Home > ALL POSTS > 1914: Britain on the eve of the Great War and the world’s largest liner (at the time) VATERLAND.

1914: Britain on the eve of the Great War and the world’s largest liner (at the time) VATERLAND.

Cruising the past: 1914 – Britain on the eve of the Great War and the world’s largest liner (at the time) VATERLAND.

Britain on the eve of the Great War (World War I). A wonderful video.

1914 – The great liner VATERLAND.  She barely lasted a year under the German flag before war broke-out.

This is a wonderful view of the broad boat deck of the VATERLAND – the largest liner in the world. An archivist has written a caption on the original negative: “Lady Sybil Grey & Lady Evelyn Grey-Jones on the Hamburg Amerika Line ‘Vaterland.'” After the US Government seized the liner during WWI, she was renamed Leviathan and sailed with the United States Lines.

Young bellhops playing leapfrog on the sun deck of US liner Leviathan (former Hamburg America line vessel Vaterland), on arrival at Southampton.

The VATERLAND arrives in New York.


She was the largest ship afloat And was the bejewelled seagoing delight of all Germany, a not to be forgotten colossal luxury liner that was a symbol of glittering national power. Yet the Vaterland was to serve only the Americans in the Great War. Some may ask “Whatever happened to the Vaterland?”
Everything about her seemed to be enormous, perhaps out of scale, on the large side for the times She was constructed by the famous Blohm & Voss yard in Hamburg for the Hamburg Amerika Line and launched for trans Atlantic passenger service on April 3, 1913 Nothing like it had been seen before. The ship had an impressive displacement (weight) of 54,282 gross tons, an overall length of 907 5 feet and a beam of just over 100 feet. Her top speed was 22.5 knots. The commercial crew numbered 1,120.

Vaterland was not built for war duty, but was the second of three large, fast, and luxurious express steamers designed to compete with British liners then coming into service when her keel was laid down, most notably the White Star Line’s Olympic and Titanic In fact, Mr Albert Ballin, the prewar director of the Hamburg Amerika Line, was a staunch antimilitarist who believed that the only conflicts that Germany should be involved in were commercial ones.

This brand new superliner had three funnels (the farthest aft was a dummy), tall masts fore and aft, four huge screws, and a clipper style stern This imposing German ship was powered by direct acting steam turbine engines geared to quadruple screws; these were far more economical to operate and maintain than conventional reciprocating engines and were very fast and dependable in almost any weather for the New York shuttle. And that proved to be true on her maiden voyage in May 1914 when Vaterland made a steady 22 knots from Hamburg to New York, with none of the vibration and mechanical problems that had plagued the first voyages of other Hamburg Amerika Line vessels.

The accommodations were richly appointed in keeping with the best liners of the day. First class cabins, for the first time, had hot and cold running water Public rooms may properly be described as plush, even extravagant Passenger service was attentive and unflawed. Upper deck guests could perambulate as they might at home. There were accommodations for 750 First

Class passengers. 535 in Second Class, 850 in Third Class, and 1,536 in Fourth Class She was greeted ceremoniously and warmly on her arrival in New York by distinguished dignitaries, elected officials, throngs of wide eyed spectators, cabbies by the hundreds, two bands, and crews of dock workers ready to turn Vaterland around for her first eastbound express crossing The reception that followed was a social top of the season affair This ultramodern vessel would be a commercial success and further help to tie two continents together

Vaterland made two more Atlantic crossings, with full loads of passengers going both ways, but by the tune of the June 28. 1914 assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, dark clouds forewarned of foul weather yet to come. Captain Ruser was ordered by Director Ballin to keep the crew at the highest level of readiness and be prepared to take evasive action against enemy warships, knowing that an outbreak of war could mean the destruction or confiscation of the grand ship The ship ran into mechanical problems on her fourth crossing that forced the closing down of one of the four turbines and its propeller. Speed was sharply reduced Then the failure of all four of her backing turbines made her completely dependant on tugs when entering the harbor and docking in New York City It was because of the ship’s newness, but was, nevertheless, somewhat embarrassing.

After the VATERLAND had become the LEVIATHAN

As it happened, when the pilot came aboard on July 29, 1914 to maneuver the slow moving Vaterland into its berth, he passed by several senior officers who had taken a huge portrait painting of the Kaiser off the wall and destroyed it, fearful that it was he who would take their lovely ship away if war were to be announced And this was with some justification because war had been declared a few days later between Germany and Britain and the United States government moved on August 4, 1914 to intern Vaterland Perhaps this was a saving measure for the ship as British warships were patrolling just off the New York coast. But this also marked the end of German ownership. This giant symbol of a modern Germany was to rust away slowly for the next three years at her pier, manned only by a small skeleton crew. There she stood as a shadowy, massive hulk, with her glory hastily slipping away.

The US Liner LEVIATHAN (formerly the Vaterland).

But this was not the end of that greyhound of the seas On April 7, 1917, the day after the United States entered World War I, the Vaterland was seized by Federal agents. backed by armed soldiers Immediately, a rift between the United States and the British Admiralty ensued The U S Navy was stunned when the British refused to allow the extremely large ship into the Liverpool or Southampton harbors, stating that it would overtax harbor facilities and if it were to be sunk or damaged during arrival or departure it could close the ports to other ships It was suggested that Vaterland be used as a hospital ship by the Americans between some unspecified European port and the United States.

As a naval vessel, Leviathan transported 192,753 people to and from Europe by September 8, 1919 when she was withdrawn from military service, more than twice as many as America, the Force’s second most active vessel. It would not be until World War II that her records would be surpassed by the Cunard Line’s Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth. Her wartime service was over and she was struck from the Navy List on October 29, 1919.

Leviathan was laid up at Hoboken for the next two years as several shipping companies wangled over her disposition. She was ultimately transferred to the United States Line and in April 1922 was moved to Newport News, Virginia for reconditioning as the flagship of the line. It took one year and $8 million to restore her to her prewar Vaterland condition She had been converted to oil fuel in the process. The splendid liner made her first post-war commercial Atlantic crossing in July 1923 She was popular and periodic modifications to her passenger accommodations kept her profitable, even against the new post-war liners which had joined the North Atlantic passenger service She was the first to offer the fashionable Tourist Class to passengers.

Lady Nancy Astor, American born British politician, surrounded by phoptographers while on board the ocean liner Leviathan, 1930s…   UNITED STATES – CIRCA 1930: Lady Nancy Astor, American born British politician, surrounded by phoptographers while on board the ocean liner Leviathan, 1930s (Photo by Bert Morgan/Getty Images)

By 1933, however, the United States Lines, with seemingly endless financial difficulties coupled with the effects of the world-wide depression, decided that the gigantic liner was too expensive to operate and she was laid up in Hoboken. Leviathan was returned to service for five Atlantic crossings during the summer of 1934 but that would not be enough to save her. She was again laid up in New York in September 1934. where she sat undisturbed until January 1938, when she sailed on her final Atlantic voyage to the ship breakers in Rosyth, Scotland. Many cheerless famous people and dignitaries and a large group of reporters were aboard for this voyage to witness and document her last days. Everyone, it seemed, wanted to know about the closing stages of the largest ship afloat

By the last part of the summer of 1938. the once elegant and pompous ship no longer existed at all She had carried out missions in the Great War that her designers had never even imagined, always slicing and crashing into harms way. In the dreams of some, the tall, misty ghost of Vaterland still sails today.