1907 - 1915
the turn to the 20th century, the maritime nation Great Britain
was in a state of shock. The empire that had ruled the waves for so long
had suddenly been overcome by a nation that in comparison was just in its
cradle - Germany. The Blue Riband had been taken from the British by the
Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse, owned and operated by the shipping line Norddeutscher
Lloyd, in 1897. And when the Deutschland took the Blue Riband
a few years later, it was evident that the supreme ships of the North Atlantic
were the German ones. To make matters even worse for Great Britain, it
now seemed as if the Empire in the future would have no shipping line with
which to give the Germans a match.
the intention of creating a monopoly on the North Atlantic passenger route,
American financier Junius Pierpont Morgan
formed the International Mercantile
Marine (IMM) in 1901. This consortium soon included such companies as
the American Line, Dominion Line, Red Star Line and Holland-Amerika Line and by 1902, Morgan had
managed to acquire the famous White Star Line. Although he now controlled
one of the two major British shipping lines, Morgan was not yet satisfied.
He wanted the Cunard Line as well.
|The launch of the Lusitania.
it seemed highly unlikely that Cunard would be able to escape Morgan's
clutches. Their rivals, including the German line HAPAG, had already made
their peace with IMM. To compete, Cunard needed better, more luxurious
and above all faster ships. But for such there was no money.
last attempt to keep the company British, the chairman of Cunard - Lord
Inverclyde - turned to the British government with a proposition that both
parties would benefit from. Taking advantage of British patriotism and
the tense political situation in Europe at the time, Lord Inverclyde talked
the government into granting the Cunard Line a low-interest loan of £2,600,000.
This money would be used to build two new superliners, guaranteed to regain
the Blue Riband into British hands. The government would also contribute
with an annual operating subsidy of £150,000. In return, Cunard promised
to keep the company British and that the two new ships would be constructed
so that they in the event of war easily could be converted into armed merchant
with the financial difficulties out of the way, Cunard quickly started
to draw up the plans for their two new liners. It was obvious that both
ships were needed as soon as possible, so two different shipyards were given the task
of building one vessel each. The Scottish firm of John Brown and Co. was
to build the future Lusitania. Her sister ship, the Mauretania,
was to be constructed by the English firm of Swan, Hunter and Wigham Richardson.
Although both ships would eventually sail in the Cunard fleet, the companies
that now were to build them were competitors. Therefore, each of the two
shipyards wanted to have the honour of building the ship superior to its
sister. Both companies had been given specifications to meet concerning
size and speed, but Cunard also allowed them to make slight modifications of their
own. For two years, the engineers of the two shipyards made changes and
additions to the original plans, all to
improve the performance
of 'their' ship.
|A marvellous profile
view, taken during the Lusitania's sea trials.
started in 1904, and as the two ships were taking shape, the small differences
between them became apparent. The one difference that first may have caught
a spectator's eye was the vents on the superstructure. Mauretania
had the traditional cowl vents, bent in ninety degrees on top, whereas
her sister was fitted with shorter, hinge-topped, canister-like ones. These ultimately
made the decks of the Lusitania seem less cluttered than the ones
on her sister, but unfortunately the short hinge-top vents would prove
to fail in the test of the North Atlantic, and would need constant replacing.
the two ships were launched with four three-bladed propellers, but the
Mauretania was soon fitted with four-bladed ones after a short time
in service, thus improving her performance further, and also making her
more distinct from her sister. The rounded stern of the Mauretania
also made her five feet longer than her sister, and with her gross tonnage
about 400 tons greater than the Lusitania's, the Mauretania
was given the honour of 'the longest and largest liner afloat'. The two
sisters were indeed the latest in shipbuilding technology. With their hull
divided into thirty-four watertight compartments, they were claimed to
be virtually unsinkable.
the very beginning, it was decided that these two new superliners would
have an operating speed of at least 24.5 knots. Anything less would be
unacceptable, since they were intended to break records. To obtain these
high speeds at reasonable costs, Cunard decided to take a wild chance and
use a new type of machinery. The use of turbines to propel ships was becoming
more popular, but it had never been used on ships of this, so far unprecedented,
size. To decide whether or not to adopt this new technology, Cunard tested
it on a smaller vessel. The Carmania, launched in 1905, was fitted
with turbine engines, and her otherwise identical sister, the Caronia,
had traditional reciprocating engines. The result of this 'experiment'
spoke for itself. The Carmania proved to be both faster and more
economical to operate than her sister was. With this in mind, Cunard made
their decision: The Mauretania
and Lusitania would
both be equipped with turbine engines.
