SS Kaiser Wilhelm II

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SS Kaiser Wilhelm II
SS Kaiser Wilhelm II, (c. 1905).
German Empire
NameKaiser Wilhelm II
NamesakeWilhelm II, German Emperor
OperatorNorddeutscher Lloyd
Port of registryGerman Empire Germany
RouteGermany–New York City
BuilderAG Vulcan, Stettin, Germany
Launched12 August 1902
ChristenedMiss Wiegand
Maiden voyage14 April 1903
In service1903–1917
Out of service6 April 1917
FateSeized by the United States, 6 April 1917
United States
NameUSS Kaiser Wilhelm II
Commissioned21 August 1917
DecommissionedAugust 1919
In service1917–1919
Out of service27 August 1919
  • USS Agamemnon, 1 September 1917
  • USAT Monticello, 1927
Stricken27 August 1919
FateSold for scrapping, 1940
General characteristics
Class and typeKaiser-class ocean liner
Tonnage19,361 gross register tons (GRT)
Displacement25,530 long tons (25,940 t)
Length706 ft 3 in (215.27 m)
Beam72 ft 3 in (22.02 m)
Draft29 ft 10 in (9.09 m)
Depth of hold40 ft 2 in (12.24 m)
PropulsionSteam quadruple expansion engines, 2 propellers
Speed23.5 knots (43.5 km/h; 27.0 mph)
Capacity1,888 passengers
Complement962 officers and enlisted

The SS Kaiser Wilhelm II was a 19,361 gross register ton passenger ship built at Stettin, Germany. The ship was completed in the spring of 1903. At the time of her launch she was larger by 1,900 tons than any other German ship and was surpassed in the weight of her hull and machinery only by the British liners RMS Cedric and RMS Celtic.[1][2] The ship was seized by the U.S. Government during World War I, and subsequently served as a transport ship under the name USS Agamemnon. A famous photograph taken by Alfred Stieglitz called The Steerage, as well as descriptions of the conditions of travel in the lowest class, have conflicted with her otherwise glitzy reputation as a high class, high speed transatlantic liner. The ship is well-known as the vessel which took Gustav Mahler on his last trip to America in October 1910, as well as Jean Sibelius to the States to conduct the premiere of his tone poem The Oceanides in May 1914.


The Kaiser Wilhelm II was built with a full double-bottom along the hull. She was divided into 26 watertight compartments via 16 transverse bulkheads and one longitudinal bulkhead separating the engine rooms. She was designed so that any two compartments could flood and the ship stay afloat. 52 watertight doors were distributed between the bulkheads, 24 of which could be closed from the bridge via the Dörr mechanism.[1]


Kaiser Wilhelm II could accommodate 775 First-Class passengers in 290 cabins, and 343 Second-Class passengers in 102 cabins. There was room for another 770 in Third-Class.[1] The two First-Class "Imperial" suites were the finest accommodation aboard, each featuring a dining room, drawing room, bedroom, and bathroom. There were 8 suites with sitting room, bedroom, and bathroom and another 8 cabins with an adjoining bathroom.[3]

The design of the ship's interiors was entrusted to Johann Poppe, who had designed the interiors of the SS Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse and the SS Kronprinz Wilhelm.[4] The First-Class dining saloon was three decks high and designed in Poppe's signature German Baroque revival style. It was 108 feet long and 69 feet wide, the full beam of the ship. It could accommodate 554 diners.[5] Other First-Class amenities included a children's saloon, a typewriting room, smoking room, drawing room, reading and writing room, and two cafés on the bridge deck.[6]

German career[edit]

The First Class Drawing Room
The Steerage by Alfred Stieglitz. This version was published in 291 in 1915.

Designed for high speed trans-Atlantic service, Kaiser Wilhelm II was launched at Stettin on 12 August 1902, in the presence of the German Emperor, for whom it was named by Miss Wiegand, daughter of Heinrich Wiegand, director of its owner Norddeutscher Lloyd.[7] Her design allowed for guns to be installed so that the ship could act as an auxiliary to the German Navy.[1]

She won the Blue Riband for the fastest eastbound crossing in 1904. In the years before the outbreak of World War I, she made regular trips between Germany and New York City, carrying passengers both prestigious (in first class) and profitable (in the much more austere steerage).

