At the end of the roaring twenties, the Cunard and White Star fleet had merged, and most of the ships were over twenty years old. Cunard had sought to update the fleet and the idea of two liners running a true weekly transatlantic service.
The second of the two ships, the RMS Queen Elizabeth was able to benefit from an updated design over her predecessor, the RMS Queen Mary. As the ship neared completion in 1938, WWII engulfed Europe and construction halted and preparations for an escape were made to transition into a troopship. During WWII, the HMS Queen Elizabeth served alongside the Queen Mary in transporting millions of soldiers millions of miles.
After the war ended, the ship was reunited with her sister as a liner providing weekly service between NYC and Southampton. Near the end of her career, cut short due to fuel cost volatility and jet competition, the ship was sold off. First as a hotel and casino then to a sea based university, the ship caught fire during a refit in Hong Kong. The wreckage can be seen as the MI6 headquarters in James Bond - Man with the Golden Gun.
The Largest Passenger Liner, Ever
Slightly larger than the Queen Mary, the Queen Elizabeth held the title of largest passenger liner for over 50 years. During the construction in Scotland, work was nearing completion when global tensions began to rise leading up to WW2.
As work started on warships, focus turned away from the Queen Elizabeth. However, both sides saw the significance of the liner. German spies were reportedly tracking the ship. In order to thwart any plans, the Admiralty decided to announce the ship would move to be fitted out, whereas at dawn the ship quietly slipped out and made a run for the neutral United States.
Queen Elizabeth During WWII
Cruising in the golden age of ocean liners, the Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth, both of Cunard, competed against the Normandie of the French Line, shown to the right docked in New York at the onset of WWII.
Usually sailing alone, the Queens were determined to be fast enough to outrun any threat, allowing support ships to focus their efforts on other more vulnerable targets.
Painted a wartime grey, the ship was usually sprinting from theater to theater, transporting troops and supplies to wherever was needed.
A Partner on the High Seas
After the war ended, the ship was returned to Cunard to operate again as passenger service. The ship enjoyed over two decades of superiority on the high seas.
The Queen Elizabeth in her later years, was overhauled to provide both transatlantic and cruise ship service. The air conditioning was modernized, and exterior deck improvements were also performed. However, the deep draft of the ship as well as the overall width hindered the ship's ability to access smaller ports, and was too large for the Panama Canal at the time.
Sold in 1967 due to increased operating costs, the Queen Elizabeth was first bought by American businessmen to become a hotel casino in Ft. Lauderdale FL. Unfortunately, increased maintenance costs due to Folrida's inhospitable climate, the ship was auctioned off to a Chinese tycoon to become a floating university. Coaxed along, the Elizabeth completed a final voyage from Liverpool to Hong Kong and began the transformation to Seawise University.
During the transformation of the ship in 1972, a fire broke out, engulfing the entire ship in Hong Kong Bay. Either communist conflicts or an insurance scheme have been determined likely cause of arson. Located in a shipping channel, the wreck was dismantled, scrapped and the remaining hull could be found at the bottom of the harbor, but has subsequently been covered by a land reclamation project in the 1990's.
Seawise University, 007 MI6 HQ
RMS Queen Elizabeth Ship Facts
Number of Decks:
28.5 Knots (32.8 mph or 52.8 km/hr)
33 Knots (38mph or 61km/h)
Port of Registry:
March 3, 1940
Years in Service:
1972 a fire erupted in Hong Kong harbor, the ship sank and has since been scrapped
RMS Queen Elizabeth Frequently Asked Questions
When was the Queen Elizabeth built? Answer: The Queen Elizabeth was built in 1938 by the Cunard Line and was launched on September 27, 1938, but did not see passenger service until after WW2 in 1946.
How long was the Queen Elizabeth in service? Answer: The Queen Elizabeth was in service from 1946 until 1968. It was retired from service and sold to a Hong Kong-based company, which intended to convert it into a floating university, but the project was never completed.
What were some notable features of the Queen Elizabeth? Answer: The Queen Elizabeth was known for its luxurious interiors, including a grand staircase, a ballroom, and a large dining room. It also had advanced technology for its time, including air conditioning, radar, and a stabilized platform for the ship's guns as a troopship.
What happened to the Queen Elizabeth after it was retired? Answer: After the Queen Elizabeth was retired, it was sold to a Hong Kong-based company, which intended to convert it into Seawise University, a floating academic institution. However, the project was never completed as the ship caught fire during the conversion on January 9, 1972 and capsized in Hong Kong Harbor. The burnt wreckage was eventually sold for scrap in 1974-75 with the rest of the wreck ultimately being buried in a land reclamation project in the 1990’s.
Did the Queen Elizabeth ever serve in a war? Answer: Yes, during World War II, the Queen Elizabeth was used as a troop transport, carrying soldiers and supplies to Europe. It was also used to transport troops to the Pacific theater of the war.
What was the Queen Elizabeth's top speed? Answer: The Queen Elizabeth had a top speed of 32 knots (37 mph or 59 km/h), which made it one of the fastest ocean liners of its time.
How many passengers could the Queen Elizabeth accommodate? Answer: The Queen Elizabeth could accommodate up to 2,283 passengers and 1,032 crew members.
What happened to the Queen Elizabeth's sister ship, the Queen Mary? Answer: The Queen Mary was also built by the Cunard Line and was launched in 1934, four years before the Queen Elizabeth. After many years of service, it was retired in 1967 and is now permanently docked in Long Beach, California, where it serves as a museum and hotel.
Did any notable figures travel on the Queen Elizabeth? Answer: Yes, many famous people traveled on the Queen Elizabeth during its time in service, including Winston Churchill, Elizabeth Taylor, and the Beatles.
Was the Queen Elizabeth ever involved in any accidents or incidents? Answer: The Queen Elizabeth was involved in a collision with a British destroyer in 1942, but was able to continue its service after repairs. It also experienced a major fire in 1949 while in port in Hong Kong, but was again repaired and returned to service.