RMS Aquitania

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SS Aquitania.jpg
The RMS Aquitania
on her Maiden Voyage in 1914 in New York Harbor
Name: RMS Aquitania

1914–1934:Cunard Line[1]
1934–1948: Cunard White Star Line

1948-1950 Cunard Line
Port of registry: British Blue Ensign Liverpool, United Kingdom

Southampton-New York (1914-1945)

Southampton-Halifax (1945-1950)
Ordered: 8 December 1910[1]
Builder: John Brown & Company, Clydebank, Scotland[1]
Yard number: 409[2]
Laid down: December 1910
Launched: 21 April 1913[1]
Christened: 21 April 1913 by the Countess of Derby
Maiden voyage: 30 May 1914[1]
In service: 30 May 1914
Out of service: 1950
Fate: Scrapped at Faslane, Scotland in 1950.[1]
General characteristics
Tonnage: 45,647 gross tons[3]
Length: 901 ft (274.6 m)[3]
Beam: 97 ft (29.6 m)[3]
Draught: 36 ft (11.0 m)[1]
Decks: 10
Installed power: direct drive Parsons steam turbines; [3] 59,000 shp
Propulsion: Four shafts[3]
  • 23 knots service; 24 kts max.[3]

1914: 3,230[1]

  • 618 1st class passengers
  • 614 2nd class passengers
  • 1,998 3rd class passengers

1926: 2,200[1]

  • 610 1st class passengers
  • 950 2nd class passengers
  • 640 tourist class passengers
Crew: 972[1]

RMS Aquitania was a Cunard Line ocean liner designed by Leonard Peskett and built by John Brown & Company in Clydebank, Scotland. She was launched on 21 April 1913[4] and sailed on her maiden voyage to New York on 30 May 1914. Aquitania was the third in Cunard Line's "grand trio" of express liners, preceded by the RMS Mauretania and RMS Lusitania, and was the last surviving four-funnelled ocean liner.[5] Widely considered one of the most attractive ships of her time, Aquitania earned the nickname "Ship Beautiful".[3]

In her 36 years of service, Aquitania survived military duty in both world wars and was returned to passenger service after each. Aquitania's record for the longest service career of any 20th-century express liner stood until 2004, when the Queen Elizabeth 2 (ultimate career service of 40 years) became the longest-serving liner.


White Star's Olympic and Titanic, Mauretania and Lusitania's rivals

The origins of Aquitania lay in the rivalry between the White Star Line and Cunard, Britain's two leading shipping companies. White Star's Olympic, Titanic and the upcoming Britannic were larger than the latest Cunard ships Mauretania and Lusitania by 15,000 gross tons. The Cunard duo were significantly faster than the White Star ships, while White Star's ships were seen as more luxurious. Cunard needed another liner for its weekly transatlantic express service, and elected to follow White Star's Olympic class with a larger, slower, but more luxurious ship.[3]

Design, construction and launch[edit]

Aquitania shortly before her launch
Aquitania on the stocks, 1913

Aquitania was designed by Cunard naval architect Leonard Peskett.[3] Peskett drew up plans for a larger and wider vessel than his two previous Cunard ships Lusitania and Mauretania. With four large funnels the ship would resemble the famous speed duo, but Peskett also designed the superstructure with "glassed in" touches from the smaller Carmania, a ship he also designed. Another design feature from Carmania was the addition of two tall forward deck ventilator cowlings. With Aquitania's keel being laid at the end of 1910, the experienced Peskett took a voyage on the rival Olympic in 1911 so as to experience the feel of a ship reaching nearly 50,000 tonnes as well as to copy pointers for his company's new vessel. Though Aquitania was built solely with Cunard funds, Peskett nevertheless designed her to strict Admiralty specifications "just in case of a war". Aquitania was built in the John Brown and Company yards in Clydebank, Scotland,[4] where the majority of the Cunard ships were built. The keel was laid in the same plot where the Lusitania had been built, and would later be used to construct Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth, and the Queen Elizabeth 2.[6]

In the wake of the Titanic disaster, Aquitania was one of the first ships to carry enough lifeboats for all passengers and crew.[3] Two of these lifeboats were motorised launches with Marconi wireless equipment. As required by the British Admiralty, she was designed to be converted into an armed merchant cruiser, and was reinforced to mount guns for service in that role. Aquitania was launched on 21 April 1913 after being christened by Alice Stanley, the Countess of Derby, and fitted out over the next thirteen months. In May 1914 she was tested in her sea trials and steamed at one full knot over the expected speed.

