S.S. AMERICA, S.S. UNITED STATES sailing on the 'All American' team to Europe

S.S. America

S.S. America 1939 – 1994

S.S. America

The great ocean liners have an ability to transcend their innate body of steel, wood, and mechanicals and develop a persona that draws passengers year after year. Launched in 1939, the S.S. America was thought by many to be the perfect ocean liner, not too big so as to overwhelm, not too flashy or pretentious so as to intimidate. She charmed her passengers with a comfortable interior that combined warmth and sophistication, without being stuffy, beauty and grace without the glitz and glitter.

Seen from afar, her two great red white, and blue stacks, canted aft gave her a modern jaunty American look. Up close, standing near the bow, looking down her long sleek black hull and up to the top of her ten decks, she appeared immense and capable of sailing safely through any North Atlantic storm.

America has a great story to tell and the following pages will be enjoyed by those who sailed on her – and those who wish they had.

FIRST LADY ELEANOR ROOSEVELT CHRISTENS THE AMERICA

THE S S AMERICA THE MANY LIVES OF A GREAT SHIP.
AMERICA GOES TO SEA  1940 – 1941

August 31, 1939, Newport News Va…  Over 30,000 spectators showed up at the Newport News shipyard for the launch of the S.S. America. Americans were proud of their new ocean liner. A sailing ambassador the new ship represented the best of the nation’s technology, art, style, and way of life at a time when ocean liners were objects of national pride.

Above the crowd newsreel cameras jostled for position and, across the country, radio listeners tuned in the live broadcast offered by three national radio networks.  At 11:50 AM the tide crested in the James River and with the words ‘ I Christen Thee America”, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt smashed a bottle of Ohio Champagne against the bow and sent the new ocean liner sliding down the way.

Pre-WWII sailing with ‘neutral’ markings Photo Mariners Museum

This auspicious beginning was immediately overshadowed by world events. The day after the America was launched; Nazi Germany invaded Poland and engulfed the world in war. After a brief cruising career, the new ship was converted to the troopship USS West Point. Her speed was her most valuable asset and she spent the war years delivering thousands of troops around the globe.

 

FROM AMERICA TO WEST POINT 1941 – 1946

SS America conversion to the USS West Point June 2, 1941, Ken Johnson Collection
 

The stated mission of the USS WEST POINT was simple and to the point, “The safe transportation of troops and equipment to their destination”. In its 53-month life as a naval transport (designated AP-23) she and her dedicated crew, carried more than half a million military and civilian passengers, all the while maintaining a perfect record of never losing a passenger. By practicing and living the mission, the members of the crew provided reassurance to many a GI who had never been to sea. As one GI put it “from the moment you stepped on board… you had an overwhelming sense of security. You felt certain that this ship would take you to your destination, come hell or high water”. Passengers and crew together ran into their share of hell and high water, including close calls with U-boat torpedoes, Japanese bombers and North Atlantic storms. Her outstanding record, in the face of man-made and natural adversity was a combination of the dedication of the crew, sailing on one of the safest ships ever designed, and – perhaps – a little Old-fashioned American luck.

THE QUEEN OF THE MERCHANT MARINE 1946 – 1964

A meticulous, multi-million dollar restoration commenced immediately after the war, one benefiting her peacetime role as “Queen of the American Merchant Marine.” After sailing proudly and majestically into New York harbor on November 10, 1946, SS America finally began her long-delayed transatlantic career.

For the first time, her true personality emerged. Her clean uncluttered superstructure topped off by those big wing-tipped teardrop-shaped smoke stacks gave her a modern contemporary appearance. She was well proportioned (except for a short bow which gave her a sturdy powerful look that projected confidence without pretension. Her interior combined warmth and sophistication without being stuffy. The ship possessed beauty and grace without the glitz and glitter found on European liners. It was a winning combination of good looks and comfort that would bring back loyal customers year after year. They enjoyed the warm friendly ship, pleasant atmosphere, good food, good service, and comfortable accommodations.

