1914 - 1950
since the Germans had taken the distinction of having the fastest ship
in the world with the Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse in 1897, the British
had wanted to strike back. The first step was taken by the White Star Line
when they put the Celtic in service in 1901. This ship was the first
to exceed the Great Eastern from 1860 in size, but despite her being
a rather slow ship at 16 knots, she had regained much of Britain’s lost
honour. The Celtic was followed by four sisters until 1907 – the
Cedric, Baltic and Adriatic. By then, the British
Cunard Line was eager to have a piece of the cake as well, and they had
commissioned the fabulous Lusitania at 31,000 tons. She was followed
by her sister Mauretania only months later. These two ships secured
Britain’s position as the leading nation in merchant shipping. The Cunard
Line now both had the fastest and largest vessels in the world – all in
one set of ships. Now that the White Star Line had been surpassed, they
felt that their business needed a continued race. In 1911, they put the
enormous 45,000-ton Olympic in service and she immediately became
a success. She was followed with her sister Titanic in 1912, but
as she tragically sank on her maiden voyage with the loss of 1,500 lives,
White Star’s reputation was in deep trouble once again. As fate would have
it, Cunard did not have to worry about the White Star Line anymore.
takes to the water of the River Clyde.
and Titanic had surpassed Lusitania and Mauretania
with a staggering 15,000 tons, Cunard did not hesitate to put a liner in service to match the
remaining Olympic. Cunard hired Leonard Peskett to do the design
work. He was the same man who had designed the Mauretania and that
well suited Cunard’s demand to make the new ship into a larger replica
of her older sister. Even the old four-funnel design would be copied. John
Brown – the same shipyard that had built the Lusitania – was selected
to construct the new liner for Cunard. When the Titanic-disaster
occurred in April 1912, the Aquitania was under construction, and
so additional lifeboats could be put in place before the ship entered service
– an advantage she had before ships like Olympic and Mauretania.
21st, 1913 the new companion to the Lusitania and Mauretania
was launched and christened Aquitania. Cunard followed their tradition
in having their ships named after Roman provinces, and the Aquitania’s
name came from and area in today’s southwest France. After the launch,
the fitting out could commence. The work took some thirteen months, and
on May 29th, 1914 the Aquitania entered service as she
was pulled out from the Liverpool docks. The event was darkened somewhat
since Canadian Pacific Line’s Empress of Ireland had sunk in Canada
with a heavy loss of life.
Aquitania’s passengers, the thrilling thing about the ship was not
her speed. The Lusitania and Mauretania were able to cross
the Atlantic with an average speed of approximately 25-26 knots, but the
third of the trio would have a limited power for 23 knots. Except for her
size – the largest Cunard-built liner until the arrival of the Queen
Mary – the most thrilling thing about her was
her marvellous interiors. Where
her running mates concentrated in speed, Aquitania focused on luxurious
passenger areas. The columned Palladian lounge rose through two decks as
well the Louis XVI-style first class dining room, the large smoking rooms
appearance had been copied from the Royal Naval College in London, creating
that shore side feeling that ship designers wanted to put on ships prior
to the great change that came in 1927 with the Île de France. These
fantastic interiors earned the Aquitania the nickname ‘Ship Beautiful’.
great Aquitania on her sea trials.
refers to the Aquitania’s exteriors as exceptionally well made and
pleasing to the eye as well, but the author of this article agrees with
John Maxtone-Graham when he compares the Aquitania with the Olympic:
‘Both Olympic and Aquitania had nine passenger decks but
because Peskett had dispensed with a raised fo’c’s’le head on the new Cunarder,
more of his bridge front was exposed; there seemed too many decks. Overall
the Aquitania’s superstructure appeared too large and burdensome
for her hull, a state of imbalance that Carlisle’s Olympic-design
avoided completely. Peskett gave the masts and the four working funnels
of the Aquitania a nine-degree rake but it failed to temper the
ship’s boxy, somewhat clumpsy look.’ But this is only in comparison with
the Olympic’s lean grace where almost no other ships come close.
