Famous Four Stackers: RMS Aquitania
After White Star’s Olympic proved successful even though she was not intended to be fast, Cunard planned a third four funneled liner which entered the water in April 1913. This was intended to give Cunard their own trio of large transatlantic liners, however Lusitania was sunk in 1915. Now this new ship would replace Lusitania and continue the tandem crossings from Europe to America and back.
The name Aquitania was derived from a Roman division of southwest Gaul extending from the Pyrenees to the Garonne River known as Aquitaine.
There was great success with Mauretania and Lusitania. This new, larger ship was ordered to compete with White Star. This ship was not intended to hold any kind of speed record. She was built for stability and luxury. Her dimensions slightly exceeded those of White Star’s Olympic trio.
Her maiden voyage came the day after the disaster that sank the Canadian Empress of Ireland, so the world’s gaze was not completely focused on the first voyage of this great ship. A month later, Europe was at war. She made only three round trips across the sea before being requisitioned by the Admiralty. She was painted wartime gray and sent out to transport troops. In 1915, she was converted into a hospital ship and became HMHS Aquitania. After the Britannic struck a mine and sank, Aquitania returned to trooping duty with a brief lay-up in 1917. Aquitania was repainted with the odd ‘dazzle’ paint scheme as a type of camouflage. On one single voyage, she transported over 8,000 soldiers.
By 1919, the war was over and Aquitania was sent for a refit. Her coal burning engines were converted to burn oil which was much less dirty and much more efficient. She was also fitted with a new wheelhouse located directly above the original to increase visibility.
As time progressed, Aquitania proved to be a very popular and profitable liner. The 1920s proved to be the time for this heroic ship. During the prohibition years, she took Americans on ‘booze cruises’ to nowhere to allow Americans to escape the laws. (A British ship does not have to abide by American laws.) Open immigration in the US had ended by the 1920s but ocean liners were still the only means of travel between continents. Celebrities and politicians favored Aquitania over other ships, nicknaming her ‘the ship beautiful.’
Cunard had plans for a new liner to replace Aquitania in the late 30s. These plans were thwarted by the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939. Queen Mary has entered service and has been repainted gray and has began transporting troops. Aquitania was enlisted to perform the same duties.
This ship began transporting American and Canadian troops to Europe, but then she was called for trooping service between Australia and North Africa. When the focus of the war moved to the Pacific, Aquitania was again called upon to serve. She transported Australian troops to New Guinea and Netherlands East Indies. Aquitania sailed more than 500,000 miles, and carried nearly 400,000 soldiers, to and from places as far as New Zealand, Australia, the South Pacific, Greece and the Indian Ocean.
When the war was over, Aquitania transported warbrides and their children to Canada under charter from the Canadian government. After this, Aquitania was removed from service. Her hard use during the war had worn out this grand lady. She was too expensive to be refit in order to comply with safety codes and was sent off to the scrap yard in 1950.