Ship History

  

RETURN TO THE HOMEPAGE                                                                                                                                                                                                                         RMS QUEEN ELIZABETH


The history of the RMS Queen Elizabeth, acclaimed partner ship to the RMS Queen Mary, is one of distinction and worthy of special recognition. The Queen Elizabeth brought into being Sir Percy Bates' dream of a two-ship weekly express service between the Britain and the New World. For the Cunard Line though, the ship provided the final say in their conquest of the North Atlantic. The epitome of ocean liner travel from her inaugural voyage to fateful retirement, the RMS Queen Elizabeth played out a fascinating and colourful role in the history of the Twentieth Century.

Design and Construction (1936 – 1939):

The RMS Queen Elizabeth was the second of the two superliners which Cunard had built for the New York service. After lengthy negotiations between Sir Percy Bates, Chairman of Cunard, and the Government a formal contract for what was known as job 535 was signed on 6 October 1936. The Treasury agreed to advance £5 million to Cunard and tenders went out for the contract. The contract went to John Brown & Co, builders of the RMS Queen Mary.

The Grey Ghost: Queen Elizabeth goes to War (1939 – 1946):

Originally the launch of the ship was scheduled for September 1938 but as the time drew near the political situation across Europe had deteriorated. The launch did go ahead on 27 September but HM King George VI was unable to attend and instead HM Queen Elizabeth attended without the King and read a message on his behalf. It was as follows:

"The King has asked me to assure you of the deep regret he feels at finding himself compelled, at the last moment, to cancel his journey to Clydebank for the launching of the new liner. This ceremony, to which many thousands have looked forward so eagerly, must now take palce under circumstances far different from those for which they had hoped.

I have, however, a message for you from the King. He bids the people of this country to be of good cheer in spite of the dark clouds hanging over them and indeed over the whole world. He knows, too, that they will place entire confidence in their leaders, who, under God's providence, are striving their utmost to find a just and peaceful solution of the grave problems that confront them.

The very sight of this great ship brings home to us how very necessary it is for the welfare of man that the arts of peaceful industry should continue - arts in the promotion of which Scotland has long held a leading place. The city of Glasgow has been for Scotland the principle doorway opening upon the world. The narrow waters of the Clyde have been the cradle of a large part of Britain's mercantile marine, so it is right that from here should go our foremost achievement in that she is the greatest ship that plies to and fro across the Atlantic, like a shuttle in a mighty loom weaving a fabric of friendship and understanding between the people of Britain and the peoples of the United States.It is fitting that the noblest vessel ever built in Britain, and built with the help of her Government and people, should be dedicated to this service. I am happy to think that our two nations are today more closely linked than ever before by a common tradition of freedom and a common faith.

While thoughts like these are passing through our minds we do not forget the men who brought this great ship into being. For them she must ever be a source of pride and, I am sure, of affection. I congratulate them warmly on the fruits of their labour. The launch of a ship is like the inception of all great human enterprises - an act of faith. We cannot foretell the future, but in preparing for it we must show our trust in a divine providence and in ourselves. We proclaim our belief that by the grace of God and by man's patience and goodwill order may yet be brought out of confusion, and peace out of turmoil. With that hope and prayer in our hearts, we send forth upon her mission this noble ship."

A Message from His Majesty King George VI.
(Read by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth at the Launch Ceremony, 27th September 1938)

However the launching ceremony was being broadcast to the nation by radio did not go without incident. The weight of the ship had been delicately balanced on the slipway in preparation for her launch. After the formal speeches had been completed there was a pause while the high tide was awaited. During the pause the Queen was presented with a 16th Century inlaid casket from Saxony containing an album of photographs of the ship's building and the Princesses played with a small model of the ship on her ways that had been used to explain the launching. Suddenly there was a crash of breaking timbers and the ship, on her own volition, started on her unnamed journey towards the Clyde!

Around this time the Queen's microphone failed, but with great presence of mind, Her Majesty named the ship. Then with the pair of gold scissors that Queen Mary had used to perform the naming ceremony of her namesake, she cut the red, white and blue ribbon and sent the bottle of Empire wine crashing to break just in time agains the liners accelerating bow!

"I name this ship Queen Elizabeth and wish success to her and all who sail in her."

Words of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth at the Launch Ceremony, 27th September 1938.

