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  • 1 Introduction
  • 2 The immediate aftermath of the Titanic disaster
  • 3 The arrival of Carpathia in New York
  • 4 The US Senate Court of Inquiry
  • 5 The British Wreck Commissioner's Inquiry
  • 6 The recovery of the dead
  • 7 International efforts to avoid a repetition of the disaster
    • 7.1 Lifeboats
    • 7.2 Radio Watch and distress rockets
    • 7.3 Ship design changes
    • 7.4 Fire precautions
    • 7.5 International Ice Patrol
  • 8 The Olympic Mutiny
  • 9 Resumption of Service
  • 10 Safety Refit
  • 11 Remaining pre-war career
  • 12 Hamburg America's Imperator Class
  • 13 Bibliography
  • 14 Photographs

To the general public Titanic is possibly the most famous passenger liner ever built; largely because of the considerable loss of life that arose when she sank on her maiden voyage and the resultant media hype; then and ever since. If that tragedy had not happened, she would only have had fleeting fame and her name would be generally unknown today. Interestingly there have been other peacetime passenger ship disasters with greater loss of life that are unknown to the general public. The centenary of the tragedy has generated considerable interest in the Titanic story. Perhaps it is inevitable that there has also been a great deal of romance and fantasy surrounding the disaster. The aim of these Articles is to provide a factual account of why she was built; what she was; what happened on her maiden voyage, the aftermath of the tragedy and what happened to her two sister ships. Parts 7 and 8 continue the history through to the final collapse of White Star.

For practical and technical reasons, the Articles are presented in the following parts: -

  • Part 1. The establishment of White Star and Harland & Wolff
  • Part 2. International Mercantile Marine Company
  • Part 3. Olympic
  • Part 4. Titanic
  • Part 5:The immediate aftermath of the Titanic disaster
  • Part 6. Britannic
  • Part 7. The turmoil of war
  • Part 8. The lingering demise of White Star


  1. In these Articles the term Gross Registered Tonnage - usually abbreviated to GRT, or merely tons - is used to define the size of a ship. This term had no connection with weight. It was a measurement based upon a survey of the total internal watertight volume of a vessel, with 1 gross registered ton being equal to 100 cubic feet. The calculation was complex and subject to manipulation, with increases sometimes being engineered for prestige reasons and (more frequently) decreases being made to reduce harbour dues, pilotage charges, etc.
  2. White Star: For the greater part of the existence of the Line, White Star was merely the trading name of Oceanic Steam Navigation Company. To avoid confusion White Star is used in all respects in this Article.

The immediate aftermath of the Titanic disaster[edit]

The arrival of Carpathia in New York[edit]

Part 4 of these articles recounts the heroic work of Captain A H Rostron and the crew of Carpathia in the rescue of those passengers and crew of Titanic fortunate enough to obtain places in the lifeboats. After leaving the scene of the disaster, Carpathia took three days to reach New York, her passage being slowed by pack ice, fog, thunderstorms and rough seas. She was, however, able to pass information by wireless on the scale of the disaster.


Photo 1: Carpathia

The initial brief reports did not satisfy the newspapers, leading to speculative articles, including the erroneous report on 15 April that Titanic was being towed to port by the Allen liner Virginian. Later that day however, it was confirmed that Titanic had been lost together with most of her passengers and crew. Large crowds began to gather outside the offices of IMM and White Star Line in Britain, New York and Montreal. This was especially true in Southampton as 4 out of 5 crew members came from the town.


Photo 2: Crowds waiting for news outside IMM Headquarters in New York

Night and day the crowds waited patiently for the news of their relatives. It was not until 17 April that the first incomplete lists of survivors came through, delayed by poor communications.


Photo 3: Waiting for news

About 40,000 people were waiting in heavy rain at the quayside at New York's Pier 54 for the arrival of Carpathia when she docked at 21.30 on 18 April. A group of voluntary organisations provided clothing, transportation and shelter for the survivors. Many of Titanic's surviving passengers however, headed immediately to relatives' homes. Some of the wealthier survivors chartered private trains to take them home, and the Pennsylvania Railroad laid on a special train free of charge to take survivors to Philadelphia. Titanic's 214 surviving crew members were taken to the IMM Group's Red Star Line steamer Lapland, where they were accommodated in passenger cabins.


