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The sister motor ships Saturnia (1927) and Vulcania (1928) are still remembered today on both sides of the Atlantic for their long and remarkable careers, both in times of peace and of war, ending respectively in 1965 and 1974. When they were conceived for the Cosulich Line of Trieste in the first half of the 'Twenties, they represented a great novelty in the conservative field of naval architecture, just as the Kaiser Franz Joseph I had before the Great War and as the unfortunate Kaiserin Elisabeth would have done had she not been devastated during the hostilities. After the difficult years of the post-War reconstruction, the Cosulich Line turned its attention to developing the concept of these two superliners which would represent its reply to the similar fleet renewal programme undertaken by the Lloyd Sabaudo with the construction of the Conte Biancamano, and later the Conte Grande, and by the Navigazione Generale Italiana with its steamship Roma and the motor ship Augustus.

The design of the hull of the Saturnia was the first significant project allotted to the engineer Niccolò Costanzi. As Antonio Cosulich recalled in an interview on board the ship during her first crossing to Latin America, the company had opted for a completely new external appearance for its liner which would easily distinguish her from the traditional steamships. “One of the projects which we considered in the early stages was a low, latticed tower instead of a funnel. This structure would also have served as an observation tower, like a very short Eiffel Tower in the middle of the ocean. Obviously, passengers would have enjoyed the opportunity to rise over the bridge and to admire the movement of the sea. But this beautiful idea had to be abandoned. The tower gave the ship a too static aspect and we dropped the idea. Instead, we needed a type of funnel which would seem to increase the appearance of speed in conjunction the lines of the hull.” In fact, the great novelty of the Saturnia and Vulcania in the field of naval propulsion was that they were among the very first large transatlantic liners driven by diesel engines: each one had a pair of Burmeister & Wain motors of 28,000 bhp in total. For this reason, they were given a profile which distinguished “the ships without smoke”; even in the years soon after the War, the Cosulich company had been interested in this new system, building small cargo ships without funnels which enabled their engineers to familiarise themselves with the working of this new type of engine. Speaking of the advantages of the new system, Antonio Cosulich continued during the interview: “Thanks to these engines, the Saturnia can comfortably carry 300-400 more passengers than a similar ship powered by turbines. Our engines save a great deal of fuel. In order to attain 19 knots, the normal service speed, they need 100 tons of nafta every 24 hours. Had we adopted turbines and boilers, to develop the same power would have required 300 tons per day. This would have required much bigger tanks holding about 7,000 tons of fuel instead of 2,300. There are also great savings in the number of engine room staff. On the Saturnia, we need 45 men. On a turbine ship this number would have been easily doubled.”

DATA SHEET                                           


KEEL LAYING: 05/03/1925

LAUNCH: 29/12/1925

MAIDEN VOYAGE: Trieste-La Plata ports 21/09/1927  

SHIP YARD: Cantieri riuniti dell Adriatico, Monfalcone


COMPANy: Cosulich Soc. Triestina di Nav., Trieste

FLAG: Italian



WIDTH: 79,7 ft

GROSS TONNAGE: 23.940 tsl

PROPULSION: Burmeister&Wain diesel from builders, twin screw

TOP SPEED: 21,00 knots

SERVICE SPEED:  19,25 knots

POWER: 20.000 horsepower






CREW: 502

FATE: 1965 october 7 arrived at La Spezia to be broken up.  




Cut-away printed in 1927, before the maiden voyage, by Arti Grafiche Modiano of Trieste. The ship portrayed is the Saturnia.

GENERAL ARRANGEMENT PLANS                                        

CRONOLOGIA STORICA                                                                                                                      


1925, 30th May: the first keel plates are laid on the slipway at Monfalcone, with Yard No. 160.

1925, 29th December: launched by Her Royal Highness Giovanna of Savoia.

1927, 1st September: maiden voyage from Trieste to the ports of the River Plate.

1928, 1st February: first voyage from Trieste to New York; she could be used on either route as traffic required.

1932, 2nd January: the Cosulich Line becomes part of Italia Flotte Riunite, maintaining, however, a separate administrative office in Trieste; the ships now assumed the colours of the new company.
1935, 8th May: is taken over for trooping service for the Abyssinian campaign.

1935, 24th December: arrives at her builder's yard to be re-engined with two new Sulzer diesels of a total power of 41,000 bhp; 22 knots; 24,470 gross tons. She resumed service in the following August.

1937, 2nd January: the Cosulich company is placed in liquidation when the Italia Flotte Riunite is superseded by the Società Anonima di Navigazione Italia, to which the ship is transferred.

1938, 23rd November: special Trieste-Genoa-Buenos Aires voyage as a replacement for the motorship Augustus which is undergoing maintenance work.

1939, 15th February: leaves New York for a 59 day Mediterranean cruise.

1939, 2nd April: the route to North America is changed, with new calls on the so-called Tourist Route: Trieste, Venice, Dubrovnik, Patras, Naples, Palermo, Gibraltar, Lisbon, Vigo, Ponta Delgada, Boston, New York.

1939, 27th October: stopped off Gibraltar by the British who wished to confiscate a cargo of copper and steel destined for Bohemia; the captain orders that the cargo be thrown overboard and proceeds with the voyage.

1939, 16th December: intercepted in the Atlantic by a French submarine which takes on board seven Jewish passengers of German nationality.

1940, 30th April: arrives at Genoa at the end of her last pre-War voyage and is adapted for a special voyage to Tripoli, arriving back at Siracuse on the 10th June, 1940, the day when Italy enters the War.

1941: spends the greater part of the year in lay-up at Genoa except for a voyage to Spalato in March; later transferred to Trieste.

1942, February: transformation works begin following an agreement with the International Red Cross for the repatriation of Italian civilians interned in the East African colonies which are now in British hands.

1942, 4th April: leaves Trieste to join her sister Vulcania two days later 20 miles south of Majorca. On the 8th April they arrive in Gibraltar; on the 12th they are in São Vicente (Cape Verde Islands) for refuelling; on the 26th they are at Port Elizabeth; and on the 5th May they arrive in Berbera in British Somaliland.

1942, 21st October: leaves Genoa together with the Vulcania, Giulio Cesare and Duilio for the second repatriation mission to East Africa, ending in Brindisi on the 12th January, 1943.

1943, 22nd May: the four ships leave Trieste on the third and last repatriation mission of ex-African colonists who are landed in Taranto on the 11th August.

1943, 4th September: arrives at Trieste where, on the 8th September, after the Armistice, she receives orders to proceed to Venice, arriving around midnight.

1943, 10th September: manages to escape from Venice where she would have been seized by the Germans and makes for Brindisi, where she is handed over to the Allies.

1943, 14th October: leaves Taranto, heading first to Malta, then to Algiers and then to Gibraltar where she is taken over by the U.S. War Shipping Organisation for whom, after being camouflaged in grey, she starts an intense programme of troop transportation in March, 1944, while still with an Italian crew and flag.

1945, 17th January: enters service as the American hospital ship Frances Y. Slanger.

1945, November: reverts to become a transport for military personnel; on the following 28th February, she re-assumes her original name, Saturnia.

1946, 12th August: after several repatriation voyages between France and the United States, she returns to Italy for the first time, docking at Genoa.

1946, 15th November: is returned to the Italian government despite demands by the Greeks that she should be given to them; refitted in Genoa.

1947, 21st January: sets sail from Genoa in her first post-War commercial voyage to New York; from June, 1948 she calls also at Halifax.

1955, 2nd November: returns to Trieste, which she has not visited for twelve years; on 8th November, resumes the Trieste – New York service with calls at Venice, Patras, Naples, Palermo, Gibraltar, Lisbon and Halifax.

1965, 10th April: arrives in Trieste at the end of her last crossing from New York and is laid up.

1965, 7th October: arrives at La Spezia to be broken up.




The long career of the Saturnia, often in parallel with that of her sister Vulcania, meant that the ship made a great variety of voyages – liner crossings and cruises in times of peace but also service as a hospital ship and a troop transport during the Second World War. It was during those wartime years that the Saturnia made some of the most adventurous and extraordinary voyages of her long life.



At the beginning of 1941, after the occupation of Italian Somalia and Ethiopia by British forces, the government in London intimated to the administration in Rome, through the intermediation of the International Red Cross, that it could not guarantee the safety of the Italian civilians in the former colonies – thousands of women, children, old people and invalids were crowded into insanitary internment camps where, exacerbated by the climate, epidemics were wiping many of them out.

The Governor of the colonies, Caroselli, who had enjoyed cordial relations with the authorities in London, was given the task of organising the repatriation. At the end of November, during a meeting held in Genoa between the minister and the Società Italia, it was decided that the Saturnia, Duilio, Giulio Cesare and Vulcania, which were similar in speed and capacity, would be chartered and that they would undergo work to make them suitable for the task. This would be undertaken at Trieste in the case of the first two and at Genoa and Naples, respectively, for the others. Following the agreement, reached through the mediation of the Swiss, the Saturnia and Vulcania left Genoa for their voyage round Africa. They were painted entirely in white with red crosses on each side and with blue discs bearing white crosses on the funnels. In conformity with the agreement, they were “totally illuminated like meteors” so that they could be easily identified. By the end of three missions, the ship would had repatriated 30,000 colonists.

Pre-maiden voyage introductory brochure for the Saturnia; the cover, including the font, was the work of Argio Orell.

Equally adventurous was the voyage which was unexpectedly undertaken by the Saturnia and Vulcania after the Italian Armistice: on the afternoon of the 8th September, 1943 they managed to escape from the port of Trieste and make for Venice where they had been ordered to embark the cadets of the Naval Academy (which had been transferred from Leghorn at the outbreak of the War). The Saturnia had reached Brindisi on the 11th September, carrying her cadets to safety, and then handing herself over to the Allies. The Vulcania, on the other hand, at the insistence of the pro-Fascist director of the Naval Academy and with the support of the Naval Commander at Pula, had disembarked her young cadets at Brioni, an island near Pula, causing them to be handed over to the Nazis and held in their concentration camps. Without changing her name, the Saturnia continued her wartime activities on behalf of the Allies until December, 1944 when she reached New York to be transformed into the hospital ship Frances Y Slanger, in honour of the first American Red Cross nurse to be killed during the War. After the end of hostilities, the Saturnia spent the first post-War years in an intense service of troop repatriation to America, the exchange of prisoners and the transport of war brides and their babies. Afterwards, with so many of her former fleetmates gone, she and her sister took over the prestigious service between Genoa and New York With the arrival on the scene of the Andrea Doria and the Cristoforo Colombo and the restitution of Trieste to Italy, in the Fall of 1954, the two sisters returned to their home port amid great rejoicing to restart their service between the Adriatic and New York for which they had become so popular with an international clientele before the War, especially with Americans who particularly enjoyed the long, luxurious cruises to the West Indies and to the Mediterranean. The Saturnia left New York for her last liner voyage on the 25th March, 1965, reaching Trieste on the following 10th April; thus concluded the long and fascinating career of one of the most beloved and long-lasting Italian liners which had started at the same port on the 21st September, 1927 when she set sail on her maiden voyage to the cheers of an enormous crowd.



PUBLICITY CAMPAIGN                                                                                       


The activity to make known to the public the new motor vessels Saturnia and Vulcania was possibly the greatest effort ever of the publicity department in the whole history of the Cosulich Line. Indeed, the two ships brought so many novelties, not only when compared to the previous ships of the company, but also to the international shipping world; therefore, it was necessary a totally renewed and strong publicity intended to offer a new image of their shipowners.


When the Saturnia entered service, in 1927, it was a time of interesting artistic and cultural rejuvenation; particularly in the Trieste of those years, the avant guard movements propelled a noteworthy creative fervour. This is witnessed by the quantity of proposals to advertise the new sister ships received by Cosulich among the artists they consulted, such as Argio Orell, Filippo Romoli and Augusto Cernigoj; artists who, despite with their different styles, were capable to manage the new trends imposed by the “roaring 'Twenties”. It was somehow no surprise that the initial publicity material was entrusted to Argio Orell, the most eclectic of the three but also the closest one to a certain traditionalism imposed by the client. The artist would conceive a coordinated image Cosulich/Saturnia, designing as well a new company logo, the “C” encircled by the Savoy knot. It is known that the Saturnia was a revolutionary ship in the filed of liners design, but her internal décor – despite bombastically celebrated in the inaugural book devote to her – were as well her weak point: in less than a decade the baroque ballroom was refurbished in modern style by Gustavo Pulitzer, together with several other lounges. In occasion of this refurbishment in a much more contemporary style, the promotional strategy is also renewed, as testifies the beautiful brochure devoted to the 1936 revamping. Of tasteful and endearing design, in balance between Art Déco and modern minimalism, the brochure is enriched by a series of wonderful watercolours signed by Franz Lenhart. During the refurbishment of 1936 the steerage areas were also removed to make space for a comfortable tourist class and much more decent third class cabins. New brochures, one for each of these new classes, had also an endearing graphic design to attract above all the American public; both booklets feature on their pages other nice artworks by Franz Lenhart while the covers were by Govanni Patrone for the tourist class and by Filippo Romoli for the third class. The Cosulich Line capitalised on the enthusiastic reception of the American public for their new flagships producing a new series of advertisement in English specially and exclusively conceived for the US market, such as the large folders for the luxury cruises of the 'Thirties signed by celebrated American advertising artists such as Fred J. Hoerts and Victor Beals. The early post-War publicity material, printed by the Italian Line in the late 'Forties, despite reflecting the austerity of those days, has anyhow its charm, starting from a large brochure of album format illustrated in colour by Giovanni Patrone.



