Mauretania

Mauretania

The Mauretania was the first ship to be built for the newly formed Cunard-White Star Line and was laid down on 24th May 1937 as SS No. 1029. She was the largest ship ever to be constructed in an English shipyard at the time. She was launched on 28th July 1938 by Lady Bates, wife of the Cunard chairman, Sir Percy. The ship was designed for the London to New York service and was the largest vessel ever to navigate the Thames and use the Royal Docks.

The Mauretania made her inaugural voyage from Liverpool to New York on 17th June 1939. After remaining in New York for a week it returned to Southampton. Returning from the next voyage the Mauretania called at Southampton, Le Havre and finally to London where it berthed in King George V Dock in the Thames.

On 11th August the ship left for its final pre-war voyage to New York and was then hired by the Government. It was then defensively armed with two 6 inch guns and some smaller weapons, painted battle gray and was then dispatched to America at the end of December.

For three months the ship lay idle in New York until it was decided to use it as a troopship. On 20th March 1940 it sailed from New York to Sydney, via Panama to be converted for its new role.

This work was carried out in April and in May it left Sydney along with the Queen Mary and Aquitania with 2,000 troops, bound for the Clyde.

During the early stages of the war the ship transported Australian troops to Suez, India and Singapore but later it mainly served on the North Atlantic. On 8th January it was involved in a minor collision with the American tanker Hat Creek in New York harbour.

Mauretania joined Queen Elizabeth, Queen Mary and Nieuw Amsterdam on trooping duties from Australia and other colonial countries to war stricken Europe. The four ships traveled in convoy on one such journey, and during this voyage a rare photograph of Mauretania was taken by a Rhodesian soldier, George Frame, from a porthole aboard Nieuw Amsterdam.

Like George Frame, Mauretania survived the war. She made several further voyages for the British Government returning troops home. This mainly took the ship to Canada and Singapore. On 2nd September 1946 Mauretania returned to Liverpool, was released from British Government service and immediately went into Gladstone Dock to be reconditioned by Cammell Laird & Co.

After a complete overhaul and refurbishment of the interior, the Mauretania made her first post-war Atlantic crossing to New York on 26th April 1947. After using Liverpool as its home port for the first two voyages it was thereafter based at Southampton. Later that year it began to be used as a cruise ship during the winter months to the West Indies and the Caribbean. These so called 'dollar-earning cruises' assisted the shattered British economy. For the next 10 years it served the Southampton to New York route during the summer and operated on cruises from New York during the winter.

When Mauretania was taken in for her annual overhaul at Liverpool in December 1957 the opportunity was taken to fit air-conditioning throughout the ship. By 1962, however, she was facing competition from much more modern ships and was beginning to lose money for Cunard. In October 1962 the ship was painted pale green (like the famous Caronia) and the passenger accommodation was adjusted to accommodate 406 1st class, 364 cabin class and 357 tourist class passengers. On 28th March 1963 Mauretania began a new service calling at New York, Cannes, Genoa and Naples. This, however, was a failure and by 1964 she was mainly employed cruising from New York to the West Indies.

The Mauretania made her final voyage on September 15th 1965. This was a Mediterranean cruise which departed from New York. It was announced that on its return to Southampton the ship would be withdrawn from service and sold. She arrived at Southampton on 10 November and had already been sold to the British Iron and Steel Corporation. On 23rd November she arrived at Ward's ship breaking yard in Inverkeithing, Fife. She was commanded by Captain John Treasure-Jones, who navigated the mud straits of the Forth without tugs.