|The First Class Restaurant
of the Lusitania, done in a light and airy style by James Millar.
of the two to be launched was the Lusitania, on June 7th,
1906. The event attracted some 20,000 spectators, and as soon as Lady Inverclyde
had smashed the bottle of champagne against the ship's bow and sent the
great vessel into its proper element, work began on fitting her out. In
accordance with famous Cunard traditions, every effort was made to give
each ship a distinct and unique atmosphere, rather than making them as
identical as possible, which was the case with for example White Star Line's Olympic
and Titanic a few years later. Although very much alike on the outside,
the two new Cunarders would be very different from each other when it came
to their interiors. The job of decorating the Lusitania was given
to designer James Millar. Working in plaster highlighted with gold leaf,
Millar managed to create an environment inspired by the Georgian period
and Louis XVI style. This resulted in a light and delicate atmosphere.
On the Mauretania, decoration was made by Harold Peto, who was mostly
known for having designed the interiors of contemporary English manor houses.
By using such materials as oak and mahogany, Peto produced a darker and
heavier tone on the Mauretania.
fitted out, Lusitania had only to go through her sea trials. These
were thought to become a mere routine procedure, but during the sea trials
a serious flaw in the ship's construction was detected. At high speeds,
the stern of the ship vibrated so violently that it was impossible to inhabit
the spaces located in this part of the vessel. Of course, this was not
acceptable and Lusitania had to return to her builders to go through
extensive renovations. The stern, which contained mainly second class spaces,
was strengthened by adding several arches, beams and pillars. Unfortunately,
this procedure erased several airy public areas, and turned them into less
comfortable, smaller rooms. However, this renovation reduced the shaking
considerably, although not completely.
later than predicted, the Lusitania was ready to depart on her maiden
voyage across the North Atlantic. And by the same time, the Mauretania
neared completion. Vibration-problems were found on her too, although not
as severe as those on her sister, and on the Mauretania the part
of the ship haunted by shaking was the forward part of the superstructure.
Still, she too was forced to go through some minor changes. By November 1907,
the Mauretania was ready for her maiden voyage. Now, Lusitania
had already managed to win back the Blue Riband for Great Britain. But
soon, Mauretania would take it from her, and although the Lusitania
did win it back from her, it eventually found itself back in the hands
of the Mauretania, that by now seemed to be the superior ship. These
two ocean greyhounds had now crushed the competition, and so superior was
the Mauretania that the Blue Riband would remain hers for an incredible
the years that followed, the two Cunarders ruled the waves of the North
Atlantic. The Mauretania was undoubtedly the faster of the two,
but the Lusitania was more popular among the passengers, probably
because of her magnificent interiors. And besides being large and luxurious,
the two prides of the Cunard Line were also very reliable. Their turbine engines
always seemed to give them the required power, and the shape of the bow
was constructed for speed, and speed alone. The way it rose straight up
like a knife made the ship break through on-coming waves rather than riding
on top of it. But this feature also had its drawbacks. Both of the ships
were soon dubbed 'wet ships', since they had a tendency to produce great
amounts of spray and send it back on the superstructure when they smashed
through a wave. During a crossing in 1910, the Lusitania encountered
a wave so large that when it hit the bow, it was slammed back against the
bridge, which was moved a couple of inches aft. The bow of these ships had
yet a flaw, however the engineers of the time were not aware of it. Its
special shape produced vacuum-pockets on each side, thus slowing the ship
down. Ultimately, this cost the Cunard Line thousands of dollars in unnessecary
|A stern view of Cunard's
of the two Cunarders on the North Atlantic continued, but suddenly it was
interrupted. In 1914, just after the Cunard Line had launched the new Aquitania,
thus turning the previous duo into a trio, World War I broke out. Almost
immediately, plans were underway to convert the great ocean liners into
armed merchant cruisers. But this concept was soon abandoned. The British
Admiralty's coalbunkers were quickly depleted, because of the great amounts
of fuel required by these giant vessels when on patrol. Instead, many of the liners would
come to serve their respective countries as either hospital ships or troop
the first months of the conflict, the Mauretania was confiscated
by the Admiralty and stripped of her peacetime interiors. Then she simply
would have to wait for a task to be given to her by her new masters. Meanwhile,
the Lusitania continued her regular service across the North Atlantic
as a non-combatant. It was in this guise that she would eventually meet
1st, 1915, a warning appeared in several American newspapers.