The launch was a success, and soon afterwards the Queen Elizabeth was towed to her fitting-out wharf on the River Clyde and a completion date of Spring 1940 was set. With war coming closer every day, work had to be suspended as many of the nation's naval vessels needed refurbishment. However the outbreak of World War II, on 3 September, meant that the ship would follow a different agenda. As the conflict grew, the Queen Elizabeth lay unfinished and waited for a decision to be made about her future. Many suggestions were made, and one of those quickly dismissed was that she would be sold for scrap. Some proposed to sell her to the United States or convert her into an aircraft carrier, but in the end it was decided that she would be put to best use as a troopship. Any action had to be taken fast. Being the great ship that she was, the Queen Elizabeth was a prime target for German Luftwaffe-pilots. To have this great ship sunk would have been a serious blow to the allied forces. However, conversion into a troopship could not be done in the UK, because of the threat of German bombers and saboteurs. The engines of the great liner were installed, and soon the ship was painted grey and its maiden voyage was cancelled. Over the next few months it was realized that the Queen Elizabeth was both a risk and an inconvenience whilst it was berthed on the Clyde. Not only was it at risk from German bombers but also it was occupying a fitting out berth which was urgently required for warship construction. On the 16th September 1939 the ship is paid a secret visit by HM King George VI and Queen Elizabeth at her fitting out berth in Glasgow.

In 26th February 1940 she left her fitting out berth and headed to sea. She anchored off Gourock. But where could she go? False rumours had been spread that Queen Elizabeth would go to Southampton to be fitted out as a trooper, even the crew didn’t know and were unprepared when her destination became known. Some guessed that she would head for Halifax, but at this stage very few knew of her destination. On the 27th February 1940 the new Queen Elizabeth is handed over to Cunard in a secret ceremony. On the 3rd March 1940 she left Gourock and when she was well out to sea, Captain John Townley opened his sealed orders and found that she was bound for New York. So she set sail at full speed and in great secrecy with a crew of only 400. Later that day, a squadron of Nazi bombers were spotted over the Solent, where the Queen Elizabeth would have been travelling if she was going to Southampton. The deception of the enemy had worked.

After a four-day voyage, the grey-painted Queen Elizabeth arrived in New York harbour in great secrecy untested and untried after the most dramatic maiden voyage ever witnessed. The US Authorities were rather surprised when this Empress Incognito suddenly arrived in New York out of the mist. They didn’t know which ship she was! She moored alongside her sister and the Normandie. For two weeks they lay together, the three largest vessels in the world. So during March 1940 four of the world's greatest liners, the Mauretania, Normandie, Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary, were berthed alongside each other. But on March 21st, the Queen Mary left New York bound for Sydney, Australia. There she would be transformed into a trooper, capable of carrying 5,000 soldiers. In the meantime, the Queen Elizabeth remained in New York to be fitted out with some basic equipment such as electric wiring and light fittings. The launch gear that had still been attached to her hull during the dramatic maiden voyage was removed and the bottom of the ship was refurbished as it had been in water for two whole years.

The Queen Elizabeth remained berthed at New York until 13 November and then set sail for Singapore, via Cape Town. The refit was completed in graving dock at Singapore and defensive armament was fitted. Internally it was fitted out to carry troops as it had now been requisitioned by the Ministry of War Transport. On 11 February it sailed from Singapore to Sydney, arriving on 21 February. Here her fitting out was finished and the Queen Elizabeth was ready to join the Queen Mary in transporting troops between Sydney and Suez and returning with German PoWs. Unfortunately, this route was in much warmer climate than the two ships were constructed for. With no air-conditioning and very little ventilation, the two Queens were not very comfortable means for the soldiers to be shipped. In these harsh conditions, it was not uncommon that fights broke out among the troops. But by the end of 1941, an event occurred that would put the Queens back on the North Atlantic where they belonged.

On December 7th 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour. As a result the United States entered the war. At this time the Queen Elizabeth was sailing to Esquimalt, Canada and was transporting troops to Sydney. In 1942 the Admiralty drew up plans to convert the two Queens into aircraft carriers but these were later abandoned as it was considered that their troop carrying role was too important. As the United States entered the war, great carrying capacity was needed to transport their forces. What could be better suited for this than the two mighty Cunarders? The two Queens were sent to America, where their carrying capacity was greatly increased from 5,000 to 15,000 people. In April 1942 the Queen Elizabeth relocated from Sydney to New York. Here the troop accommodation was altered to make its capacity 10,000. In June 1942 it began to make voyages from New York to Gourock and then to Suez, via Cape Town. In August it began a shuttle service between New York and Gourock.

Throughout the duration of the conflict, the Queens contributed to the war effort by transporting massive numbers of troops. Each ship usually carried a whole division, with the record set by the Queen Mary on July 25th, 1943 with 16,683 souls on board. During these voyages, the ships were carrying lifeboat accommodation for only 8,000 people. This was a serious matter, but it was also one that had to be overlooked - it was a true case of total war. On the 11th November 1942, the Nazis announced in radio that the German U-boat U-704 had torpedoed the Queen Elizabeth and sunk her. Naturally, this was all a propaganda ploy, but on many of these trooping voyages, rumours were circulating that one of the Queens had been sunk. But every time, this was proved to be false when the mighty vessels arrived at their destinations in their grey wartime livery. Soon, they were both nicknamed 'The Grey Ghost'.

Finally, the day of victory came. On May 7th 1945, peace reigned in Europe. The ship's next duty was to repatriate these troops and redeploy troops for the war against Japan. Four months later, on September 2nd, the Japanese forces surrendered. The repatriation of American troops continued until October 1945 when the Queen Elizabeth was released from US service and allocated to the repatriation of Canadian troops.  By now the merchant vessels of the world had transported a vast amount of people across the globe. By the end of the war in Europe the Queens together had brought over more than two million troops to the war zone.

During 1946, while the Queen Mary was busy shipping war brides and soldiers back to their homes, the Queen Elizabeth was released from Government service (as the need for troop movements had diminished) was put into dry dock at Southampton from the 6th March 1946. There her overhaul began, 30 tons of paint was used to dress her in the Cunard livery which she had never worn before; Black hull, white superstructure and red funnels with black tops. Her wartime interiors were ripped out to be replaced with what she was intended for - comfortable and luxurious passenger amenities. During the war the Queen Elizabeth on her own account had carried over 750,000 troops and travelled 500,000 miles. On 9 March 1946, before it left for the Clyde, a fire was discovered on the promenade deck. Luckily, as this was spotted early, the fire brigade was able to extinguish it but there was considerable damage to that area of the ship. Although it was never proved, arson was strongly suspected. At the end of March it left for the Clyde. There it was repainted in Cunard livery and its machinery was overhauled. By 17 June it was back at Southampton for interior refurbishment. It was soon announced that it would make its first passenger voyage to New York on 16 October 1946.

The role of the Cunard Queens in the war was so important that Sir Winston Churchill credited the two mighty ships with having taken two years off the length of the war.

The Cunard Line Era (1946 – 1968):

After speed trials and visit by HM Queen Elizabeth and the Royal Family, it travelled to Southampton to prepare for her maiden voyage. She had defied the fury of Hitler’s Third Reich and survived the darkest hours of the Second World War and would become, together with her sister, one of the most popular and famous liners on the Atlantic route.

In the scope of human creation, many landmarks of achievement have been annexed into history's vast and limitless recognisance. When one thinks of the triumphs mankind has made throughout history and the lasting impressions he has left behind, mammoth and awesome vignettes of the great Pyramids of the lost Pharaohs of Egypt, the expanse of the Great Wall of China, etc all come to mind. Certainly, within the scope of this century too, mankind has left a legacy of competitive advancement towards greatness. One needs only witness the engineering marvel of the Panama Canal to see evidence of this. And, in keeping with theme, never before such a time as this century has seen the construction of vast ocean-going vessels which through their endless travels, helped to shape the economic and social climate of today's modern world.

Indeed, it would not be untruthful to say that the inauguration of the Cunard Line's two-ship weekly passenger service after World War II was the flaunting of mankind's achievement, especially in an era boasting of its technological greatness and modern advances. In the postwar era, the glamour days of steamship travel, and the 'era of leisure' were heralded in by the maiden voyage of the last pre-war superliner to be constructed, the RMS Queen Elizabeth.

The Queen Elizabeth truly was a marvel of man's accomplishment. For those with a mind for figures, the following may be of interest: Over 7,000 experiments on models in a tank were conducted before arriving at the vessels final shape. During these tests, the models were reputed to have travelled over 1000 miles in the 'voyages' made from each end of the tank. In her construction, over 10,000,000 rivets were used. Her propelling machinery consisted of 4 single reduction geared turbines capable of developing over 200,000 horsepower. Every one of the 257,000 single blades which comprised the turbines were tested and fitted by hand. The ships four propellers were constructed of manganese bronze and amassed a weight of 32 tons each. Departing from Southampton, the Queen Elizabeth would receive the send-off she never enjoyed on her maiden voyage which was made under wartime's necessity of secrecy.

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Photo: One of the special "Pullman" Boat Trains conveying first class passengers to Southampton Docks for the maiden voyage of Cunard Line's RMS Queen Elizabeth after the Second World War is seen awaiting departure from London Waterloo on the 16th October 1946 hauled appropriately by SR Bullied "Merchant Navy" class steam locomotive 21C4 Cunard White Star. For this special occasion the locomotive carried a headboard saying "RMS Queen Elizabeth - Cunard White Star".

On the 16th October 1946, the Queen Elizabeth finally set out from Southampton on her maiden voyage as a passenger liner. On the 15th October six special boat trains left London for Southampton conveying Tourist Class passengers for the maiden voyage of the Queen Elizabeth, the following day (Sailing Day) yet more special boat trains ran carrying First Class passengers. The crossing was booked solid, and several famous names could be found in the passenger list, for example Russia's foreign ministers Molotov and Vishinsky, travelling to the first session of the new United Nations. Commanding the ship was Commodore James Bisset, who 34 years earlier had been second officer on the Carpathia when she raced to rescue the survivors of the Titanic. She arrived to a triumphal reception in New York on the 21st October 1946.

By now the Queen Mary was finished with her war bride crossings, and had been put into dry dock to be transformed into the great passenger liner she was supposed to be. The world that emerged after the war was a different one, and the two Queens had been modified to meet it according to the company's new slogan 'Getting there is half the fun'. Ballrooms had been turned into cinematic theatres and new artwork had been incorporated in the interiors. Every space of the ships, it seemed, had been meticulously refurbished and on the Queen Mary, even the officer's quarters were completely renovated. On board the younger Queen, one could find art by many renowned artists such as Bainbridge Copnall, Dennis Dunlop and George Ramon to mention a few. It is also worth noting that artist Norman Wilkinson, who almost 40 years earlier had provided the two paintings 'Approach of the New World' and 'Plymouth Harbour' for the White Star liners Olympic and Titanic, had painted the two works 'Elsinore' and 'Dover Harbour' for the Queen Elizabeth's Promenade Deck smoking room.

The interior decor of the RMS Queen Elizabeth was, like her near-sister the Queen Mary, a prototypical adaptation of what some called 'ocean liner deco'. This was a decorative style unique to the passenger ships of the 1930's and 1940's. The stylistic art deco style was blended into a grand English country house atmosphere. Utilizing over a hundred different varieties of woods from across the Empire, the two and three-decked public rooms aboard Queen Elizabeth radiated warmth and ambiance.

Over the coming months the ship was fully booked and carried many famous passengers. During the high season, on July 31st 1947, the Queen Mary left Southampton on her first peacetime commercial crossing. The following day Queen Elizabeth departed from New York harbour and thereby Cunard's old dream of a two-ship weekly transatlantic express service had at last become a reality. Now was a golden time for the old Cunard Line, since they were operating the two greatest ships on the route.

After the Second World War, there were no great fleets of superliners with which to compete. The flagship Normandie of the French Line lay in ruins for the duration of the War, the Rex, the Bremen, all had been felled through action, or inaction, during the Great Conflict. At the close of the War, the Cunard Line remained the only company to emerge intact and ready to dominate the Atlantic trade. The only worthy rival, the Normandie, had been destroyed by a fire in February 1942, and so the two Queens ruled the Atlantic waves alone. Indeed their famed Cunard Queens would soon prove to be the most profitable and popular service ever conceived. In fact, Cunard Line was said to carry one-third of all the Atlantic passengers during the 1950's. The Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth would make regular crossings each week, in contented routine, a reliable service which made for dependable scheduling for those who were commuting or travelling overseas. For the next decade and a half, the Cunard Line would remain the steady, dominant, entity in travel between Europe and the New World.

Not every arrival was an easy one though, since at times the tugboats were on strike, and docking had to be done without their assistance. Normally, a tug-assisted docking took about 35 minutes, but with no such help, it could take over two hours. Only once did a mishap occur, when the Queen Elizabeth was turning into the slip between piers 90 and 92 in New Your harbour when suddenly a strong wind caught hold of her and pushed her bow against the dockside bending a catwalk beyond recognition.

On 17 April 1947 it ran aground on Brambles Bank whilst approaching Southampton in thick fog. Although no damage was done the passengers had to be disembarked and the bulk of the fuel pumped out before the ship could be refloated. Industrial disputes in 1948 left the Queen Elizabeth stranded at New York for two weeks. By September 1951 it had made its 100th Atlantic crossing. Despite being a huge success it had never broken any speed records, this was done by the Queen Mary and later by the United States.

As the 1940s came to an end and before entering the 1950s, Cunard managed to erase their old rival's name from the company as Cunard White Star ceased to exist on December 31st 1949, and emerged as Cunard Steam Ship Co. Ltd. And so the only traces left of the once proud White Star Line were the Britannic and the Georgic, both in Cunard service, but still in White Star livery. The new decade continued to be a profitable one for the Cunard Line and their two Queens, and at first it seemed as if the next decade would be equally successful. During an overhaul in January 1952 the ship's fuel capacity was increased and air-conditioning fitted throughout. Again mysterious fires broke out in several passenger cabins but were easily extinguished. But in 1952, the brand new United States, which took the Blue Riband from the Mary on her maiden voyage, gave them healthy competition. But that was equal competition. In 1953 the Cunard Queens carried many famous passengers to Britain to attend the Coronation of HM Queen Elizabeth II. In January 1955 Queen Elizabeth was fitted with Denny Brown stabilisers. These improvements, however, were not enough to enable passenger liners to compete with air travel and by the late 1950's there were more people crossing the Atlantic by air than by sea. On 29 July 1959 the Queen Elizabeth was involved in a collision with the American Hunter, a United States Lines cargo ship. The collision occurred in the Ambrose Channel when both ships were outward bound from New York. During thick fog the American ship struck the starboard bows of the Queen Elizabeth but, luckily, damage to both vessels was only slight and temporary repairs were carried out at New York.

By the end of the 1950s, the technology in air travel completely changed the situation. In 1954, one million people had crossed the Atlantic by sea and some 600,000 by air. When asked if this was worrying, a director of the Cunard Line responded 'Flying is but a fad. There will always be passengers to fill ships like the Queens'. But only three years later, the two ways of travel had one million passengers each and by 1961 the tables had turned completely with 750,000 going by ship and two million by plane. The world had evolved swiftly after the war, and with the demand of speed and economy, the airlines offered a crossing in a few hours that by sea took between three of five days, thereby making airway the way to travel. As the situation worsened, the words of the confident Cunard director were proven wrong when on one crossing the Queen Elizabeth carried only 200 passengers and 1200 crew, an intolerable situation indeed.

By 1962 the steady decline in the number of passengers led to an announcement that the ship would begin cruising the following year. Cruises from New York to Nassau began in February 1963. During one of these cruises a light aircraft smashed into the sea only a few hundred yards from the ship's stern. This occurred south-east of Cape Hatteras and as the pilot was killed all that could be done was to notify the coastguard.

In 1965, the Cunard Line decided to build a new ship to replace the now thirty year-old Queen Mary. The new ship, the Q3 project, was at first planned to be one of traditional design and divided into three classes, but as this would have been financial suicide, Cunard decided to build a ship, the Q4 project, with almost no class distinction that would serve on the North Atlantic during the summer months and spend the off-season cruising in warmer waters. She would be the QE2.

In March 1965 it was announced that the Queen Elizabeth was to undergo a major overhaul. The work was done in Greenock and involved extensive redecoration. She was given a new lido deck and an outdoor swimming pool on the stern - all to make her capable of cruising. She was also fitted with complete air conditioning for the same reason. The work was completed in Spring 1966 but seamen's strikes immediately after this caused disruption for several weeks. After the refit she began serving in her new role, as a combined transatlantic liner and cruise ship. But even in this guise she could not make profits. And in addition, the now ageing Queen Elizabeth was not suitable as a running mate to the new QE2.

Therefore, Cunard Line revised their plans for the two old Queens. The Queen Mary would be retired in 1967, and her younger sister would stay in service for another year, while the new Queen Elizabeth 2 was being built. On 8 May 1967 Cunard announced that the Queen Mary would be withdrawn from service later that year and that the Queen Elizabeth would be withdrawn in Autumn 1968. The fact that the ship was still running at a loss after an extensive refit and that seaman’s strikes had cost the company £14 million sealed its fate. On October 31st 1967, Queen Mary left Southampton on her 516th and last voyage. Sold to the city of Long Beach, California for $3,400,000, she would be turned into a dockside hotel. She arrived at her final port of call on December 9th, and was officially removed from the British registry and handed over to her new owners two days later.

Before she sailed on her final departure from New York on the 30th October 1968 various farewell galas were held on board. Mayor John Lindsay (Mayor of New York City) boarded the liner on sailing day to bid an official farewell. He presented the ship with a plaque from the United States Department of Defense to commemorate the liner's remarkable wartime service. Mr L. W. Douglas (former American Ambassador to London) summed up the atmosphere of the Queen Elizabeth's farewell in a letter to Commodore Geoffrey Marr.

"My Dear Commodore Marr,

On the Eve of the Queen Elizabeth's last voyage to her native shores it is fitting that the people of the Western World should be reminded of the indispensible role that she and her older sister, the Queen Mary, played in the last great worldwide convulsion.

For almost three years, these two Sovereigns of the Seas silently sped across the waters of the North Atlantic, carrying with them more than two million fighting men from this continent to join the soldiers of the English Speaking world who had fought so gallantly (and were to continue to engage so successfully) the evil forces that Hitler had unleashed on the world.

In the darkness of the night, each of the great ships would quietly slip into the sheltering harbours of the Clyde or New York and, within less than 72 hours, in the greyness of the dawn, or the blackness of midnight, unheralded and unsung, would vanish into the vast spaces of the Atlantic, to run the gauntlet of the hostile German wolfpacks awaiting them. Unescorted, except during the last few miles of each voyage, their speed, and the skilful command of their officers, enabled them successfully to elude the vigilant enemy that would have sent them to the bottom of the ocean.

Each ship made two round trips a month. During every summer month, when the North Atlantic was less boisterous, together they carried almost 70,000 soldiers to fight for freedom in England and in Europe; during each of the winter months, when the seas were apt to be more turbulent, they lifted almost 62,000 men in uniform to the white cliffs of Southern England.

There is in history a chain of events that, as the first link is welded, leads on to others. So it is in the case of these two noble ships.

Had it not been for Sir Percy Bates' determination to cause the Queens to be constructed and to slip down their ways into the Clyde; had they not been available to move more than two million American troops across the North Atlantic; had these troops not been assembled in Britain for the cross channel operation "Overlord" in June of 1944, there would have been no invasion of Normandy, and the "buzz-bomb" launching pads on the European continent would not have been captured in time to save London from being reduced to a pile of rubble.

The two great Queens thus soldered the chain which was to frustrate Hitler's ambition to obliterate the basic freedoms of the civilized world.

And so - as you guide the last of the two matchless Queens on her final voyage, will you bid her an affectionate and reverent "ave atque vale" from those in this troubled world who owe so much to their uninterrupted and glorious contribution to the cause of free men, everywhere.

They have merited a high place on the roster of the world's immortals.

One generation succeeds another. Soon another Queen will replace the one we now salute. She will carry on the unfinished task of binding the Old World closer to the New.

L.W. Douglas"

On the 4th November 1968 she arrived in Southampton for the final time. It was the end of Voyage 495. She had crossed the Atlantic 896 times; she had carried over the years 2,300,000 passengers (excluding her war service) and had steamed 3,472,672 miles in the service of the nation that had so  proudly given the ship her being and had latterly made 31 cruises.

On the 6th November 1968 Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother made final farewell visit to the Queen Elizabeth to pay her own tribute to the Pride of Britain that she had launched 30 years previously. She had a tour of the ship and took lunch on board. Her Majesty said to the Commodore that: "she expressed the hope that the end of the liner's life would be in line with the same proud tradition that she had maintained in both peace and war".

She then made a final cruise to Las Palmas and Gibraltar. She arrived back in Southampton on the 15th November 1968.

Preservation in Port Everglades, Florida, USA (1968 – 1970):

The Queen Elizabeth made its final Atlantic crossing on 5 November 1968. The time had come for the Queen Elizabeth to leave the Cunard fleet. She had been sold to a group of Philedelphia businessmen for £.3.25 million for use as a floating hotel and museum in the Port Everglades, Florida. After this it sailed to Port Evergaldes and opened to the public in February 1969.

But as such she would never be used. As her new owners ran into financial difficulties, the Queen Elizabeth was not given enough attendance and started to suffer from the harsh climate By the end of 1969 it had been closed down by the local authorities as a fire hazard and was losing money. Two years later, when her owners could see no other way out, she was auctioned off to the highest bidder, namely the Hong Kong shipping tycoon C. Y. Tung. He wanted to turn her into a floating university that would tour the world but before he could do so, the ship had to be laid up in Florida to have her engines repaired, as they had been damaged when water had entered the deteriorating hull. Finally, she left Florida bound for Hong Kong, but during the voyage she had many problems with her machinery.

