QE2 - From Concept to Cunarder

A large cruising liner is the nearest thing so far to a completely man-made total environment. It houses every kind of human concern, work, play, health, sickness, birth and death, and at its best the scope of its facilities transcends most buildings and many towns. It is when this specification is seen as a secondary aspect only of a design task that the real extent of the naval architect’s problem can be appreciated. The production of a fast vehicle which will safely include the accommodation is the primary concern. These priorities are reflected in the training of the profession and in the organisation of much passenger ship design- impeccable professionalism in technical design combined with an approach to environmental planning which has produced too many expensively appointed disappointments. This is not to say that the priorities are wrong. The name Titanic still appears in current text books of naval architecture and, as recently as April 1966, an Atlantic storm smashed the superstructure and caused 14 casualties in the 43,000 ton liner Michelangelo which had been launched only four years previously by respected Italian builders.

Jet air liners extinguished the Q3 project, which was intended to maintain the North Atlantic shuttle service around which the Queens were designed. Cunard and their builders, Vickers and Swan Hunter, far into the planning of the new giant, had to accept that her passengers had disappeared into the sky. Out of the ruins of the design study for the lost liner emerged a new proposal, a dual purpose ship which would operate the Europe to USA shuttle in summer, carrying tourists, but which in the northern winter would cruise distant sunny waters. This was the ship, ‘Q4’ in journalese, ‘No 736’ on its builders’ books, which was finally launched as Queen Elizabeth 2. The large one-off luxury liner is widely regarded as an archaism, but there was a certain logic for Cunard in building something fairly big. The tourists, tempted of the jets perhaps, would still be travelling to arrive, and for speed with comfort over the long North Atlantic rollers, size is essential. Similarly, if tourist passengers can be found, there is jumbo logic in pushing them along in large packages. Generous volume also makes sense in dealing with the provisioning problem in either role. It is not unusual for cruise ships to be provisioned for a whole season, and it is becoming increasingly economic to provision a ‘shuttle ship’ on the same basis, to cut down time on the numerous turn-rounds. The older Queens, however, had been a little too big: their 39-ft. draught kept them out of Southampton at low water; and a missed tide added hours to the passage. The new liner would meet such problems in an intensified form. The itineraries of a cruising liner change from year to year in step with holiday fashions and the pulsations of sterling. She must follow the trends through shallow waters and into holiday ports where tugs are scarce. If the Pacific is to be within reach, the Panama Canal must also play its part in designing the ship. The requirements taken together filter out a performance and a set of basic dimensions, which are uncomfortably tight for a luxury ‘jumbo’, especially when the luxury that it's cruising customers want is space. The Panama locks are 1,000 ft. by 110 ft., and under a complex series of weight and volume regulations on which negotiation is possible they will take a ship only slightly smaller than this and with a maximum draught of about 35 ft. These constraints alone, and there were others, left options in only one direction: upwards. And the early glimmerings, emerging from the flotsam of the Q3, showed a tall, wallsided ship, extruded under pressure through rectilinear regulations into a world not too interested in limitations. This holds as true for subjective environmental demands as for technical operating standards. The part played by the world’s expectations in the genesis of QE2 cannot be put into figures. Those factors which are quantifiable can be arranged into a viable economic argument, but their extrapolation even into the near future involves some spiritual belief. It may be no accident that the name ‘CUNARD’ is welded on to the superstructure of this particular Queen in letters six feet high.


The new proposal evolved with Vickers in October 1961, was for a ship strikingly similar to the Oriana which they had launched for P and O in 1960. Oriam was a dual purpose cruise or passage vessel, not a giant at 42,000 tons, but carrying 2,000 passengers on {ive decks in stabilized and fully air-conditioned comfort. She was novel in several ways: the first British ship to have an all-aluminium superstructure, and the first to have a bulb bow. She was a twin-screw steamer, and she had lateral propulsion units for independent docking. The new vessel proposed for Cunard could be described almost identically, except for its size- about 60,000 tons.

Vickers were commissioned, in May 1963, to carry out calculations for the vessel in close collaboration with Cimard who, by ship-owning standards, have an unusually strong technical department of their own. Their naval architect, Dan Wallace, and their chief marine engineer, Tom Kameen, supported by a small technical staff, maintain an exceptionally close involvement with the design and development of the company’s ships. The development was to bring together three things : Vickers’ ideas for improvements in the ratio between size, power and speed- Cunard’s requirement to reach beyond the stringent American safety tandards—and the many lessons learned by both from the Q3. The resulting design, which went out to tender in September 1964, described the centre-engined liner of nearly Queen length at 963 feet, and of unprecedented height above the waterline. The drawings and six hundred pages of specifications were accompanied by a model which showed a more slender hull than its predecessors, and a rather demure appearance due to its lack, at this stage, of a funnel. Three companies tendered on the specification. Their bids, as invited in the tender documents, including their own views on certain basic features of the design such as speed, power and the number of propellor blades. Thus the ‘owners’ design’ was supplemented by a ‘builder’s design’, and an amalgam of these paper ships formed the basis of a £25 1/2 million building contract. The task which faced John Brown when they got the contract was still a design job- a collaborative operation between two design groups, owners and builders, with similar professional skills, the common private language of naval architecture, and the opposed pulls respectively of near perfection and shipyard economics. Cunard’s ‘specification for a twin-screw passenger liner’ was the output of unique operational experience. It left considerable play, however, for the builder’s constructional experience; and while its phrasing reiterated the fact that this was no ordinary vessel, it placed as always the responsibility squarely on the constructor to build a fast, functional and seaworthy ship. In planning terms QE2 followed cruise liner design trends in general and Cunard trends in innumerable particulars. The general trends demand ever more ‘outside’ cabins with portholes, an increasing variety of public rooms with big windows and a commanding view and, finally, ever greater areas of sheltered deck open to the sun and to the eye, but not to the wind. Cunard’s response to these requirements has tended increasingly to place all circulations in-board, running the cabins to the outer shell, and higher up to peel off the strips of open deck which traditionally enoircled the superstructure, and consolidate them into a cascade of open playdecks aft. In the light of this the new ship emerges as a cellular mantle of passenger spaces— cabins, public volumes and open decks— moulded over, around and behind a long, narrow core of machinery, circulations, cargo and crew space. The expanding demands of the environmental mantle, and the irreducible requirements of the functional core, influence virtually every decision in the structural design.