Peter Kholer captured the spirit of the ship in the summer 1990 issue of Steamboat Bill. The America seemed always to be a happy ship without faults or annoying quirks. the sort of unpretentious vessel that the glitter people may not have patronized, but regular travelers were devoted to.

Her 18 service with United States Lines ended in November 1964. In peacetime, she transported over 500,000 passengers safely, and elegantly while steaming over 2.8 million nautical miles in the process.

America 1.2

The AUSTRALIAN MAIDEN – SS AUSTRALIS 1964 -1978.

In 1964 the ship’s future as a transatlantic liner looked dismal due to her high operating cost, a loss of passengers to the airlines, and recurring labor disputes. John Franklin the president of United States Lines made the painful decision to sell the America.

Sold to the Greek Chandris Lines for use in emigrant service from England to Australia and New Zealand. Renamed Australis, her superstructure was extended and passenger capacity doubled. For comfort sailing through the tropics, a  large outdoor swimming pool and air-conditioning were added. The “Australian Maiden” completed 62 global voyages (1965-1977) transporting over 300,000 hopeful souls to a new life in Australia and New Zealand.

The Australian maiden - SS Australis 1964 -1978
america venturet

AN UPTOWN GIRL DOWN ON HER LUCK.. 1978-1980

In 1978. Chandris sold the Australis to a group of travel agents. Renamed  America, she sailed on cruises to ‘nowhere’ out of New York. Nowhere is where the business venture went. After two disastrous sailings, the inexperienced owners abandoned the ship. Chandris Lines bought the ship back at a bankruptcy auction. Renamed Italis she sailed with her badly corroded forward funnel removed, giving the ship a stunted look.

Italis1979
Italis1979

Chandris certainly knew how to squeeze last last Drachma out of a ship, After the Venture cruise fiasco, the company took out the rusting forward stack and renamed the ship Italis and sent out on Mediterranean cruises. At 40 years of age, the old girl had a hard time keeping up with the newer ships. Although the public rooms were still grand, other areas were not at all up to current cruise ship standards. Many of the cabins were in a deteriorated state, and a bent propeller sent pulsating vibration through the lower decks. It was a short gig. In 1979, after 40 years of carrying passengers, the ex America, ex West Point, ex Australis sailed into retirement.

From the graveyard to breakup 1980-1994

For the next ten years the Ex America, West Point, Australis, America 2, and Italis languished with the other rusting hulks in the “Graveyard of Abandonment” at Elefsina Greece. In late 1992, ambitious plans to convert her to a five-star hotel were announced. Renamed American Star, she left under tow for Thailand, but severed weather off the Canary Islands caused her towline to break. On January 18, 1994, she ran hard aground and ultimately broke in half, a sad end to her long, glorious and storied career. Her remains were dragged out to sea by the pounding surf. A fitting burial for a wonderful ship.

Phil Dumelow dated 4/18/04.
Phil Dumelow dated 4/18/04.
S.S. AmericaAT A GLANCE
Launched1939
Retired from US Lines1965
ShipyardNewport News Shipbuilding & Dry Dock co
Naval ArchitectsGibbs & Cox, New York
Interior ArchitectsEggers & Higgins, New York
Interior DesignSmyth,Urquart,Marckwald, NY
Full Displacement, tons35440
Length723 ft
Breadth93' 6"
Number of Decks10
Public Spaces23
Service speed22 knots
Maximum speed25 knots
First class passengers519
Cabin class passengers414
Tourist class passengers116
Crew675

The Many lives of a great ship.

NameYearsOwners
SS America1939-1941United States Lines
USS West Point1941Naval Transport Service
USS West Point1942-1946United States Navy
SS America1946-1964United States Lines
SS Australis1964-1978Okeania, S.A. a subsidiary of Chandris Lines
SS America1978America Cruise Lines, later Venture Cruise
SS Italis1978-1980Chandris Lines
SS Noga1980-1984Inter Commerce Corporation
SS Alferdoss1984-1993Silver Moon Ferries
SS American Star1993-1994Chaophraya Development and Transportation LTD.

Links: S.S. America history America picture gallery

S.S. AMERICA, S.S. UNITED STATES sailing on the 'All American' team to Europe