It was the largest ocean liner fleet acquisition in history.
The United States’ entry into World War I on 6 April 1917 meant that dozens of German ocean liners, which had sought safety at various neutral American ports, were immediately seized by the US government. The largest vessels were NDL’s Kaiser Wilhelm II, Kronzprinz Wilhelm and Kronprinzessen Cecile, plus HAPAG’s Amerika.
All of these vessels were quickly commissioned into the US Navy and would soon carry thousands of American “doughboys” to battle in Europe.
● Kaiser Wilhelm II became USS Agamemnon.
● Kronzprinz Wilhelm was renamed USS Von Steuben.
● Kronprinzessen Cecile was now USS Mount Vernon.
● Amerika was only slightly renamed, becoming USS America.
Von Steuben began the first of nine transatlantic trooping voyages on 31 October 1917 (also in the initial convoy were all of the ex-liners listed above).
On 9 November, while on an anti-submarine zigzag course, Von Steuben collided with her former NDL fleetmate, Agamemnon. Damage to the sturdy Agamemnon was relatively light, but Von Steuben’s bow was badly crushed. Temporary repairs allowed Von Steuben and the rest of the convoy to limp behind schedule into Brest, France, on 12 November, where they were greeted enthusiastically by war-weary crowds.
Once the troops were offloaded, Von Steuben’s bow was filled with concrete ballast and she returned to the US for a complete repair and eventual return to service.
None of the major impounded liners would ever again sail under a German flag.
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