Wednesday, January 1, 2020

St. Louis & St. Paul

St. Louis (1895-1925) and St. Paul (1895-1923) were the first two express steamers built under the aegis of the American Line.  In the 1890s the record-breaking New York and Paris, the first twin-screw express liners were under American ownership but built for the British flagged Inman Line.   The new American Line was a product of mergers and speculative capitalism in 1891-1892 with the hope of a generous operating subsidy for carrying the US Mail to offset operating costs and grab a share of the international competition. The line also wanted to have the City of New York and City of Paris registered as American vessels flying the US flag. In a bid for support Clement Griscom (he also founded International Mercantile Marine), owner of Inman & International Line rebranded his company as the “American Line.”  Griscom promised his entire fleet to the Navy if needed for war as well.  However, Congress was willing to allow the change of registry and the mail subsidy only if the line ordered new tonnage built in the US line (only American-built ships were allowed to sail under the US flag).  

1:1250 scale model of St. Louis.

William Cramp & Sons Shipyard in Philadelphia built the new flagships of the line.  At 554 feet long and 11,629 GRT they were considerably smaller than many British and German competitors (and not much larger than their older fleet mates) but they were adequate to maintain the transatlantic service.  St. Louis was a classic steamship with two tall masts, stovepipe-like funnels and a weather deck running the full length of the hull.  The superstructure consisted of a three deckhouse arrangement behind a long forecastle, a design similar to other Atlantic liners such as Campania and Lucania.  

This overhead view shows the "classic" steamship design of the era-- two pencil funnels, tall masts, and divided superstructure.
The ships were completely American in terms of materials and labor, and as the contemporary journal Seabord. proclaimed, “They have the graceful, sweeping sheer and lively rise of bows which characterize American ships everywhere.”  While the ship’s external was pleasing to the eye, the propelling machinery was a disappointment.  Both ships required engine overhauls within the first year to improve the ship’s speed. The funnels needed reconfiguration as well because they did not provide adequate draught for the furnaces in 1896 and again in 1903.  

Quadruple expansion reciprocating engines under construction.  Unknown - Howell, G. Foster (1896). Howell's Steam Vessels and Marine Engines. p. 11. Image in the public domain, Wikimedia commons.

St. Louis was launched in November 1894 and sailed on her maiden voyage in June 1895.  Two months later a steam pipe exploded leaving five dead.  After that she sailed without mishap.  The St. Paul was launched in April 1894 and sailed in October 1895.  She had two major mishaps.  The first was a collision in 1900 with a submerged wreck.  She a propeller and the starboard engine was severely damaged.  The second collision was with the British cruiser Gladiator.  The warship sank with a loss of 27.

Despite these dramatic incidents, both ships settled into their routines.  The ships were comfortable and the American registry had an appeal for American travellers as well as emigrants leaving Europe. The main saloon was reminiscent of the old Inman liners with dark woodwork and domes.  The largest first class public rooms were situated between the funnels in the most stable part of the ship.  The oak-paneled library was among the largest rooms afloat in 1894 and there were numerous bath and toilet facilities in first and second class (although not in the individual cabins).  The steerage quarters were comfortable for the time and featured smaller cabins rather than large dormitories.   The ship carried enough lifeboat seats for all on board—something not required by law at the time.

Passing the Statue of Liberty, a Tri-Ang Minic model.
St. Louis saw action in the Spanish-American War (1898) as an armed merchant cruiser, disrupting merchant shipping in the Caribbean and enforcing the US Navy’s blockade of Cuba.  Although lightly armed, she participated in offshore bombardments as well.  Outfitted with heavy drag cables she severed undersea cables and transported Spanish POWs. After the war, she returned to the Atlantic run between New York and Liverpool.

Flying under the US flag was an added measure of security in the opening years of WWI when the US was ostensibly neutral in the conflict.  In April 1918, she was transformed into a troopship, renamed Louisville, and joined dozens of liners bringing American soldiers to France.  The following year she was brining veterans home.  She would never carry another paying passenger.
St. Louis or St. Paul underway.
In what seems to be a common theme for American passenger liners, she succumbed to a fire during her restoration to passenger service.  With a decline in passenger numbers and excess of tonnage, she was too expensive to refurbish.  In 1922, she was sold to investor with plans to transform her into a cruise liner. The plans fell through and she was again sold, this time to ship breakers in Italy and was scrapped in 1924.   St. Paul resumed commercial service after the war in 1920 but was laid up and then sold for scrap in 1923.

