The Italian Merchant Marine had lost well over ninety percent of its tonnage through enemy action during World War 2. In 1945, not willing to be left behind during the boom in transatlantic travel, immediately after the war, Italy embarked upon on of the most ambitious shipbuilding programs ever. Eleven major vessels in nine years.
The first two liners were name Giulio Cesare and Agustus, completed in 1951 and 1952 respectively. Both were handsome vessels in the finest Italian tradition and were built exclusively for the Genoa-South American service. After building had commenced on these two ships, Italy again turned its attention to the North Atlantic.
Following many years of intense planning and contruction, the hull of the first two 29,000 ton liners designed and built especially for the premier service between Genoa and New York was completed.
On June 16th, 1951 Italy's largest and finest post-war vessel was launched at the Ansaldo shipyard in Sestri near Genoa. She was christened by Signora Giuseppe Saragat, wife of the former Italian Minister of the Merchant Marine. The name chosen for the new flagship was one of the proudest in the history of the Italian Navy, Andrea Doria.
Named for the famous Genoese admiral of the 15th century, the liner was thought by many to be the most beautiful ever conceived. When complete and ready for service, she would be the personification of the best Italy had to offer, embracing style, naval architecture, art, and interior design. The supreme expression of the Italian shipbuilders.
Despite the flair and elegance of the interiors, many Americans found them to be a bit too progressive for thier tastes, and most favoured her sister ship Christoforo Colombo, whose comparatively sedate public rooms were morein keeping with American preference.
She was one of the most modern ships in the world, among the amenities offered for the use of all her passengers were a chapel and a well-equipped hospital, which included a pharmacy, X-ray room, operating theatre, and laboratory. An added bonus, because she was employed on the sunny "Southern Route", each class of passenger was provided with an outdoor swimming pool and lido deck for the first time in the history of the Atlantic. Even dogs had thier own promenades.
The ship cost eighteen billion Lire or the equivalent of $29 million to ensure that the Andrea Doria was as close to perfect as possible. She sported the most advanced safety features available. Her hull was divided into eleven watertight compartments by vertical bulkheads rising up to the bottom of A deck. These assured that the ship would remain afloat if any two adjacent compartments should flood. The ship's cellular double bottom extended the whole length of the vessel and a "double hull" was obtained by the massive bulkheads running parallel with machinery spaces. As with the Titanic and Lusitania before her, she had been labeled by some as "unsinkable".
On the boat deck, sixteen lifeboats with a maximum capacity of just over 2,000 people were suspended from davits operated by electric winches. Two of the boats were motor driven aqnd fitted with radio transmitters and receivers. In addition she carried the most up-to-date navigational instruments technology had to offer, including a gyrocompass with three repeaters, an automatic pilot, and a state of the art radar system.
She was said to be as fire proof as the new SS United States, which had entered service the previous year. Passenger and crew comparments were divided into a number of fire safety zones which could be isolated from each other by automatically closing fire doors.
After nearly three years under construction and nine million man hours of labour, the Andrea Doria left the Ansaldo shipyard for the first time on November 6, 1952, to begin her speed trials in the Gulf of Genoa under the command of Captain Alberto Peratta, representing the builders. Until a successful conclusion of her trials and the official acceptance by the Italian Line, she was still the property and responsibility of the builders. For the next three years she served her owners proudly and she settled into a regular and dependable schedule earning herself an eviable popularity and following, particularly among Europeans. On July 17th 1956 the Andrea Doria left Genoa at the start of her 101st crossing. Aboard were 1,134 passengers and 572 crew. After a brief stop at Cannes on the 17th she proceeded to Naples and Gibraltar before beginning another routine dash across the Atlantic. For the most part it seemed a typical voyage. Mass was held each morning in the chapel, a Captains coctail party was given in each of the three classes, and the passengers enjoed the vessels fine amenities. A storm during the night of the 23rd finally broke pleasant monotony, but the excitment was short lived, or so they thought. July 25th 1956, about 11:10pm passengers felt a jolting lurch and the ship began an immediate sharp list to starboard. She had been sruck in the side by the Stockholm. Apart from the main breach the ship had been torn along its length. Despite this damage she remained afloat for 11 hours before finally sinking and everyone was evacuated.
To be continuted...