered back to Cunard and made several round voyages to New York. In the winter of 1954/55, the Georgic2 resumed 'assisted passage' voyages to Australia, and on 16 April 1955, she arrived at Liverpool with troops from Japan. Cunard wanted to sell her and she was offered for sale, but the Australian government chartered her for the summer.

The Georgic’s final voyage was from Hong Kong to Liverpool with 800 troops, and she arrived on 19 November 1955. On 11 December the Georgic was laid up at Kames Bay, Isle of Bute, Firth of Clyde, pending scrapping. She was sold for demolition in January 1956 and on 1 February 1957 arrived at Faslane for scrapping by Shipbreaking Industries Ltd.

The Merger of the WSL and the Cunard Line

The British government would only loan money conditionally to the Cunard Line to enable the Queen Mary to be completed, if they merged with the WSL. On 10 May 1934, the two lines combined, becoming the Cunard-White Star Line. Once merged, the British Treasury department loaned over £9.5 million to the company. £3 million was for the completion of the Queen Mary; £5 million to build the Queen Elizabeth and £1.5 million of working capital. The Cunard-White Star Line fleet consisted of 25 vessels. 15 of these were WSL vessels including the Olympic, Majestic and Homeric. The Oceanic Steam Navigation Company was wound up and the ships and the property were sold.

The Olympic was bought for £100,000 by Sir John Jarvis who then sold it on to Thos W. Ward stipulating she was to be broken up at Jarrow. On 6 November the auction started whereby the fixtures and fittings from the ship were auctioned.

On Sunday 17 October 1937, Joseph Bruce Ismay died at his Hill Street home in London. He suffered a stroke rendering him blind and speechless. The last office of the Oceanic Steam Navigation Company was closed and the company wound up on 21 August 1939.

In 1947, the Cunard Steamship Company bought all the remaining Cunard–White Star Line’s share capital (38%). The company was then known as Cunard Line. The “White Star” was dropped from the name. Once the Britannic returned to Liverpool on 4 December 1960 and decommissioned, it was the end of an era: the end of the WSL.

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