To combat the highly luxurious liners of the White Star Line, including Olympic and Titanic, Cunard commissioned the construction of a new transatlantic liner.
The design followed successful principles laid down by the extremely popular Mauretania and Lusitania, but on a far grander scale.
The new liner, Aquitania, was built at John Brown & Co., in Clydebank – the same shipyard that had built the Lusitania.
Aquitania was far larger than her predecessors, and in fact was larger than the Olympic-class liners. At over 900 ft. Aquitania was one deck taller than her fleet mates and while slower, she was fast enough to allow Cunard to commence a three ship weekly express service.
Aquitania’s interior was the main talking point of her design. She was, so grand and finely appointed, that she became known as “Ship Beautiful” throughout her career. Aquitania’s first class drawing room, for example, was designed to mirror Lansdowne House in London; while the iconic Greenwich Hospital inspired the ship’s first class smoking room, complete with oak finish. Aquitania’s first class restaurant was her hallmark room, and was finished in the Louis XIV style.
As a transatlantic liner, Aquitania made her maiden voyage on 30 May 1914 on the Liverpool to New York service. Her peacetime service was cut short after only three return voyages with the outbreak of World War I. The British Government swiftly requisitioned the liner for use as an Armed Merchant Cruiser and after a refurbishment she entered service in this role.
Proving too large and cumbersome in the cruiser role, the ship was called into trooping service on 18 June 1915. In this role the ship was utilised during the Gallipoli campaign. After a short career as a troopship the Aquitania was refurbished, this time as a hospital ship and was used in this role until being returned to Cunard Line in April 1916. The ship was refurbished at Harland & Wolff in Belfast, however just prior to the completion of work, the ship was once again called into service as a hospital ship.
Following the war, Aquitania was refurbished, this time at Armstrong & Witworth on the Tyne. During this refit, Aquitania’s coal powered boilers were converted to burn oil. Cunard placed the ship back into service on the Southampton – Cherbourg – New York route; which she served in tandem with Mauretania and Berengaria (ex. Imperator).
Aquitania was sent cruising for the first time in 1932 sailing on a Mediterranean sojourn, as well as New York to Bermuda voyages. That same year, a large refit brought the ship into a more modern layout with tourist class areas enlarged, however with a reduction of passengers offering excellent space-per-guest ratios.
At the outbreak of World War II, Aquitania was called back into government service. She was officially requisitioned on 21 November, 1939, and after being refurbished once again, was used as a troop transport for Canadian soldiers. A refit in 1940 saw her given defensive weaponry including the installation of 6-inch guns.
From March 1940, the ship sailed between Sydney and the middle east, transporting ANZAC (Australian & New Zealand) troops. Following America’s entry into the war, Aquitania was employed on the Atlantic.
At the end of the war, the ship was used further. This time, she helped transport Canadian and American troops home, while the ship was also used to to carry the war-brides and children of Canadian servicemen across to Canada to start their new lives.
Aquitania was finally returned to Cunard in April 1948. She was immediately chartered by the Canadian government to transport Canadian immigrants between the UK and Canada. By the end of 1949 the lease ended and Aquitania was laid up. Cunard announced the ship had been sold for £125,000 to a scrap yard.
Aquitania sailed from Southampton to Faslane, in Scotland where she was broken up.
Image sourced with permission from: Simplon Post Cards