Fatherland (ship, 1914)

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The Fatherland in 1914
The Fatherland in 1914
Ship data
flag German EmpireThe German Imperium German Empire United States
United States 48United States 
other ship names

Leviathan (1917-1938)

Ship type Passenger ship, express steamer
class Imperator- class
home port Hamburg
Shipyard Blohm & Voss , Hamburg
Build number 212
Launch April 3, 1913
Whereabouts Scrapped in 1938
Ship dimensions and crew
289.5 m ( Lüa )
width 30.5 m
Draft Max. about 11 m
displacement 62,000  t
measurement 54,282 GRT
23,548 NRT
crew 1,234
Machine system
machine 4 × Blohm & Voss steam turbines
100,000 PS (73,550 kW)
26.3 kn (49 km / h)
propeller 4 × propellers ø 5.80 m
Transport capacities
Permitted number of passengers 1st class: 752
2nd class: 535
3rd class: 850
deck : 1,772 Total: 3,909
Rupprecht of Bavaria (center, in uniform) at the launch of the Fatherland
The floated hull of the fatherland immediately after the launch

The transatlantic liner Vaterland was launched in 1914 for the German shipping company HAPAG in Hamburg as the second steamship in the Imperator class . The ship , which was in the USA at the beginning of the war, lay idle in New York until the USA entered the war, then was confiscated and used as a troop transport from 1917 to 1919 under the name Leviathan . Awarded reparations to the USA after the First World War , the Leviathan served the United States Lines from 1923 to 1934 .

The fatherland is still the largest ever driven under the German flag passenger ship and the largest coal-powered steamship history.

Origin and construction

Towards the beginning of the 20th century, passenger shipbuilding on the North Atlantic route developed in two directions: while the North German Lloyd and the British Cunard Line with their express steamers of the Kaiser class on the one hand and the sister ships Lusitania and Mauretania on the other hand were competing for the Blue Ribbon - the Award for the fastest ship on the Atlantic - delivered, the White Star Line and HAPAG competed with each other, especially in the area of ​​travel comfort. Starting in 1909, the three Olympic- class ships were built for White Star at the Harland & Wolff shipyard in Belfast , and at around 45,000 GRT were by far the largest in the world. Albert Ballin , the general manager of HAPAG, then developed ambitious plans to build a series of giant steamers, also consisting of three units, which surpass White Star in terms of size and equipment and are also known as "Schnelldampfer" with a cruising speed of around 23 to 24 knots. could lead. Imperial Germany's enthusiasm for the navy and the personal support of Wilhelm II gave him the necessary support to implement the project.

The first ship in the series, the Imperator , completed in mid-1913 , was only able to partially meet the high expectations. The steamer turned out to be top-heavy and therefore developed a tendency to strong rolling movements. In addition, there were repeated problems with the electrical systems, which led to several smaller fires. The concept of the ships had to be revised again for the following units, so the Vaterland differed considerably from its older sister in some ways .

In September 1911, the Vaterland was laid down as hull number 212 at the Blohm & Voss shipyard in Hamburg. Huge amounts of material were required for their construction, including 34,500 tons of rolled steel , 2,000 tons of cast steel , 2,000 tons of cast iron and 6,500 tons of wood. On April 3, 1913, the ship was christened by the Bavarian Crown Prince Rupprecht - contrary to expectations in the absence of the Emperor - and the ship was launched. By mid-April 1914, the ship was then equipped on the wharf of the shipyard. On April 25, the Vaterland left Hamburg for her test drives off the Norwegian coast, where she reached the surprisingly high speed of 26.3 knots (about 49 km / h). The Emperor's stability problems were not evident. After commissioning on May 10, 1914, it left Hamburg on May 14, 1914 under the orders of Commodore Hans Ruser for the maiden voyage to New York via Southampton and Cherbourg . With over 54,000 GRT and 290 meters in length, she was the largest ship in the world at that time, she exceeded the Imperator by around 2,000 GRT and 13 m in length.


