The Athenia, The Southern Cross & The Enigma Machine – Other Cruise News: The Quantum Factor – Hanseatic Sets Northernmost Record
by Kevin Griffin
Seventy-five years ago this week saw the first sinking of a passenger ship during the Second World War. Parts of this story are now forgotten but there, to rescue many of her passengers, was a rather interesting yacht. Meanwhile, the U-Boat commander that sank the ship lost his life after sinking another ship managed by the same line. In that event, the Royal Navy captured its first Enigma machine, something that changed the course of the war. Elsewhere, Royal Caribbean International last week announced a number of technical advances for its new Quantum class ships, while Hapag-Lloyd Cruises’ Hanseatic set a record for the northernmost position ever reached by a passenger ship.
THIS WEEK’S STORY
The Athenia, The Southern Cross & The Enigma Machine
Seventy-five years ago today the news from Europe was anything but peaceful. Germany had just invaded Poland. On the same day, Donaldson Line’s 13,465-ton passenger liner Athenia sailed from Glasgow, en route to Montreal via Liverpool and Belfast. But she would never reach Canada. Instead, on September 3, the day that war was declared, she was torpedoed by the German submarine U-30.
Some 118 lives were lost in this first Allied merchant ship loss of the war. Luckily, sea conditions allowed 1,300 survivors to be rescued by two cargo ships, one American and one Norwegian, the 1,851-ton Swedish yacht Southern Cross and the British destroyers HMS Electra, Escort and Fame.
The Norwegian Knute Nelson landed 449 survivors at Galway Bay in Ireland, while the Southern Cross rescued 376 and transferred 236 of them to the American City of Flint, which took them to Halifax. The remaining 140 the Southern Cross took with her to Miami.
Having sailed from Sweden in late August after an ill-starred European peace mission, Swedish industrialist Axel Wenner-Gren and his Southern Cross happened to be nearby as the Athenia was hit, as he was returning to Nassau, where Wenner-Gren had a home on Paradise Island
One of the world’s largest private yachts, the clipper-bowed Southern Cross had first appeared in Nassau in 1937. With a length of 320 feet overall and a speed of 16 knots, she had been built on the Clyde in July 1930 for Lord Inchcape, chairman since 1915 of Britain’s P&O Lines and British-India Line.
Inchcape spent much of his time on board her under her original name of Rover, even designing new ocean liners in his shipboard study. After he died on board at Monte Carlo in May 1932, she was sold to film and aviation mogul Howard Hughes, who in 1933 renamed her after one of his planes.
In Nassau in 1937, Hughes entertained actress Katharine Hepburn on board. While the New Northland, the regular Miami-Nassau cruise ship, sailed back and forth three times a week, the Southern Cross remained at her berth in Nassau while Hepburn finished her first two paintings. Both were views of Nassau harbour as seen from Prince George’s Wharf. Hughes later proposed but it never led to marriage.
In late 1937, no longer having enough time to enjoy the Southern Cross, Hughes sold her to Axel Wenner-Gren, who owned Sweden’s Electrolux appliance and Bofors armaments companies. Wenner-Gren had been developing significant holdings in the Bahamas and the Southern Cross provided a home as well as transport between his various interests.
In December 1940, Wenner-Gren would offer the Southern Cross to the Duke of Windsor, the new Governor of the Bahamas, so that he and the Duchess could travel to Miami. Later, after falling out with the Americans, Wenner-Gren donated his yacht to the Mexican Navy for use as a training ship.
Meanwhile, the sinking of the Athenia shocked the public. Of her record 1,102 passengers, 469 were Canadian and 316 American. For fifteen years, the twin sisters Athenia and Letitia had been familiar sights on the St Lawrence route as they ran between Liverpool and Glasgow and Québec and Montreal in conjunction with two similar ships owned by the Cunard Line.
When war broke out, the Letitia, having left Montreal, was sent to anchor in the St Lawrence to await further instructions. Finally, she was ordered back to Montreal to disembark her passengers and be converted to an armed merchant cruiser.
On May 9, 1941, the 4,976-ton Esmond, a ship that was also managed by the Donaldson Line, was torpedoed by the U-110. An interesting result sprang from the torpedoing of the Esmond. Immediately she was hit, her Royal Navy escorts attacked and managed to capture the U-110. Her commander, Fritz-Julius Lemp, was the same man who had torpedoed Donaldson’s Athenia when he was in command of the U-30 in 1939.
Including the Athenia, the Esmond and a third Donaldson ship, Lemp had sunk twenty Allied ships totaling 96,784 tons while in the U-30 and U-110. He and 14 of his crew were lost in the engagement, a sort of revenge for the deaths on Athenia, but more importantly, an Enigma machine and codebooks were captured.
Although the Hollywood film portrayed Americans as capturing the first Enigma machine, it was the Royal Navy who had done so, when responding to the sinking of the Esmond, long before the Americans had even entered the war. This capture, the most significant of the war, was kept from the Germans by allowing the U-boat to sink, but was vital in helping the Allies to break Nazi codes and read their radio traffic.
The information was so sensitive that it was kept secret for more than thirty years.
Today, of course, things are different. Germany was rebuilt after the war. Its shipyards today count amongst those of only four nations – Finland, France, Germany and Italy – that account for the lion’s share of world cruise ship building.
And approaching 1.7 million cruisers, Germany is today on the cusp of exceeding the UK in terms of the number of people that cruise annually, to become the second largest cruise market after the United States. Indeed, with its higher population, Germany could well approach 2.5 million cruisers a year of it can attain the same market penetration as the UK.
