THE plans for a German liner to be called “Columbus” had been made as early as 1914 when North German Lloyd had placed orders for two 34,000 ton ships to counter the impressive Hamburg American trio “Imperator”, “Vaterland” and “Bismark”. The North German twins were to be called “Columbus” and “Hindenberg”, but war would postpone their construction by over six years.
In the aftermath of the Great War, the terms dictated in the Treaty of Versailles were particularly harsh on Germany, and the Germans were ordered to complete the two as of yet unbuilt ships as war reparations. So as the remainder of the surviving German fleet was parceled out to the victorious Allies, workers at the Schichau Shipyards were busily constructing a ship that was to have been their “Columbus”. But the Allies had dictated that the liner--completed in 1922--was to go to the White Star Line, and under the British flag she was renamed “Homeric”. Fortunately for the Germans, the Allied victors decided that the second ship would remain German flagged, and finally workers stated construction on what would become the S.S. “Columbus”.
s.s. Columbus. Image provided courtesy of Alan Zamchick. Construction of “Columbus” was not without problems. At her launch in 1922, the ship had become stuck on the launch ways, and it took two months to dislodge the great liner. Material shortages further delayed her entry into service, and it was not until April 1924 that she was finally ready to embark on her maiden voyage. When she finally entered service, “Columbus” was the largest and fastest ship in the German fleet.
“Columbus” quickly proved her worth on the North Atlantic and became an extremely popular ship. So profitable was she, that her owners started to consider a duo of express liners for service on the North Atlantic. These would ultimately become the “Bremen” and “Europa”, but it would be a further four years before these record breakers would enter service. “Columbus” had some years left as flagship of the North German Lloyd fleet.
In 1929, “Columbus” was refitted with steam geared turbines that had the effect of increasing her service speed from 18 to 20 knots. Her exterior profile was also altered to more closely fit with the sleek “Bremen” and “Europa”, most notably by the replacement of her tall raked funnels with more streamlined and squat funnels that were more characteristic of the motor liners of the day. When she was displaced as flagship of the North German Lloyd fleet by the faster express liners, “Columbus” still spent some summer months on the Atlantic. However, she spent much of her time cruising to the Caribbean, and indeed, she was in the midst of a Caribbean cruise when World War II started in September 1939.
As with the case of most all liners not in home waters at the start of hostilities, great pains were taken to avoid capture by enemy vessels. With the British Navy controlling the seas, German liners were particularly vulnerable to attack. “Columbus” disembarked her passengers at Havana, Cuba, and would spend the next several months making quick dashes between various Central and South American ports amidst much speculation as to her intended use. Rumor was silenced on 20 December 1939 when it was reported the great liner had been scuttled by her crew off Vera Cruz, Mexico to avoid capture by the British Navy. Like many other liners before her, “Columbus” suffered the ignominious distinction of being a wartime casualty, and the caeer of another great German liner was laid to sea.
V I T A L     S T A T I S T I C S
Gross Tonnage: 32,354 tons initial
Length: 774 feet 3 inches
Machinery: Steam triple expansion engines, initial
Speed: 18 knots
Passenger Capacity: 400 First Class, 600 Second, 650 Third
Built: Schichau Shipyards, Danzig, Germany
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HTML layout and design by Bryan R. Guinn. Image of “Columbus” in port provided courtesy of Alan Zamchick. Bibliography on text available here. No unauthorized reproduction.