Cruise Line History – CUNARD’S FRANCONIA – Around the World in 133 Days

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Franconia II – 1923 – 1956

  • Gross Tonnage – 20,158 tons
  • Dimensions – 183.27m (190.18m overall) x 22.46m: 601.3ft (624ft overall) x 73.7ft.
  • Number of funnels – 1
  • Number of masts – 2
  • Construction – Steel
  • Propulsion – Twin-screw
  • Engines – Steam turbines (double-reduction)
  • Service speed – 16 knots
  • Builder – John Brown & Co, Glasgow
  • Launch date – 21 Oct 1922
  • Passenger accommodation – 330 First, 420 Second, 950 Third)

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The Franconia was one of over a dozen new ships built for Cunard in the early 1920s. Like the Scythia and Samaria, which she resembled, she was meant for the Liverpool-New York trade, but the Franconia was also intended to cruise. She was designed by Leslie Peskett, Cunard’s naval architect, built by John Brown & Co on the Clyde and launched on 21 October 1922 by Lady Royden, the wife of Sir Thomas Royden, chairman of Cunard. Her accommodation was regarded as being particularly fine: the first class smoking room being a reproduction of an English inn, complete with oak panelling and a brick inglenook fireplace.

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Her maiden voyage was between Liverpool and New York on 23 June 1923 and she continued on this route during the summer months until the outbreak of war (with the exception of two voyages each way in 1934, which went from Southampton). Her winters were spent on world cruises.

On 10 April 1926 she was involved in a collision leaving Shainghai harbour. While leaving her wharf she ran aground, her stern swinging around and hitting a Japanese cargo vessel and an Italian gunboat, the Libia. A buoy then became tangled in the Franconia’s propellers, sinking a lighter in the process and killing four members of its crew.

In September 1939 she was requisitioned as a troopship and refitted at Liverpool. Her first duty was to transport troops to Malta, but while travelling in convoy with the Alcantara and Empress of Australia was involved in a collision with the former (a Royal Mail Lines ship that had been requisitioned as an Armed Merchant Cruiser). As a result of this accident the Franconia had to undergo major repairs at Malta. Later, during the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force from France, she was damaged by air raids while carrying 8,000 troops. For the rest of the war she continued as a trooper, travelling to India and the Middle East via Cape Town and taking part in the invasions of Madagascar, North Africa and Italy. In 1944 she carried American troops from New York to the Mediterranean. During her period of Government service she covered 319,784 miles and carried 189,239 troops.

The Franconia’s moment of war time glory came in January 1945. The ‘Big Three’ – Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin – were to meet at Yalta on the Black Sea to discuss the shape of post-war Europe. The Franconia acted as the base for the British delegation, returning to Liverpool in March 1945.

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After the end of the war, the Franconia, like many of the requisitioned vessels, continued in government service repatriating troops and prisoners of war. She returned to Cunard’s control in June 1948 and was sent to the Clyde for a nine-month reconditioning. On 2 June 1949 she resumed a passenger service, this time sailing from Liverpool to Quebec, she continued on the Canada service until 1956, from June 1955 sailing Southampton-Le Havre-Qubec.

The Franconia’s withdrawal from service was announced in October 1956. He last sailing was on 3 November between Liverpool and New York and back again. The return voyage was disrupted with mechanical faults and she was four days late when she reached Liverpool. She had been meant to carry troops to Suez, but the unreliability of her engines meant that she was withdrawn from this duty. She was sold to the British Steel & Iron Corporation and left Liverpool on 14 December 1956 to be scrapped at Inverkeithing.

