1937 SS Columbus of the North German Lloyd Ship Line – Easter Cruise to West Indies From New York March 26, 1937. The largest and fastest German ship.

SOCIAL AND LINER HISTORY: 1937 SS Columbus of the North German Lloyd Ship Line – Easter Cruise to West Indies From New York March 26, 1937.  The largest and fastest German ship.

(Left:These are views from the passenger list for the Easter 1937 cruise aboard the SS Columbus.  The itinerary included Port au Prince, Kingston, Havana.)

The plans for a German liner to be called “Columbus” had been made as early as 1914 when North German Lloyd had placed orders for two 34,000 ton ships to counter the impressive Hamburg American trio “Imperator”, “Vaterland” and “Bismark”. The North German twins were to be called “Columbus” and “Hindenberg”, but war would postpone their construction by over six years.
In the aftermath of the Great War, the terms dictated in the Treaty of Versailles were particularly harsh on Germany, and the Germans were ordered to complete the two as of yet unbuilt ships as war reparations. So as the remainder of the surviving German fleet was parceled out to the victorious Allies, workers at the Schichau Shipyards were busily constructing a ship that was to have been their “Columbus”. But the Allies had dictated that the liner–completed in 1922–was to go to the White Star Line, and under the British flag she was renamed “Homeric”. Fortunately for the Germans, the Allied victors decided that the second ship would remain German flagged, and finally workers stated construction on what would become the S.S. “Columbus”.

(Tea in the First Class lounge on the SS Columbus last cruise before WW 2)

(Left: First Class public rooms and cabins)Construction of “Columbus” was not without problems. At her launch in 1922, the ship had become stuck on the launch ways, and it took two months to dislodge the great liner. Material shortages further delayed her entry into service, and it was not until April 1924 that she was finally ready to embark on her maiden voyage. When she finally entered service, “Columbus” was the largest and fastest ship in the German fleet.

“Columbus” quickly proved her worth on the North Atlantic and became an extremely popular ship. So profitable was she, that her owners started to consider a duo of express liners for service on the North Atlantic. These would ultimately become the “Bremen” and “Europa”, but it would be a further four years before these record breakers would enter service.

“Columbus” had some years left as flagship of the North German Lloyd fleet.

In 1929, “Columbus” was refitted with steam geared turbines that had the effect of increasing her service speed from 18 to 20 knots. Her exterior profile was also altered to more closely fit with the sleek “Bremen” and “Europa”, most notably by the replacement of her tall raked funnels with more streamlined and squat funnels that were more characteristic of the motor liners of the day.

(Left: Second Class dining room) When she was displaced as flagship of the North German Lloyd fleet by the faster express liners, “Columbus” still spent some summer months on the Atlantic. However, she spent much of her time cruising to the Caribbean, and indeed, she was in the midst of a Caribbean cruise when World War II started in September 1939.

As with the case of most all liners not in home waters at the start of hostilities, great pains were taken to avoid capture by enemy vessels. With the British Navy controlling the seas, German liners were particularly vulnerable to attack. “Columbus” disembarked her passengers at Havana, Cuba, and would spend the next several months making quick dashes between various Central and South American ports amidst much speculation as to her intended use. Rumor was silenced on 20 December 1939 when it was reported the great liner had been scuttled by her crew off Vera Cruz, Mexico to avoid capture by the British Navy. Like many other liners before her, “Columbus” suffered the ignominious distinction of being a wartime casualty, and the career of another great German liner was laid to sea.  Interior spaces on-board “Columbus” were executed by the noted architect Professor Paul Ludwig Troost. Professor Troost took great pains to give connecting rooms a “harmonious whole” feel.  The connecting Social Hall, Library and Smoking Room all exhibited a flawless transition from one to the other, and shared a common decorating theme, though each was uniquely arranged.  Particular attention was devoted to giving the rooms a spacious feeling, and the Dining Room and Social Hall both extended up through two decks.  Noted German artists were employed to provide art work for the ship, with murals by E. R. Weiss and hand carved art work by Joseph Wackerle.
(Left: Third Class cabin) Particular attention was also directed to the manner in which passengers of different classes interacted.

Spaces on “Columbus” were ordered much the same as those found on pre-World War I ships. Decks were so arranged that passengers travelling in different classes never came in contact with one another.

It was due in no small part to her arrangements and decoration that “Columbus” was a favorite of North Atlantic travelers, and later a favored cruise ship.


About Michael L. Grace

MICHAEL L. GRACE is part of the award winning team that created the internationally performed award winning musical SNOOPY, based on PEANUTS by Charles M. Schultz. SNOOPY continues to be one of the most produced shows (amateur & stock) in America/Worldwide and has had long running productions in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and in London's West End. There are over 100 individual productions every year. He has written movies for TV, including the award-winning thriller LADY KILLER, various pilots and developed screenplays for Kevin Costner and John Travolta. Besides co-writing and co-producing SNOOPY, he wrote and produced the one-man play KENNEDY. He produced P.S. YOUR CAT IS DEAD by pulitzer prize winning author James Kirkwood. He wrote the stage thriller FINAL CUT which had productions in the UK, South Africa and Australia. His one-man play, KENNEDY - THE MAN BEHIND THE MYTH, was developed for HBO and has starred Andrew Stevens, Gregory Harrison and Joseph Bottoms. He has recently been involved in European productions with CLT-UFA, Europe's leading commercial television and radio broadcaster. He wrote MOWs THE DOLL COLLECTION, THE BOTTOM LINE and LAST WITNESS for German television. While in college and graduate school he worked as a foreign correspondent for COMBAT, the famous leftwing Paris daily, and as a travel writer. He visited more than 50 countries. He struggled as an actor, then joined the enemy and entered the training program at William Morris. He became a publicist and worked for Colonel Tom Parker, Elvis Presley's manager, at Paramount and MGM. He followed with a brief stint as a story executive, working in the frantic horror genre period of the early 80s and wrote THE UNSEEN. He went onto write for episodic television and develop series pilots. He was a continuing writer on such series such as LOVE BOAT, PAPER DOLLS, and KNOTS LANDING. He developed screenplays for such major award winning directors as Nicolas Meyers, Tony Richardson and J. Lee Thompson. He has written for all the major networks and studios. He has been hired numerous times as a script doctor, doing many uncredited rewrites on TV movies and features. He is currently writing A PERSON OF INTEREST, a thriller novel, and, IT'S THE LOVE BOAT... AND HOW IT CHANGED CRUISING BY SHIP a non-fiction book dealing with how the hit TV series as a major cultural phenomenon and altered the style of cruising by ship. He was raised in Los Angeles. He attended St. Paul's, USC and the Pasadena Playhouse. He received a B.A from San Francisco State University where he majored in theatre arts and minored in creative writing. He is listed as a SFSU leading alumni. He also apprenticed at ACT - The American Conservatory Theatre. For a brief period he had intentions of becoming an Episcopal(Anglican) priest and attended seminary at Kelham Theological College in the UK. When "the calling" wasn't there, he left seminary and did graduate work at the American University of Beirut. He has guest lectured at USC, UC San Diego, McGill, Univ. of London and the Univ. of Texas on the business aspects of making a living and surviving as a writer, focusing on development hell, in the Hollywood entertainment industry. Grace is a lifetime member of the Writers Guild of America, the Dramatist Guild and former regional chairman of the Steamship Historical Society of America. He resides in Palm Springs.

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