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Ships 3


Orient Line's Orion Was One Unique Ship

 By James Donahue

Anyone that ever booked passage on the Orient Line's fine steamship Orion, or simply observed her in passing, would remember it as among the more colorful liners to grace the high seas.

Dominating in size at 665-feet, she was the largest of the Orient Liners. She was powered by six Parsons SRG steam turbines the drove twin screws and reached a speed of 21 knots. Her seven passenger decks gave her a towering appearance.

But the thing most remembered about the Orion was its unique color scheme. She was the first Orient liner to be painted with a corn yellow hull. The superstructure was white. Her interiors were given an extensive use of chromium and bakelite, which set this ship apart from all other Orient liners. The unusual decor was chosen in an experiment that resisted the effects of the sea air and proved to be original for that era.

There were at least two other things about the Orion that make her quite unique among the liners competing on the Australian immigrant run in those years. She was the first British liner that offered air conditioning in all of her public rooms. And when she was launched on December 7, 1934, she was sent down the ways in the UK via wireless transmission by the Duke of Gloucester from Brisbane, Australia.

This ship began as a Two Class passenger liner that offered 709 cabin class rooms and 700 tourist class rooms. Later the vessel was converted as a One Class liner with 1,691 tourist class rooms. After the conversion the crew was increased from 466 to a staff of 565. When fully booked she was a floating city at sea.

Orion made regular voyages between the UK and Australia until late 1939 when she was acquired by the British government to serve as a troop transport. She left on her first voyage in that capacity on January 6, 1940 in convoy for Sydney, Australia, and then back with troops bound for Egypt.

The liner survived the ravages of the war except for a collision with the old battleship Revenge, steaming in convoy in the South Atlantic, on September 15, 1941. Orion was traveling directly behind the Revenge when the steering gear on the battleship malfunctioned. Orion could not avoid the turning ship and rammed the Revenge. She took damage to her bow but was able to continue on to Cape Town and later to Singapore where she was repaired.

While still in Singapore, the Japanese army was closing in on that area, and Orion participated in a mass evacuation of civilians to the safety of Australia.

By the time she was released from active naval duties, Orion had carried over 175,000 soldiers and civilians and logged over 380,000 miles at sea.

Orion was returned to the Barrow shipyard in 1946 where she was given a complete refit that included a redesign of all passenger facilities. When the work was completed she offered 546 First Class and 706 Tourist rooms.

The liner faithfully continued on its regular runs between the UK and Australia, with occasional trips to other parts of the world, until April, 1963, when she steamed for Tilbury and retirement after years of service. Knowing it was to be her final trip, the crew raised an 85-foot pennant from her mast marking the occasion.

After arrival in Europe, the Orion was chartered for four months as a floating hotel in Hamburg, Germany, at an International Horticultural Exhibition. After the exhibition was over, she steamed off to Antwerp where she was scrapped.