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SS Bremen (1929)
Bundesarchiv Bild 102-11081, Schnelldamper "Bremen".jpg
Bremen in 1931
Career (Germany) Flag of Weimar Republic (merchant).svg Flag of Germany 1933.svg
Name: SS Bremen
Owner: Norddeutscher Lloyd
Builder: Deutsche Schiff- und Maschinenbau AG
Launched: 16 August 1928
Maiden voyage: 16 July 1929
Fate: Caught fire, gutted at Bremerhaven dock in 1941. Dismantled to the waterline then towed the River Weser and sunk by explosives
General characteristics
Tonnage: 51,656 gross tons
Length: 938.6 feet (286.1 m)
Beam: 101.7 feet (31 m)
Installed power: Four steam turbines generating 25,000 hp (19,000 kW) each
Propulsion: Quadruple propellers
Speed: 27.5 knots (50.9 km/h)
Capacity: 2,139; 811 first class, 500 second class, 300 tourist class, 617 third class
Crew: 966 total

The SS Bremen was a German-built ocean liner constructed for the Norddeutscher Lloyd line (NDL) to work the transatlantic sea route. Bremen was notable for her bulbous bow construction, high-speed engines, and low, streamlined profile. At the time of her construction, she and her sister ship Europa were the two most advanced high-speed steam turbine ocean liners of their day. The German pair sparked an international competition in the building of large, fast, luxurious ocean liners that were national symbols and points of prestige during the pre-war years of the 1930s. She held the Blue Riband, and was the fourth ship of NDL to carry the name Bremen.


Also known as TS Bremen - for Turbine Ship - Bremen and her sister were designed to have a cruising speed of 27.5 knots, allowing a crossing time of 5 days. This speed enabled Norddeutsche Lloyd to run regular weekly crossings with two ships, a feat that normally required three. It was claimed that Bremen briefly reached speeds of 32 knots (59 km/h) during her sea trials.

Construction and design

Bremen was built by the new German shipbuilding company Deutsche Schiff- und Maschinenbau AG. She was built from 7000 tons of high-strength steel with 52 kg/mm² (500 N/mm²), allowing a weight saving of some 800 tons on the structure. She was also the first commercial ship to be designed with the Taylor bulbous bow, though bulbous bows of different types had appeared on earlier merchant vessels, such as the SS Malolo of 1926. She was launched at Bremen during the afternoon of Thursday, 16 August 1928 by President Paul von Hindenburg, only one day after the launch of her sister ship Europa at Hamburg. SS Bremen and her sister ship SS Europa were considered for their time as the most modern liners in the world. The high speeds and the comfort and luxury level on board made high demands of technical personnel. Each ship required an engineering crew of some 170 men.

The Bremen while under construction.

As on her sister ship Europa, Bremen had a catapult on the upper deck between the two funnels with a small seaplane, which facilitated faster mail service. The airplane was launched from the ship several hours before arrival, landing at the seaplane base in Blexen.[1]

The boiler and the machine equipment were designed by Professor Dr. Gustav Bauer. Bremen had four airtight boiler rooms. The combustion air for the oil burners of the boilers was blown into the boiler rooms by eight steam turbine blowers. The resulting positive pressure meant that the boiler rooms were only accessible through airlocks. The steam was generated in 20 oil-fired water tube boilers, eleven double-enders and nine single-enders in four banks fired by a total of 227 oil burners. The operating pressure was 23 atm = 24 bar with a steam temperature at the superheater discharge of 370 °C. The maximum steam generating capacity was 500 tons/h. For harbour operation three boilers with their own blower were available, so that during work periods the main boiler airlocks could remain open. The total heating surface amounted to 17,050 m ², the superheater surface 3,875 m ² and the air preheater surface 8,786 m ². The feed water was preheated to 130 °C and the fuel oil consumption was 33 tons/h or 380 g/HP/h or 800 tons/Day, fed from oil bunkers with a capacity of 7,552 tons.

SS Bremen had four geared steam turbines that could generate approximately 135,000 sHP. Each of them had a high pressure, a medium pressure, low pressure and a reverse turbine. In reverse, 65% of the forward power was available. At cruise speed the turbines made 1800 rpm while the propellers made 180 rpm for a power output of 84,000 sHP. The four propellers were bronze and had a diameter of 5,000 mm, pitch of 5,200 mm and weighed 17 tons each. The 230 V electric power on the ship came from four diesel generators with a total output of 520 kW. On board, there were total of 420 electric motors, approximately 21,000 lamps, electric cookers and 20 elevators.

Blue Riband

Bremen was to have made her maiden transatlantic crossing in the company of her sister Europa, but Europa suffered a serious fire during fitting-out, so Bremen crossed solo, departing Bremerhaven for New York City under the command of Commodore Leopold Ziegenbein on 16 July 1929. She arrived four days, 17 hours, and 42 minutes later, capturing the westbound Blue Riband from the Mauretania with an average speed of 27.83 knots (51.54 km/h).

Cover flown from the SS Bremen on August 2, 1929 signed by Capt. Ziegenbein

This voyage also marked the first time mail was carried by a ship-launched plane for delivery before the ship's arrival. A Heinkel HE 12 floatplne, flown by 27-year old Lufthansa pilot Baron Jobst von Studnitz, was launched at sea 20 miles east of Fire Island with 11,000 pieces of mail in six mailbags weighing 220 pounds which it delivered to New York many hours before the ship docked at the North German-Lloyd pier at the foot of 58th Street in Brooklyn.[2] On the return voyage to Germany Bremen took the eastbound Blue Riband with a time of 4 day 14 hours and 30 minutes and an average speed of 27.91 knots (51.69 km/h), the first time a liner had broken two records on her first two voyages. The mailplane was launched on the eastbound voyage in the English Channel near Cherbourg carrying 18,000 letters to Bremerhaven where it delivered the mail many hours ahead of the ship's arrival.[3][4] The Bremen lost the westbound Blue Riband to her sister Europa in 1930, and the eastbound Blue Riband to SS Normandie in 1935.

Before World War II

Bremen in 1935

SS Bremen near Bremerhaven 1933. Oil painting by Gustav Lüttgens.

As Nazism gained power in Germany, Bremen and her pier in New York were often the site of Anti-Nazi demonstrations. On 26 July 1935 a group of demonstrators boarded Bremen just before she sailed and tore the German flag from the jackstaff and tossed it into the Hudson River. At the time there was a dual flag law, by which both the black-white-red horizontal tricolour (previously the flag of the German Empire), and the swastika flag were simultaneously official national flags of Germany. As the ship's swastika flag was the one tossed into the river, US authorities claimed that no symbol of Germany had been harmed. On 15 September 1935 Germany changed its flag law, removing the status of the black-white-red flag of imperial Germany with which the Nazis on coming to power had replaced the black-red-gold flag of the Weimar Republic as co-national flag.[3][5][6] The Bremen started her South America cruise on 11 February 1939, and was the first ship of this size to traverse the Panama Canal. On 22 August 1939, she began her last voyage to New York. After ten years of service, she had almost 190 transatlantic voyages completed.

World War II

On 26 August 1939, in anticipation of the invasion of Poland, the Kriegsmarine high command ordered all German merchant ships to head to German ports immediately. Bremen was on a westbound crossing and 2 days from New York when she received the order. Bremen’s captain decided to continue to New York to disembark her 1770 passengers. She left New York without passengers on 30 August 1939 and on 1 September, coincident with the start of the Second World War, she was ordered to make for the Russian port of Murmansk. Underway, her crew painted the ship grey for camouflage. She made use of bad weather and high speed to avoid Royal Navy cruisers, arriving in Murmansk on 6 September 1939. With the outbreak of the Winter War between Finland and the Soviet Union, on 10 December 1939 Bremen made a dash to Bremerhaven, arriving on 13 December. On the way she was sighted and challenged by the S class submarine HMS Salmon. While challenging Bremen, an escorting Dornier Do 18 seaplane forced the Salmon to dive for safety. After diving, the Salmon's commander decided not to torpedo the liner because he believed she was not a legal target.[7] His decision not to fire on Bremen likely delayed the start of unrestricted submarine warfare.[3]

