It may be that few people know that there is an ocean liner in mid-town Milan: the Conte Biancamano. The great ship - or rather, part of her – arrived at the Leonardo da Vinci Science Museum in 1961, divided into sections, from La Spezia where the old steamer had been dismantled.This only remaining survivor of the many and glorious Italian liners had entered service in 1925, the last Italian passenger ship to be built abroad. The Conte Biancamano had been ordered from the William Beardmore shipyard at Dalmuir in Scotland by the Lloyd Sabaudo following the success of the twins Conte Rosso and Conte Verde built by the same yard a few years earlier. The third Count was, in fact, a larger version of the previous ships, whose external lines she repeated almost identically. The décor of the four Counts was entirely designed and realised by the Coppedé brothers of Florence in their characteristically magniloquent and exuberant style.
In 1932, after having served on Lloyd Sabaudo's routes to both North and South America, the Conte Biancamano became part of the combined fleet of the new Italia Flotte Riunite, remaining in service across the Atlantic; she also had the distinction, in the early months of 1932, of making the new company's first pleasure cruise.In 1937, she was transferred to the fleet of Lloyd Triestino, becoming their flagship. Suitably renovated (the passenger accommodation was greatly improved, thanks to a reduction in numbers as a result of the elimination of the third class) and now with an elegant white livery, the beautiful ship was placed in the express service to Shanghai.
In March, 1940 the Conte Biancamano resumed the colours of the Italia company to whom she was chartered as a replacement for the motorship Orazio, which had tragically sunk following a fire in the Mediterranean on the 21st January of the same year, taking with her 108 victims. In a curious twist of fate, the survivors were rescued by the Conte Biancamano.
The beautiful “triptych” brochure published in 1925, was one of the best pieces published in the mid-'Twenties for the “Conti” series; each portrait reproduces the inagurual posters painted by well-known artists. The Conte Rosso is the work of Aurelio Craffonara, the Conte Verde of Ettore Mazzini and the Conte Biancamano of Severino Tremator.
KEEL LAYING: June 1924
MAIDEN VOYAGE: Genova-New York 11/20/1925
SHIP YARD: Beardmore, Glasgow, Scotland
HULL NUMBER: 640
COMPANy: Lloyd Sabaudo, Genova
LENGTH OVERALL: 653 ft
WIDTH: 71,1 ft
GROSS TONNAGE: 24416 tsl
PROPULSION: Geared turbines with twin screw
SERVICE SPEED: 20,00 knots
TOP SPEED: 21,00 knots
POWER: 24.000 horsepower
FIRST CLASS: 280
SECOND CLASS: 420
THIRD CLASS: 390
FOURTH CLASS: 660
FATE: on 16th August 1960 arrived at La Spezia; broken up by Terrestre Marittima.
GENERAL ARRANGEMENT PLANS
She found herself at Cristobal when Italy entered the War on the 10th June, 1940; she and her sister, the Conte Grande, were the largest Italian liners to have been “forgotten” in foreign waters when war was declared. When, together with the Conte Grande, she was returned to Italy at the end of the War, the Italia company set up an architectural competition to devise the reconstruction of the two Counts; it was decided to retain their original names which were already so well-known and respected in the international market. It is interesting to note that, in advance of the arrival of the ship at Monfalcone, the shipyard had already prepared a large model of the vessel in her present guise as the USS Hermitage. With alternative models of possible new bow sections, this enabled them to study the best aesthetic solutions to the modification of her external appearance. At the time, the Conte Biancamano was formally handed back to the Lloyd Triestino (to whom she had belonged immediately before the War) but she was eventually transferred to the Italian Line to reopen their express service to South America together with the Conte Grande which had been restored in Genoa. She honourably served on this route for more than another decade.
1924, May: the contract is signed between the Lloyd Sabaudo and the William Beardmore shipyard of Dalmuir in Scotland for the construction of a new steamship of the “Conte” type for passengers and cargo.
1924, June: the first keel plates are laid on the slipway.
1925, 23rd April: launched by the Marchesa De La Penne, the wife of the Managing Director of Lloyd Sabaudo.
1925, 7th November: delivered; leaves the shipyard for the delivery voyage to Genoa.
1925, 20th November: maiden voyage from Genoa and Naples to New York under the command of Giovanni Turchi with 1,604 passengers.
1928, 7th March: leaves Genoa for her first voyage to Latin America with calls at Villefranche-sur-Mer, Cadiz and Rio de Janeiro on her way to Buenos Aires.
