RMS Queen Elizabeth was an ocean liner which sailed the Atlantic Ocean for the Cunard Line (then the Cunard White Star Line) and contracted to carry Royal Mail. At the time of construction in the 1930s, she was known as Hull 552 by John Brown and Company in Clydebank, Scotland. Named in honour of Queen Elizabeth (who was Queen Consort at the time of her launch in 1938), she was the largest passenger liner ever built–-a record that was not exceeded for fifty-six years. She was a slightly larger ship with an improved design over her running mate, the . She first entered service as a troopship in the Second World War, and it was not until later that she served in her intended role as an ocean liner until her retirement in 1968. Together with the Queen Mary, the Queen Elizabeth maintained a two-ship weekly transatlantic service from Southampton to Cherbourg to New York for over twenty years. Following a fire, she was scrapped in Hong Kong in 1975.
There were only two spring tides that year where the water level was high enough for the Queen Elizabeth to leave the Clydebank shipyard and the Luftwaffe were aware of this. Thus, the new Cunarder had to be moved as soon as possible on Churchill's orders. The minimum number crew for the trip was four hundred, and most were signed up for a short voyage to Southampton from the . Parts were shipped to Southampton, a booking was made to drydock the Queen when she arrived, and the names of Brown's shipyard employees were booked at hotels in Southampton to give a false trail of information. Captain John Townley was assigned as her first captain. Townley had previously commanded the Aquitania on one voyage, and several of Cunard's smaller vessels before that. Townley and his hastily signed on crew were told by a Cunard representative before they left to pack for a voyage where they could be away from home for up to six months.
On 3 March 1940, the Queen Elizabeth quietly sailed from the Clyde and was met en route by a King's Messenger where the captain was given his sealed orders. Captain Townley discovered that he was to take the untested vessel directly to New York (without stopping to drop off the Southampton harbour pilot who had travelled down in the Queen from Clydebank). Later that day at the time when she was due to arrive at Southampton the city was bombed by the Luftwaffe. Six days later the Queen Elizabeth arrived in New York and the new Queen found herself moored alongside the Queen Mary, and the French Line's , this was the only time all three of the world's largest liners would be berthed together.
Together with the , and in competition with the , the Queen Elizabeth dominated the transatlantic passenger trade until their fortunes began to decline with the advent of the faster and more economical jet airliner in the late 1950s; the Queens were becoming uneconomic to operate with rising fuel and labour costs. For a short time, the Queen Elizabeth (now under the command of commodore Geoffrey Trippleton Marr) attempted a new dual role to make the ageing liner more profitable; when not plying her usual transatlantic route, which she now alternated her sailings with the French Lines SS France the ship cruised between New York and Nassau. For this purpose, the ship received a refit, with an new lido deck added to her aft section, enhanced air conditioning, and an outdoor swimming pool, however this did not prove successful due to her high fuel operating costs, deep draught (which had prevented her from going into various ports) and being too wide to use the Panama Canal.
Cunard retired both ships by 1969 and replaced them with a new, single, smaller ship, the more economical (the QE2).
In 1968, the Queen Elizabeth was sold to a group of Philadelphia businessmen who intended to operate the ship as a hotel and tourist attraction in Port Everglades, Florida, similar to the use of Queen Mary in Long Beach, California. Losing money and forced to close after being declared a fire hazard, the ship was sold in 1970 to Hong Kong tycoon C.Y. Tung.
Tung, head of the Orient Overseas Line, intended to convert the vessel into a university for the World Campus Afloat program (later reformed and renamed as Semester at Sea). Following the tradition of the Orient Overseas Line, the ship was renamed Seawise University, as a play on Tung's initials.
During the conversion however the vessel was gutted by a fire that broke out at several different places onboard, believed to have been caused by arson. The ship capsized in shallow water in Hong Kong Victoria Harbour on 9 January 1972. The wreckage was dismantled for scrap in 1974-1975, before the project could ever be truly realised. Portions of the hull that were not salvaged were left at the bottom of the bay and later incorporated into landfill for the new Hong Kong International Airport.
Soon after the fire of Seawise University, she was replaced with Universe Campus ex Atlantic. Universe Campus was later renamed to Universe in 1976.
Following her scrapping, the largest passenger ship in active service was the , which was longer but had lesser tonnage than the Queen Elizabeth.
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