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Building the RMS Mauretania, (1907-1935)

Jim Baumann shares his build of this years (2007) IPMS/UK Scale Model World "Best In Show", award, the magnificent R.M.S. Mauretania, (1907-1935).

Vessel History-by Eric Longo and Jim Baumann

Speed was the major concern in the opening years of the 20th century on land and sea. The steam ship was the only link between Europe and the United States and shipping companies, particularly British and German, vied with each other for the coveted Blue Riband. Established in 1838, the Riband was awarded to ships which have "…crossed the Atlantic Ocean at the highest average speed.” In the last years of the 19th century, with the introduction of the NDL Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse and Hapag’s Deutschland, the German shipping Companies possessed the Blue Riband and Great Britain felt a need to redress this situation for the sake of national pride.

A Government subsidy was approved in 1902 to have the Cunard line develop and build two 25-knot turbine steamers that could serve in both peacetime and, if necessary, wartime. Originally conceived with three funnels, construction began on the pair in 1904 with both vessels being launched in 1906. The splendid Lusitania, and her sister Mauretania, both entered service in the fall of 1907.

The Lusitania made her first crossing in early September with the Mauretania following in mid November. These two beautiful liners reclaimed the Blue Riband almost immediately, with the Mauretania holding the eastbound record from her maiden return voyage in November of 1907 until losing to the NDL Bremen in July of 1929; an unparalleled achievement.

The Mauretania was indeed, as one First Class passenger wrote home in 1909 on a silk Stevengraph postcard (purchased in her Barber Shop), “…a floating palace”, with no expense spared in her construction and internal design, which had to meet Admiralty specifications in accordance with the terms of the subsidy. The interiors represented the highest quality designs, materials and skilled old-world craftsmanship that money could buy at a time when Britain was striving to regain supremacy in the North Atlantic. Tremendous quantities of old growth woods, including African mahogany, French walnut and Austrian straw oak were imported and lovingly worked into paneling and fittings in the First and Second Class public rooms. These decorations were of such beauty they would earn a fame of their own.

The Mauretania and her sister traded the Riband in these early years; both would receive new single cast four-bladed propellers of manganese bronze which resulted in still faster crossings. Within months of her re-entry into service with the new propellers in 1909 the Mauretania held both the East and West Riband; from September of 1909 she alone would hold both.

In these first years the Mauretania encountered relatively little trouble, but during an overhaul in January of 1914 she suffered an explosion that took the lives of four men and injured six. Although designed for possible use as an Armed Merchant cruiser (AMC) with reinforced 6-inch bow and stern gun platforms, her enormous appetite for coal, approximately 900 tons a day, rendered her costly to operate and difficult to refuel. At the outset of war in August of 1914, the Mauretania was diverted to Halifax; after very brief service she was returned to regular service until October when her furnishings were dismantled and she was laid up. The next year, on May 7, 1915, the Lusitania was sunk off the Old Head of Kinsale with a single torpedo fired by U-20 resulting in a loss of 1,195 lives (including 123 Americans). Although the sinking was said to have accelerated the United States involvement in the war, that country did not enter the war until two years later.

In May the Mauretania was converted to a transport with a subdued grey paint scheme to supply troops for the Dardanelles Campaign. She made three trips in 1915, brining over 10,000 troops to the to Moudros Bay island of Lemnos, the Allied base for operations in the area. On one of these voyages, under the command of Captain Dow, the Mauretania was attacked by a German submarine. She evaded a torpedo by a margin said to be approximately five feet due to her high speed. She was then laid up again until September when she was converted to an unarmed Red Cross hospital ship and made three additional trips to Moudros to assist with the evacuation of over 6,000 wounded from the Dardanelles Campaign.

In January of 1916 the Mauretania was finally dismantled as a hospital ship and apparently temporarily released from service. During a gale on her way up the Clyde she broke her cables and lost her anchors, finally coming to rest safely on a sandbank. The Mauretania was put in the Gladstone Dock until her anchors were recovered and she was laid up at Greenock until September of 1916.

In September/October, the Mauretania was re-converted to a troop carrier, assigned the Admiralty number “S1620” and made two crossings from Liverpool to Halifax carrying over 6,000 Canadian troops bound for France. On one trip, two days out, she was found to be gaining a severe list. The Mauretania was taking on water from a coal port which had been improperly “dogged down” at Liverpool and was nearly lost. After returning from Halifax for the second time, she was laid up at Gare Loch on the Clyde until March, 1918 when she served again as an armed troopship. The Mauretania was renamed “H.M.S. Tuberose” and painted an elaborate blue dazzle scheme designed by Norman Wilkinson (who did paintings for public areas on Titanic).

She made seven trips carrying over 33,000 American troops to the Western Front. After the Armistice, the Mauretania was deployed for the re-patriation of American and Canadian troops, bringing nearly 20,000 soldiers home. She made her final troop voyage in May of 1919, and returned to regular service in June. During her war service the Mauretania carried a total of nearly 78,000 soldiers and wounded, with additional medical staff. During this period of her service the remaining fine wood paneling and fixtures aboard were carefully protected with coverings of wood and cloth, and once removed, her splendor, if not her speed, was intact.

In 1921, following a large fire aboard at Southampton, the Mauretania was refitted extensively and converted to burn fuel oil. When she returned to service in 1923 she was chartered for her first cruise by American Express to the Mediterranean.

