The Queen Elizabeth liner was designed to be an improved version of the Queen Mary and was officially launched in 1938. With the onset of war, however, both Queens were diverted to war duties and the Queen Elizabeth did not make her first commercial journey until 1946.
The two Queens dominated the transatlantic passenger trade during the 1940s and 1950s, but gradually the popularity of flight took its toll. In 1954, one million people had crossed the Atlantic by sea and around 600,000 by air, but by 1961 the figures had changed drastically with 750,000 going by sea and two million by air. The two liners were large and uneconomic to operate. Their size made them inflexible and not easily adapted to routes other than the transatlantic crossings, too wide, for example, to pass through the Panama Canal.
It was decided to replace the two liners with one smaller, more economical ship the Queen Elizabeth 2. The Queen Mary retired first, moving to Long Beach in 1967 to become a hotel. I stayed there in summer 2000: as a hotel it was somewhat lacking in comfort and space, but the tour of the ship was fascinating. Even if you choose not to stay there I highly recommend a visit.
The Queen Elizabeth retired a year later
and I was there to see her final sailing from Southampton in November 1968
Sadly, she didn’t have as happy a retirement as her fellow Queen. Elizabeth (she lost the Queen part of her name when she retired) was badly damaged by fire in 1972 and the burnt wreck capsized in Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbour. The famous wreck appeared in in the 1974 James Bond movie The Man with the Golden Gun, as a covert headquarters for MI6 but shortly afterwards it was dismantled for scrap. It enjoyed the dubious fame of being the largest ever passenger shipwreck, eventually being overtaken in 2012 by the Costa Concordia.