Queen Wilhelmina launches the Nieuw Amsterdam in the late 1930s. Video includes newsreel footage of the pre-war liner. Along with a trans-Atlantic crossing from Holland to New York. Then shots of the ship during WW II. Newsreel of cruising after the war from a Holland-America Line promo film.

(Left: Cary Grant was a big fan of Holland-America Line.)

The Nieuw Amsterdam, of all the Depression era ships of state, led a charmed existence. Introduced in recessionary 1938, her prewar service life consisted of a single brilliant year and can be seen as the final elegant flourish of the golden days day of travel before the war, postwar austerity and jet travel permanently altered the way people traveled. Neither the largest nor the fastest, the Nieuw Amsterdam earned her place in liner history by being the ultimate combination of elegance, comfort, and practical design in a three class ship.

The Nieuw Amsterdam was the Netherlands’ “ship of state”, just as the Normandie was France’s, the Queen Mary was Britain’s and United States was the United States’ Numerous Dutch artists vied for the honor of creating some part of the ship.

The first-class dinning room aboard the Nieuw Amsterdam

Their creation emerged in the spring of 1938, a light-colored and very spacious ship throughout, and although she had spacious public rooms, the colour scheme used gave her an even larger feel. Modern in every way, her owners proclaimed her “the ship of tomorrow”. She followed the Art Deco trend of the day in both interior decorations and exterior design. The interiors were distinguished by fluorescent lighting, aluminum motifs, and gentle pastels throughout the ship that created an understated elegance that would make the liner a favorite among seasoned transatlantic passengers.

Following World War 2 – Holland-America Line proudly announced the SS NIEUW AMSTERDAM’S return to trans-Atlantic sailings in the 1947 press release:

On this notable ship, the hopes of the whole of Holland are pinned to recapture some of the high class luxury ocean traffic which she enjoyed before the war, and which is an important “export” item in the country’s economy.

She is the fourth reconverted passenger vessel to rejoin the company’s post-War fleet. Her running mates are the Veendam, 15,450 gross tons, which reentered service in March of this year, and the companionships Westerdam, 12, 149 gross tons, running since July 1946, and the Noordam, 10,726 gross tons, since August of the same year. The Veendam carries 552 passengers in first and tourist classes, and the other approximately 150 in “First Class only” accommodations.

The addition of the Nieuw Amsterdam to the seventy-five year old route will increase the berth capacity by 1,228 in First, Cabin and Tourist classes, formerly Cabin, Tourist and Third.

The flagship’s gross registered tonnage of 36,667 (an increase of 380 tons over her pre-war measurement) makes her the third largest vessel at present in normal transatlantic operation.

Her builders’ claim that the Nieuw Amsterdam is probably the most thorough re-conversion job ever made is supported by the fact that eighteen months were consumed in restoring her from the effects of hard usage which 378,361 troops and others gave her in five and a half years of continuous war service, over a distance steamed of 530, 452 miles. Every square inch of her interior and exterior received the same meticulous care and attention for which Dutch shipyard workers are world renowned.

First Class Dining Room – after WW2.

In addition to restoring the vessel to her pre-war standard of exceptional luxuriousness, several new features have been added. These include the complete redesign and redecoration of the main public apartment, the Grand Hall, on the Promenade Deck. The color scheme has been entirely changed, and the room has received new carpeting, furniture and drapes. There are two entirely new rooms. A second, air conditioned, motion picture theater, for use of Cabin and Tourist class passengers makes her the only vessel afloat to be equipped with two such popular entertainment features. A Tropical Bar has been constructed for particular appeal to cruise passengers, on the Main Deck, aft, adjacent to a newly installed Delft-tiled swimming pool. Another innovation is the enlargement of the Cabin class lounge with “wings” extending to the sides of the vessel, following arrangements of the First Class smoking room, which was so popular before the war.

The other public rooms, such as the domed dining saloon, Ritz-Carlton room, smoking room; two indoor pools, Turkish Baths, and the twelve unique cabins de luxe, have been fully restored.

The Tourist Class (Cabin Class after WW2) Dining Room on the pre-war Nieuw Amsterdam.

The vessel made a great reputation for herself with the traveling public in seventeen and a half round trips of the Atlantic and on several cruises until the fall of 1939 when war broke out in Europe. During the “phony war” period she was tied up at her Hoboken pier, but in the early part of 1940, Holland still being neutral, she was scheduled for a short series of West Indies cruises to neutral ports. The Netherlands was invaded by the Nazis on May 10, 1940. The Nieuw Amsterdam was between the two Venezuelan ports of la Guaira and Puerto Cabello, with 600 American tourists. The cruise was immediately curtailed and the vessel raced back to New York where she arrived on May 14. This was the day the terrible “token bombing” of Rotterdam occurred and every member of the crew, from Captain Johannes J. Bijl down, was inflamed with rage. They got their revenge alter when their ship became a large factor in the downfall of the Third Reich by the services she performed in the Allied cause.

Artist’s rendering of the 3rd Class (Tourist Class after WW2) Dining room on the pre-war Nieuw Amsterdam.

The largest vessel in the Netherlands merchant marine was converted into a troop transport in September 1940 and, together with some three million tons of other Dutch shipping, did an outstanding job. She carried, from September 12, 1940 to April 10, 1946, 378,361 persons on errands of war, steaming 530,452 miles or a distance equal to twenty-one times around the world. This represented an average of 8,599 persons on each of forty-four voyages of 12,056 miles apiece!

The work of breaking out the beautiful public rooms and living quarters on the ship was performed largely in Singapore by Chinese labor. That which could not be removed was protected as well as possible, but much of it suffered grievous damage through haste, carelessness and misuse. Furniture, carpets and decorations remained in piles, in all kinds of weather, on the Singapore docks for weeks. It was later reloaded into the ship’s holds and put ashore again in Australia where it remained for two years before being transported to San Francisco for storage.

(Left: First Class Suite after WW2) Part of the breaking out for war service included the complete stripping of the whole of “C” Deck, and part of “B” Deck, of cabins , and fittings for more than a thousand hammocks installed. The Grand hall was turned into a “duplex dormitory” to accommodate 600 men in three tiered standees. The motion picture theater slept 386 and each cabin de luxe 22 officers.

She carried Australian, British, Canadian, Netherlands, New Zealand and South African troops, prisoners of war, and repatriated persons.

Fifteen weeks were required to break out the troop equipment and fittings, such as kitchens, wash places, special electrical installations, hammocks, alarm installations, and defensive armament (there were 36 guns) standees, etc. the breaking out list comprised thirty eight pages in single space type. By the beginning of August, 1946, the vessel was ready for rebuilding.

First Class Lounge before WW2

Pre-War Suite – very modern for the period.

In the preceding February, March and April, 200,0000 cubic feet (about 2,000 tons measurement) of furniture and decorations had been brought back to Rotterdam from the U.S. in various ships. This was the equipment which had been taken out nearly six years before, and it was in poor condition. There were over 3,000 chairs and 500 tables, for instance, which were sent back to the original contractors for repair and reupholstering. Twenty percent had to be entirely replaced. Factories all over Holland tooth combed their storage facilities for material and fabrics, much of which had been concealed from the Germans during the occupation. In many cases, small metal parts, such as door hinges, and clamps, had to be made by hand because machinery for their manufacture had been stolen by the enemy.

The entire rubber flooring of the ship was renewed and eighty five percent of the carpeting. All steel work was scaled and preserved and all pipes throughout the vessel cleaned. All ceilings and walls were removed; all closets and fixtures in cabins replaced, and all of the vessel’s 374 private bathrooms were entirely replaced with new equipment, obtained in the face of discouraging shortages of material and skilled help. In 268 first class cabins, the irremovable wooden paneling, which had been scarred scratched and mutilated, was planed down to half its thickness and then refinished and re-lacquered. All electric wiring throughout the ship was renewed, a stupendous job.

Other items which made the rebuilding of the ship a more difficult job than the original construction included: 12,000 square feet of glass renewed, which had been painted over for the blackout and had cracked in the tropic sun; decks renewed with 2,700 square feet of teakwood, and all rails scraped free of carved initials; rubber packing for 2,200 portholes replaced and the entire brass work re-burnished.

Breakfast and Luncheon Menu from 1963.

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