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RMS Mauretania in the Great War - The Wartime Memories Project -

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RMS Mauretania

1st August 1914 Hospital and Troopship WW1  

HMHS Mauretania

RMS Mauretania was an ocean liner designed by Leonard Peskett and built by Swan, Hunter & Wigham Richardson for the British Cunard Line, and launched on 20 September 1907. She was the world's largest ship until the launch of the RMS Olympic in 1911 as well as the fastest until the launch of the Bremen in 1929. Mauretania became a favourite among her passengers. After capturing the Blue Riband for the fastest transatlantic crossing during her 1909 inaugural season, Mauretania held the speed record for twenty years.

The ship's name was taken from Mauretania, an ancient Roman province on the northwest African coast, not the modern Mauritania which is now to the south. Similar nomenclature was also employed by Mauretania's running mate, Lusitania, which was named after the Roman province directly north of Mauretania, across the Strait of Gibraltar, the region that now is Portugal.

Ship Statistics.

  • Tonnage: 31,938 gross register tons (GRT)
  • Length: 790 ft (240.8 m)
  • Beam: 88 ft (26.8 m)
  • Draft: 33 ft (10.1 m)
  • Installed power: Direct-action Parsons steam turbines (two high pressure, two low pressure)
  • 68,000 SHP (shaft horsepower) nominal at launch, 76,000 SHP on record run, later increased to 90,000 SHP after conversion to oil burning
  • Propulsion: Quadruple propeller installation triple bladed design at launch changed soon after to four bladed versions. Astern turbines available on inboard shafts only.
  • Speed: 24 knots (46 km/h) designed service speed
  • Capacity: 2165 passengers total: 563 first class, 464 second class, 1138 third class. Crew: 802

Mauretania and Lusitania were both designed by Cunard naval architect Leonard Peskett with Swan Hunter and John Brown working from the plans for an ocean greyhound with a stipulated service speed of twenty-four knots in moderate weather for her mail subsidy contract. Peskett's original configuration for the ships in 1903 was a three-funnel design, when reciprocating engines were destined to be the powerplant. A giant model of the ships in this configuration appeared in Shipbuilder's magazine. Cunard in 1904 decided to change power plants to Parson's new turbine technology and Peskett then added a fourth funnel to the ship's profile as the ships design was again modified before construction of the vessel finally began.

In 1906, Mauretania was launched by the Duchess of Roxburghe. At the time of her launch, she was the largest moving structure ever built and slightly larger in gross tonnage than Lusitania. The main visual differences between Mauretania and Lusitania was that Mauretania was five feet longer and had different vents (Mauretania had cowl vents and Lusitania had oil drum-shaped vents). Mauretania also had two extra stages of turbine blades in her forward turbines making her slightly faster than the Lusitania. Mauretania and Lusitania were the only ships with direct-drive steam turbines to hold the Blue Riband; in later ships, reduction-geared turbines were mainly used. Mauretania's usage of the steam turbine was the largest yet application of the then-new technology, developed by Charles Algernon Parsons. During speed trials, these engines caused significant vibration at high speeds; in response, Mauretania received strengthening members and redesigned propellers before entering service, which reduced vibration.

Mauretania was designed to suit Edwardian tastes. Its interior was designed by Harold Peto, architect, and was fitted out by several London companies, with twenty eight different types of wood used in her public rooms, along with marble, tapestries, and other furnishings. Wood panelling for her first class public rooms was meticulously carved by three hundred craftsmen from Palestine. The multi-level first-class dining saloon was decorated in Francis I style and topped by a large dome skylight. A series of elevators, then a rare new feature for liners, was installed next to Mauretania's grand staircase. A new feature was the Verandah Café on the boat deck, where passengers were served beverages in a weather-protected environment.

Early career.

Mauretania departed 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, 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 sustained 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 captain James Charles which had just returned from New York. Lusitania herself completed Christmas crossings for Mauretania, carrying revellers back to New York. In 1912 both King George and Queen Mary were given a special tour of Mauretania, then Britain's fastest merchant vessel, adding further distinction to the ship's reputation. On 26 January 1914, while Mauretania was in the middle of annual refit in Liverpool, four men were killed and six 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.

World War I.

Shortly after Great Britain declared war on Germany on 4 August 1914, Mauretania and Aquitania were requested by the British government to become armed merchant cruisers, but their huge size and massive fuel consumption made them unsuitable for the duty and they resumed their civilian service on 11 August. Later, due to lack of passengers crossing the Atlantic, Mauretania was laid up in Liverpool until May 1915 at the time that the 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. As a troopship, Mauretania received dazzle camouflage, a form of abstract colour scheming, in an effort to confuse enemy ships.

HMHS Mauretania.

  • Hospital Ship or Ambulance Transport Service during WW1.
  • Medical Staff strength.
  • Officers:22
  • Nurses:21
  • Other:177
  • Accommodation capacity.
  • Officers:115
  • Cots:592
  • Berths:1238
  • Period of Service as Hospital Ship or Ambulance Transport.
  • Date From:22nd October 1915
  • Date To:1st March 1916
  • Ships Crew details:

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, to treat the wounded until 25 January 1916. In medical service the vessel was painted white with large medical cross emblems surrounding the vessel. 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, the ship was known by the Admiralty as HMS Tuberose until the end of the war, but the vessel's name was never changed by Cunard.

Post-war career.

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. Cunard noticed that Mauretania struggled to maintain her regular Atlantic service speed. Although the ship's service speed had improved and it now burned only 750 short tons (680 t) of oil per 24 hours, compared to 1,000 short tons (910 t) of coal previously, it was not operating at her pre-war service speeds. On one crossing in 1922 the ship managed an average speed of only nineteen knots. Cunard decided that the ship's once revolutionary turbines were in desperate need of an overhaul. In 1923, a major re-fitting was begun in Southampton. Mauretania's turbines were dismantled. Halfway through the overhaul, the shipyard workers went on strike and the work was halted, so Cunard had the ship towed to Cherbourg, France where the work was completed at another shipyard. In May 1924, the ship returned to Atlantic service.

John Doran

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