The great height above waterline reflects the attempt to get the optimum usable volume out of a hull which is perforce slightly shorter and 10 per cent narrower than the earlier Queens, yet like them must carry 2,000 passengers and, unlike them, eighty cars. In line with other findings of the market research, the public rooms, some of them of great size, were all to be placed in the superstructure. Even the restaurants, normally placed lower down to soften the effects of rolling, were to have vantage positions with spectacular views through large windows. All of which increases the demands on the stability of a liner already to be taller, narrower, shallower in draught, and 29,000 tons lighter than her predecessor. Such requirements in fact could only be envisaged in the light of the now widespread practice of building part or all of the superstructure of passenger liners in aluminium alloy, and fitting the hull with power-operated stabilizers. Both tactics were implicit in the earliest design considerations. Allied measures were equally far-reaching. Special weight and space studies had been conducted for the Q3 and these bore fruit in the QE2 design. They showed at the structural level in the extensive perforation of beams and joists for lightness, and the unusually careful pre-planning of trunking, pipes and cables to make full use of these openings and thus maintain maximum headroom and minimum depth of deck. This rigorous approach also showed organisationally in the requirement that the builders should appoint staff whose entire responsibility, during detailing and subsequently during construction, would be to ensure that no excess weight was built into the ship. The saving of space was equally vital. Care in deck and services design, plus the alloy superstructure, would allow a complete extra deck, but even this would not suffice for a dual-role ship. The older ‘Queens’ were fast North Atlantic passage liners returning to home port facilities every two weeks. QE2 was, in addition, to be able to cruise for a complete season, with up to three months away from home facilities. Storage and stowage correspondingly had to be both ample and flexible, the volume required being found mainly from a more than 50 per cent reduction in the space allotted to the main engines and boilers. Cunard’s engine specification, in line with the general development of heat engines, described an extremely compact ‘power package’ using four large boilers running at high temperatures. The old QE had twelve boilers, and the machinery space took half the length of the hull. The positioning of the engines in large ships is a live question in a period of rear-engined mega-tankers and ore carriers. Centre engines and their attendant central funnels plus long propellor shafts have real drawbacks, but the balancing factor literally is weight. If 5,000 tons of machinery is sited aft, then this must be balanced by fuel and ballast placed well forward, the result being to place the two main structural loads at some distance from midships, the centre of buoyancy. Bending loads on a long hull are consequently greater, making demands on strength which are all the less acceptable because of the remaining biggest, and oldest, design problem of all—the North Atlantic. There is no other regular passenger route like it in the world. The long and frequent gales can produce rollers 40 ft. high and measuring 500 ft. from crest to crest. Such waves can meet a Queen-size ship head-on as 15,000 tons of green water travelling at a relative speed of 50 m.p.h. A fast ship for use in these conditions must be built with tremendous strength, and the Cunard specification called for plate thicknesses and constructional details in excess of the Lloyds requirements at many points in the lower hull. Finally, the new liner was to be an all-welded ship, lightened of the innumerable flanges and laps required for rivets—10 million were used on the old QE—but lacking also the stiffening effect of all the double thicknesses, and subject now to the problems of distortion and quality control which accompany the welding of sheet or plate structures.


The builders began, as usual, with a detailed study of the hull—its internal organisation, and its external hydrodynamic performance. Two changes were agreed in the early stages. The iirst placed the turbo alternators (a 16 1/2 megawatt power station) forward of the boilers, instead of behind them and just ahead of the engines. This now placed the boilers between the two main items of steam-using equipment and reduced costs. The second suggestion concerned the underwater form. This had ah·eady received extensive investigation and tank testing during the pretender design study, and the general hull form with its bulb bow was quite tightly described in the tender drawings and specifications. But hull design is not fully subject to calculation, and John Brown themselves possess a test tank—one of the few in the country- plus the hull records for the scores of ships they have built, including among them Lusitania, Aquitania, and both the earlier Queens. The small modifications proposed after work with a 16-ft. wax model of the hull in the Clydeside test tank gave a slightly faster shape with good stability. The hull now had its final shape. More slender than the Queens and with much less displaced volume, it otherwise closely resembled them, the yacht-like curvatures of the underwater form giving little hint of the long parallelism and rectangular cross-section of the body above waterline. The most noticeable difference from the older ships was the ram-like bulb at the bottom of the stem, which at cruising speed would ‘de-tune’ the waves set up by the fore part of the hull,re ducing their amplitude and their resistance with a corresponding saving of propulsive horsepower. For the moment it was the most refined liner hull the world was capable of building.

Structural design is dominated by safety requirements which exceed all others. Ships are probably the only form of transport which, apart from their normal service, must be designed to perform in speciied ways after receiving a variety of speciiied damage, much of it severe. In the case of the QE2, the hull below the waterline is divided conventionally into 15 watertight compartments. The rules require, among many other things, that the ship shall remain safely afloat and regain almost level trim after side damage to any two adjacent compartments, even if these are the huge boilers and engine room spaces. Structurally the hull is a box girder formed by the outer shell topped by the uppermost continuous deck - the strength deck.

The Shipbuilder

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