Jason Ponic works in the exciting world of Hollywood film and television by day and writes by night.
Cunard's original four funneled beauties, RMS Lusitania and RMS Mauretania dominated the ocean in the early twentieth century and set the stage for all liners that followed. Their introduction would conjure the most famous liner of all time, Titanic, and her older sister Olympic. Where Lusitania would join Titanic in the history books as one of the great maritime disasters of all time, Mauretania would go on to become one of Cunard's most successful liners ever. After nearly 30 years, her long career would end in obscurity alongside her longtime rival, Olympic, another orphaned sister of Gilded Age arrogance.
The Gilded Age
As the years clocked over into the those of the twentieth century, humanity's technological progress had never been better. Just twenty years earlier, ships above 20,000 tons were just fantasy. But as the industrial revolution progressed, advancements in technology and materials allowed ship building to cross that once thought uncrossable bridge.
By the 1900s, J.P. Morgan's International Mercantile Marine had acquired Cunard's biggest rival, White Star in its latest bid to monopolize shipping. Cunard responded with a new order, two vessels that would reclaim the market gap and prove the line a formidable opponent against the American business titan.
The Early Years
Originally envisioned as a three funneled twenty-four knot luxury ship, the design was soon modified to incorporate an all new power propulsion technology, steam turbines. In an age of slow reciprocating engines that powered everything from barges to luxury liners, turbine technology ushered in a new era of speed. These new engines would add a fourth funnel to Mauretania's profile and a top speed of 24 knots, faster than anything on the ocean.
Launched in 1906 as the world's largest moving object, Mauretania officially inaugurated the era of super liners of 40,000 tons or more. A trend that would continue for the next fifty years. At 790 feet in length, she was five feet longer than her younger sister, Lusitania. Together they were packed with luxury features never-before-seen on the ocean. Their Edwardian art deco made them attractive to all the rich and famous of Europe and America.
Mauretania's maiden voyage in November 1907 clocked the fastest eastbound speed record at 23.69 knots. Two years later, she would capture the Blue Riband for the fastest westbound record, a title she would hold for twenty years.
The Titanic Disaster
On that fateful night of April 14, 1912, RMS Mauretania was docked in Queenstown Ireland. Locked in her mail hold was the official copy of Titanic's cargo manifest on route to New York City. The contents of this document would later play an important roll in determining the loss and damage value of everything that now lay at the bottom of the ocean.
As a ship larger than 10,000 tons, Mauretania was one of many that were promptly sent back of the shipyard to outfit additional lifeboats to accommodate her maximum passenger capacity.
World War I
Britain declared war on Germany on August 4, 1914 and Mauretania was forced into lay up when civilian passenger service dried up shortly thereafter. It was during lay up when Mauretania's sister ship, Lusitania was torpedoed and sunk in May 1915 by a german u-boat. Her sinking ultimately brought the United States into the war and Mauretania was pressed into service as a troop transport.
Like many vessels of her kind, Mauretania was stripped of her luxury fittings, armed and painted in war colors. Her legendary speed allowed her to outrun German U-Boats. Throughout the war, she transported troops during Gallipoli , served as a hospital ship and transported American troops after the US entered the war.
From war's end to the 1930s, the Mauretania had a steady and busy career. When she returned to civilian service in 1919, she was in such high demand she missed her 1920 refit. This resulted in a fire breaking out in her lower decks and prompted Cunard to pull the ship for the much needed refit.
One of the things noticed most of all, Mauretania could only reach 75% of her pre-war speeds. Her engines had not aged well and she was noticeably slower. Cunard had her once revolutionary turbines overhauled in an attempt to recapture her record breaking speeds. She emerged from the yard in 1928 with an overhauled power plant and modernized interior. Yet by the time the refit was finished, Maurentania was well on her way down the path of relic. Her speed title was lost to a German liner that clocked 28 knots. After several attempted to recapture it with adjustments and tuning, the aging liner just could not measure up to the newer generations.
By the 1930s Mauretania was deemed too obsolete for the transatlantic trade and was repurposed as a cruise ship. She would run six day cruises up and down the North American coast for the remaining service years of her career. The Great Depression's worldwide effects and the changing of the American Immigration laws resulted in Cunard merging with longtime rival White Star and Mauretania along with Titanic's sister ship Olympic were sentenced to the scrapyard.
Twenty-eight years of service came to an end when Cunard White Star pulled Mauretania from service in 1934. She would spend the last six months or so moored alongside longtime rival, Olympic. After her fittings were sold off in 1935, the ship herself departed for the scrapyard in Rosyth. Her journey was followed by fans and onlookers and as she arrived at the break up yard, a lone bagpiper on the quayside played a funeral lament to mark her end. Her final shut down was described as a great shutter as the engines slowed and stopped. She would be open to the public one last time where 20,000 came to view her. Afterwards scrapping commenced much to the dismay of her most loyal fans including President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
© 2017 Jason Ponic
David Norris on June 20, 2019:
I'm sure I saw the beautifully carved wooden nameplate in the breakers yard at Inverkeithing.
Melissa Carlson from USA on March 25, 2017: