“The White Arrow”, “The Dove of the Orient”, “The Ship of Maharajahs”... these were some of the epithets which were given to the motorship Victoria of the Lloyd Triestino. At the end of the 'Twenties, the company's technical office was faced with a complex but obvious problem: the design of a new liner which would replace the two already obsolete vessels Helouan and Vienna, born before the First World War which, with the exception of those wartime years, had served with dignity on the express route between Italy and Alexandria in Egypt.
The higher speeds obtainable with the latest generation of propulsion machinery, the competition posed by the Società Italiana di Servizi Marittimi (SITMAR) of Genoa which was running its two most recent steamships, Esperia and Ausonia, on the same route, a worrying contraction in traffic and, finally, the restructuring of the Lloyd Triestino by Lloyd Sabaudo, persuaded the company to order just a single ship; the possibility of a sister ship would have to wait for more favourable economic times. Following a favourable experience with some diesel-driven combi-ships, it was decided that the new flagship should be a motor vessel: four powerful Sulzer diesels, built at the famous Fabbrica Macchine Sant'Andrea of Trieste, were connected directly to the same number of propellers with the intention of giving the ship a service speed of 20 knots.
The Victoria (a name chosen after consideration had been given to Alessandrina and Cleopatra) was also one of the very first passenger ships in the World built to the new standards of Safety of Life At Sea (SOLAS 1929); in addition to a cellular double bottom which extended from the fore to the stern peak, she was divided into eleven watertight compartments with the engine room in the middle section and the forward and aft sections devoted to cargo. There was also a garage for cars accessible over a ramp connected to the quay. Despite being much smaller than the great transatlantic liners, the Victoria attracted international attention for several reasons: apart from her speed, she had a particularly graceful and streamlined appearance, her interiors were in the Modern style and the first class main lounge was fitted with air-conditioning: she was indeed the first passenger ship in the World to have this amenity thanks to a plant designed by the Carrier company of America and built in England.
KEEL LAYING: 05/03/1930
MADEN VOYAGE: Trieste-Alexandria 06/27/1931
SHIP YARD: Cantiere San Marco, Trieste
HULL NUMBER: 782
COMPANy: Lloyd Triestino, Trieste
LENGTH OVERALL: 540 ft
WIDTH: 70 ft
GROSS TONNAGE: 13062 tsl
PROPULSION: Sulzer diesel , quadruple screw
SERVICE SPEED: 20,50 knots
TOP SPEED: 23,26 knots
POWER: 18.660 horsepower
FIRST CLASS: 239
SECOND CLASS: 245
THIRD CLASS: 100
FOURTH CLASS: 82
FATE: 1942 January 24 attacked and sunk by British torpedo - carrying aircraft in the gulf of Sidrea.
GENERAL ARRANGEMENT PLANS
1930, 3rd May: keel laid at the San Marco shipyard at Trieste as Yard No. 782.
1930, 6th December: is launched by Donna Carolina, wife of the Minister of Communications, Costanzo Ciano.
1931, 30th April: leaves the yard for the first time, sailing to the floating dry dock at Pula.
1931, 22nd May: returns to her builders after preliminary sea trials.
1931, 20th June: speed trials in the Adriatic during which she proves to be the fastest motorship in the World, exceeding 23 knots.
1931, 21st June: delivered to Lloyd Triestino.
1931, 27th June: a large crowd cheers the ship as she leaves the port of Trieste for her maiden voyage to Alexandria in Egypt, with intermediate calls at Venice and Brindisi.
1932, 24th January: as a result of the first reorganisation of the national shipping lines, the Sitmar Line of Genoa, previously belonging to NGI, is dissolved and its fleets is transferred to Lloyd Triestino. The former Sitmar's Esperia and Ausonia continue the service to Alexandria while the Victoria is transferred to the express route from Genoa to Bombay with intermediate calls at Naples, Port Said and Aden.
1935: revamped in Genoa; an open-air swimming pool is added for the first class and the gross tonnage is increased to 13,098 tons.
1935, October: on her usual route she now makes an additional call at Alexandria in replacement of the Ausonia, which has been destroyed by fire.
1936, January: she replaces the Conte Rosso on her regular service to Shanghai while she is undergoing a refit in Trieste; along the route, the Victoria stops at Venice, Brindisi, Port Said, Aden, Bombay, Colombo, Singapore and Hong Kong.
1936, April: resumes her previous service between Italy and India.
1936, June: her line is extended to Shanghai with an additional call at Massawa.
1936, October: transferred finally to the Shanghai route after hosting the official party at the celebrations in Trieste for the centenary of the Lloyd Triestino.
1936, 29th December: leaves Genoa for an exceptional voyage to Manila in connection with the International Eucharistic Congress, arriving on the 23rd January, 1937.
1939, 20th November: with neutrality markings on her sides, arrives in Genoa at the end of her final line voyage.
1940, 1st June: makes a voyage as a troop transport for the Ministry of War, concluding at Bari on the 16th.
1940, 25th June: leaves Naples together with the Esperia for the first national wartime convoy to Libya with 437 troops and 2,775 tons of cargo.
1940, 18th July: returns to Genoa and is placed in lay-up.
1941, 22nd January: leaves Naples on the first of her eight trooping voyages to Tripoli.
1941, 3rd June: after sailing from Trapani, has an engine breakdown and is forced to proceed to Naples.
1941, 26th August: arrives at Taranto to have her troop-carrying capacity increased.
1942, 22nd January: after the completion of the works, leaves Naples for Tripoli in Convoy T48.
1942, 24th January: after a first air attack on the previous afternoon, she is hit in the stern at 5.25 pm by a torpedo from a British plane and is immobilised. While being abandoned, she receives a further hit and at around 7 pm she sinks in the Gulf of Sirte, taking 249 men with her.
Immediately on her first entry into the sea, in June 1931, the Victoria astonished the engineers who had designed her and, indeed, the international shipping world as a whole: the contract had specified that her powerful engines should propel her at a maximum speed of about 21.5 knots but, during her sea trials in the Adriatic, she easily exceeded 23 knots, thus becoming the fastest diesel-driven ship in the World.
When, on the 27th June, 1931, the new pride of the Lloyd Triestino slipped her moorings at the Stazione Marittima at Trieste for her inaugural voyage under the command of Captain Giulio Mauri, an enthusiastic crowd had gathered along the waterfront to admire a ship which, according to all the experts, would come to be recognised as a masterpiece of naval architecture. Her profile was a perfect mixture of grace and power thanks to her cruiser stern which tapered towards the waterline; her inclined bow falling away elegantly to the cutwater; two low, raked but substantial funnels of streamlined section; a superstructure sloping down without interruption from its rounded front towards the stern. A couple of kingposts on the substantial forecastle and two inclined masts of moderate size (the foremast rising from the bridge, anticipating the modern masts of the current cruise ships) completed the harmonious and seemingly weightless profile of a vessel which many people, experts or merely observers, regarded as one of the most masterly examples of naval elegance ever seen.
In 1932, in the first reorganisation of the national passenger fleet, the SITMAR company was dissolved and its vessels were transferred to the Lloyd Triestino; whereupon it was decided to prolong the Victoria's route as far as India, reaching Bombay via the Suez Canal. Later, it was extended to China, Now the ship became, paradoxically, one of the most loved and hated vessels among the British: for example, Paul Morand wrote in his book The Road to India that he and his fellow passengers on a slow and suffocating ship of the P&O Line envied those who were on board the Victoria when the “White Arrow” sped past the old British ship of Her Majesty's merchant navy on which he was travelling to India. In an advertisement, the P&O company suggested that the subjects of the United Kingdom should avoid “the fascist ship”. In fact, as shown by photographs taken on board, British gentry and officials did not observe this warning and continued to sail on the Italian ship, as did maharajahs and other oriental rulers who appreciated not only her air-conditioning and speed but also her cuisine, the warmth of her Italian crew and the sensational design of her interiors.
