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Some of the most famous Merchant ships of the world are shown on cigarette cards.

In the olden days when the world was just beginning to shrink people were not flying from A to B they were ploughing across the oceans on, what were, the largest moving man-made objects the globe had ever seen.

Ismay was one of the survivors of the Titanic and made himself rather unpopular as a result. Surviving broke him.

It is almost impossible to describe the impact these vessels would have had on the populace at the time. Mountains that moved were not the norm back then. I belong to a generation where spaceflight to Mars gets five minutes coverage and I will listen to three of them. The fact is the world is 'shrinking' at a pace too quick for most of us to contemplate. For example the Eiffel tower was built in March 1889 and remained the worlds tallest building until 1930's. It did not dawn on people to build anything taller. The space shuttle travels at 25 times the speed of sound, at the beginning of the century we were just learning to fly.

A car has reached the speed of sound, whereas a hundred years ago a Parliament passed an act to make sure a man with a red flag walked in front of every motorised vehicle. These developments are remarked on but in some respects expected. What amazes us now is the harnessing of mobs: How did the Egyptians build the pyramids? Why can't we make a film like 'Cleopatra' anymore?

A case in point is the largest ship on the face of the planet, the Jahre Viking

The Jahre Viking is presently the largest man-made moving object on the face of the planet 50ft taller than empire state building at 1504 foot long. The holds could swallow St Pauls cathedral four times over. It has a crew of 35, which means it only needs two lifeboats. Taking 5.5 miles to stop with a turning circle of 2 miles and carries 137 million tons of crude oil which is separated from the ocean by a 3.5 cm hull. If this has failed to impress you then please head back to whatever index you have come from and start again.

It says it all really about modern technology, absolutely monstrous but all but devoid of humanity, only 35 crew members.

Let me get back to where I want to be, the golden age of ocean travel as typified by Wills, Merchant Ships of the World a beautiful 50 card series which was issued in October 1924. An overseas issue was made in Feb 1925, which had slight differences in it, most notably TSS Letitian replaced TSS Albert Ballin (don't ask me why, I don't know.)

The set is beautiful. Probably at the end of Wills highest production values it is a set which truly should grace almost any collection.

If I had a criticism it would be the issue date, 1924, and there should have been a second series. It was an up-to-date set and as such does not include the most famous liner of all time, the Titanic, although it does have its sister ship and many more from the great White Star shipping line. (For those that care Wills, Celebrated Ships 1911 mentions the Titanic, card 40 & RJ Hill has a set with the Titanic in) More of that later.

By the issue date most of the tonnage that had gone to the bottom of the sea because of the global hostilities of World War One had been pretty much replaced.

The trans-atlantic passenger service was a very profitable business which was fought over by large companies commanded by larger men. Cunard was the first to raise the ante.

White Star responded to the Cunards initially larger and faster ships (Bothnia, 4555 tons, 1874, followed by Umbria, 7718 tons, 1884 and then Campania, 12950 tons, 1893) with the Teutonic and Majestic of 9686 tons each in 1890.

White Star then increased the stakes when J. Bruce Ismay by launching the Celtic [1901], Cedric [1903] and Baltic [1904] and finally Adriatic [1907]

All four of these ground-breaking vessels appear in the Wills set at card 43, 42, 41 and 39 respectively.

These were collectively known as 'The Big Four'. The route for these ships was Liverpool, Queenstown and New York. The Adriatic was the largest of these four and as the card says, it is the largest ship to regularly sail from Liverpool. The reverse of each of these cards is obsessed with the size of these vessels. It is interesting to note the Adriatic had accommodation for 3000 passengers with a staff of 500.

The Baltic and the Cedric were capable of carrying just as many passengers although the crew compliment was 350. The Celtic carried 2200. 1600 of which were made up of third class passengers. It was fairly typical that the large quantities of lower class passengers basically paid for the affluence of the first class passengers. Always been the way, always will be the way. Lower income groups spend a higher proportion of their income on lottery tickets so the rich can spend less on opera tickets. Its a fact of life.

Cunard needed to react quickly if they were not to be left behind. Fortunately for the company the German government had been building rather large liners and the British government had become somewhat alarmed.

Details from Card
Richard Lloyd, Atlantic Records #21 mentions Mauretania:
The "Mauretania" was built on the Tyne and was launched on November 16th 1907. She was 787 feet long, 88 feet beam and 36 feet 3 inches draught, with gross tonnage, 30703, in September 1910, she won the Atlantic 'Blue Riband' when she crossed from Queenstown to New York in four days ten hours and forty-one minutes, or at 26.06 knots. The 'Mauretania' again reduced her own unbeaten record in August, 1929, by crossing from New York to Plymouth in four days seventeen hours, and forty-nine minutes or at 27.22 knots. She made her last of 350 Atlantic voyages on September 26th, 1934, and on April 2nd, 1935 was sold for breaking up.

They probably would have been more alarmed if they knew the duel purpose for which these liners were being built. Anyway this German build-up meant the British government decided to heavily subsidize the building of the Lusitania and the Mauretania. Propelled by steam turbines they were larger and faster than anything else on the oceans. Both these vessels were launched in 1907.

Wills has the Mauretania on card 16. It notes that she still held all the Atlantic speed records at that time.