1928, 13th April: is joined on this route by the similar Conte Grande.
1932, 8th January: returns to the New York route wearing the colours of the new company.
1935, 24th February: under the command of Captain Adorno makes the first of twelve voyages to Massawa, on this occasion carrying 2,600 men of the “Peloritana” division, in preparation for the invasion of Abyssinia.
1936, 9th January: resumes commercial service between Genoa and Buenos Aires.
1936, 17th December: is transferred to the Società Anonima di Navigazione Italia, part of the new Finmare group.
1937, 5th January: leaves on the new company's first voyage to Buenos Aires.
1937, 4th February: leaves Biserta (Tunisia) carrying 2,000 Italians to Tripoli for the occasion of the state visit of Mussolini to the colony.
1937, 12th March: on returning from her last voyage to South America, is placed in the OARN drydock in Genoa to be adapted for Lloyd Triestino's luxury express service to the Far East; the hull is painted in white and the funnels are now yellow; between them is built a lido with an open-air swimming pool. Is transferred to the ownership of the Lloyd Triestino.
1937, 16th April: first voyage from Genoa to Bombay; on the same route as the Conte Verde, Conte Rosso and the Victoria.
1940, 21st January: saves 423 passengers and 210 crew from the motorship Orazio which is on fire in the Bay of Marseilles.
1940, 23rd April: first voyage from Genoa to Valparaiso under charter to the Società Italia, taking the place of the Orazio.
1940, 26th May: leaves Valparaiso for Italy but receives telegraphic orders to proceed to Balboa (Panama Canal) where she arrives on the 5th June.
1940, 25th June: reaches Cristobal with 10 passengers on board and, because of the entry of Italy into the War, is interned.
1941, 21st March: placed under sequestration by the Americans; the crew cause serious damage to the engines before handing the ship over.
1941, 4th April: the crew are transferred to Ellis Island and are later interned in labour camps while the Captain and seven officers are arrested for sabotage.
1941, 30th June: towed to Balboa by the American Coast Guard.
1941, 11th December: declared a prize of war by the American government.
1942, March: assigned to the US Navy.
1942, 14th August: After being towed to Philadelphia and repaired, enters service as an American troop transport under the name of USS Hermitage.
1942, 2nd November: under the command of Donald F. Patterson, leaves New York as the lead ship of a convoy; she is carrying 5,600 men who will disembark at Casablanca between the 18th and the 25th November to take part in the North African campaign.
1942, 11th December: returns to Norfolk, Virginia and leaves with 6,000 men, sailing to Balboa, Noumea, Brisbane, Sydney, Pago Pago and Honolulu, returning to the United States, at San Francisco, on the 2nd March, 1943.
1943, 27th March: leaves San Francisco for New Zealand and Australia; on the return voyage she embarks 707 Polish Jewish refugees in Bombay, including about 100 children, disembarking them at San Francisco on the 25th June. She will make three similar missions taking American marines and soldiers to the East and returning with civilian refugees to the United States.
1944, 16th June: leaves New York carrying men for the invasion of Normandy. Later, will make ten return voyages (principally to Le Havre) carrying soldiers to Europe and returning with wounded, prisoners and refugees.
1945, 8th May: takes part in the celebration of VE Day (Victory in Europe) in Le Havre.
1945, 12th December: after numerous repatriation voyages from Europe, leaves New York for Nagoya in Japan in order to return 6,000 American veterans, reaching Seattle on the following 4th February.
1946, 20th August: is recommissioned in San Francisco after three repatriation voyages to the Marianne Trench for “Operation Magic Carpet”.
1947, May: is returned to Italy under charter for $1 per annum as a result of an agreement beween De Gasperi and Truman.
1947, 1st August: after short machinery trials, leaves San Francisco for Genoa at 3 pm, now returned to Italy.
1947, 18th August: passes to the Italian flag, resuming her former name of Conte Biancamano.
1947, 25th August: received with great celebration at Genoa ; five days later, is placed in lay up at Messina where restoration will take place until the 20th March, 1948.
1948, 28th March: arrives at the Monfalcone shipyard for complete reconstruction.
1948, 21st October: runs her machinery trials and, on the following day, she will receive her official inauguration at Trieste, from where she will leave for Genoa on the 26th.
1949, 10th November: begins her first post-War voyage for the Società Italia, from Genoa to Buenos Aires. In later years, is also used for some voyages to New York.
1957, January: renovation work, following which she is used principally on the route to the River Plate.