The C.Y. Tung Era and Her Demise (1970 – 1975):

By late 1970 the ship had been auctioned and bought by C.Y.Tung shipping group in Hong Kong and was intended to become a floating university. It was soon renamed Seawise University and sailed for Hong Kong on 10 February 1971. Due to machinery problems it did not arrive until July and anchored off Tsing Yi Island near Kowloon.

Once in Hong Kong, work started on turning her into a floating university. Renamed Seawise University, the old Queen Elizabeth was stripped down and then built back up. She was given new equipment in order to bring her up to modern safety standards, and her interior was given a new, more oriental look. Soon, she would set out on her maiden voyage in this new guise. This £5 million refit would convert the ship into a floating university and by January 1972 work was almost complete.

Security on board, however, was lax. On January 9th 1972, five mysterious fires broke out through the ship. The fire protection system was still not complete, and there was not much the workers could do to fight the raging blaze. The great superstructure eventually melted in the extreme heat and finally caved in on itself. Fireboats arrived at the scene and started pumping water onto the burning hulk, but as the water filled the vessel, she began listing over on her starboard side. As with the Normandie thirty years earlier, the sheer weight of the water had now spelled doom for the ship. As night fell over the now dying vessel, she was listing at a greater angle. By the next morning, she had rolled over and was now lying on her side on the bottom of the harbour. Fortunately there was only one casualty but sadly it was clear that the ship was now only fit for scrap. An enquiry in July 1972 confirmed that it had been the work of an arsonist but the culprit was never found. In December 1973 it was decided to scrap the hulk.

However the ship did have one last moment of glory. In 1974, Queen Elizabeth briefly appeared in the James Bond-movie 'The Man with the Golden Gun', where she served as the secret Hong Kong headquarters of the MI6. Filmed in 1973, the Queen Elizabeth had already been removed from Hong Kong harbour by a Japanese scrap firm at the time of the film's premiere in late 1974. The ship's final protest came on 5 November 1975 when it rolled over and disgorged several tons of oil which polluted the surrounding waters and beaches.

The majority of the hull was cut or blown into sections of up to 250 tons each and, in all 45,000 tons of metal were lifted from the wreck, much of it destined to become reinforcing bars in buildings in Hong Kong's changing skyline. But today although most of the wreck was scrapped a large section of her keel and the engine rooms were considered too dangerous to remove. These remained on the sea floor and gradually sank into the mud. The area where the remains lie is still marked on sea charts of Hong Kong harbour to this day, the area is marked as “Foul” meaning do not dredge or try to drop anchor. In the late 1980’s about a quarter of the wreck was submerged under concrete for a land reclamation for the expansion of Hong Kong’s container terminal, CT9.

Thus ends the story of the RMS Queen Elizabeth, in a true Viking funeral worthy of the great warriors of Valhalla. Indeed like those warriors this mighty Queen is a legend and certainly deserves a place in the Valhalla for ocean liners. She remained the largest passenger vessel for 57 years, not being surpassed until the arrival of the cruise ship Carnival Destiny at 101,000 tons in 1997. But she remained the longest ocean liner ever built for even longer until the new RMS Queen Mary 2 of Cunard Line entered service in 2004.

The heat of the fire has also fused glass from porthole lights into their surrounding brass frames and 700 pounds of this unusual material was purchased by the Parker Pen Company. As a result a limited, numbered edition of beautiful green/gold, almost sparkling, fountain pens were produced in memory of the RMS Queen Elizabeth, one of which, resplendent in a mahogany casket was presented to Commodore Geoffrey Marr - the last captain of the RMS Queen Elizabeth.

Two of the ship's fire warning system brass plaques were recovered recently by a dredger and these are now on display at The Aberdeen Boat Club in Hong Kong within a display area about the ship.

The charred remnants of her last ensign were cut from the flag pole and framed in 1972, and it still adorns the wall of the officers' mess of marine police HQ in Hong Kong.

Also in January 1975 a memorial to the RMS Queen Elizabeth was unveiled by John Lindsay, Mayor of New York, outside the Orient Overseas Container Line's offices in New York in Water Street. Made of granite the memorial  contains two 18 inch letters, 'Q' and 'E' from the liner's name along with carved copies of letters from HM Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother and the then Secretary-General of the United Nations. It is possible that C.Y. Tung may have retained some relics of the ship for himself but no one is sure as all requests to him about the Queen Elizabeth and any relics he may have have always been rejected.


"Clarence House
S.W.1.

13th January 1972

Dear Mr Tung,

I am to tell you how deeply distressed Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother is at the disaster which has overtaken the liner which was launched by Her Majesty and bore her name.

