Queen Elizabeth History

The Concept of Queen Elizabeth

Queen Elizabeth

When the Cunard Line merged with White Star Line in 1934, the British Government provided funds for the newly formed company to create a running mate for the Queen Mary.

Laid down at the John Brown shipyard in Clydebank, the new ship was designated Hull 552, and the ship was launched on 27 September 1938.

It had been hoped that HM. King George V would christen the new liner, however the worsening political climate across Europe meant the King was unable to travel to Scotland for the launch. Rather, HM. Queen Elizabeth attended the ceremony, along with daughters Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret.

Following the launch, the newly named RMS Queen Elizabeth was moved to the fitting out basin and prepared for service.

War Years

Plans to use Queen Elizabeth as a passenger liner were put on permanent hold at the outbreak of World War II. However the ship was not safe in Scotland, and was a known target for the Luftwaffe.

As such, Queen Elizabeth was painted grey before departing Clydebank for what was expected to be a short journey to Southampton.

Instead, Queen Elizabeth’s maiden voyage was to New York, with the untested and untried liner making a ‘mad dash’ across the Atlantic.

Once in New York, Queen Elizabeth berthed alongside Queen Mary, Normandie and Mauretania, and for a brief period during March 1940 four of the world’s greatest liners,lay side by side.

Queen Elizabeth was requisitioned for wartime service on 13 November. The ship sailed to Singapore where she was refurbished into a troop carrier. Here, defensive armament and a degaussing coil (to protect against mines) was fitted.

On 11 February, Queen Elizabeth sailed from Singapore to Sydney, Australia, arriving ten days later. Here the conversion into troop ship was completed and Queen Elizabeth undertook her first trooping voyage to the Middle East. She spent the next five months carrying troops from Sydney to Suez. The ship returned each time with German Prisioners of War.

Once the United States entered the war on the side of the allies, Queen Elizabeth sailed to Esquimalt, in Canada, and carried troops to Sydney.

In 1942 the Admiralty considered future uses for the Cunard Queens, including possible transformation into aircraft carriers. However the trooping capacity of these ships meant they were most valuable as large troop transports and the Queen Elizabeth along with Queen Mary were redeployed to the transatlantic.

At the end of the war, Queen Elizabeth was famous on both sides of the Atlantic. The ship, which had carried over 750,000 troops, now commenced work repatriating those troops as well as the war brides.

Winston Churchill, Britain’s Prime Minister, stated that the Queens had, ‘shortened the war by at least a year.’

Passenger Service

Queen Elizabeth was released from Admiralty service in 1946. Her post-war overhaul and refurbishment was carried out both on the Clyde and at Southampton. This overhaul saw the luxury passenger interiors installed aboard Queen Elizabeth, in preparation for civilan transatlantic services. The ship was finally painted in Cunard livery while the machinery was overhauled.

Queen Elizabeth was given her full sea trials, and then officially accepted by Cunard. The ship made her belated maiden passenger voyage to New York on 16 October 1946.

Queen Elizabeth

Queen Elizabeth proved popular and over the coming months the ship was fully booked. On 17 April 1947 Queen Elizabeth ran aground near Brambles Bank as she made her approach to Southampton in thick fog. The ship was successfully re~floated.

In September 1951 Queen Elizabeth made her 100th peacetime transatlantic crossing.

As more and more passengers took to airline services, Cunard worked on Queen Elizabeth in order to keep her modern and relevant in a changing world. To this end, during a refurbishment in January 1952 the ship’s fuel capacity was increased and air-conditioning fitted throughout, to allow the ship to undertake cruses. Four years later, Queen Elizabeth was fitted with Denny Brown stabilisers, which greatly improved her stability.

Cruising Queen

When Pan Am flew the first Boeing 707 service across the Atlantic, the future for Queen Elizabeth was running out. By 1962 the decline in the number of passengers led to an announcement that the ship would be used more and more for cruises. As such, cruises from New York to Nassau began in February 1963.

During one of Queen Elizabeth’s 1962 cruises, a light aircraft crashed into the sea only a few hundred metres from the ship!

Cunard gave Queen Elizabeth a major overhaul in Greenock, which involved an interior refurbishment and the creation of an outdoor swimming pool on Queen Elizabeth’s aft deck, as well as the building of a lido area.

While the work was completed in time, the 1966 Seaman’s Strike meant that the refreshed ship was laid up in Southampton for a number of weeks, costing Cunard money.


Cunard announced on 8 May 1967 that Queen Mary was to be withdrawn from service later that year. At the same time, they announced that the Queen Elizabeth would be withdrawn in Autumn 1968. Despite every effort to keep the Queen Elizabeth sailing, she was too costly for her owners and had to go.

Queen Elizabeth was sold to a group of Philedelphia businessmen with the intention of turning her into a floating hotel in Florida. The ship made her final transatlantic crossing on 5 November 1968 before she was withdrawn from Cunard service.

Once in Florida, the ship was opened to the public in February 1969, however this venture didn’t last and the ship was closed that same year. In late 1970 the ship was auctioned and bought by C.Y.Tung, Hong Kong. The intention was to turn the ship into a floating university and she sailed for Hong Kong for conversion.

Re-named Seawise University, the ship’s transformation was almost complete when a series of fires broke out aboard the ship causing her to burn out and sink in the harbour.

Image source: Simplon Post Cards