Ship History


RETURN TO THE HOMEPAGE                                                                                                                                                                                                                       RMS MAURETANIA 1907

The Mauretania will long be remembered as a legend. Indeed a legend among those who knew her renown and acclaim as the largest, the fastest, and the most opulent liner of her time, but history will record the Mauretania as one of the most enduring symbols of reliability on the North Atlantic. From her launch to the end of her service career, the Mauretania was the comparison to which all contemporary liners of the day were made.

Design and Construction (1904 – 1907):

In 1897 the Nordeutscher Lloyd ship Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse took the Blue Riband from Cunard's Campania and Lucania. Thereafter German ships held the trophy without challenge. It was not until 1902 that negotiations began between the Government and Cunard Line with a view to building two superliners, the Lusitania and Mauretania, capable of winning back and holding the Blue Riband for Britain. By 1903 an agreement had been reached whereby the Goverment would lend £2,600,000 to Cunard Line to build two ships capable of 24 to 25 knots. In addition they agreed to make an annual payment to Cunard Line on the condition that the two ships were capable of being armed and that the Government would have a claim on their services in times of national emergency.

The Tyneside firm Swan, Hunter and Wigham Richardson Ltd. won the contract build the new Cunarder. The keel of the Mauretania was laid down in 1904 at the Wallsend Shipyard on the River Tyne. Over the next two years, the efforts of countless shipwrights would shape the hull and structure of the vessel so that on the 20th September 1906, the Mauretania was ready for launching. The ceremonies were presided over by Her Grace The Dowager Duchess of Roxburghe and in attendance it would seem, was all of Tyneside. It was on a fair September day in 1906 that the Mauretania was launched into the River Tyne, amid the cheer and jubilation of the Tyneside craftsmen whose skill and labour were borne into what was then the largest and most modern passenger vessel in the world. The Mauretania was, in fact as well as fancy, to be revolutionary in that it would be one of the very first passenger vessels to be fitted with the new steam turbine engine, developed by engineering genius Charles Parsons.

The Mauretania was a quadruple screw ship driven by direct-drive steam turbines. Although the propulsion machinery was identical to that of the Lusitania two modifications gave the Mauretania a slight edge over her sister. The diameter of the propeller blades was slightly larger and the turbines were fitted with more rows of blades.

As the Mauretania left the Ways and slipped into the waters of the Tyne, she was guided by six tugs to the nearby fitting-out basin where work would commence on the erection of her superstructure, funnels, and fitting-out of her luxurious interiors. The work would span a period of just over one year. On the 22nd October 1907 the Mauretania departed the Tyne and headed for Liverpool for delivery to the Cunard Line and for official Sea Trials. The delivery voyage took the Mauretania around Scotland and the ship averaged a speed of 22 knots. Her Sea Trials were commenced in early November and on the measured mile off Skermorlie in the Firth of Clyde, the Mauretania reached a speed upwards of 26.75 knots, conclusively meeting the requirement of speed set forth in Cunard's agreement.

The Cunard Years (1907 – 1914):

After flawless Sea Trials, the Mauretania left Liverpool on her maiden voyage on the 16th November 1907 under the command of Captain John Pritchard. With an inaugural send-off uninhibited by the damp weather, Mauretania sailed for New York to the sound of more than 50,000 cheering spectators. Celebrations for a record crossing were unfortunately put off by fog which delayed the liner off Sandy Hook. The Mauretania made the trip between Liverpool and New York in five days, 18 hours and 17 minutes and averaged a speed between 21 and 22 knots.

On the 30th November the Mauretania would again encounter fog, this time off of the Grand Banks of Newfoundland, but with men and machinery working to achieve a record, the ship managed to capture the eastbound record with an average speed of 23.69 knots.

