US troops aboard Queen Mary in World War Two
fascinating article in Maritime Executive on service of Cunard Line passenger ships in war:
Cunard Pays Tribute to War Service
Cunard ships have answered the call of Great Britain in every major conflict from Crimea in 1853 to the first Gulf War in 1990………….
In September 1939 the fleet was again quickly requisitioned for war service. One of the most daring voyages of the war was the secret Atlantic dash of the unfinished Queen Elizabeth in 1940 in order to remove her from Scotland and prevent her being a target for German air attacks.
The captain put to sea, with workmen still on board, and once out of the Clyde opened his sealed orders which he expected to instruct him to go to Southampton. Instead, he was told to head at full speed to New York. The secret dash was done with the launching gear still affixed to the underside of the ship, and without proper fitments inside. Men who expected to be going home by trains from Southampton within days did not get home for years.
After trooping from Australia Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth began bringing American GIs across to Europe in 1942 at full speed and unescorted. Not only were they faster than the U-Boats whose crews had been offered £100,000 by Hitler to sink either of them, but they were faster even then the torpedoes.
In summer, 15,000 soldiers were carried on each voyage – such a huge number that the men had to sleep in shifts, observing a strict one-way system on board. Queen Mary’s master, Commodore Sir James Bisset, noted that the ship was so difficult to handle under such circumstances that he was concerned for her stability. On one voyage Queen Mary carried over 16,000 which is still a record today.
All told she made 28 such trips, taking soldiers eastbound and prisoners-of-war westbound, with Queen Elizabeth undertaking a similar number. On three occasions Queen Mary was the nerve-center of the Empire as Sir Winston Churchill crossed the Atlantic to see President Roosevelt.
The closest the enemy ever got to him was when he was travelling on Queen Mary as prisoners of war would be transported to the States on the decks below Churchill’s Main Deck Suite – unbeknown to those prisoners at the time. Naked flames were not allowed in cabins at any time but special allowance was made for Churchill to have a candle lit at all times – for his cigars.
The entire article is here: