|Kaiser Wilhelm II (II)
1903 - 1940
1902, the Bremen-based shipping company of Norddeutscher Lloyd (North German
Lloyd) was in the midst of a great project. It had started back in the
1890s, when the German Kaiser decreed that he wanted Germany
to be the prime power on the high seas. This led Norddeutscher Lloyd to
commission what would be the world’s first four-funnelled steamer – the
Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse of 1897. This ship had not only been the
largest of its time, but also the fastest, which she proved by capturing
the coveted Blue Riband from the Cunarder Lucania. Great Britain,
who up until this event had been supreme on the world’s waves, was left
behind in a state of shock. It would take them ten years before they could
once again pass the Germans with British ships.
the 20th century began, the foremost ships on the North Atlantic
were German. The great success of the Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse
soon led another German company – the Hamburg-Amerika Line (HAPAG) – to
order their very own supership. Introduced in 1900, this ship was named
Deutschland and her mission was to win the Blue Riband from the
Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse. She succeeded in doing so, but at a very
costly price. The great engines that provided the Deutschland with
her power also caused her to vibrate and shudder violently when steaming
at high speeds. Nevertheless, she was still the speed queen of the North
Atlantic. But HAPAG would
after this never operate a Blue Riband-holder. The company’s managing director,
Albert Ballin, decided to go for large and comfortable ships rather than
|The swift Kaiser
Wilhelm II at sea.
board of the Norddeutscher Lloyd felt differently. Their aim was still
to own and operated the fastest ships on the North Atlantic. Therefore,
they soon ordered a second ship as a complement to the Kaiser Wilhelm
der Grosse. Named after the crown prince of Germany, this second ship
was called the Kronprinz Wilhelm. Decorated in style with her predecessor,
the Kronprinz became a great success in all but one respect – her
speed. Although she did break the Deutschland’s westbound record
time, the HAPAG ship soon managed to better the time and regain the honours.
The Kronprinz Wilhelm had failed in her quest for speed.
the two Norddeutscher Lloyd four-stacker were a great success among the
travelling public. The upper class enjoyed them because of their splendid
and luxurious decorations, and the not so financially independent people
travelling in steerage favoured ships with many funnels. The general opinion
within this social group was that the more funnels a ship had, the safer
it was. What could then be more safe to cross the Atlantic on, than a massive
ship with four large funnels?
emigrant market was booming, and soon it was clear to Norddeutscher Lloyd
that yet another large ship would be a smart move to make in these times
of economic welfare. So they once again turned to the Vulkan Shipyards
of Stettin, that had earlier built both the Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse
and the Kronprinz Wilhelm, as well as the Deutschland.
was soon under way to complete the third vessel to join NDL’s group of
express steamers. The first two sisters had been quite similar in appearance,
length and tonnage, but the new vessel would be considerably larger than
her older siblings. In fact, the Kaiser Wilhelm II was the first
German ship to exceed the size of the famous Great Eastern. But,
although some 50 feet longer and 5,000 tons larger, she still looked a
whole lot like her future running mates. Just like on the Kaiser
and the Kronprinz, the funnels on the new sister were grouped in
two distinctive pairs. This feature had by now become somewhat of a German
trademark on the North Atlantic.
12th 1902, the latest addition to the NDL fleet was launched
and christened Kaiser Wilhelm II, after Germany’s current
monarch. The launch went without
mishaps, and a giant team of carpenters, electricians, plumbers and other
workmen could now start the task of fitting the ship out. The man who had
designed the interiors of both the Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse and
the Kronprinz Wilhelm was also chosen to do the decoration of the
Kaiser Wilhelm II. His name was Johannes Poppe. In tradition with
his work on the earlier Norddeutscher Lloyd-liners, Poppe created an environment
surrounded by so much luxury that it was thought by some that it was too
much. Using such materials as rich woods and marble, Poppe designed airy
public areas with high ceilings and rich ornate carvings. The result was
a ship that outmatched her older sister, at least when it came to the interiors.
|A colour rendition depicting
the Kaiser Wilhelm II.
question of the Kaiser Wilhelm II’s speed still remained. After
the Kronprinz Wilhelm’s failure to regain the Blue Riband for Norddeutscher
Lloyd, all hope now stood to the new ship.
months after her launch, the Kaiser Wilhelm II had been fitted out
and was ready for her maiden voyage. On April 14th 1903, she
left Bremen with New York as final destination, calling at Southampton
and Cherbourg along the way. But those who had a record crossing in mind
soon had all their hopes dashed. With a service speed of around 23 knots,
the Kaiser Wilhelm II could still not match the Deutschland’s
westbound average speed of 23.15 knots.
disappointment with the new Kaiser Wilhelm II was that she, like
the Deutschland, had a tendency to vibrate when she was steaming
at high speed. As an attempt to remedy this fault, the ship was taken in
to be given a new set of propellers in 1904. Luckily for Norddeutscher
Lloyd, the vibration problems on the Kaiser Wilhelm II were not
as severe as those on the Deutschland. Not only did the new propellers
reduce the vibrations considerably, they also made the ship run more smoothly
the vibration-problem cured, the quest for the Blue Riband was once again
on. In June 1904, the Kaiser Wilhelm II managed to set a new eastbound
record with an average speed of 23.58 knots. The battle was thus partially
won, but the ship would never have the westbound record – it seemed as
if she was simply not up to the test of the conditions on a westbound crossing.
However, her eastbound record would be unthreatened until the arrival of
Cunard’s Lusitania in 1907.
being one of the largest and fastest ships in the world earned the Kaiser
Wilhelm II fame, and she became a popular part of Norddeutscher Lloyd’s
trio of express liners. In 1907, this trio became a quartet when a fourth
vessel – the Kronprinzessin Cecilie - was delivered from the shipyards
of Vulkan. These four ships soon had won a reputation of grandeur, reliability
and above all – speed. It did not take long before they were commonly known
as ‘The Four Flyers’.
|In style with other German
liners, 'grandeur' was an understatement when describing the Kaiser
Wilhelm II's interiors. The First Class Restaurant, shown here, rose
through three decks.
this great reputation, the Kaiser Wilhelm II continued serving Norddeutscher
Lloyd on the North Atlantic run. She was not only one of the largest and
fastest vessels on the high seas, it seemed as if she had been blessed
with a great deal of good fortune, as she was seldom involved in any accidents.
However, in 1907 she had to be withdrawn from service for several months
after having sunk at her pier in Bremerhaven during coaling operations.
After repairs had been made, the ship was again back on the run. She did
not suffer from any bad luck again until June 1914, when she was involved
in a collision which resulted in her absence from the waves during the
early summer that year.
28th 1914, the Kaiser Wilhelm II set out on what was
to be her last commercial crossing. While en route to New York, the First
World War broke out in Europe. This war had been anticipated for quite
some time, and most nations had had their ships constructed with a possible
conflict in mind. Nearly all the larger steamers had been built so that
they in the event of hostilities could contribute to the war effort in
some way or another.
outbreak of war came at a very bad moment for Germany. Not many of the
nation’s vessels managed to get back to Germany for conversion, and were
instead interned in foreign ports. One of the greatest losses was surely
HAPAG’s brand new 54,000-tonner Vaterland, which was interned in
New York. But also two ships of the Norddeutscher Lloyd express quartet
soon found themselves in foreign hands. The Kronprinzessin Cecilie
was interned in the port of Boston after a dramatic game of hide-and-seek
on the North Atlantic, and the Kaiser Wilhelm II was retained at
her NDL pier in Hoboken, New Jersey.
New Jersey she remained, the Germans probably figured that an American
port was quite a safe place for one of their finest ships. But after three
years of fighting in Europe, the United States entered the war. This was
indeed a terrible blow for Germany, who now saw all their American-interned
ships seized and used against them. The Kronprinz Wilhelm had by
now also been interned in the US after a successful raiding cruise of the
Wilhelm II was of course no exception to the rules of war. In April
1917, she was seized for use as a troop transport, and was renamed USS
Agamemnon for this purpose. Now fighting her creators on their enemies’
side, she started doing trooping duties between America and Europe. But
by now it seemed as if she had started suffering from bad luck. While taking
part in a trooping convoy from New York to Brest in October 1917, the Agamemnon
was struck amidships by her sister ship Kronprinz Wilhelm, which
had been renamed USS Von Steuben. Four months later, she again sank
at her pier during coaling. But her services as a troopship was badly needed,
and this time she was returned to service in a matter of days.
serving the allies as a troop transport, the Agamemnon would soon
be involved in more mishaps. Almost as if reluctant to cut off her bonds with
her sisters, the Agamemnon was again involved in an incident with
another ex-NDL express liner in June 1918, this time with the ex-Kronprinzessin
Cecilie, who had been renamed USS Mount Vernon. With more than
5,000 people on board, the Agamemnon and Mount Vernon nearly
collided with each other at night. Yet the collision was avoided at the
last minute, and the two ships could continue their war tasks. Later on
the Agamemnon had to be laid up for two months for repairs, after
having sustained damage in rough seas.
|In WWI, the Kaiser
Wilhelm II was renamed Agamemnon and used by the Allies in the
battle against her creators.
the war was finally over. Germany had been defeated, and the victorious
warlords had delivered their unconditional sentence. The entire German
merchant fleet was given away as war reparations for sunken vessels. Only
the old speed queen Deutschland remained in German hands, but that
was because the poor state she was in – there was no one who wanted her.
sisters Agamemnon, Mount Vernon and Von Steuben were
all given to the United Stated Shipping Board. The Agamemnon was
used for repatriation voyages until 1920, but then there was no task for
her and she was laid up together with the Mount Vernon in the Patuxent
River, in the backwaters of Chesapeake Bay.
the two ships remained through the years. They had both been run hard during
the war, and neither of the two ships was in a very favourable condition.
Yet there were still plans of further service for the to ex-Germans. Some
felt that they could be refurbished and used as passenger liners once again.
Others even wanted to convert the two sisters into revolutionary diesel-driven
ships, but none of these plans ever came into fruition. Instead the two
liners remained laid up where they were.
followed was a long and uneventful time in limbo. The two liners lay side
by side in the Patuxent River, and no work could be found for them. During
this time, the Agamemnon was renamed Monticello. It was not
until 1940 that they once again became the matters of discussion. By now
the Second World War was raging in Europe, and the two former German express-liners
were offered to Great Britain for use as troop transports. Troopships were
indeed badly needed, but due to their old age and the expensive amounts
that it would take to make them seaworthy, the British declined. With this
last possible use out of the picture, there was only one thing left to
same year, the former Kaiser Wilhelm II and Kronprinzessin Cecilie
were sold to the Boston Iron & Metal Co. of Baltimore for scrapping.
Their last voyage was to be towed to Baltimore, where they were subsequently
|The Kaiser Wilhelm II -
||707 feet (215.9 m)
||72 feet (22 m)
||19,361 gross tons
||Steam quadruple expansion
engines turning two propellers.