The SS CAP NORTE – the German liner captured by the HMS BELFAST at the beginning of WW 2

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SS Cap Norte – the German liner captured by the HMS BELFAST at the beginning of WW 2.

Cruising the Past – Cruise History – 70 years ago this week, during the first weeks of World War 2, the HMS Belfast captured the Hamburg South America liner SS Cap Norte.

SS Cap Norte

The above is the front and back of a postcard sent from South America to Germany in September 1939, from the CAP NORTE just days before the war started.



Public Rooms from one of the Hamburg South America line ships – including the Monte Cervantes

Outbreak of War 1939 – On the outbreak of war with Germany in September 1939, HMS Belfast formed part of the 18th Cruiser Squadron operating out the Home Fleet’s main base at Scapa Flow in the Orkney Islands.

Over the course of the next few weeks the ship was constantly on patrol in Northern waters, as part of the Royal Navy’s efforts to impose a maritime blockade on Germany.

On 9 October, HMS Belfast successfully intercepted the German liner SS Cap Norte which was trying to return to Germany disguised as a neutral vessel. The liner was boarded and sent under armed guard to a British port. Cap Norte was the largest enemy merchant ship intercepted to date and under Admiralty law Belfast’s crew received ‘prize money’ in te form of a cash gratuity for her capture.

Typical Voyage of the SS Cap Verde

Outbound voyage: Hamburg, Boulogne, La Coruña, Lisbon, Tenerife, Pernambuco, Bahia, Rio de Janeiro, Santos, Montevideo, Buenos Aires.  Return voyage: Buenos Aires, Montevideo, Santos, Rio de Janeiro, Tenerife, Lisbon, Vigo, Boulogne, Hamburg.

Hamburg South American Line / Hamburg-Sudamerikanische Dampfschifffahrts-Gesellschaft

Founded 1871 and commenced operating from Hamburg via Lisbon to Bahia, Rio de Janeiro and Santos, later extended to the River Plate.

In 1900 an express passenger service direct to the River Plate was opened and the company also ran services to Central America in conjunction with Hamburg America Line as well as a New York to Brazil route.

Deprived of it’s ships after the end of WWI, the company resumed operating with three cargo schooners until 1921 when they acquired a steamship and then gradually rebuilt their fleet.

By the outbreak of WWII the company owned 56 ships, but these were either all lost during the war or confiscated afterwards.

Under the terms of the Potsdam Treaty, the company was unable to restart activities until 1951 when they resumed cargo/passenger services to South America.

By the mid 1960s the expansion of air travel caused the company to concentrate mostly on cargo ships, some of which carried a few passengers.

HMS Belfast and London Bridge

HMS Belfast served in WW2, playing a leading part in the Normandy Landings. She is now moored on the Thames near Tower Bridge as a unique reminder of Britain’s naval heritage. A visit to the ship makes a good day out, especially for families – we took a young nephew there many years ago and he loved imagining himself as a sailor!

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About Michael L. Grace

During the mid-80s, Michael Grace worked as a writer on the TV Hit Series THE LOVE BOAT. He wrote many of the two hour special featuring great stars of the past, including Lana Turner, Claire Trevor, Anne Baxter, Ethel Merman, Alexis Smith, etc. The public’s access to these stars, in familiar dramas and comedies, made them want to go on a cruise. They could see the stars in an ordinary world as “regular” people. The phenomenally successful series was responsible for creating the cruise industry as we know it today. By the time he was writing for Love Boat, the great steamship companies and their liners were flying hand me down foreign flags, painted like old whores, scrapped or doing three day cruises to the Bahamas. He had sailed on over thirty ships and liners with his parents, aunt and grandmother in late 50s to early 70s. The very successful CRUISING THE PAST website has been an outgrowth of Michael’s strong interest in cruise and social history. Drawing on his own knowledge and a vast maritime and social history collection, he is able to produce a very successful website. Michael is part of the award winning team that created the internationally performed award winning musical SNOOPY, based on PEANUTS by Charles M. Schultz. He has written for television and films. Read more by going to "About" (on the above dashboard) and clicking "Editor"…