During a November gale in the same year, while being towed across the Channel to Cherbourg by six Dutch tugs to complete an overhaul, she was again nearly lost. Upon her return to service she snapped a propeller shaft on the first day out. After subsequent repairs, the Mauretania returned to service in 1924, continuing her crossings, improving her speed and became one of the most beloved liners of the 1920’s. She had yet another elaborate refit for her return to service in 1927 which again increased the number of staterooms and she received extensive engine adjustments in November 1928 for the expected challenge brought by the new German Bremen (IV).

These adjustments increased the Mauretania’s overall HP from 68,000 to a full 90,000 – nearly 32 more shaft revolutions per minute than originally designed. Despite these modifications she lost the Blue Riband to the Bremen by the smallest of margins in July of 1929. During an attempt to regain the Riband one last time on her August 16 crossing, the Mauretania, at 22 years of age, more than rose to the occasion and shattered all of her previous records.

She had raced across the Atlantic at an average speed of 27.22 knots and on the last leg, between Eddystone and Cherbourg, she managed 29.7 knots. Further, on a cruise in July, 1933, and with a touch of help from the Gulf Stream, the Mauretania pulled an incredible 32 knots between the Carysfort Reef Lighthouse and Juniper Inlet Lighthouse.

When the Great Depression hit in 1929, the volume of Atlantic passengers began to decline. To offset this, the Mauretania began cruising regularly in 1930. Saltwater swimming pools were added aft on a new “Sports Deck” along with other recreations. In May of 1933 she was painted white at the newly opened “New Docks” (The Western Docks) at Southampton and designated a cruise ship year-round thereafter.

By 1934 the Depression was at its deepest with too many ships and not enough trade to sustain them. Mauretania was large, outdated and a very, very expensive ship to operate and maintain.

However, it should be here noted that the Board of Trade found her to be in remarkable condition in 1931. When she was scrapped it was noted by Metal Industries that “…the internal surfaces of the condenser tubes [were found] to be in exceptionally good, clean condition.” On September 26, 1934, after a grand parade and farewell in New York, she began her last Atlantic crossing to the sad farewells of thousands of well-wishers. Mauretania was eventually laid up to rust at Berth 108 of the Western Docks and was joined by the retired Olympic some six months later.

The Mauretania was sold to Metal Industries Ltd. in April of 1935 for £77,000 and sailed for the Naval Yard at Rosyth on the evening of July 1, 1935.

On this last voyage she flew, from masts cut down to allow passage under the Firth of Forth Railway Bridge, a 20-foot blue ribbon that read simply "1907- 1929". On the morning of July 3 the Mauretania stopped briefly at the mouth of the River Tyne where she was built nearly 30 years before. Thousands gathered along the coast to see her pass the place of her birth, rockets were fired from her bridge and a simple goodbye was radioed to the Mayor and Mayoress for all of Tyneside. As she departed, those aboard “…could just hear the sounds of hundreds of voices singing Auld Lang Syne.” She continued onward at some 12.5 knots, reaching Rosyth and the Metal Industries yards just before sunrise on July 4th.

In two months she would be almost unrecognizable; in nine months she would be a beached hulk in a tidal yard and in just over a year she would be only a memory. During her long life, the R.M.S. Mauretania had logged more than two million miles, completed 319 Atlantic crossings, 54 cruises and contributed vital wartime service. She was fondly remembered for this; her furnishings and fittings were sold in May, 1935, at two public auctions held aboard. Much of these interiors survive and can be seen in pubs and other establishments across England. Bristol wine merchant Ronald Avery purchased and installed large amounts of woodwork and other fittings from her Lounge and Library in the original Avery Building (now the Bar Three). The First Class Louis Seize Lounge and Louis Seize Library were designed and decorated by Messrs. Ch. Mellier & Co. of London; the richly polished, deeply carved and gilded mahogany panels, columns, moldings and beveled glass-paned doors still evoke memories of the elegant rooms they once graced. Many small souvenirs were produced from her wood and metal to commemorate her passing, and are sought-after collectibles today.

As one of the first, and the fastest, of the great four-funneled liners, the Mauretania will always be remembered for her speed, accomplishments and beauty. Incredibly, despite her increasing age and 20 years of technological advances in shipbuilding, the Mauretania lost the Riband to the Bremen by an average margin of less than .61 knots for the crossing which equated to less than one hour.

R.M.S. Mauretania (1)
(From H. Jordan, 1936)

Hull No. 735
Built by Swan, Hunter and Wigham Richardson 1904-1907
Construction began 1904
Launched September 20, 1906
Trials (informal) September 17-20 1907
Leaves Neptune Yards for Liverpool and Cunard October 22, 1907 (additonal performance data recorded)
Trials (formal) November 3-6 1907
Maiden Voyage November 16, 1907
Length 790 feet
Length between perpendiculars 762 feet, 2 inches
Breadth 88 feet
Depth (moulded) 60 feet, 6 inches
Gross Tonnage 31,938
Draught 33 feet, 6 inches
Displacement 38,000
H.P 68,000
R.P.M. 180
Capacity (as commissioned)
Crew 938
First Class 563
Second Class 464
Third Class 1,138

Additional (various sources):

Call letters: “MGA”
Wartime admiralty assigned number: “S1620”
Wartime Admiralty assigned name: “H.M.S. Tuberose”
Final voyage Southampton to Rosyth July 1-4, 1935; 488 miles 12.5 knots
Public Inspection on July 8, 1935
Scrapping begins July/August 1935
Remaining hull beached April 1936
Final Lift brought ashore August 1936
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