Wednesday 28 September 2011


s.s. "Nieuw Amsterdam" was one of the most magnificent looking passenger liners of all times. Built in 1938 she had long sweeping lines, raked and slightly curving stem, well spaced funnels and a long unbroken line of superstructure. She was one of the grandest ships of the North Atlantic.
In spite of the depression, in 1935 the Holland-America-Line, finding itself with sufficient funds, and with help of the Dutch Government and with the belief in an inproving future, considered once again plans for a new and larger ship to partner the "Statendam", built in 1929.
As a result a contract was signed in 1935 for the new vessel. She was to be built by the Rotterdamsche Droogdok Maatschappij, but with spreading the work to different other shipbuilders. The machinery contract going to the Koninklijke Maatschappij "De Schelde" in Vlissingen and a number of the auxiliary contracts to P. Smit in Rotterdam.
The keel plates were laid on the 3rd of January 1936, the ship was originally to be named "Prinsendam", but this was changed before
launching to "Nieuw Amsterdam", appropriate since it commemorated the previous ship with this name, a great favourite with the public, built in 1906 and broken up 4 years earlier. It was also the original name of the settlement which was to become New York.
The "Nieuw Amsterdam" was launched on the 10th of April 1937 by the Queen of the Netherlands and was completed over a year later.
She was a vessel with a grt. of 36.287, 21.496 net and a displacement of 36.235 ton, with a l.o.a of 231.24 mt. The boat deck did not go out to the ship's side but only as far as the inside of the gunwale of the lifeboats as carried at sea, the sports deck was the top of the long range of houses on this boat deck. Excluding these 2 decks, there were eight decks, known as upper promenade, promenade, lower promenade, this also being the forecastle deck and uppermost deck of full length, main-, A, B, C and D decks. E deck consisted of 2 platforms, D deck was only outside the machinery spaces and C deck had large openings down its centre forming the crown of these spaces, with staterooms ranged along its sides. A deck was the bulkhead deck, but the collission bulkhead extended up to the lower promenade deck.
Eleven main watertight bulkheads divided the ship in 12 compartments. The ship was built to a "two compartment" standard with oil fuel tanks at the sides of the engine room and fresh water tanks at the sides over large areas forward and aft. There were 2 cargo holds forward with space for cars in the 'tween decks and 2 large cargo spaces aft on D deck. The fore end plating was thickened as strengthening
against ice from fore foot to waterline. The rudder, weighing 33 tons, was not balanced but faired into the line of the deadwood and could be put over to 35 degrees. The "Nieuw Amsterdam" was the first Dutch ship to be fitted with the Grinnel sprinkler system. Fresh water was carried in peak tanks, deep tank and double bottom and side tanks to the limit of 4.720 tons, with an estimated daily consumption of 350 tons. Two motor lifeboats for 57 persons, four for 62 and sixteenlifeboats for 99 persons were carried.
The twin screws were driven by quadruple-expansion Parsons turbines, each set consisting of a super-hp, hp, ip and lp turbine driving the shaft through single reduction gearing. These turbines produced 34.000 shp at 131 rpm of the shaft and gave the ship a service speed of 20.5 knots. Six water-tube boilers of Yarrow 5 drum design, with superheaters and air preheaters were designed for a maximum 630 lbs psi and normally provided steam at the turbines at 500 lbs and 730 degrees F. They burnt oil oil fuel under forced draught in open stokeholds. 5 Boilers were sufficient for full speed so that one was always available for inspection and cleaning, while one "scotch" donkey boiler was also fitted for port use. All uptakes led to the forward funnel. 4.800 tons of fuel could be bunkered. The after funnel was a dummy and contained fresh water filters, sanitary tanks and suction vents from the kitchens. The ship's officers and engineers were housed in large houses on the boat deck, while the crew lived in the fore part of the ship on the main-, A, B, C, and D decks. Officers and crew numbered about 700.
Original passenger numbers were for 568 cabin-class, 465 tourist and 209 third class. The passengers accommodation was characterised more by extreme and refined comfort and superb craftmanship than by ornate luxury. Luxurious however it certainly was and the cabin-class lounge and restaurant were considered by many as two of the most beautiful rooms afloat.
The cabin-class theatre, grand hall and Ritz Carlton Room extended up through two decks, the main public rooms being on the Promenade deck. On the lower Promenade deck were cabin-class staterooms, with the luxe rooms between the funnels, and tourist promenade aft.
