On this day in 1934, the British government forced through the merger of the Cunard and White Star lines to create Cunard White Star.
Both lines had been leaving broad trails of red accountant’s ink in their respective wakes since the Great Depression of October, 1929. Within a year, overall passenger numbers on the Atlantic crossing had fallen by some fifty per cent.
Both lines were faced with the same problem; running a fleet of increasingly ageing and expensive vessels, in the face of opposition from far more modern ships, run by state subsidised lines from Italy, Germany and, most ominously, France.
Work on the new Queen Mary on the Clyde had been brought shuddering to a halt by the depression, effectively ending Cunard’s attempt at challenging the opposition. For White Star, the promise held manifest by their bruited Oceanic had effectively ended when the company simply ran out of money.
However, the British government was adamant that British supremacy on the Atlantic crossing should be restored. To that end, it offered Cunard a deal.
Her Majesty’s government would advance the sum of £7,000,000 to Cunard, money enough to resume construction on Queen Mary and to build a sibling vessel- the eventual Queen Elizabeth of 1938- from scratch.
Of course, there was a catch….
That being that Cunard would be frog marched into a shotgun wedding with it’s old, avowed rival- the White Star Line. The two most famous names in British shipping history would become one.
In a seriously weakened state, Cunard was in no position to turn down this deal. White Star, flirting even closer with oblivion, had absolutely no choice but to comply.
The newly registered Cunard White Star Line was announced on May 10th, 1934, as a single entity. Cunard held sixty two per cent of the shares; White Star was lucky to get the remaining thirty eight.
The end result was inevitable, painful restructuring and consolidation. Within two years, a whole host of famous, now superannuated names made a sad procession to the block.
They included all three of the prime White Star flag bearers on the Atlantic- the Olympic, Homeric, and even the Majestic, the fabled ‘Queen of the Western Ocean’ were either scrapped or, in the case of the later, sold for use as a static accommodation ship.
On the Cunard side, the beloved, legendary Mauretania went for scrap. Berengaria and Aquitania would soldier on until 1938 and 1950, respectively. The latter ship had been due to retire in 1940, but the advent of World War Two meant that even her worn out, weary carcass found final breath as a troop ship.
The surviving ships would fly the house flags of both lines. In the case of the Cunarders, the company flag flew above that of White Star. On the few White Star survivors, the famous old burgee flag flew above the Cunard one.
It was a situation that lasted until 1950, when Cunard finally bought out the balance of the White Star shares, and the company simply reverted to being the Cunard Line once more. But, in a fittingly apt touch, the last surviving White Star Liner- the Britannic of 1930- retained her White Star colours and flew the company house flag to the end of her service life in 1960.
By then another unbeatable foe- the jet airliner- was already truly in the ascendant. No merger of any kind could have stemmed that airborne tide.