RETURN TO THE HOMEPAGE                                                                                                                                                                                                             S/S NIEUW AMSTERDAM 1938


Design and Construction (1936 – 1938):

In the 1930s, the Holland-America Line was one of the greatest companies operating ships on the North Atlantic. The company had been founded in 1870, and many renowned vessels had been in its service through the years. The proudest of them all was probably the stately Nieuw Amsterdam, which had entered service back in 1906. The Nieuw Amsterdam was never noted for her speed, her 16-knot run certainly did not make her a transatlantic greyhound. Instead it was her interiors and the magnificent service and cuisine that made this ship what it was – the greatest in the Dutch merchant fleet.

But the 1930s brought a whole lot of changes into the picture, such as the Great Depression which gave rise to a decline in passenger numbers. As a result many companies laid up some of their older ships. The Holland America Line laid up their elderly Nieuw Amsterdam in 1930.

After a reorganisation of the company, by 1936 things were starting to look better for Holland America and the ordered a new ship for the transatlantic trade. The Rotterdam Drydock Company were given the contract to build her. With a gross tonnage of around 35,000 tons she would be the largest ship built in the Netherlands at that time. On the 5th January 1936 the keel laying ceremony was held for the new flagship. Unlike so many other ships being built at the time, the new vessel was not designed with any war roles such as a troopship in mind, thus earning her the nickname ‘Ship of Peace’. On the 10th April 1937, the new flagship was launched by HM Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands and she named the ship "Nieuw Amsterdam". This name had been chosen to honour this ship's honoured precedessor.  

However the name “Nieuw Amsterdam” (or “New Amsterdam” in English) also honoured the name of a 17th century Dutch colony in North America. Nieuw Amsterdam was the name of the 17th century fortified settlement in the New Netherlands colony that eventually became today’s New York City. This colony was founded in 1625 by the Dutch West India Company, and the city was located on the strategic, fortifiable southern tip of the island of Manhattan and was intended to defend the river access to the company’s fur trade operations in the Hudson Valley. Nieuw Amsterdam developed into the Dutch Empire’s largest colonial settlement in North America and remained a Dutch possession until 1664, when it fell to the British. The Dutch regained it briefly in 1673, renaming it "New Orange", but then ceded it permanently to the British in 1674. The 1625 date of the foundation of the city is commemorated in the Official Seal of the City of New York (formerly, the year on the seal was 1664, the year of British incorporation). Nieuw Amsterdam (later known as New York City) remained part of the British Empire until the Declaration of Independence in 1776 and in 1787 the Constitution was signed to formally establish the new United States of America (USA) as an independent nation.

The S.S. Nieuw Amsterdam was then taken for fitting out by the top Dutch artists and designers. She finally emerged in 1938 fully completed and as a very fine and well appointed flagship. Indeed it was said that the Nieuw Amsterdam was perhaps the most modern and contemporary liner of the 1930's. Her interiors were completely done in the modern Art Deco-styleOne of the ship’s centrepieces was the main restaurant, which was adorned by numerous Murano glass light fixtures and columns covered in gold leaf. Tinted mirrors, ivory walls and satinwood furniture all contributed to create the luxurious atmosphere. The restaurant had no portholes or windows facing the open sea, making it depend solely on artificial illumination. This design for the first class restaurant is similar to that on the S.S. Normandie of CGT French Line which gave this ship the nickname "The Ship of Light".  <>
On the 23rd April 1938, the Nieuw Amsterdam set out on her sea trials, which took place in the North Sea. She passed with flying colours and was handed over to Holland America Line and became their new flagship.

Prewar Holland America Line Era (1938 – 1940):

The Nieuw Amsterdam departed Rotterdam on her maiden voyage bound for New York on the 10th May 1938, calling at Boulogne and Southampton en route.
The voyage was a complete success, but as the Nieuw Amsterdam started on her ocean going career the war clouds were gathering over Europe. 

On the 22nd November 1939, the Nieuw Amsterdam left Rotterdam on what turned out to be her final peacetime transatlantic crossing to New York. Soon with the invasion of Poland by Germany on the 1st September 1939, the war clouds hanging over Europe erupted into the Second World War. As a result the Nieuw Amsterdam remained in New York and for a while was used for short cruises out of New York while a decision was made on her wartime role.  

War Service (1940 – 1946):

On the 14th May 1940, Germany invaded the Netherlands and the Dutch were forced to surrender. At this time the Nieuw Amsterdam was on a cruise in the Caribbean. When she returned to New York, she was immediately ordered to remain in port until further notice while her future was decided.  In September 1940, with the Dutch Government in exile in Britain, she was handed over to the British Ministry of Transport. Cunard Line was chosen to act as her manager. With her regular crew on board, and with Holland-America Line’s Commodore Johannes J. Bijl commanding her, the Nieuw Amsterdam sailed from New York on the 12th September 1940 bound for Halifax where she was converted for use as a troopship for the Allies painted in wartime grey.

At this time, the Allies were moving troops in huge numbers from Australia and New Zealand and from Britain, Canada and the USA to the battlefields of the Middle East. As a result more troopships were needed urgently and the Nieuw Amsterdam was despatched from Halifax bound for Australia and New Zealand. Unfortunately in the rush there wasn't time to fit her armaments and these were done en route in Singapore. In January 1941, she was sent on her first trooping voyage from Australia to Bombay in a convoy comprising many distinguished liners including the Queen Mary, Mauretania, Aquitania, Empress of Britain and Andes. 

