- Captain Albert's Blog -

Stories from the Sea, Past and Present

Nieuw Amsterdam (II) of 1938

TONN. BRT: 36,287 NRT: 21,496 DWT: 10,429
BUILT AT: N.V. Rotterdamsche Droogdok Maatschappij, Rotterdam, the Netherlands.
BUILT IN: 1937 YARDNO: 200
ENGINES: Two sets of single reduction geared Parsons quadruple steam turbines by the Koninklijke Maatschappij ” de Schelde”, Vlissingen, the Netherlands.
ENGINE OUTPUT: 35,100 Shp. PROPS: Two (fixed)
SERVICE SPEED: 20.5 Knots MAX. SPEED: 22.8 Knots (Trials)
LENGTH.Over All: 231.20 Meters BEAM Over All: 26.82 Meters
DRAFT: 9.61 Meters at 36.815 tons displacement.
PAX.CAP: 556 in Cabin class, 455 in Tourist class and 209 in Third Class. CREW: 694 maximum.
REMARKS: Bunker capacity 4600 tons of oil at a consumption of 210 tons a day.
——————————————————————

Since the introduction of the Statendam in 1929 the company had been thinking about a proper running mate for this ship. Although the company was not interested in gaining North Atlantic speed records, it knew that it had to offer top-notch ships in order to attract clientele. However the depression after the Wall Street crash in 1929 made an investment in such an expensive ship impossible. Government aid would be necessary and the Dutch Government was very leery about subsidizing private company’s both in good times and in bad times. In the Dutch system there was not such a thing as Navy grants so that passenger ships could used as Armed Merchant Cruisers in times of peril as the British were doing; nor was there was the desire to show-off the countries achievements by building a ship of State as the French tended to like. Thus HAL was left on its own to find a way out and unfortunately there wasn’t one. The company continued to develop plans however and speculation was rife in the early 1930,s.

Nieuw Amsterdam Model of proposed new building

There was open speculation about what the name for the new ship would be as can be seen here from a contemporary postcard.

Names such as Prinsendam and Stellendam were mentioned for the new flagship but nothing concrete was happening. The company kept talking to the government and slowly the thinking of the politicians came around. They were not necessarily interested in directly helping HAL but building a big passenger ship in the Netherlands might put the Dutch shipbuilding Industry back on its feet and that idea they liked. Thus the company received a loan on favorable terms and on 4 December 1935 the contract was signed. A request from HAL for an additional loan to build a sister ship was turned down. The Rotterdam Dry – Dock Company was selected as the builder and on 3 January 1936 the keel was laid.

Nieuw Amsterdam 1936 on the blocks

The hull of the Nieuw Amsterdam towering high above the yard on the day of the official launch.

During the construction period the rumors increased about names for the ship but in the end it was announced that the name would be Nieuw Amsterdam and as such the ship was christened on the 10th. of April 1937, by her Majesty Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands. This was the second ship of that name in the company, the first Nieuw Amsterdam of 1906 having been scrapped in 1932. It was by far the biggest ship ever built in the Netherlands date and indeed it did help to get the Dutch shipbuilding industry going again. Not only Dutch companies started to place orders again but also foreign interest perked up. Holland America was well pleased with the quality of the construction and later on ordered the Noordam class of intermediate liners also from Dutch yards.

Before completion there are always the trials to see if everything on board is working properly. Sometimes there is only one, sometimes there are several depending on what is needed or what shipyard and company desire from a point of advertising. In the case of the Nieuw Amsterdam it followed the regular pattern by having two sets of trials. The technical trials were held between 21 and 23 March and the ship was delivered on 23 April 1938 during the official trial trip. The latter was more of a publicity exercise then anything else. However as everybody was very proud of this achievement and as the dark days of the depression were slowly fading, the arrival of the new flagship for the company was a joyous affair. The Nieuw Amsterdam was the biggest ship in the Dutch fleet upon its arrival and remained so until the commissioning of the Rotterdam (V) in 1959.

Nieuw Amsterdam as built

The Nieuw Amsterdam upon delivery getting ready for her North Atlantic service.