On the 2nd May 1908 the ship had left Liverpool when she was thought to have hit a submerged object. Despite the propeller blades being damaged, Cunard Line took advantage of the situation and took the opportunity to replace both inner shafts with four bladed propellers. A refit was also carried out at Canada Graving Dock in Liverpool later that year. The subsequent voyage left Liverpool on the 23rd January 1909.

It was not until September of 1909 that the Mauretania would claim the record for the fastest westbound crossing, a record she would retain for over 20 years until July 1929. This figure is indeed a tribute to the engineering feat which was Mauretania. During this period of constant service, the Mauretania would gain a reputation for reliability and consistent on-time performance. It would be a reputation she would own until the end of her career.

By 1909 the public was looking for faster crossings and once at their destination, a speedy land journey. As a result it was inevitable that ports closer to London than Liverpool were required, and soon Fishguard was developed as a port of call for Atlantic liners. The Mauretania was the first Cunard liner to use this port, on the 30th August 1909. At the end of 1909 the ships first Captain, John T. Pritchard, retired and Captain William Turner assumed command. The reputation of the ship attracted several prominent passengers. On a voyage during December 1910 HRH Prince Albert and HRH Prince Radziwell were amongst the passengers, along with Mr. Carlisle, the managing director of Harland and Wolff. In June 1911 the ship brought thousands of visitors to Britain for the Coronation of HM King George V.

In December 1913 the Mauretania returned to Liverpool for its annual overhaul, part of which involved work on the main propulsion turbines. On the 26th January 1914, whilst men were working on the turbine blades, one of the gas cylinders exploded. Four men were killed and six were injured. The resulting fire was extinguished and the main damage was confined to the blades in the starboard turbine. The ship was not ready to rejoin the Atlantic service until March 1914.

The First World War (1914 – 1919):

When Britain declared war on Germany, on the 4th August 1914, the ship was on its way to New York. At the last minute the ship was diverted to Halifax and the Admiralty sent out an order requisitioning the ship as an armed merchant cruiser, as soon as it returned to Liverpool. On the 11th August, however, the Mauretania and the Lusitania were released from Government duties.

The reduced demand for transatlantic passages meant that the ship was laid up at Liverpool on the 26th August. After the loss of the Lusitania in May 1915 the Mauretania was required to return to service. Before it did, however, the Admiralty requisitioned the ship to transport troops during the Gallipoli campaign, later in May. During this period the ship made several voyages to Mudros Bay island of Lemnos, the Allied base for operations in the area. On one of these voyages the Mauretania was attacked by a submarine but managed to avoid the torpedo, largely due the ship's high speed. At the end of August it returned to Liverpool and was fitted out as a hospital ship. It then left Liverpool on the 21st October to assist with the evacuation of the wounded from Gallipoli. The Mauretania made several further voyages as a hospital ship and completed its last voyage on the 25th January 1916.

This, however, was not the end of the ship's war service. On the 29th September 1916 she was requisitioned again to carry Canadian troops. In October-November 1916 she made two voyages from Liverpool to Halifax carrying Canadian troops bound for France. After this she was laid up on the Clyde until 1918. In March 1918 she was again used as a troopship carrying over 30,000 American troops before the Armstice in November. After the end of the War the ship was used in the repatriation of American and Canadian troops. From the 12th December it was decided that the Mauretania would now sail from Southampton and call at Cherbourg on its way to New York. She made its final trooping voyage on the 28th June 1919 and was then refitted at Southampton.

The Final Years (1919 – 1935):

On the 21st September 1919 she sailed from Southampton on its first commercial voyage since World War I began. Cunard Line had altered its flagship transatlantic route to sail from Southampton to New York via Cherbourg instead of the previous Liverpool route. An overhaul, planned for 1920, was delayed as the demand for passenger services to Europe from America was so great. Whilst docked at Southampton, on the 22nd July 1921, a fire broke out on board. The fire spread quickly and required the efforts of both the fire brigade and crew to extinguish it. The damage caused was confined to the first class cabin area. It was decided to send the ship back to the builder's yard for an overhaul and the opportunity would be taken to convert from coal to oil burning. By March 1922 the Mauretania had resumed her usual service.