Machine system

Like the Emperor , the Vaterland had a total of 46 water-tube boilers in four boiler rooms, which were served by around 400 stokers and coal trimmers . The water tube boilers were a complete novelty on passenger ships; they were originally developed for warships because they had the ability to be quickly brought up to maximum performance. This was not in itself necessary for passenger steamers that ran constantly for days. Nevertheless, HAPAG had to opt for this type, as it was significantly lighter than the previously used heavy cylinder boilers, which would have increased the draft of the new class of ship to a level unsuitable for the Elbe . Overall, these boilers had a burning surface of almost 20,000 m² and consumed around 1,150 t of coal per day at sea.

The steam from the boiler system was passed on to four turbines, each of which acted on one of the four ship propellers and could develop a total of up to 100,000 hp. For the normal cruising speed of around 23 knots, however, the power was only 70,000 hp, which made the four propellers, each 5.80 m in diameter, rotate at 180 revolutions per minute. The machinery was trend-setting: unlike other turbine ships, all four propellers on the Vaterland were connected to turbines for reversing, which made the ship significantly more maneuverable than comparable contemporary liners despite its size. Almost half of the power with forward thrust could thus be generated for reverse travel. There was also the option of switching the turbines to so-called “maneuvering power”, which enabled a constant speed of 16 knots with the shortest possible response time to machine commands. This function should prove to be an extremely effective innovation for the difficult entrances and exits from ports and especially the passage from the Elbe to the North Sea.

The smoke from the four boiler rooms was discharged through the two front chimneys; the third chimney was a dummy and hid ventilation and extractor systems. Almost 9,000 tons of coal were taken on board for an Atlantic crossing.

Safety equipment

After the sinking of the Titanic in April 1912, the safety regulations for passenger ships were massively tightened. At the Vaterland , too , the designers tried to provide the highest level of sinking safety and rescue equipment: the ship had a total of 84 lifeboats (including two motor-driven), which could each be lowered into the water within a minute using electrically operated davits. Another new feature was the division of the boats over a total of two decks and several positions distributed over the length of the ship, which should make loading the boats much easier in an emergency, because the passengers would not be huddled together on one deck. The Vaterland was divided into a total of 13 watertight compartments and met a three-compartment standard, i.e. H. the flooding of any three adjacent chambers would never endanger the ship. In fact, the ship was theoretically able to withstand the flooding of at least four neighboring compartments. In addition, the hull had both a double hull and a double, specially reinforced floor. In addition to the bulkhead doors of the watertight compartments, the Vaterland also had airtight closable flaps that could limit the fire to part of the ship in the event of a fire - these systems could withstand a heat development of up to 1,000 degrees Celsius. The large stairwells of the ship could be sealed so that they remained open as smoke-free escape routes for the passengers. There were over 800 sprinkler systems and 130 fire hydrants on board for fire fighting. All systems related to the safety of the ship could be controlled centrally from the bridge. As a special innovation - and a direct reaction to the Titanic accident - the Vaterland wore a huge headlight on its front mast, which was supposed to illuminate the ship's route at night in dangerous sea areas. According to the shipping company, it had a light intensity of 35,000 candles and could be seen 40 nautical miles (almost 75 km) in the dark. To stabilize the ship, Frahm swaying tanks were installed, which used the inertia of the water stored in them to dampen the ship's rolling movements. However, they turned out to be significantly less efficient than expected and only made a minor contribution to the improvement.


The Imperator- class ships were the first in the world to be equipped with stabilized gyrocompasses for navigation. These were significantly more accurate and reliable than the magnetic compass systems previously used on ships . Two of these then extremely expensive instruments (the unit price was 10,000 US dollars in 1914, which corresponds to 263,000 US dollars in modern currency) were on board. In addition, a new ranking system for the ship's command had been introduced on the steamers of the class: four captains were subordinate to a commodore , each of whom took over the navigation in turn. The size of the ship required fully trained skippers in every situation, including one lesson that had been learned from experience with the Olympic class of the White Star Line: Here, regular ship officers were overwhelmed with the control of the huge new ships in some situations .


A complete novelty was the guidance of the boiler shafts on the Vaterland : unlike on the Imperator and on all other ships built up to that point, these did not lead amidships from the boiler rooms directly up to the chimneys, but divided, were led upwards on the outside of the ship and only merged again immediately under the chimneys. This new type of division enabled an unprecedented degree of generosity in the division of space, especially in the first class: on the upper decks, the common rooms could be arranged one behind the other in a continuous room line. This routing of the exhaust shafts was later common on many other passenger ships.

First class

The common room of the fatherland with the large glass ceiling
The ship's Ritz-Carlton restaurant. The dome over the middle of the room is clearly visible.

First class passengers enjoyed a wealth of amenities that set new standards in terms of size and design. The public spaces were concentrated on the B-deck of the ship: the focus was the huge, two-deck-high common room, paneled with oak, covered by a ceiling made of gilded wrought iron filigree and stained glass. In addition, there was a spacious palm garden in white and gold with numerous plants, which went directly into the Ritz-Carlton-Restaurant der Vaterland . In this oval room, which was clad with gilded walnut panels and was surmounted by a painted dome, passengers could order dishes à la carte for an extra charge - an extraordinary luxury on ships at the time. The staff at this restaurant had been recruited from the New York Ritz Carlton. Farther aft was a card game room, and at the very front of the deck was a reading and writing salon, which was also intended as a lounge for the female travelers. Between the lounge and the winter garden was a small row of shops with cigar and flower shops. Two stairwells connected the decks of the first class and were arranged in front of and behind the lounge. On the A-deck above there was a large smoking salon with high windows from which one could see the foredeck, as well as a large gymnastics and gymnastics hall. On the F-deck of the ship was the huge dining room of the fatherland , which was three decks high and was dominated in the middle by a dome decorated with a ceiling painting. All first-class passengers were seated in one meeting in the room, which was designed in white and provided with subtle gold plating. It extended over almost 1,100 m² and is still one of the largest rooms that has ever been installed on a ship. Two small private dining rooms that passengers could rent were attached to it. Also on the F deck was the Vaterland swimming pool , which was also three decks high and was designed in the Pompeian style. Colored mosaics, an illuminated glass ceiling and a gallery surrounded the basin, from which one could reach a steam bath clad in colored marble. The most expensive suites on board were the two "Kaiserzimmer" on the C deck. They were about 230 m² in size and comprised a veranda with a sea view, a salon, a dining room, two bedrooms, each with an attached bathroom and dressing room, as well as an anteroom and chambers for private servants and luggage. One of these suites cost around $ 5,000 per crossing - $ 132,000 in today's equivalent.

Second grade

The second class of the Vaterland was also equipped with numerous spacious rooms. In addition to a dining room, a lounge, the ladies' room and a smoking room, there was a small gym and a terrace café. The private accommodations of the passengers were excellent and of the quality of the first class on smaller and older contemporary passenger ships.

Third class and tween deck

For the first time, the Imperator class made a distinction between the somewhat more comfortable third class and the tween deck . The most important factors were the significantly better accommodation and the higher standard of service in third class. HAPAG wanted to differentiate between the more affluent travelers who only traveled to the USA or Europe for a limited period of time, and the emigrants who were hoping for the cheapest possible passage. Basically, however, the standard was comparatively high in both classes - the sanitary facilities and thus the hygienic conditions exceeded those of almost all ships of the time.


The fatherland as a troop transport in camouflage
The former fatherland called Leviathan in the 1920s

At the beginning of World War I in August 1914, the ship was in New York launched and confiscated at entry of the United States on April 5, 1917 by this. The United States Navy took over the ship on July 25, 1917 as a troop transport and renamed it Leviathan on September 6 of the same year . In September 1919 it was laid up again in New York and from February 1922 onwards it was restored as a passenger ship by Newport News Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Co. On June 23, 1923, the Leviathan completed the test drive for the United States Line, where it was used until 1934. Then the ship was launched. On February 14, 1938, it arrived in Rosyth (Scotland) for demolition.

