he closing years of the 1920s and the following first of the 1930s were to become the time in which some of the greatest passenger vessels ever built came to life. The years following the First World War had not seen much development in naval design - at least not in the matters of size and speed. The first shipping company who sought out to change this was the White Star Line, which had ordered their third Oceanic by
The giant Queen Elizabeth, growing on the stocks. Harland & Wolff. That ship was intended to be the first ever to exceed a thousand feet in length, but the company's already strained financial situation was worsened when The Great Crash struck. The order of the Oceanic was cancelled, and the unfinished hull was broken up and turned into the 26,000-ton Britannic who was introduced in 1930.
The French Line, which was planning their new champion - the Normandie - was not immediately affected by the crash, and could continue with the construction. Launched in 1932, the Normandie set out on her maiden voyage in 1935 and proved to be the very latest in ship technology.
The Cunard Line had not been resting to deal with this competition. The keel of their own supership had been laid in December 1930, but the construction was brought to a halt a year later due to the poor economic situation. Unlike the White Star's Oceanic however, the uncompleted ship was not broken up. Cunard had hopes of continuing the work soon, but it was not until the merger with White Star Line in 1934 that money could be raised for the job. Then finally, after two years and nine months of uncertainty, hull no. 534 was launched and named Queen Mary.
In May 1936, the Queen Mary embarked on her maiden voyage. By now, the Normandie had been in service for a year and had already captured the Blue Riband for France. But on her sixth round trip voyage, the Mary took it from her, putting the prestigious award in British hands for the first time in seven years. This was the beginning of a fierce battle between the two Leviathans. In 1937, the Normandie bettered the Queen Mary's record and regained the Blue Riband, but by August 1938 the grand Cunarder had again taken it back from her.