Ever since Her Majesty learnt of the plans you had for Seawise University, Queen Elizabeth had felt a very keen interest in your enterprise and hoped from her heart that the great liner would have many years of useful service. Alas, it seems that this is not to be and the Queen Mother asks me to send you her very sincere sympathy in the tragedy which has anyhow temporarily dashed your hopes.

Yours sincerely,

Martin Gilliat

Private Secretary to Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother"


Text of the Letter from Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother on the memorial in New York outside the former Orient Overseas Line offices in Water Street, New York.


Text of the Letter from the Secretary General of the United Nations on the memorial in New York outside the former Orient Overseas Line offices in Water Street, New York

Additionally outside the former Orient Overseas Line's offices in Torrence near Los Angeles another memorial can be found of the ship similar to the New York memorial. The memorial once again contains two 18 inch letters, "Q" and "E" from the liner's name, the ship's anchor and carved copies of letters from HM Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother and from Edmond G. Brown Jnr. (Governor of California). There is also a plaque describing briefly her history. This memorial is located in Los Angeles area as this was due to be the homeport of the Seawise University if she had entered service in this role.


"Clarence House
S.W.1.

13th January 1972

Dear Mr Tung,

I am to tell you how deeply distressed Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother is at the disaster which has overtaken the liner which was launched by Her Majesty and bore her name.

Ever since Her Majesty learnt of the plans you had for Seawise University, Queen Elizabeth had felt a very keen interest in your enterprise and hoped from her heart that the great liner would have many years of useful service. Alas, it seems that this is not to be and the Queen Mother asks me to send you her very sincere sympathy in the tragedy which has anyhow temporarily dashed your hopes.

Yours sincerely,

Martin Gilliat

Private Secretary to Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother"


Text of the Letter from Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother on the Memorial in Torrence, near Los Angeles.


"State of California
Governor's Office
Sacramento, 95814

Dear Mr Tung,

I am pleased to join in dedicating this monument to the liner R.M.S. Queen Elizabeth. The ship had a long and proud history. And the monument is truly a tribute to her services in war and peace.

Sincerely, Edmund G. Brown Jnr."


Text of the Letter from Edmund G. Brown Jnr. (Governor of California) on the Memorial in Torrence, near Los Angeles.


"The R.M.S. Queen Elizabeth, 83,673 gross tons was the biggest and fastest passenger liner ever built.  She contributed valuable service as a troop carrier during World War II.  In peace she served as a blue-ribboned passenger ship for two decades.  Mr. C.Y. Tung of Seawise Foundation acquired her and renamed her “Seawise University,” but she was destroyed by fire in Hong Kong Harbor on January 9, 1972 as her renovation and conversion was about to be completed.  Her projected work as a floating university has been taken up by the S.S. “Universe Campus” based in Los Angeles.  Her bow initials  “Q” and  “E” and her anchor are placed here in Los Angeles County appropriately as a memento of her service unrivalled in shipping history."


Text of the Historical Plaque on the Memorial in Torrence, near Los Angeles.

http://www.northatlanticrun.com/QEphotos.html

The Hong Kong Public Records Office also has considerable files on The Seawise University and her demise although most of it consists of old press clippings. They are worth reading if you are seeing further information and show the scrapping of the wreck in great detail.

However it seems that the only relic noticeable in Hong Kong of this great ocean liner is  located at The Aberdeen Boat Club who have obtained several brass plaques from the ship denoting fire stations aboard which would illuminate when a fire was detected. Presumably they were not working in 1972. They were recovered by a dredger a few years after the fire and were twisted from the heat but have been flattened out. These and a few photographs present a small “shrine” to the ship. Bear in mind if you want to see them that they are at a private club and you will need permission to enter and take photographs.

Today, there is little to remember the RMS Queen Elizabeth by. Certainly memorabilia from this great ship are scattered about the world in items and photographs but the existence and experience of the ship itself, remains only in the fading memories of her passengers and crews. Their anecdotal stories bring to life a bit of her illustrious past and give a brief glimpse into the character and personality of life aboard.

The RMS Queen Elizabeth 2 and the RMS Queen Mary 2 now carry on the tradition left behind by the Cunarders of old. One can now find aboard the QE2, a storyline of artefacts and paintings of the Queen Elizabeth. Pieces of her artwork adorn the interiors and even crew members still remain in service aboard the new ship. It is reassuring that in the 21st century, the memory of the great Queen Elizabeth still lives on. Long may her legacy endure.  




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