1932 - 1941

A side view of the Neptunia from a postcard.

The Neptunia was built by Cantieri Riuniti dell'Adriatico, Trieste for the Cosulich Line. This ship was the first Italian passenger liner to have the "Classe Unica" or one class accommodation.

The ship was equipped with four two cycle engines, each direct coupled to a propellor shaft. Two outer engines were of 8 cylinders at 130 rpm producing 4,250hp, the two inner engines were of 9 cylinders at 130 rpm producing 4,750 hp, for a total of 18,000hp.

The maiden voyage of the Neptunia commenced on October 5th 1932 from Trieste to South America. During 1935 the Neptunia began operating on the route to Bombay & Shanghai. During 1937 the Cosulich Line was amalgamated into the Italia Line.

By 1940 the Neptunia was in use as an Italian Navy troop transport.

At 2.00am on August 19th 1941 the Neptunia sailed from Naples in convoy with the Marco Polo, Esperia, and Oceania and naval escorts bound for Tripoli being routed east of Malta. During the daylight hours an air escort was provided. A submarine attack late in the afternoon of August 19th near Pantelleria proved unsuccessful. Whilst on the approaches to Tripoli, with the convoy zigzagging and maintaining about 17 knots in a safe channel, at about 10.20am on August 20th the Esperia was struck by three torpedoes. These had been launched from the British submarine Unique, one of three on patrol in the area. The ship sank very quickly - within ten minutes, whilst the others in the convoy increased speed to try and reach the safety as quickly as possible. Despite the speed with which the Esperia sank over 1,100 people were rescued. The Marco Polo, Neptunia and Oceania reached Tripoli, entering the port at 12.30pm. By 5.00pm on August 21st they had unloaded all their men and materials and sailed for Naples with a destroyer escort.

On September 18th 1941 the sister ships Neptunia & Oceania were both sunk by the submarine Upholder whilst part of a fast troop convoy from Taranto to Tripoli. The Neptunia was about 60 miles from Tripoli when it was struck by two torpedoes at 04.10 and fired from 4,000 meters, sinking shortly afterwards. Later in the day the Oceania was hit by a torpedo, but remained afloat. Two destroyers took the ship in tow but it sank after sustaining two more hits. A third ship, the Vulcania escaped being sunk. The Upholder, then based at Malta, was the most successful of all British submarines, at the time of the Neptunia's loss Lt-Cdr David Wanklyn was the commander of the submarine.

Daily Commercial News and Shipping List (Sydney) article dated April 24th 1942
Two Italian Motorships Lost
Interesting Features in Design

It is nearly ten years since the Cantieri Riuniti dell' Adriatico yard at Monfalcone delivered to the Soc. Anon di Navigazione Italia the passenger ship Neptunia. Her sister ship Oceania followed a year later. Both vessels were intended for the Trieste-South America service of the Italia Line. According to an account appearing in 'Lloyd's List' of January 26, the two ships have been sunk in a successful attack on a fast and heavily escorted Italian convoy carrying reinforcements to Libya. The convoy consisted of three liners, one similar to the Vulcania, of 24,469 tons gross, and the other two of approximately the same tonnage.

Quotations made in this account from the diary of an Italian soldier recently taken prisoner appear to confirm the sinking of the Oceania and Neptunia. Thus have been destroyed — long short of their natural span of active life — two of the most interesting motor liners ever constructed in Italy, and two of the most important examples of the diesel engine as applied to passenger-carrying vessels.

The Neptunia: of 19,475 tons gross, the Neptunia had a length between perpendiculars of 589.7 ft., a beam of 76.5 ft., and a depth of 45.5 ft. She drew in fully loaded condition some 27 ft. 6.25in. Her reputed full speed was slightly over 21 knots, and she was propelled by four screws, each driven by a Sulzer two-cycle, single-acting air injection engine with electrically driven scavenge blowers. Those engines, of normal contemporary Sulzer design, were constructed under licence at the shipbuilders' San Andrea works.

There was a common cylinder diameter of 26.75 in., and a stroke of 39.37 in.: but whereas the engines on the two inner shafts were rated for 4,250 h.p. at 130 r.p.m., the outer shafts were rated 4,650 h.p. at the same revolutions, the engines having eight and nine cylinders respectively. An 'odd' revolution rating has also been remarked upon in the three triple screw motor liners of 'Boissevain' class—to avoid vibration.

Each engine was raked outwards slightly at an angle from the centre line of the ship and drove its own injection air compressor from a forward extension of the crankshaft. The four engines were abreast, and there was ample space in the wings of the engine-room and at the after end for the auxiliary machinery. The wings were occupied, by the principal electrically driven pumps, which were all in very accessible positions. There was ample room between the shaft at the after end of the machinery space and the entrance to the shaft alley.

The total power developed on the four screws was just over 20,000 bhp at 132 r.p.m. The auxiliary machinery comprised four Sulzer two-cycle single-acting engines, each having four cylinders, and developing a total of 3,920 h.p. at 240 r.p.m. The auxiliary load was rather high, but this was partly accounted for by the fact that scavenge blowers for the four main engines were electrically driven.