The Leviathan and its sister ships were at that time the largest passenger steamers in the world and classic luxury and emigration ships . There are different details about the dimensions; the measurement seems certain with 54,282 tons when commissioned as fatherland . In the USA, the Leviathan was later measured at 59,956 tons, which, as requested, secured the ship the title of "Largest Passenger Ship in the World". On a voyage westwards after the end of the First World War, a unique record was set in March 1919 with 14,416 people on board.

On July 22, 1918, the admiral staff of the Imperial Navy falsely announced that the Leviathan had been sunk by a German submarine on July 20, 1918 on the north coast of Ireland.


The engine room of the Vaterland was received literarily by Egon Erwin Kisch in his impressive report On the Stokers of the Giant Steamship (June 2, 1914) from the collection Der Rasende Reporter (1924).

Sister ships


  • Robert D. Ballard , Ken Marschall : Lost Liners - From the Titanic to Andrea Doria - the glory and decline of the great luxury liners. Translated from the English by Helmut Gerstberger. Heyne, Munich 1997, ISBN 3-453-12905-9 .
  • Ernst Foerster , Georg Sütterlin: The four-screw turbine steamer "Vaterland" on the Hamburg-America Line, built by Blohm & Voss in Hamburg (together with the identification of the sister ship "Bismarck"). Self-published by the Association of German Engineers, Berlin 1918.
  • Max Geitel: Creations of modern engineering. (= From nature and the spiritual world, Volume 28). Teubner, Leipzig / Berlin 1914, p. 84.
  • Arnold Kludas : The German express steamers. The imperator class - the climax of an era. In: Deutsches Schiffahrtsarchiv, Volume 8. Kabel, Hamburg 1985, ISSN  0343-3668 , pp. 147-164 ( PDF ).
  • Arnold Kludas: The History of German Passenger Shipping. Volume 4: Destruction and rebirth 1914 to 1930 (= writings of the German Maritime Museum, Volume 21). Ernst Kabel Verlag, Hamburg 1989, ISBN 3-8225-0047-X .
  • Eberhard Mertens (ed.): The Hapag giants of the Imperator class. The history of the luxury ships Imperator, Vaterland, Bismarck in pictures and contemporary documents. Olms, Hildesheim 1974, ISBN 3-487-08083-4 .
  • Matthias Trennheuser: The interior design of German passenger ships between 1880 and 1940. Hauschild-Verlag, Bremen 2010, ISBN 978-3-89757-305-5 .
  • Hans Jürgen Witthöft: Ballin's thick steamers - Imperator, Fatherland, Bismarck. Koehler, Herford 1974, ISBN 3-7822-0100-0 .
  • Peter Zerbe: The large German passenger ships “Imperator”, “Vaterland”, “Bismarck”. Nautik Historie Verlag, Hamburg 1999, ISBN 3-929231-11-5 .

Web links

Commons : Fatherland  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Melvin Maddocks, George Daniels (Red.): The large passenger ships. Bechtermünz, Eltville am Rhein 1992, ISBN 3-86047-028-0 , p. 51. (Original title: The great Liners. Time-Life Books, Alexandria, Virginia, 1978, ISBN 0-8094-2664-1 , LOC ).
  2. Holt, Brent I .: SS Leviathan - America's First Superliner. Stroud (GB), 2009, p. 13 f.
  3. a b Holt, p. 13.
  4. a b c Holt, p. 15.
  5. Holt, p. 14 f.
  6. Holt, p. 15 f.
  7. One of the largest ships in the world sunk. The giant steamer "Leviathan", formerly "Vaterland", destroyed by a German submarine. In:  Neuigkeits -Welt-Blatt , No. 166/1918 (XLV. Year), July 24, 1918, pp. 1 and 3 . (Online at ANNO ). Template: ANNO / Maintenance / nwb.