SS Columbus (1924)

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Bundesarchiv Bild 102-00383, Dampfer "Columbus".jpg
Career (Germany) Flag of German Reich (1935–1945).svg
Name: SS Columbus
Namesake: Christopher Columbus
Owner: Norddeutscher Lloyd
Operator: Germany
Port of registry: Hamburg, Germany
Route: Hamburg- New York
Ordered: 1914
Builder: Schichau, Danzig, Germany
Launched: 1914
Completed: 1919
Commissioned: 1919
Decommissioned: 1920
Maiden voyage: Mid-1924
In service: 1924
Out of service: 1939
Renamed: 1914; Hindenburg to Columbus; 1920
Refit: 1928, 1938
Struck: 1939
Homeport: Bremen
Motto: "Columbus' ship"
Nickname: "Germany's Merchant Ship"
Fate: Scuttled by crew to avoid capture by Royal Navy. Coordinates of wreck unknown.
Status: Somewhere about 400 miles from Virginia
Notes: Served Germany for 15 years
General characteristics
Class and type: Hindenburg
Tonnage: 32354 GRT (1924-29), 32565 GRT (1929-39)[1]
Length: 750 ft (230 m)[1]
Beam: 83 ft (25 m)[1]
Height: 49 ft (15 m)[1]
Decks: 8
Propulsion: Triple-expansion reciprocating engines (1924-29), Steam turbine engines (1929-39); Twin screw[1]
Speed: Before refit: 18 knots (33 km/h) After refit: 20 knots (37 km/h)[1]
Boats and landing
craft carried:
Capacity: 1655 passengers

The Columbus, laid down before the start of World War I, was originally to be named Hindenburg. However, her then-sister, originally named Columbus, was handed over to the White Star Line after the war as part of reparations in 1920. The Allies allowed the Norddeutscher Lloyd (NDL), her owners, to keep the remaining ship. NDL decided to give her the name of her departed sister, now the British Homeric. Construction, which had been held up by the war, resumed at Schichau Shipyards in Danzig, Germany.

Construction and maiden voyage[edit]

Material shortages caused by the war delayed her completion until 1924. She made her maiden voyage in April of that year. At the time, she was the German merchant marine's largest, fastest ocean liner. She measured 32,354 gross tons, was 236 metres (774 ft) long and carried 1,650 passengers: 400 in First Class, 600 in Second and 650 Third Class passengers. She was one of the first liners to have an outside swimming pool installed on her top deck, as well as a platform for night-time dancing. She had triple-expansion steam engines which drove her at a rather modest 18 knots. Nevertheless she was quite popular and convinced NDL that larger passenger liners were feasible.

Later career[edit]

A toy of SS Columbus made by Märklin, in the collection of the Children's Museum of Indianapolis

With the building of the Bremen and Europa, the Columbus was supplanted as the queen of the NDL fleet. In 1928, she was given a refit to make her resemble her younger, larger and faster running mates. This included the addition of two larger smokestacks and replacement of the reciprocating engines with geared turbines, increasing her speed from 18 knots to 20 knots. She spent the winter months cruising the Caribbean.

At the outbreak of World War II in September 1939, Columbus was on one of these cruises when she was ordered to return to Germany at once. The Royal Navy was on the lookout for enemy ships. Putting her passengers ashore at Havana, Cuba, her captain and crew spent two months evading the British by taking refuge in several South American ports.

On 19 December the British destroyer HMS Hyperion sighted Columbus about 400 miles off the coast of Virginia. The still neutral American heavy cruiser Tuscaloosa was also in the area, and silently observed the two ships. Rather than surrender the ship, her crew scuttled her, and she burned and sank. Her passengers and crew, 567 men and nine women, were taken aboard Tuscaloosa as rescued seamen, not as prisoners of war as they would have been had the British picked them up. Tuscaloosa took all personnel to New York City. After the end of war many returned to Germany.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Harnack, Edwin P (1938) [1903]. All About Ships & Shipping (7th ed.). London: Faber and Faber. p. 549. 

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