The sister ship Oceania was similar in all respects, except for the machinery. Construction of both ships took place at a time when extreme nationalism was beginning to assert itself in Italy and it was felt that local products should be encouraged as far as possible. Hence the Fiat engine, built in Turin and entirely an Italian product, was usually employed in a big ship where Sulzer machinery had been used in a sister ship. This was shown equally in the re-engining of the bigger vessels Saturnia and Vulcania, from which Trieste-built Burmeister and Wain four-cycle, double-acting, air-injection engines were removed, being substituted respectively by Fiat and Sulzer double-acting, two-cycle airless injection engines.

So the Oceania had Fiat engines. Again the same arrangement was made with two eight cylinder and two nine-cylinder units, having a diameter of 29.53 in. and a stroke of 41.73 in. The total power developed in this case was about 18,000 b.hp. at 130 r.p.m.

On balance it can be said that both of these ships were capable of an easy sea speed of from 18 to 19 knots, with maximum speeds in the region of perhaps 20-21 knots. In the Oceania three Fiat two-cycle single-acting diesels were used for auxiliary purposes. They were four-cylinder engines, the total output being about 3000 b.h.p. at 250 r.p.m.

The ships were well suited for troop carrying work by reason of the fact that they were designed originally for the South American trade, taking in at that time certain immigrant ports. Because of the diversity of their passenger-carrying arrangements special attention was paid to a minimum uptake space and as low an engine-room height as possible. In 1932, this was given by four engines driving four screws. At a later date a similar requirement in the three Dutch vessels of the 'Boissevain' class, and later in the Oranje, of the N.V. Stoomvaart Maats. Nederland, was carried out on three screws, but of course with more cylinders per engine.

Nevertheless, the Neptunia and her sister represented fairly advanced diesel-engined passenger liner practice. The uptakes were divided both for the main and auxiliary machinery. Not only were they divided thwartships but also longitudinally. The result was that the principal passenger decks were pierced by four small oblong trunkways, the two larger towards the after end of the ship, for the four main engines, and two smaller rather further forward, for the auxiliary machinery.

Thus both liners were excellent examples of the possibility of carrying continuous deck, low down in the hull by means of single-acting, two-cycle engines. This, however, was accomplished at the expense of a fairly large requirement in tank-top space — the total engine-room length from first recess to the oil-fired auxiliary boiler at the forward end amounting to 52 frame spaces. It is interesting to note that all four trunkways from main and auxiliary engine-rooms eventually emerged into one long oval-shaped funnel on the top of the superstructure.

The double bottom was particularly deep in way of the main engine, extending the full length of the vessel; it was built to carry fresh water, water ballast, fuel and lubricating oil, the oil being carried in double bottoms underneath No. 1 hold, Nos. 2 and 3 holds and aft. Cargo holds were fitted with a total capacity of about 352,000 cubic feet, of which 71,300 cubic feet was refrigerated.

Accommodation was provided for about 1500 passengers and 260 crew, and it was distributed throughout eight decks, the 'thwart deck, boat, promenade, A, B, C, D, and E decks. A special feature was made of the promenade deck, which contained a smoking room and card room at the forward end and a dining saloon for 175 seats just abaft amidships. There was also an open deck space here, with two derrick posts serving Nos. 4 and 5 hatches. The tourist dining saloon had seats for 280. Abaft this was a galley serving both the cabin class dining saloon and the deck above, the tourist third dining saloon and the third-class dining saloon containing 550 seats.

At the time, this was considered to be a very interesting layout, because it was one of the few in which the feeding arrangements of all the different classes of passengers were dealt with in such a relatively small space. The arrangement whereby the the third class dining saloon was high up on T deck was also novel.

As originally designed, the Neptunia and Oceania were intended to sail from Trieste and call at Spalata, Patras, Naples and Gibraltar, from which port they ran straight to Pernambuco, Rio Janeiro, Santos, Montevideo and Buenos Aires — the Atlantic crossing itself, between Gibraltar and Pernambuco, being made in normal circumstances in less than seven days.

In appearance these two Italian liners were striking, having a raking, slightly curved stem and a cruiser spoon stern. The superstructure, following Italian contemporary practice, was castellated, terminating in the squat oval funnel which gave an air of distinction to the whole. The masts, fnnnel and derrick posts were vertical.

There is no doubt that these two ships were Monfalcone shipbuilding at its best. They were members of a long line of noteworthy ships coming from a famous yard. The replacement of these and similar ships will be one of the many problems of postwar shipbuilding.

General Details

Builder: Cantieri Riuniti dell'Adriatico, Trieste.
Launched: 1932
Length: 589 feet, 179m
Beam: 76 feet, 23m
Draught 27 feet, 8.3m
Weight: 19,475 tons
Deadweight: 20,000tons
Engines: Four CRA Sulzer two cycle engines, two 8 cylinder 8ST68 engines at 130 rpm 4,250hp, two 9 cylinder 9ST68 engines at 130 rpm 4,750 hp, total of 18,000hp.
Screws: 4
Service Speed: 22 knots
Crew: 260
Passengers: 1,500 approx

Page added February 13th 2009.
Last updated February 10th 2016.

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