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About Michael L. Grace

MICHAEL L. GRACE is part of the award winning team that created the internationally performed award winning musical SNOOPY, based on PEANUTS by Charles M. Schultz. SNOOPY continues to be one of the most produced shows (amateur & stock) in America/Worldwide and has had long running productions in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and in London's West End. There are over 100 individual productions every year. He has written movies for TV, including the award-winning thriller LADY KILLER, various pilots and developed screenplays for Kevin Costner and John Travolta. Besides co-writing and co-producing SNOOPY, he wrote and produced the one-man play KENNEDY. He produced P.S. YOUR CAT IS DEAD by pulitzer prize winning author James Kirkwood. He wrote the stage thriller FINAL CUT which had productions in the UK, South Africa and Australia. His one-man play, KENNEDY - THE MAN BEHIND THE MYTH, was developed for HBO and has starred Andrew Stevens, Gregory Harrison and Joseph Bottoms. He has recently been involved in European productions with CLT-UFA, Europe's leading commercial television and radio broadcaster. He wrote MOWs THE DOLL COLLECTION, THE BOTTOM LINE and LAST WITNESS for German television. While in college and graduate school he worked as a foreign correspondent for COMBAT, the famous leftwing Paris daily, and as a travel writer. He visited more than 50 countries. He struggled as an actor, then joined the enemy and entered the training program at William Morris. He became a publicist and worked for Colonel Tom Parker, Elvis Presley's manager, at Paramount and MGM. He followed with a brief stint as a story executive, working in the frantic horror genre period of the early 80s and wrote THE UNSEEN. He went onto write for episodic television and develop series pilots. He was a continuing writer on such series such as LOVE BOAT, PAPER DOLLS, and KNOTS LANDING. He developed screenplays for such major award winning directors as Nicolas Meyers, Tony Richardson and J. Lee Thompson. He has written for all the major networks and studios. He has been hired numerous times as a script doctor, doing many uncredited rewrites on TV movies and features. He is currently writing A PERSON OF INTEREST, a thriller novel, and, IT'S THE LOVE BOAT... AND HOW IT CHANGED CRUISING BY SHIP a non-fiction book dealing with how the hit TV series as a major cultural phenomenon and altered the style of cruising by ship. He was raised in Los Angeles. He attended St. Paul's, USC and the Pasadena Playhouse. He received a B.A from San Francisco State University where he majored in theatre arts and minored in creative writing. He is listed as a SFSU leading alumni. He also apprenticed at ACT - The American Conservatory Theatre. For a brief period he had intentions of becoming an Episcopal(Anglican) priest and attended seminary at Kelham Theological College in the UK. When "the calling" wasn't there, he left seminary and did graduate work at the American University of Beirut. He has guest lectured at USC, UC San Diego, McGill, Univ. of London and the Univ. of Texas on the business aspects of making a living and surviving as a writer, focusing on development hell, in the Hollywood entertainment industry. Grace is a lifetime member of the Writers Guild of America, the Dramatist Guild and former regional chairman of the Steamship Historical Society of America. He resides in Palm Springs.

10 comments

  1. My father, also Ralph ‘Val’ Johnson, ran away from home in Liverpool and was a bellboy, aged 17, on the Franconia’s maiden World Cruise in 1933. I used to have a thick, bound volume with all the details; shore visits; menus; events on board and many photos. Alas now lost. Father worked for some time as the ship’s carpenter after the war. He then moved to Illinois. I was taken there by my grandmother ( I had lost my mother) on the Franconia. We left NY to return home and I had my 5th birthday..March 27th 1955 ..during the crossing. The cooks , remembering Father, baked me a cake and the whole room of diners rose and sang Happy Birthday. I truly remember this. Later he was working on deck during a terrible storm off Nova Scotia and very badly injured. The worst accident in Furness Withey’s history they said. He died 18 months later, aged 46.
    His escape from Germany in 1943 after being shot down and parachuting (the sole survivor of his Blenheim) makes exciting reading. A tough guy. One can google: R V C Johnson, escape.
    It seems all Father’s close family served at sea. Grandfather, again Ralph Johnson, was captain of a huge paddle boat in Iraq during WW1 and his sisters were with Furness Withy, White Star and Cunard. Uncle ‘Fred’ Perry was a PO on the King George V which hunted and finished off the Bismark.

