1932 - 1944
Germany and Italy suffered from dictator leadership in the 1930s.
In Germany Adolf Hitler and his Nazis ruled ruthlessly, and in Italy Benito
Mussolini - Hitler’s allied - led the country in a Fascist regime. Mussolini
wanted his country to be Germany’s equal, and this meant that he envied
the superb merchant fleet the Germans had been able to boast since the
19th century. For the time being the Germans possessed the Blue
Riband of the Atlantic with their two speed-champions Bremen and
Europa. But Mussolini desired to be even better than his gracious
Italy decided to build a liner to outmatch every earlier master of speed,
they had not been particularly interesting in a
transatlantic passenger’s eyes.
Cunard, White Star, Norddeutscher Lloyd and the Hamburg-Amerika Line represented
the passenger’s requirements. The largest vessel constructed for Italy
was the 32,000-tonner Augustus from 1928. In order to place Italy
in the world as a prime nation - not only in the merchant fleet world -
Mussolini merged the three existing Italian shipping companies and formed
a new, strong one - the Italia Line. With the new powerful company, the
dimensions of the new vessel were decided to be immense, just as the speed
|A nice semi-profile view
of the Atlantic greyhound Rex.
early thirties an order was placed with the Ansaldo Shipyards in Genoa.
They were supposed to construct not only one, but two giant liners. Just
as with the Olympic and Titanic twenty years earlier the
construction headed on simultaneously, separated only by months in the
first ship’s favour. The building of the vessels interested Mussolini so
greatly that he followed, and took part, in the construction. The names
of the vessels would be Rex and Conte di Savoia. The Rex
was launched in early 1932, and set out on her maiden voyage in September
that year. It was expected by the nationalistic Italians that the Rex
would capture the Blue Riband from the Bremen on her
very first voyage. It would have been possible if not fate had played its
sometimes wicked part. When still in the Mediterranean the Rex’s
engines failed her, and the ship could not continue on her maiden voyage.
The ship had to wait for three days in Gibraltar before she could carry
on. Meanwhile the Italia Line saw how passenger after passenger cancelled
their bookings and turned to other more ‘reliable’ companies. This was
not a very good start for such an important vessel.
|First Class stateroom no. 35
on board the Rex.
whatever had happened, the ship was admirable. At 51,000 tons she was larger
than most vessels on the seas. With a length of 880 feet, she was the eighth
longest ship in the world, surpassed only by Majestic, Leviathan,
Europa, Bremen, Berengaria, Aquitania and Olympic.
The Italians had concentrated in the ship’s mechanics rather in luxury.
With power to maintain 28 knots over the Atlantic, the Blue Riband was
not far away. 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
she still featured the old-type overhanging stern.
how high the Italian’s self-confidence had been, it took the Rex
until August 1933 before she could gain possession of the fabled Blue Riband
with a crossing time of four days and thirteen hours. The Rex’s
sister-ship, the Conte di Savoia, had not entered the transatlantic
race with speed as her prime target. To give both the Rex and the
Conte di Savoia two different identities, the latter ship was given
the superior fittings. At 48,000 tons and with a length of 814 feet, the
Conte di Savoia was still fast, but not as fast as her sister.
kept the Blue Riband of the Atlantic until the arrival of the 80,000-tonner
Normandie in 1935, who averaged almost 30 knots over the Atlantic.
The Rex and her sister had never been very popular, and this even
worsened the situation.
1939, World War 2 begun, when Hitler refused to move his armies out of
Poland in spite of Britain’s threats. Until Italy announced itself as Germany’s
allies, the Rex and the Conte di Savoia sailed as neutral
ships across the Atlantic. But when the alliance was made official, the
Italians put their great liners in Italian ports to prevent any sort of
destruction. Despite keeping the ships out of international waters, the
beautiful Conte di Savoia met a tragic and too early end in September
1943, when American bombers sunk her. In 1944, the Germans intended to
blockade the harbour at Trieste. To prevent entering and exiting of the
harbour they had chosen a massive object - the Rex. The Rex
had to be immovable, and therefore she was decided to be sunk in the harbour
entrance. The British of course wanted to stop this blockade, and sent
out bombers to sink the Rex before she arrived to the spot. The
British bombers arrived in time before the Germans, and completed their
sad task. One of the British pilots remembers: ‘She still looked big and
beautiful actually, and it seemed sad that one had to sink something of
that sort. But at the same time this was war, the war had been going on
for five years. And during the war you can’t really question the target
and say that ship is too beautiful to sink... and so if we were told to
sink it, then we would do our best to sink it.’
|A sad image of Rex
after having fallen victim to Allied bombing.
had become another sad loss of total war, before she celebrated her fifteenth
birthday. The Italians have never since the Rex built a larger vessel.
|The Rex - Specifications:
||880 feet (268.8 m)
||96 feet (29.3 m)
||51,062 gross tons
||Steam turbines powering