(which then became the EMPRESS OF SCOTLAND and finally the HANSEATIC)

37 years afloat with 3 names and 2 owners

In 1930 on the windy shores of the Clyde at Govan, the Fairfield yard launced a hull that would become a beautiful ship admired by all, becoming world famous,  hold several records, and work for both English and German owners.  She was to be the EMPRESS OF JAPAN.   Under each of her three names, EMPRESS OF JAPAN, EMPRESS OF SCOTLAND, and lastly, the HANSEATIC, she would excel, and have a 37 year career.

In 1930 the Canadian Pacific’s existing trans-pacific service reached its zenith with the introduction of this magnificent ship. Little did they know how spectacular and just how poular she would become.  Sporting a classic steamship-look, she had three funnels painted in familiar Canadian Pacific yellow. Her promenade deck had not been enclosed, revealing that she was intended for the warmer Pacific run. Down in the engine room, the ship’s engineers were getting ready for the engine trials. Empress of Japan had been designed with geared turbines, capable of 34,000 shaft horsepower.

The engines performed very well, and the ship managed to reach a top speed of 23 knots with the engines running at maximum power. Thus, the ship’s sea trials had been carried out successfully, and she was officially delivered to Canadian Pacific on June 8th, 1930. It was only a short matter of time before she would enter service for her owners.

This  handsome ship with magnificent interiors was the result of their planning and foresight, confirming the standard associated with the Empress liners of Canadian Pacific. She was delivered to Canadian Pacific in Liverpool and sailed on her maiden voyage from Liverpool to Quebec on the 14th July 1930. From Quebec she sailed to Southampton. On the 12th July 1930 she sailed from Southampton bound for Hong Kong via the Suez Canal to begin her trans-pacific services. On the 7th August 1930 she set off on her first trans-pacific crossing from Hong Kong to Vancouver via Yokohama and Honolulu. Some of the notable guests on board included HM The King of Siam. During this maiden trans-pacific voyage, a new speed record was set for the route from Yokohama to Vancouver, and over the following years she made 58 round trips from Vancouver to Yokohama and Shanghai (via Honolulu), claiming to be  the number 1 ship for speed and comfort, and becoming the flagship of the trans-pacific service, like the famous RMS Empress of Britain was for their transatlantic service.  This established and highly successful service was suddenly shattered when the Second World War started in September 1939. At the time the EMPRESS OF JAPAN was in Shanghai. Due to suspicions about Japanese intentions, Canadian Pacific ordered her to sail straight back to Victoria in British Colombia via Honolulu. Her career then morphed into troop carrying like so many of the great liners.   One of the features that made the ocean liners so attractive for trooping apart from the obvious size and capacity was the speed they could maintain.  This made interception by U-boats extremely difficult, but sadly not impossible as events were to prove.  A lucky strike was always a fear and another company vessel, the EMPRESS OF BRITAIN suffered this fate. She was torpedoed on 28 October 1940 by U-32 and sank. At 42,340 GRT she was the largest liner lost in the WW2 and the largest ship sunk by a U-boat.

 In October 1942 after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour, Winston Churchill (the British Prime Minister) personally ordered that the EMPRESS OF JAPAN should be renamed as EMPRESS OF SCOTLAND. It took a little more than ten months, but on October 16th 1942, the ship was renamed Empress of Scotland. She carried this name for the rest of her Canadian Pacific career.

WW2 impacted her career dramatically, not least with a name that offended Winston Churchill after Pearl Harbour was attacked by the Japanese forces.   He insisted the name be changed to the Empress of Scotland, allegedly saying, “ This is a nonsense” before issuing the order.  The new name  was more in keeping with the allies war effort and image.    She then spent a glorious 16 years endlessly circling the globe and playing a significant role in the evacuation of 1700 refugees from Singapore when the Japanese captured the island.  The escape was carried out under enemy attack but the ship successfully landed her passengers at Colombo.   Later, she worked ferrying a total of 30,000 troops from the USA to Europe.  She sailed from Halifax, New York, and Newport News, and went to Liverpool and to Casablanca.