Bremen was used as a barrack ship; there were plans to use her as a transport in Operation Sea Lion, the intended invasion of Great Britain. In 1941, Bremen was set alight by a crew member while at her dock in Bremerhaven and completely gutted. A lengthy investigation discovered that the arson was the result of a personal grudge against the ship's owners, and was not an act of war. She was dismantled to the waterline so the steel could be used for munitions. Her remains were then towed to River Weser and were destroyed by explosives. Some parts of the double hull remain visible to this day.[8]


Stamp of Bremen

In 2004, a stamp was issued showing Bremen before the Manhattan skyline.

In 2003, Radio Bremen produced a one-hour radio feature, Königin der Meere – Die Geschichte des Schnelldampfers „Bremen“ (queen of the seas - The story of the rapid steamer "Bremen") by Detlef Michelers and other former sailors on Bremen.

In the stairwell in the Bremen Overseas Museum, there is a 1:100 scale model of Bremen, while in the shipping exhibit there is a model of her significantly smaller earlier namesake to the same scale.

View of the Bremen

The profile of Bremen as originally built - the funnels were raised by five meters in 1930.

Further reading

  • Adolf Ahrens: Die Siegesfahrt der „Bremen“. Berlin 1939
  • Nils Aschenbeck: Schnelldampfer Bremen – Die Legende/Express Liner Bremen – The Legend. Delmenhorst 1999 ISBN 3-932292-16-2
  • Nur das Gästebuch bezeugt den alten Glanz. Erinnerungen an Julius Hundt, Chief-Ingenieur der „Bremen“ / Besuch an Bord war ein Erlebnis. In Weser-Kurier. Bremen 1999
  • „Bremen“-Fotos aus privaten Alben. Bildband über den Schnelldampfer. In Weser-Kurier, Bremen 1999
  • Hermann Haarmann / Ingrid Peckskamp-Lürßen: Mit der Kamera um die Welt – Richard Fleischhut (1881–1951). Kettler-Verlag, ISBN 3-937390-67-7
  • Huchthausen, Peter A., Shadow Voyage: The Extraordinary Wartime Escape of the Legendary S.S. Bremen, Wiley, 2005.
  • J. Russell Willoughby: Bremen & Europa - German Speed Queens of the Atlantic. Maritime Publishing Concepts 2010 ISBN 978-0-9531035-5-3


  1. "Shot From Ships" Air Classics, Mar 2002 by Cook, John C
  2. "Bremen sends plane from sea with mail", The New York Times, July 23, 1929, p. 1
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Huchthausen, Peter A. (2005). Shadow Voyage: The Extraordinary Wartime Escape of the Legendary SS Bremen. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 0-471-45758-2. OCLC 55764562. 
  4. Huchthausen, Peter A.. "The SS Bremen Article". Retrieved 2007-11-02. 
  5. Bailey, Bill (1993). "Chapter XIV: Ripping the Swastika off the Bremen". The kid from Hoboken : an autobiography. San Francisco: Circus Lithographic Prepress. OCLC 27835027. Retrieved 2007-11-02. 
  6. "Historical flags (Germany)". Flags of the World. 2003-12-27. Retrieved 2007-11-02. 
  8. Wreck of Bremen.

External links

Preceded by
Holder of the Blue Riband (Westbound)
1929 – 1930
Succeeded by
Atlantic Eastbound Record
1929 – 1935
Succeeded by

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