Visiting an elegant Queen and warships at Long Beach
09.05.2013 - 09.05.2013 22 °C
Although I have been to Los Angeles three times previously visiting family I have never been to Long Beach and was keen to see the retired 1936 art deco ocean liner RMS Queen Mary that is permanently docked there. Alongside her is the Soviet Foxtrot Class b-427 Scorpion Submarine purchased from the Russians in the 1990s and also the large dome that was once used to display the Hughes H-4 Hercules "Spruce Goose" before it was sold in 1998 to the Evergreen Aviation Museum in Oregon. The Spruce Goose only flew once in 1947 (for a distance of about a mile about 70 feet above the water) and is the largest flying boat ever built with the longest wingspan of any aircraft in history.
We began our tour however with a visit aboard the Cold War vintage Soviet Foxtrot Class b-427 Scorpion Submarine that floats alongside the RMS Queen Mary. Launched in Leningrad in 1972 she was part of the Soviet Pacific Submarine Fleet based out of Vladivostok and was one of 79 Foxtrot Class submarines that served with the Soviet Navy before being decommissioned in 1994. She is a contemporary of the Australian Submarine HMAS Ovens I looked around in Freemantle and it was strange to think of them on opposing sides and hunting each other.
Although the Soviet submarine in the film is a nuclear attack submarine and a lot bigger, walking past the officer's ward room and then climbing through the Control Room to look through the Attack Periscope with all the Russian writing everywhere I couldn't help thinking of Sean Connery in the 1990 film "The Hunt for Red October"!
The b-427 Scorpion had a crew of 56 sailors, 10 midshipman and 12 officers and felt a lot more cramped than the HMAS Ovens. Since arriving in Long Beach with Hollywood not too far away she has appeared as a Russian, American, German and even a Japanese submarine in many films, TV shows, commercials and documentaries.
We then moved on to the main event, the RMS Queen Mary. Legend has it that she was originally going to be called the Queen Victoria but when as per protocol Cunard approached King George V for his blessing for the ship's proposed name saying, "We have decided to name our new ship after England's greatest Queen," (meaning Queen Victoria, the King's Grandmother) the King reportedly replied "My wife (Queen Mary) will be delighted that you are naming the ship after her" and so she was called the Queen Mary instead.
Our guide for the main "Glory Days" tour of the ship was a retired Captain who was extremely knowledgeable about the ship. The Queen Mary was built in Clydebank (Scotland) and when launched in 1936 set a new benchmark in transatlantic travel and was considered by the rich and famous as the only way to travel. On our tour (with exception of the First Class Lounge or "Queens Salon" which was closed for a private function) we were shown around all the main rooms of the ship with their luxurious art-deco furnishings.
Queen Mary herself appears to have only briefly visited the ship once but she proved popular with Hollywood stars such as Bob Hope and was frequently used by British Prime Minister Winston Churchill to cross the Atlantic during WWII. The Queen Mary Hotel currently features 314 of the original guest rooms including 305 staterooms and 9 full suites. Interestingly the bathroom of the suite used by Queen Mary we looked around had 4 taps - separate sets of hot and cold taps for fresh and salt water.
The Queen Mary also had a Travel Bureau (recently restored) for first class passengers to make hotel reservations before their arrival at their final destinations. There was also an indoor swimming pool with an art deco entrance; when we were taken inside it was very dark as these days it is used mainly on the Queen Mary's Ghost & Legends Tour which can only be described as "corny" as they try to scare people in true ghost train fashion with stories of calamities aboard the ship such as the stoker who was tragically chopped in half by a bulkhead door. The biggest disaster to befell the Queen Mary was her collision with and sinking of the British cruiser HMS Curacao off the coast of Ireland in 1942 when 331 lives were lost. This is remembered on the Ghost & Legends Tour with a recreation of flooding in the side of ship down in one of the engine rooms.
The Bridge of the ship was spacious with polished wheels and levers and had a view forward up the Los Angeles River with the b-427 Scorpion Submarine alongside. Included on the deck is a Bofors Gun as used to defend the ship during WWII.
Towards the back of the ship with a separate walkway is the "Queen Mary Story" Museum which included various models and memorabilia from the ship as well as mock ups of different types of cabins used during her history. There is also access through the museum to one of the Queen Mary's engine rooms and a propeller submerged in a tank of water to preserve it.
One of the most interesting periods in the Queen Mary's history is her involvement in WWII. The ship was called up as a troopship and affectionately known as the "Grey Ghost" for the drab shade of grey she was painted and ability to evade U-boats because of her speed. Eventually during the course of the war the Queen Mary carried more than 800,000 troops (including 16,683 on a single voyage - a record that remains to this day) and travelled more than 600,000 miles playing a significant role in virtually every major Allied campaign. Winston Churchill credited the Queen Mary with shortening the War by a year and amongst the exhibits were GI bunk beds, a gym and weaponry used during this period. After the war the Queen Mary spent the following year repatriating American troops and GI brides before finally being demobbed and returned to Cunard her owners in September 1946.
When the Queen Mary was put up for sale in 1967 she was purchased by the City of Long Beach to become a signature tourist attraction and high class hotel which she continues to be today. In addition to the Queen Mary Glory Days and Ghosts & Legends Tours that we signed up for there was also a Her Finest Hour: A WWII Tour and Diana: Legacy of a Princess Exhibition containing a collection of her evening gowns, dresses and other memorabilia but that was more than we could take!
As you can probably judge by the number of photographs in this entry, by the time we finished at the Queen Mary there was little time left to explore the rest of Long Beach! We did however manage to walk along the waterfront at San Pedro watching the container ships entering and leaving Los Angeles Harbor, the busiest container port in the USA and also took some photographs of the WWII Battleship USS Iowa that was berthed there. The USS Iowa closed as we got there, I guess I'll have to see if I can do a tour of one of her sister ships on the East Coast instead!
On the dock side by the bow of the USS Iowa was a 6 foot copy of Seward Johnson's iconic "Sailor kissing a Nurse" (aka "Unconditional Surrender") sculpture that seems popular alongside US Museum Ships (the original statute was 25 foot high and was based on photograph taken in Times Square New York on V-J Day 1945).