Expansion of Aquitania's wheelhouse in WW2


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Aug 8, 2007
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It is well-known that Aquitania had a new wheelhouse built one deck higher during WW1, but has anyone else noticed that this structure was significantly expanded during her WW2 service? Prior to the expansion, there were only 6 windows, but it was widened to about the width of the original wheelhouse, and had 12 windows once completed. If anyone has the book "SS Aquitania: Cunard's Atlantic Lady", by Neil McCart, the photos of her in WW2 service on page 50 & 51 illustrate this the best. The one on page 50 show the pre-expansion wheelhouse, while the one on page 51 shows the wider post-expansion wheelhouse. Any photo of the ship after WW2, up to her scrapping in 1950 will show the wider wheelhouse. I have never seen this mentioned in any book I own, even though it significantly alters the appearance of her bridge face. Has anyone else seen any info on this? This has had me curious for some time and I am hoping that it will rate a mention in Mark Chirnside's upcoming book on Aquitania. Thanks!

Russell
 
Nov 23, 1996
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Mark / Russell:

I know we had spoken about this prior, going from my memory.

In 1940 Aquitania underwent an extensive refit in Boston, Massachusetts. her trubines were completely stripped down and re-worked. Her boilers were removed and taken apart and re-built. Over thirty miles of new piping was installed, Large areas of decking were also replaced at this time she was equipped with (2) six inch guns and several smaller guns, she was also equipped at the time with (4) rocket projectors and a computerized gunnery control system for protection against submarine attack.

As some point later she was eqiupped with RADAR and SONAR and I have images of her with the RADAR and SONOR equipment on her foredeck and above her bridge. Now if the Bridge Aleration were done when the RADAR / SONOR were installed I can't answer.

After this re-fit she returned briefly to Liverpool and then left for troop transport to Austrailia and New Zealand.

In September 1942 to sailed from Boston, Massachusetts to New Zealaand and then back to the Suez. at trip over half-way around the world.

If I remember correctly Mark you might know more about this in 1942 she made 17 voyages from Boston to Clyde.

Now I know in my paperwork somewhere I have infromation about this re-fit and the fact that Aquitania as actually faster after the re-fit and she was 26 years old at the time.

Mark, I know we discussed this prior in the pass and you had sent me some details on the voyages that proved my point on the speeds.
 
Jan 5, 2001
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I had not seen this thread before, Russell, so I am sorry for the late response. If truth be told, I had forgotten about this little Aquitania section. Of course, these days I have too little time to respond or contribute to the forums. I can go for weeks or months on end.

I had taken some notes on the wheelhouse expansion but my memory is rather rusty; as to whether I noted this in the book, I cannot remember. Space was rather at a premium, unfortunately. There are some fine shots showing it in detail at Halifax in 1947-48.

Steven wrote:
quote:

I know we had spoken about this prior, going from my memory.

In 1940 Aquitania underwent an extensive refit in Boston, Massachusetts. her trubines were completely stripped down and re-worked. Her boilers were removed and taken apart and re-built. Over thirty miles of new piping was installed, Large areas of decking were also replaced at this time she was equipped with (2) six inch guns and several smaller guns, she was also equipped at the time with (4) rocket projectors and a computerized gunnery control system for protection against submarine attack.

I believe we had, yes. One issue I remember was regarding the time and location. I have no reason to doubt the information as to the refit’s scope — from the turbines to the boilers, additional piping and other equipment — but the date did seem to require further investigation. You see, after a glance at the itineraries for voyages 330-36 (spanning January 16th 1940 to January 29th 1941), I do not see any time that she was in Boston at all in 1940. Correct me if I am wrong (I am writing this after a rather tiring day/week/month/year — take your pick), but I don’t think she even went to Boston during the war until she arrived there on August 14th 1942 and left on September 6th 1942 for New York:

347 May 31st 1942 — August 14th 1942: Clyde, Freetown, Simonstown, Diego Suarez, Aden, Suez, Diego Suarez, Capetown, Freetown, Boston.
348 September 6th 1942 — November 27th 1942: Boston, New York, Rio de Janeiro, Capetown, Aden, Suez, Aden, Fremantle, Wellington.

If she underwent an extensive refit in Boston, during the first half of the war, then it would seem it was completed very quickly between these dates? This makes me wonder as to whether the date of 1940 should be a time in 1942?

However, you indicate that she then ‘returned briefly to Liverpool and then left for troop transport to Austrailia and New Zealand.’ If it was the case that the refit was in 1940, I see only one occasion when she returned to Liverpool, and that was at the end of her 332nd round trip:

332 May 2nd 1940 — June 22nd 1940 Wellington, Fremantle, Capetown, Simonstown, Freetown, Greenock, Liverpool.
333 June 29th 1940 — July 29th 1940 Liverpool, Freetown, Capetown, Simonstown, Colombo.

This raises yet another difficulty, in that she was not in Boston prior to going to Liverpool in 1940; nor did she visit Liverpool at all in 1942 (as far as I can see from examining quickly my notes).

I am afraid I am rather confused, as it seems that the date of 1940 must be wrong (making the refit 1942 as indicated above), and it does not seem possible that she could have returned to Liverpool (but that would rule out 1942). As you can see, the date is a real puzzle to me for those reasons.

quote:

In September 1942 to sailed from Boston, Massachusetts to New Zealaand and then back to the Suez. at trip over half-way around the world.

Yes, she left Boston on September 6th 1942; her 348th round trip.

quote:

Now I know in my paperwork somewhere I have infromation about this re-fit and the fact that Aquitania as actually faster after the re-fit and she was 26 years old at the time.

I appreciate you sharing this information, Steven. Certainly, even in 1939 she was averaging 25.83 knots for an eastbound day’s run and her average for an entire crossing soared to 24.99 or 25.00 knots as May 1939 marked 25 years’ service.

quote:

Mark, I know we discussed this prior in the pass and you had sent me some details on the voyages that proved my point on the speeds.

I believe I did, but I don’t remember the specifics. She certainly increased her speed, generally, as she aged — and in turn she seems to have been driven faster after Queen Mary arrived (as we knew). During the 1920s, she often averaged below 23 knots for an entire year’s service — i.e. 22.3 knots in 1924, just above Olympic’s 21.8 knots in 1924 — but by the mid 1930s her speed was rising. In 1938, her average for the year moved closer to 24 knots than 23.

Best wishes,

Mark.
 
Aug 8, 2007
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Mark & Steven, thank you for replying! Last night I pored over any book I could find that discussed Aquitania's WW2 service. So far as the 1940 refit goes, it is referred to in similar detail in the epilogue to the Shipbuilder reprint, but that book just says that it happened in the USA. However, both Mark Warren's Engineering reprint and J. Kent Layton's "Atlantic Liners" say that this refit happened in New York, not Boston. (No book I could find referred to Boston for this refit). Layton says the refit happened in February 1940. That might explain some of the confusion regarding Boston.

As for the wheelhouse expansion, a photo on page 169 of the Shipbuilder reprint shows Aquitania with the smaller pre WW2 wheelhouse. This photo is captioned as being from April 1942. The next dated photo I could locate was on page 95 of Stephen Harding's "Great Liners at War", showing her with the expanded wheelhouse, in 1944. If these dates are in fact correct, the expansion would have taken place in that time period. I remembered reading about the installation of radar and sonar somewhere but could not locate it in any of my books. The expanded wheelhouse may have had something to do with the radar and sonar. Steven, do you know when the radar and sonar was installed, and what did it look like on the foredeck and above the bridge?

Thank you for the info!

Russell
 
Jan 5, 2001
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Russell,

Thanks for your response. I am afraid that as I do more digging, I get more and more puzzled. You see, aside from the difficulties I suggested above in terms of the suggested dates in 1940 and 1942, even February 1940 poses problems. Bear in mind that I am at a distinct disadvantage at the moment, as I have put away many of my research papers. However, I can offer the following:

A Cunard document, which was a detailed and substantial compilation of Aquitania's war service, gave these dates:

330 January 16th 1940 — February 14th 1940: Southampton, Halifax, Gourock, Southampton.
331 March 9th 1940 — April 20th 1940: Southampton, Freetown, Capetown, Fremantle,
Sydney, Wellington.

A fellow researcher had examined Aquitania's voyage dates during the war, in relation to convoys, and their timeline agreed substantially with what I have above. There was no mention of a visit to New York in this timeframe.

If Aquitania did go to New York in February 1940, then we know she was at Southampton on February 14th and March 9th. So, excluding the voyage to New York (and then back), that leaves a window of about a fortnight. That does not seem long for an extensive refit.

I also examined some files I had to hand, again from company records, and none of them mentioned any refit at this time in 1940.

I took a quick glance at the Streater and McCart Aquitania books, and did not see any mention of a refit in February 1940, or even her visiting New York.

The question should be easy to answer by examining the ship's log for this period, but I do not have ready access to it at this moment.

Best wishes,

Mark.
 
Aug 8, 2007
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Hi Mark, one other thing was strange. The Streater book had a photo that it said was from a 1939 newspaper, shortly after war was declared, which already showed her with two 6" guns on her stern. The early 1940 refit was supposedly when her guns were mounted, but she had already been doing some trooping prior to that, starting in November (if I remember correctly; I don't have any books in front of me at the moment). I couldn't see her being sent to sea with a boatload of troops without any guns on board to defend herself. Perhaps this refit happened very quickly after war was declared.

The problem with relying on books is that one repeats any errors that were originally printed in them, and the truth gets lost.

Thanks!
Russell
 
Jan 5, 2001
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Russell,

Somewhere, I have a document outlining her WWI armament. I remember a contradiction between two sources with regard to that (as to the number of guns), so the issue of dates in 1939-40 does not surprise me. You know, if we'd been discussing this a year or so ago I would have my research papers and notes to hand.
smile.gif


A refit in New York in late February 1940 is not out of the question, but given the contradiction in other sources it really needs careful study. This is certainly the case when we have so much conflicting material. I hope that Steven may remember something with regard to the dates of the guns for WWII. It was not something I examined in detail, for it was not something I was writing about -- not for WWII, anyway. My focus there is more the human stories: 'sailing the world onboard Aquitania' and that kind of thing.

quote:

The problem with relying on books is that one repeats any errors that were originally printed in them, and the truth gets lost.

Absolutely. I must admit, I can take my share of the blame for that. In 'Aquitania,' I have relied very much on primary source material, as I did with 'Majestic,' but secondary sources are referenced.

Best wishes,

Mark.
 
Jul 9, 2000
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Mark, if I may, when was the Aquatania fitted with radar and sonar? The first is certainly believable, especially during the course of the Second World War when radar practically became standard equipment.

But sonar?

If I find that one a bit tough to swallow, it's because a transport/liner would have little use for such a fit. Space and weight isn't a problem as the ship would have had an adaquate margin for both, but sonar would be of little tactical use for such a vessel. They were expected to outrun or avoid submarines, not engage them in combat.
 
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Hi Michael,

That had slipped me by, actually. The new job is rather punishing and I have not yet adjusted!

If Steven actually has photographic images showing such equipment, then I would not have reason to doubt it, but then again that's not really my field. I'm hoping he'll chime in because he's very knowledgeable on Aquitania, and it's such a wide subject given the length of her career.

I did glance at McCart's 'Atlantic Liners of the Cunard Line,' which was published several years before his Aquitania book and had a shorter chapter on the ship. In the chapter (pages 105-06) he states: 'In early 1940, Aquitania underwent an extensive refit in the USA, during which she was defensively armed with two six-inch guns and smaller armament.' However, no mention is made of this refit in his more detailed work several years later. We have not yet found a primary source to document the date. Might it be that Mr. McCart came across a reason to doubt 'early 1940', as his research continued?

Best wishes,

Mark.
 
Jan 5, 2001
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It occurs to me that Alister Satchell's book mentions the radar equipment, but I could not see a mention of sonar when I glanced at it just now.

I'm off to work!
 
Jul 9, 2000
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>>The new job is rather punishing and I have not yet adjusted!<<

Understandable. I've been down that road a few times, either with a new ship, or with my civilian employment.

Steven, what's the story on the sonar?
 
Aug 8, 2007
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Hi Mark,

I didn't know about the book by Alister Satchell. I'll have to check that one out (as though I need more books!)

I don't know much about how long it takes to refit a liner, but...