Interior and design[edit]

View of the First Class Dining Saloon

Although Aquitania lacked the lean, yacht-like appearance of running mates Mauretania and Lusitania, the greater length and wider beam allowed for grander and more spacious public rooms. Her public spaces were designed by the British architect Arthur Joseph Davis of the interior decorating firm Mewès and Davis. This firm had overseen the construction and decoration of the Ritz Hotel in London and Davis himself had designed several banks in that city. His partner in the firm, Charles Mewès, had designed the interiors of the Paris Ritz, and had been commissioned by Albert Ballin, head of Germany's Hamburg-Amerika Line (HAPAG), to decorate the interiors of the company's new liner Amerika in 1905.

In the years prior to the First World War, Mewès was charged with the decoration of HAPAG's trio of giant new ships, the Imperator, Vaterland, and Bismarck, while Davis was awarded the contract for Aquitania. In a curious arrangement between the rival Cunard and Hamburg-Amerika Lines, Mewès and Davis worked apart—in Germany and England respectively and exclusively—with neither partner being able to disclose details of his work to the other. Although this arrangement was almost certainly violated,[citation needed] Aquitania's interiors were largely the work of Davis. The Louis XVI dining saloon owed much to Mewès' work on the HAPAG liners, but it is likely that having worked so closely together for many years the two designers' work had become almost interchangeable. Indeed, Davis must be given credit for the Carolean smoking room and the Palladian lounge; a faithful interpretation of the style of architect John Webb.

Early career and World War I[edit]

A famous poster of Aquitania shows a cut-away of the ship, revealing its luxurious interior
HMHS Aquitania in World War I service
Aquitania as a troop ship in dazzle paint scheme

Aquitania's maiden voyage was under the command of Captain William Turner on 30 May 1914.[1] This event was overshadowed by the sinking of the RMS Empress of Ireland in Quebec the previous day with over a thousand drowned. The following month Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was assassinated, and the world was plunged into World War I, interrupting Aquitania's civilian career. After only three round trips she was taken over for military use. At first "Aquitania" was converted into an armed merchant cruiser, for which provision had been made in her design. The Admiralty found that large liners were too profligate in their use of fuel to act as cruisers, so Aquitania did not serve long in that role.[3] After being idle for a time, in the spring of 1915 the Cunarder was converted into a trooper, and made voyages to the Dardanelles, sometimes running alongside Britannic or Mauretania. Aquitania then was converted into a hospital ship, and acted in that role during the Dardanelles campaign.[1] In 1916, the year that White Star's third ship, Britannic, was sunk, Aquitania was returned to the trooping front, and then in 1917 was again laid up.[1] In 1918, the ship was back on the high seas in troopship service, conveying North American troops to Britain. Many of these departures were from the port of Halifax, Nova Scotia where the ships spectacular dazzle paint scheme was captured by artists and photographers, including Antonio Jacobsen. On one occasion "Aquitania" transported over 8,000 men.

After the end of hostilities, in June 1919, "Aquitania" ran a Cunard "austerity service" between Southampton and New York. In December of that year Aquitania was docked at the Armstrong Whitworth yards in Newcastle to be refitted for post-war service. The ship was converted from coal burner to oil-fired, which greatly reduced the number of engine room crew required.[1] The original fittings and art pieces, removed when refitted for military use, were brought out of storage and re-installed. At some point around this time during the ship's history, the wheelhouse was moved up one deck as the officers had complained about the visibility over the ships bow. The second wheelhouse can be seen in later pictures of the era and the old wheelhouse area below has had the windows plated in.

During the 1920s Aquitania became one of the most popular liners on the North Atlantic route and operated in service with the Cunarders Mauretania and Berengaria in a trio known as "The Big Three."[3] As times grew better, Aquitania became one of the most profitable ocean liners ever. The American restriction on immigration in the early Twenties ended the age of mass emigration from Europe, but as ocean travel was the only means of transportation between the continents, the express liners survived and even surpassed old records. Some of the big money now came in from movie stars and royalty, other aristocracy and politicians. Aquitania became their favourite, as the 1920s became one of the most profitable ages in ocean travel history.