Photo 4: Carpathia restocking to restart her voyage from New York to the Mediterranean

Carpathia's arrival in New York drove the press into a frenzy, with newspapers competing to be the first to report the survivors' stories. This was especially true of the "yellow press" led by the titles owned by William Randolph Hearst, who was the most powerful newspaper proprietor of the day. He was notorious for ensuring that reporters wrote pieces that reflected his opinions, regardless of the facts. Hearst had a strong dislike of the British Empire and was understood to harbour a personal grudge against Bruce Ismay. As a result the reports in his press became vitriolic about Ismay, publishing scurrilous and unsubstantiated reports and many of the other international popular press followed their lead.


Photo 5: William Randolph Hearst

Some reporters bribed their way aboard the pilot boat, which met Carpathia as she entered harbour, and one even managed to get onto the liner before she docked. Crowds gathered outside newspaper offices to see the latest reports being posted in the windows or on billboards. It took another four days for a complete list of casualties to be compiled and released.

Carpathia was hurriedly restocked with food and provisions before resuming her voyage to Fiume, Austria-Hungary. Her crew were given a bonus of a month's wages by Cunard as a reward for their actions, and some of Titanic's passengers subscribed to an additional bonus of nearly £900 (£290,000 in 2010 on an average earnings basis), to be divided among the crew members. By contrast White Star followed the shipping industry standard practice and stopped payment to the crew from the moment Titanic sank.


Photo 6: Carpathia leaving New York on 19 April 1912

Many charities were set up to help the victims and their families. In Britain, relief funds were organised for the families of Titanic's lost crew members, raising nearly £450,000 (£145,000,000 today). One such fund remained in operation into the 1960s

The US Senate Court of Inquiry[edit]

William Alden Smith, the Republican Senator for Michigan, had previously sponsored many of the safety and operating regulations passed governing the American railroad industry.


Photo 7: Senator William Alden Smith

He saw the personal political benefits of establishing an inquiry into marine safety issues. He realised rapid action was needed before Titanic's surviving passengers and crew dispersed.

Although President Taft felt that Titanic was not a US Government responsibility, Smith took the initiative and obtained Senate authority for the Committee on Commerce to investigate the sinking. Smith was appointed chairman of a subcommittee to carry out hearings and he rushed to New York, with other subcommittee members in time to meet Carpathia as she docked. The Committee served subpoenas on Ismay and the surviving officers and crew, requiring them to remain in the USA.

The committee was dominated by Smith, who personally conducted the questioning of all of the key witnesses. He was very aggressive; seeking to fix instant blame for the disaster. This of course provided excellent copy for Hearst's newspapers. There was considerable anger in America that 158 crew members, who were not boat-men survived, while 162 women and children died, but this anger overlooked that was ample room in the lifeboats for both. All bar 18 of the lost women and children were Third Class emigrants, most of whom refused to leave there husbands, as their entire life revolved around their wage-earning husband. Many who boarded at Cherbourg had little or no English, which must have added to the terror and confusion they faced.

The final report was presented to the United States Senate on 28 May 1912. The report's key findings were: -

  • A lack of emergency preparations had left Titanic's passengers and crew in "a state of absolute unpreparedness", and the evacuation had been chaotic: "No general alarm was given, no ship's officers formally assembled, no orderly routine was attempted or organized system of safety begun."
  • The ship's safety and life-saving equipment had not been properly tested.
  • Titanic's Captain Edward Smith had shown an "indifference to danger [that] was one of the direct and contributing causes of this unnecessary tragedy."
  • The lack of lifeboats was the fault of the British Board of Trade, "to whose laxity of regulation and hasty inspection the world is largely indebted for this awful tragedy."
  • The Californian had been "much nearer [to Titanic] than the captain is willing to admit" and the British Government should take "drastic action" against him for his behaviour.
  • J. Bruce Ismay had not ordered Captain Smith to put on extra speed, but Ismay's presence on board may have contributed to the captain's decision to do so.
  • Third-class passengers had not been prevented from reaching the lifeboats, but had in many cases not realised until it was too late that the ship was sinking.