St. Louis (1895-1925) Built by Cramp & Sons, Philadelphia.  11,629 GRT, 554 feet long, 63 feet wide.  Steam quadruple expansion reciprocating engines, twin crew.  Service speed 19 knots.  As built she had capacity for 1,340 total passengers (320 first class, 220 second class, 800 steerage).

Stephen Fox, Transatlantic:  Samuel Cunard, Isambard Brunel, and the Great Atlantic Steamships
Arnold Kludas, Great Passenger Ships of the World: Volume 1:  1858-1912
William H. Miller, The First Great Ocean Liners in Photographs

Monday, November 14, 2016

Mystery of the Morro Castle

During the 1930s, the Morro Castle and her sister Oriente were cruise ships operated by the Ward Line running cruises to Havana and other sunny destinations.  Newport News Shipbuilding built the ships in 1930.

1:1250  model of Morro Castle by Albatross.
Morro Castle is remembered today for a disastrous fire that killed 135 people and brought a smoldering wreck to an Asbury Park beach for all to see.

 The story is bizzare.  The ship was on a return voyage from Cuba when she encountered a nor’easter.  On September 7, 1934, her captain, Robert Willmott, was found dead in his cabin.   Command of the ship passed to chief officer William Warms.  Overnight, the ship plodded through the storm with high seas and strong winds.

Early in the morning of the eighth, a fire was discovered onboard.  Within 20 minutes, the fire burned through the main electrical cables and plunged the ship into darkness. The crew was not up to the task of firefighting and within an hour the superstructure, including the bridge and radio room was ablaze.  A single SOS was sent.

In a scene reminiscent of the loss of the Arctic in the 1850s, crewmen were the first to the lifeboats and most of those evacuated were crew.  Many passengers huddled in the aft sections of the ship and had few options but to wait for rescue and risk the fire or jump into the stormy seas.  Three liners responded to the distress call and plucked survivors from the water and the six lifeboats that were launched. 

Two funnels and two masts-- the classic look of a modern liner.

The beached wreck was local tourist attraction and remained there until March 1935.  Morro Castle was a total loss.  There are several theories about the cause of the fire.  Some speculate that the radio operator, George Rogers, set the fire so that he could be a hero.  Other experts suggest that faulty wiring, or flammable chemicals stored in the closet in the area the fire began were to blame.  Whatever the cause, the forward movement of the ship into the wind only fed the blaze and the failure of the crew to take immediate action to alert all of the passengers and off-duty crew for an organized evacuation led to the loss of life.

Morro Castle leaving port. 

Subsequent investigations into the disaster led to reprimands of the crew and led to increasingly stringent fire safety regulations for passenger vessels.  Surely William Francis Gibbs had this disaster in mind when he planned two of the most famous American liners, America and United States.

Morro Castle (1930-1934) built for Ward Line by Newport News Shipbuilding, Newport News, VA.  11,520 GRT.  508 feet long, 70.9 feet wide.  Steam turbo-electric transmission geared to twin screw.  Service speed 20 knots.  489 Total Passengers.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Pride of the Canadian Pacific's Atlantic Fleet

Outside of these interested in steamships, few people have heard of the Empress of Ireland, which sank in the St. Lawrence River in May 1914.   This tragic accident took the lives of 1,012 passengers and crew in the space of fourteen horrific minutes. 

The loss of the Empress remains Canada’s worst maritime disaster and if one considers the both St. Lawrence and Chicago Rivers as part of the Great Lakes, it surpasses the capsizing of the Eastland in Chicago (also in 1914) for number of passengers lost.  Beyond the riverside port of Rimouski and homeport of Liverpool, the sinking did not capture the public’s attention and the tragedy was overshadowed by the bloodshed and devastation of the Great War a few months later.  It is an important story to tell and one that has come alive in the twenty-first century.

1:1250 model of the Empress of Ireland by Rainer Gouls.

The Empress of Ireland was launched in the winter of 1906 at Fairfield Shipbuilders on the Clyde.  Commissioned by the Canadian Pacific Railroad’s Atlantic service, she was built alongside her sister ship, the Empress of Britain, as the company’s flagship.  Neither ship was close to the largest or fastest ships on the North Atlantic, but they were the decidedly larger and more luxurious than their fleet mates and certainly competitive with other vessels designated on the run to Canada.

