Italy lost both of her luxurious transatlantic passenger vessels during the Second World War. The 880-foot Rex, launched in 1931, captured the prestigious Blue Riband for the speed of westbound crossings in 1933 and held the record until 1935. The liner’s sister ship, the slightly smaller Conte di Savoia, began service in 1932.
Italy withdrew their prestigious vessels from passenger travel when the war heated up in 1940. The Rex was anchored in Genoa until a bombing of the city convinced officials that she should be moved to a safer location. The giant ship was spotted by a Royal Air Force pilot as she was being towed to Trieste on September 6, 1940 and she was attacked by British and American planes in Caodistria Bay two days later. Inundated with rocket and cannon fire, the Rex capsized and burned in the shallow water.
Conte di Savoia was moored in Venice. One side of the liner was painted with images of landscapes as camouflage. She was mistakenly set on fire by German aircraft in September of 1943, burning for two days before she was intentionally sunk to prevent her capsizing. The hull was raised in 1945 with the objective of repairs and restoration, but the plans were eventually abandoned and the ship was scrapped in 1950.
Transatlantic air travel was beginning to cast a shadow on the future of luxury passenger vessels, but the Italian Line was determined to regain a position in the still lucrative ocean travel business. The country was attempting to rebuild its shattered economy and the two new ships commissioned by the line would also serve as focal points of pride for a nation that had been decimated by the war.
The first of the new liners was named after a 16th century Genoese admiral. Construction on the Andrea Doria (the accent is on the second syllable in the first word) began at the Ansaldo Shipyards in February of 1950. She left her homeport of Genoa on January 14, 1953 for her maiden voyage to New York.
She was considered one of the most beautiful ocean liners of her day with a jet-black hull and gleaming white superstructure. Her single sweptback funnel was painted in Italy’s national colors of red, white, and green. Each class of passengers (first, second, and tourist) had its own swimming pool and the Italian Line had spent over $1 million on commissioned artwork by some of the country’s most noted designers and artisans for the ship’s interiors.
There was, however, a problem with the Andrea Doria. She was top-heavy and the problem was exacerbated as her fuel tanks became depleted towards the end of a voyage. She was due to dock the next morning in New York on July 25, 1956, completing her 51st westbound crossing, when the Swedish American motorship Stockholm loomed out of a fog off Nantucket and struck the Doria’s starboard side.
The Stockholm’s bow, reinforced for traveling in icy Scandinavian waters, penetrated 40 feet into the Italian ship. Thirty feet of the Stockholm’s bow fell off into the Atlantic, but she remained afloat.
Thousands of tons of seawater poured into the five fuel tanks on the Doria that were breached by the collision. The immediate list was so severe that lifeboats on the liner’s port side were rendered inoperable. Without half of the available lifeboats, the potential death toll could have matched that suffered from the loss of the Titanic in 1912 if there had not been other ships in the vicinity.
The first lifeboats that cast away from the sinking Andrea Doria were filled with a shamefully disproportionate number of her crew. But there were also stories of heroism that emerged from accounts of the next harrowing hours.
When the severe list made walking upright across the decks impossible, human chains were formed to guide people to evacuation points. Steward Giovanni Rovelli worked throughout the night with Dr. Thure Peterson in an attempt to extricate Peterson’s wife, Martha, from the debris of their stateroom. (Mrs. Peterson died before they could free her.) Captain Piero Calamai was intent on remaining on his mortally damaged ship until his officers climbed out of a lifeboat and told him they wouldn’t leave without him.
Of all the stories that arose from the Andrea Doria disaster, none is more amazing than that of Linda Morgan.
The 14-year-old was sharing Cabin 52 on the Doria with her younger stepsister, Joan Cianfarra. Her stepfather, Camille Cianfarra, a journalist for the New York Times in Spain, and her mother, Jane, were in Cabin 54 next door. Most of the victims of the collision were killed at the impact point. Cabins 52 and 54 were directly in line with the bow of the Stockholm. Although Linda’s mother managed to survive with grievous injuries, it was assumed that the other three members of the family had perished.
Linda’s father, Edward P. Morgan, a radio broadcaster for the ABC network, relayed the shocking news of the sinking of one of the world’s finest ocean liners to his audience, knowing that his own daughter was missing and quite probably dead.
It was a terrible, but logical assumption. Mr. Morgan was wrong.
A short time after the two ships disengaged and the stricken Doria floated back into the fog, a 36-year-old crewman on the Stockholm made his way towards a faint voice calling for her mother amid the tangled wreckage that remained on the bow of the Swedish ship.
Linda Morgan asked Bernabe Polanco Garcia, “I was on the Andrea Doria. Where am I now?”
The bow of the Stockholm that killed her sister and stepfather had miraculously slid under Linda’s bed and lifted her out of the Doria. She suffered a broken arm, but was otherwise unharmed. Even her father’s professionalism could not disguise his joy when he reported the incredible news on the radio. His daughter would forever after be known as the “miracle girl.”
Linda’s mother never fully recovered from her injuries and suffered deep depressions on the anniversary of the disaster. She died on July 25, 1969.