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RMS Aquitania

The RMS Aquitania
on her Maiden Voyage in 1914 in New York Harbor
Name: RMS Aquitania
Operator: Cunard Line
Port of registry: British Blue Ensign Liverpool, United Kingdom

Southampton-New York (1914) (1920-1939) (1945-1948)

Southampton-Halifax (1948-1950)
Ordered: 8 December 1910[1]
Builder: John Brown & Company, Clydebank, Scotland[1]
Cost: About $5.8 Million in US Currency today
Yard number: 409[2]
Laid down: December 1910
Launched: 21 April 1913[1]
Christened: 21 April 1913 by the Countess of Derby
Acquired: 24 May 1914
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 GRT[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]
Speed: 23 knots service; 24 kts max.[3]1
  • 1914: 3,230[1]
  • 618 1st class passengers
  • 614 2nd class passengers
  • 2,004 3rd class passengers
  • 1926: 2,200[1]
  • 610 1st class passengers
  • 950 2nd class passengers
  • 640 tourist class passengers
Crew: 972[1]
Notes: Third ship in Cunard's grand trio, along with RMS Lusitania and RMS Mauretania.

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 broken in 2004 by the Queen Elizabeth 2, which extended the mark to 40 years.


  • Overview 1
  • Design, construction and launch 2
  • Engineering 3
  • Interior and design 4
  • Early career and World War I 5
  • World War II service 6
  • Postwar service and retirement 7
  • See also 8
  • References 9
  • Bibliography 10
  • External links 11


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

The origins of the 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, the Mauretania and the 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.[3]

Design, construction and launch

Aquitania shortly before her launch
Aquitania on the stocks, 1913

The Aquitania was designed by Cunard naval architect Leonard Peskett.[3] Peskett drew up plans for a larger and wider vessel than the 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 the Carmania was the addition of two tall forward deck ventilator cowlings. With the Aquitania's keel being laid at the end of 1910, the experienced Peskett took a voyage on the 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 sinking, Aquitania was one of the first ships to carry enough lifeboats for all passengers and crew.[3] Eighty lifeboats, including two motorised launches with Marconi wireless equipment, were carried in both swan-neck and newer Welin type davits.[7] 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.[8] 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.[9] 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.[9]

Steam drove Parsons turbines in three separate engine rooms in a triple expansion system for four shafts.[9] 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.[9]

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.[10] Power was provided for about 10,000 lamps and about 180 electric motors.[10]

Interior and design

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, 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

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 with arrival in New York on 5 June.[1][8] Average speed for the voyage, a distance of 3,181 nautical miles measured from Liverpool to the Ambrose Channel lightship, was 23.1 knots.[8]

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 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.[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 ship's 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

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 world wide as needed.[11] 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.[12][13]

Plans to replace Aquitania with the newer RMS Queen Elizabeth in 1940 had been forestalled by outbreak of World War II in 1939.[3] 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.[1][3]

Aquitania's initial troop transport operation was bringing Canadian troops to England during November 1939.[1] 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.[14] 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.[15] 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.[16] 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.[16] 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 battle cruiser HMS Hood.[17] The convoy arrived in the Clyde and anchored off Greenock on 16 June 1940.[18]

Aquitania painted grey during World War II.

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. 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.[19] The captain had gone against orders not to stop for survivors of sinkings.[1] There were no survivors from the Sydney.

With outbreak of the war in the Pacific redeployment of forces was required in an effort to stem the Japanese advances throughout Southeast Asia and toward Australia.[20] On 28 December, the same date USS Houston and other U.S. ships evacuating from the north reached Darwin and with USS Pensacola and elements of her diverted Philippine convoy some 300 miles ahead, Aquitania and two smaller transports departed Sydney with 4,150 Australian troops and 10,000 tons of equipment for Port Moresby, New Guinea with Aquitania back in Sydney on 8 January 1942.[21] 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.[22] The ship had been the only suitable transport for such a large movement and originally considered for transport directly to Singapore but danger from aircraft to such a valuable asset and so many troops in one ship caused a change of plans in which the 3,456 personnel that included some Navy, Air Force and civilians would be transshipped to smaller vessels at Ratai Bay on the Sunda Strait.[22] Aquitania departed Sydney on 10 January reaching Ratai Bay on 20 January where troops were transshipped under a covering naval force to seven smaller vessels, six of them Dutch Koninklijke Paketvaart-Maatschappij (KPM) ships, that would continue to Singapore as convoy MS.2A.[22] Aquitania was back in Sydney on 31 January.[22]

After the entry of the United States into the war Aquitania spent the March and April 1942 transporting troops from the west coast of the United States to Hawaii and in May and June from the United Kingdom to Madagascar.[12][23] The ship, 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 had delayed that and she was assigned to Hawaii because her deep draft was hazardous in Australian and intermediate ports in the Pacific Islands.[24] Aquitania was temporarily transferred from Pacific duties to support movement of troops from the United States to Britain during which she sailed 30 April from New York in a large convoy that transported some 19,000 troops.[25] By September Aquitania would be engaged in a triangular troop deployment of United States-United Kingdom-Indian Ocean voyages.[26]

Aquitania (at left) and Île de France during Operation Pamphlet

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.[27]

By the buildup for the invasion of the Continent 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.[28]

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.[29]

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

1946: The Aquitania in her twilight years, sporting her wartime grey with traditional Cunard funnels.
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 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."