Constructed for the North Atlantic service, she commenced her maiden voyage on the morning of the 10th of May 1938, sailing from Rotterdam via Boulogne sur Mer and Southampton to New York under the command of the company’s Commodore Captain J.J. Bijl.

Nieuw Amsterdam commodore JJ Bijl Captain Bijl on the bridge wing of the Nieuw Amsterdam during her official trial trip.

The ship made the crossing in 5 days, 23 hours and 45 minutes.
A rather peculiar part of her construction was the six ventilation slots in the front of the first funnel. These had been put in with the idea that the wind flow through them would lift the soot out of the top of the funnel and so high up in the air that it would not come down onto the decks but behind the ship in the sea. It did the opposite; depositing more soot than ever onto the decks and within the first year of service the gaps were welded shut.

Nieuw Amsterdam 1938 First Panama Canal Cruise

As soon as the North Atlantic summer season was finished the ship started to make cruises and here we see her during her first transit of the Panama Canal in 1938. Note the open slots in her forward funnel.

By the beginning of 1939 the world political situation was becoming more and more un-stable and the company started to prepare for alternatives in case the North Atlantic would become too dangerous. Although the policy of the Dutch government was to remain neutral in case there was going to be a conflict between Germany and other countries; Holland America had no intention to loose its most valuable ship to a U-boat commander who was not paying attention enough before pulling the trigger. Thus after the summer season of 1939 the ship was laid up in New York in September 1939. With the war now being a certainty, the name and homeport appeared in white letters on both sides of the hull. Instead of leaving the ship in lay up, a number of cruises were made in the American hemisphere. Between 21 October and 18 November some cruises were made to Bermuda followed by another series from 23 December (Starting with the Christmas Cruise) to the Caribbean. As these were very successful, the ship kept cruising for the whole of the 1939/1940 winter.

Nieuw Amsterdam  1938 New York spring 1940 together with sloterdyk

The dark clouds of war were gathering over the world and as a result the Dutch ships received their neutral indentification on the hulls. To the right of the Nieuw Amsterdam is the bow of the freighter Sloterdyk which had just been added to the fleet as well.

While sailing from La Guaira to Puerto Cabello on 10 May 1940 the ship is recalled to New York due to the invasion of the Netherlands and laid up on arrival. With the Dutch now involved in the conflict it was to be expected that the ship would be called up for war duty. This took a while as the Dutch Government who had fled the country at the last possible moment had to re-establish itself. For a while the Dutch affairs were ran from Curacao, in the Dutch West Indies, but a permanent seat in exile was set up in London where also Queen Wilhelmina had settled down. A number of exiled governments were now based in London and together with the USA they would later on form the Allied Forces. It took some time to get it all properly set up but by September the governments thoughts had turned to the Dutch Merchant Marine and how its ships could play a part in the war effort. Thus on 12 September 1940, the Nieuw Amsterdam was officially seized by the Dutch Government and handed over to the British Ministry of War Transport. During the First World War the Kingdom of the Netherlands had remained neutral. Which meant; that when in 1917 the USA seized the Dutch ships in a similar way, the Dutch crews had to leave their ships and were returned to Holland. Now with Holland involved in the war, the Dutch crew of the Nieuw Amsterdam could stay and be part of the future liberation effort. The ship was placed under Cunard – White Star management but it remained under Dutch flag and it remained sailing with a Dutch crew. While in New York the ship was shifted from berth to berth a few times and during one of these maneuvers the ship allides with two other ships due to the strong winds blowing. Although the damage was considered un-substantial the repair bill still ran up to $ 100,000. An expensive ship made for expensive repairs.

Nieuw Amsterdam trooping USCG photo

The Nieuw Amsterdam during her war service. I believe this photo comes from the USCG archives although it is not mentioned as such on the photo.

As was expected the ship was converted into a troop carrier for 8000 troops (or 6700 on the long haul) at the Todd shipyard in Brooklyn. The First World War had learned that using passenger ships as Navy cruisers was not very economical to do and that their use near the end of that conflict, as troopships, had worked much better. Partly converted she sails for Halifax and then on 11 October to Singapore for further work and to have 36 anti aircraft guns installed. The ship is ready for service on 22 December and is commissioned under Pennant number 5000. The first trooping voyage commences two days later.

During the duration of the war the ship sails all over the world. Most of the time without escorts as her speed of over 20 knots was considered fast enough to out run torpedoes. Trooping voyages are made in the Far East with Australians and New Zealanders; around the Cape with British troops and a large number of North Atlantic trips where made, where she ran in conjunction with other large passenger ships, all part of the preparation for D Day. During the war she remained crewed by her original ships complement who as a result were away from home for over 6 years. When it was all over the ship had steamed a total of 530,452 nautical miles and carried 378,361 troops. This was a splendid achievement and was not surpassed by any other ship except the Cunard Queens. To put it in perspective; these ships were more than double the size of the Nieuw Amsterdam and had spend most of their trooping time on the North Atlantic shuttle service, while the Nieuw Amsterdam had been sailing all over the world quite often on long voyages instead of short crossings.

On 10 October 1945 the ship is handed back to Holland America but still has to make a number of voyages for the Dutch government. In this case carrying Dutch military and civilians to and from the Dutch East Indies. Released by the Dutch government on the 8th. of April 1946, the ship finally arrives home in Rotterdam on the 10th. of April 1946 after an absence of over six years. Her return home was a momentous occasion for the Netherlands and for Rotterdam in particular. It more or less convinced the Rotterdam Citizens that peace had really returned and that the rebuilding of the city could now start in earnest. The latter was especially poignant for HAL as well. Rotterdam had been severely bombed in 1940 with most of its center completely flattened. This bombing of the city had resulted in the Dutch surrender in 1940 in the first place. For 5 days the Dutch forces had been able to resist the invading Nazi’s by flooding the center of the country and by holding out in strategic places such as the Grebbe Berg near Wageningen. However as the Germans controlled the air, there was very little the Dutch forces could do against their bombers and the bombing of Rotterdam brought about the capitulation. The bombing of Rotterdam had also extended to the port and most of the company’s warehouses and terminals had been flattened as well. It was considered a small wonder that the Main Office at the head of the pier had come through unscathed.

It was to this place that the Nieuw Amsterdam returned and where she had to be refurbished to get back to civilian life. This was not as easy as it might sound. When the ship was requisitioned most of the movable furnishings such as chairs, carpets, bed covers and other not permanently affixed items had been taken off the ship in the various ports where the ship went through the stages of being refitted into a troop ship. At that material had been stored in warehouses some of it quite hurriedly with not the best care taken and now that all had to be returned to Rotterdam somehow. It took the company a while to arrange this but most of it was returned eventually on board Holland America Line freighters. Not all items were still in good condition and could be re-used. Also the more permanent furnishings on board had taken a beating. Soldiers do not tend to be the most caring of people when it comes to temporary accommodation and at the same time, they do enjoy leaving their personal signatures behind; written, painted or engraved. Killroy was here for…………………. (…….various reasons) and other standard graffiti was quite prominently displayed on the once rich and carefully looked after wood paneling. Also “collectors” had been busy in the past years and numerous fittings had simply disappeared. Luckily for items such as hooks, scrolls and other brass or steel pieces, unique to the ship, most of the pre ware molds still existed and items could and were recreated.

On the 22nd. of May the ship was returned to her builders to be refitted to her pre war glory as a passenger ship. Of course the opportunity was taken to change a few things and when she was completed on 15 August 1947, the ship could now cater for 552 in First Class, 426 in Cabin Class and 209 in Third Class. (36,667 Brt.) During cruises only the best cabins were sold and that meant a maximum complement of 750 passengers.

Nieuw Amsterdam 1938 Black hull departing New York color

The Nieuw Amsterdam as she looked like in 1948 sailing from New York to Europe.

The Nieuw Amsterdam returned to service on the North Atlantic on the 29th. Of October 1947 with her first post war departure from Rotterdam. The ship then settled down into a regular routine of North Atlantic sailings in the summer and cruises in the winter. In 1956 the hull is painted gray due to the new color scheme adopted by the company and the new innovation of stabilizers is introduced. Also the whole ship is now fully air-conditioned, including the crew area’s.

Here follow a number of interiors photos of the ship some from 1938 (Main lounge and cinema) and the rest for the 1950’s.

