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1930s – The SS Europa crossing the pond…
Hamburg, Germany --- Photo shows the , completely reconditioned after her disastrous fire about a year ago. Here she is starting out on her maiden travels in northern waters, before her Atlantic crossing on which she will attempt to beat her sistership's record. The sailing is slated for March 19. --- Image by © Underwood & Underwood/CORBIS

1930s – The SS Europa crossing the pond…

  • The SS Europa (later the French Line SS Liberté) was one of a pair of fast ocean liners built in the late nineteen-twenties for the Norddeutsche Lloyd line (NDL) for the transatlantic passenger service.
  • Her sister ship was the Bremen, and the two were very similar, though not identical.

  • Come aboard the blue riband winning SS Europa for a transatlantic from Germany to New York in the 1930s in glorious 16mm monochrome home movies. Sadly, this orphaned film had no identifying markings as to date or family. Note the plane on board with the name Bremen painted on the side, then note the two adjoining shots toward the very end of lifeboats, one with the name Europa and the other with Bremen. And remember, this vessel would become the fabled Liberte of the French Line after the war. Music is by a German dance band of the period, from an intriguing little iTunes download called “Swing Tanzen Verboten.” Enjoy!
  • The German Film Director Leni Riefenstahl found it the only way to cross the Atlantic. She was the infamous director of Triumph of the Will… the infamous propaganda film of the 1934 Nazi Party rally in Nuremberg, Germany.

Leni Riefenstahl Sits on Ships Railing – Original caption: 11/4/1938- New York, NY- Leni Riefenstahl, 27-year-old Queen of German Cinema and a reported favorite of Adolf Hitler, as she arrived in New York, Nov. 4, on the S.S. Europa. Photo shows her posed on the ships railing.

Europa was built in 1929 with her sister ship Bremen to be the second 50,000 gross tons North German Lloyd liner. With both ships, the NDL will reach the top class shipping company of Atlantic traffic once more.

Europa and her slightly larger sister were designed to have a cruising speed of 27.5 knots, allowing an Atlantic crossing time of 5 days. This enabled Norddeutsche Lloyd to run regular weekly crossings with two ships, a feat that normally required three.

Evangelist Aimee Semple – Original caption: Mrs. Aimee Semple McPherson noted Los Angeles Evangelist looking as fashionable as ever as she arrives on the S.S. Europa after a tour of the Holy Lands.

  • The launching of Europa took place at Blohm & Voss shipyard, Hamburg on August 1, 1928. Europa was intended to be completed in spring 1929. However, on the morning of 26 March 1929, a fire broke out while still at the equipment dock.
  • The fire raged all day long and it was not until the evening when the fire was under control. The ship’s turbines were damaged heavily and also the remainder of the ship had been significantly damaged.
  • After long discussions between builder and shipping company, it was decided to repair the ship. Within eleven months the ship was finished and completed on 22 February 1930. The cause of the fire could be never clarified completely.

Europa made her maiden voyage to New York on 19 March 1930 taking the westbound Blue Riband from the SS Bremen with the average speed of 27.91 knots and a crossing time of 4 days, 17 hours and 6 minutes.

Like the Bremen, Europa had a small seaplane launched from a catapult on her upper deck between the funnels. The airplane flew from the ship to a landing at the seaplane port in Blexen. The pilots and technicians gained experience later applied to equiping German warships with on-board aircraft.

The catapult was removed from both Bremen and Europa after a few years of service, because it was too expensive and complex.

During World War II, she was in German hands and largely inactive. There were plans to use her as a transport in Operation Sealion, the intended invasion of Great Britain, and later conversion to an aircraft carrier. None of these plans came to pass, and in 1945, she was captured by the allies and used as a troopship, sailing as the USS Europa (AP-177).

However, after it was discovered that the ship had infrastructural problems from years of neglect (defective wiring and hull cracks), she was removed from this service.


After the war she was turned over to the French as war reparations and France began to refit her for passenger service. In 1946 while being refitted, she broke free of her moorings during a storm and collided with the wreck of the Paris and sank. She was raised, and in 1950, made her maiden voyage under her new name, Liberté, to New York.

The refitted Liberté received the colours of the French Line, Compagnie Générale Transatlantique, as well as lengthened funnels. The original squat-shaped funnels had already been lengthened while in service as the SS Europa, to address the problem of exhaust soot coating passengers, but gained further height for the French Line.

Following eleven years of service as one of the largest transatlantic liners in the French Line fleet, SS Liberté was laid up in 1961 and scrapped in 1962.

SS Liberté also made an appearance in the 1954 classic film Sabrina, starring Audrey Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart, as the ocean liner which features in the final scenes of the film.

William Randolph Hearst is seen working in his suite aboard the S.S. Europa during a transatlantic crossing in 1931.

Fashion Designer Elsa Schiaparelli: Parisian fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli aboard the SS Europa. She is in New York to do some Christmas shopping.

Original caption: Opera Star Returns. Mme. Elizabeth Rethberg, of the Metropolitan Opera Company, shown as she arrived at New York on the S.S. Europa for the opening of the Metropolitan season.

Charles M. Schwab Talking to the Press – Original caption: Charles M. Schwab, (L), steel magnate, is shown as he was conversing with reporters aboard the Europa, on which he arrived in New York on June 17th, from Europe.


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