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t MaritimeQuest: Aquitania's data
  2. ^ "Aquitania"HMS . Clydebuilt Ships Database. Retrieved February 2010. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n The Great Ocean Liners: Aquitania
  4. ^ a b Aquitania (1914 – 1950 ; 45,674 tons ; Served in two World Wars)"'". 2009. Retrieved 11 Jan 2009. 
  5. ^ The 4 funnel liners
  6. ^ Queen Elizabeth 2 : About QE2 : General Information. Retrieved 2 May 2009
  7. ^ International Marine Engineering (July 1914), pp. 281—282.
  8. ^ a b c International Marine Engineering (July 1914), p. 277.
  9. ^ a b c d International Marine Engineering (July 1914), p. 282.
  10. ^ a b International Marine Engineering (July 1914), p. 283.
  11. ^ Navy Department—Headquarters of the Commander in Chief, United States Fleet,and Commander, Tenth Fleet 1945, p. 40.
  12. ^ a b Leighton, Coakley & 1955—68 v.1, p. 158.
  13. ^ Gill 1968, pp. 36—37.
  14. ^ Gill 1968, pp. 84—85, 103, 112.
  15. ^ Gill 1968, p. 103.
  16. ^ a b Gill 1968, p. 113.
  17. ^ Gill 1968, pp. 113—114.
  18. ^ Gill 1968, p. 114.
  19. ^ Gill 1957, p. 452.
  20. ^ Gill 1957, pp. 486—512.
  21. ^ Gill 1957, p. 512.
  22. ^ a b c d Gill 1957, p. 523—524.
  23. ^ Gill 1968, p. 37.
  24. ^ Leighton, Coakley & 1955—68 v.1, p. 158, 203.
  25. ^ Leighton, Coakley & 1955—68 v.1, p. 362.
  26. ^ Leighton, Coakley & 1955—68 v.1, p. 364.
  27. ^ Gill 1968, p. 287.
  28. ^ Leighton, Coakley & 1955—68 v.2, p. 298.
  29. ^ Hudson 1946, pp. 7—11.


  • Gill, G. Hermon (1957). Royal Australian Navy 1939-1942. Australia in the War of 1939–1945. Series 2 – Navy 1. Canberra: Australian War Memorial.  
  • Gill, G. Hermon (1968). Royal Australian Navy 1939-1942. Australia in the War of 1939–1945. Series 2 – Navy 2. Canberra: Australian War Memorial.  
  • Hudson, Henry W. (1946). The Story of SNAG 56. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press,. 
  • "Aquitania"The New Cunard Express Liner . International Marine Engineering (Aldrich Publishing Company) XIX (July 1914): 277–283. Retrieved 19 October 2014. 
  • Leighton, Richard M; Coakley, Robert W (1968) [1st. Pub. 1955]. The War Department — Global Logistics And Strategy 1940–1943. United States Army In World War II 1. Washington, DC: Center Of Military History, United States Army.  
  • Leighton, Richard M; Coakley, Robert W (1968) [1st. Pub. 1955]. The War Department — Global Logistics And Strategy 1943–1945. United States Army In World War II 2. Washington, DC: Center Of Military History, United States Army.  
  • Navy Department—Headquarters of the Commander in Chief, United States Fleet,and Commander, Tenth Fleet (1945). "United States Naval Administration in World War II—History of Convoy and Routing". Naval History & Heritage Command. Retrieved 20 October 2014. 

External links

  • at "Atlantic"Aquitania Home
  • "Aquitania". Chris' Cunard Page. Retrieved 16 February 2010. 
  • (PDF Download)AquitaniaA First-Hand Account of a Second World War Voyage on the
  • Maritimequest Aquitania Photo Gallery
  • on Lost Liners.comAquitania
  • Aquitania Passenger List 1921 Cunard Line, List of Passengers, Southampton to New York via Cherbourg for the R.M.S. Aquitania, sailing on Saturday 25 June 1921, 32 Pages.
  • exhibitAquitaniaSome photos of the at the Nova Scotia Maritime Museum of the Atlantic in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada
  • making her final trip to the scrapyardAquitaniaColorful video of the
  • , by J. Kent LaytonAtlantic Liners: A Trio of Trios
  • Images of RMS Aquitania at the English Heritage Archive
  • magazine, July 27 1942LifeAquitania on the cover of
  • the Aquitania and USS Indianapolis at New York, Statue of Liberty
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