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S.S. Vaterland / S.S. Leviathan

Ship Statistics:

Blohm & Voss Hull No. 212
Length Overall: 950 feet
Length Between Perpendiculars (b.p.): 912 feet
Width: 100 feet
Draught: -37 feet 0 inches
- Later increased as Leviathan
Gross Tonnage: - 54,281.718 (1914)
- 59,956 (1923)
- 48,590 (1931)
Displacement: app. 66,800 tons at 40 feet 0 inches
Career: May 14, 1914-December 1937
- Scrapped

The History of the Leviathan:

The ship that was well-known as the United States Line's Leviathan started out life as the second of the great Hamburg-Amerika Line trio. Laid down at Blohm & Voss's Hamburg shipyard as Hull No. 212.

Her real beauty, shared with her sister to follow, was not just in her size and remarkable powerplant, but also in her first class interior spaces. She was given split funnel uptakes, which allowed for a central vista down the long axis of the ship, most notably through all of the B Deck public rooms, which were otherwise comparable with her sister Imperator's.

On her trials, which spanned April 29 and 30, the ship developed an astonishing 90,400 shp, and achieved a speed of 26.3 knots. This led some to believe that this vessel might have the capacity to take the Blue Riband back from the Mauretania. In the end, however, the Vaterland never did take back the trophy from her British  rival, although she did prove to be a remarkably swift liner.

The Vaterland entered service, starting her maiden voyage to New York on May 14, 1914. In total, she made three round trips between Europe and New York. After making her fourth west-bound crossing to New York, the Great War started. Suddenly, she was caught in the port of a neutral nation, with British warships waiting on the Atlantic route for her to try and make a run for it.

In the end, she stayed in New York until the United States entered the war, at which time she was seized by the government; her crew, although ordered to damage the ship so that she could not be reused, had apparently been so attached to the liner that they could not bring themselves to ruin her.

After a hasty conversion, (and being renamed the Leviathan) she became a troopship, carrying thousands of American doughboys to the fronts and, after the war concluded, back again. Then she was put through a thorough conversion, under the watchful eye of naval architect William Francis Gibbs, and entered service with the United States Lines on July 4, 1923.

She was touted as the "world's largest ship," for her gross tonnage was not touted as 59,956, instead of her previous 54,282. Her longer, larger sister, the Majestic was registered at only 56,551 tons. On the surface, it might appear that the Leviathan had somehow managed to gain 5,674 gross tons during her conversion, and that she was now some 3,405 tons larger than her sister. However, the real reason that her gross tonnage was so inflated was because of the differences between the British and American systems of measuring gross tonnage. In reality, the Majestic was still the larger of the two ships.

Throughout the 1920's, the Leviathan proved to be a very popular ocean liner -- in 1927, for example, she carried more passengers than did her two former sisters, Majestic and Berengaria, and in 1929, she carried more passengers than any other liner. However, she was significantly hampered by the lack of suitable running mates to set up a balanced service. She was also, during the madness of "Prohibition" in the United States, a "dry ship," which tended to motivate thirsty Americans toward ships registered with Great Britain and with bars stocked full of liquors.

With the onset of the depression in late 1929, things grew dark for the Leviathan's management. She spent much time between 1935 and 1938 laid up in Hoboken, and in January of that year was sold for scrap. Had she been under different management, or paired with more suitable running mates during her career, she might have outlasted both of her previous sister ships and found use during the Second World War.

Recommended Reading on the Leviathan

In addition to my own chapter on the Leviathan in the new version of Atlantic Liners: A Trio of Trios, there is not much material available on this all-too-forgotten ship available. The notable exception to this vacuum is a remarkable 6-volume set of oversize books on the ship entitled, "The Story of the Leviathan: The World's Greatest Ship," by maritime historian Frank O. Braynard.

These books cover the ship and her history from top to bottom, bow to stern, and are unparalleled in books on maritime history. If you have interest in the Leviathan, this is the set to get. Save your pennies, though, because this out-of-print set is not cheap.

Vaterland / Leviathan Images

This photograph of the Leviathan was taken during World War One, while she was serving as a troop transport for the Americans. Her badly kept-up appearance and faded "dazzle" paint scheme are merely superficial. The ex-Vaterland will have a career in peace once again. ~ Author's Collection. The Leviathan, dazzle painted, apparently departing her Hoboken Pier, and under the escort of a veritable flotilla. ~ Author's Collection. The Leviathan in Boston's South Drydock, 1924, in a dramatic bow-on view. ~ Author's Collection.
The Leviathan in commercial service during the twenties. ~ Author's Collection. The photo at left, colorized by the author. ~ Author's Collection. An original painting by Charles Wilson, showing the Leviathan under escort from tugboats. ~ From the Collection of the Peabody Essex Museum. Used with permission.
The Leviathan at Ocean Dock in Southampton, England. ~ Author's Collection.

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