The launching of the ship was a very tricky operation for which large amounts of heavy chains had to be attached to brackets on the hull to prevent the ship ramming the opposite shore of the river Maas stern first. Fitting out and completion took about 1 year and on March 21-24 she carried out her technical trials and her official trial on April 23, 1938, when she reached 21.8 knots and 34.000 shp. at 131 rpm. and a maximum of 22.8 knots on 35.100 shp. Three weeks later she was to leave on her maiden voyage.

The "Nieuw Amsterdam" was a truly magnificent looking ship, with her long sweeping lines, raked and slightly curving stem, sturdy well spaced funnels and long unbroken superstructure, all splendidly set off by her yellow sheerline on the black hull and the traditional funnel colours of the Holland Amerika Lijn.
Many consider her, and ships of similar dimensions and speed, to be ideal for the North Atlantic liner. With vessels such as this beautiful Dutch ship, passengers had a ship steady enough in normal heavy weather, supreme comfort, exceptional cuisine, and a regular 6-day crossing. Could the reasonably desire more?
The "Nieuw Amsterdam" was the largest ship then built in the Netherlands and was to remain for 21 years the largest Dutch liner and the pride of the Dutch merchant fleet.
She left Rotterdam on her maiden voyage to Boulogne, Southampton and New York on May 10, 1938, arrived New York on the 16th at 7.15 pm and got back to Rotterdam in the afternoon of the 28th. She had now joined the "Statendam" and the old "Rotterdam" on the main service, with the "Noordam" and "Zaandam" running as tourist ships, the "Volendam" and "Veendam" on the intermediate service and the "Pennland" and "Westernland" running from Antwerp, Belgium.
When war broke out in 1939 there followed a great rush of people fleeing from Europe to America and all the ships of the Dutch company, as neutrals, sailed West packed to capacity. But the dangers at sea steadily increased, the Holland Amerika Lijn's first losses, the "Spaarndam" and "Binnendyk" occured in November 1939, and the risk became to great to keep the large ships at sea. The "Nieuw-Amsterdam" was laid up in New York at the end of September, the "Statendam" in Rotterdam and the old "Rotterdam" was sold to breakers. By then the "Nieuw Amsterdam" had made 17 crossings and shortly, to keep the ship and her crew moving, she was put on the New York-Bermuda run. Traffic however proved to be to small that she was taken off after 4 round voyages and again laid up until early 1940. She was then scheduled for four cruises from New York to the Caribbean and it was on one of these when off the Venezuelan coast, betwee La Guiara and Porto Cabello, the news was received on May 10, of the German invasion of the Netherlands.
The "Nieuw Amsterdam" was no longer a neutral and her captain at once raced her back to New York, reached in 4 days. There she lay
at het Hoboken berth until September 1940. By then the "Statendam" had burnt out and the "Veendam" taken by the Germans, but the
"Nieuw Amsterdam", "Volendam", "Pennland" and "Westernland" were free and chartered to the British Ministery of War Transport and placed under Cunard-White Star management.
The liner was dry-docked at the Todd Shipyard, Brooklyn, where she was such a tight fit that some modification had to be made to the dock before the gate could be closed behind her. From there she went to Halifax to be converted into a troopship for 8.000 men. Many of her luxury fittings and artworks were landed there for storage. On September 12, 1940 she left for Singapore where she was fitted with 36 guns. By January 1941 her fitting out as a trooper was said to be complete and from then on her service was worldwide. Early 1941 she, together with the "Ile de France" and the "Mauretania" was put on the Capetown to Suez shuttle service. Later she went out to the Pacific and made numerous voyages from Pacific coast ports to Australia, New Zealand and Pacific Islands. In May 1944 she came round to the Atlantic and was engaged for 2 years in ferrying troops between Canada and the U.S.A. and the United Kingdom. Being a fast ship she was often in small fast 18 knots convoys. Later she did some repatriation work She cam through the war unscathed and by April 10, 1946 she had steamed 530.452 miles on 44 voyages and carried 378.361 Allied personnel and others. Australian, British, Canadian and U.S. troops, as well prisoners of war and repatriated persons.
On April 10, 1946 she at last returned to Rotterdam, being given a tremendous reception by the tens of thousands of Dutch people who turned out from their ruined city to give their great ship a heroine's welcome.
Her reconversion took 18 months during which many of her old fittings and artworks arrived from various ports of the world and the accomodation was rebuilt and redecorated for 552 first, 426 cabin and 209 tourist class. Hull and machinery received a thorough overhaul, most of the work done by the Rotterdamsche Droogdok Maatschappij, but the final phase being in the King George V graving dock at Southampton.
