Giant Ex-German Liners Weapons in Duel of I.M.M. and Cunard for Blue Ribbon of the Atlantic (1921)

For the third time in less than twenty years, a battle is under way for the "blue ribbon of the Atlantic” supremacy in ocean transportation between Europe and America.

First — shortly, after the beginning of the century—came the three-cornered contest between the United Kingdom, the United States and Germany, with Britain the winner. Next, the struggle of Germany to regain her old ascendancy, which was interrupted by the war just as it was about to culminate in Germany's favor. And now, with Germany eliminated by the war, a duel between the United Kingdom and the United States and with the odds in favor of American enterprise.

The issue is between the International Mercantile Marine Company born out of the Morgan merger, which stirred all the world, and Britain especially, less than a score of years ago. Additionally, the Cunard Company, fostered by the British Government and by that Government given the aid that enabled it to win the first of the three contests for the supremacy of the Atlantic. In a sense, Germany is a participant in the present struggle, but by proxy only, for the ships that she built to regain her ascendancy from Britain are the weapons upon whose utilization the present duel bids fair to be decided.

S.;S. Leviathan of the United States Lines (1927)

The Three Glints of the Sea Bismarck, Imperator, Leviathan, the three largest of all the world's thousands of ships—these are to be the chief participants in the marine conflict now under way. One hundred and sixty-two thousand gross tons of shipping to be thrown into a struggle in which the participants will each be equipped with more than a million tons, and in which speed, size, safety, equipment, economy and service will all play their parts. Moreover, with two of the three giants of the sea tinder American control, there is no reason why the blue ribbon of the Atlantic should not be brought to this side of the ocean and kept here.

When the Morgan merger in the first years of this century brought some of the greatest British and American lines under American control, British shipping supremacy in the Atlantic was seriously menaced. Germany then held the blue ribbon for speed, with the Kaiser Wilhelm II and the Kronpritizessin Cecilie, sister ships capable of making 23 1/2 knots, and the Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse and the Kronpritiz Wilhelm, 22 1/2 knot ships, all owned by the North German Lloyd and intended for weekly service between Europe and America. And in addition there was the Deutschland, of the Hamburg America Line, with a speed just a trifle in excess of the swiftest of the

North German Lloyd ships

With some of her finest liners under American management, although they still retained their British registry, and with Germany’s ocean fliers intensifying the competition of the North Atlantic trade, always the keenest in the world.

England foresaw the kiss of her shipping laurels unless she took steps to fortify herself. Her answer was the speedier and larger Lusitania and Mauretania, built by the Cunard Line, but built with the money of the British Government and so subsidized that the more than £2.000,000 loaned would lie paid off by allowances made to the Line for the carriage of mails and depreciation. In other words a gift, but a stroke of policy, which brought back to Britain the coveted blue ribbon. Victory in the first contest was, therefore, hers. This was about 1907.

Germany Prepared for Ocean Duel with little loss of time. Germany prepared for a second struggle. She planned a threefold reply in the Imperator, the Vaterland and the Bismarck. Completed in 1912, the first of these had been in service for some time before the outbreak of the war.

The Vaterland, however, was not brought into service until 1914, and had made only two trips to this country before the beginning of hostilities caused her to be interned here. The Bismarck launched only a few weeks before Germany inaugurated the world conflict, lay at her builders’ dock in Hamburg and still lies there. Therefore, the second ocean struggle was interrupted by the war.

To understand how the three German liners outclass the boats they were built to compete with, it is interesting to note their measurements in comparison with the largest vessels of the Cunard Line and the International Mercantile Marine Company. Lloyd’s Register gives these as follows:

Ship Gross Tons Length (Feet) Breadth (Feet) Depth (Feet)
Bismark 56,000 912.0 100.0 57.1
Leviathan 54,282 907.6 100.3 58.2
Imperator 52,022 882.9 98.3 57.1
Olympic 46,359 852.5 92.5 59.5
Aquitania 45,647 868.7 97.0 49.7
Mauretania 30,704 762.2 88.0 57.1
Adriatic 24,541 709.2 75.5 52.6

World’s Largest Ship in United States Hands

To replace the Britannic, lost in the war by the White Star Line, the British Government has announced the turning over to that line of the Bismarck. It will be at least a year, however, before she can be placed in service. Although operated under the British flag she will be under the American control of the International Mercantile Marine Company.

