SS George Washington was an
ocean liner built in 1908 for the Bremen-based North German Lloyd and
was named after George Washington, the first President of the United
States. The ship was also known as USS George Washington (ID-3018) and
USAT George Washington in service of the United States Navy and United
States Army, respectively, during World War I. In the interwar period,
she reverted to her original name of SS George Washington. During World
War II, the ship was known as both USAT George Washington and, briefly,
as USS Catlin (AP-19), in a short, second stint in the U.S. Navy.
When George Washington was launched in 1908, she was the largest
German-built steamship and the third-largest ship in the world. George
Washington was built to emphasize comfort over speed and was sumptuously
appointed in her first-class passenger areas. The ship could carry a
total of 2,900 passengers, and made her maiden voyage in January 1909 to
New York. In June 1911, George Washington was the largest ship to
participate in the Coronation Fleet Review by the United Kingdom's newly
crowned king, George V.
On 14 April 1912, George Washington passed a particularly large iceberg
south of the Grand Banks of Newfoundland and radioed a warning to all
ships in the area, including White Star Line ocean liner Titanic, which
sank near the same location. Throughout her German passenger career,
contemporary news accounts often reported on notable persons—typically
actors, singers, and politicians—who sailed on George Washington.
At the outbreak of World War I, George Washington was interned by the
then-neutral United States, until that country entered into the conflict
in April 1917. George Washington was seized by the United States and
taken over for use as a troop transport by the U.S. Navy. Commissioned
as USS George Washington (ID-3018), she sailed with her first load of
American troops in December 1917.
In total, she carried 48,000 passengers to France, and returned 34,000
to the United States after the Armistice. George Washington also carried
U.S. President Woodrow Wilson to France twice for the Paris Peace
Conference. George Washington was decommissioned in 1920 and handed over
the United States Shipping Board (USSB), who reconditioned her for
passenger service. SS George Washington sailed in transatlantic
passenger service for both the United States Mail Steamship Company (one
voyage) and United States Lines for ten years, before she was laid up in
the Patuxent River in Maryland in 1931.
During World War II, the ship was re-commissioned by the U.S. Navy as
USS Catlin (AP-19) for about six months and was operated by the British
under Lend-Lease, but her old coal-fired engines were too slow for
effective combat use. After conversion to oil-fired boilers, the ship
was chartered to the U.S. Army as USAT George Washington and sailed
around the world in 1943 in trooping duties. The ship sailed in regular
service to the United Kingdom and the Mediterranean from 1944 to 1947,
and was laid up in Baltimore after ending her Army service. A fire in
January 1951 damaged the ship severely, and she was sold for scrapping
the following month.