Queen Elizabeth took the title largest ship in the world from the French Line's Normandie. Although larger oil tankers began entering service in the 1960s, Queen Elizabeth held the title of the world’s largest passenger ship until the 101,353-ton cruise ship Carnival Destiny entered service in 1996. The French Line’s 79,280 ton Normandie had a great influence on Queen Elizabeth’s design, with a sweeping bow, this making the two Cunard queens different in appearance.
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Queen Elizabeth was undergoing fitting out when World War Two broke out in September 1939. In order to avoid becoming a target of the German Air Force, the uncompleted Queen Elizabeth set out on her maiden voyage from Clydebank - New York March 3rd 1940. Four days later, painted gray and unannounced, the largest ship in the world made a spectacular arrival at New York.
After eight months idle in New York, Queen Elizabeth steamed to Singapore for conversion to a troopship. Her first deployments as a troopship capable of carrying 5,600 servicemen were to carry Australian troops to Asia and Africa. Both Cunard queens were relocated to the North Atlantic in 1942 for the transportation of American troops to Europe. Before that new role began, both ships underwent a conversion at New York to give them the capacity to carry over 15,000 troops at a time. Queen Elizabeth was returned to Cunard after completing her final troop repatriation voyage in October 1945.
After being fitted out as a passenger liner at Southampton, she finally set out on her commercial maiden voyage from Southampton - New York October 16th 1946. Queen Mary’s return to the Atlantic run the following summer finally gave Cunard the two large ship service they had intended. It is believed the two queens were the most profitable liners ever.
With these ships often passing in mid Atlantic, this became an event anticipated and celebrated by the passengers and crew. The captains helped make these occasions memorable by passing as close as possible.
In late 1965/early1966, Queen Elizabeth was fitted with a huge lido deck, swimming pool and air conditioning. Cunard hoped the work to make their flag ship more suitable for cruising would help keep her in service until at least 1975. However, in 1968, Queen Elizabeth was taken out of service as she had become unprofitable.
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After being sold to the highest bidder, she was berthed at Port Everglades / Florida to serve as a floating hotel, museum and conference center. Poor attendances in the first year of the new venture led to her being sold to the Hong Kong shipping tycoon Mr. C. Y. Tung in 1970.
The new owner intended her to be converted to a floating university named Seawise University. As the conversion was nearing completion in Hong Kong Harbor, an unexplained fire engulfed the ship January 9th 1972. The excessive amounts of water used to control the fire led to the world’s largest passenger ship capsizing. After Seawise University had lain on her side half submerged for months, breakers began the demolition process in the harbor.