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Cunard Queens

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The Cunard Queens began in 1934, with the launch of RMS Queen Mary, and has since continued to provide a legendary series of Atlantic cruise liners:

Although they are no longer built there, John Brown's Clydebank shipyard is best known and remembered for building all the Queens up to, and including the QE2, although it was responsible for many other noteworthy build, including HMS Vanguard, Britain's last battleship.

Queen Victoria does not carry mail, hence the change in prefix from RMS (Royal Mail Ship) to MS (Motor Ship), interchangeable with MV (Motor Vessel). She also differs from her predecessors in that she is a cruise ship rather than an ocean liner.

War Service

During World War II, both Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth were converted into troop ships and served all over the world. Because of their high speed they were able to outrun U-Boats and hence travelled without any escorts. They played a major part in the war, and between them shipped millions of troops from the USA to various theatres of war. In 1982, Queen Elizabeth 2 followed a similar path, when she was converted to carry troops and equipment to take part in the Falkland's War.

RMS Queen Mary

RMS Queen Mary, Job No 534, was launched on September 26, 1934, from John Brown's Shipyard in Clydebank, the first keel plate having been layed in December 1930. A year later work on her almost complete hull stopped as the depression meant Cunard could not secure further loans to complete the job. In March 1934 the Treasury financed her completion, one condition of which was the amalgumation of Cunard and the White Star Line. The fitting out took a further year and a half and when she sailed down the Clyde for her trials she ran aground twice despite extensive dredging.

She had three funnels, a displacement of 81,961 tons, was designed to carry 2,139 passengers, and travel at 30 knots. Before 534 could take on her name, agreement had to be obtained from the owners of the existing Queen Mary, a turbine powered steamer already operating on the River Clyde. This was obtained, and the existing vessel was renamed the Queen Mary II, releasing the name for use by the new liner.

In September 1939, after disembarking her last civilian passengers,including Bob Hope in New York she sailed for Sydney, Australia for conversion to a Troop Ship. Her luxuries were replaced with more useful items such as an underwater sound detection system, single four-inch gun, mine sweeping paravane system (a towed, underwater glider which snagged mine cables, causing detonation at a safe distance), and a degaussing girdle to provide protection from magnetic mines. Later enhancements to her armament and anti-aircraft defences included a 40 mm cannon, single-barrel 200 mm cannon, six three-inch high/low angle guns, and four sets of two-inch rocket launchers. None of these weapons were ever fired in anger.

On her first war time trip she was escorted by a Cruiser, HMS Curacao. West of Jura on October 2nd, 1942 due to a mix up over zig zag patterns the Queen Mary rammed the Curacao and she sank with a large loss of life. The Queen Mary was under orders not to stop for anything and sailed on leaving a Destroyer, HMS Branham to rescue survivors.

The Queen Mary was the largest and fastest troopship to sail, capable of transporting 15,740 troops and 943 crew a total of 16,683 bodies - a figure that has never been exceeded to this day - at a speed of 30 knots. Even Adolf Hitler couldn’t stop her, despite his offer of $250,000 and the Iron Cross to any U-Boat captain that would sink her. She came to be known as The Grey Ghost. Most sailings were to New York transporting US and Canadian troops but she also transported Australian troops to the Clyde.

Mockups of sections of the Mary and Elizabeth were constructed at Camp Kilner and the troops trained to board the ships. Films were made and used to combat mistakes. Every troop knew where to go, where to store his rifle, where to stow his kit and which was his bunk before they ever saw the ship. These exercises started in daylight and continued under darkness as when the time came to board the ships it was done at night with no lights to avoid spies reporting how many troops had boarded.

On July 31, 1947, the Queen Mary resumed regular passenger service after trips to New York returning US and Canadian troops and GI Brides to their homelands.

On October 31, 1967, the Queen Mary departed on her last Great Cruise. Arriving in Long Beach on December 9, 1967, she was removed from British registry and officially turned over to her new owners, the City of Long Beach, California on December 11, 1967.

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RMS Queen Elizabeth

Queen Elizabeth, Inchgreen Drydock, Greenock, 1966, Fox
Queen Elizabeth 1966
Inchgreen Drydock Greenock

The RMS Queen Elizabeth, Job No 552, was launched on September 27, 1938. She had two funnels and a displacement of 83,000 tons, designed to carry 2,283 passengers and able to travel at 28.5 knots. She sailed until December 7, 1968, when she was sold to Chinese owners and taken to Hong Kong for conversion to a floating university, the Seawise University. However, she caught fire (suspected arson) during the work and overturned in Hong Kong Harbour on January 9, 1972, and was broken for scrap in 1975. What could not be removed was left on the seabed and now lies under Hong Kong International Airport. Prior to scrapping, the derelict liner portrayed a top secret MI6 base, hidden in Hong Kong harbour in the 1974 James Bond film, "The Man with the Golden Gun". In the course of the film, while passing the wreck, the announcer on the Hong Kong-Macau hydrofoil ferry announces the liner sank in 1971, while the actual date was January 1972.

