Good evening, guys:
In 1923, Alfonso XIII (2nd), the biggest ocean liner of the oldest Spanish shipping company, the Compañia Trasoceanica (aka "the Spanish line") was paid off. This left the Trasoceanica with any two funneled ship, an injury (and in that days, not a lesser one) to the prestige of the company. So the keel of 3 ocean liners were laid down in 3 different slips of the SECN shipyard: Elcano at Bilbao, Magallanes at Cadiz and Comillas at Ferrol, 3 vessels that were almost identical despite being built in different factories, and were called collectively "the 3 Comillas", and by November 1928, the 3 ships were commissioned.
The Comillas were nice looking vessels, 145 meters long and with a displacement of 13,200 tons. 5 boilers (burning oil) and 2 turbine sets gave nearly 8000 HP and more than 15 knots. The accommodation was for 150 passengers in first class, 50 in second class and 40 in third class, there was also room for more than 600 immigrants. Unfortunately, the second funnel was a fake one, with no real function. The ocean liners were allocated to the 3 premier routes of the Spanish Line: From the Mediterranean to Colombia and Venezuela, from the Mediterranean to Brazil and the River Plate, and from the Bay of Biscay to Cuba, Mexico and New York.
During the Spanish Civil war, Juan Sebastian Elcano was requisitioned by the republican government and made 3 trips to the Soviet Union, but in the last one (as early as July 1937) she was interned in Odessa, in 1939 after the republican collapse she was seized by the soviets and renamed Wolga. During WWII she was converted in a hospital ship and renamed Odessa. After the war, she returned to the civilian life and renamed for another time as Jakutia. Probably she was scrapped in the 1960s or 70s.
Marques de Comillas was also under republican flag. She was requisiotioned early in the war for being used as a hospital ship. She participated in the ill-fated republican attempt to conquer Mallorca from August to September 1936. After an initial success, the republican troops were unable to crush the resistance of the rebel garrison in that island and were forced to retreat.
After this failure, Comillas was allocated to the shipping from the Soviet Union. But in February 1937, while returning from Odessa, she was being waited by the francoist cruisers Baleares and Cervera and by the auxiliary cruisers Mallorca, Puchol (qv) and Lazaro (qv) and was captured without any chance of fleeing to a republican harbour. In national service, she was painted gray and was used as troop transport and as a cargo vessel (mainly from Italy with war material, at least 6 journeys only in the second half of 1937).
In January 1938 and January 1939, Comillas was allocated to an important political use: being a moor pilgrim´s ship to Mecca. The trip was so important to Burgos (the francoist capital) that the most powerful national cruisers, Canarias and Baleares were diverted from the blocade of the republican coast to serve as escort to the ocean liner. The rest of the year she was traveling to Italian ports (specially Spezia) with war material. The last trip of Comillas during the SCW was to Bizerta, with the francoist crews that were going to man the surrendered ships of the republican fleet.
After the war, she was modified at Matagorda (Cadiz) and the fake funnel was landed. During WWII she rescued several sailors (both from allied or axis ships) and together with Magallanes were the sole and tenuous line between Spain and the Spanish communities abroad. Finally, she was transporting immigrants from Spain (mainly Canary islands) to Venezuela until 1959. In 1960 once again she served as troop carrier when there was a confrontation between Morocco and Spain for Ifni. Later she was refitted for last time, being converted in a ship with only one class, for 900 passengers. Finally, in November 1961 Comillas had a severe fire at Ferrol, so severe that the vessel was considered beyond salvation and was scrapped.
Magallanes was also in republican hands, and as her sisters, allocated to the transport of war material from the Soviet Union. But in her second voyage in June 1937, while returning from Odessa, she rammed the Italian vessel Capo Pino, which sank rapidly. The judges at Istanbul seized the liner as guarantee of compensation for the italiannline. After paying a fine of 75,000 pounds plus additional 3,000 pounds to the turkish harbour, the owners were able to rescue the ship both from ottoman authorities and the republican government (and also soviet agents), arriving to Cadiz during the last months of the civil war.
At Cadiz she was repaired from the damages of the previous ramming, and during the reform, she lost her second and fake funnel.
Together with Marques de Comillas she was the core of the transatlantic spanish shipping during WWII and immediate postwar. After the end of the world war, she served as immigrant ship until she was paid off in 1953 and scrapped 4 years later in Bilbao.
Credits: Colombamike helped me a lot since he knew my interest in Marques de Comillas (one childhood friend was the grandchild of a peruvian doctor working in the hospital ship Comillas) and his aid is reflected in many pictures, photographs and useful comments. I also "steal" the color of the masts and details in the lifeboats of the liner Alfonso XIII by Novice: "plagiarism is the most sincere form of praise"
Lots of thanks to both of them. Cheers.