"her turbines were completely stripped down and re-worked. Her boilers were removed and taken apart and re-built. Over thirty miles of new piping was installed, Large areas of decking were also replaced at this time she was equipped with (2) six inch guns and several smaller guns, she was also equipped at the time with (4) rocket projectors and a computerized gunnery control system for protection against submarine attack"

...as Steven wrote, sounds like it could take months as opposed to weeks. I realize things got done quickly out of necessity during wartime, but this is no small job! The timeframe for such a refit would have to be taken into consideration as well when trying to sort out when it could have happened. It doesn't sound like there were many big gaps in her schedule during the time period in question for a job of this magnitude to take place.

Russell
 
Jan 5, 2001
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Russell,

I agree, and I think the timing is a significant issue here -- as well as the date(s) in question.

I did have quite a few comments, but not the time to post them. Maybe another time.

Best wishes,

Mark.
 
Nov 23, 1996
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Hello All:

First time I had awhile to read the comments and get back to them.

>>If Steven actually has photographic images showing such equipment, then I would not have reason to doubt it, but then again that's not really my field. I'm hoping he'll chime in because he's very knowledgeable on Aquitania, and it's such a wide subject given the length of her career.<<

First as for the radar and sonar - I have I large image issued by Cunard-White Star Lines showing the Aquitania in her war-time colors and it dates from late 1944 this image shows a geometric "radar" (?) dome on her foredeck between the crew galley smokestacks. You can see two large guns mounted on the forepeak.

Now as for the bridge -- the enlarged bridge is there, also there seems to be an open bridge above the enlarged bridge and you can see another radar tower / fire control tower above this area. In the stern area near the lifeboat davits you can see some other smaller guns and another radar / anti aircraft battery. The rest of the vessel is covered with double stacked lifeboats / rafts. The lower main bridge is covered with blast shutters.

Now I will not claim to be a radar / sonar expert. But in my paperwork / books somewhere it talks about the radar and sonar installation. (Around 1942 if I remember correctly)

However, in my opinion the sonar is most likely a submarine signaling / detection system of the sorts that most liners were equipped with during WWI - The Olympic / Mauritania were equipped with such a system that was if I remember correctly called by various texts as SONAR.

I would post this image but - I am not sure of the copyright on it, as it was Cunard-White Star issued from 1944-45.

As for the first refit in the November 6, 1939 issue of Life Magazine there is the famous color center spread image of the Normandie / Queen Mary / and Aquitania taken at the end of September, 1939 - The Aquitania was berthed next to the Queen Mary.

Now what makes this picture interesting and indicates that the first re-fit in early 1940 must have been completed in New York is the fact that the Queen Mary and Aquitania are now both painted in all war time gray. The Normandie however is still in her running colors.

If you don't have a copy of this issue of Life Magazine find one as in my opinion this original color image is the best of the Normandie you will ever find.

Now if you refer to this thread you will see similar images - If I remember correctly these images were taken in Late — November 1939

https://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/discus/messages/6937/28439.html?1196295722

Now, the next issue would be that on March 7, 1940 the Aquitania was no longer in her berth in New York. I remember reading that she had been moved or had left a few weeks earlier. Mark, this would tie out to the February 1940 sailings that were talked about prior in this thread.

Now the reason that we know that the Aquitania was not in the same berth on March 7, 1940 was that this berth was taken upon the Maiden Voyage arrival of the Queen Elizabeth. Images in the March 18, 1940 issue of Life Magazine clearly show the Queen Elizabeth / Queen Mary and Normandie together. (Note: the Normandie is still in running colors - As she was not taken by the United States Maritime Commission until December 16, 1941 - I have an “original” signed carbon copy of the Report of the Commandant to the French Line which details this history)

Russell, I have the same books and sources that you referred to 1971 Patrick Steven’s re-print of the shipbuilder speaks of the refit and armaments in 1940. Also Streater speaks briefly of them. I know I have more on this in my files someplace.

But reviewing the information in the tread above and the other source’s I mentioned above I submit that the first refit on the Aquitania for her conversion to war-time duties took place in New York sometime during the period of September, 1939 through late February, 1940.

Now Mark / Russell, upon review there also appears to be additional refit work and armament placements completed sometime in 1942 in Boston. I know she was in Boston in 1942 as I have seen pictures of her there. (But I didn’t have the cash at the time to acquire them so they are now in some one else’s private collection.)

