Queen Mary’s Wartime Service
Queen Mary made her last peacetime voyage from Southampton on 30 August 1939. On arrival in New York, the ship was berthed in the relative safety of the US port, while World War II commenced in Europe. Queen Mary remained in New York until early 1940, when the British Admiralty decided the role the ship would play in the coming months and years: troop carrier!
Requisitioned as a troop carrier, Queen Mary sailed for Sydney where the ship was converted into one of the world’s largest troop carriers. Parts of Queen Mary’s exquisite interior was carefully removed and stored, while alterations were made to the ship to boost her trooping capacity. Externally the ship was painted grey and a degaussing coil was added to de-magnify the hull.
During the conversion, Queen Mary’s large First Class dining room became the main mess hall – due to its large size – while Officers were welcomed into the smaller and more intimate Tourist Class dining room. The majority of Queen Mary’s cabins didn’t have private bathrooms, so the shared bathroom facilities were enlarged, as were the galleys in order to accommodate the increased passenger capacity.
Structurally, both Queens were altered with reinforced protective covers on the bridge windows, sand bags utilised aboard to protect vulnerable areas and the installation of degaussing coils to reduce the risk of contact with sea mines. The two Cunarders were fitted with anti-aircraft guns – though in reality their speed of over 30 knots was their primary defence against enemy attack.
At the end of the Sydney conversion Queen Mary was able to carry up to 10,000 troops. Queen Elizabeth joined Queen Mary on trooping services in 1940, and the two huge ships sailed in convoys with other requisitioned ocean liners, including Aquitania.
When the United States of America entered World War II, the Cunard Queens were redeployed to the North Atlantic troop service, to aid preparations for the D-Day landings. As the need to move troops increased, both ships were altered to boost their carrying capacity even further. Following the refit, both Queens regularly transporting over 15,000 people per crossing.
Queen Mary holds the record to this day of the most people carried aboard a ship – 16,082 people in a single crossing!
It was this massive trooping impact – and the advantage it gave the Allied War Effort – that led Sir Winston Churchill to acknowledge these great Cunarders as having helped to shorten the war – saying:
“Built for the arts of peace and to link the old world with the new, the queens challenged the fury of Hitlerism in the battle of the Atlantic. Without their aid, the day of final victory must unquestionably have been postponed.”