Large Passenger Liners - RMS Queen Mary, 1934

Large Passenger Liners - RMS Queen Mary, 1934

Courtesy Wired, November 2008 issue, page 92, in an article by Cliff Kuang.
Courtesy Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
Edited by David Barth, 7 December 2008.

RMS Queen Mary
RMS Queen Mary in New York.

RMS Queen Mary
RMS Queen Mary in Long Beach, California.
In the background is the dome that originally
held Howard Hughes' wooden "Spruce Goose" airplane.

RMS Queen Mary was an ocean liner that sailed the North Atlantic Ocean from 1936 to 1967 for the Cunard White Star Line. Built by John Brown and Company, Clydebank, Scotland, she was designed to be the first of Cunard's planned two-ship weekly express service from Southampton, England to Cherbourg, France to New York, USA in answer to the mainland European superliners of the late 1920s and early 1930s.

After their release from World War II troop transport duties, Queen Mary and her running mate, RMS Queen Elizabeth, commenced this two-ship service and continued it for two decades until Queen Mary's retirement in 1967. The ship is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and is permanently berthed in Long Beach, California serving as a museum ship and hotel. The Queen Mary celebrated the 70th anniversary of her launch in both Clydebank and in Long Beach during 2004, and the 70th anniversary of her maiden voyage in 2006.

With Germany launching their Bremen and Europa into service, the British did not want to be left out in this ship building race. White Star Line began construction on their 60,000 ton Oceanic in 1928, while Cunard planned a 75,000-ton ship of its own.

Construction on the ship, then known only as "Yard Number 534", began in December 1930 on the River Clyde by the John Brown & Company Shipbuilding and Engineering shipyard at Clydebank, Scotland. Work was halted in December 1931 due to the Great Depression and Cunard applied to the British Government for a loan to complete 534. The loan was granted, with enough money to complete the Queen Mary and to build a running mate, hull No. 552, which became Queen Elizabeth.

One condition of the loan was that Cunard merge with the White Star Line, which was Cunard's chief British rival at the time and which had already been forced by the Depression to cancel construction on its Oceanic. Both lines agreed and the merger was completed in April 1934. Work on the Queen Mary resumed immediately and she was launched on 26 September 1934. Completion ultimately took 3 1/2 years and cost 3 1/2 million pounds sterling in total. Much of the ship's interior was designed and constructed by the Bromsgrove Guild.

The ship was named after Queen Mary, the consort of King George V. Until her launch the name she was to be given was kept a closely guarded secret. Legend has it that Cunard intended to name the ship "Victoria", in keeping with company tradition of giving its ships names ending in "ia". However, when company representatives asked the King's permission to name the ocean liner after Britain's "greatest queen", he said his wife, Queen Mary, would be delighted. And so, the legend goes, the delegation had of course no other choice but to report that No. 534 would be called RMS Queen Mary.

This story was denied by company officials, and traditionally the names of sovereigns have only been used for capital ships of the Royal Navy. Some support for the story was provided by Washington Post editor Felix Morley, who sailed as a guest of the Cunard Line on the 1936 maiden voyage of the Queen Mary. In his 1979 autobiography, For the Record, Morley wrote that he was placed at table with Sir Percy Bates, chairman of the Cunard Line. Bates told him the story of the naming of the ship "on condition you won't print it during my lifetime." The name Queen Mary could also have been decided upon as a compromise between Cunard and the White Star Line, with which Cunard had recently merged, who had a tradition of using names ending in "ic".

HISTORY (1934-1939)
There was already a Clyde turbine steamer named Queen Mary, so Cunard White Star reached agreement with the owners that the existing steamer would be renamed TS Queen Mary II, and in 1934 the new liner was launched by Queen Mary as RMS Queen Mary.

The first incident in what was to be an eventful career occurred just after the naming ceremony. On her way down the slipway, the Queen Mary began increase her speed towards the water and she almost overshot her projected stopping point in the Clyde racing onwards towards the opposite bank before the drag chains took full effect.