Now since, I saw these images over 15 years ago I can’t remember where she was. She was most likely the Charlestown Navy Dock which has a dry-dock large enough to hold her. (Note: I think the last major liner to use this dry-dock was the Queen Elizabeth 2 after she ripped open her hull on Queen Elizabeth 2 Rock of Martha’s Vineyard back in the late 80’s or early 90’s)

Hopefully, this will clear up some of the confusion. — Before we start discussing the work done on the other side of the world in Australia / New Zealand on the Aquitania / Queen Mary / Queen Elizabeth.

That is all for the moment - If I find more in my sources I will get back with additional information.
 

J Kent Layton

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Steven,

Thank you for providing this information. I dug something up last night that might add a little more to the discussion.

The January 1, 1940 issue of Time magazine mentioned that the Aquitania had already completed her first trooping voyage from Halifax by the time the article went to press, even though it was all still clouded in censorship.

Article here: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,763308,00.html?promoid=googlep

Somewhere else it was mentioned that the Aquitania departed New York during November, but it was not a primary source. Interestingly, this site may contain some of the important images you discussed in your post:

http://www.worldshipny.com/normandie.html

I think that the February 1940 alleged refit in NY is a mistake, and that preliminary preparations were made in NY between September and November. Some additions may also have been made while she was in Halifax before departing on her first east-bound trooping voyage. (I can't remember right now where I found first mention of this refit, but whatever the source was, it seems to have been off the mark too.)

It's kind of like peeling away the layers of an onion, sometimes, these historical controversies. Perhaps this information will help fit the puzzle together. (Hopefully, at least.)
happy.gif
 
Jan 5, 2001
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Steven, all;

I apologise for my short response, but it's all I can do right now.

As for Boston, I am in full agreement because that matches the schedule I posted above for 1942.

In terms of the refit, it occured to me that I have some November 1939 papers which gave a rather detailed set of comments about Aquitania's condition and outfit. They might shed some light on it but they are filed away.

As an aside, if I remember rightly it was reported that new furnace fronts were fitted to all the boilers around 1943-44. I have the exact date somewhere.

Best wishes,

Mark.
 
Nov 23, 1996
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I have dug a little further through the collection and found a few more interesting items relating to this topic.

Quoted from - Great Liners at War by Steven Harding - Motorbooks International Osceola, WI 1997 - Page 94-95

>>(Start Quote)"Once again Aquitania's elaborate furnishings and artwork were removed, her carpets and brass fittings were hauled away, and the paraphernalia of war was brought aboard gun mounts and rangefinders appeared along her upper decks and superstructure, and a coat of battleship gray masked her company colors. Sandbags and splinter shields replaced plush draperies and etched glass, and her passageways soon echoed to the sound of the same type of boots that ravaged her decks a quarter of a century earlier.

Aquitania's conversion was again completed in record time, and by November 1939 she was ready for sea. Her first task, begun that month was the transportation of Canadian troops from Halifax to Southampton. She remained on that service until March 1940, when she was shifted to Australia." <, (End quote)

At this point the Aquitania was on trooping duties to Australia and New Zealand for the next 22 months. In February 1942 she was in Honolulu, Hawaii and sailed to San Francisco, California arriving on March 1, she made two more trips to Hawaii in March and April. She then sailed from Honolulu to New York and then arrived in Liverpool on May 12, 1942 - On July 8th she was in Egypt and sailed through the Suez to Madagascar and Cape Town and then sailed back to the United States she arrived in Boston on August 14th. On October 31st she was back in Egypt via Cape Town and Aden.

So the next question would be if she were in Boston on August 14, 1942 how long could she have stayed there if she was in Egypt via Cape Town and Aden on October 31, 1942.

It would appear that the first conversion we were talking about was completed in New York by November 1939.

To back this up attached is a Postcard image of the Aquitania in Halifax N.S. at pier no. 2 in late, 1939.

Image from S. Anderson Postcard Collection
Original Publisher Novelty Mfg & Art Co., Limited, Montreal Circa 1939

aquitania__hailifax__1940.jpg


And to show and image of the bridge in question

Image from S. Anderson Postcard Collection
Original Publisher — Photo-Precession Ltd. St. Albans circa 1946

aquitania__1948__new_bridge.jpg
 
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