The Amazing Story Of
The Liner Amerika
By James Donahue
At 700 feet in length,
the German passenger liner Amerika was said to have been the largest ship in the world when launched in 1905 for the Hamburg-Amerika
The ship only held that
title for a year, but it was enough to establish it as an infamous vessel that gained even more world attention when it got
involved in several deadly collisions.
The first mishap occurred
on April 10, 1912, the very day the Titanic set to sea on her disastrous maiden voyage. Amerika was steaming through the English
Channel when she rammed and sank the British submarine B2 off Dover. Fifteen British naval sailors perished. There was
one survivor pulled from the water.
The steamer collided
with and sank the British liner Instructor on July 14, 1918, leaving another 16 people dead. And later that same year Amerika
sank at her berth in New York because of improper trimming
of her coal bunkers, and six sailors on the ship died.
Those were the negative
stories. There are lots of other things to tell about the fabulous years that this amazing ship sailed the world seas.
To begin with, the Germans
spared no expense when they built this fine ship to compete with the British White Star liners in the Europe
to New York North Atlantic runs. The Amerika’s very name was an announcement that this ship was a liner destined for
trips from Germany to American ports.
She offered accommodations for 420 first Class, 254 Second Class and 223 Third Class passengers, plus room for another 1,765
passengers in steerage. The ship carried 577 crew members.
While designed to look
much like the White Star liners Celtic and Cedric, the Amerika offered more luxury. Her passenger accommodation included suites
with private bathrooms, electric elevators, a winter garden, electrical medicinal baths and a fine a la carte restaurant,
the first of its kind on the North Atlantic.
Instead of coming to
New York, the Amerika was placed on regular trips from Boulogne
to Southampton and then to Boston. The ship was in Boston harbor when World War I started, and she was seized by United States authorities for allied service.
She was renamed America and refitted for service as a Navy Transport. During
the war she sailed on nine trooping voyage between the United States and
France. She also sailed from New York through the Panama Canal to Vladivostock, then carried 6,500 troops to Trieste
via the Suez Canal, thus steaming around the world.
After the war, the ship
remained under control of the United States
government. She was overhauled and refitted at Brooklyn in 1920 and started making trips between New
York and Europe under charter to the United States Mail Steamship Company. She
carried mostly emigrants from Europe making their way to the U.S.
Ownership was transferred
to the United States Lines later that year. Then in 1921 the ship was converted from coal to oil-firing engines and she was
refitted to carry 225 first class, 425 second class and 1,500 third class passengers. She made regular trips between New York, Plymouth, Cherbourg and Bremen.
Disaster struck on March
10, 1926. While undergoing another refitting, a major fire swept the superstructure of the America
at Newport News. The damage was so extensive her owners seriously
considered scrapping the vessel. They recanted, however, and in 1927 she was repaired and refitted once again and eventually
resumed her own route from New York to France.
It was during one of
these trips in January, 1929, while battling a fierce Atlantic gale, that the America
responded to a distress call from the Italian freighter Florida
and rescued 23 sailors.
In the midst of the Great
Depression, as most shipping lines were losing business, America
made her final transatlantic voyage with the United States Lines in April, 1931. She was laid up at Hoboken,
then towed to Chesapeake Bay for extensive lay-up in the fall of 1932.
Amazingly, the America wasn’t quite ready for the scrap heap, however.
In 1940, she was towed to Baltimore and converted for use as an accommodation ship for the
U.S. Maritime Commission in St. Johns, Newfoundland.
She was given the new name of Edmund B. Alexander because the name America
was needed for a fine new liner that was just entering the North Atlantic service.
When World War II broke
out, the Edmund B. Alexander was fitted out once again for service as a troop transport. She carried troops between New Orleans and Panama, but could not be given assignments
on the North Atlantic. Her aging engines were worn, and the ship was only able to reach speeds
of 10 knots, too slow to outrun the German U-Boats.
Apparently the Navy needed
all the ships it could get, because before the war was over, the Alexander was overhauled once more, one of her funnels was
removed, and she was put to work as a US Army transport. She was finally laid up for a final time in 1949, and in January,
1958, was scrapped by the Bethlehem Steel Corp. in Baltimore.