Whilst recently in the States I got to see the last owner of the famous Blue Riband namely the SS United States now in Philadelphia, which unlike other famous old liners preserved for posterity, she is rather a sad old lady.

It is not my intention to tell you the story of the Blue Riband, for that is readily available on the internet in one of the ubiquitous WIKIPEDIA pages, but it is my intention to fine tune that information and to fill in the missing parts which are of interest to naval men.

The Blue Riband, manifest in the Hales Trophy, didn't become a tangible award/reward until 1935 but the speed of Atlantic crossings had been recorded for many many years previous to this time. Three years after this trophy was introduced in 1938, the Cunarder SS Queen Mary [the SS Queen Elizabeth never did attempt to claim the Blue Riband] broke the then existing record set by the French, but refused to claim the trophy saying that its speed was coincidental and that safety was the aim of the crossing.  From that time onwards, the trophy lost its true significance and remained dormant,  the new owner having shunned it.

WIKIPEDIA,  on the SS United States {not to be confused with the SS America}  tells the story of the need for and the subsequent building of this ship.  It was built really as a warship is,  with many watertight compartments and almost totally free of combustible materials.  The intention was for her to be a liner in peace time and a troop ship {or hospital ship} in wartime with an almost immediate shift of operating styles without recourse to reengineering. Thus the USN had an important input as to how the US Government would spend the money allocated for the build. Just as had been shown in the early WW2 years, having a huge liner[s] {the Cunard Queens} with enormous engines to achieve high speeds could transport tens upon tens of thousands of troops safely across a large stretch of water, the US Government wanted a comparable ship [just the one] which could transport up to 15000 troops.  Therefore it had to be fast.  Unlike the Queens which were build conventionally i.e. of steel and wood etc and were thus quite heavy, the SS United States was built of part steel with large amounts of aluminium, glass, and glass fibre.  She was therefore much lighter and could have had relatively smaller engines to match that weight to achieve the desired speed.

The cost of the build was a great deal less, ton for ton, than for the Queens, because there was no need to spend money on designing or building purpose made engines: the USN already had some spare engines which would be suitable! Moreover, unlike other ships, she was built with two entirely separate engine rooms just in case one of them was damaged in a torpedo attack.

The war build programme for the USN had included an aircraft carrier to be named USS United States.  She was in 'advance build' including engines when the war finished and she was cancelled. Her engines, four 60,000hp double-reduction turbines were fitted into the SS United States, and on trial, they produced a total of 241,758shp for a sustained top speed of 38.32 knots and at one time, for a short burst, achieved 43 knots. It was obvious from the start [in 1950] that she would be impregnable almost flying across the Atlantic. To supply those engines, boilers had to match, and once again the USN had the answer.  They chose oil-fired boilers which were exactly the same as those already fitted in the US battleships of the Iowa class.  Together [engines and boilers] made her unique in mercantile shipping history, then and still to this day. For all intents and purposes, she was propelled as though she were a capital warship and certainly, few warships but no merchant ship could match her or catch her.

She entered service as an Atlantic liner in 1952 and of course, immediately broke all Atlantic crossing records whether East about or West about.  To this very day, February 2010, she holds the Hales trophy and by implication is the holder of the Blue Riband.  One might argue that she was a WARSHIP IN DISGUISE !