All pictures - if not otherwise credited in the watermark - are from the archives of Maurizio Eliseo. English version edited by Anthony Cooke.

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CONTE DI SAVOIA

INTRODUCTION                                                                                

 

The Conte di Savoia came into existence in parallel with the Rex, of which she was the alter ego on the express route between Genoa and New York between 1932 and 1940. Both ships were brought into service by the Italia Flotte Riunite in the Autumn of 1932 but both had originally been ordered by rival companies and the only similarities between them were their dimensions, speed and hotel arrangements. They were conceived to compete with each other and it is interesting to note how very different they were. If the Rex, with her old-fashioned and neoclassic décor, could be defined as the last of the floating palaces, the Conte di Savoia represented an authentic revolution among ocean liners with her lounges in a genuinely Modern style. She was a masterpiece thanks to a Marriage Made in Heaven between the naval architect responsible for the project (Nicolò Costanzi, an able artist and aesthete) and the designer in charge of the interiors (Gustavo Pulitzer Finali).

 

To the Lloyd Sabaudo, who had ordered the Conte di Savoia, must be given the credit for having the courage to launch the original project (a classic of its kind), to pursue a revolutionary course and to propose a new stereotype for the décor of large ocean liners, based on the success, shortly before, of the motorship Victoria of the Lloyd Triestino which had been designed by the same team and built in the same shipyard. To be frank, the designs of Pulitzer and his team, the German architects Michael Rachlis and Georg Manner, were so modern that they scared the directors of the company to the point where they brought in Adolfo Coppedé to redesign the Ballroom in the most ornate Baroque style. This was a strange intrusion into such a futuristic ship, which was so much liked by American passengers that she attracted greater bookings than the Rex. However, she had to live in the shadow of her running-mate due to the latter's success in winning the Blue Riband. In this respect, it should be noted that it was to the Conte di Savoia that the honour was first given to make an attempt on the record.

 

"The ship that can't roll": publicity postcard illustrating to the public the gyro-stabylising system in a simple way.

In March, 1933 she crossed from Gibraltar to New York at an average speed of 27.53 knots, arriving at her destination a day earlier than scheduled but failing by less than 0.4 knots to beat the record then held by the German Europa. In fact, during her sea trials the Conte di Savoia had proved to be the faster of the two Italian liners and, for the first time an English publication recognised her technical superiority. Among her many innovations, we should remember that she was the first in the World to have an anti-roll system designed to counteract the dreaded mal de mer.

DATA SHEET                                                  

 

KEEL LAYING: 10/04/1930

LAUNCH: 10/28/1931

MAIDEN VOYAGE: Genova-New York 11/30/1932

SHIP YARD: Cantiere San Marco, Trieste

HULL NUMBER: 783

COMPANy: Italia Flotte Riunite (Italian Line), Genova

FLAG: Italian

DIMENSIONS:

LENGTH OVERALL: 815 ft

WIDTH: 96,1 ft

GROSS TONNAGE: 48502 t.

PROPULSION: 4 sets of geared turbines

SERVICE SPEED: 27,00 knots

TOP SPEED:  29,50 knots

POWER: 130.000 horsepower

HOTEL CAPACITy:

FIRST CLASS: 578

SECOND CLASS: 420

THIRD CLASS: 720

CREW: 786

FATE: 1939 in Malamocco near Venice 1950 april 24, sold to br broken up at Monfalcone

GENERAL ARRANGEMENT PLANS           

 

CHRONOLOGY                                                                                                                      

 

1929, 28th December: the contract is signed between Lloyd Sabaudo and the San Marco yard of Trieste.

1930, 4th October: the first plates of the keel of Yard No. 483 are laid. The press speculates that the name could be Conte Azzurro (a clear reference to an attempt on the Blue Riband – in Italian, Nastro Azzurro) or Guglielmo Marconi who is the Honorary President of the shipping company.

1931, 28th October: launched in the presence of the heir to the throne, Prince Umberto, and his wife, Maria José of Savoia who is the godmother of the ship.

1932, 2nd January: although ordered by Lloyd Sabaudo, she is now transferred to Italia Flotte Riunite in the amalgamation of the main Italian shipping companies.

1932, September: preliminary trials in the Gulf of Trieste.

1932, 16th October: leaves the yard to be drydocked in Venice, returning to embark her lifeboats and to run her preliminary trials in the Adriatic.

1932, 3rd November: leaves Trieste for Genoa where she arrives at 8 am on the 7th November. In the meantime, she calls at Naples on the 5th and 6th, where she embarks Prince Umberto.

1932, 14th November: during the speed trials in the Gulf of Genoa, she maintains an average speed of 29.43 knots, qualifying as the fastest ship in the World.

1932, 30th November: begins her inaugural voyage from Genoa to New York. She is the first liner in the World to have stabilisation machinery (three Sperry gyroscopes) to reduce rolling.

1932, 6th December: around 6 pm, while near the American coast, she experiences a leak in the engine room. To expose the port side, Captain Antonio Lena voluntarily lists the ship to starboard to allow a courageous volunteer, Seaman Gennaro Amatruda, to climb down the side of the ship to plug the leak.

1932, 7th December: arrives in New York five hours late.

1932, 14th December: leaves on her first eastbound crossing.

1932, 19th December: meets her first Atlantic storm and the stabilisers demonstrate their efficacy.

1933, March: tries without success to win the Blue Riband.

1934, 29th March: enters drydock in Genoa for modifications to the stern to reduce excessive yawing, returning to service on the 1st May.

1936, 7th January: work starts to remove the special class, continuing during the following four stays in Genoa, which for that reason are prolonged. The work is concluded on the 13th April.

1936, 9th December: The Italian Line leaves Pier 97 in New York and rents Piers 59 and 88 from the French Line, waiting for the completion of the new super-pier 90.

1937, 4th January: transferred to the new Italia Società Anonima di Navigazione at a valuation of 150 million lire.

1937, 6th March: hits her pier while leaving New York causing damage both to herself and the pier.

1938, 2nd March: leaves New York for a cruise to Naples, Falero, Haifa, Port Said and Genoa.

1938, 2nd April: leaves New York for another Mediterranean cruise.

1938, 16th June: The New York Times writes that the Conte di Savoia is still one of the most attractive ships ever to call at the port: that day, she is host to 7,000 paying visitors.

1938, 10th September: the ship's rowing team wins the International Lifeboat Race in New York in 19 minutes 21 seconds. The team from the Queen of Bermuda comes second and third place goes to the team from the steamship Turrialba of the United Fruit Company.

1939, 5th February: leaves New York for her longest ever cruise, organised by American Express, which takes her to Madeira, Las Palmas, Gibraltar, Cannes, Genoa, Naples, Falero, Istanbul, Rhodes, Beirut, Haifa, Port Said and Malta.

1939, 14th March: in an Atlantic storm, leaves her traditional route in order to go to the aid of the Norwegian cargo ship Bellnor 700 miles east of Belfast.

1939, 31st July: makes her only call at Hamilton, Bermuda.

1939, 15th September: leaves on her first voyage following the outbreak of the Second World War, with neutrality markings on her sides.

1940, 2nd June: arrives at Genoa at the end of her last Atlantic crossing after eluding a British patrol which would have searched her at Gibraltar.

1940, 8th June: arrives at Venice where she is laid up in the Malamocco Canal two days after Italy has entered the War.

1940: is camouflaged; in 1941, a new, wavy camouflage scheme is adopted; in 1943, the final scheme is painted on the port side, depicting trees, houses and hills.

1943, 11th September: in the confusion following the Italian Armistice, is mistakenly set on fire by German aircraft between 5.30 pm and 6 pm. Burns for 48 hours, listing onto her port side. Later she is sunk in order to prevent her capsizing.