The final report was strongly critical of established seafaring practices and the roles that Titanic's builders, owners, officers and crew had played in contributing to the disaster. It highlighted the arrogance and complacency that had prevailed aboard the ship, in the shipping industry and the British Board of Trade. However, it did not find IMM or the White Star Line negligent under existing maritime laws, as they had merely followed standard practice, and the disaster could thus only be categorised as an "act of God"

Senator Smith made a number of recommendations for new regulations to be imposed on passenger vessels wishing to use American ports: -

  1. Ships should slow down on entering areas known to have drifting ice and should post extra lookouts.
  2. Navigational messages should be brought promptly to the bridge and disseminated as required.
  3. There should be enough lifeboats for all on board.
  4. All ships equipped with wireless sets should maintain communications at all times of the day and night.
  5. New regulations were needed to govern the use of radiotelegraphy.
  6. Adequate boat drills were to be carried out for passengers.
  7. Rockets should only be fired by ships at sea as distress signals, and not for any other purposes

The US inquiry was heavily criticised in the British press, both for its conduct and for Smith's style of questioning. For example he asked Titanic's Fifth Officer what an iceberg was made of (Lowe's response was "Ice, I suppose, sir"). Even though Titanic was ultimately owned by the American company International Mercantile Marine, the inquiry was seen as an attack on the British shipping industry and an affront to British honour.The British government was also hostile towards the American denouncement of the British Board of Trade regulations. Conversely the American reaction was generally positive. The American press welcomed Smith's findings and accepted his recommendations, commending the senator for establishing the key facts of the disaster

The British Wreck Commissioner's Inquiry[edit]

The responsibility for initiating a UK government inquiry lay with the Board of Trade, the organisation responsible for British maritime regulations and whose inspectors had certified Titanic as seaworthy before her maiden voyage. On 22 April 1912, the President of the Board of Trade asked the Lord Chancellor, to set up a commission of inquiry. The Lord Chancellor appointed Lord Mersey as the inquiry's President.


Photo 8: Viscount Mersey

The Attorney General for England and Wales furnished the commission a list of 26 questions concerning issues such as Titanic's construction, how she had been navigated and the ice warnings received prior to the collision with the iceberg. A further question was added after the inquiry began concerning the role played by the Californian, which had been in the vicinity of Titanic but had not rendered assistance to the sinking ship.

During 36 days of official investigations (spread over two months), testimony was recorded from nearly 100 witnesses in the form of answers to set questions that the process was designed to answer. It was the longest and most detailed court of inquiry in British history up to that time. Those testifying included surviving passengers and crew members, as well as captains and crew members of other ships in the vicinity, expert witnesses, government officials, and White Star Line officials and ship designers.

The questioning of the Californian's crew and Sir Cosmo Duff-Gordon were regarded as highlights of the inquiry. The failure of Californian to go to the rescue of the sinking Titanic, was already controversial and became even more so with the testimony of Captain Lord and his officers. Lord's claims and explanations were contradicted by his officers and he was portrayed by them as an intimidating and somewhat tyrannical figure. The testimony of Duff-Gordon, who with his wife had been accused of misconduct for their actions in leaving Titanic aboard a lifeboat with 40 places but only 12 passengers, attracted the largest audience of the inquiry.


Photo 9: Sir Cosmo Duff-Gordon giving evidence at the Board of Trade Enquiry

The final report was published on 30 July 1912. Bruce Ismay was entirely exonerated by both Inquiries. The Duff-Gordons were cleared of wrongdoing, but it was made clear that they should have acted more tactfully. Unfortunately these conclusions by both the American and British official inquiries have not saved them from continued vilification in the media.

It found that Titanic's sinking was solely the result of colliding with the iceberg, not due to any inherent flaws with the ship and that the collision had been brought about by a dangerously fast speed in icy waters:"The Court, having carefully inquired ---- finds, ---- that the loss of the ship was due to collision with an iceberg, brought about by the excessive speed at which the ship was being navigated."