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RMS Queen Elizabeth 2 (QE2)

Queen Elizabeth 2, Inchgreen Dry Dock, Greenock, 1970, Fox
Queen Elizabeth 2 1970
Inchgreen Dry Dock Greenock

The RMS Queen Elizabeth 2, or QE2, was launched on September 20, 1967. The vessel was Job No 736 at John Brown's shipyard, where it was also referred to as Q4. There had been plans for a replacement of the Queen Mary during the 1950s, the Q3, but this was eventually cancelled. The name of the new ship remained a closely guarded secret until launch ceremony of 1969, by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. The QE2 was not named after Queen Elizabeth II, but after the previous RMS Queen Elizabeth. Since Roman numerals are always used to denote monarchs, the Arabic numeral 2 was used to distinguish the new ship's name from that of the reigning monarch. When Queen Elizabeth II launched the ship, she referred to it as "Queen Elizabeth the Second", although it is normally referred to as "Queen Elizabeth 2" rather than "Queen Elizabeth the Second", and more usually shortened to "QE2".

The ship's original steam turbines were of a novel design which, on their maiden voyage to Southampton, proved to be faulty. Redesigned and rebuilt, they operated well until 1982, when they were replaced by nine turbocharged diesel engines driving alternators which drove twin screws via electric motors. This reduced fuel consumption by something like 50% and increased speed to 34 knots. This refit was also the reason for the fitting of new and larger funnel, a single item (originally painted white, but reverted to Cunard colours in 1983) with an air scoop located on each side which served to lift exhaust gases above the aft decks.

Cunard Line sold the QE2 to Dubai World, for $100 million. The ship was to be delivered to its new owners in November 2008, for conversion into a luxury hotel, complete with retail and entertainment complex next to the Palm Jumeirah, Dubai, then the largest man made island in the World.

War service

During the Falkland's War of 1982, the Government requisitioned the QE2 to carry troops to the conflict. The ship emerged unscathed, and once refitted and re-engined, returned to service as a liner.

Emotional ties to the Clyde

In 1967, the Scottish shipbuilding industry was aged and disintegrating, much of the machinery used to build the QE2 dated back to the 19th century, and the yards found themselves increasingly unable to compete with more modern foreign shipyards. Q4 would the last big ship built on the Clyde and Glasgow folksinger Matt McGinn wrote a song in her praise entitled "The Ballad of Q4", which contained the immortal line "We'll never see the likes of her again!" Clydesiders up and down the river and firth took the QE2 to their hearts, so much so that on her 40th anniversary cruise to Greenock on September 20, 2007, thousands of people turned out to see her departure. The main street through Greenock came to a virtual standstill for most of the day, and by the time she came to leave even the back streets had come to a stop.

Final visit to the Clyde

On Sunday, October 5, 2008, the QE2 made her last visit to the Clyde when she visited Greenock Ocean Terminal on her final round the country tour prior to sailing to Dubai to become a floating hotel. Escorted by the destroyer HMS Glasgow, and an armada of small ships and boats, she made her way to the terminal. As usual, thousands of people had turned out to see her.

She sailed for her final Scottish port, Queensferry on the Firth of Forth, at 22:00 BST following a firework display to mark her departure. Again, thousands of people waited in the cold and dark to watch her leave the Clyde for the last time.

Departure for Dubai

On Tuesday November 11, 2008, the QE2 sailed from Southampton to the accompaniment of a massive fireworks display. Her final visit to Southampton had been somewhat traumatic - she hit a sandbank in the Solent on the way in and had to be pulled off by tugs.

On the November 13, 2008, The Daily Express revealed plans for the liner once in Dubai. The paper stated that the ship would undergo massive works to satisfy the requirements of the new owners. The funnel was to be removed to allow the engine room to be stripped out, with the machinery being lifted out through the hole left by the funnel. A smaller replica of the original funnel was to be constructed elsewhere on the upper deck, where it was to feature as the entrance to the ship/hotel. All the lifeboats were to be removed, and massive internal alterations made to the accommodation areas to suit the liner's use as a floating hotel.

The paper claimed this came as a surprise to most people, who were said to have wrongly assumed that the ship would be preserved, in outward appearance at least.

On the November 26, 2008, the lunchtime BBC News showed live pictures of the QE2 arriving in Dubai, and confirmed that the above alterations to the ship would be taking place. It was also noted that this was the 40th anniversary of her launch.


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