RMS Homeric (1922)
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|Owner:||White Star Line|
|Launched:||1913 as Columbus for North German Lloyd|
|Christened:||January 1922 as Homeric|
|Maiden voyage:||15 February 1922|
|Fate:||Served for 13 years from 1922 to 1935. Scrapped.|
|Length:||774 ft (236 m)|
|Beam:||82.3 ft (25.1 m)|
|Speed:||Before refit: 18 knots (33 km/h) After refit: 19.5 knots (36.1 km/h)|
|Capacity:||2,145 passengers: 750 First Class, 545 Second Class, 850 Third Class|
|Notes:||sister ship to SS Columbus (1924)|
RMS Homeric, originally launched as Columbus, was built for Norddeutscher Lloyd and launched in 1913 at the F. Schichau yard in Danzig. Columbus was ceded to Great Britain in 1919 as part of German war reparations. She was sold to White Star Line in 1920, which named her Homeric. Her sister ship Hindenburg retained her German ownership and was renamed Columbus. Homeric was operated by White Star from 1922 to 1935.
It took Britain's Cunard Line less than a year following World War I to re-establish their Atlantic supremacy with a three ship weekly service to New York. The Mauretania, Aquitania and ironically enough, the very ship that was built to compete with them, the Imperator as the Berengaria, were all plying the Atlantic as if the war had never even happened. Cunard had lost only one superliner, the Lusitania in 1915, but White Star's fleet was another story. The 48,000-ton flagship Britannic was lost in the Aegean in 1916, and the superb 17,000-ton Oceanic of 1899 had been wrecked on the islands of Foula in 1914. When the war was over, the Treaty of Versailles appropriated two German superliners to White Star, the 56,000-ton Bismarck, third and largest of Albert Ballin’s great Imperator Class trio, left unfinished at the Blohm & Voss Shipyard, and the 35,000-ton Columbus at F. Schicau in Danzig. While both ships had been launched, they were far from complete, and it would take a further two years for them to be outfitted entirely, leaving White Star out of the loop so to speak until mid 1922.
Laid down in 1912, the Columbus was the first of two of vessels ordered by Norddeutscher Lloyd (North German Lloyd) for their premiere run, Bremerhaven to New York. At 35,000 tons, they would be large ships for their day. Powered by tried-and-true triple expansion reciprocating engines, the two new liners would be twin screw (the largest in the world until the advent of the Mauretania of 1938), and have a relatively modest service speed of just a shade over 18 knots (33 km/h).
Launched 17 December 1913, the Columbus was the largest ship in Norddeutscher Lloyd's fleet. However, work on the new liner was halted entirely in August 1914, as her builders became inundated with naval contracts. The unfinished steamship was moved from her fitting out berth and laid up in Danzig as the drama of World War I played out. Rusting and neglected, the unfinished Columbus, like most of the German merchant fleet, was ceded to the British as reparation for the ships they had lost in the war. In 1920 construction was resumed under the watchful eye of officials sent down from Harland and Wolff, but work was slow, plagued by material shortages and a workforce that had no ambition to finish the ship only to hand it over to the British. While the ship's accommodations would be of the typical White Star standard—luxurious and fashionable—her original coal-powered system was left intact rather than replaced with an oil-fired system which was becoming the standard on the North Atlantic liners. The time needed to complete the conversion was simply too great during a time that the line was short of ships.
Following in the White Star tradition of names ending in -ic, the Columbus was renamed Homeric. Finally completed in late 1921, the Homeric was handed over by a reluctant builder. The new liner had performed remarkably well on her trials, hinting at a characteristic that would earn her many loyal passengers: stability. By some fluke of design, the Homeric was virtually a roll-less ship unlike for instance the French Line's France. There were no great Frahm's Anti-Rolling tanks or anti-rolling gyroscopes, just an exceptionally balanced hull and form.
Resplendent in her White Star livery, the newly completed Homeric arrived in Southampton 21 January 1922. Her speed trials had been conducted in the North Sea on the way to her new home port, and she actually exceeded the builders' expectations by a half knot. Once docked, a few minor adjustments and finishing touches were made, and just one month later, on 21 February 1922, Homeric departed Southampton on her maiden voyage to New York. She joined the venerable old Olympic, still one of the most stylish ships on the Atlantic and in May, Bismarck—successfully transformed into the flagship Majestic—would arrive and complete the three-ship service, operating in direct competition against Cunard's Mauretania, Aquitania, and Berengaria (the former German Imperator and Majestic's sister-ship).
Settling quickly into her Atlantic routine, the Homeric proved to be a popular ship for White Star, although her speed became a major concern for the line, for at 18 knots (33 km/h), the Homeric could not keep pace with her fleet-mates, making it difficult to maintain a weekly schedule. At the conclusion of her second season, in October 1923, Homeric was removed from service for an extended winter overhaul, and her boilers were converted to burn fuel oil. The extensive re-working would require a full eight months at the shipyard, but on 9 April 1924, she was returned to service, proving to be slightly faster, averaging 19.5 knots (36.1 km/h) for her first crossing. Still, even at 19.5 knots (36.1 km/h) she could not be successfully matched with the Olympic and Majestic, both with a service speed above 21 knots (39 km/h). Nevertheless, the increase did reduce one day from her average transatlantic voyage.
In April 1925 Homeric received a distress signal from the Japanese freighter Raifuku Maru which was listing dangerously in heavy seas and taking on water. Homeric and another ship, King Alexander, sped to Raifuku Maru's position, but the rough seas prevented her from getting closer. Homeric's crew and passengers watched helplessly as the Japanese freighter sank with all thirty eight of her crew. This incident became controversial after several passengers accused Homeric's crew of not making enough effort to rescue the crew of the stricken ship. The Japanese government even accused the Homeric's crew of racism. Although these accusations were strenuously denied.2
Built with the steerage trade in mind, Homeric had a huge portion of her accommodations devoted to immigrants, and when the United States curtailed the flow of foreign settlers in the mid-1920s the Homeric was particularly hard hit. Her transatlantic crossings began to lose money as early as 1926, and the ship was sent on cruises around the Mediterranean and Caribbean. Even though the liner had only been in service since 1922, by 1927 she was seriously showing her age. Launched in 1913, her hull and inner workings were nearing twenty years old. Cracks had been discovered in her hull and superstructure, as well as the thrust blocks in the engine rooms, but like her fleet-mates, the Homeric plied on, sailing at reduced speed and avoiding the worst of the North Atlantic’s squalls. In 1928, White Star formally announced the thousand-foot-long Oceanic, meant to replace the aging Olympic and Homeric. However, the new Oceanic was never to be, as White Star was unable to secure the financing for such a ship, and instead built two smaller motorliners, Britannic and Georgic. Once the Georgic entered service, Homeric became surplus on the Atlantic and she was sent cruising full-time. On 1 June 1932, she departed New York on her final transatlantic crossing. Her career on the Atlantic was indeed short-lived, as she only provided transatlantic service for ten years.
Cruising from British ports to the Mediterranean, the Homeric was one of the first liners to be used exclusively as a cruise ship, She handled this position brilliantly, and soon was well established in the cruising industry. Although the Homeric never succumbed to any great disaster, she was involved in one minor incident while at anchor off Tenerife on 28 September 1932. Cia Transmediterrania’s small Isla de Tenerife failed to steer while circling the Homeric, slamming into the side of the ship near the bow. Luckily, the larger ship was not badly damaged and her cruise continued.
As White Star’s financial situation worsened in the early 1930s, the Homeric’s future became increasingly grim. With the company’s funds nearly depleted, and the acquisition of White Star by their rival Cunard, Homeric’s days were numbered. In 1934, the two companies merged, and the Homeric was declared surplus again, slated to be sold to the breakers upon completion of the merger. All, of course, was contingent on the success of 534, the ship that would later be known as the Queen Mary. In July 1935, the Homeric participated in King George V's Silver Jubilee fleet review, a prestigious honor, but only two months later, the Homeric was laid up, never to see any sort of use again. By 1938, the Homeric was gone.
Despite her scrapping, many of her interior furnishings survive to this day. The former Rex Cinema in Stonehouse, Scotland preserves much of the Homeric's grand interior to this day. Although the building is not generally open to the public as it is now used at a storage facility on some occasions visitors are allowed in by the owners. It was recently featured on episode 2, series 9 of the BBC program Timeshift about the Golden Age of Liners.34
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