During her time, the Andrea Doria was a celebrated ship known for her artistic qualities. Not only was she a favorite, more than adequate navigational equipment had been implemented, as well as numerous life saving devices. The Doria carried boats for more than 2,000 people. Launched in 1951, the Italian ship was named after Admiral Andrea Doria.
On August 17, 1956, the Andrea Doria was making her 101st crossing. From Genoa to New York it promised to be an enjoyable voyage for the passengers. The Doria’s captain, Piero Calamai, was due to leave the Doria and take command of her sister ship. On this voyage there were over 1,700 people aboard, in passengers and crew.
On July 25, 1956 the M/S Stockholm set out from New York headed for Sweden. Previously known as a “roller”, the Stockholm’s problem had been corrected by stabilizers. On the evening of July 25th, her captain, Harry Nordenson, had left the bridge to do some paperwork. On the bridge Third Mate Johan-Ernst Carstens-Johannsen was observing a ship on his radar (Note: This was the Andrea Doria. Neither the Swedish, nor the Italians knew the identity of one another until afterwards). As the Stockholm ventured closer, the mystery ship could not be seen. When the Doria was at last spotted Carstens-Johannsen altered his course, 20 degrees to starboard. Not long after that, the Doria turned into the path of the Stockholm. Cartsens-Johannsen ordered hard-a-starboard.
On the 25th the Doria found herself in a fog. Necessary precautions were being taken, although the ship itself was not slowed down much. When the Stockholm, appeared on the radar, Captain Calamai observed it before deciding that he would pass the other vessel starboard-to-starboard. He continued to sound the ship’s horn as the fog had not yet lifted. When the Stockholm emerged from the fog it appeared to be turning towards the Doria. Calamais ordered hard-a-port, but did not attempt to stop the ship. (Note: As a ship simulator ‘player’, I can attest to the fact that a ship moving at a fast speed turns much quicker than one moving slowly). Unfortunately, the Doria wasn’t quick enough. The Stockholm’s bow slammed into the Doria, slicing into the ship.
On board the Doria sleeping passengers were thrown from their bunks, many into next door cabins. Doors jammed and furniture or wreckage pinned others down. Still others were attending private parties or watching Foxfire, and didn’t suffer as badly. Out in the corridors, smoke swirled about. In tourist-class (a fancy name for third-class) water began to pour in. Passengers donned lifebelts and met to await orders from officers. None came. Due to the Doria’s 18 degree, and growing, list to starboard, lifeboats on the port side could not be launched. Calamai had tried to beach the ship, but found it impossible. Instead the liner drifted aimlessly.
The Stockholm’s bow was a smashed and the ship had a 4 degree list. Crew cabins that had been located in the smashed part of the bow were seriously injured or killed. Others managed to escape with their lives. A crewmember found a Doria passenger, fourteen year old Linda Morgan who had been crying out for her mother. She was taken to the Stockholm’s hospital. Another woman also in the bow could not be reached and was beyond help.
A Coast Guard station received the Stockholm’s and Doria’s distress message almost simultaneously. Coast Guard vessels were quickly dispatched and Merchant Marine vessels also changed their course to head for the stricken vessels.
On the Stockholm, Nordenson was being cautious. He didn’t want to launch his lifeboats to go the rescue of the Doria when he was unsure about his own ship’s state. Messages passed between the Swedish and Italian captains. Nordenson wanted Calamai to launch the Doria’s boats and the Stockholm would pick them up. Calamai wanted Nordenson to send the Stockholm’s boats. Nordenson persisted. Finally Calamai explained that the Doria’s port boats could not be launched.
When Nordenson received the news that the Stockholm was alright, he sent out the boats to pick up the Doria’s occupants. Shortly afterwards, three Doria boats arrived at the Stockholm, bearing mostly crewmembers. Furthermore, the boats carried but half their capacity. Still not all Doria crewmembers would act in the same manner. The Stockholm officers were sent out in the boats and once at the Doria began taking on survivors. Children were thrown down onto nets and taken aboard the boats. Sometimes parents and children were separated. Third Mate Carstens-Johannsen didn’t fare so well. A woman swinging on a rope nearly knocked him overboard and then the boat’s tiller was smashed to smithereens in an accident. One lifeboat that was hurrying to get away from the Doria, as they feared that she would turn over on them, was nearly run down by a Danish freighter. Fortunately, the freighter’s crew spotted the boat and offered to take the occupants aboard. The people in the boat declined and instead pulled for the Stockholm.
The Cape Ann, the first rescue ship on the scene, arrived at 12:30 a.m. The captain had the lifeboats launched and picked up the Doria survivors. Fifty minutes later the Private William H. Thomas arrived and launched her boats as well. Some time after 1:30 a.m. the venerable Ile de France arrived. As she was making her way to the Doria the fog lifted. Once at the scene the captain had the Ile’s lights turned on and eleven lifeboats launched. The sight encouraged those still stranded on the Doria. Climbing down cargo nets to get to the lifeboats proved troublesome and even terrifying for the Doria survivors. Others could not bring themselves to leave the Doria not knowing where the rest of their family was. In the end the Ile took 753 survivors off and the Stockholm 542.
At 5:30 a.m. Calamai, albeit unwillingly, abandoned the Doria. He had been waiting for Coast Guard tugs to arrive and tow the Doria. That was impossible though, a fact that pained Calamai greatly. At 10:09 a.m. the Andrea Doria sunk beneath the waves with Calamai looking on.
The Stockholm had been stranded, unable to move, since the accident. The anchor chain had unwound and snagged on something beneath the surface. It wasn’t till early the next day that the crew was able to burn through the chain.
Today the Stockholm operates as a cruise ship, the M/S Athena . Her bow was restored after the accident. The Andrea Doria on the other hand has not been dealt kindly with. Her wreck rests over 200 feet beneath the surface. In all the disaster took the lives of 51 people, 46 from the Doria, 5 crew members from the Stockholm.
For further reading consider Desperate Hours by Richard Goldstein. An informative read as well as absorbing. Goldstein entwines passenger and crew dialogue to weave an exciting and sad tale.
Source: Desperate Hours: The Epic Rescue of the Andrea Doria