OTHER CRUISE NEWS
The Quantum Factor
After being floated out at the Meyer Werft shipyard in Papenburg, Germany, on August 13, Royal Caribbean International followed up last week with the announcement of a number of technological advances associated with its Quantum class ships. The first, the Quantum of the Seas, will spend a season in New York before being assigned to the Chinese market in 2015, while the second, Anthem, of the Seas, will enter the ex-UK market next year.
In addition to the ship’s own 14-passenger North Star capsule, skydiving simulator and bumper cars, new technology will mean that before they board, guests will be able to generate boarding documents, upload their ID photo, and receive boarding confirmation.
By the time they arrive at the cruise terminal for departure, Royal Caribbean claims they will be able to go from kerb to ship in ten minutes with no check-in counter, no forms to fill in and no queues.
Guests on Quantum of the Seas will also be issued wristbands with Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) chips in place of the standard issue key cards, which can be used for cabin access, payment and other key card functions. The wristbands can also be used to navigate around the ship.
If they really want to, guests will be able to track luggage in real time on their smartphones. Luggage will be tagged kerbside with RFID technology, and guests can monitor their bags through key points en route to the stateroom. Although it will not speed the luggage ashore, the process will be reversed on departure.
The new wristbands, which require only a simple tap to find your way around the ship, can be used to make purchases and serve as a room key as well. And if people don’t want to be seen wearing cheap-looking blue wristbands, the line will give them a standard card key as well.
Two applications will also be introduced. Cruise Planner will allow guests to make dining reservations and book shore excursions and spa appointments before their cruise begins. And Royal iQ, available as a downloadable application provided at iQ stations around the ship, will allow guests to manage details of their cruise program. They can also keep in touch with one another and home with phone and text capabilities.
Quantum of the Seas will operate with unprecedented bandwidth using satellites supplied by technical partner O3b Networks.
With speeds that match broadband connections onshore, guests can be online 24/7, no matter what personal device they bring, and will be able to watch streaming video, check email, share images on social media and enjoy face-to-face video conversations, even in the middle of the ocean.
Technology also powers a new venue, the Bionic Bar, with two robots at centre stage. Guests will place orders by tablet and then watch robotic bartenders at work mixing cocktails.
Robots also drive the aft-facing lounge Two70, which will be home to six Roboscreens that stage performances that will create scenes while soaring and twisting solo, or uniting as one. Guests will also experience Vistarama, floor-to-ceiling glass walls that will project any scene, real or imagined.
Guest staterooms will be equipped with device-charging USB outlets, as well as energy efficient lighting systems. And inside cabins will be fitted with Virtual Balconies that display real-time sights and sounds of the sea through 80-inch LED screens.
Every crewmember will also be given a personal Microsoft Windows tablet, with a suite of work services and applications. As technology upgrades are made across the fleet, every shipboard employee of Royal Caribbean International will receive their own tablet, a total of 40,000 of which will be required.
Meanwhile, atop the Quantum of the Seas has been installed a thirty-foot-high eight-tonne sculpture of a polar bear in red by Lawrence Argent that forms part of a 2,980-piece, multi-million dollar art collection themed “What Makes Life Worth Living,” specially created for Quantum of the Seas.
Hanseatic Sets Northernmost Record
Hapag-Lloyd Cruises’ Hanseatic set a new record for passenger ships in the Russian Arctic last week, when on August 26 she reached 85° 40.7′ north and 135° 39.6′ east. At this latitude, she was just 259 nautical miles from the North Pole.
The Hanseatic is the first non-Russian ship to sail Russia’s Northern Sea Route, in her case westbound, leaving Nome, Alaska, on August 12 for Bodo, Norway
Captain Thilo Natke commented: “Unusual ice conditions made this record possible.North of the New Siberian Islands in the Russian Arctic, there was a large ice-free zone stretching north through the Arctic Ocean, which we used for this spontaneous detour.”
In temperatures of around zero degrees and a brisk north-easterly wind, passengers took a Zodiac ride along the edge of the pack ice. The event was then celebrated with a party on deck.
The expedition through the Northern Sea Route has now continued on to Severnaya Zemlya with expeditionary landings. This will be followed by cruises through the Kara Sea, Novaya Zemlya, the Barents Sea and Murmansk, at the end of the Northern Sea Route. From Murmansk she proceeds in open water to Hammerfest and Bodö, which she will reach on September 10.
The 5-star-plus Hanseatic was built to provide intensive exploration in elegant surroundings for a maximum of 175 guests. Her design includes the highest ice class (E4 or 1A Super), allowing her to travel to destinations inaccessible to cruise ships. Guests explore in Zodiacs with only 10-12 guests.
On board experts include experienced scientists, expedition leaders and specialists who guide landings and offer guests the opportunity to observe plant and animal life up close.
But what makes these expedition adventures secure is the fact the highly experienced captains of Hanseatic and her running mate, the 164-berth Bremen, have together made more than 200 voyages to the Arctic and Antarctica.
The first passenger ship to undertake the Northern Sea Route was the 52-berth chartered Russian ship Akadernik Shokalskiy, which did so for Aurora Expeditions of Australia, crossing from Murmansk to Anadyr in August 2011.
The furthest north any vessel with passengers has reached is the North Pole, which the nuclear icebreaker Sibir first visited in 1989. In the twenty-five years since, many more passenger trips have been made by the Yamal and the 50 Years of Victory, but the last scheduled trips are planned for 2015.
After this, the icebreakers will be needed for escort duty on the Northern Sea Route.
(Kevin Griffin is managing director of specialist cruise agency The Cruise People Ltd in London, England. For further information concerning cruises mentioned in this article readers can visit his blog)