On the 25th July 1922 the ship broke its pre-war Atlantic speed record. The ships average speed was now above 26 knots. In January 1923 the ship was chartered by an American travel company and made a Mediterranean cruise. Another overhaul was undertaken in November but due to industrial disputes it was decided to complete the work at Cherbourg. Despite a difficult journey, being towed by tugs, the ship reached Cherbourg and the work was completed quickly.

In 1924 the Cowes Harbour Commission complained about the Mauretania’s speed as she left the Solent. The heavy wash created had flooded Cowes main street and caused considerable disruption. The Government decided that the pilot was to blame. A refit in 1928 saw the ship's furniture and decor modernized. New ships built for the Nordeutscher Lloyd line, however, were now posing a threat to the Mauretania’s domination of the Atlantic. The ships Europa and Bremen were launched in August 1928. The Bremen soon broke the Atlantic speed record but the margin of time was quite small.

On the 27th November 1929 the Mauretania collided with a train ferry near Robbins Reef, after leaving New York. Luckily no one was injured but the ships bows were damaged. The hole in the bows, however, was repaired within 24 hours.

In the 1930s in the final years of Mauretania's service, the liner would be increasingly deployed on cruises in the Mediterranean, the West Indies, and the Bahamas. While these were popular with Americans who wanted to escape prohibition, the liner was by design ill-equipped for such environments. To reduce the effects of heat, the ship was painted a stark reflective white. Age and the relentless movement towards all things modern were slowly relegating the Mauretania to the dangers of becoming hopelessly outdated.  So after a winter overhaul it returned to service in February 1930 and during the following years concentrated mainly on cruising.

In a decision which could not have been arrived at easily, Cunard withdrew the Mauretania from service and following her final passenger sailing from Southampton on 30 June 1934, (the day Cunard and White Star Lines merged). During this final voyage she averaged a speed of 24 knots, a remarkable speed for a liner now in her final years. After two cruises to the West Indies it returned to Southampton on 2 October. The completion of the RMS Queen Mary and the merger with White Star meant that the fleet had to be reduced. Also Mauretania’s transatlantic role was being replaced by the new Queen Mary that entered service in 1936.

<>Sadly the venerable Mauretania was now outdated and the ship would be laid up in Southampton until the following summer when it was decided to sell the ship. The ship was purchased on the 3rd April 1935 by Metal Industries Ltd of Glasgow for scrap. All her fixtures and fittings were auctioned off in Southampton Docks on the 14th May 1935 and on the 1st July 1935 the Mauretania made her final departure from Southampton and left for the Tyne. Here she made a final visit to the river of her birth and was given a final rousing reception by the people of Tyneside. On the 3rd July she reached the Firth of Forth and passed under the Forth Rail Bridge and moved to Rosyth for final dismantling. This journey was immortalised in a painting “The Mauretania” that hung in the First Class Lounge on board the Queen Mary.

Among the great admirers of the Mauretania was President Franklin D. Roosevelt (US President) who said of her:

"Every ship has a soul. But the Mauretania had one you could talk to. At times she could be wayward and contrary as a thoroughbred."

One of her Captain's on the ship's retirement, gave her the most fitting epitaph of them all. Captain Sir Arthur Rostron said:

"She gave of her best, served Cunard well, was an honour and a credit to her builders, to her owners and to Britain, was loved by all who ever served in her and admired by all who crossed in her."

Few liners during their active service retained the affections lavished upon Mauretania by her loyal passengers. It was not without regret that the Mauretania disappeared from the Cunard roster. Those who had travelled aboard her in luxury and those who emigrated in steerage would find like ground on which to echo the nostalgic sentiment befitting the passing of a legend. Sadly after her long and illustrious career it was time to say farewell to the RMS Mauretania – the Grand Lady of the Seas.

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