RMS Empress of Russia

The RMS "Empress of Russia" was an ocean liner built in 1912-1913 [The disambiguation date used in this article's title is not the year in which the hull is launched, but rather the year of the vessel's sea trial or maiden voyage.] by Fairfield Shipbuilding & Engineering Company at Govan on the Clyde in Scotland for Canadian Pacific steamships (CP). This ship regularly traversed the trans-Pacific route between Canada and the Far East. This "Empress" was distinguished by the Royal Mail Ship (RMS) prefix in front of her name because the British government and Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) had decades earlier reached agreement on a contract for subsidized mail service between Britain and Hong Kong via Canada. When not carrying mail, the ship would have been identified as SS "Empress of Russia."Ship List: [http://www.theshipslist.com/ships/descriptions/ShipsE.html Description of "Empress of Russia"] ]


The ship was built by Fairfield Shipbuilding & Engineering Company at Govan near Glasgow in Scotland. [Johnston, Ian. "Govan Shipyard" in [http://www.shipsmonthly.com/ships/home.htm "Ships Monthly."] June 1985.] The SS "Empress of Russia" was launched on August 28, 1912. She left Liverpool on April 1, 1913 on her maiden voyage via Suez to Hong Kong and Vancouver. Thereafter, she regularly sailed back and forth along the Hong Kong - Shanghai - Nagasaki - Kobe - Yokohama - Vancouver route. In 1913, she broke the record for the fastest trans-Pacific crossing which was formerly held by RMS "Empress of Japan"; [Musk, George. (1981). [http://books.google.com/books?id=DEhPAAAAMAAJ&q=ss+empress+of+russia&dq=ss+empress+of+russia&lr=&pgis=1 "Canadian Pacific: The Story of the Famous Shipping Line," p. 129.] ] but her sister ship, the RMS "Empress of Asia" broke that record in May 1914, crossing the Pacific in nine days, two hours, and fifteen minutes. [Hammer, Joshua. (2006). [http://books.google.com/books?id=6O8VyhDbUPgC&printsec=frontcover&dq=yokohama+burning&sig=rbgbEDXJV5fht4wdSD1HBoAMANg#PPA60,M1 "Yokohama Burning: The Deadly 1923 Earthquake and Fire that Helped Forge the Path to World War II," p. 60.] ] The popularity of the short route from Vancouver to the Orient was so great that these two additional CP "Empress" ocean liners were necessary. [Macmillan, Allister. (1925). [http://books.google.com/books?id=r7w8AAAAMAAJ&q=ss+empress+of+russia&dq=ss+empress+of+russia&lr=&pgis=1 "Seaports of the Far East: Historical and Descriptive, Commercial and Industrial Facts, Figures, & Resources," p. 247.] ]

The 16,810-ton vessel had a length of 570 feet, and her beam was 68 feet. The ship had three funnels, two masts, quadruple screws and an average speed of 19-knots. The ocean liner provided accommodation for 284 first-class passengers and for 100 second class passengers. There was also room for up to 800 steerage-class passengers. This was the first liner to have a straight stern like a warship; and the advantages of this type of stern were revealed in terms of speed, vibration, steering and seagoing qualities. [Norway Heritage: [http://www.norwayheritage.com/p_ship.asp?sh=empru "Empress of Russia"] ]

World War I

The "Empress" was requisitioned by the British Admiralty twice during the First World War. Initially, the ship was refitted as an Armed Merchant Cruiser; and She was attached to a squadron blockading German merchant shipping in Philippine waters. Later, she was transferred to the Indian Ocean.

In November 1914, the highlight of this Indian Ocean tour-of-duty followed from a rendezvous at sea with the Australian cruiser HMAS|Sydney|1912|6. In what was called the Battle of Cocos, "Sydney" had engaged the German cruiser SMS|Emden|1906|6, forcing the raider to beach herself on North Keeling Island to avoid sinking. Some 230 of the "Emden" survivors were transferred from the "Sydney" to the "Empress" for transport to Colombo. At this point, the "Empress" was sailing in a convoy of troop ships carrying 30,000 ANZACs from Albany, Australia to Suez and Europe. [ [http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?res=9E00E4DA113EE733A05752C3A9679C946496D6CF "When Australians Sailed to the War; Like a Vast Regatta at Sea, the Troopship Armada Moved North with 30,000 Soldiers."] "New York Times." January 31, 1915.]

In December 1914, the "Empress" was moved from the Indian Ocean to the Red Sea, where she continued through October 1915. In one incident, the guns of the "Empress" were brought to bear on Hodeidah in what is modern Yemen. Bluntly, the Turks were told that if British and French counsels, who had been kidnapped, were not brought back, the port city would be demolished. [Correspondents of the London "Times". (1920). [http://books.google.com/books?id=5jE84PtwZlsC&q=ss+empress+of+russia&dq=ss+empress+of+russia&lr=&pgis=1 "The Times History of the War," p. 125.] ] Shortly afterwards, she was released by the Admiralty for a return to civilian service. The ship was refitted at Hong Kong, and the "Empress of Russia" returned to its familiar trans-Pacific route in February 1916. Amongst those sailing with the "Empress" in this period was Sumner Welles, who was to become one of President Franklin Roosevelt's foreign policy advisers. [Welles, Benjamin. (1997) [http://books.google.com/books?id=9jOWMzn573wC&pg=RA1-PA51&dq=ss+empress+of+russia&lr=&sig=i7hKqOj4gvZDN29PUk_94IS7Xec#PRA1-PA51,M1 "Sumner Welles: FDR's Global Strategist : a Biography," p. 51.] ]

The British Admiralty called the "Empress" to wartime service for a second time in early 1918. She was to be used in transporting American troops to Europe. Her last wartime voyage began from Liverpool on January 12, 1919. She sail to Le Havre where Chinese labor battalions boarded the "Empress" for the return voyage via Suez to Hong Kong. From the Far East, she sailed back to Vancouver for re-fitting.

This ship remained a coal-burner after the Great War, even though many liners at that time were being converted to oil. [CPR Ships: [http://members.tripod.com/~merchantships/cprshipslist1.html Partial List, "Empress of Russia."] ]

Between the wars

Between the wars, the "Empress" resumed regular trans-Pacific crossings. Her first post-war voyage began on April 10, 1919; and the pre-war route was somewhat modified on this trip. On this occasion, she sailed from Vancouver to Manila outward bound; and she stopped at Vladivostok on the return voyage to North America from the Far East. In this period, the "Empress" transported Philippine Senator Manuel L. Quezon on his return to Manila from the first Independence Mission to the U.S. Congress in 1919. [Quirino, Carlos. (1971). [http://books.google.com/books?id=skgeAAAAMAAJ&q=ss+empress+of+russia&dq=ss+empress+of+russia&lr=&pgis=1 "Quezon: Paladin of Philippine Freedom," p. 135.] ] These trans-Pacific sailings continued up through December 1940.

The routine nature of her schedule did nothing to diminish public interest in the comings and goings of the "Empress of Russia." For example, the "New York Times" regularly published news of mail ships sailings. In an era when airplanes carrying mail was still relatively novel, for example, the newspaper published a regular "Shipping and Mails" column. In a 1938 edition, the "Times" reported:

During this peacetime period, she completed 310 crossings. Amongst the famous passengers who traveled on the "Empress," were Chinese Nationalist leaders Sun Yat-sen and Chiang Kai-shek, who sailed from Hong Kong to Shanghai in 1922; [Jieru Chen, Ch'en Chieh-Ju. (1993). [http://books.google.com/books?id=IDbvAzXCBH8C&pg=PA111&dq=ss+empress+of+russia&lr=&sig=sP0SinytWc3Dgr0ACciBQuilIvw#PPA111,M1 "Chiang Kai-shek's Secret Past: The Memoir of His Second Wife, Ch'en,"] ] and American humorist Will Rogers who sailed to Japan in late-November 1932. [Rogers, W. "et al." (2005). [http://books.google.com/books?id=wwb65MuajnQC&pg=RA1-PA26&dq=ss+empress+of+russia&lr=&sig=RJi802 MBXCjFM16eoNgGf_k6NFY "The Papers of Will Rogers." p. 26.] ]

World War II

The "Empress" was again commissioned by the British Admiralty as a troop transport. Initially, she carried Australian and New Zealand Air Force recruits to Canada for flight school training. In March 1941, she was refitted at dockyards on the Clyde River in Scotland.

The Captain of the "Empress" in 1941-42 would only realize many years later that he had had a VIP aboard -- a young Midshipman Philip Mountbatten (later to become Duke of Edinburgh) is remembered for having helped stoke the boilers in 1941. [Royal Navy Reserve Officers, 1939-1945: [http://www.unithistories.com/officers/RNR_officersM.html Maurice Jeffrey Dabbs Mayall, Cdre. 2nd cl. (ret), 1882-1966.] ]

The "Empress" was involved in the North Africa landings in 1943. In October 1943, she made a special trip to Gothenburg to exchange prisoners of war. This was followed by seven trips to Reykjavik for the RAF.

