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The SS Andrea Doria was the pride of the Italian Line and first sailed in January 1953. She tragically sank on July 26, 1956.

65th Anniversary of the Sinking of the Andrea Doria

On the foggy night of Wednesday, July 25, 1956, two ships collided off the coast of Massachusetts, not far from Nantucket. The great Italian ocean liner Andrea Doria was struck by the much smaller MV Stockholm and perished in a manner that should never have happened. In the mid-1950s, the postwar passenger boom was at its peak. More than 50 passenger liners sailed the sea lanes between Europe and America. Among the newest and most luxurious were two ships from the Italian Line, the Andrea Doria and the Cristoforo Colombo.

The Andrea Doria had graceful lines and was lavishly decorated, filled with artwork. Her first-class suites were as sumptuous as any that had come before. She was a superb expression of her time and nationality, combining modernity with Italy’s extraordinary artistic heritage. She was also well-equipped with the latest in technology and navigational equipment. The ship had two sets of radar to warn of approaching dangers. In the unlikely event of a collision, her 11 watertight compartments were constructed to keep her afloat. Yet the Andrea Doria was destined to become one of the greatest transatlantic passenger ships lost in the Atlantic. Despite many hours of testimony after the accident, no one will ever be completely sure precisely how it happened.

On that fateful evening of July 25, 1956, two passenger ships were converging on a point southwest of the Nantucket Lightship. The 701 foot-long Andrea Doria was carrying a nearly full complement of 1,706 passengers and crew and was approaching the end of a sunny nine-day voyage from Genoa to New York. The Stockholm, at 528 feet in length was one of the smallest of the new postwar liners. It was just beginning its homeward voyage to Sweden.

The Andrea Doria as she came to rest on her starboard side at a depth of 160 feet.
The Andrea Doria today shows the ravages of 65 years beneath the sea. While her hull is intact, her upper decks are a mass of tattered remains.

before the crash

At 10:20 pm, the two ships were approaching on parallel courses, but were beyond the range of each other’s radar. The Andrea Doria was running through fog, while the Stockholm sailed through a clear moonlit night.

The Andrea Doria’s radar had a slightly greater range than the Stockholm’s and detected an oncoming ship at about 10:45 pm, at a distance of about 17 nautical miles. Curzio Franchini, the ship’s second officer, alerted the ship’s Captain Piero Calamai, who requested the other ship’s bearing. She was almost dead ahead, but there was ample time and distance to pass the oncoming vessel. Only one important decision needed to be made, whether to pass the ship to port or starboard.

On board the Stockholm, the officer on duty saw things quite differently. It appeared set to pass to the north, but by less than a mile. As soon as the other ship came into view, its captain intended to alter its course to starboard to increase the width of their passing distance. After several minutes, the other ship’s lights did not appear. The possibility he was sailing into a fogbank seems never to have occurred to him.

The mangled bow of the Stockholm bears testament to its violent broadside collision with the Andrea Doria.

the ships make contact

Those navigating the two ships had somehow come to opposite conclusions and were racing toward each other at a combined speed of roughly 40 knots. Captain Calamai decided to pass the approaching vessel starboard side to starboard side. At about 11:05 pm, with the other ship three and one half nautical miles away, Captain Calamai ordered a small four-degree course change to port to increase the passing distance. Neither ship had yet seen the other, except on radar.

Just as the Andrea Doria changed course, the two ships finally made visual contact. Only two miles separated them. They were converging at a slight angle. The Andrea Doria saw lights to its right and the Stockholm lights to its left. These sightings only reinforced the false assumptions on each bridge and on the Stockholm’s bridge, the order was issued to make a sharp turn to starboard to give the oncoming ship a wider berth. Without realizing it, the Stockholm was turning toward the Andrea Doria’s course.

With the approaching ship only a mile away, Captain Calamai watched intently as the lower navigation light crossed from right to left in front of the higher one. The other ship was turning right! Third Officer Eugenio Giannini had seen it too. “She is turning, she is coming toward us!”

“Tutto sinistra,” called the Captain; “Full left.” But a huge ocean liner going nearly at full speed does not turn like a sports car. The bow of the Stockholm plunged into the Italian liner’s starboard hull plates just aft of her bridge, ripping open seven of her 11 decks. The resulting gaping wound extended almost all the way down to her keel. A torrent of seawater began to pour through the enormous hole in the Italian liner’s hull. The time was just past 11:10 pm. Within minutes of the impact, the Andrea Doria had taken on an alarming list to starboard, it soon exceeded 20 degrees.

A photograph of the luxury liner minutes before she plunged beneath the waves off the coast of Massachusetts’ Nantucket Island.

the andrea doria sinks

Captain Calamai quickly took steps to organize the evacuation of the Andrea Doria by lifeboat. But the list made it impossible to swing the port-side boats out and a surplus of lifeboats now became a shortage. Fully loaded, the starboard side boats could carry only 1,044 of the 1,706 on board. The Stockholm launched its own boats to aid in the rescue, but the greatest number of passengers were taken off by the liner Ile de France, which came to the rescue.

The Andrea Doria capsized and sank at 10:09 am on July 26, eleven hours after the collision. The Stockholm made it back to New York under her own power. Only 46 of the 1,706 passengers and crew perished in the sinking or its aftermath, almost all of them as a result of injuries sustained in the initial collision. Five crewmen from the Stockholm also lost their lives. It could have been much worse. If the Andrea Doria had sunk as fast as Captain Calamai and his officers at first had feared, there would have been a catastrophe on a Titanic scale.

A plate from the Andrea Doria and letter of authentication from the diver Donald Bright, who retrieved it from the wreck on July 10, 1988. (From the Italian Tribune Collection)

diving to the shipwreck

The Andrea Doria lies within reach of serious divers, but it is not a place for the faint of heart. Called the “Mount Everest of Diving,” the ship lies at a depth of about 160 feet in an area of swift currents and nearly invisible, tangled fishing lines. In the office of the Italian Tribune is a plate recovered during a dive that took place in 1988, 32 years after the great liner sank. It was recovered by David Bright, then a 31 year-old master diver. He gave then Publisher of The Italian Tribune, the late Ace Alagna, a letter, authenticating the recovery. Both the letter and plate still hang in the offices of the paper. Tragically, Bright, a veteran of more than 100 dives on the Andrea Doria, died in 2006, the 50th anniversary of the tragic sinking. He became the 14th diver to lose his life diving the wreck. The waters off the coastal stretch near Nantucket Island have not been kind to the ship. Its entire superstructure is now a tangled and dangerous mass of debris. But after 65 years beneath the waves, the Andrea Doria’s hull remains intact, save the gaping hole that caused her demise. To this day, her name is still legible on her bow and stern, an eerie reminder of the glorious ship that was once the pride of the Italian Line. 

In 2017, divers from the D/V Tenacious salvaged the foghorn from the Andrea Doria. It has now been restored to working order. The horn will be sounded for the first time in 65 years on July 25 at a small private event hosted by the New Jersey Maritime Museum for the survivors of the sinking and broadcast live on Facebook.

Artifacts recovered from the Andrea Doria. The top shelf contains figures and assorted tems found within the First Class Gift Shop. The bottom shelf shows two pieces of an abstract ceramic sculpture by Alfonso Bortolotti.