On the Radar: The SS Andrea Doria and M/S Stockholm

Andrea Doria Courtesy Wikipedia

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.

July 26, 1956: After colliding with the Andrea...

Stockholm Courtesy Wikipedia

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 Francearrived. 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.

Andrea Doria Courtesy Wikipedia

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.

Source: Goldstein, Richard. Desperate Hours.


16 thoughts on “On the Radar: The SS Andrea Doria and M/S Stockholm

    • In Goldstein’s book he says that it was Calamai’s custom to slow down in fog when traffic was heavy. Calamai hadn’t deemed the area in which he was sailing in, heavy. But he was traveling a knot under what the Doria usually traveled at. It does seem odd that with all the equipment the Doria had, this would have happened. The following quote is taken from Wikipedia:

      Andrea Doria’s officers had not followed proper radar procedures or used the plotting equipment available in the chartroom adjacent to the bridge of their ship to calculate the position and speed of the other (approaching) ship. Thus, they failed to realize Stockholm’s size, speed, and course.

      Thanks for reading!


  1. This reminds me of the story my mother told about waiting in a huge empty parking lot for a store to open, and watching the only other two cars there somehow manage to collide. Were there any repercussions for the captains? Thanks for an interesting post.


    • Calamai was found guilty of speeding in fog, but the loss of his ship affected him greatly. He later said in life that he used to love the sea, but now he hated it. Glad you liked it! Thanks for reading.


  2. Until recently I thought Captain Gunnar Harry Nordenson was a Swede. But, he was born in the United States. No wonder that American justice system made Andrea Doria Commander Piero Calamai guilty of the tragic end of that Italian Beauty. Like Edward J Smith from Titanic, Captain Nordenson, despite his great experience made a cardinal mistake leaving his post to a young much less experienced mate Carstens-Johannsen during densy fog on this much shipping traffic loaded sea area. Why did not he wait on the bridge until his (Stockholm) passed Nantucket Island. Big experience should not excuse those who actually make mistakes. American lawyers pushed everything against Italian part claiming bad naval design of Andrea Doria. Nobody has to teach Italian engineers how to build ships. They have great experience and history. Andrea Doria was not built to sail in Northern Atlantic area during winter times as Stockholm was. For the purpose of what she served she was a perfect sailing vessel. In my private opinion the Stockholm Officer Carstens-Johannsen was an ordinary jerk WITHOUT ANY SERIOUS SENSE OF HIS RESPONSIBILITY. His smirk on his face from the photo right after tragedy shows that. I have just seen his interview from his home in Sweden. HE IS AN ORDINARY LIAR. I do not know any English expression for that, but some people are able to lie to themselves and to others until many years later they believe that it was the perfect true. And they die with this assumption. Carstens Johannsen should never carry duties as an Officer of the Swedish Merchant Navy. It was either a very big mistake or oversight from the Swedish Merchant Navy authorities by giving him certificate to operate any ship and to give him any kind of authority. Just a dirty crook.


    • Your comment is very thought provoking. You obviously know much more about the Andrea Doria disaster than I do and I respect your stand. I try to be as unbias as possible here on this blog. I like for readers to form their own opinions without my influences.

      (You’ll have to excuse the following. Titanic buff here.) There seems to be a difference with the Titanic and with the Stockholm, however. Captain Smith of the Titanic had an experienced OOW the night the Titanic hit the iceberg. William Murdoch was a quick thinker and acted to the best of his abilities. I have immense respect for that man. Since experience comes with age I would have to say young Carstens-Johannsen (is he still alive? He’d be about 83 years old if he is, right?) would not have had the same degree of experience as Murdoch. Just my thoughts.

      Thanks for your comment.


    • Dear Miss Burdette
      I mentioned the name of Titanic’s Commander just as a sample since those two tragedies frequently come to our minds. As I said, both men (with Nordenson) had very big experience behind themselves. Both of them were doing their job often by routine, which comes automatically in later age. The difference between them was that Captain Smith had never experienced any eventful difficult problems in his service on the sea. It was during interview with press probably just before his final trip. The only one was the collision of Olympic with Royal Navy cruiser Hawk in 1911. When Titanic hit an iceberg Smith showed lack of ability to organize quick rescue. He seemed to be confused, according to statements of some of his men who survived. He did not have an experience how to deal with tragedy of such horrendous format. The Chief Mate Officer Murdoch possibly did. I cannot confirm it. There is not much information about him available to me. Mostly Internet. White Star Line and Cunard were hiring the best people to their knowledge. We all know about Titanic’s & Olympics’ engineering flows and must not blame Captain Smith. We cannot blame Captain Calamai on Andrea Doria. Ships travelling to New York harbor MUST come ON TIME. This is a rule. Huge financial penalties are for late arrival. Shipping companies are being liable for that. In 1996 I was invited to special reunion meeting of all still living survivors from Andrea Doria. It took place at U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, Long Island. There, we were told by one of teaching there Senior Captains (Swedish as a matter of fact) that rules on this part of New York Atlantic Ocean are very strict like the traffic rules in Manhattan. Nothing else to say. Officer Murdoch was an experienced man but Carstens Johannsen was only Third Mate. This is very low rank for such dense ship populated area to operate. Giving the command to Third Mate in that place was a big mistake dictated by Captain Nordenson routine.
      Thank you for response and it was deep pleasure to contact you.


    • If you would be interested in it this website holds a wealth of information about Murdoch: http://www.williammurdoch.net/ As for Murdoch being experienced I would have to say he was. He easily passed his exams for his licenses and at one time avoided a collision with another ship by overriding a superior’s orders. Smith, on the other hand, I’m not very knowledgeable about. He did seem somewhat dazed in the aftermath of the accident.

      I understand what you’re saying about the Andrea Doria having to be on time. That was another thing that the officers of the RMS Atlantic worried about prior to the sinking of the ship (only theirs was because they had a contract with the US postal service). I don’t envy those who were/are in Calamais’ position. It must be stressful.

      Oh quite. Third mate is “entry level”. I don’t know about then but today’s students of the State maritime academies graduate with third mate licenses issued by the Coast Guard, do they not? And Nordenson’s paid dearly for his mistake, sadly. All those lives lost.

      And I thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts. This was very interesting!


  3. Not only Titanic or Andrea Doria.

    Yesterday (May 7, 2013) 98th anniversary of Lusitania sinking passed. Do you recall s/s Cap Arcona, m/s Wilhelm Gustloff (over 8500 perished in 1945)? Famous tragedy of the German four mast sailing windjammer Pamir sunk in 1957? Empress of Ireland sunk on Saint Laurence River in Canada in 1911? One of the best books about Titanic is “The maiden Voyage” by british(?) author Geoffrey Marcus.
    I found couple of very interesting web pages which might draw your attention. They are below. You can browse and find information regarding many sea tragedies. A lot of interesting and time consuming for your review things are included there. I will commit the whole my time when I retire to study that.



    • Thank you for the links, I shall check them out! Just glancing over them they look like they’re packed full of information.

      I’ve read briefly of the Cap Arcona, but nothing in depth. Are there any titles you might recommend regarding it? It’s strange you should mention the Wilhelm Gustloff. I just picked up a book that recently hit the shelves which I’ve been wanting to read. It’s “Death in the Baltic” by Cathryn Prince if you’re interested in it. And the Empress of Ireland’s 99th anniversary is coming up this month as well. Titanic, Lusitania, Empress of Ireland and Volturno are old “favorites” of mine.


  4. I think, those links would give you very wide scale of information. Even for those involved professionally in maritime history. I have previously mentioned ‘Wilhelm Gustloff’ with those 8500 perished german refugees from Eastern Prussia. After all Gustloff left my home town Gdynia in her last trip back to Germany. Many of them were wounded Wehrmacht soldiers running away from approaching Russian Red Army in 1945. The belle époque of great passenger vessels is over. Jumbo Jets Boeing 747 and Airbus A380 took over. You will never see again those beauties like Aquitania, Normandie, Queen Mary (the first one), Conte DiSavoia, Andrea Doria, Cristoforo Colombo, Leonardo Da Vinci and France. What is being built nowadays are not ships. They are disfigured floating hotels and shopping centers. They would not be able to sail during the winter storm on Northern Atlantic Ocean. I am not collecting any books any more. Now, it is too late. Besides, all what I have always been looking for you can find on Internet. Some of them I gave to libraries or others who were showing interest. I still keep german language version of 5 volumes ‘Die großen Passagierschiffe der Welt’ by Arnold Kludas and published by Stalling Verlag, Oldenburg/ Hamburg in the early 1970ties. That’s all. I like tall ships as well. The famous german family of ‘P’ flying windjammers; Preussen, Pamir, Potosi, Passat, Penang, Peking and quite a few more. Anyway, there is a lot of staff in web sites. I see it is getting constantly updated. So, only to find a time and read it.


    • Interesting about the Wilhelm Gustloff.

      We share the same viewpoint. You are echoing mine and many others thoughts. We’ve had discussions in various places in regards to the looks of the new cruise ships and such. The replies are usually the same. Cunard isn’t so bad, their ships still have character as far as exterior looks go. But behemoths such as Oasis of the Seas are, in my opinion, rather ugly.

      Yep, so much to be found on the internet.


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