The line voyages of the Victoria could be considered real holiday trips, cruises to the Middle East, East Africa, India and China. As can be seen from the leaflets for Lloyd Triestino's eastern service, with their beautiful cover showing the Victoria in Chinese waters: “The great express Italy – India – Far East will give you happy dreams of countries where life is colourful and the variety, the unexpected stories will recall the excitement of youth. One beautiful morning, you embark on the immaculate and streamlined Victoria, alive and breathing like a young creature, and at dawn on the ninth day you will arrive at Bombay. Does it not seem like a dream? All the East from Port Said to Shanghai is yours in about twenty days. You can leave the ship, happy and invigorated by the voyage, at Massawa, Djibouti, Aden, Colombo, Manila or Hong Kong. If you are attracted to Japan, you can transship at Shanghai: if you are going to Siam or Singapore two perfect connections await you.”
In another publication, which came out in mid-1932 and was dedicated to tourist voyages, we can read: “How many people are eager to find a place where they can spend two or three weeks of relaxation? And so, they consult the tourist guides, searching for descriptions of the climate, the hotels, always with the dread that in the end they will find themselves in a place which they will not leave fully satisfied. But here the tourist voyages of the Lloyd Triestino offer, in addition to the absolute relaxation which only the sea can give, the incomparably fresh and salubrious air, a continuous, changing panoramic show and, at the same time, the possibility of visiting new cities without any boredom or disturbance, without being burdened with your baggage and without having to search for hotels and restaurants.”
Because of the many novelties, both technical and aesthetic, which the motorship Victoria brought to the world of naval construction, she became famous at an international level thanks to numerous articles in the world press. The Victoria was an exception, in a certain way, to the rule that the most famous liners were those on the transatlantic service, above all the great ships on the route to New York: the Lloyd Triestino on the route to the Eastern Mediterranean and the Far East was little known in the United States and the Victoria was of relatively modest size but this press coverage made the task of the Lloyd's publicity office, directed by Bruno Astori, much easier; nevertheless, they produced some fine examples of graphic art devoted to their “Little Jewel”.
This is, for instance, the case with the introductory book published before her entry into service; this is a large format album, 34 x 24.5 cm, which is encircled by a ribbon of blue silk attached to the hard cover. In the centre of the cover, in silver, there is a beautiful bow view of the Victoria painted by Giuseppe Riccobaldi, who was also responsible for five large colour plates of life on board inside the album. Each page is given a different decorative frame in cobalt blue on a silver background; also the end papers show on the same background colours a streamlined silhouette of the ship at speed on a silver sea. To the same Riccobaldi was entrusted the design of the first large poster dedicated to the ship; this portrayed a feminine figure with her dress blowing in the wind: in the shadow of an Egyptian statue, she is watching the Victoria as she ploughs through the sea at high speed.
This theme of speed, very dear to the Futurist artists of the time, recurs in many of the later posters and brochures such as, for example, one produced by Quinto Cenni in which the Victoria sails at speed against a yellow and orange globe suggesting a sea crossing. Despite the fact that the Lloyd Triestino fleet was augmented by three large steamships, the Conte Verde, Conte Rosso and Conte Biancamano which were even more powerful than the motor ship Victoria, it is the latter which figures on the covers of many of the company's other publications, as exemplified by the album of 24 x 20 cm with a metallic spiral binding (a great novelty at the time) and a very impressive contemporary volume which also contains a beautiful painting of the Victoria by Paolo Klodic and a series of refined watercolours of animated scenes in the lounges which are the work of Franz Lenhart. In addition, it should not be forgotten that it was only for the Victoria that colour photographs were used – they were rare and, indeed, valuable in those days.
According to one of the journalists invited to the inauguration of the Victoria at Trieste, “This ship is so sleek and subtle that she is clever at hiding her bulk, or, to be more precise, it is her designer, the engineer Nicolò Costanzi, who was able to conceive a living being whose visual impact is of movement and whose substance is comfort.” Again, we see the theme of speed so beloved by the Futurists, which had been spelled out some years earlier by Le Corbusier in his book Vers un'Architecture in which he saw the means of transportation as an affirmation of applied art. The vessel was indeed a masterpiece of industrial design and her most extraordinary feature was the continuity of style between her external profile and her interiors. The reporter continues: “While taking us to visit the different lounges of the ship, architect Gustavo Pulitzer explained the general concept of modern on-board furnishing, quite different from what was usual until recent times. No more is architecture imposed on the ship, no more faux palaces, no more fake structures. The architect must look for the harmony within the inner outfitting, without altering the spaces which are dictated by the structures of the ship herself. The effects which he can achieve in this way are endless and exquisite in all details, provided that he studies the most appropriate resources which each material offers for decorative expression.”
The Victoria, even though divided into four classes, notably carried all her passengers in cabins in view of the fact that her route was so different from those which carried migrants at that time, 239 in first class, second class offered 484 in some luxury and the third and fourth just 182 ( it should be said that the lower two classes had public rooms in common and the only difference was in the layout of the cabins). All the first class lounges were situated, one beyond the other, on the promenade deck; their decoration was allotted half to the Stuard Studio of Gustavo Pulitzer and half to the Ducrot company of Palermo. Even though this latter firm was noted mainly for furnishings in a historical style, principally for the Navigazione Generale Italiana of Genoa, thanks to the overall supervision of the Triestine architect, it achieved an adequate contemporary manner on the Victoria. However, it was the work of Pulitzer which achieved the best in the Modern style.
Of particular interest was the stern lounge, used mainly as a dining room but convertible for special events and gala evenings. In a certain way, this room represented the quintessence of collaboration between the naval architect and the interior designer. Generous in dimensions, 16 metres wide and 19 metres long and, with a height of almost 6 metres, it was completely free of columns, thanks to a system of deck beams from which the ceiling was suspended. On each side, there were four mullioned windows, arched at the top and glazed with stained glass, the work of Pietro Chiesa; a system of back lighting enabled these polychromatic windows to provide illumination even at night. Other light was projected onto the gold leaf ceiling from vases supported on the heads of two giant bronze sculptures of mermaids, the work of Libero Andreotti. The transverse walls held hunting and fishing scenes in an Egyptian style while the buffet area was decorated in majolica produced by Richard Ginori to the designs of Gio Ponti. (The Milanese architect had also designed the Art Deco-style china used on board.) This room could also be used as ballroom and had the distinction of being the first on board a ship to have automatic air-conditioning.
First class passengers entered on Deck A through a large vestibule from which a staircase descended to the cabins on Deck B and ascended to the Lounge Deck. This space, together with the staircase, was designed by Ducrot and was notable for a giant wooden panel in many kinds of intaglio, the work of Maryla Lednicka.
Forward of the vestibule, there were luxury suites, the only rooms on the ship which were furnished by a foreign firm, the noted Portois et Fix of Vienna. They consisted of two rooms, one of which could be used as a living room, and a large bathroom. Interestingly, each of the baths and the bidets had four taps, two for hot or cold sea water and two for hot or cold normal water. The second class was not inferior to the first class in respect of the rich decoration of its public rooms, although they were slightly smaller than those of the first class. The bar, for example, was largely covered with polychrome majolica by Gio Ponti; and the central hall was decorated by Augusto Cernigoi with images of palm trees and muses on gold leaf background, contrasting with the ebony surfaces in various shades of brown which were accented with golden touches of different burnished patina.