1960, 28th February: arrives at Naples at the end of her last line voyage from Boston and New York.
1960, 16th August: arrives at La Spezia for breaking up; part of her superstructure is saved and re-assembled at the Leonardo da Vinci Museum of Science and Technology in Milan.
The Conte Biancamano sailed for various companies and administrations: Lloyd Sabaudo, Società Italia, Lloyd Triestino, the US Navy and the US Ministry of War Transport and, for this reason, she completed a notable variety of voyages in many parts of the World during her long career.Her first true voyage, after her sea trials in October 1925, started on the 7th November when she left the Beardmore shipyard on her delivery voyage to Genoa. On the 20th November, she left Genoa for New York, the route on which she served until 1928 when she made her first voyage to Latin America, with a final destination of Buenos Aires after calls at Villefranche-sur-Mer, Cadiz and Rio de Janeiro. On the 1st January, 1932, now transferred to the Italia Flotte Riunite, she returned to the North American route for a few months in advance of the arrival of the giants Rex and Conte di Savoia; in the Autumn, she returned to the express service to South America.
In 1935, she made the first of her numerous “war missions”: in February she carried 2,600 soldiers of the “Peloritana” division to East Africa, making a great contribution to the Italian-Ethiopian war; this would be the first of eleven voyages to the Italian colonies.
A folder published in 1928 and devoted to the Conte Grande in Arab.
After surviving the conflict, the two “Conti” figured in the discussions between De Gasperi and President Truman in January, 1947 which would eventually lead to the restitution of the ships through an ingenious ploy: the United States would remain their owners for a decade but would charter them to Italy for $1 per year; they would then pass into Italian ownership.
Only in January, 1937 did she return to civilian service with the first of two voyages to South America; in fact, already in March, 1937, following a decision by the parent company Finmare, she was transferred to Lloyd Triestino for whom, after much modernisation, she left Genoa for Bombay in the following month.In April, 1940, under charter to the Società Italia, she made a special voyage to Valparaiso, passing through the Panama Canal for the first time. On the 10th June, 1940, Italy entered the War and, due to incredible “forgetfulness” on the part of the government - despite the vehement protests of Giovanni Host Venturi, the Minister of Communication (or lack of communication!) - a good part of the fleet fell into enemy hands. On the 21st March, 1941 the American Coast Guard placed the Conte Biancamano under sequestration at Balboa at the entrance to the Panama Canal. Her crew damaged the turbines and, with the exception of the officers who were arrested, were placed in internment in the USA: only after the end of hostilities and many adventures did they manage to return home.Towed by the Americans to the Cramp shipyard in Philadelphia, the Conte Biancamano was gutted of her luxurious fittings and renamed USS Hermitage with the identification number AP-54; by the end of the War, she had steamed 230,000 miles and had carried 129,695 men.
A beautiful booklet devote to line and pleasure voyages offered by the Lloyd Sabaudo, enriched by fifteenoil beautiful paintings of various resorts and art towns by Aurelio Craffonara.
After returning to Italy at the end of August, in March 1948 the Conte Biancamano arrived at the Monfalcone yard to be completely rebuilt for her return to the South American route. As the magazine “La Marina Italiana” wrote in September, 1949: “The Italian Line, despite its not inconsiderable contribution to the migrant trade, cannot make of this traffic the sole reason for its existence, the main target of its services. Therefore, the company cannot overlook the opportunity given them by the return of their two liners, the Conte Grande and the Conte Biancamano, to take a decisive step forward with the resumption of their luxury service.”At the end of April, 1960, after returning from a special voyage from New York and Boston, the Conte Biancamano was laid up and sold for demolition.
The career of the Conte Biancamano – a ship whose design dated back to the Great War and which was not retired until the ’Sixties – stretches over a long and varied period of history. She was one of the few Italian liners to have such a long life and therefore the publicity material connected with her varies greatly, according to the time at which it was issued. She was a “Big sister” to the Conte Rosso and Conte Verde and the advertisements and other materials with which the Lloyd Sabaudo sought to promote her when she came out in the mid-‘Twenties were, to modern eyes, almost pompous and bombastic – perhaps even more so than those for the earlier ships.
The Lloyd Sabaudo took meticulous care, publishing some extremely sophisticated and luxurious material with relief print, multiple hardbound flaps, golden friezes and frames… This was indeed artwork of graphic design, mainly realised by Barabino & Graeve of Genoa and IGDA (Istituto Geografico De Agostini) of Novara.
In 1932, when the Conte Biancamano was transferred to the Italian Line’s South American express service, she underwent a makeover to render her less “overwhelming” and more suitable for hot climates; this was also reflected in the advertising material, much less “heavy” and more in line with the style of the ’Thirties: stylised prows, New York skyscrapers, Art Deco graphics, evocative logos and recognisable trademarks of the Italian Line stood out on the publicity items for the ship. The material became even more modern when, in 1937, the ship became the flagship of the Lloyd Triestino on the express route to the Far East and she adopted an all-white livery and was further revamped inside. She now featured on the beautiful posters which always distinguished the Trieste-based company and the well-known graphic designers working for them: in those days, the city was a privileged melting pot of Italian Futurism and the other avant-garde movements of Central Europe.
Most probably, the first promotional piece devoted to the Conte Biancamano is a triptych folder on parchment with polychrome coats of arms, royal eagles, winged griffins, flying dragons, crowns and other golden decorations worthy of the Royal House and of its ancient ancestor after whom the ship was named; the inner side of the folder contains just one central image in black and white, a perspective view drawn by the Coppedé Studio of Florence depicting the central hall which rose through two decks. The ’Thirties would decree not only the disappearance of those Rococo-style furnishings and of the old-fashioned graphic design but also fierce criticism of them – they seemed like dinosaurs when compared with the new trends, epitomised by such modern, fashionable vessels as the motorships Neptunia and Oceania of the Cosulich Line.
Rampant griffins, a winged dragon, coat-of-arms and other golden decorations adorn this 1924 folder, the first devoted to the Conte Biancamano.
During the Second World War, the Americans re-used the vessel as their troop transport USS Hermitage; all her fittings were removed in Philadelphia and, when she was returned to Italy, nothing was left of her pre-War splendour. First thoughts, owing to the emergency of the time, were to make of her an austere migrant-carrier but then a much more forward-looking idea took hold – she would become a “new” ship, a masterpiece of modern furnishing and art. Only her name, well-known and much appreciated by the pre-War travelling public, was retained and the advertising material realised for her re-entry into service was influenced by the trends of the late ’Forties: the simplicity of this printed matter matches the minimalist taste of the new interiors and the post-realism in vogue at the time. Expensive paper and elaborate renderings of the lounges are replaced by cheap media and less refined printing techniques; furthermore, the advances made in colour photography and offset print offered big savings in terms of production times and costs. The last publicity material devoted to the Conte Biancamano is therefore in line with the typical typologies used for other contemporary ocean liners.
The Conte Biancamano, of 24,500 tons, was an enlarged and improved version of the previous twins Conte Rosso and Conte Verde. In the wake of the company’s tradition of Savoy names, the vessel celebrated the first Prince of the House of Savoy, Umberto I, Count of Moriana, and was the last Italian liner to be built abroad. A souvenir number of the well-known British magazine “The Shipbuilder”, published in January, 1926, celebrated the ship’s advanced technology, particularly the arrangement of her machinery, and the grandiloquence of her interior outfitting, designed by the ”Casa Artistica” run by the Coppedé brothers. Possibly of the four Counts entrusted to this famous Florence-based company, the Conte Biancamano was their best creation: although she was still a clear expression of their typical magnificence, she was less bombastic than her
fleetmates. Of particular visual impact was the colonnaded first class ballroom, where the floor was almost entirely covered by a floral pattern Persian rug. When the vessel was transferred from the transatlantic services to the express route run by Lloyd Triestino to the Far East, she underwent the first deep revamping of her hotel areas; she was also fitted with an outdoor lido and her hull was painted white. The number of passengers accommodated on board was drastically reduced, the steerage areas were replaced by a modern and comfortable tourist class and the lounges were “lightened” – for instance, the original dark woodwork panels were painted light beige so that she would appear to be more suitable for the hot climates and the regular passengers on that route. Thanks to this refurbishment, the Conte Biancmano was also able to run long and prestigious pleasure cruises.
It is quite fascinating and interesting to see how completely different she became after the War; she was re-designed by several different architects in deference to the “pluralist” manner suggested by the Italian architect Giulio Minoletti and in contrast to the “unitary” style advocated by Gio Ponti and applied at the same time to the re-design of the interiors of the Conte Grande. Despite his criticism, Ponti later expressed, through the pages of his architectural magazine “Domus”, appreciation of the style of the lounges on the Conte Biancamano. He wrote: “The first spaces met by the passengers boarding the ship, the vestibule and the main staircase, are the work of a group of valorous architects from Trieste (Romano Boico, Aldo Cervi, Vittorio Frandoli and Umberto Nordio). The graceful balustrade of the staircase, moulded in bronze with exceptional expertise, was shaped by Marcello Mascherini, sculptor from Trieste, to whom must be accredited also the side-friezes in patinated stucco. Nice black and white drawings by Mascherini, prints by Music, paintings by Bergagna, Brumatti, Danco, De Causs, De Vetta, Lannes, Perizi, Rossini and Zigaina adorn the vestibule and the landings on the upper decks. The staircase leads to the circular verandah, designed by the same group of architects. This lounge (now preserved in Milan) takes its accent from the grand decorative soffit, also a work by Mascherini, who in addition contributed the decoration of the front of the bar counter. This soffit is inspired by the “Myth of Jason”. The patterns used in the fabrics in this room are the work of Marcello Claris. The main lounge can be reached from the vestibule through two twin galleries. The feature of each of these galleries is a whole transversal bulkhead lined with mirrors painted with an ancient technique revived by the architects Gio Ponti and Nino Zoncada (these are preserved today in a private building in Genoa).
A sample of the cover adopted in the 'Fifities for the passenger lists of the Conte Biancamano.
An attractive Art Déco drawing on the cover of a first class passenger list of April, 1930.
“These paintings on silvery crystal determine the subjects of the galleries: in the one devoted to theatre, the painter Luca Crippa from Milan represents those Italian masks which art, history, poetry and habit made famous all over the World (…). In the other, devoted to costumes, Edina Altara has portrayed on the large painted mirrors sixteen of the most popular Italian traditional costumes (…). “These galleries lead on one side and on the other to the vast main lounge, the work of a master of marine furnishing, the architect Gustavo Pulitzer (…).
“The main feature of this space is a woollen long-thread tapestry made with exceptional skill by Mario Ponis and by Nervi and based on the cartoon of one of our best contemporary painters: Mario Sironi (…).
“The lobby features watercolours by Tonci Fantoni, ceramics moulded by Carlo and Mirella Sbisà on the basis of drawings by Claris; they give further freshness to the walls of the open-air verandah: the network-pattern curtains were designed and hand-loomed by Anita Pittoni. The lower deck is occupied by the first and second class dining rooms (…). The paintings in the first class room (architect Gustavo Pulitzer) show the strong personal expressivity of Dino Predonzani. The dining room of the second class (Zoncada and Ponti) has paintings made by Nicolò Costanzi, Luca Crippa, Anna Nascimbene Tallone, Ponti, Frai, Adriano Spilimbergo (…).” From these few notes it is clear that an incredible number of famous artists were represented on board the Conte Biancamano; this is just a small selection and among the other celebrated names are Ugo Carà, Ramiro Meng, Pietro Melandri, Fausto Melotti, Bernardo Pasotti, Piero Fornasetti, Salvatore Fiume, Paolo di Poli and Dario Bernazzoli.
Alongside this lounge – which is masterfully executed in cabinetry and lacquering by master artisans from Trieste – is the writing room, also by Pulitzer and embellished by a panel by the Genoese painter Emanuele Luzzati on the theme of ‘a romantic choreography’; on the other bulkhead, the bar walls are painted by Dino Predonzani from Capodistria. “in succession to these public areas there is the cinema (architects Mordogna, Psacaropulo and Vaudetti) with two walls lined with wooden mosaics, one by Giuseppe Santomaso – a clever Venetian painter – depicting “Divertimenti”: the other, depicting “Musical Shows” is the work of the young painter Alice Psacaropulo. These mosaics have been produced by a technique which nobody has hitherto been brave enough to attempt (…). The work started by preparing strips of various species of wood, coloured by specially-made anilines in sixty different hues, which were then polished and cut into something like 30,000 tiny pieces, each identified by a number; the mise-en-place of these mosaics was executed by a special team of artisans from the San Marco shipyard of Trieste, trained by the art masters Grion and Giacomelli. “Adjoining this room, there is the second class main lounge and verandah-bar (architects Boico, Cervi, Frandoli and Nordio) which represents throughout a truly happy and successful expression of modern marine furnishing with the clear simplicity of its elements dominated by a large painted wall in the very personal lyrical style of Massimo Campigli (…).
An unusual duo-tone cover of a brochure of the 'Twenties devoted to the second classes of the steamer.