RMS Mauretania was an ocean liner designed by Leonard Peskett and built by Swan, Hunter & Wigham Richardson for the British Cunard Line, and launched on 20 September 1906. She was the world's largest ship until the launch of the RMS Olympic in 1911 as well as the fastest until the launch of the Bremen in 1929. Mauretania became a favourite among her passengers. After capturing the Blue Riband for the fastest transatlantic crossing during her 1909 inaugural season, Mauretania held the speed record for twenty years.
The ship's name was taken from Mauretania, an ancient Roman province on the northwest African coast, not the modern Mauritania which is now to the south. Similar nomenclature was also employed by Mauretania's running mate, Lusitania, which was named after the Roman province directly north of Mauretania, across the Strait of Gibraltar, the region that now is Portugal.
In 1897 the German liner SS Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse became the largest and fastest ship in the world. With a speed of 22 knots (41 km/h), she captured the Blue Riband from Cunard Line's Campania and Lucania. Germany came to dominate the Atlantic, and by 1906 they had five four-funnel superliners in service, four of them owned by North German Lloyd and part of the so-called "Kaiser class".
At around the same time American financier J. P. Morgan's International Mercantile Marine Co. was attempting to monopolise the shipping trade, and had already acquired Britain's other major transatlantic line White Star.
In the face of these threats the Cunard Line was determined to regain the prestige of ocean travel back not only to the company, but also to the United Kingdom. In 1903, Cunard Line and the British government reached an agreement to build two superliners, Lusitania and Mauretania, with a guaranteed service speed of no less than 24 knots (44 km/h), the British government were to loan £2,600,000 (£244 million as of 2014), for the construction of Mauretania and Lusitania at an interest rate of 2.75% to be paid back over twenty years with a stipulation that the ships could be converted to armed merchant cruisers if needed; also to fund these ships further the admiralty arranged for Cunard to be paid an additional £150,000 per year to their mail subsidy.
Design and construction Edit
Mauretania and Lusitania were both designed by Cunard naval architect Leonard Peskett with Swan Hunter and John Brown working from the plans for an ocean greyhound with a stipulated service speed of twenty-four knots in moderate weather for her mail subsidy contract. Peskett's original configuration for the ships in 1903 was a three-funnel design, when reciprocating engines were destined to be the powerplant. A giant model of the ships in this configuration appeared in Shipbuilder's magazine. Cunard in 1904 decided to change power plants to Parson's new turbine technology and Peskett then added a fourth funnel to the ship's profile as the ship's design was again modified before construction of the vessel finally began.
In 1906, Mauretania was launched by the Duchess of Roxburghe. At the time of her launch, she was the largest moving structure ever built, and slightly larger in gross tonnage than Lusitania. The main visual differences between Mauretania and Lusitania was that Mauretania was five feet longer and had different vents (Mauretania had cowl vents and Lusitania had oil drum-shaped vents). Mauretania also had two extra stages of turbine blades in her forward turbines making her slightly faster than the Lusitania. Mauretania and Lusitania were the only ships with direct-drive steam turbines to hold the Blue Riband; in later ships, reduction-geared turbines were mainly used. Mauretania's usage of the steam turbine was the largest yet application of the then-new technology, developed by Charles Algernon Parsons. During speed trials, these engines caused significant vibration at high speeds; in response, Mauretania received strengthening members and redesigned propellers before entering service, which reduced vibration.
Mauretania was designed to suit Edwardian tastes. Its interior was designed by Harold Peto, architect, and was fitted out by several London companies, with twenty eight different types of wood used in her public rooms, along with marble, tapestries, and other furnishings. Wood panelling for her first class public rooms was meticulously carved by three hundred craftsmen from Palestine. The multi-level first-class dining saloon was decorated in Francis I style and topped by a large dome skylight. A series of elevators, then a rare new feature for liners, was installed next to Mauretania's grand staircase. A new feature was the Verandah Café on the boat deck, where passengers were served beverages in a weather-protected environment.