1945, 10th October: after the removal of her superstructure, the ship refloats: studies are started for the reconstruction of the ship for the emigrant trade to South America but these plans are abandoned. Later , there are negotiations with the Holland America Line and the French Line for her sale and reconstruction, but these come to nothing.

1950, 7th January: sold to “Ricuperi Finsider s.a.”of Rome for demolition.

1950, 14th January: towed from Malamocco to Alberoni.

1950, 17th February: occupied by employees of the Breda shipyard of Marghera, who without any prospect of work, demand that they should be given the task of demolition.

1950, 24th April: arrives at the Monfalcone yard for demolition.

1951, 4th May: the dismantling of the great liner is completed.

SLIDE

VOYAGES                                                                                                                                             

 

A striking curiosity which took the eye of visitors and first class passengers entering the vestibule was that there were two large maps of the Atlantic – one with a model of the Conte di Savoia and one with a model of the Rex, which moved along routes showing the daily positions of the two ships; on these maps there were also posted the official logs of both vessels, an idea conceived by Gustavo Pulitzer Finali. On the 27th November, 1932 the Conte di Savoia sailed out of Genoa on her inaugural voyage to New York; however, in a replay of a previous embarrassment, on the morning of the 7th December, shortly before arriving, there occurred a mechanical breakdown which increasingly hindered her progress and which generated press comment comparing this mishap with the one which had happened to the Rex two months earlier.

SLIDE

On the 15th February, 1934 the great Italian liner left New York for her first Mediterranean cruise with calls at Gibraltar, Cannes, Monte Carlo, Genoa, Naples, Haifa, Port Said and Falero. She would make another four similar cruises during her brief career.

Together with the Rex, the Conte di Savoia now maintained the line's express North Atlantic service, even after September, 1939 when the Second World War broke out - but not without difficulty: often they were stopped for many hours at Gibraltar by units of the Royal Navy and were subjected to an inspection of passengers and cargo. There was, for instance, the famous case of the American heiress Barbara Hutton, who at the time was married to a German industrialist, and risked arrest and internment while seeking to return to her homeland on the Italian ship.

At 2.25 pm on the 25th May, 1940 the Conte di Savoia sailed from New York for her last crossing: already Italy's entrance into the War was thought to be imminent (it actually happened on the 10th June, 1940). The captain drove his ship at full speed through the Straits of Gibraltar in the dead of night as near as possible to the African shore in order to evade the British patrols. After her last passengers had disembarked in Genoa on the 2nd June, the ship was transferred to the Venetian lagoon, near Malamocco and laid up without ever leaving her anchorage. Many times, she was painted with strange patterns of camouflage.

The Art Déco cover published to celebrate the launch of the ship.

Her end came in a paradoxical way on the 11th September, 1943, a few days after the Italian Armistice: a force of German commandos had intercepted a coded message regarding “the flight of Savoia”. The message actually referred to the exit from Rome of the Royal Family but was erroneously interpreted and so the Germans bombed the ship, also sinking a ferry and killing hundreds of victims. The Conte di Savoia could still move but by the time the attack was cancelled by the German commander it was too late and the beautiful liner was already burning from stem to stern. Even the final voyage of the remains of this famous ship was the subject of fierce dispute: at the end of the War, the hulk was seized by the unemployed workers of the Marghera shipyard who were demanding that at least the demolition of the great hull should be entrusted to their yard. The newspapers spoke of “a battle of the poor”, which only came to an end in April, 1950 when the remains of the Conte di Savoia arrived under tow at the Monfalcone yard to be demolished. The scrap value was used as a down payment for the building in the same shipyard of the first post-War Italian Line vessel, the motorship Giulio Cesare.