In early 1944, she was used as an accommodation ship at Rosyth for Russian crews who were to take over a number of British warships. In June, she was moved to Spithead where she was used as a depot ship for tugs after the D-day landings. In October 1944, she sailed to Gareloch where she was laid up until June 1945. Work was begun on the refitting the "Empress" for service transporting Canadian troops from Europe to North America; However, she was gutted by fire on September 8, 1945 at Barrow. The extensive damage caused the ship to be scrapped; and she was broken up by T. W. Ward & Sons.



* Chen, Jieru (Ch'en Chieh-Ju). (1993). [http://books.google.com/books?id=IDbvAzXCBH8C&dq=ss+empress+of+russia&lr=&source=gbs_summary_s&cad=0 "Chiang Kai-shek's Secret Past: The Memoir of His Second Wife, Ch'en."] Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press. 10-ISBN 0-813-31824-6; 13-ISBN 978-0-813-31824-0 (cloth) -- 10-ISBN 0-813-31825-4; 13-ISBN 978-0-813-31825-7 (paper)
* Correspondents of the London "Times". (1920). [http://books.google.com/books?id=5jE84PtwZlsC&q=ss+empress+of+russia&dq=ss+empress+of+russia&lr=&pgis=1 "The Times History of the War."] London: "The Times" (London).
* Macmillan, Allister. (1925). [http://books.google.com/books?id=r7w8AAAAMAAJ&q=ss+empress+of+russia&dq=ss+empress+of+russia&lr=&pgis=1 "Seaports of the Far East: Historical and Descriptive, Commercial and Industrial Facts, Figures, & Resources."] London: W. H. & L. Collingridge. ASIN B0008C4XZI
* Musk, George. (1981). [http://books.google.com/books?id=iWoTAAAAYAAJ&q=ss+empress+of+britain&dq=ss+empress+of+britain&lr=&pgis=1 "Canadian Pacific: The Story of the Famous Shipping Line."] Newton Abbot, Devon: David & Charles. 10-ISBN 0-715-37968-2
* Quirino, Carlos. (1971). [http://books.google.com/books?id=skgeAAAAMAAJ&q=ss+empress+of+russia&dq=ss+empress+of+russia&lr=&pgis=1 "Quezon: Paladin of Philippine Freedom."] Manila: Filipiniana Book Guild.
* Rogers, William, Arthur Frank Wertheim, Barbara Bair, Steven K. Gragert, M. Jane Johansson. (2005). [http://books.google.com/books?id=wwb65MuajnQC&dq=ss+empress+of+russia&lr=&source=gbs_summary_s&cad=0 "Papers of Will Rogers: The Final Years, August 1928-August 1935."] Norman: University of Oklahoma Press. 10-ISBN 0-806-13768-1; 13-ISBN 978-0-806-13768-1 (cloth)
* Welles, Benjamin. (1997). [http://books.google.com/books?id=9jOWMzn573wC&dq=ss+empress+of+russia&lr=&source=gbs_summary_s&cad=0 "Sumner Welles: FDR's Global Strategist : a Biography."] New York: St. Martin's Press. 10-ISBN 0-312-17440-3; 13-ISBN 978-0-312-17440-8 (cloth)

ee also

* CP Ships
* List of ocean liners
* List of ships in British Columbia

External links

* Ships List: [http://www.theshipslist.com/ships/descriptions/ShipsE.html Description of "Empress of Russia"]
* Simplon: [http://www.simplonpc.co.uk/CP1.html#anchor374085 photograph of RMS "Empress of Russia"]
* BBC - WW2 People's War: [http://www.bbc.co.uk/ww2peopleswar/stories/89/a6635289.shtml Troop transport "Empress of Russia" in 1942]
* BBC - WW2 People's War: [http://www.bbc.co.uk/ww2peopleswar/stories/75/a4690875.shtml accompanying "Empress of Russia" to Iceland in 1944]
* Australian National Maritime Museum Library ships pictures index: [http://www.anmm.gov.au/webdata/resources/files/spixse.pdf "Empress of Russia," p. 10]
* Canadian Pacific Archives: [http://www.cprheritage.com/ "'Empress of Russia," Photo NS. 13944, 1925]

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