Lusitania’s Forgotten Sister Ship Mauretania


By James Donahue


History will remember the Lusitania because of the German torpedo that sent it to the bottom off England’s coast and helped spark American involvement in World War I.


But the Lusitania’s more elegant sister ship, the Mauretania, which served faithfully throughout the war and carried thousands of passengers comfortably on North Atlantic crossings, today is all but forgotten. That is because the Mauretania was a lucky ship. Nothing, except a small fire that scorched some of the superstructure in 1921, ever happened to it.


This great ship eventually fell victim to the Great Depression and was sold for scrap in 1935.


The Mauretania was launched in 1906 and put into service for the White Star Line the following year. She measured 790 feet in length, boasted 25 boilers over 192 furnaces and had a storage capacity for 6,000 tons of coal.


On her first eastbound voyage Mauretania made 23.69 knots, exceeding the Lusitania’s 23.61 knots, and captured the coveted Blue Riband as the fastest liner afloat from the Lusitania. She maintained this distinction until 1929 when a new German liner, the Bremen, logged 27.92 knots in a virtual race across the Atlantic. On that run the Mauretania made its best time ever, at 27.22 knots. It was said the crew of the Mauretania threw some of the ship’s wooden furniture into the boilers to raise extra steam.


When war broke out in the summer of 1914, the Mauretania was seized by the British government for service as a troop ship. She was painted a flat gray and make three successful voyages to Gallipoli. That fall, after the Lusitania was torpedoed and sunk, the Mauretania was converted to be a hospital ship. She was then painted white with red crosses on her sides. Then in 1916 the vessel went back into service as a troop ship, now with dazzle painting designed to blend her lines with the sea and escape the eye of watching U-boats.


The Maruetania survived the war and her days of glory continued for yet a brief time. In 1919 she became one of the Cunard Line’s “Big Three,” joining the flagship Berengaria and the Aquitania in Atlantic passenger service.


The one dark blot in this great ship’s career occurred at Southampton on July 25, 1921, when fire damaged her superstructure. The vessel was returned to Newcastle for repair. While there, Cunard converted her boilers from coal to oil-burners, thus reducing the number of workers required to keep her at sea. The ship’s accommodations also were modernized.


The depression affected the number of passengers on all of the liners. In 1930 the Mauretania stopped making regular Atlantic trips and was used only for cruises. She was painted white and given a tropical appearance, but even this could not save her. She was laid up in Southampton in September, 1934.


Her final voyage the following spring was to Rosyth, Scotland, to be scrapped. On its way she carried a 20-foot-long blue ribbon that simply read 1907 to 1929. Thousands gathered at the mouth of the Tyne as the great ship passed. The crew of the Mauretania fired rockets from her bridge and everybody sang Auld Lang Syne as she passed into history.




The Mind of James Donahue

Great And Lost Ships Of The World