Cruise Ship History – Union Steam’s luxurious T.S.S. Awatea was the “only way to cross” the Tasman Sea from Australia to New Zealand in the late 1930s!

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The T.S.S. AWATEA

Far away from the Trans-Atlantic services – “Down Under” – Union Steam Ship Company operated a fleet of excellent passenger ships between Australia and New Zealand until 1960.

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The Awatea was the ultimate statement in luxurious service and was the only way to cross the Tasman Sea in the late 1930s. Unfortunately, this beautiful jewel of a liner’s life was very brief but will always be remembered as an elegant experience while it lasted.

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The fast way to cross.

In August 1936 the Union Steam Ship Company took delivery of its new trans-Tasman liner, Awatea. In September the ship began a new express service between Australia and New Zealand.

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The Awatea (meaning Eye of the Dawn) was one of the most famous and beautiful ships under the Union flag and the only way to cross the Tasman Sea. She also made several voyages from Sydney to Vancouver via Honolulu.

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Awatea passing Sydney’s Harbor Bridge 1936.

She accommodated 566 passengers (377 in First Class, 151 in Tourist Class and 38 in 3rd Class).

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Awatea seen in Vancouver, Canada. She made six voyages in 1940-41 from Sydney to Canada when Australasian airmen were conveyed for training. A year later she would be sunk while serving as a troop transport.

She was built to the company’s design by Vickers-Armstrong at Barrow-in-Furness and was a handsome vessel with a high standard of accommodation. Her length was 527 ft, with a beam of 74 ft, and a gross tonnage of 13,482.

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The Awatea’s first class public rooms rivaled many liners operating from New York to Europe.

Her speed, comfort, and ability to keep going with the minimum of time in port, together with the publicity sense of her master, Captain A. H. Davey, made her a popular and well-known ship. In the summer of 1937 she made 11 Tasman crossings in 41 days and in the same year she brought the times for the Auckland-Sydney and Sydney-Wellington passages to less than 56 hours. Her best day’s run was 576 miles, an average speed of 23.35 knots.

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The tourist class dining salon.

union53.jpgShe was also known as “The Queen of the Tasman Sea” and in October 1937 set a record between Auckland and Sydney of 55 hours, 28 minutes. In achieving this, no less than 23,881 shaft horsepower was unleashed at an average speed of 22.89 knots. In recognition of this, she was presented a stainless steel greyhound that was mounted on the foremast of the ship. Captain Davey was the Master most associated with Awatea and on his retirement in 1941, he took (or was presented with it) the greyhound with him and had it mounted on his home in Auckland.

asa009_2.jpgAt the outbreak of war she was undergoing her annual survey and was fitted with a 4 in. gun aft. She continued to cross the Tasman until July 1940 after which she made several trips to Vancouver and, in addition, was used for transporting troops and refugees. In September 1941 she was requisitioned by the British Government for use as a troop transport and did three voyages. Then she was fitted out to take part in Operation Torch, the Allied landings in North Africa. She carried the 6th Commando group to off Algiers where she dropped them early on 8 November 1942. Eventually the Awatea anchored off Bougie, but as she was leaving German bombers attacked her and despite good anti-aircraft fire she was hit several times and sank during the night. The master, Captain G. B. Morgan, was awarded the D.S.O. and several of the crew were decorated for the ship’s part in the operation.

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The Awatea’s wheelhouse and bridge.

During her six years of life the Awatea steamed 576,132 miles, slightly more than half in peacetime, including 225 Tasman crossings. In its day the Awatea provided the acme of maritime speed and comfort.

A 1950s passenger schedule.

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