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

During the mid-80s, Michael Grace worked as a writer on the TV Hit Series THE LOVE BOAT. He wrote many of the two hour special featuring great stars of the past, including Lana Turner, Claire Trevor, Anne Baxter, Ethel Merman, Alexis Smith, etc. The public’s access to these stars, in familiar dramas and comedies, made them want to go on a cruise. They could see the stars in an ordinary world as “regular” people. The phenomenally successful series was responsible for creating the cruise industry as we know it today. By the time he was writing for Love Boat, the great steamship companies and their liners were flying hand me down foreign flags, painted like old whores, scrapped or doing three day cruises to the Bahamas. He had sailed on over thirty ships and liners with his parents, aunt and grandmother in late 50s to early 70s. The very successful CRUISING THE PAST website has been an outgrowth of Michael’s strong interest in cruise and social history. Drawing on his own knowledge and a vast maritime and social history collection, he is able to produce a very successful website. Michael is part of the award winning team that created the internationally performed award winning musical SNOOPY, based on PEANUTS by Charles M. Schultz. He has written for television and films. Read more by going to "About" (on the above dashboard) and clicking "Editor"…

9 comments

  1. My father was a Royal Navy rating injured with other ratings in an ammunition explosion on SS Franconia on 26/09/1941. Does anyone have any information about this incident and the ensuing enquiry?

  2. Thanks for this. My Grandfather, Capt A.T.Brown, had command of the 1935 World Cruise – which I only found out by chance recently having found news of his arrival in the Straits Times [Singapore] via Google. By that same cutting, I finally discovered the name of the Mayhill, in which he was shipwrecked on the coast of western Australia in 1895, at the very start of his maritime career. Not his only shipwreck in a sailing ship. Those World Cruises must have been marvellous.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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

  6. 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

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

  8. 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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