Launched in the late 1920's, the SS Bremen was one of two German greyhounds to sail the seas. Both the Bremen and sister ship, SS Europa, were equals in both power, speed, technological prowess, and grandeur.
Between both World Wars, while Germany continued to climb out of reparations dealt from the Treaty of Paris, these two ships were triumphs over defeat. Both independently financed and operated, the ships signified Germany's resolve.
Launched two days after the SS Europa, the Bremen was seen as the larger, more prized of the two, perhaps due to the ship's namesake and slight size advantage. The typical transatlantic crossings and adventurous affair to enter WWII are novel worthy.
A Ship Bred for Speed
Germany, known for engineering triumphs, fully incorporated this into the design of the Bremen. The Bremen and Europa both were the first nation-bearing ocean liners to incorporate the Taylor bulbous bow design, where in the front beneath the water line the hull grow creating a bulbous shape in order to more effectively displace the water during forward movement. Both the Bremen and Europa captured the Blue Riband several times, unusual for two competing sister ships. This speed allowed for two weekly crossings, a service typically requiring three ships.
Sleek Funnels and a Seaplane
One of the features of the Bremen are the notoriously stubby funnels. This design feature, utilized by both ships, was to signify a futuristic aerodynamic design. Unfortunately, one of the consequences of this aesthetic became too much for passengers to endure: soot. Without proper exhausting of the boiler fumes, soot would accumulate on the deck where passengers frequented. Shortly into their service, the funnels were extended by 15' to become a more traditional looking ship.
Another feature of the two ships was the express mail service, utilizing a seaplane and catapult. A catapult, similar to the one on the SS Europa, would send a plane with mail before the ship arrived in port, expediting the mail services to passengers.
A Daring Escape at the start of WWII
During the late 1930's, as political tensions began to rise worldwide, the shipping industry stood at the forefront to feel the affects.
As Germany prepared to invade Poland in August of 1939, orders were released to recall all German merchant ships back to German ports. The orders caught the Bremen mid-crossing and unable to return without stranding a full compliment of passengers. Captain Ahrens decided to continue to New York in order to allow the passengers to disembark.
During the few days in New York, United States customs agents performed an unusually thorough inspection of the ship, citing any reason to keep the Bremen docked in the US. Captain Ahrens coordinated his crew to prepare for escape. Purchasing paint and theater blackout paper, he recalled all of his crew and upon passing inspection, the ship set sail immediately.
SS Bremen, Another Casualty of War
Once passing the Ambrose Lightship, the Bremen ran. With speeds surpassing 28 knots, the ship was determined to make it home. With the portholes and windows covered, the crew hastily painted the ship gray en-route in order to avoid detection from Allied forces.
With extra lookouts posted and running on radio silence, the ship avoided detection until reaching the Soviet port of Murmansk. While docked in Murmansk, the ship eventually slipped out and sailed into Bremerhaven December 13, 1939.
Welcomed home with a hero's welcome, the Bremen began the transformation to help the war effort. Dedicated as a troop transport for Operation Sea Lion, the planned German invasion of Britain, the ship was being stripped and prepared.
On March 16, 1941, a fire broke out and devastated the ship. After being determined that the fire was arson from a disgruntled employee, not a deliberate war attack, the ship was slowly dismantled to utilize the steel for other wartime needs. In 1946 following the war, the remaining wreck was towed several miles up the river and slowly dismantled further. The last remains can be seen at low tide, a faint reminder of a proud ship that was.