The Golden Era of Transatlantic Voyage – Ep. 4 Bremen – The Rigorous German Liner

The pride of the German fleet

SS Bremen was the biggest German liner built for the Norddeutscher Lloyd line (NDL) to serve the transatlantic route.

Launched in August 1928 and completed in July 1929, Bremen was one of the most advanced high-speed steam turbine ocean liners. Together with her sister ship Europa, Bremen was the pride of the German fleet of ocean liners.

The two ships were fast, designed for a cruising speed of 27.5 knots, which allowed for a crossing time of five days. During sea trials, Bremen reached speeds of 32 knots.

Bremen and Europa were built at the same time, one in the Bremen yard, the other in Hamburg. SS Europa was supposed to be the first liner launched, but a fire delayed the launch, so Bremen became the first German liner launched after the First World War.

Bremen set sail for the maiden voyage on 16 July 1929. She left Bremenhaven and arrived in New York after four days, 17 hours and 42 minutes, capturing the westbound Blue Riband from RMS Mauretania with an average speed of 27.83 knots.

Bremen would also break the eastbound crossing record on her second voyage with an average speed of 27.91 knots.

Bremen was one of the most modern liners of her time. Power was provided by four steam turbines that could generate 100,000 kW. Four bronze propellers with a five-meter diameter moved the ship. The electric power was provided by four diesel generators. On board, there were a total of 420 electric motors, 21,000 electric lamps and 20 elevators.

The interiors were lavish, and we can get an idea of that from the descriptions of author William H. Miller in the book "The Fabulous Interiors of the Great Ocean Liners in Historic Photographs":

"The main lounge aboard the Bremen glittered; a feeling of the fresh and new but with the ambience of comfort and relaxation. The room had the feeling of some contemporary grand hotel in Berlin of the late twenties."

"Like most shipboard pools, the one on the Bremen was filled with salt water. It was illuminated from beneath by porthole lamps for a soft, glowing effect. The columns surrounding the pool were of granite. The ceiling gave off artificial light through frosted glass panes."

For delivering mail, a Heinkel He12 seaplane was launched from a catapult twenty miles from shore. The plane could deliver the mail many hours before the ship docked at her pier.

The Nazi party was gaining power in Germany, and Bremen was often the object of Anti-Nazi demonstrations in New York. On July 26th 1935 a group of demonstrators boarded Bremen and tore the Nazi flag from the jackstaff and tossed it in the Hudson.

On August 26th, 1939, on the eve of the invasion of Poland, the Kriegsmarine command ordered all German ships to head back to home ports.

Bremen was in the middle of a westbound crossing of the Atlantic, only two days from New York. The captain decided to ignore the order and continue to New York to disembark the 1,770 passengers.

She left New York on 30th August 1939 without passengers and was ordered to head to the Russian port of Murmansk. On the way, the crew painted the hull grey for camouflage. She made use of the bad weather and speed to avoid the British cruisers, and arrived in Murmansk on September 6th. With the start of the war between Finland and the Soviet Union, Bremen dashed for Bremenhaven, where she arrived on December 13th.

During the first years of the war, she was used as a barracks ship, and there were plans to use her as transport in Operation Sea Lion, the intended invasion of Great Britain.

But, on March 16th, 1941, a drunken sailor set her alight. The ship was destroyed in the fire. The rest of the ship was dismantled and the remains were destroyed with explosives up the River Weser. Some parts of the hull are still visible today.

Don't miss the first three episodes:

Ep. 1 SS United States – The Record-Breaking Ocean Liner

Ep. 2 Queen Mary, the Classy British Ocean Liner

Ep.3 SS Normandie, the Fastest French Liner