This ended following the stock market crash of 1929, and many ships were affected by the economic downturn and reduced traffic. Aquitania found herself in a tough position. Only a few could afford expensive passage on her now, so Cunard sent Aquitania on cheap cruises to the Mediterranean. These were successful, especially for Americans who went on "booze cruises," tired of their country's prohibition. On 10 April 1935 Aquitania went hard aground near Thorne Knoll on the River Test outside Southampton, England, but with the aid of ten tugboats and the next high tide the ship was freed.[1]

World War II service[edit]

Aquitania painted grey during World War II.
1946 The Aquitania in her twilight years, sporting her wartime grey with traditional Cunard funnels.

As time went on Aquitania grew older and was scheduled to be replaced by RMS Queen Elizabeth in 1940. This plan was shattered with the coming of World War II. In 1940 Aquitania was in New York awaiting further orders. For a time she was tied up alongside RMS Queen Mary, the Queen Elizabeth, and the Normandie and the four ships made an impressive sight. Shortly after Aquitania sailed for Sydney, Australia, in her Cunard colours, to become a troop transport. Aquitania served valiantly as a troop transport, just as she had in World War I. Later in 1940 Aquitania, Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth, SS Ile de France and other ships sailed in a magnificent convoy out of Sydney, Australia.[1]

In November 1941 Aquitania, now repainted in battleship grey, was in Singapore (then still a British colony), from which she sailed to take part indirectly in the loss of the Australian cruiser HMAS Sydney. The Sydney had engaged in battle with the German auxiliary cruiser Kormoran. There has been much unsubstantiated speculation that Kormoran was expecting Aquitania, after spies in Singapore had notified Kormoran's crew of the liner's sailing, and planned to ambush her in the Indian Ocean west of Perth but instead encountered Sydney on 19 November. Both ships were lost after a fierce battle; a short time later Aquitania arrived on the scene to pick up survivors of the German ship, the captain going against orders not to stop for survivors of sinkings.[1] There were no survivors from the Sydney.

In her eight years of further military work, Aquitania sailed more than 500,000 miles, and carried nearly 400,000 soldiers,[1] to and from places as far afield as New Zealand, Australia, the South Pacific, Greece and the Indian Ocean.

Postwar service and retirement[edit]

Mural of the Aquitania, the "Ship Beautiful."

After completing troopship service, the vessel was handed back to Cunard in 1946, and was used to transport war brides and their children to Canada under charter from the Canadian government. This final service created a special fondness for Aquitania in Halifax, Nova Scotia, the port of disembarkation for these immigration voyages.

On completion of that task in December 1949, "Aquitania" was taken out of service when the ship's Board of Trade certificate was not renewed as the condition of the ship had reached a point of dilapidation and she was becoming too elderly and too expensive to be brought into line with new safety standards of the day, namely fire code regulations. By 1949, as mentioned in Cunard commodore Harry Grattidge's autobiography Captain of the Queens[citation needed] the ship had deteriorated considerably with age. The decks leaked in foul weather, the bulkheads and funnels were corroded to such a point that one could stick one's finger through them. A piano had fallen through the roof of one of the dining rooms from the deck above during a corporate luncheon held on the ship. This truly signalled the end of Aquitania's operational life.

The vessel was retired and scrapped in 1950 at Faslane in Scotland,[1] thus ending an illustrious career which included steaming 3 million miles in 450 voyages. Aquitania carried 1.2 million passengers over a career that spanned nearly 36 years, making her the longest-serving Express Liner of the 20th century. "Aquitania" was the only major liner to serve in both World Wars, and was the last four-funnelled passenger ship to be scrapped. The ship's wheel and a detailed scale model of Aquitania may be seen in the Cunard exhibit at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic in Halifax.

Maritime author C. R. Bonsol wrote of Aquitania in 1963: "Cunard had recovered possession of their veteran in 1948 but she was not worth reconditioning. In 35 years of service Aquitania had sailed more than 3 million miles and apart from one or two early Allan Line steamers no other ship served for as long in a single ownership."[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s MaritimeQuest: Aquitania's data
  2. ^ "HMS Aquitania". Clydebuilt Ships Database. Retrieved February 2010. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l The Great Ocean Liners: Aquitania
  4. ^ a b "'Aquitania (1914 – 1950 ; 45,674 tons ; Served in two World Wars)". chriscunard.com. 2009. Retrieved 11 Jan 2009. 
  5. ^ The 4 funnel liners
  6. ^ http://www.chriscunard.com/about-QE2.htm Queen Elizabeth 2 : About QE2 : General Information. Retrieved 2 May 2009

External links[edit]