  2. I sailed on the Franconia in August of 1956..We had engine trouble before we left Liverpool and when we woke we were out to sea..I remember bad fog and the mournful fog horns blowing for a day or so but the most memorable event came when crew members started roping off the deck..we were heading toward a hurricane which turned out to be hurricane Betsy that turned toward our path..We spent a very rough night tossing from side to side and felt as though we would tip over..i was 9 years old but remember my mother crying and walking in our cabin all night..the porthole was constantly being hit by water..we went off course to find calmer water and finally reached NYC after 10 or 11 days at sea…It didn’t affect me at that time being only 9 but have to admit I would have probably been terrified today…I doubt if this would happen today with advanced weather warnings..no passenger ship would have been allowed to enter such a dangerous area with a major hurricane on the water….

  3. I AM WRITING A BOOK ABOUT THE 1ST BATTLE OF NARVIK 10TH APRIL 1940. THE CAPTAIN OF THE 2ND DESTROYER FLOTILLA WAS BERNARD WARBURTON-LEE, WHO WAS AWARDED THE FIRST VC OF THE 2ND WORLD WAR. I HAVE MADE MANY CONTACTS OF PREDOMINENTLY FAMILIES / FRIENDS OF THE SAILORS WHO WERE SURVIVORS ON HMS HARDY, INCLUDING MY FATHER CYRIL COPE, THEN A 21 YEAR OLD TORPEDOMAN. WHEN THEY WERE PICKUP BY HMS IVANHOE AFTER THE SECOND BATTLE OF NARVIK 13TH APRIL MOST OF THE SUVIVORS WERE DISPERSED TO OTHER WARSHIPS. FINALLY BEING REPATRIATED BACK TO GREENOCK 27TH APRIL ON THE THEN TROPPSHIP RMS FRANCONIA. THEY HAVE SOME VERY INTERESTING STORIES OF THEIR SHORT TIME ON THE FRANCONIA. HOWEVER, I WOULD BE MOST GRATEFUL IF THERE IS ANYONE OUT THERE WHO HAS FURTHER INFORMATION ABOUT THAT TIME ON THE LINER. THANKS RON COPE

  4. I’m writing a book about my family’s time in Canada, 1951 – 1961. A social/political history of that decade through the exploits of one family. My Mother (with me aged six months) came over on the Franconia in December of 1951, sailing from Liverpool to New York via Halifax. She has dementia now (lives in Dorchester) but recalls her first real look at Canada being of Halifax, “red roofs”. I presume she docked near Pier 21. I’m looking for detail – the look of sailing into Halifax harbour, being a passenger – First Class – on the Franconia, sailing on from Haifax to New York, coming into New York. Anything would be much appreciated and acknowledged in the book, which is entitled Head Start. Thank you in advance.

  5. In response to Brian Jackson, my parents left England on October 1st, 1953 to emigrate to Canada. The SS Franconia left from Liverpool, England and they landed in Quebec. I would suspect that your family’s ship would also have departed from Liverpool. I have a copy of the passenger list of British passengers only from that voyage. The passenger list was found at a website called: findmypast.co.uk. Hope you might be able to find yours there as well.

  6. My father “crossed the line” in 13.4.42 on ss Franconia, he was with royal engineers during the2nd world war. Does anyone have more info ?

    elizabeth

  7. Where did the SS Franconia leave from in may 1953? My mother Bridget Agnes, my sister Patrica, my brother Ernest and younger sister Bridget were passengers on that crossing. I am trying figure out how our family let England to come to Canada. I need as much information as I can get about this voyage. I hope someone can me. Thank you

  8. I have a Complete Passenger list December 1953 amongst other memorabilia from the crossing
    Including the Christmas Dinner Menu.
    All the Best

  9. My mother Bridget Lyndon, aunt & uncle Josie & Jim Finucane and 3 children were on one of the last voyages to New York.

    John

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