Speed was the major concern in the opening of the 20th century, whether on land or on sea. The Atlantic Ferry was the only link between Europe and the United States, and steamship companies vied with each other for the fastest and, hopefully, most luxurious ship on the Ferry.
The two German fleets, Hamburg America line, and North German Lloyd, had the Atlantic ferry speed record all to themselves. England was understandably worried, both for national prestige and defense. A national subsidy was voted to have the Cunard line develop two 25 knot steamers. The result were the splendid LUSITANIA and MAURETANIA, both coming into service in 1907. The two beautiful ships took the Blue Ribband in their first year of service, and traded off setting speed records until 1909, when the MAURY took it for good and all, for 20 more years.
LUSITANIA was sunk during World War I, in a tragic event that has been told many times before. It's about MAURETANIA that I want to talk. She survived the war, survived a devastating fire in 1921 that turned out to be her salvation, and survived the turn down in immigrant traffic in the 1920's.
The average life of an Atlantic express liner is 20 years. The constant exposure to rough seas at high speed wears a ship down rapidly. No one imagined that MAURETANIA would continue to hold onto her speed record. But she did, until the fateful summer of 1929.
The Germans decided to build two ships that they determined would sweep MAURETANIA from the seas. BREMEN and EUROPA were built in the late 1920's with BREMEN being the first to enter service in 1929. She was larger and had much more power than MAURETANIA, and, indeed, did win the Blue Ribband on her maiden voyage, at an average speed of 27.9 knots. The highest speed that MAURETANIA had ever done was 26.16 knots back in 1924.
No one ever expected the "Grand Old Lady of the Atlantic", as MAURETANIA was known at that time, to attempt to regain her crown, not at her age. Why not let it go, to younger ships. But that was not the type of ship MAURY was. The very next voyage, MAURY went all out. She crossed the Atlantic at an average of 27.06 knots for the full crossing, an unbelievable feat at her age.
MAURETANIA did not fade out. She continued on her ferry across the Atlantic, until forced to provide cruises varying from weekend cruises to nowhere to 2 week excursions to the West Indies during the Depression. She was painted white for tropical seas in late 1932, and I think she looked wonderful in this livery.
By 1934, the Depression was at its deepest, and there simply were too many ships and not enough passengers. MAURETANIA was a large, expensive ship who needed major renovations in her passenger quarters, and there was no longer a need for her. In September 1934, she made her last Atlantic crossing, from New York to Southampton, to the sad farewells of hundreds of loyal fans. She lay at a deserted berth in Southampton with the OLYMPIC awaiting her fate.
She was sold for scrapping in the late spring of 1935, and sailed for the breaker's yard on July 1, 1935. England was in mourning for the world's best loved ship and thousands turned out to wish MAURY goodbye and God speed.
Even in her death, MAURETANIA was the Royal Sacrifice. She provided 300 men and their families with jobs, food, clothing, and shelter during the depth of the Depression.
While MAURETANIA remains only a memory, she was a major force in the history of the world.