The RMS Empress of Russia was an ocean liner built in 1912-1913 by Fairfield Shipbuilding & Engineering Company at Govan on the Clyde in Scotland for Canadian Pacific steamships (CP). This ship regularly traversed the trans-Pacific route between Canada and the Far East.
The ship was built by Fairfield Shipbuilding & Engineering Company at Govan near Glasgow in Scotland. Empress of Russia was launched on 28 August 1912. She left Liverpool on 1 April 1913 on her maiden voyage via Suez to Hong Kong and Vancouver. Thereafter, she regularly sailed back and forth along the Hong Kong - Shanghai - Nagasaki - Kobe - Yokohama - Vancouver route. In 1913, she broke the record for the fastest trans-Pacific crossing which was formerly held by RMS Empress of Japan; but her sister ship, the RMS Empress of Asia broke that record in May 1914, crossing the Pacific in nine days, two hours, and fifteen minutes. The popularity of the short route from Vancouver to the Orient was so great that these two additional CP Empress ocean liners were necessary.
The 16,810-ton vessel had a length of 570 feet (170 m), and her beam was 68 feet (21 m). The ship had three funnels, two masts, quadruple screws and an average speed of 19-knots. The ocean liner provided accommodation for 284 first-class passengers and for 100 second class passengers. There was also room for up to 800 steerage-class passengers. This was the first liner to have a straight stern like a warship; and the advantages of this type of stern were revealed in terms of speed, vibration, steering and seagoing qualities.
Empress of Russia was requisitioned by the British Admiralty twice during the First World War. Initially, the ship was refitted as an Armed Merchant Cruiser at Hong Kong; she was attached to a squadron blockading German merchant shipping in Philippine waters and retained her Chinese crew, but took on French sailors to man her guns. Later, she was transferred to the Indian Ocean.
She was again commissioned by the British Admiralty as a troop transport in world war II. Initially, she carried Australian and New Zealand Air Force recruits to Canada for flight school training. In March 1941, she was refitted at dockyards on the River Clyde in Scotland.
The Captain of Empress of Russia in 1941-42 would only realize many years later that he had had a VIP aboard—a young Midshipman Philip Mountbatten (later to become Duke of Edinburgh) is remembered for having helped stoke the boilers in 1941.
Empress of Russia was involved in the North Africa landings in 1943. In October 1943, she made a special trip to Gothenburg to exchange prisoners of war. This was followed by seven trips to Reykjavík for the RAF.
In early 1944, she was used as an accommodation ship at Rosyth for Russian crews who were to take over a number of British warships. In June, she was moved to Spithead where she was used as a depot ship for tugs after the D-Day landings.
In October 1944, she sailed to Gareloch where she was laid up until June 1945. Work was begun on the refitting Empress of Russia for service transporting Canadian troops from Europe to North America; However, she was gutted by fire on 8 September 1945 at Barrow. The extensive damage caused the ship to be scrapped; and she was broken up by Thos W Ward.
© Lucas Gustaffson (2017)
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