Queen Elizabeth History

Part 1: Hull 552

Queen Elizabeth

Following Cunard’s merger with White Star Line in 1934, the British Government provided funds for Cunard-White Star to create a running mate for the Queen Mary.

Designated as Hull 552, the new ship was laid down at the John Brown shipyard in Clydebank, Scotland.

She was launched by HM. Queen Elizabeth (later the Queen Mother) on 27 September 1938, who named the ship RMS. Queen Elizabeth. It had been hoped that HM. King George V would attend the launch of the ship,  however the worsening political situation in Europe meant the King was unable to travel to Scotland for the launch.

With the new ship due to enter service in 1939, Cunard-White Star were planning to start the world’s first two-ship weekly transatlantic express service.

However, these plans were put on hold following the outbreak of World War II, at which time the Queen Elizabeth remained idle and unsafe in Clydebank.

Part 2: War Years

Following the outbreak of World War II, the security of Queen Elizabeth became a major concern for Cunard-White Star and the British Government. It was not safe to keep the ship in Scotland, as it was well known that she was a tempting target for the Luftwaffe.

Queen Elizabeth was painted in military grey before departing Clydebank for what was rumoured to be a short journey to Southampton. However, once in open sea the ship’s course was altered – Queen Elizabeth’s maiden voyage was to New York!

Thus, the untested and untried ship – then the world’s largest ocean liner – made a secret dash across the Atlantic to the safety of America. She arrived unannounced in New York, surprising officials and New Yorkers alike. Queen Elizabeth berthed alongside Queen Mary, Normandie and Mauretania, and for a brief period during March 1940 four of the world’s great Transatlantic liners lay side by side.

Queen Elizabeth was requisitioned for wartime service on 13 November 1940. The ship sailed to Singapore where she was refurbished into the world’s largest troop carrier. During the works, defensive armaments and a degaussing coil (to protect against mines) were fitted.