Behind it was the German embassy, which warned people of travelling with
ships flying the British flag, since these were possible targets for German
U-boats. However, few of the people who had booked passage on the Lusitania
were troubled by this warning. The great Cunarder, which was scheduled
to depart from New York later that day, was considered very safe. Although
six of the ship's boilers had been shut down to conserve fuel, she could still easily maintain
a good speed of 21 knots, making her the fastest ship on the North Atlantic
run at the time. It would be a difficult task for a potential U-boat to
keep up with her, and in any case, no one really thought that the Germans
would actually attack an unarmed passenger liner.
past eleven, the whistle blew. The Lusitania, carrying 1,959 people
of who a great amount were Americans, was moved out of the quay and set
forth upon her journey like so many times before. It was a rainy day, but
throughout the voyage the weather improved and on May 7th, the
Lusitania, under the command of Captain William Turner, was nearing
the Irish coast. Turner had earlier that morning been warned by the British
Admiralty that German U-boats were lurking in these waters. One of these
was the U-20, under the command of Kapitänleutnant Walther
Schwieger. He had already managed to sink three allied vessels during the
past two days.
|On the Lusitania's
crumbled wreck, the bow is one of the few things still recogniseable from
the one-time Blue Riband-holder. (Painting by Ken Marschall)
miles from Cape Clear, the Lusitania encountered fog. Concerned
about this, Captain Turner ordered his ship slowed down to 18 knots. Yet,
this was an opportunity to cross the last part of the voyage hidden by
the fog, arriving safe in Liverpool early the next morning.
11.30 a.m., the weather was clearer and the Irish coast was now visible
from the Lusitania. A little more than one and a half-hour later,
at twelve minutes past two, the track of a torpedo was spotted on the starboard
side of the ship. The impact was inevitable and shook the ship violently
when it came, just abaft the bridge and below the waterline. Distress calls
were sent out by the wireless operators, and officers started to lower
the lifeboats. Not long after the torpedo had hit, there was a violent
secondary blast that opened a huge hole in the ship's side. She began to
settle rapidly at the head. Panic broke out, and the lifeboats were lowered
in utter confusion. In just 18 minutes, the great liner was gone, taking
with her 1,195 people, of who 123 were Americans.
by the stricken liner's distress calls, many vessels were coming to the
rescue, both from the surrounding waters and from the port of Queenstown.
But the only thing they could do upon arrival was to salvage the survivors
from the water, among them Captain William Turner himself.
who had thought that the First World War would be fought in a 'civilised'
manor had been proven wrong. The Germans had attacked and sunk an unarmed
passenger liner, resulting in a great loss of civilian lives. The Americans
were in an uproar, and the sinking of the Lusitania was considered
a sheer act of barbarism. The event clearly helped to build the public
opinion that later would allow the USA to declare war on the German Empire.
has circulated about the loss of the Lusitania, mainly about the cause
of the violent secondary explosion that made the ship sink so quickly. In an attempt to justify their attack, the Germans
always claimed that the Lusitania was carrying secret contraband munitions, which
exploded as a result of the torpedo impact. Until this day though, British authorities
deny any such cargo being on the Lusitania during that fateful voyage. The controversy
surrounding those horrifying 18 minutes in the waters off the Old Head of Kinsale continues
to this day.
the Lusitania remains on the location where she once met her ultimate
fate. A shadow of the once so glorious liner, she lies on her starboard
side on a depth of just 295 feet (90 meters). The hull has collapsed to
half its original width, and the superstructure has slid down towards the
bottom. The wreck is also entangled in many fishing nets, thus making the
site very hard and dangerous to explore. According to Robert D. Ballard,
who visited the wreck in the summer of 1993, the only thing recognisable
of belonging to the once so proud Cunarder is the forwardmost part of the
bow, still pointing up towards the surface. No evidence of the suspected secret
munitions has ever been found on the wrecksite.
|The Lusitania - Specifications:
||785 feet (239.8 m)
||88 feet (26.9 m)
||31,550 gross tons
||Steam turbines turning
four three-bladed propellers.