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 Line.


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.



Great And Lost Ships Of The World