WST-5-10.jpg Photo 10: Captain Stanley Lord

It also found that the lookout being kept was inadequate given the navigational hazards Titanic faced and that the ship's officers had been complacent. There were too few lifeboats available and they had not been properly filled or manned with trained seamen, though they had been lowered correctly. The inquiry concluded that the Californian "could have pushed through the ice to the open water without any serious risk and so have come to the assistance of the Titanic. Had she done so she might have saved many if not all of the lives that were lost." The Board of Trade's representative suggested to Lord Mersey that a formal inquiry should be held into Captain Lord's "competency to continue as Master of a British ship" but no action was taken against him due to legal technicalities.

The Board of Trade was criticised for its inadequate regulations, notably the failure to ensure that enough lifeboats were provided and that crews were given proper training in their use.

In contrast to the American inquiry, the Mersey report did not condemn the failures of the Board of Trade, the White Star Line or Titanic's Captain, Edward Smith. The final view of the British Inquiry was that on 14 April 1912 Captain Smith had two safe options before him: "The one was to stand well to the southward instead of turning up to a westerly course; the other was to reduce speed materially as night approached. He did neither. Why, then, did the Master persevere in his course and maintain his speed? The answer is to be found in the evidence. It was shown that for many years past, indeed, for a quarter of a century or more, the practice of liners using this track when in the vicinity of ice at night had been in clear weather to keep the course, to maintain the speed and to trust to a sharp look-out to enable them to avoid the danger. This practice, it was said, had been justified by experience, no casualties having resulted from it. I accept the evidence as to the practice and as to the immunity from casualties which is said to have accompanied it. But the event has proved the practice to be bad."

Lord Mersey went on to conclude that Captain Smith "was not trying to make any record passage or indeed any exceptionally quick passage. He was not trying to please anybody, but was exercising his own discretion in the way he thought best. He made a mistake, a very grievous mistake, but one in which, in face of the practice and of past experience, negligence cannot he said to have had any part; and in the absence of negligence it is, in my opinion, impossible to fix Captain Smith with blame. It is, however, to be hoped that the last has been heard of the practice and that for the future it will be abandoned for what we now know to be more prudent and wiser measures."

The inquiry noted that British ships alone had carried 3.5 million transatlantic passengers over the previous decade with the loss of just 10 lives. It concluded that Smith had merely done "only that which other skilled men would have done in the same position."

Both Inquiries also censured Captain Lord, but they did not recommend an official investigation into Lord's possible offences under the Merchant Shipping Acts. Lord was not allowed to be represented at either the US or British inquiry - he was called to give evidence before he knew that he was to become a target for criticism, but having answered questions which were later interpreted to cast blame on him, he was denied the opportunity of speaking in his own defence.

The British Inquiry concluded that out of a total of 2,201 people aboard the Titanic, 711 survived the disaster and 1,490 perished, while the American Inquiry concluded that 706 survived out of 2,223 and 1,517 were lost. The majority of deaths were caused by hypothermia in the 28 °F (−2 °C) water. The recommendations of the Inquiries included major changes in maritime regulations to ensure that more lifeboats were provided, that lifeboat drills were properly carried out and that wireless equipment on passenger ships was manned around the clock.

The authors of the American and British reports displayed markedly different reactions to the disaster. The American report castigated the arrogance and complacency that had led to the disaster and held Captain Smith, the shipping industry and the Board of Trade culpable for their failures. The British report emphasized that "the importance of this Enquiry has to do with the future. No Enquiry can repair the past."


Photo 11: The lifeboats from Titanic that were recovered by Carpathia and carried to New York

The recovery of the dead[edit]

Once the massive loss of life became known, White Star Line chartered the cable ship CS Mackay-Bennett from Halifax, Nova Scotia to retrieve bodies. Three other Canadian ships joined in the search: the cable ship Minia, the lighthouse supply ship Montmagny and the sealing vessel Algerine. Each ship carried embalming supplies, undertakers and clergy. Of the 333 victims that were eventually recovered, 328 were retrieved by the Canadian ships and five more by passing North Atlantic steamships. Some bodies sank with the ship while currents quickly dispersed bodies and wreckage across hundreds of miles making them difficult to recover. By June one of the last search ships reported that the life-jackets that had been supporting bodies were coming apart and releasing bodies to sink.