In 1906 (after 7 March), when caught in fog outside Cherbourg, the Kaiser Wilhelm II was reported to have used a new acoustic system to reveal her presence (Le Matin, Nouvelles en trois lignes: 'Pris dans la brume devant Cherbourg, le K.-Wilhelm-II révéla sa présence par le système nouveau de la cloche sous-marine').[8]

On 17 June 1914 Kaiser Wilhelm II collided with the 3,000-ton British steamer Incemore in thick fog off the Needles. Kaiser's hull was holed below the waterline, but the ship's watertight bulkheads held and the ship returned to Southampton under her own power.[9] Kaiser Wilhelm II was west-bound when war with Britain began on 4 August 1914 and, after evading patrolling British cruisers, arrived at New York two days later.

United States military service[edit]

Postcard of Kaiser Wilhelm II
As USS Agamemnon

She was seized by the U.S. Government when it declared war on Germany on 6 April 1917, and work soon began to repair her machinery, sabotaged earlier by a German caretaker crew, and otherwise prepare the ship for use as a transport. While this work progressed, she was employed as a barracks ship at the New York Navy Yard.

The U.S. Navy placed the ship in commission as USS Kaiser Wilhelm II (ID-3004) in late August 1917. Her name was changed to Agamemnon at the beginning of September and active war work commenced at the end of October, when she left for her first troopship voyage to France. While at sea on 9 November 1917, she was damaged in a collision with another large ex-German transport, USS Von Steuben, but delivered her passengers to the war zone a few days later. Following her return to the U.S. in December and subsequent repair work, Agamemnon again steamed to France in mid-January 1918 and thereafter regularly crossed the Atlantic as part of the effort to establish a major American military presence on the Western Front. The routine was occasionally punctuated by encounters with real or suspected U-boats and, during the autumn of 1918, with outbreaks of influenza on board.

USS Agamemnon at Hampton Roads in February 1919

In mid-December 1918, just over a month after the Armistice ended the fighting, Agamemnon began to bring Americans home from France. She made nine voyages by August 1919, carrying nearly 42,000 service personnel, some four thousand more than she had transported overseas during wartime. USS Agamemnon was decommissioned in late August and turned over to the War Department for further use as a U.S. Army Transport. Laid up after the middle 1920s, she was renamed Monticello in 1927 but had no further active service. Monticello was considered too old for future use and sold for scrap in 1940.


  1. ^ a b c d North German Lloyd Steamship Kaiser Wilhem II. Vol. 8. Marine Publishing Company. January 1903. p. 27. {{cite book}}: |periodical= ignored (help)
  2. ^ Transactions of the Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers. Vol. 11. Society of Naval Architects & Marine Engineers. 1904. p. 318.
  3. ^ "Another Great Ocean Liner". Current Literature: A Magazine of Record and Review. Vol. 34. Current Literature Publishing Company. 1903. p. 679.
  4. ^ Henrik Ljungström. "Kaiser Wilhelm II (II)". Retrieved 31 May 2022.
  5. ^ Anne Wealleans (2006). Designing Liners: A History of Interior Design Afloat. Taylor & Francis. p. 38.
  6. ^ "S/S Kaiser Wilhelm II (2), Norddeutscher Lloyd". Retrieved 31 May 2022.
  7. ^ "Latest intelligence – the German Emperor". The Times. No. 36845. London. 13 August 1902. p. 3.
  8. ^ "Nouvelles en trois lignes - Wikisource". (in French). Retrieved 15 April 2023.
  9. ^ "The Fleets of the Mail Lines: Disasters to Mail Steamers". The Marine Engineer and Naval Architect. Vol. 36. July 1914. pp. 458–459.

External links[edit]

Preceded by Atlantic Eastbound Record
Succeeded by