Title: SS Aquitania, White Star Line
Date: Between 1914 and 1920
Photographer: Detroit Publishing Co.
Source: http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2016806680/ (Source URL correct as of time of publishing)
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 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 RMS Mauretania and RMS Lusitania, and was the last surviving four-funnelled ocean liner. Widely considered one of the most attractive ships of her time, Aquitania earned the nickname “Ship Beautiful”.
In 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 Queen Elizabeth 2 became the longest serving Cunard vessel.
The origins of Aquitania lay in the rivalry between the White Star Line and Cunard Line, Britain’s two leading shipping companies. The White Star Line’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 copy the White Star Line’s Olympic-class model with a larger, slower, but more luxurious ship.
Aquitania was designed by Cunard naval architect Leonard Peskett. Peskett drew up plans for a larger and wider vessel than 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 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 however, Peskett designed her to strict British Admiralty specifications. Aquitania was built in the John Brown and Company yards in Clydebank, Scotland, where the majority of the Cunard ships were built. The keel was laid in the same plot where Lusitania had been built, and would later be used to construct Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth, and Queen Elizabeth 2.
In the wake of the Titanic sinking, Aquitania was one of the first ships to carry enough lifeboats for all passengers and crew. Eighty lifeboats, including two motorised launches with Marconi wireless equipment, were carried in both swan-neck and newer Welin type davits. 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. The ship displaced approximately 49,430 tons of which the hull accounted for 29,150 tons, machinery 9,000 and bunkers 6,000 tons. 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.
Steam was provided by twenty-one, forced draft, double ended Scotch boilers having eight furnaces each that were 22 feet (6.7 m) long with diameter of 17 feet 8 inches (5.4 m) arranged in four boiler rooms. Each boiler room had seven ash expellers with pump capacity of approximately 4,500 tons per hour that could also be used as emergency bilge pumps.
Steam drove Parsons turbines in three separate engine rooms in a triple expansion system for four shafts. The port engine room contained the high pressure ahead (240 tons, 40 feet 2 inches (12.2 m) long with four stage expansion) and astern turbine (120 tons, 22 feet 11 inches (7.0 m) long) for the port shaft, the center room contained two low pressure turbines with ahead and astern capability within single casings (54 feet 3 inches (16.5 m) long, nine expansion stages in ahead turbine, four in astern turbine) for the two center shafts and the starboard room contained the intermediate pressure ahead turbine (41 feet 6.5 inches (12.7 m) long) and a high pressure astern turbine (twin of the port high pressure turbine) for the starboard shaft.
The electrical plant, located on G deck, consisted of four 400 kW British Westinghouse generator sets generating 225 volt direct current with emergency power provided by a diesel driven 30 kW generator on the promenade deck. Power was provided for about 10,000 lamps and about 180 electric motors.
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, 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, 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.
Aquitania’s maiden voyage was under the command of Captain William Turner on 30 May 1914 with arrival in New York on 5 June. Average speed for the voyage, a distance of 3,181 nautical miles (5,891 km; 3,661 mi) measured from Liverpool to the Ambrose Channel lightship, was 23.1 knots (42.8 km/h; 26.6 mph).
This event was overshadowed by the sinking of 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. After being idle for a time, in the spring of 1915 the Cunarder was converted into a troopship, 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. In 1916, the year that White Star’s flagship, and one of Aquitania’s future main rivals, Britannic, was sunk, Aquitania was returned to the trooping front, and then in 1917 was again laid up. 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 ship’s 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, Aquitania collided with the British cargo ship Lord Dufferin at New York in the United States on 28 February 1919. Lord Dufferin sank and Aquitania rescued her crew. Lord Dufferin later was refloated and beached.
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. The original fittings and art pieces, removed when refitted for military use, were brought out of storage and re-installed. At some point during this time, a new wheelhouse was constructed above the original one as the officers had complained about the visibility over the ship’s bow. The second wheelhouse can be seen in later pictures of the era and the old wheelhouse area below 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.” As times grew better, Aquitania became one of the most profitable ocean liners ever. The American restriction on immigration in the early 1920s 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. Aquitania ran aground in the Solent on 24 January 1934 but was refloated later the same day. On 10 April 1935, Aquitania went hard aground on Thorne Knoll in the Solent near Southampton, England, but with the aid of ten tugboats, on the next high tide the ship was freed.
Aquitania, with a normal troop capacity of 7,400, was among the select group of large, fast former passenger ships capable of sailing independently without escort transporting large numbers of troops that were assigned worldwide as needed. These ships, often termed “Monsters” until London requested the term be dropped, were Aquitania, Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth, Mauretania, Île de France and Nieuw Amsterdam with “lesser monsters” being other large ex liners capable of independent sailing with large troop capacity that accounted for much of the troop capacity and deployment, particularly in the early days of the war.
Plans to replace Aquitania with the newer Queen Elizabeth in 1940 had been forestalled by outbreak of World War II in 1939. During September 1939 Aquitania, awaiting initial refit as a troop ship, was at pier 90 in New York along with Queen Mary while nearby, at pier 88, were the interned French ships Île de France and Normandie.
