Saturday, October 20, 2018

When the people of Edinburgh, the Lothians and Fife awoke on the morning of Saturday 6th November 1918 and unfolded the weekend editions of their newspapers, they found their tight packed columns full of news that victory in the War was at last only days away, and that sailors of the German Navy had mutinied at Kiel in the Baltic.

There was, however, not one single word in either paper about the biggest news story which had broken within their own circulation areas the previous day. The censors had ensured that there was not a mention that carelessness had sunk the Royal Navy’s first ever aircraft carrier HMS Campania within sight of the Forth Bridge.

The 12,950 ton Campania was built on the Clyde by the Fairfield Engineering Company, Govan, not as an aircraft carrier, but as the latest luxury liner to join the Cunard fleet. Like all Cunard liners of the period, her name ended distinctively in the letters, “ia” and together with her sister ship, Lucania, also built by Fairfields, she was to revolutionise transatlantic travel, both because of her speed and because of her luxurious fittings, unsurpassed in her period.

However, after Campania’s launch at Govan on 8th September 1892, Cunard were not happy with their new vessel, because speed trials off the Isle of Arran revealed excessive vibration. Campania was Cunard’s first twin screw vessel; the two huge propellors were deemed the source of the problem. For a time, Cunard threatened to sue Fairfields, but after the pitch of the propellor blades was changed the vibration was greatly reduced.

After a delay of seven months, SS Campania entered service on 22nd April 1893. By the time she sailed on her maiden voyage the shaking was much reduced and, in any case, was really only felt by the 1,000 emigrates huddled together – just as on the later White Star liner, the ill-fated Titanic; in steerage class, so called because it was situated in the stern of the ship where her German designed rudder and the propellor tubes were situated. Meanwhile, her 600 pampered guests in first class and 400 passengers in the almost equally comfortable second class accommodation situated for’ard and amidships, never noticed the problem even when Campania’s captain ordered her full cruising speed of 22 knots. As they disembarked in the United States they were so full of praise for the delightfully comfortable crossing, which they had so much enjoyed, that on the return trip to Britain, her master was encouraged to urge an extra knot from Campania’s two 15,000 horse power triple expansion steam engines, and she set a transatlantic record time of five days, seventeen hours and twenty seven minutes, to arrive home the proud holder of the fabled Blue Riband.

Campania was the pride of the Cunard fleet and company literature boasted of her two enormous red funnels, each almost twenty feet in diameter and rising an impressive 130 feet from keel to rim; her elegant and perfectly designed razor sharp bow to ensure speed, and her twenty lifeboats to ensure safety.

Along with Lucania, which entered service later the same year, Campania, put Cunard well ahead of all of its British and Continental rivals on the North Atlantic route as the 19th century drew to a close.

Throughout the first decade of the new century, Campania continued as the race horse of the Atlantic fleet, but by 1910 Cunard were becoming concerned about the growing expense of operating her. From her launch, Campania’s one hundred furnaces required to heat her thirteen boilers ate up a huge 500 tons of coal every day she was at sea, and as her engines grew older they were becoming ever more expensive to fuel.

Therefore, in 1914 Cunard decided to sell Campania to the breakers. Soon after, the outbreak of hostilities against Germany rescued her from the scrap yard, because the Admiralty, who was desperately seeking a ship to convert into a newfangled aircraft carrier, decided that she would make the ideal vessel. The reasons for its choice were her sleek, streamlined liner length, and her still impressive speed. Now that Great Britain was at war, the cost of the coal and the wages of the 180 firemen and stokers required to achieve that speed, no longer mattered! Up until the outbreak of WWI, the pioneering efforts to utilise the newly available air power in naval warfare had depended on seaplanes, which both took off and landed on water, but now the Lords of the Admiralty were determined to gain the advantage of launching planes from ships, and for that to succeed the speed of the vessel was all important.

After Campania was purchased by the Royal Navy, on 27 November 1914, it took almost eight months to refit her as one of the world’s first aircraft carriers, complete with a 168 foot long wooden flight deck stretching all the way from her bridge to her bows. At last, on 8th August, 1915, all was ready for the first trial of a ship borne take off and Campania’s captain ordered her to sail straight into the wind and rang down to the engine room for her to increase her speed to maximum 23 knots. As the now 23-year-old vessel liner surged forward, the pilot of the Sopworth Baby seaplane on her flight deck opened throttle and thundered along the planks of her runway to make a first successful takeoff. Triumphantly, he circled Campania, dipping his wings in salute to the bridge before touching down in the water on the new aircraft carrier’s lee side and being hoisted safely back on board.