Early Career (1906-1914) Edit
Mauretania departed Liverpool on her maiden voyage on 16 November 1907 under the command of her first captain, John Pritchard and later that month captured the record for the fastest eastbound crossing of the Atlantic with an average speed of 23.69 knots (43.87 km/h). In September 1909, Mauretania captured the Blue Riband for the fastest westbound crossing—a record that was to stand for more than two decades. In December 1911 Mauretania broke loose from her moorings while in the River Mersey and sustained damage that caused the cancellation of her special speedy Christmas voyage to New York. In a quick change of events Cunard rescheduled Mauretania's voyage for Lusitania under the command of captain James Charles which had just returned from New York. Lusitania herself completed Christmas crossings for Mauretania, carrying revellers back to New York. In 1912 both King George and Queen Mary were given a special tour of Mauretania, then Britain's fastest merchant vessel, adding further distinction to the ship's reputation. On 26 January 1914, while Mauretania was in the middle of annual refit in Liverpool, four men were killed and six injured when a gas cylinder exploded while they were working on one of her steam turbines. The damage was minimal and she returned to service two months later.
World War 1 (1914-1919) Edit
Shortly after Great Britain declared war on Germany on 4 August 1914, Mauretania and Aquitania were requested by the British government to become armed merchant cruisers, but their huge size and massive fuel consumption made them unsuitable for the duty; and they resumed their civilian service on 11 August. Later, due to lack of passengers crossing the Atlantic, Mauretania was laid up in Liverpool until May 1915 at the time that the Lusitania was sunk by a German U-boat.
HMT Mauretania with dazzle camouflage
Mauretania was about to fill the void left by Lusitania, but she was ordered by the British government to serve as a troopship to carry British troops during the Gallipoli Campaign. She avoided becoming prey for German U-boats because of her high speed and the seamanship of her crew. As a troopship, Mauretania received dazzle camouflage, a form of abstract colour scheming, in an effort to confuse enemy ships.
When combined forces from the British empire and France began to suffer heavy casualties, Mauretania was ordered to serve as a hospital ship, along with her fellow Cunarder Aquitania and White Star's Britannic, to treat the wounded until 25 January 1916. In medical service the vessel was painted white with large medical cross emblems surrounding the vessel. Seven months later, Mauretania once again became a troop ship when requisitioned by the Canadian government to carry Canadian troops from Halifax to Liverpool. Her war duty was not yet over when the United States declared war on Germany in 1917, and she carried thousands of American troops, the ship was known by the Admiralty as HMS Tuberose until the end of the war, but the vessel's name was never changed by Cunard.
Post-war Career (1919-1934) Edit
Verandah Café on the boat deck.
Mauretania returned to civilian service on 21 September 1919. Her busy sailing schedule prevented her from having an extensive overhaul scheduled in 1920. However, in 1921 Cunard Line removed her from service when fire broke out on E deck and decided to give her a much needed overhaul. She returned to the Tyne shipyard of her birth, where her boilers were converted to oil firing, and returned to service in March 1922. Cunard noticed that Mauretania struggled to maintain her regular Atlantic service speed. Although the ship's service speed had improved and it now burned only 750 short tons (680 t) of oil per 24 hours, compared to 1,000 short tons (910 t) of coal previously, it was not operating at her pre-war service speeds. On one crossing in 1922 the ship managed an average speed of only nineteen knots. Cunard decided that the ship's once revolutionary turbines were in desperate need of an overhaul. In 1923, a major re-fitting was begun in Southampton. Mauretania's turbines were dismantled. Halfway through the overhaul, the shipyard workers went on strike and the work was halted, so Cunard had the ship towed to Cherbourg, France where the work was completed at another shipyard. In May 1924, the ship returned to Atlantic service.
Mauretania's Second Class Smoking Room.
In 1928 Mauretania was modernised with new interior design and in the next year her speed record was broken by a German liner, the Bremen, with a speed of 28 knots (52 km/h). On 27 August, Cunard permitted the former ocean greyhound to have one final attempt to recapture the record from the newer German liner. She was taken out of service and her engines were modified to produce more power to give a higher service speed; however, this was still not enough. The Bremen simply represented a new generation of ocean liners that were far more powerful and technologically advanced than the ageing Cunard liner. Even though Mauretania did not beat her German rival, the ship beat her own speed records both eastbound and westbound. In 1929 Mauretania collided with a train ferry near Robbins Reef Light. No one was killed or injured and her damage was quickly repaired.
