THE S.S. UNITED STATES AT BREMERHAVEN:
It was the end of the line, Bremerhaven Germany, the ship’s last port of call. The sailing schedule for 1954 shows the S.S. United States and S.S. America made a combined 22 docking at the German port. As part of its contract with the Federal Government, the United States Lines accorded first-class passage to military officers and their families traveling to and from Europe under official orders. For most of the kids the ship would be their first experience on board a luxury liner. Elaine Tweedy was 9 year old when she sailed to Bremerhaven in 1965. “The Duke and Duchess of Windsor were on board. I remember thinking that they looked normal. I expected her to wear some kind of tiara!”. She also loved the steps that led to the dinning room in first class. “I would pretend I was Shirley Temple and tap up and down them. (Of course, I wouldn’t let anyone see me doing this.)”.
As a young boy Bill Ashley still remembers the awe of first class transatlantic travel. “It was an experience unlike any other, before or after”. Forty years latter the memories are still vivid. “My mother found in an oyster while having supper in the first class dining room. She still has that pearl as a treasured memento. Also the night we were dining when the ship’s captain stopped by to talk with my parents; and then he turned his attention to me and spent at least ten minutes talking to me about the ship. And the way they dressed for supper each night (military men in full dress uniforms, ladies were in formal evening gowns)”.
Modern, with sleek racing lines and tall red white and blue smoke stacks, the United States was to many Germans a symbol of the American way of life. Among her prominent passenger were German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, and the Viennese Boys Choir. For many immigrating from Europe the ship would also the first experience of their new life in America.
The last journey to Bremerhaven for the legendary liner was on November 2, 1969. Bill Ashley sums it up for those of us who were fortunate to have traveled on this proud legendary ocean liner. “I can’t help but think of how far we’ve advanced technologically since air travel became the dominant mode of travel, but in terms of civilized service, comfort, and attention to detail, nothing could compare with crossing the Atlantic on America’s finest superliner. It was, and is, an experience I’ll always treasure.”
I was a Royal Naval Airman stationed at Royal Naval Air Station Gosport in Hampshire UK. I was and had been for some two years on 705 Naval Air Squadron. The Royal Navies first Helicopter Squadron where we trained Pilots and Ground Crew on use and maintenance of Helicopters S51’s Dragonfly. I went to depart a S51 for another routine flight when the Pilot ( Being an old squadron hand I knew well ) beckoned me to with finger ” Here You ” I thought something was wrong but no, ” Get In Quick, Tokes ” So being a dutiful sailor I did as told. One in the Royal Navy obeys the order of an Officer ( Right or Wrong ) I jumped up into the back of the Chopper and checking around strapped myself in and put on the spare Headset & Throat Mike . “We have not long to see a site ” the pilot told me over the intercom.
Before I knew it we were airborne and heading South over the Airfield, across Stokes Bay into the Solent, a stretch of water between Hampshire (Portsmouth, Gosport and the Isle of Wight ) and there was a great sight. Up this stretch of water at Spit Head was the Liner SS. United States steaming towards Southampton Water. She was going like stink. Her upper super structure was sparkling with her funnels (Smoke Stacks) gleaming Red & White, her Hull black until half way down where the paint work had been worn away with her fast Atlantic Crossing. The paint was worn away and it was showing a Yellow / Greenish color (Color to those across the pond that can’t spell ) Wonderful sight and one that now at 73 years young will not forget. We flew and hovered over her in salute to a really great achievement. The Queens (Mary & Elizabeth) were great Liners so it took a great ship to beat their times.
Harold Tokins of Lincoln UK July 2005
As a very small boy, in Southampton, I sat upon my Dads shoulders to witness the maiden arrival of the quite remarkable “UNITED STATES”. I remember very clearly the vast numbers of local folk who had turned out to join all of the dignitaries.
The bow of the ship had been stripped of paint following her high running speed. Paint technology and standards were far lower than those of today.
It was generally believed, in shipping circles in Southampton, that the ship had suffered near mortal engine damage by the high-speed runs achieved in her early crossing. Too much emphasis was placed on records without allowing the engines to bed in and all teething troubles to be erased.
A couple of hours before sailing her vast siren would sound out over Southampton calling her crew back from the brothels and bars. Prostitutes from London used to travel to Southampton by train to meet the ship and conduct their business all night in the local park!
She was and still is a wonderful engineering achievement that must not be allowed to fade and die and become another ” QUEEN MARY’, a faded version of her former self with plastic funnels and no guts.
Bill Ashley writes
I crossed the Atlantic twice on the S.S. United States. Once in 1957 and again in 1960. My father was in the military, an officer, so we had the privilege of traveling first class. Even though I was only a young boy, I still remember the awe of transatlantic travel. It was an experience unlike any other, before or after. I also carry with me the vivid, but less pleasant memoirs of spending the first full two days in bed, terminally ill with seasickness. Once I made my miraculous recovery, I had a blast. I won’t bore you with my reminiscences.
However, I’d like to share a few things that still stand out in my memory, even after 40+ years. Things such as the pearl my mother found in an oyster while having supper in the first class dining room. She still has that pearl as a treasured memento. Also the night we were dining when the ship’s captain stopped by to talk with my parents; and then he turned his attention to me and spent at least ten minutes talking to me about the ship. And the way they dressed for supper each night (military men in full dress uniforms, ladies were in formal evening gowns).
I can’t help but think of how far wev’e advanced technologically since air travel became the dominant mode of travel, but in terms of civilized service, comfort, and attention to detail, nothing could compare with crossing the Atlantic on America’s finest superliner. It was, and is, an experience I’ll always treasure
Bill Ashley. March 2003
Thanks for the interesting site. I sailed from NY to Southampton in September 1963 on the S.S,U.S. I was newly married, a small-town girl from Oregon on her first adventure. We were moving to England for a year. The day before we sailed my baggage was stolen when we arrived in Brooklyn from a cross-country drive. I boarded with only images from movies of how people traveled, and a wardrobe now limited to one hastily purchased black wool suit, two blouses, some underwear, the cotton dress and high heels I had on when the theft occurred, and a new pair of tennis shoes. Fortunately the weather didn’t freeze me off the deck. We had a first-class stateroom even though we were ticketed in tourist. I had a distant relative with the company who recognized my name on the roster and did a last-minute upgrade. While it was a great surprise, and I did appreciate it, I had no idea what a luxury we received until our table-mates in the tourist class dining room visited our stateroom and, eyes bulging out, drug us to their much more modest quarters. Funny what floats back to memory now, nearly 40 years later. I commented to the waiter that the cream of chicken soup was good enough for dessert. He smilingly served me a second cup with my dessert. Late one evening we were having drinks and my glass was chipped. Suddenly I wanted to touch the bottom of the sea out there in the middle of the dark night. My fingerprints presumably sank along with the glass somewhere over the mid-ocean rift where I tossed it. Thanks for the memory boost.
MS KINNEY THIELE May 2001