Facts About "The Queen Mary" Ship

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A family poses for a photo outside the RMS Queen Mary.
A family poses for a photo outside the RMS Queen Mary. (Image: Araya Diaz/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images)

Built in Clydebank, Scotland, during the 1930s by John Brown & Company, the RMS Queen Mary was paired with the RMS Queen Elizabeth to offer express luxury passenger crossings between France and England, as well as England and the United States. Owned and operated by the Cunard-White Star Line, Queen Mary was inspired by the great modern liners constructed largely in Germany and France during the 1920s. During her 31 years of service, she would not only operate as the flagship of the Cunard-White Star Line, but also as a massive shuttle for Allied troops during World War II.

Competing for Size

In May of 1936, just before her first outing on the North Atlantic, RMS Queen Mary weighed in at approximately 81,237 gross tons. At the time, the Cunard-White Star Line hoped to beat the world passenger ship record held by the SS Normandie, a French luxury liner owned by the Générale Transatlantique company. In fact, much of the construction and design of the Queen Mary was motivated by this push for a record-breaking maiden voyage. Aware of the competition, however, Générale Transatlantique ordered that the size of its 79,280-ton ship be increased. With the addition of a lounge and recreation center on the boat deck, Normandie weighed 83,243 tons, barely managing to cling to its record as the Queen Mary left England for New York on its maiden voyage.

Royal Mail Ship

Like the RMS Queen Elizabeth, also owned by the Cunard-White Star Line and constructed during the late 1930s, Queen Mary was a Royal Mail Ship. The RMS prefix, which dates back to the mid-19th century, was an illustrious title that indicated a ship had been contracted to carry British Royal Mail across the sea, and was thus seen as worthy of service to the British Crown. That said, on voyages during which these ships carried no mail on board, the title of RMS was temporarily suspended and replaced with the SS, or general steam ship, prefix.

Wartime Duties

During World War II, the Queen Mary was repainted in a navy gray hue and re-purposed as a troopship, shuttling soldiers between Australia and England. It was during this time that her appearance and impressive speed earned her the nickname of the "Gray Ghost." Because she was capable of traveling at record speeds, Queen Mary not only easily outran German U-boats, but also her own protective escorts. Sadly, off the coast of Ireland in 1942, the ship accidentally sank one of these escorts, splitting the vessel in two after it meandered into her path. At the time, due to an increased threat of U-boats in the waters around Great Britain, Queen Mary was under strict orders not to stop for any reason, and the subsequent collision resulted in the loss of 239 lives.

The Queen Retires

The Queen Mary began passenger service again in 1947, steaming across the ocean for another two decades, before being retired in 1967. The ship is now moored in the port of Long Beach, Calif., where she operates as a museum, hotel and event venue.

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