Ocean liners of the 1930s

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The grand and luxurious ocean liners of the early 20th century offered their passengers an opportunity to cross the great oceans and opened up the world to millions of travellers. They carried many immigrants to their new home and provided a means for people to sail to far flung locales in majestic splendour.

The 1930s were the heyday for these ocean liners, and several countries competed to create the world's most glorious ship.


England launched the Empress of Britain in 1931, which sailed the Atlantic, carrying passengers between England and Canada. In 1940, the Empress was sunk by a German U-boat as part of World War II. In 1934, England launched the Queen Mary to sail the Atlantic. Traditionally designed, similar to great British ships like the Mauritania, the Queen Mary's interior was more stately than most of the art deco styles of the '30s. The ship survived the war and now rests in port in Long Beach, California, as a hotel and museum.


Italy's efforts following World War I resulted in two memorable and majestic ships in the 1930s. Both the SS Rex and the Conte de Savoia were launched in 1932, and made regular trans-Atlantic runs. The Rex won the coveted Blue Riband award in 1933 and held it until 1935. The award was given to Atlantic passenger liners for highest speed record. During World War II, Italy removed the Rex from service, but the ship was sunk anyway by the Allied forces in 1944, who feared the Germans would use the liner to block their access to the port of Trieste.


Following World War I, Germany's entire fleet of ocean liners was taken as reparations. By 1929, Germany had new modern offerings in the world of luxury liners. The SS Bremen and Europa were sister ships that delivered passengers back and forth across the Atlantic. The Bremen was widely credited with starting the 1930s trend of "express liners," which were known for being fast, modern and luxurious. During World War II, the Bremen served as a barracks for German soldiers until being attacked and burnt by allies in 1941.

France and Holland

France and Holland were also players in the grand competition of 1930s ocean liners. France launched the SS Normandie in 1932, with luxurious accommodations and modern design. The U.S. captured the Normandie during World War II and renamed the ship the USS Lafayette. Holland's entry into the world of 1930s luxury liners came in the form of the SS Nieuw Amsterdam, which had an art deco design and a light, spacious feel throughout. The liner was launched in 1937 and was the second ship out of Holland with that name. The Nieuw Amsterdam spent the years of World War II serving British soldiers, and sailed until 1974.