Despite this success, it was decided that Campania’s flight deck was definitely too short for operational use, and so she was ordered back to port for further drastic modifications to provide the additional length required. The work involved removing her forward funnel and replacing it with two narrow smoke pipes on either side of the now extended 200 foot long runway. The work was completed by the end of April 1916 and Campania was ordered to sail with all speed to the Orkneys to rejoin the Grand Fleet at Scapa Flow.

It was then that Campania’s luck began to run out. Despite the long light Orcadian twilight at the end of May, her captain missed the final signal to set sail to challenge the German Navy at the Battle of Jutland and, in the brief darkness of the northern night, further failed to see that the rest of the British Grand Fleet had set sail from the anchorage at Scapa Flow. By the time dawn broke about two hours later and the mistake became painfully obvious, the other ships of the fleet were over forty miles out into the North Sea.

Campania set to sea as soon as possible, and with her superior speed to that of any other vessels in the Grand Fleet, would have caught up with them in time to play her part in the vital battle. However, Admiral Jellicoe doubting that she could arrive in time, and ordered her back to Scapa Flow, thus robbing the Royal Navy of air reconnaissance in the ensuing fray. Her ill luck continued, when two months later in August, essential repairs prevented her taking part in the next abortive attack on the German fleet.

Despite these setbacks, in 1917, Campania was equipped with specially built two seater Fairey F 16s. They proved very successful as spotter planes and were named Campanias after their mother ship.

Read the rest of this article with additional pictures in Sea Breezes Magazine - October 2018 Issue
Click here to subscribe

Subscribe Graphic

Latest Issue - Look Inside!


Most Popular

  • 1
  • 2

Top Ten Books and DVDs of 2018

Latest Products

Maritime Log

  • Focus on Historic Photographs of Lifeboats +

    Beken Lifeboat Collection Photographs of lifeboats dating from the turn of the 20th Century are the centrepiece of a new RNLI exhibition that Read More
  • Vehicle Carrier Runs Aground +

    Makassar Highway The vehicle carrier Makassar Highway, 17,735gt, of the Japanese company K Line, ran aground off the Swedish coast on the Read More
  • Keeping Port's Waterways Safe for Ships +

    UKD Orca The trailing suction hopper dredger UKD Orca, 3,087gt, of UK Dredging, of Cardiff, arrived at Ipswich in August for its Read More
  • Spotlight on Future Port Technology +

    Port of Southampton The next generation of port technologies that will help to keep the British industry trading are being jointly developed by Read More
  • Bridge Sections Transported on Giant Barge +

    Lowestoft Barge One of the largest barges ever handled at Lowestoft was safely moved out of the port early in July on Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

North America

  • Forest of Giant Cranes and a New Wharf +

    Port of Houston The Port of Houston, in Texas, took delivery of three new neopanamax ship-to-shore cranes on Aug 6 and five rubber-tyred Read More
  • Garbage Patch Clean-up Set to Start +

    garb The first offshore cleaning system was to be installed last month in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch located halfway between Read More
  • Line's Big Investment in Puerto Rico Service +

    El Coqui At the end of July, the new container/roll on-roll off cargo ship El Coqui, 36,796gt, of the Crowley Maritime Corp, Read More
  • Cleaning Up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch +

    Garbage System 001 This month, a new floating clean-up system to tackle what is known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch was due Read More
  • Panama Canal Ban on LNG Ships to Go +

    Panama Canal On Oct 1, the Panama Canal Authority will lift its daylight and encounter bans on LNG vessels to offer more Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3


  • China is World's Top Shipping Nation +

    China Containers China is the world’s leading international shipping nation, according to a new report presented at a Hamburg trade fair on Read More
  • Automatic Berthing Project Test +

    Shioji Maru The proposed joint demonstration project by four Japanese organisations relating to the safety of vessels’ auto berthing and un-berthing has Read More
  • Record Voyage for Northern Sea Route LNG Cargo +

    Christophe de Margerie A new record for crossing the Northern Sea Route was set up in July by the icebreaking LNG carrier Christophe Read More
  • Antarctic Ship is Re-Chartered +

    Aurora Australis The contract for the icebreaker and research ship Aurora Australis, 6,574gt, to resupply Australia’s Antarctic stations has been extended until Read More
  • Wreck of Cruiser From 1905 Battle is Located +

    Kea Trader The South Korean company Shinil Group said it has found the wreck of a Russian cruiser that was sunk 113 Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Naval Focus

  • HMS Albion Proves Big in Japan +

    HMS Albion British News The assault ship HMS Albion, at time of writing, had just completed a five day visit to Tokyo Read More
  • Royal Navy Commissions New Survey Ship +

    HMS Magpie British News The latest survey vessel to join the Royal Navy was commissioned into service at her homeport of Devonport Read More
  • F-35 Stealth Fighters Land in UK +