Of course the Aquitania was a beautiful ship, and when compared
to the horrible cruise ships of today you instinctively know where you
would have liked to sail. The description by Maxtone-Graham above could
well fit in with as a sort of comparison between QE2 and Destiny.
Traditionalism against new thinking – where the new thinking has not always
got to be the best solution.
having completed only a few trans-Atlantic crossings between Southampton
and New York, World War I erupted with the German Kaiser’s attack. The
Aquitania was called in to serve her mother country as part of the
Royal Navy. At first, she was converted into an armed merchant cruiser
patrolling the seas. This however proved to be somewhat out of place as
all the liners put in this kind of service quickly devoured all of Britain’s
coal supplies. Consequently, she was converted into a troop-ship steaming
across the oceans, just as she was intended to do. When the end of the
war neared she was again converted, this time into a hospital ship. One
of her many duties in this guise was to serve in the Mediterranean along
with White Star Line’s latest and largest addition – Britannic.
the hostilities ended in 1918, Britain and France stood victorious over
Germany and Austria when they signed the unconditional surrender at Versailles.
At last, the Aquitania could return to the commercial service she
was intended for. But she did not return to the same Cunard Line she had
served in before the war. Cunard Line had lost 22 vessels during the hostilities,
among them Lusitania who had been sunk by a German torpedo in 1915.
At first, Cunard intended to fill the Lusitania’s place with the
Holland Amerika Line’s Justicia, but soon a much more tempting offer
came. As Germany had lost the war, they had to pay the penalty. Among other
things, this consisted in giving all appropriate merchant tonnage to the
victorious states. The 52,000-ton Imperator, who had taken the title
of being the largest ship in the world from White Star’s Olympic-class,
now was in Cunard’s aim. After some trooping crossings under the American
flag she was handed over to the Cunard Line in 1919. They immediately renamed
and painted her in Cunard’s conventional livery. The Cunard fast duo from
the early years of the century was now turned into a trio consisting of
Berengaria, Aquitania and Mauretania. They were called
‘The Big Three’.
|The Palm Lounge, a prime
feature in Aquitania's first class.
as so many other major vessels, the Aquitania was converted from
coal-firing to oil-firing during her post war refit. This bettered her
performance somewhat and at several occasions she made crossings in the
vicinity of 24 knots. During this refit, her bridge front was changed to
an even ‘clumsier’ look. The officers had complained that the bridge was
too far down – or the rest of the ship way too large – and they could not
see properly over the bows. To alter this, a new bridge house was place
on top of where the old one had been.
grew better and better, the Aquitania grew into the role of being
one of the most profitable ocean liners in all history. The American restriction
of immigrants in the early Twenties ended the age of mass-emigration from
Europe, but as ocean travel was the only means of transportation across
the continents, the ocean liners survived – and even surpassed old records.
Some of the big money now came in from movie stars and royalty, other aristocracy
and politicians. The Aquitania became their favourite, as the 1920s
became one of the most profitable ages in ocean travel history.
|His Majesty's Hospital
Ship Aquitania during World War I.
the terrible financial crash at Wall Street, New York occurred. The disaster
was so immense that it is said that ruined millionaires threw themselves
one after one from the tops of the city’s skyscrapers. The crash affected
everything sooner or later, by all means the ocean liners as well. Suddenly
only a small selected group of people could still afford to go on an expensive
voyage across the seas. Many of the liners that often used to be booked
solid now steamed into the harbours of the Atlantic with more crew
than passengers on board. Some
of the ships that seemed to suffer more than others were old ships like
the Celtic-class – all four still intact after World War I – and
the Olympic. The medicine for the shipping lines was to send their
grand ships on cheap cruises in warmer climates. This tempted many Americans,
as they were tired of their country’s prohibition against alcohol. Since
most of the North Atlantic ships now in cruise service were European they
could escape the rules for some time. The Aquitania still managed
to maintain her excellent reputation, and was not faced with the same struggle
as many other vessels during these years.
though White Star was the company with the most problems, Cunard had begun
to suffer severely in the mid-Thirties as well. As they were constructing
an 80,000-tonner to rival the French Normandie of similar size they
were desperate for help. Once again, they turned to the British Government
just as they had done when about to build Lusitania and Mauretania.
