SS Europa / SS Liberté
SS Europa was an ocean liner originally built for the North-German Lloyd line in the late 1920's, with a successful career before and after World War II. The ship, in addition to sister ship SS Bremen, was designed to embody German advancement and expertise in shipbuilding. The sleek new liner was fast, faster than almost anything else afloat at the time, winning the coveted Blue Riband award for the fastest transatlantic passage until the Bremen took it back.
After an uneventful WWII, with plans for Germany to either use the ship as a troop transport in the planned operation Sea Lion to take the UK or as an aircraft carrier, the ship essentially waited out the war in Bremerhaven, its home port. In 1945, the allied forces took control, with the US Navy using the ship as a transport for some time before giving the ship to France as reparations for the destroyed Normandie.
After a strenuous and almost disastrous refit in Le Havre, the ship was reborn as the SS Liberte, with a successful French career both transporting passengers across the Atlantic and also used as a backdrop in some Hollywood productions before being scrapped in 1963.
A Twin Sister Ship
Born at a unique intersection of the roaring 1920's and the nationalistic German fascist state before WWII, the Europa was the second of two futuristic and sleek Ocean Liners proposed by the North German Lloyd line. Launched a day before the SS Bremen, the Europa took more time to fit out and enter service. Slightly smaller than her twin, the Europa started to take the oceans by storm. Capturing the Blue Riband with ease, the ship boasted a unique way to expedite outgoing mail - by having a sea-plane launch via catapult between the two funnels to deliver mail before the ship reached the next destination.
Although the ship was designed to be sleek and futuristic, one complaint was the height of the funnels did not adequately clear the exhaust which would rain down on passengers on deck. The funnels on both ships were extended by 15 feet to address that issue, which is why some earlier pictures the funnels are short compared with the taller later versions.
Europa During WWII
During the war, Europa mostly sat idle while the world was turned upside down. German plans to use the liner to help with an invasion of the British Isles via Operation Sea Dog ultimately fell through as Germany experienced more resistance than anticipated. Other plans were to retrofit the liner to become an aircraft carrier as Germany saw the value that American carriers brought to the war effort.
As the war dragged on, no real effort was put into the Europa as it sat docked in Bremerhaven.
In 1945 as the allied forces advanced through Europe, the American forces ended up capturing the Europa and the US Navy ended up using the vessel as a troopship to shuttle troops between Europe.
Ultimately making several transatlantic trips as a troopship, the Navy ended up relinquishing the ship and it was ceded to France to replace the destroyed SS Normandie.
WWII Reparations and Rebirth
After receiving the USS Europa from the US Navy, the French Line transported the ship back to France for a complete overhaul and refit. After being transferred to the French Line and moved to France, the transformation from Europa to Liberte was one fraught on the verge of disaster. Several small fires occurred immediately following the role as troopship, and on December 8, 1946 a storm caused the ship to break free from its moorings and drift into the capsized SS Paris. This caused extensive hull damage tot he Europa and it subsequently sank into the shallow water. The ship was re-floated and repaired in 1947 through 1949, only to have another fire break out in 1949. Fortunately, the ship was saved and entered service in 1950 as the SS Liberte of the French Line.
Of all the changes to the ship to make it French, the most distinctive is the change from a solid amber funnel of North German Lloyd to the distinctive red and black design of the French Line, making this ship unmistakable when sailing.
Fame and Glamour of the SS Liberté
On August 2, 1950 the Liberte made the inaugural voyage as a French vessel. With all the excitement and activity the ship had endured prior and immediately after WWII, the second half of its career was generally uneventful. As to 1950's came to a close, competition from the fancy Italian liners, elegant and powerful Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth of Cunard, and the new and impressive SS United States from the United States Lines, the French Line opted to invest in a replacement for the aging Liberte. In 1961 the new SS France entered service as a modern liner. The Liberte was ultimately laid up in 1962 and scrapped in Italy starting in 1963.
One exciting aspect of SS Liberte's service was its use in several Hollywood works. The 1953 American musical, "The French Line" starring Jane Russell, was set on the ship with extensive scenes inside and out. Although the movie was the center of some controversy, the SS Liberte shone through. Other appearances were in 1953's "How to Marry a Millionaire" starring Marilyn Monroe, Betty Grable, and Lauren Bacall and 1954's Sabrina starring Audrey Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart.