"Welcome aboard one of the finest ships afloat"
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"Those masts that stand so still in harbour will teeter through the sky. Those slant oval eyes near the crown of the bow will plunge into angry seas and stream with water, and even that bridge will get a ducking" New York Times
After the SS AMERICA was launched she needed to be fitted and for her seaworthness tickets to be endorsed.
SS AMERICA was originally designed to carry 543 cabin class, 418 tourist and 241 third class with a crew of some 643. The propelling machinery, with a weight of 2,514 tons, consisted of 2 sets of triple expansion steam turbines producing 34,000 shp driving twin, four bladed screws.
'SS AMERICA' possessed strikingly handsome lines, despite her bulk. She presented a sleek and most dynamic appearance as her tall prow was severely flared and had a slight 'clipper' rake, the very streamlined superstructure rose four decks above the main deck level and originated with a curved bridge and enclosed promenade decks. Topping her well-proportioned superstructure were two squat oval shaped funnels, both were equipped with 'San-pan' tops. The foremost funnel, mounted directly above the bridge, was in fact a 'dummy' included to create a well-balanced profile and housed an emergency generator. This 'San Pan' design was featured upon her 'sister ship' UNITED STATES and was in fact then duplicated onto the cargo ships of the same line as a trademark.
SS America circa 1940 - Emblazoned with the side hull markings, pre America's involvemnet in World War 2 - Note squat funnels
SS AMERICA left the yard for the first time under the command of Capt Joseph Kemp and a ship yard crew of 500 at 4.00am on June 4th 1940 for her builders trials of Virginia Capes. She returned 24 hours later with a 'thumbs up' and on the 9th of June she set sail for dry docking at Boston Naval yard for painting of her underwater hull. Standardised Navy trials set for the measured mile course off Rockland Maine were held on the 13th and 14th June 1940 followed by an 8 hour endurance run on which she averaged 24.68 kts and under full revolutions delivering a staggering 42,850 shp reached 25.3 kts. The AMERICA was returned to New Port News for some minor alterations and one major one, her San Pan funnels were a huge flop and without publicity they were raised 15ft, which in fact enhanced her appearance. These had to be raised as the smoke was not dispersing correctly and lingered within the accomodations
SS America circa 1940 - with the 15ft extensions to her funnels
AMERICA'S internal appointments carried the stamp of all that was the ultimate in contemporary American design and decor. Although traditional features like brass work and paneling were there she was ahead of her time due to her designers using items such as aluminium, stainless steel, ceramics and synthetic fibres. Of particular interest were her circular first class smoking room, galleried main lounge and a mosaiced indoor swimming pool on C deck. Her builders never used the word Titanic to say she was unsinkable but she was constructed along those lines, that is with individual compartments, it was in theory able to stay a float in case of damage to one or more compartments. The AMERICA passed three compartment flooding standards, that been 3 of her 14 compartments reaching to her main deck could be flooded yet she was able to remain a float.
The AMERICA was Powerful in appearance, yet the arrangement of the funnels, foremast, kingposts (cranes) and short foredeck gave the AMERICA a rather squashed up front look.
SS America July 30th 1940 -SS America lets fly with a salute from her steam whistles on her arrival from her delivery from New Port News
The vessels final cost was $17,586,478 and by the time she was ready for service the war in Europe had been underway for 9 months and therefore her original maiden voyage had to be cancelled and re charted to neutral waters. As a safe guard against submarine attack the 'AMERICA's' flanks were emblazoned with her name and a large American flag, and against all principles she steamed at night fully illuminated.
The Philadelphia newspaper of August 24th 21 1940 quoted in part " Above all else you are sailing American Seas, under the American flag on an American ship armed with nothing but the Stars and Stripes"
On August 5th the liner sailed at 10.00 am on the first of two ten hour cruises to nowhere, the first was with 1,300 travel agents and the second with 1,500 freight agents.
Her first Maiden voyage was on August 10th 1940 with 775 passengers with a crowd of some 3,000 waving the steamer off. The AMERICA returned on the 22nd August after a cruise to San Juan and although not the best of maiden voyages it was successful and triumphant.
During her cruises and amid naval "hush hush" security she was dry docked at Norfolk Naval yard on January 3rd 1941 and in addition to 'regular maintenance' she was fitted with a mine degausing cable. The first installed on an American ship it was fitted in a record of 3 days instead of the normal 30 days.
Her first run through the Panama Canal was on February 4th 1941 and whilst on this trip she called into San Francisco and had a staggering 11,400 vistors in one day - she was indeed the pride of America.
As World War II closed in around America the SS AMERICA was requisitioned to the US Navy. Capt Stedman, whilst in St Thomas received the requistion order on May 28th 1941, to return SS AMERICA to Newport News for handing over to the Navy.