|Nieuw Amsterdam (II)
1938 - 1974
the 1930s, the Holland-America Line was truly one of the greatest
companies operating ships on the North Atlantic. The company had been founded
in 1870, and many renowned vessels had been in its service through the
years. The proudest of them all was probably the stately Nieuw Amsterdam,
which had entered service back in 1906. The Nieuw Amsterdam was
never noted for her speed, her 16-knot run certainly did not make her an
Atlantic greyhound. Instead it was her interiors and the magnificent service
and cuisine that made this ship what it was – the greatest in the Dutch
|The new Holland-America
flagship enters her proper element for the first time.
‘30s brought a whole lot of changes into the picture. The Great
Crash of the stockmarkets in 1929 sent worldwide economics crashing down,
soon hitting rock bottom. As a result of this, there was a tremendous slump
in the passenger shipping trade. Like so many other companies of the time,
the Holland-America Line was forced to put some of their older ships out
of service, simply because no work could be found for them. One of these
ships was the ageing Nieuw Amsterdam, which was laid up in 1930.
out this difficult financial storm, the Holland-America Line went through
an extensive administrative reorganisation. With Willem van der Vorm as
chairman and Willem H. deMonchy and Franciscus J. Bouman as managing directors,
the company managed to gather new capital and survive the Depression. By
the middle of this dramatic decade, economics were finally starting to
recuperate, and by 1936 things were indeed beginning to look bright again.
Passengers were returning, and the company’s funds were now sufficient
to commission a new flagship, a new ship of state.
of building the new flagship was given to the Rotterdam Drydock Company.
The ship’s projected gross tonnage of about 35,000 tons meant that this
ship was going to be the largest so far built in Holland. On January 5th
1936, the first plates of the ship’s keel were laid
down. During the 13 months that followed, the new ocean giant grew on the
stocks. Unlike so many other ships being built at the time, the new vessel
was not constructed with any war provisions, thus earning her the nickname
‘Ship of Peace’.
on April 10th 1937, the new Holland-America flagship was ready
for her launch. A large crowd had gathered in the vicinity to witness the
event, and the person chosen to christen the vessel was none other than
Holland’s Queen Wilhelmina. Sending the ship to the waves, she gave her
the name Nieuw Amsterdam – a name that had been chosen to honour
the company’s one-time pride and joy.
the launch of the ship did by no means mean completion. Now the work of
fitting her out began. Intended to represent Holland on the high seas,
the Nieuw Amsterdam’s owners wanted her to sport the very latest
in shipboard design. With this in mind, the top artists and designers of
Holland were brought in to do the honours. Their creation emerged in the
spring of 1938, a light-coloured and very spacious ship throughout. Her
interiors were completely done in the modern Art Deco-style, with very
clean and bright surfaces. One of the ship’s centrepieces was the main
restaurant, which was adorned by numerous Murano glass light fixtures and
columns covered in gold leaf. Tinted mirrors, ivory walls and satinwood
furniture all contributed to create the luxurious atmosphere. The restaurant
had no portholes or windows facing the open sea, making it depend solely
on artificial illumination. This might sound a bit odd, but it should be
noted that it was just the same in the first class restaurant on board
the fabulous Normandie of 1935. Her electrically lighted restaurant
earned her the affectionate nickname ‘Ship of Light’.
|The Nieuw Amsterdam sporting
her original black hull. (Picture courtesy of Willem
van der Leek)
23rd 1938, the Nieuw Amsterdam set out on her sea trials,
which were to take place on the North Sea. Testing her speed and manoeuvring
capability, the new vessel turned out to be all that she was supposed to
be. Upon her return from the sea trials, the Nieuw Amsterdam was
transferred to Holland-America ownership and officially registered in the
Dutch merchant fleet.
month, the Nieuw Amsterdam was ready to cross the North Atlantic
for the very first time. Leaving Rotterdam on her maiden voyage on May
10th, she called at Boulogne and Southampton before she set
off towards her final destination – New York. The voyage was a complete
success, but as the Nieuw Amsterdam was building her reputation
on the North Atlantic, the political situation in Europe grew tenser
by the day.
merely a year and a half in service, the Nieuw Amsterdam left Rotterdam
on what was to be her last peacetime Atlantic crossing for another eight
years on November 22nd, 1939. When Nazi Germany invaded Poland
on September 1st, the Second World War was a grim reality. To
keep her out of harm’s way, the Nieuw Amsterdam was now used for
short cruises out of New York.
14th 1940, Holland was forced to capitulate to Nazi Germany.