Aquitania’s initial troop transport operation was bringing Canadian troops to England during November 1939. Meanwhile, a massive transport of Australian and New Zealand troops to Suez and North Africa, with possible diversion to the United Kingdom if events required, was in planning with the numbered convoys to be designated as “US” with the large Atlantic liners assigned a role. The fast convoy designated as US.3 was composed of Aquitania and the liners Queen Mary, Mauretania, Empress of Britain, Empress of Canada, Empress of Japan and Andes. Aquitania, Empress of Britain and Empress of Japan, after embarking New Zealand troops at Wellington in May, sailed escorted by HMAS Canberra, HMAS Australia, and HMNZS Leander to join the Australian component off Sydney on 5 May 1940. Joined off Sydney by Queen Mary and Mauretania the convoy sailed the same day to be joined the next by Empress of Canada out of Melbourne for a stop at Fremantle 10—12 May before the voyage intended to be for Colombo. About midway to Colombo, on 15 May, the convoy was rerouted due to the rapid German penetrations into France with the ultimate destination of Greenock, Scotland via Cape Town, South Africa and Freetown, Sierra Leone where the escort strengthened by various ships including the aircraft carriers HMS Hermes and HMS Argus and the battlecruiser HMS Hood. The convoy arrived in the Clyde and anchored off Greenock on 16 June 1940.
Now repainted battleship grey, in November 1941 Aquitania was in the British colony of Singapore, from which she sailed to take part indirectly in the loss of the Australian cruiser HMAS Sydney. 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. On the morning of 24 November Aquitania en route to Sydney from Singapore spotted and picked up twenty-six survivors of the German ship but maintained radio silence and did not pass word until in visual range of Wilson’s Promontory on 27 November. The captain had gone against orders not to stop for survivors of sinkings. There were no survivors from Sydney.
December saw the outbreak of war in the Pacific, then Japanese advances throughout Southeast Asia and toward Australia, necessitating the redeployment of defensive forces. On 28 December Aquitania and two smaller transports departed Sydney with 4,150 Australian troops and 10,000 tons of equipment for Port Moresby, New Guinea. (On the same date, USS Houston and other U.S. ships evacuating from the north reached Darwin, with USS Pensacola, and elements of her diverted Philippine convoy some 300 miles (480 km) ahead.) Aquitania was back in Sydney on 8 January 1942. The next effort was reinforcement of Singapore and the Netherlands East Indies with Aquitania transporting Australian troops (whose equipment was in Convoy MS.1) as the single ship MS.2 convoy, under escort of HMAS Canberra. The ship had been the only suitable transport for such a large movement. Originally, transport directly to Singapore was considered, but the danger from aircraft to such a valuable asset and so many troops caused a change of plans. Instead, Aquitania departed Sydney on 10 January, reaching Ratai Bay at the Sunda Strait on 20 January, where 3,456 personnel (including some Navy, Air Force and civilians) were transhipped under a covering naval force to seven smaller vessels (six of them Dutch KPM ships) that would continue to Singapore as convoy MS.2A. Aquitania was returned to Sydney on 31 January.
With the United States in the war, Aquitania (then with a troop capacity of 4,500) had been scheduled for transport duties from the United States to Australia in February, but necessary repairs delayed that. Because her deep draft was hazardous in Australian and intermediate ports in the Pacific Islands, she spent March and April 1942 transporting troops from the west coast of the U.S. to Hawaii. Then Aquitania was temporarily transferred from Pacific duties to support the movement of troops from the United States to Britain, sailing 30 April from New York in a large convoy that transported some 19,000 troops.
On 12 May 1942 Aquitania loaded troops at Greenock destined for the war in the Middle East, departing in convoy WS19P on 1 June with destroyers and heavy weather, she broke off independently on 7 June due to her greater speed with designation WS19Q. The first port of call was 48 hours at Freetown (West Africa) on 11 June, then 3 days at Simonstown, South Africa 20 June, 48 hours at Diego Suarez, Madagascar from 30 June, 24 hours at Steamer Point, Aden on 3 July, and then disembarkation at Port Tewfik, Egypt from 8 July 1942. The return journey was via Diego Suarez, Capetown, Freetown and then to Boston. By September Aquitania was engaged in a triangular troop deployment of United States-United Kingdom-Indian Ocean voyages.
As part of the major redeployment of Australian troops from North Africa to the defense of Australia and start of offensive operations in the Southwest Pacific Aquitania, Queen Mary, Île de France, Nieuw Amsterdam, and the armed merchant cruiser HMS Queen of Bermuda transported the Australian 9th Division to Sydney in Operation Pamphlet during January and February 1943.
By the buildup for the invasion of Europe in 1944 troop deployments to Britain depended heavily on Aquitania and the other “Monsters” and no allowance could be made for interruption of their service for other transport requirements.
Wartime embarkation at New York is described in some detail in the description of the departure of the Special Navy Advance Group 56 (SNAG 56) that was to become Navy Base Hospital Number 12 at the Royal Victoria Hospital, Netley, England to receive casualties from Normandy. The unit was sent by “devious routes” by train to Jersey City where under cover of darkness they boarded a ferry crossing to the covered pier 86 in New York where a band played and the Red Cross served their last coffee and doughnuts as they boarded “N.Y. 40”, the New York Port of Embarkation code designation for Aquitania, which got underway the morning of 29 January 1944 with some 1,000 Navy and 7,000 Army personnel for arrival at Greenock, Scotland 5 February.
In eight years of military work, Aquitania sailed more than 500,000 miles, and carried nearly 400,000 soldiers, to and from places as far afield as New Zealand, Australia, the South Pacific, Greece and the Indian Ocean
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. The decks leaked in foul weather, the bulkheads and funnels were corroded to such a point that one could stick their 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, 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 N. R. P. Bonsor 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.