RMS Adriatic (II) was the last of White Star Line’s Big Four class ships; her Big Four class sister ships being: Celtic, launched in 1901; Cedric, launched in 1902, and Baltic, launched in 1903. At 24,541 tons Adriatic, although, due to Mauritania and SS Kaiserin Auguste Victoria, not being the largest ship in existence, was at the time White Star Line’s largest ever ship. she was also White Star’s most luxurious and modern ship prior to Olympic and Titanic.
On 20th September 1906, Adriatic, yard number is 358, was launched at Harland and Wolff, Belfast, UK, on the very same day as and perhaps somewhat overshadowed by the launching of Cunard Line’s Mauritania, the largest then ever constructed.
Her maiden voyage started from Liverpool, UK to New York City, US on 8th May 1907; just like Titanic, five years later, she was under the command of Captain EJ Smith, and she also had on-board, again just like Titanic, J Bruce Ismay, the White Star Line’s Managing Director. After a successful crossing, she arrived in New York City on 16th May.
While in New York City, Captain Smith is said to have said in an interview: "I will say that I cannot imagine any condition which could cause a ship to founder. I cannot conceive of any vital disaster happening to this vessel. Modern shipbuilding has gone beyond that."
On her return journey, via Plymouth, UK and then Cherbourg, France, instead of landing at Liverpool, she landed at Southampton, UK, due to White Star Line moving its principle port for liners bound for New York City from Liverpool to Southampton. The first White Star ship on this new service, Adriatic arrived in Southampton to a very warm welcome on 30th May.Adriatic become the first White Star Line ship to depart Southampton on the new Southampton to New York City, via Cherbourg and Queenstown, route on 5th June 1907, still under the command of Captain EJ Smith.
On 30th October 1908 it was reported in the New York Times that four of Adriatic's crew members had been arrested in New York after it was discovered that trunks in the ship’s cargo hold had been broken into. Following a search of the ship, about $6,000 worth of items belonging to passengers were found around the ship. It was said that two crew members kept watch while the others stole the items.
Early in the morning on 4th November 1909, under the command of Captain EJ Smith, Adriatic ran aground on a sand bank at the southern edge of the Ambrose channel, near to New York. Although undamaged, Adriatic was not able to move from the sand bank until around five hours later.
When Olympic entered service in the summer of 1911, it was not to long before Adriatic was moved from the Southampton to New York City service to the Liverpool to New York City service – which had been her route for her maiden voyage. During the winter Adriatic was used for Mediterranean cruises.
On 2nd May 1912 – following the sinking of Titanic – a number of Titanic’s survives started the journey back home to Britain aboard Adriatic – including J Bruce Ismay, the managing director of the White Star Line; Titanic’s surviving officers; Fredrick Fleet, who spotted the iceberg, and Titanic’s youngest survivor, Millvina Dean. Adriatic arrived in Liverpool on 11th May.
While leaving New York for a Mediterranean cruise – in thick fog – on 7th January 1913, Adriatic ran aground on the Red Hook mud flats – and remained stuck there for most of the afternoon. Eventually she, under the command of Captain Bertram Hayes, was able to free herself and continue her cruise.
Adriatic seems to have maintained a passenger service between Britain and America throughout most of the First World War. Despite still being in commercial use, amongst Adriatic's cargo during a voyage from New York in September 1915 was 16,000 tons of cargo consigned to the British government, presumably for the British war effort, including 150 motor trucks and several aeroplanes. Mounted on Adriatic's deck were guns that could be used to defend the ship. During the war it is said that Adriatic was also used to transport troops; as well as returning troops home to North America after the war.
Leaving New York for Southampton on 14th August 1919, the first White Star Line ship to operate this service since the outbreak of the First World War and Adriatic’s first time since 1911, Adriatic was overtaken by an aeroplane with the intension of delivering a pouch of mail to Adriatic, the first time that the Post Office Department had used an aircraft to deliver European mail to a steamer. First a cable, attached to the pouch, was dropped to the ship, and then the pouch was dropped into the sea and successfully retrieved by Adriatic. Following Adriatic’s arrival in Southampton, she made her first Southampton departure back on this route on 3rd September.
In dense fog, in New York on 29th September 1919, Adriatic collided with St Michael, a British freighter. Helped by the fact that Adriatic was at a slow speed, she was not damaged; while St Michael sustained a twisted stem and some damage to one or two of her plates, not serious damage.
While sailing on a westward crossing on 10th March 1920, Adriatic rescued the crew from Maid of Le Havre, a British schooner, which was abandoned by her crew around 600 miles away from New York.
In May 1922, Adriatic was returned to the Liverpool to New York City service; starting her first voyage, back on that route, from Liverpool on 13th May, and arriving in New York on 22nd May.
As she was sailing towards New York in the early hours of 11th August 1922, tragedy struck aboard Adriatic when an electrician was fixing a cable in one of Adriatic’s coal holds – resulting in a huge accidental explosion, killing five of the ship’s crew. The resulting fire was brought under control after 20 minutes, and Adriatic was able to continue without any serious injury to the ship herself. The passengers aboard Adriatic raised around $7,000 for the families of the victims.
When Cunard Line and White Star line merged in May 1934, it was not long before it was decided that it was the end for Adriatic; by this time Adriatic was engaged only in cruising. She started her final commercial voyage on 25th August 1934, a Mediterranean cruise starting from Liverpool.
In 1935, Adriatic was broken up for scrap in Japan.