Photo 12: The cable ship Mackay Bennett

International efforts to avoid a repetition of the disaster[edit]

The horrified public reaction to the Titanic disaster, media hysteria, plus the recommendations of the American and British official inquiries, led the international maritime nations to gather in London in November 1913 for the first International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS), which was signed on 30 January 1914. This established a permanent international maritime regulatory body. The main objectives of this and subsequent SOLAS Conventions are to specify minimum standards for the construction, equipment and operation of ships, compatible with their safety. The 1914 Convention paid particular attention to the following: -


At the time of the Titanic disaster, the Board of Trade's regulations stated that British vessels over 10,000 tons must carry 16 lifeboats with a capacity of 5,500 cubic feet (160 m3), plus enough capacity in rafts and floats for 75% (or 50% in case of a vessel with watertight bulkheads) of that in the lifeboats. Therefore, the White Star Line actually provided more lifeboat accommodation than was legally required. The regulations made no extra provision for larger ships because they had not been changed since 1894, when the largest passenger ship under consideration was only 13,000 tons, and because of the expected difficulty in getting away more than 16 boats in any emergency.

This concern was justified in the sinking of Titanic and in many of the major passenger sinkings during the First World War.

The recommendations made by both the British and American Boards of Inquiry were that ships would carry enough lifeboats for those aboard, mandated lifeboat drills would be implemented, lifeboat inspections would be conducted. These recommendations were adopted by SOLAS. It was recognised that fitting extra lifeboats would have had little value in the Titanic disaster because of the absence of an organised evacuation procedure in the liner. Regular crew training in the lowering and use of lifeboats (popularly known as "Board of Trade Sports" among ship's crews) became obligatory.

Radio Watch and distress rockets[edit]

United States government passed the Radio Act of 1912. This act was incorporated into SOLAS. It became mandatory for radio communications on passenger ships to be operated 24 hours and that the radio must be provided with a secondary power supply, to avoid missing distress calls. The 1912 Radio Act also required ships to maintain contact with vessels in their vicinity as well as coastal radio stations.The rockets launched from Titanic prior to sinking were interpreted with some ambiguity by the freighter Californian. Officers on the Californian had seen rockets fired from an unknown liner from their decks, yet surmised that they could possibly be "company" or identification signals, used to signal to other ships. At the time of the sinking, aside from distress situations, it was commonplace for ships without wireless radio to use a combination of rockets and Roman candles to identify themselves to other liners. Once the Radio Act of 1912 was passed it was agreed that rockets at sea would be interpreted as distress signals only, thus removing any possible misinterpretation from other ships.

Ship design changes[edit]

Following the disaster double bottoms of many existing ships, including Olympic were extended above their waterlines, to give them double hulls. The bulkheads in Titanic only extended 10 feet above the waterline. After she sank, the bulkheads on other ships were extended up to the main deck to make the compartments fully watertight.

Fire precautions[edit]

In the early Twentieth Century very little attention was paid to containing and extinguishing fires in ships. The 1914 Convention did however give some consideration to fire hazards. This was largely because of the public impact of the loss of the small British emigrant carrier Volturno (3,581 tons) which had been destroyed by fire in mid-Atlantic the previous year with the loss of 136 lives. Unfortunately the new regulations proved to be inadequate to protect ships from fire hazards arising from the growing sophistication and luxury adopted in the outfitting of passenger ships.


Photo 13: Canadian Northern Steamship's emigrant carrier Volturno, on fire in Mid-Atlantic on a voyage from Rotterdam. Although 11 ships heeded Volturno's SOS and 521 were rescued, the death toll was 136; sadly mainly women and children killed during the ship's initial attempts at lifeboat launchings in heavy seas.

International Ice Patrol[edit]

At the first International Conference on the Safety of Life at Sea, which was convened in London on November 12, 1913, the subject of patrolling the ice regions was thoroughly discussed. The convention established an international derelict-destruction, ice observation, and ice patrol service, consisting of vessels to patrol the ice regions during the iceberg danger season and attempt to keep the transatlantic lanes clear of derelicts during the remainder of the year. The United States Government was asked to undertake the service, with the expense to be defrayed by the 13 nations interested in transatlantic navigation.