When she sailed on her maiden voyage from Southampton, England on 27 May 1936, she was commanded by Sir Edgar T. Britten, who had been the master designate for Cunard White Star while the ship was under construction at the John Brown shipyard. The Queen Mary had a gross tonnage (GT) of 80,774 tons. Her rival, the French liner Normandie, which originally grossed 79,280 tonnes, had been modified the preceding winter to increase her size to 83,243 GT (an enclosed tourist lounge was built on the aft boat deck on the area where the game court had been), and therefore kept the title of the largest ocean liner. The Queen Mary sailed at high speeds for most of her maiden voyage to New York until heavy fog forced a reduction of speed at the final days of the crossing.

The windows in this bar were once part of the enclosed Promenade Deck turnaround. The lounge was extended forward after 1967. The Queen Mary's design was criticized for being too traditional, especially when the Normandie's hull was revolutionary with a clipper-shaped, streamlined bow. Except for her spoon-shaped cruiser stern, she seemed to be simply a bulkier version of her Cunard and White Star predecessors from the pre-World War I era.

Her interior design, while mostly Art Deco, still seemed restrained and conservative when compared to the ultramodern French liner. However, the Queen Mary proved to be a more popular vessel than its largest rival, in terms of passengers carried.

In August 1936, Queen Mary captured the Blue Riband from Normandie, with average speeds of 30.14 knots (55.82 km/h) westbound and 30.63 knots eastbound. Normandie was refitted with a new set of propellors in 1937 and reclaimed the honor, but in 1938 Queen Mary took back the Blue Riband in both directions with average speeds of 30.99 knots (57.39 km/h) westbound and 31.69 knots eastbound, records which stood until lost to the SS United States in 1952.

Onboard amenities on the Queen Mary varied according to class, with First Class passengers accorded the most space and luxury. Among facilities available on board the Queen Mary, the liner featured an indoor swimming pool, salon, ship's library, children's nursery, outdoor paddle tennis court, and ship's kennel. The largest room was the first-class dining room (grand salon), which spanned two stories in height and was anchored by wide columns. The indoor swimming pool facility also spanned over two decks in height.

The first-class dining room featured a large map of the transatlantic crossing, with twin tracks symbolizing the westbound and eastbound routes. During each crossing, a motorized model of the Queen Mary would indicate the vessel's progress en route. After the debut of her sister Queen Elizabeth, the dining room map featured models of both vessels, allowing passengers to observe the moment when both vessels would converge mid-ocean.

As an alternative to the first-class dining room, the Queen Mary featured a separate Verandah Grill on the Sun Deck at the upper aft of the ship. The Verandah Grill was an exclusive a la carte restaurant with a capacity of approximately 80 passengers, and was converted to the Starlight Club at night. Irish writer and broadcaster, Brian Cleeve spent several months as a commis waiter on the ship in 1938, after he ran away from school. Also on board was the Observation Bar, an Art Deco-styled lounge, with wide ocean views.

Woods from different regions of the British Empire were used in her public rooms and staterooms. Accommodations ranged from fully-equipped, luxurious first-class staterooms to modest and cramped third class cabins.

In late August 1939, the Queen Mary was on a return run from New York to Southampton. The international situation led to her being escorted by the battlecruiser HMS Hood. She arrived safely, and set out again for New York on 1 September. By the time she arrived, the Second World War had started and she was ordered to remain in port until further notice alongside the Normandie. In 1940 the Queen Mary and the Normandie were joined in New York by Queen Mary's new running mate, Queen Elizabeth, fresh from her secret dash from the Clydebank. Following her completion, when she was, ostensibly, supposed to be heading for her Port of Registry at Southampton, she was ordered to make a high-speed dash to New York for safety. The day she was supposed to arrive in Southampton, the Germans bombed that city.

The three largest liners in the world sat idle for some time until the Allied commanders decided that all three ships could be used as troopships (unfortunately, the Normandie would be destroyed by fire during her troopship conversion when a welder's spark ignited a stack of Kapok life preservers).

The Queen Mary left New York for Sydney, Australia where she, along with several other liners, was converted into a troopship to carry Australian and New Zealand soldiers to the United Kingdom. Eventually joined by the Queen Elizabeth, they were the largest and fastest troopships involved in the war, often carrying as many as 15,000 men in a single voyage, and often travelling out of convoy and without escort.