Mauretania as a Cruise Ship.
In 1930, with a combination of the Great Depression and newer competitors on the Atlantic run, Mauretania became a dedicated cruise ship. On 19 November 1930, Mauretania rescued 28 people and the ship's cat of the Swedish cargo ship Ovidia which foundered in the Atlantic Ocean 400 nautical miles (740 km) south east of Cape Race, Newfoundland. When Cunard Line merged with White Star Line in 1934, Mauretania, along with Olympic, Majestic, and other ageing ocean liners, were deemed surplus to requirements and withdrawn from service.
Retirement and Scrapping Edit
Cunard withdrew Mauretania from service following a final eastward crossing from New York to Southampton in September 1934. The voyage was made at an average speed of 24 knots (44 km/h), equalling the original contractual stipulation for her mail subsidy. She was then laid up at Southampton alongside the former White Star Line flagship Olympic, her twenty-eight years of service at a close.
In May 1935 her furnishings and fittings were put up for auction and on 1 July that year she departed Southampton for the last time to Metal Industries shipbreakers at Rosyth. One of her former captains, the retired commodore Sir Arthur Rostron, captain of the RMS Carpathia during the Titanic rescue, came to see her on her final departure from Southampton. Rostron refused to go aboard Mauretania before her final journey, stating that he preferred to remember the ship as she was when he commanded her.
En route to Rosyth Mauretania stopped at her birthplace on the Tyne for half an hour, where she drew crowds of sightseers and was boarded by the Lord Mayor of Newcastle. The mayor bade her farewell from the people of Newcastle, and her last captain, A. T. Brown, then resumed his course for Rosyth. With masts cut down to fit, the ship passed under the Forth Bridge and was delivered to the breakers.
To prevent a rival company using the name and to keep it available for a future Cunard White Star liner, arrangements were made for the Red Funnel Paddle Steamer Queen to be renamed Mauretania in the interim.
The demise of the beloved Mauretania was protested by many of her loyal passengers, including President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who wrote a private letter arguing against the scrapping.
Some of the furnishings from Mauretania were installed in a bar/restaurant complex in Bristol called the Mauretania Bar (now Java Bristol), situated in Park Street. The lounge bar was panelled with mahogany, which came from her first class library. The neon sign on the south wall still advertises Mauretania and her bow lettering was used above the entrance. Additionally, fittings from the first class reading-writing room have been incorporated into the board room at Pinewood Studios, west of London. The oak panelled interior of The Oak Bar in Dame Street in Dublin, Ireland was originally fitted on Mauretania. Maple panelling from one of the staterooms can be found in the Nont Sarahs Pub, New Hey Road (A640), Scammonden, Huddersfield, West Yorkshire. The original builder's model of Mauretania is displayed at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.
The ship's bell is currently located in the reception of the Lloyds Registry of Shipping, Fenchurch Street, London. Annually for Remembrance Day, Lloyds Register observe two minutes of silence and lay a wreath at its base in honour of servicemen and women.
RMS Mauretania ship's bell, Remembrance Day 2012
A large builder's model, showing of Mauretania in her white cruising paint scheme, is displayed in the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic's Cunard exhibit in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Originally a model of Lusitania, it was converted to represent Mauretania after Lusitania was torpedoed. 
Another large builders model is situated aboard the Queen Elizabeth 2 ocean liner, currently located in Dubai. This model was also originally Lusitania, and like the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic's model, it was converted into Mauretania after Lusitania was lost. When inspecting the model, one can tell it was Lusitania by examining the bridge front, which is on the boat deck level (Mauretania's Bridge was one deck higher).
Mauretania is remembered in a song "The fireman's lament" or "Firing the Mauretania", collected by Redd Sullivan. The song starts "In 19 hundred and 24, I … got a job on the Mauretania"; but then goes on to say "shovelling coal from morn till night" (not possible in 1924 as she was oil-fired by then). The number of "fires" is said to be 64. Hughie Jones also recorded the song but the last verse of Hughie's version calls upon all you "trimmers" whereas Redd Sullivan's version calls upon "stokers".
The Clive Cussler Isaac Bell novel The Thief is set aboard Mauretania. A terrible fire engulfs the forward storage area but it is brought under control.