White Star’s Liner Adriatic

By James Donahue

At 726 feet in length, the White Star liner Adriatic was among the largest vessels on the high seas when it slid down the ways in 1907. That same day White Star’s rival steamship company, Cunard, launched the Mauretania, the first of its new leviathan fleet that included the Lusitania.

While not as large as the Mauretania’s 70-feet, and about two knots an hour slower, the Adriatic nevertheless proved to be a profitable and popular liner serving the Atlantic crossing between England and New York.

She was billed as the last of the Big Four-class of ships built in those years by the White Star Line, with sister ships Celtic, Cedric and Baltic also in the fleet. Perhaps because of the looming competition with the Cunard Line and a new fleet of German four-stackers joining them, the Adriatic was fitted with luxuries never before seen on an ocean liner. She offered an indoor swimming pool and Turkish bath. She offered a unique profile because of the two derrick posts mounted between the bridge and foremast. Also both sets of island boats were mounted on two tier decks aft.

The Adriatic remained the fastest and finest vessel and thus the flagship of the White Star Line until June, 1911, when the 45,000-ton Olympic, the first of the Olympic class of steamships, was launched. The second ship of that class was the ill-fated Titanic which made its own indelible mark on history one year later.

The tragic sinking of the Titanic and terrible loss of life had a major impact on all passenger ships of that day. From that day forward, no ship was considered "unsinkable," as the Adriatic had been promoted. And new laws went into effect requiring all passenger ships to carry enough lifeboats to handle their full passenger manifest.

When World War II started in 1914, the Adriatic remained in passenger service for the first three years. She began operations under the Liner Requisition Scheme in 1917, consequently becoming a troop and cargo carrier for the war effort. It was said that she sometimes carried oil in her double bottom, thus using every possible space for cargo. She also carried thousands of tons of munitions without incident.

After the war the Adriatic was reconditioned and refitted. Her forward promenade deck was glassed in because of problems of sea water entering the area during rough weather. That same year, 1919, the ship carried the Original Dixieland Jazzband from the United States to Liverpool, thus introducing this new American jazz to Europe for the first time.

During her years of service, there was only one serious incident. While moored in Liverpool in 1922 a reserve coal bunker exploded killing five people. The accident marked the fact that the Adriatic was one of the few large liners still burning coal on the high seas. Most of the other vessels had by then been converted with oil burning systems. The aging ship’s days were numbered, however, and the money was never spent to convert its engines.

The liner was taken out of regular service in 1928 and used for summer cruises only.

The Great Depression had a profound impact on all of the great liners of that era. By 1934 it forced the merger of the White Star and Cunard Lines. By then the Adriatic was the only ship of the Big Four still operating, but barely. She was used for a few cruises that year and then was sold to Japanese scrappers.

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