Sporting her new name, the Empress of Scotland continued her war duties. When peace was finally achieved in 1945, she was kept on for repatriation work, and it wasn’t until May 3rd 1948 that she was released from transport service. During the conflict, the Empress had steamed some 600,000 miles, and she was in desperate need of a refit before she could re-enter passenger service again.

Naturally, this was the case with nearly every passenger vessel that had survived the war. This, plus the shortage of funds and material, forced the Empress of Scotland to simply wait for her turn to go through a refit. Finally, in October of 1948, she was sent back to her builders for a much-earned refurbishment. The first intention was to put her back in her regular service in the Pacific, but it was soon decided to place her on the North Atlantic run instead. For this, her promenade deck was glass-enclosed to better suit the Atlantic weather. Also, her original passenger accommodation of First, Second, Third and Steerage classes were altered to just First and Tourist.

It took a while before the work was finished, but on May 5th 1950, the Empress of Scotland set out on her first post-war voyage, from Liverpool to Quebec. Outwardly, she was very much alike her pre-war self. The white hull was there, but the three funnels now sported the new CPR livery, adopted in 1946 – yellow, with the company flag superimposed.

The Empress of Scotland soon settled into her new service. She ran on the Liverpool-Greenock-Quebec service during the summers, and in the winters she was sent off cruising the West Indies out of New York. In April of 1952, the ship’s masts were shortened in order to allow her to pass under the Quebec Bridge and continue to Montreal, which had now been dredged to her draught. On May 13th she made her first sailing from Liverpool to Montreal.

The ship continued to serve Canadian Pacific through the 1950s, but circumstances would soon see her leave the company. In 1956, the brand new Empress of Britain entered service, followed by her sister Empress of England the next year. Suddenly, the Empress of Scotland was an old ship compared to her fleet-mates, and she was subsequently laid up at Liverpool on November 25th, 1957. She was later dry-docked at Belfast and put up for sale by the company.

However, an inspection showed that the ship’s hull and machinery were in very good condition, and it did not take long before a buyer materialised. On January 13th 1958, the ship was sold for $2,500,000 to the newly formed Hamburg-Atlantic Line. Six days later the ship left Belfast, flying the German ensign and renamed Scotland for the voyage to Hamburg. Upon arrival, she was sent to the yards of Howaldtswerke, where she was scheduled for an extensive refit.

In July of 1958, the ship emerged from the yard. Renamed Hanseatic, her name was certainly not the only new thing about her. The original three funnels had been replaced by two larger ones, and her hull had been rebuilt to a more streamlined design. This, and the black, white and red colours of her new owners made it quite difficult to recognise her. The old vessel had been spectacularly transformed and given a new life.

On July 21st that year, the Hanseatic set out on her first voyage from Cuxhaven to New York, with calls at Le Havre, Southampton and Cobh along the way. Although owned by the Hamburg-Atlantic Line, she was managed by the more experienced Hamburg-America Line. Hanseatic had soon earned a loyal following as one of the finest West German liners, and she continued her North Atlantic service in the summers, while doing cruises during the off-season. This service was maintained well into the 1960s, but unfortunately the end was now drawing near.

On September 7th 1966, the ship caught fire in the engine room, while in New York. The fire caused serious damage, but efforts to extinguish it soon succeeded in doing so. Hanseatic’s machinery was severely damaged though, and the ship was forced to leave New York under tow of the Bugsier tugs Atlantic and Pacific on September 23rd. She was sent to the Howaldtswerke in Hamburg for repairs, but an inspection found her to be beyond economic repair. Instead, the Hanseatic was laid up at Hamburg, awaiting her fate. On December 2nd 1966, the inevitable decision was made. She was sold for breaking up to the firm of Eisen & Metall AG of Hamburg.


  • 666 feet (203.5 m) long
  • 83.7 feet (25.6 m) wide
  • Originally 26,032 gross tons, 30,030 gross tons when rebuilt as the Hanseatic
  • Geared turbines turning two propellers
  • 21 knot service speed
  • Passenger capacity of 1,173 people as originally built, reduced to 708 during 1948 refit

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