Between 1920 and the entry into service of the Queen Mary in 1936, the Berengaria was the pride of the Cunard fleet. The ship, however, was originally built for the Hamburg-America line. She was built at the Vulcan Werft shipyard at Hamburg on the river Elbe. She was launched on 23rd May 1912, and her original name was Imperator. As Imperator was launched only 5 weeks after the Titanic disaster, changes had been made both in hull design and the equipment on the vessel in order to increase safety.
At the time of her introduction into service, Imperator was the world's largest ship. During World War I, Imperator lay protected on the river Elbe. At the end of the war the Allied forces of occupation found the Imperator in a terrible state, rusted, decaying and stuck in the mud. After serving as troop transport until August 1919 she was transferred to Britain and it was made clear that the vessel would be managed by the Cunard Line.
Retaining the name Imperator, she made her first voyage for Cunard on 11th December 1919 from New York to Southampton. On 21st February 1920 it made its first voyage from Liverpool to New York. The ship continued to serve this route but it was decided to change the name to the Berengaria. Berengaria was converted from coal burning to oil burning engines and a complete overhaul was carried out by Armstrong Whitworth & Company on the Tyne.
Although it was common knowledge that the Berengaria was of German decent, she was made Cunard's flagship until the introduction of the Queen Mary. The ship, however, was not without its fair share of problems. In August 1922 the liner struck a submerged object which damaged one of her propellers. Later the same year she lost 36 feet of guard rail in the Atlantic during heavy weather. For the next 6 years, however, the ship operated successfully on Cunard's express service in conjunction with the Fast ship, Mauretania and the beautiful Aquitania.
During the early 1930's the ship ran aground twice on the approaches to Southampton, although she suffered no real damage. 1933 saw another major overhaul for the ship at Southampton, during which the interior was upgraded. The withdrawal of the Mauretania in 1934 placed further pressure on the ship to operate more efficiently and in 1935 she set a record passage on the New York to Southampton route.
During an overhaul at Southampton in 1936 a fire broke out in the first class cabins on the starboard side of the ship. The fire was soon controlled and extinguished but there was considerable smoke and water damage. It was ascertained that the cause was defective wiring, which was eventually to lead to the Berengaria's demise. She made her final passage on the Southampton-Cherbourg-New York route on the 23rd of February 1938.
When Berengaria arrived in New York, on 3rd March, a fire was discovered in the first class lounge. It took the ship's crew and firemen 3 hours to bring the fire under control. After officials had examined the ship it was decided that they could not give her clearance to embark passengers. The following day she sailed back to Southampton where it was discovered that, again, faulty wiring had been the cause of the fire.
As the cost of renovation would be so high it was decided to withdraw Berengaria from service and this happened on 23rd March 1938. For the next few months she lay idle in Southampton dock until 19th October when it was decided to dispose of her. Sir John Jarvis MP bought the ship for demolition on the Tyne at Jarrow for £108,000. The ship sailed from Southampton on December. The furniture and fittings were auctioned in January 1939 and over 200 Jarrow men were employed in breaking up the old ship.
The outbreak of war, however, meant that the men were required elsewhere so it was not until 1946 that the last skeletal remains of the hull were broken up. By this time few people were interested in the remains of an old liner that had been built in the Imperial Germany of 1913, however one can not question the uniqueness of this vessel or wonder what her life would have been like if she had remained Germany's Imperator.