Sleek and majestic, the ocean liner Queen Elizabeth 2 looked every inch the Cunard flagship when she sailed into Liverpool in July 1990.
Few could have guessed the 70,000-ton luxury vessel had been at war in the Falklands, been boarded by the SAS and had experienced a major fire during her 20 years at sea.
The QE2 looked at her imperial best from Liverpool waterfront, welcomed by boats and crowds of people proud to be associated with the liner’s arrival.
The moment was captured by Liverpool Echo photographers in a series of images reflecting every aspect of the QE2’s visit. There were even photos from the air.
Designed at Cunard’s Merseyside offices, the keel of the QE2 was laid down by John Brown and Company shipbuilders on Clydebank, Scotland, in July 1965.
The ship was launched by the Queen on September 20th 1967 with the same pair of gold scissors her mother used to launch the Queen Elizabeth in 1938. Her grandmother had used the same scissors to launch the Queen Mary in 1934.
After sea trials off the Isle of Arran, the QE2 made her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York on May 2nd 1969. She completed the crossing in four days, 16 hours and 35 minutes.
Named after the earlier Cunard liner RMS Queen Elizabeth, the QE2 was designed as a three-class vessel with berths for 1,892 passengers and a crew of 1,040.
Predominantly a cruise ship, the QE2 continued the Cunard tradition of regular scheduled transatlantic crossings maintained to this day by the current flagship Queen Mary 2.
The QE2 did, however, break with the past by launching with a funnel painted white and black – not the distinctive Cunard red and black which had been a hallmark of the Liverpool shipping line since the RMS Britannia in 1840.
The more customary red and black reappeared in 1983 when the QE2 was refitted after the Falklands conflict.
Ten decks tall and 963 feet long, the QE2 was designed with a draft of 32 feet to enable her to navigate the Panama Canal and Suez Canal. She could enter ports previous Queens could not reach to compete with the modern generation of cruise ships.
Soon after her maiden voyage, the QE2 was involved in the dramatic rescue of 500 passengers from the burning French liner Antilles in January 1971.
The ship had struck a reef near the island of Mustique and ruptured her fuel tanks. The Antilles lay on the reef for several months, eventually breaking in two.
There was a far more down-to-earth reason for the QE2 interrupting her voyage in March the same year – jelly fish blocking the sea-water intakes!
A year later, in May 1972, the QE2’s transatlantic crossing from New York to Southampton was held up by a bomb threat. A combined team from the Special Air Service and Special Boat Service parachuted in to the sea to comb the ship for devices.
The whole scare was a hoax as no bomb was found. The FBI duly arrested the perpetrator.
Leaking oil in the engine room caused a severe fire aboard the QE2 in July 1976 while the liner was 80 miles off the Scilly Isles. One of the boilers was destroyed, forcing the ship to limp back to Southampton.
To fit a replacement boiler, the QE2 had to be laid up in dry dock and a hole cut in her side.
Two helicopter pads were installed on the liner in May 1982 when she was commissioned by the British government to carry troops to the Falklands.
Public lounges were converted to dormitories and carpets were covered with 2,000 sheets of hardboard to accommodate 3,000 soldiers from the Fifth Infantry Brigade. More than 650 Cunard crew members volunteered to make the hazardous voyage.
A quarter of the QE2’s length was fitted with steel plating and an anti-magnetic coil guarded against naval mines. The radar was switched off and the liner blacked out to avoid detection.
Fortunately, QE2 arrived safely and returned to a tumultuous welcome in Southampton on June 11th. She was received by the Queen Mother on board Her Majesty’s Yacht Britannia.
In August 2002, the QE2 became the first merchant ship to sail more than five million nautical miles. She was withdrawn from service in 2008 and is now a floating hotel in Dubai.
In its lifetime, the QE2 completed 806 transatlantic crossings, carried 2.5 million passengers and sailed 5.6 million miles.
*Fascinating wartime images of Merseyside feature in Clive Hardy’s latest hardback book, The Home Front – Britain 1939-45.
It’s now on sale for £14.99 plus UK postage and packing – or you can buy three books for just £25 in iNostalgia’s extended Spring Bonanza! The offer ends on June 31!
Just go to inostalgia.co.uk/shop to order or call the order hotline on 01928 503777.