PUBLICITY CAMPAIGN                                                                  

 

Someone who was familiar with both the Rex and the Conte di Savoia has said that the first might be said to have been a lady in evening dress while the other was a girl in sportswear. This diverse characterisation was certainly reflected in the promotional material which was devoted to them. Before the publicity departments of the two companies, NGI and Lloyd Sabaudo, could be amalgamated, they were obviously in opposition: as, for example, with the material prepared for the launch of each ship. That for the Conte di Savoia is decisively more modern and striking, an Italian interpretation of the typical Art Deco designs of the time, with an imposing bow of the ship on the slipway dominating the night blue cover with fasce and stars in gold. It was then that the ship's motto: “La nave che non rolla” (The ship which does not roll) first appeared. Among the many innovations which she boasted, the gyroscopic stabilisers installed by Sperry & Co. of New York were certainly the one which seized the attention of the press and the public; fear of seasickness was a major concern for a good part of the travelling public. This theme was reprised in other printed material, among which were the first postcards in various languages which illustrated the functioning of the equipment, always emphasising the slogan of the ship which did not roll.

Brochures

SLIDE

Another opportunity of exploring the difference in theme between the material publicising the two ships can be found in the preliminary brochures devoted to the first class. To tell the truth, apart from the presence on both covers of a logo designed by Pulitzer Finali, the similarity between the two ends with the format and the technique used for printing. Inside, the pure beauty of the classic designs by Edina and Vittorio Accornero for the Rex are replaced for the Conte di Savoia by magnificent water colours, the work of Franz Lenhart from Merano in a stupendous and unmistakable Modern style, while the centre spread displays the Conte di Savoia at speed in a reproduction of an oil on canvas by the noted marine painter Rudolf Claudus. Attached to the brochure is an envelope bearing a dry-stamped Royal crown above a photograph of the bust of the Princess Maria Josè di Piemonte, the ship's godmother, which was the work of Maryla Lednycka and was exhibited in the Princess Gallery on board the ship. The subsequent material for the Conte di Savoia was, of necessity, devised in conjunction with that for the Rex or at least displayed many similarities. For the inaugural voyages of both ships, we find an American version of the poster of Giovanni Patrone. Although it is not signed, it harks back very strongly to the images always used by Lloyd Sabaudo for their promotion of their earlier four “Conti”. Above the bows of the two new ships we see a pair of rampant white horses. This time, their bridles are held in the left hand of a feminine figure wearing a crown on her head and brandishing a trident in her right hand. This is a reference to Italia (both the nation and the shipping company) in the role of Amphitrite. In the American publicity campaign for the two “Lido Liners”, at least six items particularly devoted to the Conte di Savoia, we read: “The sun ship, Riviera nights, Winter takes a Lido holiday... and Tomorrow the Mediterranean, so bright the Sun and Both are Lido”; this last, with unintentional irony, is topped by an image of the Conte di Savoia which, at a distance, passes the beach of the Venetian Lido: both the beach and the ship's decks are studded with coloured umbrellas. In reality, the only time Conte di Savoia would visit Venice would be to meet her end.

Posters

SLIDE

ON BOARD                                                                                                    

 

Like the Rex, the Conte di Savoia was divided into four classes, although with a difference: she had been designed for a probable combination of the two intermediate classes, which did in fact happen in 1936. The complex of first class public

SLIDE

rooms on the Saloon Deck which Pulitzer had devised, included a starboard gallery, the Princess Gallery, which easily connected the various spaces.

A comparison between the principal lounge and the grand bar on the Conte di Savoia with the similar rooms on the Rex, immediately enables us to understand how very different these ships were, even though they were running mates. On the Conte di Savoia, at the very forward end, there was the Winter Garden, an extremely light room with mullioned windows in the curved front wall and with rattan furniture; rattan also covered both the columns and the unusual parchment lampshades. At the centre of the Winter Garden was the Grand Bar, called Il Circolo (The Circle) because of its rounded shape, above which was a large cupola in silver leaf with a representation of the Constellations as seen at Trieste on the 28th October, 1931, the day when the ship was launched. Round the base of the cupola was inscribed the famous saying of Lorenzo the Magnificent: “Quant'è bella giovinezza che si fugge tuttavia, chi vuol esser lieto sia, di doman non v'è certezza” (“Youth is sweet and well, but both speed away! Let who will be gay. To-morrow, none can tell.”) which in a certain way reflected the atmosphere of this modish and elegant room with its columns of brushed steel echoed by the wall behind the bar counter known as The Milky Way.

