One of the greatest ships that ever existed, the running mate to the Queen Mary and a proud display of the British merchant marine started her maiden voyage, in secret. No farewells, no cheerful passengers, nothing just a paint coat in drab wartime grey. Just a ghost crew of a few select men who would launch a daring escape from the British Isles to the safety of Cunard-White Star's Pier 90 in New York City under orders from Winston Churchill himself. It is World War II and the Queen Elizabeth, the largest ship on the world is making her secret voyage from the John Brown & Company Shipyards to the safety of the United States.
The Queen Elizabeth was the largest ship in the world when completed as the 2nd part of the Cunard-White Star Line's grand 2-ship passenger service across the North Atlantic. Like the Mary, the Elizabeth was built by John Brown and Company. However, during her construction was given top priority above all other projects at the shipyard with work going on 24/7 and was launched on September 27, 1938 by Queen Elizabeth herself, who scarcely had enough time to break the bottle of champaigne across the bow of her namesake ship that had already started sliding into the River Clyde. The Queen Elizabeth was a stark difference from the Mary, a 2 stacker, and her upper decks were absent of any cluttering ventilation that previous ships like the Mary had. To accomplish this, the Cunard Line had a industrial spy on board the Normandie who posed as a grocery store owner.
Cunard had expected the Elizabeth to make her maiden voyage on April 21, 1940. That was never to occur. With the outbreak of World War II, the Elizabeth was left idle in her fitting dock thread-bare as the British geared for war. Eventually the uncompleted Elizabeth forced a massive problem as she was taking up valuable space that could be used to service warships in need of repair. She was almost scrapped had Winston Churchill not stepped in and ordered the completion of the Elizabeth and her dash to New York City. With great haste, the Elizabeth was completed to be deemed sea worth. On the day of her departure, her captain was handed secret orders telling him to go to New York Harbor as the skies above Southampton filled with German planes waiting to strike at the Queen Elizabeth...the ploy had worked as they were under the impression that the Elizabeth would be there to be completed.
On March 7, 1940 the Elizabeth arrived unannounced in New York Harbor creating quite a stir. For the first and last time the 3 largest ships in the world were docked along side one another, the Queen Mary and Elizabeth and the French Line's Normandie. After 8 months docked in New York, the Elizabeth departed for Singapore and was fitted as a troopship with a capacity of 5,600 and by the end of the war was expanded to 15,000. Both Queens worked wonderfully in the war and recieved high complements from Prime Minister Churchill himself. However, not to say that there weren't some close calls. Despite a hand picked crew and 750 men guarding her while she was docked, beer-bottle caps were found in fire hoses and holes in lifeboats. The worst was in April 1943 when 2 bombs were found aboard...they were promptly thrown overboard. However, neither of the Queens reported to have been sighted by an U-Boats (The Elizabeth may or may not have had 1 incident).
Finally on June 16, 1946 the Queen Elizabeth was retired from military service and arrived in Southampton for her refitting into her intented commercial service as well as her official speed trials. The Elizabeth had her commercial maiden voyage on October 16, 1946 and was joined by her running mate the following summer as the most profitable passenger ships ever built. However, that was short to last, by the 1960s airlines were taking over rapidly and the Queens were loosing money by the millions. Considerations for retiring the Mary were coming in and during the winter 1965-1966 overhaul the Queen Elizabeth was complete redone. On the stern was a new lido deck complete with pool and she was completely air conditioned. Despite this turn to crusing in the off-season, the Elizabeth continued to show losses. So the decision was made to retire the Queens. The Mary went first in September 1967 sold to the city of Long Beach (Just barely! $500,000 more than Japanese scrappers!). Then in October 1968 so did the Elizabeth.
When she was put up for auction like her running mate, the Elizabeth was won by a group of people who planned to make her the east coast version of the Queen Mary at Port Everglades, Florida. Cunard was initially enthusiatic about the idea with an 85% interest in her. However, troubles insued and the idea flopped, Cunard backed out and the Elizabeth sat rusting in the Florida sun. Soon after she was put on auction again and won by the Taiwanese shipping tycoon, C.Y. Tung who had plans of making her a floating university.
Renamed the Seawise University and put under the Bahamian, the Queen Elizabeth did not have an easy trip to Hong Kong several of her boilers failed and she had to be towed for repairs before proceeding to Hong Kong. There she was completely redone, stripped to the waterline, and redone in a more oriental fashion. Alas this rebirth of the Elizabeth was not to last. As she was nearing completion on Jaunuary 9, 1972 a arson fire broke out in one of the Elizabeth's kitchens while a party was underway. Her incomplete fire fighting system hampered efforts and her superstructure melted and caved in from the tremendous heat before capsizing in Hong Kong Harbor from the sheer weight of the water poured on by fire fighting tugboats (This doesn't work! It happened to the Normandie!). Deemed a total lost she was scrapped on the spot...however she can be seen in the James Bond movie, The Man with the Golden Gun as the Hong Kong headquarters of MI6.
- Gross Tonnage: 83,673
- Length: 1,031 feet
- Constructed By: John Brown & Company, Clydebank, Scotland
- Cruising Speed: 28.5 knots
- Engines: Steam turbines geared to quadruple screws with a maximum of 180,000 horsepower.
- Width: 118 feet
- Draft: 38 feet