TITANIC-TITANIC.com | Cunard White Star Line Merger
By the start of the 1930's, the White Star Line was in terrible financial difficulties, mainly caused by a failed takeover bid by Lord Kylsant, pictured here on the left, and his Royal Mail Steam Packet Company, which in itself nearly led to the total collapse of the White Star Line. Lord Kylsant, who had also taken over Harland & Wolff, tried to purchase the White Star Line with money he and his company just didn't have. An investigation into both this takeover and the financial affairs of the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company in general led to his jailing for one year for falsifying documents and reports.
Remember too that this was at the height of the Great Depression. America had TWICE drastically cut the amount of immigrants it would allow into the country in any given year, and as the mainstay of the White Star Line's business was the transportation of immigrants, it got harder and harder to make a profit, with the result that the White Star Line ran at a loss between 1930 and 1934.
In June, 1932, the White Star Line's latest vessel, Georgic II, departed Liverpool on her maiden voyage. Few, if indeed any of her crew or passengers on that trip would guess that this vessel was quite literally 'the end of the line', so to speak. White Star Line's finances were in a mess, and if it wasn't for some large loans from the Irish government primarily designed to help protect thousands and thousands of jobs at Harland & Wolff, then Georgic II might never have been constructed at all. As it was, Georgic II became the last vessel constructed by Harland & Wolff, a rather unenviable tag, but true all the same.
During the late 1920s, the White Star Line's major rival, Cunard, had decided to build a new generation of superliner designed to compete primarily with the German superliners Bremen and Europa, although the White Star Line also had plans of its own to build a 60,000-ton superliner, Oceanic III, despite it's acute financial problems. John Brown & Co. of Clydebank would build the 81,000-ton Cunard vessel, and her keel was duly laid down on December 27th, 1930. The vessel's name, Queen Mary, was kept secret until the day of the launch, and the hull was always referred to as '534', her yard number at Browns.
Across the Atlantic in America, and now further and further around the globe, the full force of the Great Depression was now being felt, and transatlantic passenger numbers dwindled alarmingly. So pronounced was this effect, that work on the Queen Mary completely stopped in December 1931, and thousands of workers were laid-off from John Brown's. At around the same time, construction of the White Star Line's Oceanic III at Harland & Wolff's Belfast yard also came to a halt. At this point, only the keel of Oceanic III had been laid, but unfortunately, the decision was taken to cancel the order, and what had been built so far was broken up to be reused, denying the world the chance to ever see a 60,000-ton liner of the White Star Line.
In Clydebank, the hull of the Queen Mary still lay incomplete on the slipways, she was still going nowhere, even after two years. The British public, who were saddened to see this symbol of Great Britain and Great British shipbuilding slowly deteriorating in Clydebank, urged the Government to help to fund the completion of the ship. The Government looked into the project, and decided that this would be acceptable, however, there was a condition; Cunard and White Star, the two great rivals, must merge as part of the deal, to create a powerful new shipping line. In return, the Government would provide just short of £10million. The White Star Line was totally against such a drastic move, and even tried to get an injunction to stop the proposal, but it failed, no doubt because of the perilous state of its finances. On December 30th, 1933, Cunard and White Star agreed to the merger and its terms.
The following year, on May 10th, 1934, the two great rivals merged, and became known from that point forward as the Cunard White Star Line. The new company received the £9.5 million promised by the British Government, £3 million of which which was allocated to fund the completion of the Queen Mary, which had been restarted on April 3rd in anticipation of the forthcoming deal.
In the months following the merger, the newly-formed Cunard White Star Line began an almost ruthless campaign to seemingly dispose of as many ex-White Star vessels as it could in the shortest time possible. During 1934, both Vedic and Calgaric were sold for scrap to a ship-breakers in Rosyth, Scotland, and Ionic II, Albertic and Adriatic II were sold for scrap to a Japanese shipbreaking company in the same year. Ceramic was a little luckier, as she was sold to the Shaw Savill Line, but the fact remained that White Star Line vessels were being disposed of at a frightening rate.
It wasn't just White Star Line vessels that were being disposed of in 1934. The line's head office in Liverpool, pictured here on the left, was also closed after 37 years of service to the line. Completed in 1897 for the Oceanic Steam Navigation Co., they were designed by the renowned architect Norman Shaw. The offices were, and are still to this day, probably the most symbolic part of the White Star Line not to take to sea!