Empress of Britain postcard ca. 1910.

CPR was a newcomer to the Atlantic passenger trade acquiring fifteen vessels—and their crews—from the Elder Dempster Line in 1903.  In a single move, CPR eliminated a competitor and established a comprehensive transportation system.

One of Canadian Pacific’s’ selling points was that a passenger could travel from Liverpool to Tokyo and never leave a Canadian Pacific conveyance.  The railroad spanned North America from Quebec to British Columbia, and a small fleet of passenger and cargo vessels served each port.  CPR’s Atlantic vessels were, like other companies, larger and faster than those on other sailing routes.  The Empresses were intended to attract both first class passengers to travel in the comfort of the rail & ship service but also emigrants coming to Canada.  The main innovation of the Empresses was to accommodate third-class passengers in cabins rather than dormitories, as was the standard of the day.

Empress of Ireland in harbor.  White Star Line's Ceramic is in the background.  Harbor accessories by Triang-Minic.

The Empress of Ireland made her maiden voyage from Liverpool to Quebec in late June, 1906.  She made 95 voyages over the next eight years.  On May 28, 1914, she was outbound from Quebec on the start of her 96th voyage.  Under the guidance of the pilot, she gradually picked up steam on the calm seas of the St. Lawrence.  The sight of land surely must have calmed passengers nervous to be at sea.  So did the ubiquitous presence of lifeboats and a scheduled lifeboat drill.  There was no worry of another disaster like that of the Titanic unfolding. 

By unknown. from the collection of Matthews, James Skitt, Major (1878-1970) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.  City of Vancouver Archives.

Shortly after midnight, the Empress stopped off Rimouski to exchange mail and drop off the pilot.  As she steamed away, she was in the hands of her captain, George Kendall.  Kendall was an experienced sailor and esteemed officer, but was new to the captaincy of the Empress.   As the she was underway, a blanket of fog descended upon the St. Lawrence.

The Empresses were built with classic steamship design of two funnels and two masts.  The booms are extended for handling cargo.

A few miles downriver, and invisible to the Empress is the Norweigian collier, Storstad.  At 1:38 AM, the lookout sights a mastlead light ahead.  Kendall ordered a change of course, but the die was cast.  Despite signals from foghorns the ships were lost in the fog and on a collision course.  The Storstad slammed into the Empress and she immediate began flooding at the rate of 50,000 gallons a minute.  No ship could survive such a wound. 

Within minutes, the wireless operator sent out distress calls, and then the power failed.  The Empress began listing sharply.  Those awake on the upper decks—mostly crewmen and men in the smoking rooms—were able to reach the few lifeboats that were launched.  There simply was not time for an evacuation.  Fourteen minutes after the collision, the Empress was gone. Those who were not pulled into a lifeboat succumbed to hyperthermia.  Some people in the water were found and pulled out by the Storstad and vessels from Rimouski.  Due to the fog, many were not spotted until it was too late.  Of the 1,477 passengers and crew aboard, 465 were rescued, mostly crewmembers who were awake. 

Captain Kendall.  Agence Rol [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Among the survivors was Captain Kendall, washed from the bridge.  An inquiry absolved him of blame, but he never commanded another CPR liner.  The bulk of his later career was at a desk as Marine Superintendent.

Because the Empress of Ireland sank in a known location in shallow water, she was within reach of divers in 1914.  Salvers blasted a hole in the hull to retrieve the mail and a shipment of currency.  She lay neglected until the 1960s when SCUBA divers began exploring the wreck and salvaging items.  The wreck was picked over off an on until protected as historic site in the late 1990s. 

Location of the wreck of the Empress of Ireland.  NOAA [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Empress of Britain sailed as a troopship during the war and resumed commercial sailings during the early 1920s.  In 1924, the ship was renamed Montroyal.   She was sold for scrap in 1930 and replaced with a newer Empress of Britain in 1930.

RMS Empress of Ireland (1906-1914) built by Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Company, Govan, Scotland.  14,191 GRT, 570 feet long, 65 feet wide.  Steam quadruple expansion engines geared to twin screw.  Service speed 18 knots.  1,580 total passengers (350 first class, 350 second class, 1000 third).

