SS Bremen was a German-built
ocean liner constructed for the Norddeutscher Lloyd line (NDL) to work
the transatlantic sea route. 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.
Construction and design
Bremen was built by the new German shipbuilding company Deutsche Schiff-
und Maschinenbau. She was built from 7,000 tons of high-strength steel
of 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 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 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
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.
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 (698 °F). 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 m2 (183,500 sq ft), the superheater surface 3,875 m2
(41,710 sq ft) and the air preheater surface 8,786 m2 (94,570 sq ft).
The feed water was preheated to 130 °C (266 °F) 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 shaft horsepower (101,000 kW). 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 (63,000 kW). The four propellers were bronze and
had a diameter of 5,000 mm (197 in), pitch of 5,200 mm (205 in) 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.
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 Mauretania with an average speed of 27.83
knots (51.54 km/h).
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 floatplane, flown by 27-year-old Lufthansa pilot Baron Jobst von
Studnitz, was launched at sea twenty miles east of Fire Island with
11,000 pieces of mail in six mailbags weighing 220 pounds (100 kg) 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. On the return
passage to Germany Bremen took the eastbound Blue Riband with a time of
4 days 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 passages. 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.
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
communist demonstrators boarded Bremen just before she sailed and tore
the Nazi 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. 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 two
days from New York when she received the order. Bremen's captain decided
to continue to New York to disembark her 1,770 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 Salmon to dive for safety. After diving, Salmon's
commander decided not to torpedo the liner because he believed she was
not a legal target. His decision not to fire on Bremen likely delayed
the start of unrestricted submarine warfare.
Bremen was used as a barracks ship; there were plans to use her as a
transport in Operation Sea Lion, the intended invasion of Great Britain.
On 16 March 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. Starting in 1942 she was
dismantled to the waterline so the steel could be used for munitions. In
1946 her remains were towed up the River Weser, beached on a sandbar off
Blexen, Nordenham and destroyed by explosives, though some parts of the
double hull remain visible to this day.