SS Leviathan

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SS Leviathan steaming out of New York Harbor, circa the mid-1920s. Note the Manhattan skyline is in the background.
Name: SS Leviathan
Owner: United States Lines
Port of registry: United States United States
Acquired: 29 October 1919
In service: June 1923 to 1933, some service in 1934
Out of service: 1933 to 1937
Fate: Sold for scrapping and broken up 6 June 1938
Name: USS Leviathan
Owner: United States Navy Jack United States
Acquired: 6 April 1917
Commissioned: July 1917
Decommissioned: 29 October 1919
Notes: Used as a troop ship during World War I
Name: SS Vaterland
Owner: HAPAG Line
Port of registry: Kaiserliche Marine Jack Germany 1913-1917
Builder: Blohm & Voss at Hamburg, Germany
Launched: 13 April 1913
Out of service: July 1914 to 6 April 1917
Fate: Seized by the United States government to be used in the United States Navy.
General characteristics
Class and type: Imperator class ocean liner
Tonnage: 54,282 gross tons
Length: 950 ft (289.6 m)
Beam: 100 ft 4 in (30.6 m)
Draft: 37 ft 9 in (11,51 m)
Speed: 26 knots
  • 1,165 as originally configured
  • 14,000 as a troop transport

World War I Navy Service:

SS Leviathan, originally built as SS Vaterland, was an ocean liner which regularly sailed the North Atlantic briefly in 1914 and from 1917 to 1934. The second of a trio of transatlantic liners built by Germany's Hamburg America Line for the transatlantic passenger service, she would sail as Vaterland for less than a year before her early career was halted by the start of World War I. In 1917, she was seized by the U.S. government and renamed Leviathan. She would become known by this name for the majority of her career, both as a troopship during World War I and later as the flagship of the United States Lines.

German service

File:Hapag Vaterland.JPG
The huge Vaterland in her original HAPAG livery.

SS Vaterland, a 54,282 gross ton passenger liner, was built by Blohm & Voss at Hamburg, Germany, as the second of a trio of very large ships of Imperator class for the Hamburg-America Line's trans-Atlantic route. She was launched 13 April 1913 and was the largest passenger ship in the world upon her completion, superseding SS Imperator, but later being superseded in turn by the last ship of this class, SS Bismarck, the later RMS Majestic.

Vaterland had made only a few trips when, in late July 1914, she arrived at New York, NY just as World War I broke out. With a safe return to Germany rendered virtually impossible by British dominance of the seas, she was laid up at her Hoboken, NJ, terminal and remained immobile for nearly three years.

World War I

File:USS Leviathan SP-1326.jpg
The USS Leviathan in a dazzle camouflage pattern.

She was seized by the United States Shipping Board when the United States entered World War I, 6 April 1917; turned over to the custody of the U.S. Navy in June 1917; and commissioned July 1917 as the USS Vaterland, Captain Joseph Wallace Oman in command. Redesignated SP-1326 and renamed Leviathan by President Woodrow Wilson on 6 September 1917.[1] The trial cruise to Cuba on 17 November 1917, prompted Captain Oman to order 241 Marines, onboard to relieve a detachment of Marines, to station themselves conspicuously about the upper decks giving the appearance from shore that the great ship was headed overseas to increase American Expeditionary Forces.[2] Upon her return later that month, she reported for duty with the Cruiser and Transport Force. In December she took troops to Liverpool, England, but repairs delayed her return to the U.S. until mid-February 1918. A second trip to Liverpool in March was followed by more repairs. At that time she was repainted with the British-type "dazzle" camouflage scheme that she carried for the rest of the war. With the completion of that work, Leviathan began regular passages between the U.S. and Brest, France, delivering up to 14,000 persons on each trip, carrying over 119,000 fighting men, before the armistice 11 November 1918. After that date Leviathan, repainted grey overall by December 1918, reversed the flow of men as she transported the veterans back to the United States with nine westward crossings ending 8 September 1919. On 29 October 1919, USS Leviathan was decommissioned and turned over to the U.S. Shipping Board and again laid up at Hoboken until plans for her future employment could be determined.

American service

In April 1922 the decision was made about the role of the ship and the Leviathan steamed to Newport News, Virginia, where she was completely renovated to suit American tastes and post-World War I standards. Her reconditioning completed in June 1923, the Board turned her over to the United States Lines to operate on their behalf as the U.S. Flag ocean liner Leviathan.

As SS Leviathan, she was the "queen" of the United States' merchant fleet, and operated in the trans-Atlantic trade into the early 1930s. Dubbed "Levi Nathan", the ship was reasonably popular, but because of her American registry she had to sail as a "dry ship" under Prohibition and many American travellers preferred European liners which were permitted to serve alcohol once they were in international waters.[3] Despite this handicap, Leviathan in 1927 was the #1 ship on the Atlantic in terms of average passengers carried per crossing. The Great Depression hit passenger shipping hard and Leviathan, like other big liners of the time, began to lose money. She was laid up in 1933 and, with the exception of several months of additional service in 1934, was inactive until 10 December 1937, when she was sold to a British firm and made her final Atlantic crossing to Rosyth, Scotland shortly thereafter, where she was broken up over the next two years.


  1. "USN Ships--USS Leviathan (ID # 1326)". Retrieved 2007-01-26. 
  2. USS Leviathan History Committee, History of the U.S.S. Leviathan, New York, NY, Brooklyn Eagle Press
  3. John Maxtone-Graham, "The Only Way to Cross", Barnes & Noble, 1997

External links

Wikimedia Commons has media related to:
[[Commons: Category:SS Leviathan

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