Early in 1935 the Holland Amerika Lijn (HAL) started to work on the design of an new passenger liner. This ship would have to become the new HAL flagship, a 36000 registerton ship with space for 1250 passengers. In a time of economical issues in the Netherlands, building this ship could mean the difference between surviving or failing. There were some issues from the beginning though.
First of all, HAL could not finance the full construction costs of 12.5 million Gulden, but since employment was low the government decided to finance part of the costs if the ship would be build in the Netherlands. The order was given to an combination of shipyards, P.Smit Jr., RDM, De Schelde, Werkspoor and Wilton. The RDM would be the main contractor which would have the final responsibility.
One issue remained: 750.000 Gulden were still not financed. The yards decided to finance 450.000, with the workers being paid after delivery of the ship for the remaining 300.000 Gulden.
The construction of the Nieuw Amsterdam, as the ship would be called, would be one of the yards biggest projects. Not only because of the size of the ship, but also because no ship like it was ever build. The construction site was visited by multiple ministers and even foreign government officials. Internationally speaking, the ship was not that big and not that fast, but her superstructure was rounded and streamlined, being inspired by the American designer Normal Bell Geddes. Forward and aft were 'garden areas', enclosed by large glass panes which could be opened if the weather allowed it. The HAL commissioned the famous Dutch Artists of the time to create artwork and interiors for the ship. In a way, this ship would become known as a representation of the Dutch as an maritime nation. Interesting too is the fact that the ship was, unlike many ships of her time, build without any provisions for wartime use.
The ship had the following main dimensions:
* Length between Perpendiculars: 213,36m
* Beam: 26,82m
* Depth: 16,75m
* Draft: 9,62m
* Passengers: 1220
* Crew : 702
* Lloyds 100 A 1 Class
The ship was build for transatlantic service with an speed of 20.5 knots. Power to reach this speed is delivered by a 34000 shp twin shaft steam turbine powerplant. The 6 boilers are of the Yarrow type and the turbines of the Parsons type, both build by Werkspoor and De Schelde. Two diesel generators deliver electrical power when at full speed, in emergencies or when the main machinery is shut down.
The ship carried sixteen Fleming type lifeboats with 99 person capacity, 4 motor sloops for passenger transfer which can carry 62 persons and 2 rescue boats with searchlight and radio, with an capacity of 57 persons.
The ship entered service in april 1938, She made some travels until 1940, when the German Invasion of the Netherlands made the ship no longer able to make her return journey from New York. After lying there for 6 months, she entered an US yard to be stripped of her furnishings and to be used as troop carrier. She was fitted with an 76mm gun on the stern and AA gun platforms and was considered fast enough to make her trips unescorted. The ship had the honor to be the first ship to enter liberated Rotterdam in 1945.
After the war, the ship once again entered the RDM to be rebuild. Her original fittings were shipped from the US, were they were rotting in an warehouse. No cost was spared to return the ship to her original splendour, and she entered HAL service again at the end of 1946. Now with her hull painted a lighter grey, she served the HAL all the way to 1973, her final years as a cruise ship.