Mark comments on the book’s history:
The 'Big Four' all had long, successful careers - even though Celtic's was ended by her grounding in 1928. However, their careers were largely overlooked in maritime literature. Certainly, no book had been written about them, although articles such as Ray Lepien's work for the Titanic Historical Society's Commutator journal in the 1980s did a commendable job of covering the highlights of their service.
As I wrote in the introduction, the four of them:
‘...were among the most successful ships ever built for the famous shipping line. Together, they were in service for 110 years, steaming millions of miles, carrying well over 1,500,000 commercial passengers to and from New York, and making considerable profits for their owners. It seems probable that the number of passengers they carried over their three decades was unsurpassed by any other similar North Atlantic sister ships under the same line.
At the turn of the twentieth century, the White Star Line’s focus turned towards larger, comfortable seagoing vessels of moderate speed and greater passenger and cargo carrying capacity. Celtic, Cedric and Baltic entered service as the largest ships in the world and won a popular following. Their third class accommodation was spacious, clean and comfortable compared to earlier vessels, and they could carry large numbers of immigrants to America. By the time their sister Adriatic was ready to enter service four years later, increasing competition demanded even greater comfort and luxury for passengers, and her amenities included a plunge bath and the first Turkish and electric baths to go to sea. She could only then claim to be the largest British ship, against German claims to have the largest ship in the world.
Under the command of Edward J. Smith, Adriatic was – in many ways – the immediate forerunner of the ‘Olympic’ class ships Olympic (1911), Titanic (1912) and Britannic (1915). Prior to the First World War, she spent most of her time on the Southampton to New York service, only joining her sisters on the Liverpool to New York service in 1911. The sister ships were also used for cruises, which proved popular with the travelling public.
The outbreak of war interrupted their commercial lives: Celtic and Cedric served as armed merchant cruisers from November 1914 to January 1916, subsequently returning to the North Atlantic run to carry cargo and troops; Baltic and Adriatic maintained a commercial service, but also carried wartime supplies and, increasingly, troops. All four ships had an eventful time during the war, dodging torpedo attacks, and Celtic was particularly lucky to survive multiple torpedo hits in March 1918.
In the 1920s, they were modernised and continued to be popular and reliable. Third class passenger traffic largely dried up after the war and America enacted significant curbs on immigration, but the introduction of cabin (formerly first) class and tourist third cabin (formerly second) class helped to improve passenger comfort and keep them popular.
Celtic met her fate by grounding on the rocks off the Irish coast in December 1928; Cedric and Baltic were withdrawn from service after the onset of the Depression reduced passenger traffic and rendered them uncompetitive; and Adriatic went on to serve the combined Cunard and White Star Lines very briefly, when they merged in 1934. By then twenty-seven years old she, too, was withdrawn from service.
It is not possible to chronicle every aspect of each ship and her service, but instead to look at them collectively, examining the highlights of their careers and providing little known and new information and images that shed light on their histories.
The ‘Big Four’ led successful lives that have, largely, been overlooked. This volume is intended to go some way to putting that right.’