Present plans provide for the reconditioning of the largest liner in the world at the Belfast yards of the Garland Wolff Company, who built the Olympic and most of the great British passenger steamers.

She is to be converted to oil fuel, not only for the economies that will result, but for the greater speed that can be gotten out of her.

As the Bismarck stands today, she is practically a complete ship, save for her passenger equipment. Her plans are still in the hands of the Germans. This, however. will be no drawback to her new owners, even if, as in the ease of the Leviathan, Germany refuses to give them up, except for an extortionate price. A sister ship to the Leviathan, only slightly larger, the Bismarck is believed to have been built from the same plans, and plans for the Leviathan are in American hands.

While Blohm and Voss, at Hamburg, constructed both boats, the Imperator was a product of the Vulcan Works and is constructed on entirely different lines.

In the case of the Imperator, she was turned over by the British Government to the Cunard Line for operation in replacement for the torpedoed Lusitania. It has been stated from time to time, however, that the Line was not satisfied with her operation and would make no effort to purchase her.

According to recent report, she was to be turned back to the Government in the near future. Now that the Bismarck has been sold to the White Star Line, however, it is considered practically certain that the Imperator will be added to the Cunard fleet. Of the three German giants, she is the only one now in actual operation, and there seems to be every reason to believe that she will be retained as a competitor of the Bismarck.

To Rename Mammoth Liners

That the names of both these vessels will he changed is also to he expected, and that the belief is that the Bismarck will be renamed the Britannic in memory of the ship she replaces. Whether the Imperator will become the new Lusitania is a question, however, with the tragedy of the latter vessel’s loss still so keen in the world’s mind.

With the Olympic, Adriatic and Bismarck under the control of the International Mercantile Marine Company, and the Aquitania, Mauretania and Imperator in the Cunard Line's hands, the American and British interests are practically matched in the matter of large and speedy ships. The factor that may turn the scale and decide the contest for the blue ribbon of the Atlantic in favor of American enterprise, however, is the Leviathan.

That steps may be taken shortly to place this third of the former German giants in the hands of the I. M. M. for operation is altogether likely. Logically, the only place for the Leviathan is with the only American concern in a position through long experience, to manage her effectively and efficiently on the scale to which her magnitude and value entitle her.

To recondition her so that she will be the finest vessel afloat, not only under the American, but under any flag, will take eight or ten million dollars. However, that sum, large as it seems, is hardly more than the cost of one of the 535-foot liners, which the Shipping Board has been turning out in numbers.

These vessels in tonnage are hardly a quarter the size of the Leviathan, and in all other respects they are far below what that ship can be made to be. Fitted on a scale worthy of the highest class of ocean trade, she can be made the queen of the American merchant marine and a vessel capable of meeting in competition any ship in the world.

U. S. Construction Equal to Any

The task of equipping her to gain and hold the place it is sought to have her occupy can safely be entrusted to American shipbuilders. Therefore, American is more familiar with the Leviathan than W. F. Gibbs, chief of construction of the International Mercantile Marine Company, under whose supervision the plans for the vessel were reproduced by Americans when Germany demanded $1,000,000 for them. And probably no American is better qualified to judge of the merits of ship construction both here and abroad.

“The Leviathan.” in Mr. Gibbs' opinion, "can be as well, if not better, refitted in American yards than anywhere in the world, for the quality of this work in the United States has reached a stage where no better can be had elsewhere."

Out of the upwards of three billions of dollars spent by the American people so far on a merchant marine, the country has not one outstanding vessel of the type of the Leviathan to show'. For a fraction—less than one-half of one per cent—of this sum, a vessel that every American can be proud of can be put on the seas under the American flag.

In addition, if, with the aid of such a vessel, the blue ribbon of the Atlantic can be brought back to America for the first time since the days of the clipper ship, every penny of the millions required will have been well and wisely spent.

Wiltbank, Henry C., "Giant Ex-German Liners Weapons in Duel of I.M.M. and Cunard for Blue Ribbon of Atlantic," in Marine Journal: A Weekly Newspaper Devoted to American Maritime Interests, Volume 43, No. 20, New York, 19 February 1921, P. 7-8

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