Soon the Nieuw Amsterdam was working hard on troopship convoys, shuttling to and fro between Suez (for the Middle East) and Durban in South Africa. On one of these voyages, she carried the Greek royal family into exile in South Africa. After the United States entered the war following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour on the 7th December 1941, the Nieuw Amsterdam was employed in the Indian Ocean and the Pacific.  In the last years of the Second World War the Nieuw Amsterdam was deployed to  the North Atlantic and carried Canadian and American troops to Gourock in Scotland for onward deployment in Europe. In May 1944, while the Nieuw Amsterdam was berthed in Hoboken (New York), HRH Princess Juliana (daughter of HM Queen Wilhelmina, boarded the ship for a tour and a buffet lunch with the officers and crew. This must have been an inspiring moment for all those on board. Eventually in 1945 the Second World War ended with the surrenders of Germany and then Japan. 

During the course of the war the Nieuw Amsterdam had carried over 350,000 troops and steamed some 530,452 miles. The Nieuw Amsterdam and the other liners made a huge contribution to the transport of troops for the war effort and she was also used to repatriate Dutch citizens from the Dutch East Indies back to the Netherlands.

Postwar Holland America Line Era (1946 – 1971):


When she was finished with her repatriation tasks, the Nieuw Amsterdam was handed back to the Holland-America Line, by the British Government who had requisitioned her,on the 8th April 1946, and soon she returned to Rotterdam. The "Darling of the Netherlands", had her funnels repainted in their HAL colours, but otherwise still in the drab military grey wartime colours, she triumphantly sailed home into Rotterdam on the 10th April 1946. The city responded in their thousands and the harbour was filled with spectator craft dressed with flags and sounding their horns, whilst the shoreline was filled with millions of enthusiastic people welcoming this famous ship home. It was a remarkable day, not only for the return of the Nieuw Amsterdam, but also because it was the exact anniversary of the 8th anniversary of her launch. Many in the Netherlands claimed that this day, as a symbolic day of liberation.  However she was in no fit state to return to her prewar transatlantic duties just yet and was sent to be refitted by her original builders on the 22nd May 1946 ready for a return to passenger service. Her original furnishings had been stored in San Francisco since her requisition and these were restored and returned to their rightful places on board the ship.

The refit took 18 months, but on the 29th October 1947, the Nieuw Amsterdam was finally back on the transatlantic run. During the refit the opportunity had been taken to improve her passenger accommodations and she with a slightly larger gross tonnage than before of 36,667 tons. The Nieuw Amsterdam re-emerged into passenger service in all her original finery and her prewar popularity continued and Holland America Line were back in business on the transatlantic service.

Nieuw Amsterdam continued to serve her owners into the 1950s, both on the transatlantic run and as an occasional cruise ship. In 1952, the arrival of the marvellous S/S United States made the flagship of the Dutch merchant fleet seem outdated. Soon Holland America Line decided to update their flagship and introduced air conditioning throughout and fitting stablisers. She also emerged in the company's new grey colour scheme. 

However by the late 1950s and early 1960s the jet age was rapidly taking over the passenger trade on the North Atlantic and the great ocean liners were finding it increasingly hard to compete. As a result in 1961 the ship again was extensively refitted. This refit involved abandoning her original three class system and replacing it with just First and Tourist Class. Again improvements led to an increase in her gross tonnage to 36,982 tons. In early 1962 the modernised Nieuw Amsterdam returned to service on the transatlantic service but also for cruising.

Sadly by the mid 1960s the Nieuw Amsterdam was beginning to show her age and her boilers began to play up. In 1967 a new set of boilers was fitted at the shipyards of Wilton Fijenoord in Schiedam, the Netherlands. As the 1970s drew closer, the Nieuw Amsterdam began to be used more and more for cruises as the passenger ship market changed with the increasing dominance of air travel and the new Jet Age.

Her Final Years (1971 – 1974):

By the early 1970s the dominance of air travel was really taking its toll on the great ocean liners. The S.S. United States was withdrawn from service in 1969 and increasingly new passenger liners like the QE2, France or the Michelangelo and Raffaello dominated the remaining ocean liner market on the North Atlantic. The old Nieuw Amsterdam’s market on the transatlantic service was declining and it was decided to turn her into a full time cruise ship. On the 8th November 1971, the ship departed from Rotterdam for her final transatlantic crossing to New York and was then was solely deployed on cruises for the remainder of her career sailing for Port Everglades in Florida. In September 1972 the ship was re-registered under the Antillean flag.

Sadly by this time it was clear that the venerable Nieuw Amsterdam was showing her age and her glory days had gone. Being well over 30 years old it was decided that the Nieuw Amsterdam should be retired from service. On the 17th December 1973, the Nieuw Amsterdam returned from her very last cruise. She was then taken out of service, and laid up over Christmas.

Then, when the New Year had arrived, the Nieuw Amsterdam left Port Everglades on her last passenger voyage on 9th January 1974 which was a final cruise through the Panama Canal to Los Angeles. There she was decommissioned from service and sailed to Kaoshiung in Taiwan for scrapping. On 25th February 1974, the Nieuw Amsterdam arrived at the scrapyard of Nan Fong Steel Enterprises Ltd., where she would be cut up. The dismantling process started on the 16th March, and seven months later, on the 5th October 1974, the former flagship of the Holland-America Line was completely gone. Thus ends the story of the Nieuw Amsterdam, one of the most gracious ladies of the sea and one of the finest Dutch ships ever built.  


(c) Cruise Ship History Collection 2018 including www.thecunarders.co.uk                                                                                                                                                                    A Edward Elliott