SS Andrea Doria

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SS Andrea Doria.

I was initially drawn to the Andrea Doria at the age of 14 after reading the book, Collision Course, by Alvin Moscow. The book tells of the Andrea Doria’s birth, her brief but glorious life, and her tragic end, in the summer of 1956.

Captain Piero Calamai.

To me the Andrea Doria embodied the hope and optimism that Italy was searching for after the War. I was very moved by the story of her master, Captain Piero Calamai, who after a distinguished career with the Italian Line decided never to return to the sea after the Andrea Doria’s sinking.

He was quoted as saying “When I was a boy and all my life, I loved the sea. Now I hate it.”

He died after a long illness in April of 1972.

In the late 1940’s Italy had lost most of her passenger ships to the War. The Italian Line sought to revive its postwar liner fleet in order to restore Italy’s place in international passenger shipping. The creation of the Andrea Doria was based on the principle that Italy’s new postwar fleet had to communicate a new message about Italy itself: Italy was no longer a belligerent adversary but a beautiful country brimming with art and culture.

Andrea Doria print advertisements.

To Italy, the Andrea Doria was more than means of transportation that transported foreign tourist to visit Italy; she was an extension of Italy. Wherever she sailed she was to present the most advanced and prestigious aspect of Italian style and culture, the arts, and the work of the best crafts men and artisans.

The Andrea Doria was designed to be a traveling document that informed travelers about the cultural, civil, and human aspects of Italy. The Italian Line’s aim was to have its passengers learn about Italy while they are going there. Of all Italy’s ships at the time, the Andrea Doria was the largest, fastest, and supposedly the safest.

Andrea Doria’s Gio Ponte suite.

The Andrea Doria was built at the Ansaldo shipyards in Genoa, Italy. She was named after the 16th century Genoese admiral, Andrea Doria. Her launch date was June 16, 1951. She was weighed in at 29,093 tons, 700 ft. long and 90 ft. wide. She was powered by steam turbines driving twin screws. Her top service speed was 23 knots. Her total passenger capacity was 1,421 passengers; 218 in First Class, 320 in Cabin Class, and 703 in Tourist Class.

The Andrea Doria’s maiden voyage from Genoa to New York was on June 14 1953. The voyage was a nine-day crossing. Fares on the Mediterranean route ranged from $1500.00 – $500.00 (about $30,000 to $15,000 in today’s currency) for a First Class suite to $ 300.00 ($9,000) for a double in Cabin Class and $200.00 ($6,000) for a birth in Tourist Class with communal bathrooms.

A few of the notable celebrities who sailed on her were Tennessee Williams, Anna Magnani, Elizabeth Taylor, Kim Novak, Christine Jorgensen (the world’s first transsexual woman), Clark Gable, and comedian Gracie Fields.

At the end of the war the pre-war grandeur of the previous Italian liners was supplanted by a refined elegance. The Andrea Doria introduced new concepts in interior design as well as making use of new cutting edge materials of the day, such as ceramics, glass and aluminum.

View of grand staircase.

Mario Eliseo, one of Italy’s finest maritime scholar and authors, stated that the “Andrea Doria was built like oil on canvas, with parts of the greatest artists coming together.”

The oceanliner symbolized the very best in contemporary art and design. Her interiors caused a sensation in that she was viewed as one of the most daringly decorated and innovative of any of the postwar Atlantic liners. She was referred to as “The Renaissance Ship.” Her interiors were adorned with the original artwork from masters such as Bragalini, Predonzani, Fiume, Rui, Gambone, Racus, and Rossi. 

First Class foyer.

The influence of American furniture designers like Florence Knoll, Charles Eames, Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe, and Eero Saarinen were also evident through out the entire ship. The use of heavy, large-scaled chairs with metal legs was the dominant theme throughout her public rooms as was a tasteful, but bold, color scheme.

The Italian Line and the Ansaldo shipyard held a competition and awarded contracts to the best designers in Italy to fit out her interior public spaces. The winning designs for the first class rooms on the promenade deck were divided between Gio Ponti and Nino Zoncada. Matteo Longoni was awarded with the cabin class.

Another view of the First Class foyer.

The vestibules, staircases and dining rooms for the two upper classes were awarded to the Milanese architect, Antonio Cassi Ramelli. The design of the observation lounge, card rooms and the first class reading and writing rooms were awarded to Gustavo Pulitzer. The design for the cabin class accommodations were awarded to the Milanese architect, Ratti, and the architectural firm, Arredamenti Navaili Unione Artisti. The swimming pool areas, bars and sun decks for all three classes were awarded to Giulio Minoletti.

In addition to her public spaces the four designers, Zoncada, Pulitzer, Ratti and Gio Ponti were also awarded the task to each design a luxury suite, each completely different in style and in execution. These four suites were considered to be the ultimate in luxury at sea, quite unusual in that they were very modern for their time, complete with plush rugs, heavy draperies, and push button conveniences.

First Class bar.
First Class dining room.
First Class library.

The press release from the Italian Line leading up to her maiden voyage proudly claimed the Andrea Doria as having a great abundance of public space for her pampered 1,241 passengers. There were 15 public rooms in First Class, 9 in Cabin Class and 7 for Tourist. Each class had access to its own open-air pool and lido deck.

Her tragic end came on the last leg of a routine voyage from Genoa to New York on July 25, 1956.

Approaching the coast of Nantucket, Massachusetts Andrea Doria collided with the eastward-bound MS Stockholm of the Swedish American Line in what became one of history’s most infamous maritime disasters — famous in part because both of these modern liners were equipped with radar.

The Andrea Doria, sinking.
In nine minutes, it was all over.
The Stockholm returning to New York after her collision with the Andrea Doria. Her bow severely damaged.
The mangled MS Stockholm.
The Ile de France, with the rescued passengers steaming into New York Harbor.

When Andrea Doria and Stockholm collided at almost a 90-degree angle, Stockholm’s sharply raked ice breaking prow pierced Andrea Doria’s starboard side approximately midway of its length. It penetrated three passenger cabins, numbered 52, 54, and 56 to a depth of nearly 40 feet (12m), and the keel. The collision smashed many occupied passenger cabins and, at the lower levels, ripped open several of Andrea Doria’s watertight compartments. The gash pierced five fuel tanks on Andrea Doria’s starboard side and filled them with 500 tons of seawater, contributing to a severe, uncorrectable list.

Meanwhile, on the bridge of Stockholm, immediately after the impact, engines were placed at ALL STOP, and all watertight doors were closed. The ships were intertwined for about 30 seconds. As they separated, the smashed bow of the stationary Stockholm was dragged aft along the starboard side of the Doria, which was still moving forward, adding more gashes along the side. The two ships then separated, and the Doria moved away into the heavy fog. Initial radio distress calls were sent out by each ship, and in that manner, they learned of each others’ identities. The world soon became aware that two large ocean liners had collided. 53 lives had been lost.

Artistic rendering of the current status of the Andrea Doria.

The incident and its aftermath were heavily covered by the news media. While the rescue efforts were both successful and commendable, the cause of the collision and the loss of Andrea Doria afterward generated much interest in the media and many lawsuits. Largely because of an out-of-court settlement agreement between the two shipping companies during hearings immediately after the disaster, no determination of the cause(s) was ever formally published.

Although greater blame appeared initially to fall on the Italian liner, more recent discoveries have indicated that a misreading of radar on the Swedish ship may have initiated the collision course, leading to some errors on both ships and resulting in disaster.

This year (2018) marks the 62-year anniversary of her sinking.

Scott Houston McBee’s rendering of Andrea Doria.

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