At the same time, the Nieuw Amsterdam was on a cruise in the Caribbean.
Upon her return to New York, she was ordered to remain in port until further
notice. Four months later, in September 1940, she was handed over to the
British Ministry of Transport. The Cunard Line was chosen to act as her
manager. With her regular crew on board, and Holland-America Commodore
Johannes J. Bijl commanding her, the Nieuw Amsterdam sailed from
New York on September 12th with Halifax as destination. There
she would go through the massive transformation from a luxury liner into
a troop transport.
work was underway to remove the plush fittings from the grand ship. The
complete vessel was more or less gutted from her exquisite interiors to
make room for as many soldiers as possible. The cinema and grand hall was
turned into troop dorms, filled to the limit with tier upon tier of folding
steel bunks or so-called ‘standees’. Staterooms originally intended for
two were made capable of housing 18. The ship’s gleaming white superstructure,
her black hull and her green, yellow and white funnels were painted in
|Nieuw Amsterdam was decorated
according to the very latest fashion. This photo shows the sitting room of the Surinam
same time, the Allies were busy shipping troops from Australia and New
Zealand to the battlefields of the Middle East. All ships were needed fast,
and the Nieuw Amsterdam was sent ‘down under’ before she had been
fitted with armaments. Instead, 36 guns were installed while the ship was
in Singapore. In January of 1941, when she was finally ready to participate
in the war effort, the Nieuw Amsterdam was sent to Australia to
load troops. Her first trooping voyage was in fine company, in convoy with
the Queen Mary, Mauretania, Aquitania, Empress
of Britain and Andes, bound for Bombay.
the Nieuw Amsterdam was familiar with her wartime duties, making
several voyages between Suez and Durban. On one of these voyages, she carried
the Greek royal family into exile in South Africa. After the United States
entered the war following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December
7th 1941, the Nieuw Amsterdam was employed in the Indian
Ocean and the Pacific. In these waters, there was seldom
any danger for air attacks, so the Nieuw Amsterdam was rather safe
in spite of the violent war raging across the globe. Of course, both German
and Japanese submarines operated in these surroundings, but as with the
other fast liners working as troopers, the Nieuw Amsterdam’s
great speed protected her from such lurking enemies. In fact, through the
entire conflict, the ship was endangered only once. On Christmas Day of
1944, just outside of Halifax, a submarine was reported by planes to be
some 120 miles away. However, the Nieuw Amsterdam was escorted
by destroyers, and these started dropping depth charges. A little later
an underwater explosion was heard and wreckage, including German books,
parts of boats and oil came to the surface, so the U-boat was presumed
1944 was coming to its end, it was rather evident that the Allies would
be victorious. But the job of defeating Hitler was not yet finished, and
more soldiers were needed on the battlefields of Europe. During the last
year of WWII, the Nieuw Amsterdam was employed on the North Atlantic.
She made ten trips, carrying Canadian and American troops to Gourock, Scotland.
after six bloody years of war, the Germans finally surrendered in the spring
of 1945. Once again, there was peace in Europe. But the global conflict
had not yet seen its end, as war was still raging in the Pacific. But after
another four months, the Japanese were forced to an unconditional surrender.
The Second World War was finally over.
|Painted in wartime grey,
the Nieuw Amsterdam steamed a total 530,452 miles as a troopship
the war, millions of people had been shipped across the globe to make their
contribution to whatever side that had been on. Now it was time to take
them back to their homes. The great ocean liners were called in to do the
job. The Nieuw Amsterdam was indeed no exception. Among other things,
she was used to transport Dutch citizens from the East Indies back to Holland.
When she was finished with her repatriation tasks, the Nieuw Amsterdam
was handed back to the Holland-America Line on April 8th 1946,
and two days later she returned to her homeport of Rotterdam. The company
now faced the challenge of returning their flagship into her pre-war self.
For that purpose, the ship was sent back to her original builders on May
was certainly not an easy one. After six years of war, the shortage of
material was great. It took fifteen weeks to free the Nieuw Amsterdam
from her wartime fittings. Her 36 guns, alarm systems, standees, hammocks
and numerous other things were removed from the great
ship. More or less an empty hulk, she was now ready to receive her furnishings,
which had been stored in San Francisco since the beginning of the war.
six years in storage had not been kind to the hundreds of chairs and tables
that had once adorned the Nieuw Amsterdam’s passenger areas. Some
3,000 chairs and 500 tables were sent back to their original builders for
refurbishment. A great part of the furniture had to be replaced completely.
itself was not exactly in mint condition, either. Nearly all her carpeting
had to be replaced, and all of the ship’s bathrooms – 374 in all – were
rebuilt. It seemed as if every soldier that had travelled on the Nieuw
Amsterdam had been careful to leave his mark somewhere, and the ship’s
wooden handrails and panelling were covered in scratched initials. The
electrical wiring system was renewed, and 12,000 feet of glass had to be
took 18 months, but on October 29th 1947, the Nieuw Amsterdam
was finally back on the transatlantic run. Her passenger accommodations
had been slightly altered, and the ship emerged with a gross tonnage some
400 tons larger than before, ending up at 36,667 tons.
