The Ultimate Imperator

The Ultimate Imperator

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RMS IMPERATOR


 

 

 


RMS Imperator

11 Dec 1919 E24 Feb 1921

The next cycle in the life of the Imperator occurred on 29 August 1919, when the Allied Naval Commission gave the Imperator to the Shipping Controller of Britain. Then on 20 September, the Shipping Controller announced that the Imperator would be leased out to the Cunard Line and put under their control. The United States protested the motion, stating that the original peace agreement clearly put the Imperator under American ownership. The States strengthened their argument with documentation showing how they had spent nearly 300,000 pounds refitting the ship, and felt that some sort of reimbursement was due. Despite months of US protest, on 21 November 1919, Washington announced that the Imperator was to be officially given to Great Britain. Three days later on 24 November on the North side of Pier 54 of the Cunard Line, Ass't Secretary of the Navy, Franklin D. Roosevelt certified the final de-commissioning. It was an event rife with a bustle of activity and marine formality that began with the lowering of the Stars and Stripes to a traditional bugle call. Already on board at the time and watching from her deck was Cap't. Millar, Cunard Marine Superintendent, and Cap't. Palfrey, the assistant superintendent. Joining them was the Imperator's new commander, Cap't. Charles Appleton Smith.

The Imperator officially became a British merchant vessel on 11 December 1919 when she was renamed the RMS Imperator and sailed out of New York with about 2,741 onboard and with her funnels painted in the Cunard red and black. But the voyage wasn't quite the glorious second maiden voyage that the Imperator should have enjoyed. The coal supplied by the US was of a very low grade and combined with the poor maintenance upkeep on her engines and boilers the fuel depleted faster than expected. As a result, stops at Plymouth and Cherbourg were cancelled and toward the end of the voyage much of the alcohol had to be carefully rationed and the food supplies became frightfully low. By the time docked in Liverpool on Sunday, 21 December at 10 am, the voyage had taken 11 days - 4 days longer than expected.

The British wasted no time and immediately put her into dry dock for a thorough restoration and refitting. Most of the work was to her engines. However, as the ship had suffered esthetically during her long hiatus in the Elbe River and her post-war use as a trooper there was also significant housekeeping that had to be undertaken in her public rooms and suites. Second and Third class had suffered the most and required repainting and new furniture throughout. In the Third class lounge the upgrades were quite significant. The dark wood paneling was extensively repaired and polished. To compliment this rich dark wood panel interior, translucent curtains were hung over the pane glass doors and windows, and a generous selection of plush armchairs and couches were offered as a comfortable alternative to the rooms traditional wooden lounge chairs. On some tables were placed small potted ferns, while larger potted ferns were put on the floor at the base of the columns that ran down the center of the lounge. Compared to Third Class, the paint and wood work in the First Class public rooms were in well-preserved condition and only required cleaning. But due to her use as a troopship, the public rooms were low on furniture and the carpets had been removed from the upper and lower dining rooms. Cunard remedied the situation by borrowing furniture from the Transylvania and Carmania to fill out the First class public rooms and the Ritz Carlton. The remedial work was such that the Imperator's original German decor, color schemes, accessories, and design elements were left in place and allowed the Imperator to retain much of its Germany identity and craftsmanship. However, on 6 January, Cunard's dry dock inspection team discovered corrosion along the edges of the propellers and a chunk of steel missing from the bottom of the rudder. As a result, the planned maiden voyage on 10 January 1920 was cancelled.

The first voyage of the RMS Imperator from her home in Liverpool was 21 February 1920 - two months after her arrival. After a brief stop over in New York, she left 2 March for England. On route, the ship's ash ejector malfunctioned. As a result, the excess building of wastes gave the Imperator a list and the voyage took ten days. When she arrived late in Liverpool (Southampton), Cunard sent her for a major 10-day refit. Her passenger carrying capacity was altered to 970 First Class, 830 Second Class, 606 Third Class, and 515 in Tourist Class. Steerage is left empty.
For two days on 21 and 22 March, the Imperator underwent basic sea trials and inspections, and by 6 June, her homeport had been switched from Liverpool to Southampton.
During the summer of 1920 the Imperator was continually in the news. Most of the stories stemmed from the rumor that the Imperator was losing as much as $50,000 a voyage. Once this information leaked there were wild press speculations concerning her future, especially since it was common knowledge that she was contracted out to the Cunard Line for only seven round trips after which she would be put back into the control of the British Ministry of Shipping. Stories ranged from her decommissioning to one popular story that hinted at the great ship being permanently docked and refitted as a floating hotel. Regardless of the media gossip, the Imperator continued sail through the summer and right into Fall. In August 1920 a worker was killed by falling coal inside the bunker. The worker's name was Henry Jerrim and he apparently had been standing too close to the bunker when a tremendous rush of coal thundered out and down through a trap door in the iron deck to the bunker at the bottom of the ship. The depth of bled coal was estimated at 30 feet. During the investigation, Charles Fulford a fellow coal worker who witnessed the accident said "the accident was due to the coal having been drawn from beneath, without them being given warning. Coal often fell in this manner, but this was the first time he had known a serious case" James Leo Bradley, the engineer who was in charge of the port watch in the engine room at the time of the incident, stated that coal was being drawn from No 2 bunker about the time of the accident. No extraordinary amount of coal was being drawn at any time, and, in his opinion, coal was not drawn in such a quantity as to cause the accident. The inquest delivered a verdict of accidental death, based on the evidence that the victim had died of suffocation and a rider was issued saying that a system of warning be organized to prevent a recurrence of such an incident.
Around the time of this accident, co-incidentally, the Ministry of Shipping tossed about the idea of installing a cost-saving on-board plant to crush coal that would then be shoved into modified boilers.  But with the possibility of the Berengaria being fitted with oil burning engines in the foreseeable future, the plan was abandoned.
Throughout the winter of 1920 and 1921, sailed proudly. On Saturday, 11 December 1920 with Charles A. Smith, C.B.E., R.D., R.N.R. as captain, the Imperator set out from Southampton for New York with a stop at Cherbourg. There were 100 in First Class (Saloon), and 451 in Second Class. During the voyage an orchestra was on hand daily to play the First and Second Class dining rooms. The band would start in Second Class with a recital from 10 to 11am. Then from 1:00 to 2:10pm the orchestra would play First Class before moving to Second Class and playing brief from 3:30 to 4pm. In the evening, the orchestra played from 7:10 to 8:45 in First Class and then 9:00 to 10:00 pm in Second Class.
On the 15 December 1920 return voyage to Southampton, there was a fundraiser with song and dance for the British and American Seamen's Charities benefiting the Seaman's Orphan Institution of Liverpool. The Seaman's Orphan Institution was created to provide financial aid to orphans and the widows and children of men lost at sea.


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