SS Manhattan (1931)

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SS Manhattan was a 24,189-ton luxury liner of the United States Lines, named after a borough of New York City.

SS Manhattan1.jpg
A postcard of the SS Manhattan.
United States
Builder: New York Shipbuilding Corporation, Camden
Laid down: 6 December 1930
Launched: 5 December 1931
Out of service: 1959
Renamed: USS Wakefield (1941)
Fate: Sold for scrap, 1965
General characteristics
Tonnage: 24,289 gross tons
Length: 668 ft (204 m)
Beam: 86 ft (26 m)
Propulsion: Steam Turbines - Twin Screw
Speed: 20 Knots Standard
Capacity: 1,100+ passengers, 500 crew

Commercial career[edit]

At the time of their construction, Manhattan and her sister, Washington, also built by New York Shipbuilding Corporation, were the largest liners ever built in the United States, and Manhattan was the first large liner built in the US since 1905. Manhattan and Washington were two of the few pure liners built by New York Shipbuilding, which had previously built a large number of cargo liners. Manhattan carried over 1,100 passengers in cabin, tourist, and third class. United States Lines signed contracts in 1931 for the two ships at a cost of approximately $21 million each. This was considered an extreme cost in the Depression, and a gamble by a man in the passenger liner business.[1]

Travel writer Douglas Ward claims in his book Berlitz Guide to Cruising the alcoholic beverage "Manhattan" was named after the ship. However, there is little evidence to confirm this.

SS 'Manhattan beached at Palm Beach, Florida

Beginning in August 1932, Manhattan flew the US flag on the New York-Hamburg route, a route she would continue to serve with only one short break until December 1939, when President Roosevelt invoked the Neutrality Act against Germany. In 1936, the ship carried the US Olympic team to the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin.[citation needed] In 1938, it carried some of the Kennedy family to the United Kingdom when Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr. was appointed U.S. Ambassador to Great Britain.[citation needed]

On 22 March 1939 the passengers embarking on the "Manhattan" in Hamburg included approximately 80 unaccompanied children who were refugees from Nazi controlled countries like Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia. They were taken to Southampton in England and were one part of the Kindertransport, as it became to be known, between December 1938 and the outbreak of war in September 1939.

In October 1939, Manhattan transported passengers, mostly Americans, from England (then at war with Germany) to New York. On February 4, 1940, the ship was seized by British forces in Gibraltar and released after 390 sacks of mail bound for Germany were confiscated. From January 1940 until Italy's entry into World War II in June 1940, Manhattan sailed between New York and Genoa. On January 12, 1941, while in coastal service on the Atlantic seaboard, she went aground 9 nmi (17 km)[clarification needed] north of Palm Beach, and was refloated 22 days later. On March 6, 1941,[citation needed] the commander of the marine inspection bureau suspended the master and first officer after finding them guilty of negligence in the grounding. The master received an eight-month suspension while the first officer was suspended for one month.[2]

As a troopship[edit]

On 6 June 1941, the Manhattan was requisitioned and leased by the US Navy, and was subsequently commissioned as the troopship USS Wakefield on 15 June 1941. Assigned a Coast Guard crew under Commander Wilfrid N. Derby, she became the largest vessel ever operated by the Coast Guard.

The Manhattan would never re-enter commercial service. On 3 September 1942, while en route from Clyde to New York as part of convoy TA-18, fire broke out aboard. Taken in tow by the Canadian Salvage vessel Foundation Franklin, the Wakefield reached Halifax five days later, still burning. By the time the last flames were extinguished, her hull was effectively gutted. Paid off by the US Navy, she was towed to Boston Navy Yard and rebuilt to troopship specifications.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Uncle Sam Enters The Atlantic Race", February 1931, Popular Mechanics article on the new construction in the 1930s
  2. ^ Associated Press, "2 ARE SUSPENDED IN GROUNDING OF S.S. MANHATTAN", Chicago Daily Tribune, Friday 7 March 1941, Volume C, Number 57, p.3.
  • Gibbs, C.R. Vernon (1957). Passenger Liners of the Western Ocean (2nd ed). London: Staples Press Limited. LCCN 57001880
  • New York Shipbuilding Corporation (1948). 50 Years: New York Shipbuilding Corporation. Camden:house publication
  • Newell, Gordon (1963). Ocean Liners of the 20th Century (1st ed.). Seattle: Superior Publishing Company. LCCN 63-18494

External links[edit]

  • Winchester, Clarence, ed. (1937), "The Manhattan and the Washington", Shipping Wonders of the World, pp. 678–682 illustrated description of these ships