A 1936 poster for the Queen Mary
The construction of the Queen Mary represented the pinnacle of passenger ship building for Cunard.
As early as 1926, plans began for a new record-breaking liner to replace the Mauretania.
However, it wasn’t until 1930 that Cunard announced that a new 1,000 ft, 81,000 ton liner would be built by Glasgow’s John Brown & Co. Ltd.
The ship’s keel was laid on January 31, 1931, and she was launched in 1934 by King George V’s queen consort, Mary of Teck, at Clydebank.
Work on the ship was completed in March 1936 and she sailed the Clyde as far as Arran for preliminary trials. After sailing to Southampton to be painted, the Queen Mary was handed over to Cunard on 11 May.
The ship’s propulsion machinery produced a massive 160,000 shp (shaft horsepower) and gave it a speed of over 30 knots (34 mph).
It made an inaugural cruise from Southampton on May 14 and then made its maiden voyage, on the Southampton-Cherbourg-New York route, on May 27. Despite the expectation that the ship would attempt to break speed records on its maiden voyage, a thick fog hung over any hopes of this.
In August 1938, it set new records for both eastbound and westbound transatlantic crossings. She made her last commercial voyage from Southampton on August 30, 1939 and then remained in New York until the end of the year while it was decided what role the ship would play in the war.
On March 7, 1940, the newly completed Queen Elizabeth arrived to join the Queen Mary, Mauretania and Normandie in New York. On March 21, the Queen Mary left New York with orders to sail to Cape Town and Sydney. Upon arrival, the ship was converted into a troopship.
The luxurious furniture was removed and piles of bunk beds and hammocks were installed. Although small caliber guns were mounted on the ship, the main protection was speed.
In 1941 it was equipped with heavier caliber guns and anti-aircraft guns.
The future role of the Queen Mary would be in the North Atlantic. An urgent journey with American troops to Sydney, however, was a priority. By the end of July 1942 it had returned to New York. In the following months it sailed to the Clyde and Suez and then returned to the US with a number of German prisoners of war.
The Queen Mary’s propulsion engines produced a massive 160,000 SHP (shaft horsepower) and gave it a speed of over 30 knots
On August 2, 1942, it began making rapid eastward journeys with 10,000-15,000 American troops at a time.
On September 27, 1946, the Queen Mary was handed back to Cunard.
During its war service, it had traveled more than 600,000 miles and carried nearly 800,000 people. A ten-month refit was then started in Southampton.
Air conditioning was installed and the passenger accommodation was modified to accommodate 711 first class, 707 cabin class and 577 economy class passengers. It then made its maiden voyage on July 31, 1947, from Southampton to New York.
It made its last transatlantic crossing on September 16, 1967.
There was much speculation about the ship’s future use, but that came to an end in July when Cunard decided to sell the liner to the city of Long Beach for £1,230,000.
The Queen Mary’s trip to Long Beach was converted to a cruise to recoup some of the travel expenses.
It departed on October 31, stopping in Lisbon, Las Palmas, Rio de Janeiro, Valparaiso, Callao, Balboa, Acapulco and finally Long Beach.
It arrived in Long Beach on December 9 to begin its new role as a museum, hotel and conference center.
The Queen Mary remains there today as a testament to the Atlantic ferry’s ultimate achievement.
Michael Gallagher, historian of Cunard