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The last publication specifically devoted to the now ageing Saturnia and Vulcania is dated 1954 and is devoted to their last transatlantic commitment on the Trieste-New York route, promoted as a tourist itinerary for the many picturesque calls defined “cruise journeys”. It is noteworthy the – never adopted - white hull of the two ships on the cover; this could suggest the the white livery of the hulls had been actually considered. In the inner pages there are as well some rare colour photographs of the interiors. A large number of the first class public rooms, starting from the dining room, had not been greatly modified since the origins and, to board the Saturnia and the Vulcania in the 'Sixities, was an authentic time travel.

ON BOARD                                                                                          


There was no correspondence between the modern silhouette of the Saturnia and the Vulcania, dominated by the large and ample stack positioned at midships, and the old fashioned interiors. The architectural coordination was entrusted to the well-known architect from Trieste Arduino Berlam, but he unfortunately had little room for manoeuvre towards the old fashioned wishes of his customer: the ballroom “magnificent and lordly as Versailles the palace of the Sun King” was the amazing 


phantasmagoria of the most extravagant rococo conceived by the brothers Coppedé from Florence, to whom was entrusted as well the furnishing of the rotisserie à-la-carte and of the indoor swimming pool. The neo-classic dining room sported a full scale reproduction of the Parthenon frieze and was the work of the British furnishing house Marsh, Jones & Cribb of Leeds; the same company fitted out the library and the writing room.

First Class


The only original lounges – despite far from being modern – were those conceived by the Trieste – based design studio STUARD, of which one of the founders was Gustavo Pulitzer Finali. The young architect was at his début in the sector of on board furnishing, thus starting a career that would soon mark him at international level for many years to come. On board the Saturnia, he designed the smoking room and the gallery repeating, in a relatively linear and sober way, the atmospheres of an ancient manor. It is worth to remember that, less than a decade later – in 1936 – Pulitzer would obtain the appointment 

The first folder printed to illustrate the third class of the motorship, printed in three colours; the artwork is by Paolo Klodic.

to refurbish many of the most representative lounges of both sister ships in a much more contemporary style; Pulitzer himself put forward the name of the famous Milanese architect Gio Ponti to design the first class bar and the latter was as well at his first commitment on a ship.

The only grate novelty brought by these vessels in the field of the passenger liners outfitting – maybe even more striking than their propulsion system – was the presence of a whole deck of luxury cabins with private verandahs; a “must” of all the cruise ships of nowadays which, with the Saturnia, went to sea for the first time in history.

The sumptuous but frankly démodé of these ships, in a time of a general rethinking of the interior style for a modern passenger liner were presented to the public in a large book printed by the Cosulich Line early before their entry into service in this way: “A monumental parade staircase, from which summit vigils the bronze statue of the goddess after which the ship is named, rises to the Atrium, where are the offices, to the Deck of the Promenades and descends to the lower floors [sic] until reaching the Swimming Pool, sumptuous reproduction of the magnificent Pompeian bath.

Small poster on cardboard by Filippo Romoli for the travel agents; the central part was reserved to print (or write) the next scheduled departures.

“The deck of the Promenades is occupied by the Rooms for Meetings, which cluster around the Ballroom, centre of the on board worldly life, in a fascinating variety of styles and décors. Rich in carved woods, of precious stuccoes and of shimmering golds, the Ballroom recalls the pomp of the Royal Court of Versailles […]. Adjacent on the other side, the Rotisserie (Grill-room) with its enormous historiated fireplace, jocund like a tavern of reveler writers of the Florentine Renaissance; and also the Writing Room, all light blue lacquers and chinoiserie.

“Amble solemn galleries, with the coffered ceiling, the painted beams, tense curls at the walls like in the palaces of the Tuscan Fifteenth century. They lead to the Library furnished according to the taste of the early English Eighteenth century, and to the Smoking Room, a well-guessed modern adaptation of motifs flourished at the times of the Tudor […]. The Dining Room presents a décor of classic style that take its inspirations from the noble grandeur of the best models of the Ancient Greece […]. “The rooms are jewels of good taste and comfort […]. The terraces on the sea provided in many cabins, are one of the most joyful novelties of the naval architecture […].” All the exaggerations and pompousness of the first class décor were fortunately put a side in the second and third class where Berlam free to escape from the decorative obsession of the owners, created some nice lounges, such as the dining room, the smoking room, the music room of the second class and the dining room, the smoking room, the music room and the reading room of the third class; the decorative elements were sober and functional and a wise use of natural woods and essences was made without the useless intrusion of any decorative tinsel.


Cover for a first and second class passenger list of the 'Fifties.

Backboard for the 1928 calendar of the Cosulich Line; the design, the font, the ship portrait and the company's logo were by Argio Orell.

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