U.S. Maritime Commission design type P4-S2
Built for U.S.-to-Europe liner service, America was launched on August 31, 1939, the day before Germany invaded Poland, marking the start of World War II; by the time it was ready for passenger service, the Neutrality Act of 1939 prevented it from traveling to Europe and instead it engaged in cruising service in the Caribbean. By 1941, the U.S. Navy requisitioned the ship and converted it into the troop transport USS West Point. Originally designed to carry 1,202 passengers across cabin, tourist, and third class, the vessel could now carry 8,175 troops.
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In the wake of the Morro Castle disaster, the luxury liner that burned at sea killing 124 people, American ocean liners were designed with fireproofing in mind. Most of America’s decking was laid on top of steel, and the stateroom bulkheads were fitted with asbestos lining. The Commission also designed the passenger vessel to be incredibly difficult to sink – it was segmented into watertight compartments and built to stay afloat even if multiple adjacent compartments were flooded.
As West Point, the vessel transported troops to both the Atlantic and Pacific theaters of World War II, although it spent the middle portion of the war in the Pacific. In November 1946, the reconverted and newly-refitted America finally began its career as a trans-Atlantic liner. Now carrying 1,050 passengers, the vessel operated between New York and Southampton, United Kingdom until 1964, when it was sold to a Greek shipping company and renamed Chandris. The vessel continued in liner service between Southampton and the South Pacific until 1977, when it was sold and converted to cruise service. The liner continued operating under various companies as a cruise ship until the 1980s, when a series of misfortunes eventually left the vessel beached as a hulk on the Canary Islands.
(Maritime Administration Heritage Asset, Object 1996.010.0001)