Imperator / Berengaria Home

S.S. Imperator / R.M.S. Berengaria Home

Imp Color PC

This original postcard of the Imperator is a rarity. Most appealing is its color representation of the ship. The buff colored funnels and the gilt eagle on the bow are the most recognizable features. Although certainly not a completely accurate image, it does convey the ship’s presence – and her tall profile. (J. Kent Layton Collection)

Ship Statistics:
Built By: A.G. Vulkan
Yard Number: 314
Length Overall: – 909 feet (hull)
– 918 feet 8 inches (including eagle, 1913)
Length Between Perpendiculars (b.p.): 882 feet 11 inches
Width: 98 feet 1 inch
Draught: 35 feet 6 inches
Gross Tonnage: – 52,117 (1913)
– 52,226 (as Berengaria)
Displacement: 51,700 tons at 35 feet 4 inches.
Career: June 10, 1913 – March, 1938

The History of the Imperator / Berengaria:

She began life in the service of the Hamburg-Amerika Line. Laid down at the A. G. Vulcan Works shipyard in June of 1910 as Hull No. 314, she was launched on May 23, 1912 as the Imperator, a tribute by HAPAG Director Albert Ballin to his friend Kaiser Wilhelm II. She was the largest moving object in the world on that day, just a month after the loss of White Star’s Titanic.

The Imperator was officially delivered to HAPAG exactly one year after her launch, May 23, 1913, and began her maiden voyage on June 10, delayed by a grounding incident and a boiler explosion. She was the most luxurious ship in the world, a “first-rate hotel,” but suffering notable deficiencies desired in an Atlantic liner. She quickly became notorious as a drunken roller on the high seas, and after her first season in service, drastic measures were taken to increase her stability.

When the Great War started in August of 1914, she was in Germany, and remained laid up throughout the war, safely sheltered from the dangers presented to other liners of the day. When the war ended, she was at first taken over by the United States as the U.S.S. Imperator to aid in the repatriation of American troops. Then she was taken over by the Cunard Line, offered for sale to them as reparations for their lost Lusitania.

Initially, they ran her as the R.M.S. Imperator. She sailed for Cunard under this name for the first time — from New York to Liverpool — on December 11, 1919. However, the ship’s condition was anything but “prime”, and it was clear that the ship was going to need some significant attention in order to bring her up to Cunard standards.

This postcard of the Berengaria is from mid-1923. It was hence one of Cunard's earliest advertisements for their new acquisition. Four of the ship's interior spaces are shown, with a starboard profile. (J. Kent Layton Collection)

This postcard of the Berengaria is from mid-1923. It was hence one of Cunard’s earliest advertisements for their new acquisition. Four of the ship’s interior spaces are shown, with a starboard profile. (J. Kent Layton Collection)

However, Cunard needed to operate the ship, as their sailing schedule was still running a bit thin due to the shipping losses incurred during the war and their ships which still needed conversions back into full-time passenger liners. TheĀ Imperator thus received a sprucing-up, and re-entered service, but it became clear that Cunard would have to lavish more care on her before she was truly a fine vessel.

In early 1921, she was given the new name Berengaria, named after the wife of King Richard I of England. In the autumn of that year, she was withdrawn from service and saw a full-scale refit on the Tyne River. Her coal-burning powerplant was converted to burn oil. She resumed service in May of 1922.


This original photograph in the author’s collection was taken in the mid-1920’s, most likely in the Southampton floating drydock. Work is being carried out on the Berengaria‘s starboard inboard prop. (J. Kent Layton Collection)

Although she had been a grand, if rather deficient liner, when she entered service with HAPAG in 1913, her greatest years still lie ahead. For nearly sixteen years, she remained in service with Cunard, earning the nickname, “The Happy Ship.”

Berengaria Color Postcard

The author’s favorite artistic rendition of the Berengaria at sea. ~ J. Kent Layton Collection.


This postcard of the Berengaria was touted as sporting a “real photograph” of the ship. It was, however, heavily retouched. It was from the late portion of the ship’s career. (J. Kent Layton Collection)

During the mid-1930’s, when White Star and Cunard merged, she was re-paired for a short period with her old intended sister, White Star’s Majestic.

However, the Berengaria began to succumb to the effects of old age and bad electrical wiring, suffering from a spate of fires. Eventually, in March of 1938, Cunard-White Star announced her retirement. She was purchased for scrapping on November 7 of that year. Although demolition started before the Second World War, it was interrupted by the conflict. The last remnants of the ship were not disposed of until July of 1946, some thirty-three years after her maiden voyage.


SS Imperator Color Photo Gallery.

Below is a series of colorized images of the Imperator as she appeared when she first entered service in 1913. They have kindly been shared from the webmaster of The Ultimate Imperator site.