The Conte di Savoia was among the first ships in the World to incorporate the concept of “arte integrata” (integrated art) so dear to the heart of Gio Ponti who dedicated an issue of his prestigious magazine “Domus” to the ship (no. 63, March 1933). This famous Milanese architect wrote of the liner: “A ship. Here is the principal subject of this number. Already Domus has given an entire issue to the beautiful motorship Victoria; to the interiors of the Conte di Savoia we are today dedicating many pages, for the beauty of her rooms, stupendous. The involvement of a modern architect like Pulitzer has made of some of our most beautiful ships a veritable academy of the art of furnishing. The obsession with perfection, the invention of art, the compulsion and the necessity of impeccable execution and of a perfect and seductive calculation of functionality make of our modern ships texts for current furnishing, that is to say elegant and refined and comfortable […]. The collaboration between our designers and artists, which Pulitzer seeks, certainly brings us to this: an explicit expression, independent of Italian-ness, has reached modernity[…].”

As Ponti has said, one of the most successful rooms in the ship, if not the most strictly contemporary, is the first class main lounge, the walls of which were covered with light wood; the ceiling was of burnished gold leaf and, in order to emphasise the maritime structure of the room, it was divided by beams of light briarwood. The same type of gilding was used for the alcoves of the windows and was the background for curtains of brown silk velvet and of ivory linen with gold threads; as a centrepiece there was a fireplace in Roman travertine marble, built of handmade dark brown and black bricks and with a surround in gilded bronze. Above it was a large, handmade tapestry based on a cartoon by Massimo Campigli, while over the entrance doors there was a marquetry still life in precious woods which was the work of Gino Severini.

The interior of a folder illustrating the working principle of the "SPerry" gyro-stabilising device to prevent the seasickness.

First Class

SLIDE

Another of the most prestigious rooms in first class was the dining room which rose through two decks: the walls were entirely covered by honey-coloured panels of travertine marble and the tall cylindrical columns were covered in silvered leather while the ceiling, in gold leaf, was divided by rectangular light fittings which spread a diffused light throughout the room. The decorative panels on the sides of the dining room were signed by Elena Fondra and George Ramon; particularly effective were the cylindrical buffet tables covered with Macassar ebony with metal tarsia which were placed at the entrance to this vast space. As a transitional space between Pulitzer's modern room and the Rococo of Coppedè's ballroom there was a transversal hall by Michael Rachlis in a severe Littorio style. This cool and spartan space formed a sort of hiatus, preparing the passenger for his entrance into Coppedè's stupefying Colonna Saloon. This name derived from the seventeenth century ballroom of the so-titled palace in Rome of which the ballroom on the ship was an almost perfect copy, including the wonderful ceiling fresco by Lucchesini representing the battle of Lepanto.

A 1932 passenger guide, in form of pocket booklet, given to the first class guests in order to facilitate the orientation on board.

Particularly notable were the luxury suites with bow windows facing onto the outer covered promenade, one of the many spaces where passengers could enjoy the open air; like the Rex, the Conte di Savoia had been given two large swimming pools on the higher decks, one between the two funnels and one indoors which was surrounded by the gymnasium and the spa. Notably for the times, the outdoor pool was surrounded by an elevated “catwalk” - today, this is a standard feature of most cruise ships while others (such as the Costa Victoria and the Queen Mary 2) have copied the layout of the indoor pool. As with the Rex, the Conte di Savoia entered service with four classes but these were reduced to three in 1936; this change was entirely designed by Pulitzer's Stuard studio and, while the new class was less luxurious than the existing first, it was markedly more comfortable than the equivalent accommodation which previous ships had offered their guests.

Le altre classi

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