Mauretania and her sister Lusitania were created by Cunard in response to the Nordeutscher Lloyd ship Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse as well as other German Liners. Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse had captured the transatlantic speed record from Cunard’s Campania and Lucania in 1897 and since then, German ships held the accolade.
In 1902, Cunard commenced negotiations with the British Government to build two large liners capable of capturing the transatlantic speed record.
The British Government was concerned that the German fleet was not only suitable for use in a wartime scenario on trooping and armed merchant cruiser duties, but also that the fleet had upstaged British might and prowess on the North Atlantic.
In 1903 an agreement was reached. The Government provided a £2,600,000 loan to Cunard, as well as the agreement to make an annual payment to Cunard on the condition that the two ships were built to specifications allowing them to be easily converted into armed merchant cruisers; should the need arise.
Built at the Swan Hunter Newcastle upon Tyne yard, Mauretania was launched by the Duchess of Roxburghe. Mauretania had steam turbine machinery that was identical to that of the Lusitania (Lusitania having been built at John Brown on the Clyde). However, two modifications were made by Swan Hunter that the Mauretania improved speed; firstly the diameter of the propeller blades was larger and the turbines were fitted with additional blades, allowing them to move faster.
The completed Mauretania made her first crossing from Liverpool on 16 November 1907. The voyage was hindered by severe storms making it impossible for her to capture the speed record from Lusitania (which had captured it in early 1907).
Modifications were made to Mauretania’s propellers in 1908 and by April of that year the ship had captured both eastbound and westbound record. Mauretania would retain The Blue Riband for 20 years (until July 1929).
Following a brief stint as an armed merchant cruiser at the start of World War I, the reduced demand for transatlantic crossings resulted in Mauretania being laid up at Liverpool. Following the loss of the Lusitania in May 1915 Mauretania was initially planned to return to passenger service, however before she was able to do so, she was requisitioned by the British Government for use as a troop ship.
During her trooping career, Mauretania was targeted by a German U-Boat, but managed to avoid the torpedo, largely due the her high speed. Once America entered the war on the side of the allies, Mauretania was converted into a Hospital Ship, while former German Liners that had been seized by the US Government (they were berthed in US ports) were used for trooping duties.
As a hospital ship, Mauretania left Liverpool to assist with the evacuation of the wounded from Gallipoli. The Mauretania made several voyages into the Mediterranean as a hospital before completing her last voyage in this capacity on 25 January 1916.
Following layup, Mauretania was requisitioned again on 29 September 1916 and the ship made two voyages from Halifax to Liverpool with Canadian troops bound for France.
In March 1918 Mauretania was again used for trooping duties, transporting over 30,000 American servicemen to Europe.
Following the armistice, Mauretania was used to relocate troops back to the US and Canada before being released to Cunard on 28 June 1919. She was refurbished and returned to service on 21 September 1919.
On 25th July 1922, Mauretania eclipsed her pre-war transatlantic speed record with an average speed above 26 knots. Mauretania had, like all of the Cunard Express Liners, converted to burn oil which had aided in her improved speed.
Mauretania was paired with Aquitania and Berengaria (the former German Liner Imperator) as a three ship service. Cunard was quick to re-establish their place on the North Atlantic and for nearly a decade, the three liners enjoyed unrivalled dominance.
However by the 1930’s, Mauretania was starting to show her age. She was eclipsed in speed by Germany’s Bremen in 1929 and from there on her days were numbered. The ageing ship was uneconomical and facing financial difficulties (due to the Great Depression), Cunard opted to send the ship cruising.
Painted white, the ship failed as a cruise ship. She was, after all, designed for the North Atlantic. Un-air conditioned and with vast areas of second and tourist class, the ship was too costly to operate and too uncomfortable to attract cruise passengers.
Mauretania made her final passenger voyage from Southampton on 30th June 1934; the same day Cunard and White Star Line merged.
Following a period of layup in Southampton, she was sold and scrapped.
Image source: Simplon Post Cards
For more details about Mauretania’s historic life, visit the Tyne and Wear Archives.