During this period, because of their wartime grey camouflage livery and elusiveness, both Queens received the nickname "The Grey Ghost". Their high speed of nearly 30 knots, it was virtually impossible for U-Boats to catch them. Once, Germany was nearly successful. While the Queen Mary was in South American waters, a radio signal was intercepted which indicated that spies had reported her last refuelling stop, and a U-Boat was waiting on her line of voyage. After being alerted, the Queen Mary changed course and escaped.

On 2 October 1942, Queen Mary accidentally sank one of her escorts, slicing through the light cruiser HMS Curacoa off the Irish coast, with the loss of 338 lives. Due to the constant danger of being attacked by U-Boats, on board the Queen Mary Captain C. Gordon Illingworth was under strict orders not to stop for any reason. The Royal Navy destroyers accompanying the Queen were ordered to reverse course and rescue any survivors.

The forward section of the Queen Mary was fitted with anti-aircraft guns. In December 1942, the Queen Mary was carrying 16,082 American troops from New York to Great Britain, a standing record for the most passengers ever transported on one vessel. While 700 miles from Scotland during a gale, she was suddenly hit broadside by a rogue wave that may have reached a height of 28 metres (92 ft). An account of this crossing can be found in Walter Ford Carter's book, No Greater Sacrifice, No Greater Love. Carter's father, Dr. Norval Carter, part of the 110th Station Hospital on board at the time, wrote that at one point the Queen Mary "damned near capsized... One moment the top deck was at its usual height and then, swoom! Down, over, and forward she would pitch." It was calculated later that the ship would have capsized had she rolled another 20cm. The incident inspired Paul Gallico to write his story, The Poseidon Adventure, which was later made into a film by the same name, using the Queen Mary as a stand-in for the SS Poseidon.

During the war, the Queen Mary carried British Prime Minister Winston Churchill across the Atlantic for meetings with fellow Allied forces officials, he would be listed on the passenger manifest as "Colonel Warden" and insisted that the lifeboat assigned to him had a .303 machine gun fitted to it so he could "resist capture at all costs".

From September 1946 to July 1947, Queen Mary was refitted for passenger service, adding air conditioning and upgrading her berth configuration to 711 First class, 707 cabin class and 577 tourist class passengers. Following refit, Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth dominated the transatlantic passenger trade as Cunard White Star's two-ship weekly express service through the latter half of the 1940s and well into the 1950s.

In 1958, the first transatlantic flight by a jet began a completely new era of competition for the Cunard Queens. After many voyages, winters especially, Queen Mary sailed into harbor with more crew than passengers. By 1965, the entire Cunard fleet was leaving a trail of red ink. Hoping to continue financing their still under construction Queen Elizabeth 2, Cunard mortgaged the majority of the fleet. Finally, under a combination of age, lack of public interest, inefficiency in a new market, and the damaging after-effects of the national seamen's strike, Cunard announced that Queen Mary would be sold.

Many offers were submitted, but it was Long Beach, California who beat the Japanese scrap merchants. And so, Queen Mary was retired from service in 1967, while her running mate Queen Elizabeth was withdrawn in 1968. RMS Queen Elizabeth 2 took over the transatlantic route in 1969, and in turn was joined in 2004 by RMS Queen Mary 2. Although greatly exceeded in size by her new namesake's 148,528 GT, the Queen Mary, with a significantly deeper draft, is the heavier ship, with a displacement of over 80,000 tons compared to the newer ship's approximately 76,000 tons.

After her retirement in 1967, she steamed to Long Beach, California, where she is permanently moored as a tourist attraction. From 1983 to 1993, the Queen Mary was accompanied by Howard Hughes' Spruce Goose, which was located in a large dome nearby (the dome is now used by Carnival Cruise Lines as a ship terminal, and formerly as a soundstage).

Long Beach did not buy the Queen Mary to preserve her as an ocean liner. Since they started drilling for oil in Long Beach Harbor, some of the revenue had been set aside in the "Tidelands Oil Fund." Some of this money was allocated in 1958 for the future purchase of a maritime museum for Long Beach. The Queen Mary was purchased to be the iconic host for this museum.

It had been decided to clear almost every area of the ship below C deck (called R deck after 1950-to lessen passenger confusion-all the restaurants were on "R" deck) to make way for the museum. This would increase museum space to 400,000 square feet. It required removal of all the boiler rooms, the forward engine room, both turbo-generator rooms, and the water softening plant. Only the aft-engine room and "shaft-alley", at the stern of the ship, would be spared from the cutter's torch. Remaining space would be used for storage or office space.

One problem that arose during the conversion was a dispute between land-based unions (that did building conversions) and maritime unions (that did ship conversions) over conversion jobs. The United States Coast Guard had final say. The Queen Mary was deemed a building, since most of her propellers had been removed and her machinery gutted. The land-based unions won.

With all of the lower decks nearly gutted from R-deck and down, Diner's Club, the initial lessee of the ship, was to convert the remainder of the vessel into a hotel. Diner's Club Queen Mary dissolved and vacated the ship in 1970 after their parent company, Diner's Club International was sold, and a change in corporate direction was mandated amidst the conversion process. Specialty Restaurants, a Los Angeles based company that focused on theme based restaurants, took over as master lessee the following year.

  • The first and second-class cabins on A and B decks were to be converted to hotel rooms.
  • The main lounges and dining rooms were to be converted into banquet spaces.
  • On Promenade Deck, the starboard promenade deck was enclosed to feature an upscale restaurant and cafe called Lord Nelson's and Lady Hamilton's, themed like early 19th century sailing ships.
  • The famed and elegant Observation Bar was redecorated as a western-themed bar.

  • The Queen Mary's bridge was opened to visitors.
  • The smaller first-class public rooms such as the Drawing Room, Library, Lecture Room and the Music studio were stripped of most of their fittings and converted to retail space.
  • Two additional shopping malls were built on the Sun Deck in space once used for first class cabins and in the space used as engineer's quarters.

  • The first-class cinema, was removed for kitchen space for the new Promenade deck dining venues.
  • The first-class lounge and smoking room were reconfigured and converted into banquet space
  • The second-class smoking room was subdivided into a wedding chapel and office space.
  • On Sun Deck, the elegant Verandah Grill was gutted and converted into a fast-food eatery.
  • A new upscale dining venue was created directly above the eatery on Sports Deck in space once used for crew quarters.
  • The second-class lounges were expanded to the sides of the ship and used for banquets.
  • On R-deck, the first-class restaurant was reconfigured and subdivided into two banquet venues, the Royal Salon and the Windsor Room.
  • The second-class restaurant was subdivided into kitchen storage and a crew mess hall
  • The third-class dining room was initially used as storage and crew space.
  • On R-deck, the first-class Turkish bath complex, the 1930s equivalent to a spa, was removed.
  • The second-class pool was removed and its space initially used for office space.
  • The first-class swimming pool was used for hotel guests.
  • Due to modern safety codes and the structural soundness of the area directly below, the swimming pool WAs no longer used.

No crew cabins remained intact aboard the ship. Following conversion, she served as a hotel, museum, tourist attraction, and for-rent site for events, but financial results have been mixed.

On 8 May 1971, the Queen Mary opened its doors to tourists. Initially, only portions of the ship were open to the public. Specialty Restaurants had yet to open its dining venues or the hotel. As a result, the ship was only open on weekends. In December of that year, Jacques Cousteau's Museum of the Sea opened, with only a quarter of the planned exhibits built.

Within the decade, Cousteau's museum closed due to low ticket sales. In November of the following year, the hotel opened its initial 150 guest rooms. Hyatt operated the hotel from 1974 to 1980, when the Jack Wrather Corporation signed a 66-year lease with the city of Long Beach to operate the entire property. Wrather was taken over by the Walt Disney Company in 1988. Wrather owned the Disneyland Hotel, which Disney had been trying to buy for 30 years. The Queen Mary was thus an afterthought and was never marketed as a Disney property.

First Class accommodations on the Queen Mary were converted into hotel rooms with modern curtains, bedding and amenities surrounded by original wood paneling, portholes, and light fixtures. Through the late eighties and early nineties, the Queen Mary continued to struggle financially. During the Disney years, Disney planned to develop a theme park on the remaining land. This theme park eventually opened a decade later in Japan as DisneySea, with a recreated oceanliner resembling the Queen Mary as its centerpiece.