Photo 14: US Revenue Cutter Miami, which was one of the pioneer Iceberg patrol vessels

The Olympic Mutiny[edit]

Most liners at the time of the disaster did not carry enough lifeboats for everyone on board. White Star hurriedly equipped Olympic with additional, second-hand collapsible lifeboats. Toward the end of April 1912, as Olympic was about to sail from Southampton to New York, 284 of the ship's stokers went on strike because of fears that these collapsible lifeboats were not seaworthy. 100 non-union stokers were hastily hired from Southampton as replacements, with more being hired in Liverpool.

On 25 April a deputation of strikers witnessed tests of four of the collapsible boats. Only one was unseaworthy and the strikers' representatives said that they were prepared to recommend the men return to work if it was replaced. However the strikers now objected to the non-union strike-breaker crew which had come on board, and demanded that they be dismissed, which the White Star Line refused. The stokers' dispute was taken up by 54 of the seaman who left the ship; refusing to sail with non-union men who they claimed were unqualified and therefore dangerous. This led to the scheduled sailing being cancelled.

All 54 seamen were arrested and charged with mutiny. On 4 May 1912 Portsmouth magistrates found the charges against the mutineers were proven, but discharged them without imprisonment or fine due to the special cir***stances of the case. Fearing that public opinion would be on the side of the strikers, White Star allowed them return to work and the Olympic sailed on 15 May.

Resumption of Service[edit]

During the months following the disaster, Olympic assisted both the American and British inquiries. Both inquiries inspected Olympic's lifeboats, watertight doors and bulkheads and other equipment which were identical to those on Titanic. In May 1912 sea tests were performed for the British enquiry, to establish how quickly the ship could turn two points at various speeds, to estimate how long it would have taken Titanic to turn after it sighted the iceberg.

Seven weeks after the Titanic disaster, Captain Haddock almost ran Olympic aground on rocks near Land's End. The incident was attributed to faulty navigation, and Haddock was under strict observation for his next few voyages.

Safety Refit[edit]

On 9 October 1912 White Star withdrew Olympic from service and returned her to her builders at Belfast to incorporate lessons learned from the Titanic disaster, and improve safety. Olympic's place in the Mail Service being taken by other IMM ships. The number of lifeboats carried by Olympic was increased from twenty to sixty four, and extra davits were installed along the boat deck to accommodate them.


Photo 15: Olympic's revised boat stowage arrangements after her 1913 safety refit

From the above photograph it appears that the lifeboats were nested, two to each pair of davits. This arrangement is not evident in post war photos of the ship.


Photo 16: Installing Olympic's double hull

Inner watertight longitudinal bulkheads were also constructed on either side of the boiler and engine rooms. Arrangements of this type were incorporated in Mauretania and Lusitania as built. Although this was done to improve ship survivability, it proved to be ineffective when the outer hull was breached because the space then contained a large volume and weight of water at the extreme beam, which then created such a severe list that it was difficult to lower lifeboats.

Five of Olympic's existing watertight bulkheads were extended up to B-deck, and an extra bulkhead was added to subdivide the electrical dynamo room, bringing the total number of watertight compartments to 17. At the same time, Olympic's B Deck was refitted with improved cabins and public rooms, this necessitated enclosing the forward end of her B Deck promenades - one of the few features that separated her from her sister ship. With these changes, Olympic's gross tonnage rose to 46,359 tons, 31 tons larger than Titanic's. Her total passenger accommodation was now 2,440, made up of 735 First; 675 Second and 1,030 Third Class passengers.In March 1913, Olympic returned to service and briefly regained the title of largest ocean liner in the world, until the German liner Imperator entered passenger service in June 1913. Following her refit, Olympic was marketed as the "new" Olympic and her improved safety features were featured prominently in advertisements.

Remaining pre-war career[edit]

Even after Olympic returned from her refit, the loss of Titanic had a severe adverse effect upon White Star's mail service as the company was left with a totally unbalanced fleet: -

NameDeliveredGRTSpeed1st Pass2nd Pass3rd PassDisosalDate

Majestic was completely outclassed and she was withdrawn at the end of January 1914, just before the launch of Britannia. Majestic's service was temporarily taken over by other IMM ships.