The Holland Amerika Lijn had meanwhile reopened their services in June 1946 with the "Westerdam" and in 1947 the "Noordam and Veendam" followed. The 29th of October 1947 the "Nieuw Amsterdam", almost a new ship, left Rotterdam on her first post-war commercial voyage. Le Havre had been substituted for Boulogne in the itenerary. Then the "Volendam" joined the service again in 1948 and in 1950 and 1951 followed by the new "Ryndam" and "Maasdam". The "Nieuw Amsterdam" started cruising during the winter season from New York to the West Indie in December 1947 and again in May 1948, but on the main mail service there was no comparable ship to run with her. She had quickly won back her old reputation and become one of the most popular ships on the North Atlantic. Accordingly in 1954 the order was placed for the fourth "Statendam", a 24.294 gross tons vessel which joined the service in 1957, while in 1956 the keel of the 5th "Rotterdam" was laid, a ship launched in 1958 and completed in September 1959.
In 1956 the "Nieuw Amsterdam" was taken in hand for modernisation. Air conditioning was extended throughout all accomodation, stabilizers were fitted, all first class and tourist class rooms were given private facilities and passenger numbers became 574 first, 413 cabin and 207 tourist. The ships, as with the rest of the fleet was now given a grey hull in stead of the black. Her first voyage in her new colours was in January 1957 and after that she was scheduled for 5 New York-West Indies cruises.
In 1957 the "Statendam" (IV) joined the New York services and in September 1959 the "Rotterdam" (V), 38.650 grt, a larger ship than the "Nieuw Amsterdam" and so ousting  her at last from her supreme position in the Dutch merchant fleet. The "Rotterdam" was really a bigger ship, modern and perhaps a bit more comfortable, but she lacked the good looks of the "Nieuw Amsterdam". Gone the grandeur and dignity of 1938; enter the formica and plastic age. Both vessels however were 2-class ships and also to be used largely on cruises. In October 1961  the "Nieuw Amsterdam" was withdrawn for three month to bring her into line and converted into a two-class vessel herself. Complete redecoration took place and the tourist-class was greatly improved, with new public rooms, shops, cinema theatre and more private facilities. When conversion was completed she had adjustable passenger numbers. 574 first and 583 tourist to 301 first and 972 tourist while for cruising she was to be run as a single class ship with 750 passengers on West Indies cruises and 675 for Mediterranean cruises. Grt. rose to 36.982.
In 1962 she was due to make four West Indies cruises and one to the Mediterranean and then her regular cruising in winter periods. In 1963 the Holland Amerika Lijn opened their fine new pier at New York. For the next 4 years the vessel seems to have carried on peacefully, crossing the Atlantic in summer and cruising in winter, but the "Nieuw Amsterdam" was beginning to show her age, suffering from boiler trouble. When two cruises had to be cancelled, also voyages in 1967 and in September a Tropical Africa cruise, survey showed that her boilers were in a worse state than expected. Nerw boilers were sought and eventually 5 were found available, relatively new and recently removed from an American naval vessel. These were shipped in a Holland America Line cargo vessel and the Wilton-Fijenoord entrusted with the work of changing them over, a very difficult and tricky job, but the work took only two weeks. Part of the ship's side was removed, the old boilers run out and the new five ones slid into place, with all the numerous connections made good. During the same time the ship was modernised to some extend to be conform with new safety standards. The new boilers were able to give her a normal speed of 19.5 knots on 30.000 shp and 115 rpm. When cruising they burnt 9.5 tons of oil per hour.
In 1968 the "Nieuw Amsterdam" resumed her servic, making 21 sailings on the New York run and cruising in the winter. But the day of the Atlantic liner was drawing to a close. In 1970 she only made 4 round voyages. In 1971 only eight and by the later months of that year her trans Atlantic service had ceased and she was used from then on as a ceuising ship only, based at Port Everglades, first running 14 day cruises which were later reduced to a length of 10 and 8 days. By then the company's trans Atlantic service was over. In 1972 the "Nieuw Amsterdam" was registered at Willemstad, Netherlands Antilles and the company's green and white banded yellow funnels were replaced by orange ones with a blue and white "flash".
The "Nieuw Amsterdam" 's time had run out by late 1973 and she was withdrawn from what had become a purely cruising group of ships. On January 9, 1974 the old ship;eft Port Everglades, went through the Panama Canal on to Los Angeles, where she took provisions and fuel. From Los Angeles she left for Kaoshiung, Taiwan, and was there broken up, age 36.
Fortunately she had kept her grey hull and traditional funnels to the end and never suffered the indignity of having the smart and well-known colours of a great Dutch shipping company replaced by an ugly orange colour with absurd blue and white stripes. Perhaps her master and crew refused to effect such a change?
Who knows.

One of the grandest old ships of the North Atlantic had met her end WITH DIGNITY.

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