The Lloyd set was produced in 1935 and shows the fate of many of these great vessels, sold as so much scrap.

These ships were capable of 26 knots whereas the best White Star could muster was 21 knots. To get to this sort of speed White Star calculated it would need to reduce its passenger and cargo carrying capacity. It was this fact which set it on a course for luxury.

Over cigars and coffee Lord Pirrie & J. Bruce Ismay drew up the plans for the three great liners. 100 feet longer and 15000 tons heavier. Luxury and safety were the selling points for this venture. White Star had transported 2,179,594 souls between 1902 and 1912 and had only lost 2 souls during that period.

The Olympic was a vessel so similar to the Titanic that archive footage so often shown as the Titanic has only recently been unmasked as actual footage of the Olympic. Such is human nature that The Olympic is totally overshadowed by the great failure of its sister. The Titanic failed to make one trip and killed 1,523 people in the attempt. The Olympic managed the trip 500 times and was decommisioned in 1935 being sold for scrap for £100,000 ($170,000 approx).

The Olympic (under the command of Captain Haddock, you cannot make this stuff up) was one of four ships that answered the Titanic's distress calls that cold April night but was too far away to be of assistance. There is in fact quite an elaborate conspiracy theory about the sister ships which is one to read up on if you have got fed up of all the usual conspiracy theories.

Wills, Merchant Ships of the World (The Olympic)

The Olympic was the culmination of a fierce battle which had been raging between White Star and Cunard for the profitable Trans-Atlantic routes.

Captain Smith captained both boats. Although the Titanic is famous for sinking the Olympic should be famous for its accidents. The Olympic (eventually nicknamed Old Reliable) was holed above the waterline due to a collision with the cruiser, Hawke on her maiden voyage in 1912. The Hawke was not so lucky and sank due to the collision. She also sank the German U-Boat U103, on purpose this time. Later she hit the Furness liner, 'Fort St George' which was a rare survivor of an Olympic encounter. Finally the Nantucket Lightship was struck by this vessel and sent to the bottom of the ocean.

Perhaps history would have been different if the Olympic had struck an iceburg.

The Lusitania is not represented in the set for the same reason the Titanic is absent. On May 7 1915 a German U-Boat torpedoed the vessel sinking it off the Irish Coast as it was completing a journey which had begun in New York on May 1st. It sank killing 1200 of the 1959 passengers. The US Government was outraged by this sneak attack on its citizens and sent off a salvo of memos to the German government. Understandably shaken by such strong language he Germans did reduce U-Boat activities for a period but begun again in early 1917 which brought the US into the war.
Five years after the sinking of this vessel a life jacket from it was washed up in Philadelphia USA.

The first three cards of this set remembered ships which had been lost in the Great War. All three belonged to the Anchor Line. They were the California, Cameronia and Tuscania. These vessels were replacements of ships lost in Feb 1917, April 1917 and Feb 1918 respectively.

The habit of recycling names can be more than a little confusing when charting ships histories, worse yet the fact they change names with changes of ownership.

For example, card 38 points out, The Leviathan was once the Vaterland, a German cruise ship. It does note the refit cost £2,000,000 just to prove we had better standards than the Germans no doubt.

Card 12, RMS Beregaria, 'the biggest of the big Cunarders' does not mention it had started life as the German, Imperator. The Majestic, card 47 had started life as the German, Bismarck. This is also the case for the Homeric (ex Columbus) and Arabic (ex Berlin).

SS America

Only the Majestic was to still be in service by World War Two and renamed the Caledonia she was used as a training ship before fire gutted her at Rosyth.

Sticking with this theme a moment longer, card 30, the Albert Ballin was not a name the Third Reich thought to suitable for war duties so it was renamed General Von Steuban and became a casualty of war as did the Resolute (card 35) having been renamed Lombardia it was torpedoed by a British submarine whilst on convoy duty.

Just one more before I leave this theme, the Ceramic, card 44, was to disappear in mysterious circumstances whilst taking a full compliment of passengers. A Japanese submarine attack was believed to have finished this ship but there has never been any concrete evidence as to how it all happened.

The largest cabin ship in the world is the S.S "America" of the United States Lines. The vessel is next to the George Washington in size for ships operating under the American flag, having an overall length of 687 ft, a breadth of 74 ft 3 ins., a depth of 54 ft., and a gross tonnage of 21,145. Accommodation for 693 cabin and 1242 steerage passengers. The "America" operates between New York and Bremen, touching Plymouth and Cherbourg en route, and returning by way of Southampton and Cherbourg.

Running a shipping line was no easy task and many a business relationship was made and broken as the time went on. Now I am not going to get into the details of how this meant the names of the ships were altered. But I have to give a brief account of the Regina, the last card in the set. She was the identical sister of the Doric (card 45) and Pisttsburgh (49) but unlike the other two (White Star) was actually laid down by the Dominion Line and operated by the Dominion/White Star service.

Anyway, in 1930 Regina passed to the Red Star line and renamed the Westerland. In 1939 the Westerland was passed over to Dutch ownership and was used as the wartime HQ of the Dutch Government in exile.

There are many more ships noted in this set which I have not been able to get too but those I have show just what an amazing part of history these ships represent.

If you can, make room for this set in your collection. It is a treat.