Empress of Britain II

Built by John Brown & Co. of Glasgow, the 42,348 ton Empress of Britain II was Canadian Pacific's largest passenger ship and the largest ship ever to serve Canada. Launched by the Prince of Wales (later Edward VIII) in 1930, she entered service on 27 May 1931, with a Southampton-Québec maiden voyage on which she set a westbound Canadian crossing record. She would go on to set eight more records in 1931 (five westbound and three eastbound), three in 1932 (two west and one east) and two in 1934 (one in each direction).

On December 3rd 1931, she set out on her first world cruise. For her cruising duties, two of the ship’s turbines were shut down, as speed was not important on leisure cruises. Her two outer propellers were removed and stowed inboard to reduce drag, and thereby also bring down the fuel consumption. The Empress of Britain’s world cruises were indeed something extra. Sailing from New York, she continued east through the Mediterranean and through the Suez Canal along to India, Java, Bali, China, Japan, the American West Coast and finally through the Panama Canal back to New York, and it was not cheap for a person to come along. The minimum fare was $2,100 and a whole suite could end up at an astonishing $16,000. Unfortunately, there were not so many that could afford these prices, and the Empress did not produce much profits as a cruise ship either, thus making her one of the least profitable liners of her time. Yet she would go on a world cruise every year until 1939, with the exception of 1933.

In June 1939, Empress of Britain was chosen by King George VI and Queen Elizabeth for their return to England after a visit to Canada. Three months later, the ship made her 100th and last commercial crossing; she was then taken up as a troopship.

Just over a year later, on 26 October 1940, Empress of Britain was set afire by German bombers off the northwest coast of Ireland. She was taken in tow, but on 28 October, U32 torpedoed her twice and she was lost, the largest liner sunk during World War II. There were between 45 and 50 fatalities.

Offshore radio station: Even though the vessel was owned and operated by Canadian-Pacific, nevertheless its radio apparatus was registered with English callsigns.

In the year 1932, this new and large passenger liner made a round-the-world tour, and while it was in Pacific waters, it was heard with two different callsigns and several radio broadcasts.  For communication purposes, the callsign was GMBH, and for experimental broadcast and amateur communications the callsign was G6RX.

The “Empress of Britain” was heard in Australia during its communications with VLK Sydney, and also with KZGF Manila, WOO Ocean Gate New Jersey, and GBP in Rugby England.  Several radio broadcasts were also heard in Australia and New Zealand, including a broadcast from the ballroom, as the radio magazine said, “for the benefit of English listeners”.

Location: International waters in the South Pacific


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