Bismarck / Majestic (II)

In the early 1910's, Albert Ballin of Germany's Hamburg America Line (Hapag), conceived a trio of great liners to rival Cunard's Lusitania, Mauretania and Aquitania and White Star's Olympic, Titanic and Gigantic (later renamed Britannic). The third of these, Bismarck, was laid down with the Kaiser in attendance at the Blohm & Voss shipyard in Hamburg in 1913, and launched by Otto von Bismarck's granddaughter, Countess Hanna von Bismarck, in 1914.

Bismarck lay uncompleted at Hamburg throughout World War I and was ceded to Great Britain as a war reparation in 1919. Her older sisters, Imperator and Vaterland, suffered the same fate. Imperator, like Bismarck, was allocated to Great Britain, and the two ships were purchased jointly by White Star and Cunard, with Imperator becoming Cunard's Berengaria, and Bismarck becoming White Star's Majestic. (This joint ownership was terminated in 1932, at Cunard's request.) Vaterland was allocated to the United States and became United States Lines' Leviathan.

After a suspicious fire in October 1920, Harland and Wolff supervised the balance of Bismarck's fitting out, and she was finally completed in March 1922.

Although her new owner (White Star) and new name (Majestic) were already known, she was completed in Hapag's colors and with the name Bismarck on her bow and stern. After her sea trials, she was formally turned over to White Star and, while still at Hamburg, was repainted and renamed.

Her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York, took place on 10 May 1922, under the command of newly-appointed White Star Commodore Sir Bertram Hayes. At 56,551 tons, Majestic was the largest ship in the world, and would retain that distinction until Normandie's arrival in 1935. (In fact, until 1929 there was no drydock in Britain large enough to accommodate her, so her annual repairs and a major 1928 refitting had to be done in Boston.)

In 1924, a 100 foot (30.5 m) crack was discovered in her hull, taking her out of service for repairs for four months. (Leviathan would develop a similar crack in 1929.) Otherwise, Majestic served without major incident on the Southampton-New York service during her White Star career, with occasional summer cruises out of New York.

In 1934, she, like Berengaria, became part of Cunard White Star. Majestic made her last transatlantic crossing in February 1936, and was then sold twice in 1936: first, by White Star to the ship breaking firm Ward and then by Ward to the Admiralty for use as a cadet training ship called HMS Caledonia.

In September 1939, HMS Caledonia burned and sank at her moorings at Rosyth and was sold back to Ward for scrapping.

Sources: Braynard's Classic Ocean Liners, Vol. 1; Haws' Merchant Fleets; Hayes' Hull Down; Anderson's White Star; de Kerbrech and Williams' Cunard White Star Liners of the 1930s; The New York Times, 25 August 1932.

As Bismarck



As Majestic

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