Ausonia was requisitioned in 1915 for use as a troopship. She operated in the Mediterranean and as far as India. She had a skirmish with submarine U55 on 11th June 1917, but survived. She was not so lucky the second time. On 30th May 1918, while en route from Liverpool to New York, in ballast, she was attacked by submarine U62. She sank some 600 miles off Fastnet. This was the submarine, under Captain Hashagen, that had earlier sunk Storstad, the collier that had rammed and sunk the Empress of Ireland. Although there were no passengers aboard Ausonia, there was a crew of 130. Of these, 44 were lost in the attack or on two of the lifeboats that disappeared. The rest were rescued on 8th June by HMS Zennia – all were in serious distress by then through hunger, dehydration and exposure.
The liner had been built in 1909 by Swan, Hunter & Wigham Richardson’s at Newcastle, for the Cairn-Thompson Line, and named Tortona. She was 450 feet long, 7,907grt, and had been designed for their Canadian service. In 1911 she was acquired by Cunard and renamed Ausonia.
Docked at Liverpool, following two days of public inspection and guided tours, Aquitania was moved to the Prince’s Landing Stage. She was berthed at the Landing Stage at approximately 1pm on 30th May. By 2pm the London Boat Train had arrived, and by 2.40pm all the passengers were embarked. The ropes were cast off and Cunard’s newest liner left for her maiden voyage. Total complement for this trip was 1,055 passengers. The actual crossing was unremarkable – the average speed for the trip was 23.10 knots: logged distance from Liverpool to Ambrose Channel Light ship was 3,181 miles in 5 days 17 hours 43 minutes. She passed the Ambrose Light Ship at 5am on Friday, 5th June, and by 9.15am she was off Pier 54, escorted by a huge flotilla of welcoming boats. She ﬁnally docked at 9.35am.
The legendary career that was opening up in front of Aquitania was to see her safely through two World Wars, carrying 1,200,000 passengers over some 3 million miles during her life of nearly 36 years. Aquitania was never involved in any major incident, and received virtually no bad publicity. One of the few unfortunate events in her career happened the day before her maiden voyage – the Canadian Paciﬁc liner Empress of Ireland was hit and sunk by Storstad, a Norwegian collier, in heavy fog off the mouth of the Saint Lawrence, with the loss of over 1,000 lives. In spite of this disaster, Cunard claimed that no passengers cancelled their voyage. The effect on this sinking, so soon after the loss of the Titanic, subdued interest in the maiden voyage of the new Cunarder.