US LINES – S.S. America… the Lady who died of shame – Luxury Liner, Troop Carrier, Immigrant Ship, Casino, Prison Hulk

Great YOUTUBE video from of the S.S. AMERICA: taking a final break from her trans-Atlantic service on a cruise to Bermuda in 1963. The following year one of the last American flag liners would be sold off for immigrant travel from the UK to Australia.

UNITED STATES LINES: S.S. America…  Luxury Liner, Troop Carrier, Immigrant Ship, Casino, Prison Hulk

The S.S. America began life full of hope. Her career as luxury liner was interrupted by war then changing fashions saw her condemned to neglect and a watery grave.

July 29, 1940 – One of the world’s most luxurious ships, and newest in the U.S. Merchant Marine service, is the S.S. America, shown steaming up the Hudson River to complete her maiden voyage from Newport News, Virginia. In the background can be seen the skyscrapers of Manhattan.  US flag is painted on side of vessel to indicate neutrality.  American would not be at war for another year.

The United States Lines’ latest, state of the art ship, S S America, was born at a bad time. Much thought had gone into her design and in spite of her size (she accommodated nearly 2,000 people including the crew), her interiors, unusually designed by women, were chic but homely. Officially named by Eleanor Roosevelt, she was intended for luxury trans-atlantic crossings but her maiden voyage on August 10 1940 headed instead for San Juan. Throughout, she stayed in neutral waters, for across the Atlantic, Europe was at war.

August 31, 1939 First Lady at Ship Launching: Eleanor Roosevelt breaks a bottle of champagne on the bow of the S.S. America at its launch.

World War 2

America’s career as a liner was short lived. On May 28 1941 she was handed over to the US navy, painted battleship grey, fitted with gun emplacements, re-named USS West Point and underwent a refit. Her lounges, state rooms and cabins were transformed to hold 7,678 men. Later, the number rose to 8,000 and on one voyage, over 9,000.

On her new maiden trip, to India, with both civilians and troops on board, a baby boy was born and given the name Westpoint. Thereafter she virtually circumnavigated the world, carrying troops to and from Europe, North and South Africa, India, Singapore, South America, Australia and New Zealand. Latterly, she was consigned to the North Atlantic run, a hazardous crossing made difficult by treacherous seas, gale force winds and danger from enemy U Boats. Troops were taken from the States to Europe and wounded soldiers and sometimes prisoners of war shipped back to America. In all, the West Point crossed the Atlantic 41 times and made a further 15 crossings in the Pacific.

New York Harbor – late 1950s – S.S. America (lower half of picture) – great American luxury liner operating in regular Trans-Atlantic service with the super liner S.S. United States

Trans-Atlantic Liner Again

1946 saw West Point returned to her original role, an expensive business as, in their haste to make her ready for the navy, many of her valuable fittings had been discarded but on November 11 1946, both America and the British liner Queen Elizabeth arrived in New York. Her early voyages faced all that the North Atlantic could throw at her but America continued to ply her trade for the next eight years.

Brian Nelson (second left at front) sailing westbound on the SS America.   The photo is from the Captain’s Dinner.  The ship had three classes: First, Cabin and Tourist.  Brian immigrated to NYC June 1961 from Ireland.  Brian sent the photo asking: “if anyone was still alive?”  Most likely this was the tourist class dining room.  On some of today’s cruise ships, in comparison, these passengers look like they belonged in first class.

With peace in Europe, comparative prosperity and the growth of air travel however, cruising began to lose its appeal and the company lost money. In 1964 America was put up for sale and passed into the hands of a Greek shipping company, Chandris.


(S.S. Australia) Her new owners refitted her again, changed her name to Australis and regularly made voyages between England, Australia and New Zealand as part of a round the world cruise.

On board the majority of passengers were Brits, emigrating to a new life in Australia as part of a campaign to increase the European population.

If it lacked the glamour of the early Atlantic days, Australis was gainfully employed and in spite of a serious fire at sea, she became the biggest liner in regular operation.

As with the US Lines before her however, the Chandris line felt the pinch. Assisted passage for immigrants was phased out and long haul flights made an air journey more attractive.

At the end of 1977, they decided to sell Australis.

Misadventure Cruises For A Grand Lady

The new owners might well have been named Misadventure Cruises, for things started to go badly wrong. Given her original name and intended as a floating casino, America’s first voyage for the company in 1978 was a disaster. Nothing was ready, passengers were incensed and forced her to return to port. In total, claims for $2.5 millon were submitted. America suffered the humiliation of being arrested for debt. Inspected by the U S Department of Health, out of a possible score of 100 points, America received only 6. In July she was in the custody of the U S Marshall and put up for Auction.

Downhill All the Way

At this point, news bulletins would tell sensitive viewers to “look away.” America/Australis suffered greatly. Briefly bought again by Chandris as a Mediterranean cruise ship she was renamed Italis but never put to sea. Sold to Inter Commerce Corporation who renamed her Noga in 1980, she was destined as a floating hotel in Beirut, but nothing came of it. Sold again to become a prison ship in the States, that too fell through.

A company, Silver Moon Ferries then bought her, renaming her Alferdoss, meaning Paradise in Arabic. It was more like hell, for the ship rotted for ten years until, suffering damage to a bilge pipe, she had to be beached to prevent her from sinking.

Hoping for rescue, a consortium acquired her, called her American Star, and, still being in remarkably good condition, intended to tow her to Phuket in Thailand to convert her to a floating hotel. En route however the tow lines broke in a storm and she ran aground in the Canaries. Thereafter her fate was sealed, she broke in two and was consigned to a watery grave, a sorry ending for a beautiful vessel


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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