|Docked in Bremerhaven: 'inadequate' sanitary facilities.|
(Last of a series)
The navy wanted two dock landing ships, and it didn't want to wait the five or six years it would take to build them. A partial solution seemed at hand. The S/S City of Havana, a onetime dock landing ship converted into an automobile ferry, was available, and could be returned to its original purpose.
That the navy belonged to Germany, and the City of Havana, ex HMS Northway, ex HMS Cutlass, had been built to aid in that nation's defeat, would not have raised eyebrows. Warships have traded between combatants — past, future, even current — throughout history. And the Second World War, though hardly forgotten, was by 1962 a sealed chapter, supplanted in public attention by a Cold War in which Germany, or at least the 11 states then making up the federal republic, was on the side of democracy. The mission of its navy: control the approaches to the Baltic Sea and, if necessary, contain the Soviet Union's Baltic Fleet.
The landing ship plan soured fast. After buying the City of Havana for 400,000 marks, authorities discovered it was "too fat-bellied" to fit through a lock to its intended berth at Wilhelmshaven, the news magazine Der Spiegel would report. The ship moved on to Bremerhaven, where it sat idle while military agencies argued over conversion costs that had ballooned to 30 million marks from an initial estimate of six million.
In late 1963, the landing ship program was cancelled. The City of Havana became a barge and then a barracks ship, until military doctors ruled that "the hygienic and sanitary facilities were inadequate," Der Spiegel reported. By 1967, the Germans wanted rid of it.
Yet even that was a problem. Greek shipowner Spyros Typaldos agreed to buy the vessel, its Caribbean white paint now fading, then defaulted on the payment. The City of Havana went to auction and was picked up for $1.5 million U.S. — much less than the Germans had invested in it — by the London-headquartered Atlantic Steam Navigation Co., which promptly packed it off to the Palmers Shipbuilders yard at Heburn-on-Tyne.
From there it would emerge with a new, and final, name, the SS Celtic Ferry, a reworked superstructure and a glossy black hull. Even Uglyships.com would admit that the former awkward duckling, was now, if not quite a swan, certainly "much more presentable."
For five years, the Celtic Ferry would serve as a roll-on, roll-off vehicle transporter between Antwerp, Rotterdam and the Suffolk, England port of Felixstowe. And then in 1972 this ship of many names and much commercial service, veteran of world war and cold war and one of the last links between the United States and Cuba, an "ugly ship" that would be prosaic witness to some of the most significant events of the 20th century, made its last run across the North Sea, and was scrapped.
|Redemption as the SS Celtic Ferry.|
Photos: Top, Gerhard Mueller-Debus via www.navsource.org; Above, http://www.photoship.co.uk