Sunday, March 6, 2016

The Ship with Tallest Stack

The Ivernia was one many vessels in Cunard’s intermediate fleet.  These ships catered to immigrants and budget minded travelers whom did not demand swift passage or luxurious accommodations.  These vessels also transported larger quantities of cargo than the express liners.  Ivernia sailed on the Liverpool to Boston run and sometimes Treiste to New York. 

Ivernia dwarfs the USS Olympia in this scene. 

Ivernia carried the largest single funnel ever fitted to a ship, measuring 60 feet from base to top. Her overall design was similar to her near-sisters Saxonia and Carpathia.  Her practical design of a single funnel and four masts indicates that she carried more cargo than the larger express liners.  All four masts are positioned above cargo hatches and each is equipped with four booms for loading and unloading freight and baggage.

1:1250 model by Mercator.

Captain William Turner was in command when she was torpedoed by UB-47 and sank in 1917.  For the second time, Turner swam away from a sinking ship and was rescued.  Turner was accused of failing to sail Lusitania on a zig-zag pattern to avoid a U-boat attack.   When torpedoed, Turner claimed Ivernia was sailing on a zig-zag course.  Nevertheless, his career effectively ended.  While he was not dismissed from employment, Turner never took another vessel to sea.

SS Ivernia (1900-1917) Built for Cunard Line by Swan, Hunter & Wigham Richardson, Ltd., 1900.  13,799 GRT, 600 feet long, 64 feet wide.  Steam quadruple expansion engines geared to twin screw.  Service speed 15 knots.  1,964 passengers (164 first class, 200 second class, 1,600 steerage).

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Kaiserin Auguste Victoria

A year after the popular liner Amerika was launched a near sister was completed in Stetin.  Christened by the Empress of Germany, the new vessel thundered down the ways named Kaiserin Auguste Victoria (not to be confused with the Augusta Victoria of 1889) and was briefly the world’s largest liner.  

Kaiserin Auguste Victoria was built on the classic four masts and two funnels configuration.  1:1250 model by HL

As with Amerika, HAPAG was primarily concerned with the comfort and luxuries available to first class passengers.  The severe vibration of the Deustschland in addition to the expense of running the liner at high speed made HAPAG shy of competing on the basis of record-breaking crossings.  Much like White Star they sought swift, reliable, and economical service whilst providing top-notch service. 

Kaiserin Auguste Victoria.  Internet Archive Book Images [No restrictions], via Wikimedia Commons
One of the new vessel’s novelties was a special grillroom, or a la carte restaurant managed by the Ritz Carlton Company.  First class passengers paid extra to dine here (creating in essence a deluxe class) but were refunded a portion of their fare if they chose to dine exclusively in this establishment rather than the dining saloon.  In this exclusive enclave diners read gold-trimmed menu cards and dined on exotic dishes including whole roast oxen and grilled antelope.  One needed look no further for gilded age excess.  Little wonder that Teddy Roosevelt chose Kaiserin Auguste Victoria to embarked on his post-presidential safari!

Passing a freighter at sea.

HAPAG brochures highlighted such luxuries for its first class passengers.  For its third class and steerage tickets, the vessel offered clean, safe, and reliable emigrant service.  For all travelers, publicist stressed the technological side of the ship.  In the days before jets, ocean liners were among the most marvelous symbols of speed and might.  The public was impressed by length, width, tonnage, and speed.  They also (especially after the Titanic disaster) were keen to know about safety features. 

Kaiserin Auguste Victoria docked awaiting passengers and cargo.

Kaiserin Auguste Victoria was outsized (and outrun) by the Lusitania when she entered service in 1907.  Nevertheless, she remained a popular ship on the Atlantic run until the First World War.  She remained in Hamburg until Germany surrendered, when she became a prize of war and was charted by the US Shipping Board to bring the veterans home.  In 1921 she sailed under the Cunard flag while the line’s vessels were being refurbished for peacetime service. 

The vessel was bought by the Canadian Pacific Steamship Line and became Empress of Scotland.  She worked the Hamburg-Southampton-Cherbourg-Quebec service from 1922 until 1930.  She was sold for scrap in 1931.

Kaiserin Auguste Victoria (1906-1918, Empress of Scotland 1922-1930) built for HAPAG by Vulkan Shipyard, Stettin, Germany 1906).  24,581 GRT, 705 feet long, 77 feet wide.  Steam quadruple expansion engines geared to twin screw.  Service speed 17.5 knots.  As built:  2,996 passengers (652 First Class, 286 Second Class, 216 third class, 1,842 steerage).