IMM's finances were becoming increasingly precarious, not helped by the fact that part of the value of Titanic was self insured by White Star and only the remainder being recoverable from underwriters. As a result a smaller replacement of 33,600 GRT, to be named Germanic was provisionally ordered at the end of 1913. The keel was laid at Belfast for this ship but little else was done. With the outbreak of war the name was changed to Homeric and outline plans were drawn up for a larger ship after the loss of Britannic, but the project was abandoned in 1921.

Hamburg America's Imperator Class[edit]

Hamburg - Amerikanische Paketfahrt AG (HAPAG) had a partnership agreement with IMM. Albert Ballin, the company's renowned General Director, was greatly impressed by the Olympic class plans and he resolved to build in Germany a class of liners that would be bigger, more luxurious, and faster, with modern steam turbine propulsion.

WST-5-16.jpg Photo 17: Hamburg-America's Imperator as completed in 1913. 52,117 GRT; quadruple screw, steam turbines, 74,000 SHP, 23 knots service speed; 908 First Class, 972 Second Class, 942 Third Class, 1,772 Steerage Passengers and 1,180 Crew. The wings of the giant imperial eagle lasted on her bows until she encountered her first North Atlantic winter storm. They are somewhere on the ocean bed.

First Class accommodation provided a hitherto unheard of scale of luxury including many palatial suites with a private sitting room and bathroom. The public rooms were furnished to a grand scale

WST-5-17.jpg Photo 18: Imperator's First Class Dining Saloon

A much criticised feature was a large German eagle on her bows, but this was soon damaged by heavy seas and removed. After some teething delays, Imperator sailed on her maiden voyage on 11 June 1913. She took from Olympic the title of the largest ship in the world

WST-5-18.jpg Photo 19: Imperator at New York

Imperator was immediately popular with transatlantic travellers. In August 1913 she arrived in New York with 3,643 passengers - the all time record number of North Atlantic civilian passengers. She was able to average 22 knots for Atlantic crossings, which meant that with two sisters HAPAG would be able to maintain a weekly service between Hamburg, Southampton, Cherbourg and New York.

There was however, one major problem. Imperator was found to have very marginal stability. This resulted in the ship displaying a disconcerting list when her helm was applied.

WST-5-19.jpg Photo 20: Imperator listing as she turns in New York harbour

To cure this fault, Imperator returned to her builders where her funnels were reduced by three metres in height, some of the heavier furnishings and fittings removed and about 2,000 tons of concrete poured into her double bottom.

The second sister, Vaterland sailed from Hamburg on her maiden voyage 14 May 1914. She was 7.5 metres longer and 0.6 metres wider than Imperator. These changes increased Vaterland's tonnage to 54,282 GRT, making her in turn the largest ship in the world

WST-5-20.jpg Photo 21: Vaterland in Hamburg

The third sister, Bismarck was launched on 20 June 1914. Work stopped on the ship when war broke out. Vaterland was interned in New York and Imperator was laid up in Hamburg for the duration of the war.

WST-5-21.jpg Photo 22: Bismarck's launch from Blohm & Voss, Hamburg Bibliography[edit]

A complete Bibliography for this Article is given at the end of Part 8 .


Some of the photographs used to illustrate this article are from the Ships Nostalgia Galleries, which are available for use in the Directory. Many others are from Wikimedia Commons and the Danish website and are in the public domain. The individual photographs used in Part 5 have been provided as follows: -

  2. Wikimedia Commons
  3. Wikimedia Commons
  4. Ships Nostalgia - cunard61
  5. Wikimedia Commons
  6. Ships Nostalgia - cunard61
  7. Wikimedia Commons
  8. Wikimedia Commons
  9. Wikimedia Commons
  10. Wikimedia Commons
  11. Wikimedia Commons
  12. Nova Scotia Museum
  13. Ships Nostalgia - linerrich
  14. USN Naval History and Heritage Command
  15. Wikimedia Commons
  16. Ships Nostalgia - Tmac1720
  20. Ships Nostalgia - stein
  22. Ships Nostalgia - cunard61

Article written and compiled by Fred Henderson

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