IN THE late 19th and early 20th century, Germany’s fleet of passenger liners had grown at such a rapid rate that the German liners greatly eclipsed those of their British rivals, much to the embarassment of Britain’s Cunard Line. Desperate to reclaim the tarnished national pride, Cunard officials convinced the British government to provide a generous loan package, and Cunard was able to embark upon an ambitious shipbuilding program. The first two ships built in the resulting government subsidy program were the Caronia and Carmania of 1905.

At the time of launch, Caronia and Carmania were the largest liners in the Cunard fleet. More importantly, the twin ships had the unique distinction of being used to compare the standard quadruple-expansion propulsion system against the new-fangled Parsons steam turbine system, with Carmania being fitted with the new turbine system. Caronia was the first to be launched, with the wife of the US Ambassador to Britain, Mrs. Choate, sending her down the ways on July 13,1904. Her maiden voyage from Liverpool to New York followed in February 1905. Carmania was launched by Lady Blythswood—wife of a former aide to Queen Victoria—February 21, 1905 and her maiden voyage on the Liverpool to New York run occurred December 2, 1905. Company officials were pleased with the duo’s admirable performance, and the press was none to generous in bestowing the title “Grand Dames of the Atlantic” on the sister ships. Furthermore, Carmania’s steam turbine engines so impressed Company officials that it was decided that the new system would be employed on the upcoming Lusitania and Mauretania.

Caronia and Carmania’s service career was interrupted at the outbreak of World War I in 1914. As was the case with many liners under British flag, both ships were requisitioned by the Admiralty and refitted to be Armed Merchant Cruisers. Caronia would have a fairly uneventful tour of duty, serving several roles in addition to AMC, standing in sharp contrast to Carmania’s dramatic military career. In September 1914, Carmania and Cap Trafalgar, a German passenger liner of the Hamburg-America Line, fought a fierce battle off Trinidad. Carmania managed to sink the German vessel, but was heavily damaged in the encounter. Despite the extensive damage—her bridge was blown away in the fight—Carmania was able to return to port for repairs. The confrontation between the two liners illustrated the unsuitability of using passenger liners as armed merchant cruisers. In spite of the ever present danger during war, both liners survived the war and would return to commercial service.
Image provided courtesy of Jeff Newman and
Carmania battles Cap Trafalgar.
Image provided by Jeff Newman and

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