Hotel Queen Mary closed in 1992 when Disney gave up the lease on the ship to focus on what would become Disney's California Adventure. The tourist attraction remained open for another two months, but by the end of 1992, the Queen Mary completely closed its doors to tourists and visitors.

In February 1993, under the direction of President and C.E.O. Joseph F. Prevratil, RMS Foundation, Inc began a five-year lease with the city of Long Beach to act as the operators of the property. Later that month, the tourist attraction reopened completely, while the hotel reopened in March. In 1995, RMS's lease was extended to twenty years while the extent of the lease was reduced to simply operation of the ship itself.

A new company, Queen's Seaport Development, Inc. (QSDI), came into existence in 1995, controlling the real estate adjacent to the vessel. In 1998, the City of Long Beach extended the QSDI lease to 66 years. In 2005, QSDI sought Chapter 11 protection due to a rent credit dispute with the City. In 2006, the bankruptcy court requested bids from parties interesting in taking over the lease from QSDI. The minimum required opening bid was $41 million.

The operation of the ship by RMS, remained independent of the bankruptcy. O&S Holdings of Santa Monica, California was the only group to qualify as of July 2007. At the auction for the ship's lease and development rights, a group called Save the Queen, won the lease and plans to refurbish the ship, and develop a Universal Citywalk type Theme resort, shared with Carnival Cruise Lines, and the ships previous operators, The RMS Foundation, which will include, a marina, hotels, retail, and restaurants.

On 23 February 2006, the RMS Queen Mary 2 saluted her predecessor as it made its port of call in Los Angeles Harbor, while on a cruise to Mexico. The event was covered heavily by local and international media.

The salute itself was carried out with the Queen Mary blowing her one working air horn in response to the Queen Mary 2 blowing her combination of two brand new horns pointing forward and an original 1932 Queen Mary horn (donated by the City of Long Beach) aimed aft. The Queen Mary originally had three whistles tuned to 55 Hz, a frequency chosen because it was low enough that the extremely loud sound of it would not be painful to human ears. Modern IMO regulations specify ships' horn frequencies to be in the range 70-200 Hz for vessels that are over 200 metres (660 ft) in length. Traditionally, the lower the frequency, the larger the ship. The Queen Mary 2, being 345 metres (1,130 ft) long, was given the lowest possible frequency (70 Hz) for her regulation whistles, in addition to the refurbished 55 Hz whistle on permanent loan. 55 Hz is the lower bass "A" note found an octave up from the lowest note of a piano keyboard. The air-driven Tyfon whistle could be heard at least ten miles away.

The Queen Mary's original, professionally manned wireless radio room was destroyed once the ship arrived in Long Beach. In its place an amateur radio room was created one deck above the original radio reception room with some of the discarded original radio equipment used for display purposes only. The amateur radio station with the call sign W6RO ("Whiskey Six Romeo Oscar") relied on volunteers from a local amateur radio club. They were present most of the time the ship was open to the public, and the radios could also be used by other licensed amateur radio operators.

In honor of his over forty years of dedication to W6RO and the Queen Mary, in November 2007 the Queen Mary Wireless Room was renamed The Nate Brightman Radio Room. This was announced on 28 October 2007 at Mr. Brightman's 90th birthday party by Joseph Prevratil, President and CEO of the Queen Mary.

Tonnage81,235 gross tons
Length1,018 feet (310.9 m)
Beam118 feet (36 m)
Draft39 feet (11.9 m)
PropulsionSteam turbines powering four four-bladed propellers
Speed29 knots

See also:
RMS Mauretania - 1906.
RMS Titanic - 1911.
Europa - 1928.
Bremen - 1929.
SS Normandie - 1932.
RMS Queen Mary - 1934.
RMS Queen Elizabeth - 1938.
SS America - 1940.
RMS Oceanic - 1951.
SS United States - 1952.
SS France - 1960.
RMS Queen Elizabeth 2 - 1967.
RMS Queen Mary 2 - 2003.
MS Oasis of the Seas - 2009.