She began life in the service of the Hamburg-Amerika Line. Laid down at the A. G. Vulcan Works shipyard in June of 1910 as Hull No. 314, she was launched on May 23, 1912 as the Imperator, a tribute by HAPAG Director Albert Ballin to his friend Kaiser Wilhelm II. She was the largest moving object in the world on that day, just a month after the loss of White Star's Titanic.
She was officially delivered to HAPAG exactly one year after her launch, May 23, 1913, and began her maiden voyage on June 10, delayed by a grounding incident and a boiler explosion. She was the most luxurious ship in the world, a "first-rate hotel," but suffering notable deficiencies desired in an Atlantic liner. She quickly became notorious as a drunken roller on the high seas, and after her first season in service, drastic measures were taken to increase her stability.
When the Great War started in August of 1914, she was in Germany, and remained laid up throughout the war, safely sheltered from the dangers presented to other liners of the day. When the war ended, she was at first taken over by the United States as the U.S.S. Imperator to aid in the repatriation of American troops. Then she was taken over by the Cunard Line, offered for sale to them as reparations for their lost Lusitania.
Initially, they ran her as the R.M.S. Imperator. She sailed for Cunard under this name for the first time -- from New York to Liverpool -- on December 11, 1919. She continued under that name for just over a year, but in early 1921, she was given the new name R.M.S. Berengaria, named after the wife of King Richard I of England. For nearly sixteen years, she remained in service with Cunard, earning the nickname, "The Happy Ship."
During the mid-1930's, when White Star and Cunard merged, she was re-paired for a short period with her old intended sister, White Star's Majestic.
However, the Berengaria began to succumb to the effects of old age and bad electrical wiring, suffering from a spate of fires. Eventually, in March of 1938, Cunard-White Star announced her retirement. She was purchased for scrapping on November 7 of that year. Although demolition started before the Second World War, it was interrupted by the conflict. The last remnants of the ship were not disposed of until July of 1946, some thirty-three years after her maiden voyage.
The author's favorite artistic rendition of the Berengaria at sea. ~ Author's Collection.
This postcard of the Berengaria was touted as sporting a "real photograph" of the ship. It was, however, heavily retouched. It was from the late portion of the ship's career. ~ Author's Collection.
This postcard of the Berengaria is from mid-1923. It was hence one of Cunard's earliest advertisements for their new acquisition. Four of the ship's interior spaces are shown, with a starboard profile. ~ Author's Collection.
An enlargement from the 1923 card: the First Class Dining Saloon of the Berengaria. ~ Author's Collection.
Another enlgargement: The First Class Lounge - Albert Ballin's old Social Hall in a new guise. ~ Author's Collection.
The third public room from the card: the First Class Smoking Room. ~ Author's Collection.
The 1923 postcard's fourth public room: the Palm Court. This was originally the Imperator's Grill Room during 1913, but was remodeled by Vulkan Werke after her first season in service. ~ Author's Collection.
A starboard profile of the new Berengaria, an enlargement from the 1923 postcard. ~ Author's Collection.
This original postcard of the Imperator is a rarity. Most appealing is its color representation of the ship. The buff colored funnels and the gilt eagle on the bow are the most recognizable features. Although certainly not a completely accurate image, it does convey the ship's presence - and her tall profile. ~ Author's Collection.
This original photograph in the author's collection was taken in the mid-1920's, most likely in the Southampton floating drydock. Work is being carried out on the Berengaria's starboard inboard prop. ~ Author's Collection.