Amsterdam’s return to the transatlantic run was a success. Her pre-war
reputation was still alive, and the ship’s popularity among travelling
celebrities continued. The Holland-America Line was back in business.
|Repainted with a grey
hull, the Nieuw Amsterdam enjoyed popularity well into the 1970s. This
photograph shows her leaving Rotterdam. (Picture courtesy of Stephen Berry)
Amsterdam continued to serve her owners into the ‘50s, both
on the transatlantic run and as an occasional cruise ship. In 1952, the
arrival of the marvellous United States made the flagship of the
Dutch merchant fleet seem somewhat old-fashioned. However, four years later,
the company decided to bring her up to date by installing complete air-conditioning
and adding stabilisers to the ship’s machinery. At the same time, Nieuw
Amsterdam’s black hull was painted grey to match the company’s new
the next decade, a fierce competitor was quickly establishing itself on
the North Atlantic – the passenger aeroplane. The world was rapidly changing,
and the Holland-America Line realised that their fleet had to be modernised,
the Nieuw Amsterdam included. On August 16th 1961, the
ship was taken in for yet another extensive refit. Five months later, on
January 13th 1962, she returned to service after some notable
changes. The greatest change was that the ship’s earlier three-class system
had been abandoned in favour of just two classes – first and tourist. Once
again, the ship’s size had been increased, this time to 36,982 tons. The
company’s intention was to extend the Nieuw Amsterdam’s service
as a part-time cruise ship.
mid-1960s, the Nieuw Amsterdam was beginning to show
signs of her increasing age. The ship’s engines were not performing well, due to troubles
with the boilers. In 1967, a new set of boilers was installed at the shipyards
of Wilton Fijenoord in Schiedam, Holland. When finished, the Nieuw Amsterdam
returned to service on the Atlantic. As the 1970s drew closer,
the Nieuw Amsterdam’s services in the growing cruise industry
were extended more and more.
beginning of the 1970s, the great ocean liners had lost the
battle of the Atlantic to the passenger airliners. The United States
had been retired in 1969, and those who wanted to cross the North Atlantic
by ship chose to do so on more modern liners, such as the new QE2,
French Line’s magnificent France, or Italia Line’s Michelangelo
and Rafaello. The old Nieuw Amsterdam’s chances on the transatlantic
run were small, and so it was decided to transform her into a full-time
cruise ship. On November 8th 1971, the ship departed from Rotterdam
for her final transatlantic crossing to New York and was then solely used
for cruises, sailing from Port Everglades. In September 1972 the ship was
registered under the Antillian flag.
|A sad picture, showing the partly
dismantled Nieuw Amsterdam at Kaoshiung. (Picture courtesy of Willem
van der Leek)
this new guise, it was evident that the long and prosperous career of the
Nieuw Amsterdam was nearing its end. Throughout the ship, there
were signs of her age of over 30 years. Some of these flaws could be easily
remedied, but when it was discovered that the steel in the ship’s double
bottom tanks was deteriorating badly, the company decided that the time
had come for the Nieuw Amsterdam to be retired. On December 17th
1973, the Nieuw Amsterdam returned from her very last cruise. She
was then taken out of service, and laid up over Christmas.
when the new year had arrived, the Nieuw Amsterdam left Port Everglades
on her last voyage on January 9th, 1974. Going through the Panama
Canal and via Los Angeles, she was bound for Kaoshiung. On February 25th,
the Nieuw Amsterdam arrived at the scrapyards of Nan Fong Steel
Enterprises Ldt., where she would be cut up. The dismantling process started
on March 16th, and seven months later, on October 5th
1974, the former flagship of the Holland-America Line was completely gone.
Thus ended a long and glorious career in merchant shipping history.
|The Nieuw Amsterdam - Specifications:
||758 feet (231.5 m)
||88 feet (26.9 m)
||36,287 gross tons
||Steam turbines turning