Nieuw Amsterdam 1938 Grand Hall

This shows the Grand Hall or the First Class dayroom. Its modern style caused quite a few raised eye brows with the clientele who had thusfar been used to much darker late Victorian and Edwardian interiors. The ceiling with nude nymphs cavorting around was not universally well received either. When the ship was scrapped, this ceiling was saved and is now on permanent display in the lobby of the Maritime Museum in Rotterdam.

Nieuw Amsterdam First class cinema

The First Class Cinema which also could be used for other performances. A peculiar thing is that the clock, seen on the background wall, could also be found in the theatre of the Rotterdam of 1959 in the exact same location.

Nieuw Amsterdam Entrance first class

The Embarkation entrance and pursers office for the First Class. As this area was one of the focal points of the ship much attention was paid to the lay-out.

Nieuw Amsterdam First class swimming pool

The First Class swimmingpool. As the ship had been designed for the North Atlantic there were no outside pools. A feature that would become an issue lateron in life when cruises where the norm instead of the exception.

Nieuw Amsterdam first class dining saloon color

The First Class diningroom. Located low in the ship so that the motion of the ocean would have the least influence on the passengers during dinner. Note the Orchestra booth in the back, a feature that would return to Holland America when the S-class was built in the 1990’s.

Nieuw Amsterdam first class jungle bar color

The first class bar, called the Jungle Bar. As Holland America tended to be very frugal where it came to publicity budgets, the photographers often resorted in using family and friends as models. They would get a free lunch or maybe a complimentary coastal trip with the ship while the shots were taken but no salary.

Nieuw Amsterdam Tourist  class lounge

The Tourist Class day lounge. Compared to earlier ships and their interiors, there was on the Nieuw Amsterdam not so much difference in the quality of the furnishings between the classes. This photo is from after the conversion into a two class ship.

In 1958 the airplanes flying across the Atlantic are for the first time carrying as many passengers as the passenger ships do on the sea and that meant that Holland America had to start paying close attentions to its occupancy figures. It also meant that the accommodation of the Nieuw Amsterdam had to be adapted to the latest insights in passenger trading and that again meant making it as compatible as possible with the new flagship of the company the ss Rotterdam (V) of 1958. The Nieuw Amsterdam had had to wait a long time before the company had been able to build a running mate, but by 1959 this had finally been the case. As a result the Nieuw Amsterdam went for a refit in 1961 and now the 3rd class was abolished. Between the 16th. of August 1961 and 13th. of January 1962 her original builders changed her accommodation lay out to the two-class set up that had been so successfully introduced on the Rotterdam. From now on 574 First and 583 Tourist class passengers would be carried (36,982 brt.) However this accommodation could be switched around between classes and thus in reality the first class could accommodate between 301 and 691 and tourist class between 583 and 973 passengers.

Nieuw amsterdam and Rotterdam first meeting

A meeting of the old flagship and the new one. The ss Rotterdam and ss Nieuw Amsterdam manuvring off Pier 40 in New York.

After a trial trip the ship resumed her service on the North Atlantic on the 20th. of January 1962. Sailings that are continued to be interspersed with cruises. Cruises that are becoming more and more important as the airplanes continue to take away larger and larger number of passengers from the North Atlantic trade.

Problems are also looming on the horizon as the ship is getting older and the machinery that had been put hard to the task throughout the 2nd world war is starting to show its fatigue. Holland America management deliberated for quite awhile about whether to sell, scrap or refurbish the ship, but in the end, to the delight of many of the clientele it was decided to give the ship a new lease of life by installing new boilers. The fact that five surplus boilers could be obtained for a cheap price did help considerably to come to a positive decision.

Nieuw Amsterdam pushing in new boiler

A hole was cut in the hull of the ship and a sort of rail road constructed by which means the old boilers were removed and the new boilers installed. It would give the ship another lease of life.

On the 16th. of August 1967 the ship arrived at the Wilton Feijenoord repair yard in Schiedam, near Rotterdam, to receive these new boilers. Five new boilers, coming from an American Navy ship that was considered obsolete, were brought over by Holland America freighters and were installed. The whole process was completed on 11 December 1967. The ship then returned to continue her Atlantic crossings but also makes an ever-increasing number of cruises. In 1968 an upgrade follows to make the ship compliant with the latest SOLAS regulations.

