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HMHS Mauretania

RMS Mauretania (also known as "Maury"), sister ship of the Lusitania, was an ocean liner built by Swan, Hunter & Wigham Richardson at Wallsend, Tyne and Wear for the British Cunard Line, and launched on 20 September 1906. At the time, she was the largest and fastest ship in the world. Particularly notable was her steam turbine propulsion, which was a revolutionary development in ocean liner design. Mauretania became a favourite among the passengers, attributable to her luxury, speed, and safety. After capturing the Blue Riband for fastest transatlantic crossing during her 1907 inaugural season, Mauretania held the speed record for twenty-two years.

The ship's name was taken from Mauretania, a ancient Roman province on the northwest African coast, not related to the modern Mauritania Similar nomenclature was also employed by Mauretania's sister ship, the Lusitania, which was named after the Roman province directly north of Mauretania, across the Strait of Gibraltar.

Mauretania left 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, the Mauretania captured the Blue Riband for the fastest westbound crossing—a record that was to stand for more than two decades. In December 1910 Mauretania broke loose from her moorings while in the River Mersey and attained 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 James Charles (who was future commodore of the line) which had just returned from New York. Lusitania herself completed Christmas crossings for her sister, carrying revellers back to New York. On 26 January 1914, while Mauretania was in the middle of annual refit in Liverpool, four men were killed and six were 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.

Shortly after Great Britain declared war on Germany on 4 August 1914, Mauretania and Aquitania were requested by the British government to become an armed merchant cruiser, but their huge size and massive fuel consumption made them unsuitable for the duty; leading to them resuming their civilian service on 11 August. Later, due to lack of passengers crossing the Atlantic, Mauretania was laid up in Liverpool until May 1915, when her sister ship Lusitania was sunk by a German U-boat. 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.

She served as HMHS Mauretania 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, in order to treat the wounded until 25 January 1916. 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 until the end of the war.

As a troopship, Mauretania received dazzle camouflage, a form of abstract color scheming, in an effort to confuse enemy ships. The dazzle painting was not used when Mauretania served as a hospital ship. In medical service the vessel was painted white with large medical cross emblems surrounding the vessel.

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; however, it was also noticed by Cunard that Mauretania was still struggling to maintain her service speeds and it was apparent that her once-revolutionary turbines were in desperate need of overhaul. In 1923, a major overhaul was begun in Southampton, involving the dismantling of Mauretania's turbines. Halfway through the overhaul, the shipyard workers went on strike and the work was halted, so Cunard had the ship towed to Cherbourg, where the work was completed at another shipyard. In May 1924, the ship returned to Atlantic service.

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 aging Cunarder. Even though Mauretania could not outrace her German rival, the ship did beat her own speed records both eastbound and westbound. In 1929 Mauretania collided with a train ferry near Robbins Reef Light; fortunately, no one was killed or injured and her damage was quickly repaired. In 1930, with a combination of the Great Depression and newer competitors on the Atlantic run, Mauretania became a dedicated cruise ship. When Cunard Line merged with White Star Line in 1934, Mauretania, along with Olympic, Majestic and other aging ocean liners, were deemed surplus to requirements and withdrawn from service.

Cunard withdrew Mauretania from service following a final eastward crossing from New York to Southampton in September 1934. The final crossing was made at an average speed of 24 knots (her original contractual speed stipulation for her mail subsidy), and Mauretania was then laid up at Southampton awaiting her fate next to the former one time White Star Line flagship Olympic. Thus marked the end of twenty-eight years of service with Cunard.

In May 1935 her furnishings and fittings were put up for auction and of the 1st of July that year she departed Southampton for the last time to T.W Wards shipbreakers at Rosyth. One of her former captains, the now 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 when he commanded her.

En route to the breakers, Mauretania stopped at her birthplace the Tyne for half an hour, where she drew crowds of sightseers and was boarded by the Lord Mayor of Newcastle. The mayor bid her farewell from the people of Newcastle, and her last captain, A.T. Brown, then resumed his course for Rosyth. The ship passed under the Forth Bridge (for which her masts had to be cut down), and was delivered to the shipbreakers.

Source: Wikipedia RMS Mauretania (1906)

Last updated 27 February, 2009

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