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Posts Tagged ‘Italia Flotta Riunite’

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The SS Rex was an Italian ocean liner launched in 1931. It held the westbound Blue Ribbon between 1933 and 1935. Originally built for the Navigazione Generale Italiana (NGI) as the SS Guglielmo Marconi, its state-ordered merger with the Lloyd Sabaudo line meant that the ship sailed for the newly created Italia Flotta Riunite (Italian Line). On May 12, 1938, in a demonstration of U.S. air power, three YB-17 bombers of the U.S. Army Air Corps intercepted the Rex 610 miles at sea in a highly publicized event.

The Rex operated transatlantic crossings from Italy with its running mate, the Conte di Savoia. On 8 September 1944, off Koper, Rex was hit by 123 rockets launched by RAF aircraft, caught fire from stem to stern, rolled onto the port side, and sank in shallow water. The ship was broken up at the site beginning in 1947.


Following North German Lloyd’s successful capture of the Blue Riband with its Bremen and Europa duo of ocean liners, the Rex was intended to be Italy’s effort to do the same. Amid great competition from other steamship companies, the Italian Line carried out a very attractive and enthusiastic publicity campaign for its two largest liners, the Rex and the Conte di Savoia.

Both ships were dubbed "The Riviera afloat". To carry the theme even further, sand was scattered in the outdoor swimming pools, creating a beach-like effect highlighted by multicolored umbrellas. Both ships were decorated in a classical style while the norm of the time was the Art Deco or the so called "Liner Style" that had been premiered onboard the French Line’s Ile de France in 1927. The ship’s exterior design had followed the trend set by Germany’s Bremen and Europa. The Rex sported a long hull with a moderately raked bow, two working funnels, but still featured the old-type overhanging counter stern found on such liners as the Olympic and Aquitania.

The first of this pair to be completed was, appropriately, the largest and fastest. It was christened the Rex in August 1931 in the presence of King Victor Emmanuel III and Queen Elena. In its goal of a record-breaking maiden voyage, its first run was a dismal failure. It sailed from Genoa in September, 1932, after a send off from Premier Benito Mussolini, with a passenger list of international celebrities. Unfortunately, while approaching Gibraltar, serious mechanical difficulties arose. Repairs took three days. Half its passengers requested to leave, preferring to reach Germany’s coasts and take the Europa; arriving in New York they found the Rex already into the dock. Lengthy repairs were required in New York before returning to Europe.

The Atlantic crossing ceased in the spring of 1940 and she was returned to Italian ports for safekeeping, with Rex laid up in Bari. With the surrender of Italy in 1943, the German government seized the Rex and had it towed to Trieste. Ultimately however this effort proved futile as the Rex was destroyed by Royal Air Force Beaufighters on September 8, 1944, in a successful effort to prevent German forces from using the liner to blockade the harbor entrance.

The battle of the Blue Ribbon was a reality for more than a hundred years, but the ribbon was not. It may seem strange that the world’s leading ship owners and seafaring nations should fight over a ribbon, even though it was blue. When one knows that this ribbon didn’t even exist the effort put down to win it seems overwhelming. The cup didn’t turn up until 1935. But the ship owners were so caught up in the battle by then, that when Cunard White Star Line who were one of the first to receive the cup were asked where they kept it, they didn’t know. Records were set both on the westbound and the eastbound route.

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