By 1968 the North Atlantic service for which the Nieuw Amsterdam had been built was coming to an end. All her peers had already been scrapped, sold off or were laid up. Full time cruising was the only option left. So on 8 November 1971 the ship departed for her final North Atlantic voyage from Rotterdam to New York and is then solely used for cruises with sailings from Port Everglades. In September 1972 the ship is registered under the flag of the Dutch Antilles for the N.V. Nieuw Amsterdam, of Willemstad, Curacao, (part of the commonwealth of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.) This was an administrative move to reduce the taxation on the ship, which was becoming a real burden due to the progressive tax measures introduced by the Dutch government around that time.

Nieuw amsterdam in later years

A photo of the Nieuw Amsterdam taken during one of her last years in service. Still proudly showing off her gracefull lines and spacious decks. Items that made her such a favourite with the travelling public.

It did not help very much that the ship was starting to show its age more and more. The steel plates in the double bottom tanks were going and her machinery was deteriorating to such an extent that it was decided to retire the ship on 17 December 1973 after returning from her last cruise. The ship is laid up over Christmas and New Year while the sale to a scrap merchant is being completed and then the Nieuw Amsterdam departs on the 9th. of January 1974 from Port Everglades to Taiwan. The trip goes via Curacao (for bunkers), through the Panama Canal, calling at Los Angeles (for bunkers) and then straight to Kaoshiung where the ship arrives on 25 February 1974 at the scrap yard of Nan Fong Steel Enterprises Ltd. On arrival the pilot comes on board and she is deliberately ran aground for easier dismantling. This process starts on the 16th. of March and is completed on the 5th. of October 1974.

There had been some vague attempts to dock the ship in Rotterdam and to preserve it as a museum, hotel and conference center but no sufficient funding could be found. This was mainly due to the fact that the 1973 oil crisis was going on at that time. A crisis that hit the Netherlands very hard. Petrol was rationed and car-free Sundays were introduced to save fuel. In this atmosphere there was no surplus money available to spend on the preservation of a ship that had been called the “Darling of the Dutch”. Many in the shipping world, then and now and certainly those who sailed on her, did and do consider the Nieuw Amsterdam the most beautiful and well loved North Atlantic liner of her day.

14 Comments

  1. W.J. Fransdonk

    April 1, 2014 at 12:03 am

    I sailed on the nieuw Amsterdam in 1959. As a bellboy and later as a deck stewart before coming to Australia in 1960. Up and down to New York and than a short cruise to the West Indies. It was the best time of my life,

  2. My mother and father migrated to the U.S. in 1952 from Germany. My father wrote a book about his life before he died with many fond memories aboard the Nieuw Amsterdam.

  3. I sailed on the Nieuw Amsterdam April 15 1969 from New York to Southampton and home late August 1969.The first class ticket was around 700.00 I think I was 15 at the time and it was one of the greatest times I ever had.The QE2 was coming out of Southampton as we sailed in.In later years I took the QE2 and now have car license plates with QE2–QETWO–QETOO–and QE-II four cars now I can’t afford to travel my ship to England.I live on Marthas Vineyard so have sea travel but nothing is as great as ocean travel on two great ships like the Nieuw Amsterdam and the QE2

  4. Mike Wallner
    Is the book your dad wrote out or was it for family would love to read about his time cross the ocean.
    Kendall Harris
    14 Brickyard Rd
    Chilmark Ma 02535
    qetwo2@gmail.com
    thegreatrock14@gmail.com

  5. Thank you for this discription. I was looking for some information to match with my family background. It seems that my grandfather on my father’s side managed one of the bars on the ss Nieuw Amsterdam that was built in 1938. His name was Arie Mol and he lived in Rotterdam. In rather scarse family stories about that period of time I was told that he stayed away for a very long time because of the war and that he came back with silk stockings for his wife, which were a grand luxury at that time. It’s also possible that his son, Gerard Lucas Mol, worked on the same ship lateron.
    I don’t know if it’s possible but could you give me some information about this? And I’m especially curious about possible pictures that you might have.
    Thanks in advance for your reaction.

    • Good morning,

      thank you for reading my blog. Your grand father must have left with the ship in 1939 and as it did not return until 1945 he must have been stuck with the ship for the whole war. I have photos of that war time, but it would be a far shot if your grand father would be on one of them. His personnel card will be in the archives and I can look that one up in august, but it will not have much more on it of where he was born and lived before the war and maybe the ships he sailed on if any other then the NA. Same for his son.
      I can try to do that in August if you are interested.

      Best regards

      Capt. Albert

  6. I sailed with my family on the SS Nieuw Amsterdam from Rotterdam to New York in the summer of 1958. I was 5 years old and have only scattered memories of the voyage. I do recall the tiny interior cabin my brother and I shared. No doubt my parents could only afford to sail 3rd class. But I can’t be sure, because I distinctly remember seeing my very first movie ever while on the ship– The Vikings, with Kirk Douglass and Ernest Borgnine. And from the descriptions above, it seems the movie theatre (an innovation at the time) was only in First Class. I also had somewhat unpleasant memories of the indoor pool (again only available to First Class passengers according to this website). I was very young, didn’t know how to swim yet, and the tiled sides seems frighteningly deep. So how I remember those two facilities in First Class, I can’t say–unless 2nd and 3rd Class passengers were occasionally allowed in to use the pool and movie theatre. I would love to find the ships deck plans if they are still available as well as the passenger regulations from that time. My last memory of the trip was standing on desk as we sailed past the Statue of Liberty.

  7. Patrick Mooney

    May 15, 2017 at 5:20 pm

    I have a photo of my mother and me on the deck circa 1960. The rescue ring hanging next to my mother identifies the ship as the Nieuw Amsterdam. We took several trips across the Atlantic in the early ’60’s on this ship. I have vague memories of the indoor pool and a porter hunting me down when I had vanished from our room.

  8. My Great, Great Grandad sailed back to the UK from NY (1st class btw, (way to go Great, Great Gramps!! unless everyone was the same during WW2)) in August of ’45 in which was probably her last trip under the White Star flag. I actually have a copy of a photo which I’m lead to believe was taken at the time of arrival showing him being met by his Grandson (my Great Uncle). Unfortunately, there is no detail showing the ship unless she is one of the vessels in the distant background, hard to tell.

  9. Anybody know where to view a schedule for HAL from 1968?
    Thank You.

  10. alfred dernison

    May 15, 2018 at 7:48 am

    In 1946 I went by bike from Leiden to Rotterdam to look at the Nieuw Amsterdam returning from her war job.During the 60 ties I made at various occasion photos of the Nw Amsterdam and HAL Liners.
    Now we still have the Rotterdam as a hotel ship. It is a pity that ship was not my favourite. I missed the yellow funnels that were replaced by two strange chimneys.
    Greetings Alfred

  11. Captain Albert, I am so glad I found your blog here on the Holland America site while I was researching the Nieuw Amsterdam.
    I am in possession of a photograph of a beloved aunt boarding the Nieuw Amsterdam.
    From the way she is dressed it appears to be the late 60’s or very early 70’s.
    From what I read above, the ship may of been docked in Port Everglades, which is now my local port.
    She would of flown in from New York City as she is wearing a fur coat.
    Would you be interested in the photo?
    I was wondering if Holland America keeps an archive of images.
    I can email it to you.
    By the way, I am finally booked on my first HAL cruise!
    It’s the April 2019 Nieuw Statendam transatlantic from Fort Lauderdale to Amsterdam.
    Thank you, Mark

    • Thank you for reading my blog.

      Yes I would be very interested in the photo. Maybe there is enough detail that I can pin point the date a little bit better.
      If you could send a scan to CaptAlbert1@aol.com then I will be glad to receive it, with the name of your good aunt as well of course.
      Holland America does not really keep an archive, so I am doing it for them. And my collection will go to the
      Maritime Museum later on, which has a lot of material but it stops in 1973 when HAL left Rotterdam. I am working hard to fill all the gaps.

      Thank you very much for your gift. I will be on the Nieuw Amsterdam from coming October to December 16 (which includes the first voyage
      so keep following my blog and you will see what you can expect for your cruise.

      Best regards

      Capt. Albert

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *