During the heyday of ocean liners, national pride was deeply embedded into the industry's shipping lines. Great Britain had Cunard and White Star. France had the French Line. Germany had the Hamburg-America and North German Lloyd Lines. The United States had the United States Line. As for Italy, there were two smaller shipping lines competing against each other, the Navigazione Generale Italiana and the Lloyd Sabaudo Line. In the early 1930's the Italian government had been decided to consolidate the smaller lines into the Italian Line to better compete with the other world superpowers.
The SS Rex was the first ship to come from the merger, having originally been ordered by the NGI Line as the SS Guglielmo Marconi. A second ship was to be ordered as well, the SS Conte di Savoia, to give the Italian line a direct competitor to Germany's SS Bremen and SS Europa.
Poised for speed and power, the SS Rex entered the transatlantic race in 1932.
An Elegant Ship
Capturing the Blue Riband in her career, the SS Rex was the pride of Italy.
The exterior design of the ship was sleek and modern, using the same design cues of the German ships of the time. The main difference was the Rex's stern utilized a clipper style aft (where the rear sticks up and past the rudder and above the waterline). On the inside, unlike most other liners of the day, the Rex did not embrace the Art Deco theme and reverted back to the classical ocean liner decor of the 1910's and 1920's.
The ship utilized several design elements, such as air conditioning and exterior pools allowing the ship to accommodate both transatlantic travel as well as cruises.
A Fast Approach
Heralded with much fanfare, the ship encountered trouble during the maiden voyage. While still in the Mediterranean Sea, pumps in the electrical generator room failed and water entered the compartment, causing an electrical short. While anchored at Gibraltar, the ship had to wait for replacement parts to come from Genoa on the SS Vulcanaia. Afterward, she steamed with pride only two days behind into New York Harbor.
Although the minor mishap out of the gate, the Rex was a regular greyhound on the high seas. Unlike the majority of her competitors though, the Rex enjoyed several cruises throughout Central and South America during her service.
The Rex During WWII
With the outbreak of WWII, most governments and companies changed their focus on the war effort. For a short period of time, the SS Rex and SS Conte di Savioa were the only two ships offering transatlantic service.
Once Italy entered the war, the SS Rex was recalled. Unlike the Allied Forces and their utilization of ocean liners as troop transport ships, the Italians decided to keep their ships in harbor for safe keeping.
For most of the war, the Rex sat in the port of Genoa, waiting for the fighting to end. After the bombing of Genoa, the ship was moved to a safer location of Trieste. During the blockade of Trieste, the Germans seized the Rex with the intention of scuttling it. The British Royal Air Force successfully prevented the Germans and by sinking the liner.
Rex After the War
After WWII, the burnt and capsized hull of the Rex lay in shallow waters of the Gulf of Koper - between Italy and Yugoslavia.
Shortly after the war, the Italian steamship line had plans to re-use the liner and reinstate into transatlantic service. However, during this time, the ship had been determined to be in Yugoslavia's territory and they denied permission to revive the liner.
Realizing that the Nazi's had stripped the liner of all the fine furnishings, as well as the logistical and political challenges between Italy and Yugoslavia, the plan was eventually abandoned, ironically like the liner itself.
Throughout the 1950's the local government of Slovenia slowly scrapped the liner, but to this day a portion of the ship's hull and mechanical systems still are on the ocean floor.