This time, the Government required Cunard to join forces with White Star
in order to secure financial success. White Star was also building a competitor
to Normandie and the future Queen Mary, but economic disaster
had struck them immensely and they had to abandon the project of the Oceanic.
They saw the possibility to take part of the Queen Mary when joining
Cunard, and after some negotiation, a new shipping company emerged – Cunard
White Star. Cunard had 62 per cent of the votes in the company.
meant that the Aquitania suddenly had became a running mate to some
of her biggest rivals. White Star’s Big Three – Majestic, Olympic
and Homeric – now served alongside Cunard’s Big Three – Berengaria,
Aquitania and Mauretania. But as the new management settled
they hastingly made up plans to send much of its old tonnage to the scrap
yard. The ageing Adriatic only made a few voyages in 1934 before
she was sent to Japan for demolition. Shortly after that, the much loved
Mauretania left Southampton for the last time just as the Homeric,
and later both the Olympic and Majestic as well. The Aquitania
was planned to be kept in service until the arrival of the Queen Mary’s
younger sister Queen Elizabeth’s arrival in 1940.
|The Aquitania in her twilight
years. She still wears her wartime grey paint.
this period of time one of the Aquitania’s greater mistakes occurred.
When inbound to Southampton from a Mediterranean cruise in the mid-Thirties,
the Aquitania went aground and was stuck in the same position for
26 hours before the power of eleven tugs pulled her away. Despite having
resting with her hull on the bottom with a terrible strain for more than
a whole day, the Aquitania seemed to have had gone
through the incident almost unscathed. She was back in service shortly
plans of keeping the Aquitania until 1940 was scattered to the wind
when Adolf Hitler of Germany marched into Poland and pulled the trigger
to World War II. Alongside with highly distinguished ships such as Queen
Mary, Queen Elizabeth, Normandie and Île de France,
the Aquitania now joined the Royal British Navy on the task of eliminating
the attacking enemies. At one occasion, in September 1939, the harbour
of New York enjoyed the task of serving a very selected group of ships.
At pier 88 lay the Île de France and the Normandie,
berthed at pier 90 were the Queen Mary and the Aquitania,
and finally at pier 92 lay the Italia Line’s former Blue Riband champion Rex
– all intended for war use sooner or later except for the Rex who
tried to maintain a passenger service across the Atlantic as long as possible.
the hostilities, the Aquitania performed brilliantly, completing
a large number of trans-Atlantic crossings in trooping purposes. Just as
the Queens, the Aquitania surely contributed to shorten the
war with a few years. When Germany capitulated in 1945, the war tasks were
far from over for the liners. Before they returned to their commercial
service they completed the transportation of troops back to their homes.
In Aquitania’s case, this lasted until 1949 when she was handed
back to the Cunard Line.
|The sad end of the Aquitania.
Her four funnels are gone forever.
was not refitted as a luxury liner, but she was returned to a sort of passenger
service. Some of her luxurious furniture that had been taken off before
the war was never put back on board, but instead placed in the former White
Star vessel Britannic. From now on to an uncertain future, the Aquitania
shipped emigrants between Southampton and Halifax.
lasted in this service for another year, when Cunard realised how old their
once fabulous Aquitania had become. In late 1949, a piano almost crashed through
to the deck below when a ceiling gave way. She was falling apart everywhere.
Some of the bulkheads were nearly rusted through, and the funnels almost
fell onto the decks, as they were thin like stamps due to heavy corrosion.
The last of the mighty four stackers were sent to the scrappers in February
1950. She had served ever since 1914, carried out her duties in two
major conflicts and steamed over three million miles, completing nearly
450 voyages. With the disappearance of the Aquitania, the last of
the genuine ‘floating palaces’ from before World War I was gone.
|The Aquitania - Specifications:
||901 feet (275.2 m)
||97 feet (29.6 m)
||45,647 gross tons
||Steam turbines powering