    F-35 British News The first four of Britain’s next generation F-35 Lightning supersonic fighter jets touched down in the United Kingdom Read More
  • Upgrade Planned for Russia’s Only Aircraft Carrier +

    Admiral Kuznetsov Russian News Russia’s only aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov, will be refitted to prolong the warship’s operational life. Read More
  • HMS “Astute” in Cat-And-Mouse Pursuit by Russian Ships +

    HMS Astute British News Ahead of the American led missile strikes against suspected chemical weapon manufacturing plants in Syria in early April, Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Ferry World

  • Tragedy in Tanzania +

    Nyerere A country well used to tragedy, saw another, on Lake Victoria in September. Read More
  • Trouble for "Loch Seaforth" +

    Loch Seaforth Ferry services between Ullapool and Stornoway were disrupted when Caledonian MacBrayne’s Loch Seaforth lost power just over an hour into Read More
  • Stena Adds Extra Freight Capacity to Liverpool Service +

    Stena Forerunner In response to growing market demand, Stena Line has upped freight capacity on the popular Belfast – Liverpool route. Read More
  • Honfleur Hull Sections Craned Into Place +

    Honfleur Brittany Ferries has celebrated the second milestone in the build of its next ship Honfleur with the keeling laying - the Read More
  • Trinidad and Tobago to Sell T&T Express +

    T&T Express Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Keith Rowley has announced that the Incat 91 wave piercing catamaran Incat 046, otherwise known Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Sail Review/Coastal Comment

  • Sunderland to Esbjerg Race +

    Oosterschelde On the north east coast of England, it was Sunderland’s proud claim that more ships had been built here than Read More
  • Tall Ships at Liverpool +

    Belem At the end of May, a Tall Ships fleet met at Liverpool. Read More
  • New Bridge Challenges Melissa +

    Melissa The organisers of the charter barges working from Ipswich are worried by plans to build a road bridge across the Read More
  • German Schooners +

    Thor Heyerdahl Two German schooners based at Hamburg are regularly making voyages under sail with general cargoes across the Atlantic. Read More
  • RFA Pearleaf +

    RFA Pearleaf Thanks to Orkney Image Library for this view of the RFA Pearleaf. Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

From the Lookout

  • Less (K)Notts, More Speed! +

    Sir Keith Speed A recent addition to my book collection is Sea Change, a commentary on the battle for the Falkland Islands and Read More
  • UK P&I Club Launches Interactive Video Series +

    Lessons Learned Video I am always in favour of any steps taken to improve safety of life at sea and I feel that Read More
  • Seaking Electrical Delivers DFDS Upgrades +

    Dave Gillam I was interested to learn that Marine engineering specialist SeaKing has recently completed extensive upgrade work on three shortsea ferries Read More
  • Edinburgh Named Top Cruise Destination for 2018 +

    Balmoral In my ‘Message From the Bridge’ in August’s edition of Sea Breezes, I mentioned the burgeoning cruise market in the Read More
  • Naming Ceremony for Forth Tug and Pilot Boat +

    Forth Puma and Craigleith In my Message From The Bridge in the August edition of Sea Breezes I highlighted the Firth of Forth. Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Cruise News/Superyacht News

  • Back to Back Transatlantic on the Queen Mary 2 +

    Queen Mary 2 In the past I have been fortunate in that I have been on a cruise to a number of the Read More
  • Turnkey Explorer Yacht +

    Explorer 67 An exciting opportunity for an owner looking to build one of the finest explorer yacht projects available has presented itself. Read More
  • Great Perseverance +

    Meira Behind the construction of every great yacht there is a story and in the building of Meira, it is one Read More
  • Keel Laid for Hapag-Lloyd’s First Expedition Cruise Ship +

    Hanseatic Inspiration A keel-laying ceremony was held on June 20 2017 for Hanseatic Nature, the first of two expedition cruise ships being Read More
  • Superyacht Season - Cannes +

    Numarine 26 XP Loved and hated in equal measure by those who exhibit at the Cannes Yachting Festival, as it is correctly known, Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Ships, Ports and Places

Maltese Maritime Museum

A Visit to Ye Olde Naval Bakery

Malta’s “Maritime Museum” is housed in the former Naval Bakery on the quay of Valletta’s urban ward Birgu. Construction of Read More
Presidente Peron

"Eva Peron"

If someone in 1939 had decided to sit out the Second World War they might well have done so in Read More
  • 1
  • 2

Companies, Events and Other Features


The Last Voyage of the Islamount

Submitted by T. D. DAVIES, Caernarvonshire - Reprinted from Sea Breezes June, 1936. Thomas David Davies, author of the 1936 Sea Read More
John W Brown

A Cruise in a Liberty Ship

Any debate about the single most important military invention during World War Two would probably become heated and unlikely to Read More
  • 1
  • 2