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With Reuben Goossens

Maritime Historian, Cruise‘n’Ship Reviewer & Author

 

P&O Lines

SS Iberia

This is one of the early P&O postcards of the Iberia

From the author’s private collection

After WWII P&O decided to upgrade their fleet for the Australian service considering P&O had lost six of their passenger ships. Four of these had been sunk during jus one of WW 2’s operations, “Operation Torch,” being the Allied landing in North Africa. Included were the magnificent Viceroy of India which was only 12 years old, and the company’s newest ship, the four year old Strathallan,

Obviously, even the ships that survived WWII needed considerable refitting at great cost. Thus P&O commenced a plan to build a series of new ships that would be economically more viable and have a sustainable future, for the much loved black hulled Mooltan and Maloja which had entered service in 1923 and 1924 respectively were almost 27 years old. They were noted for having been the first P&O ships to exceed 20,000 GRT, but the time had come to consider replacing them with more effective and more modern units. Other problems had arisen, such as who were going to build these ships, due to steel shortages, rising inflation and industrial problems as well as competition from abroad. However once the details were worked out, British shipbuilders were decided on, as at the time they were considered to be “the best in the world.”

In order to recommence the rebuilding plan, in 1946 P&O placed an order for the first ship to be built, the 28,000 GRT SS Himalaya, which was followed up four months later by an order for smaller version of the Himalaya, the 24,000 GRT SS Chusan.

Then the next two ships to be built, although similar to the Himalaya, they would be updated versions of her. Externally this would be most obvious be most obvious by their modern stylized funnels.

The order was placed for the first ship, SS Arcadia to be built at Clydebank in autumn 1951, whilst the Iberia’s order was placed in the winter of 1951. The Arcadia was the first to be completed and she departed on her maiden voyage for Sydney on February 22, 1954. She could always be distinguished from the Iberia as her funnel was toped with a black smoke deflector.

SS Iberia was built by the famed shipyards of Harland & Wolff Ltd, Yard 1476, in Belfast, Ireland. Her keel was laid down February 8, 1952.

The hull of Iberia has taken shape and is now her superstructure is starting to take shape

Seen at the Harland & Wolff shipyards during the building process

From the Harland & Wolff Collection

 

Iberia finally reaches the water having been launched on January 21, 1954

From the Harland & Wolff Collection

She was launched on January 21, 1954 by Lady McGrigor the wife of the “First Sea Lord” - Admiral Rhoderick McGrigor. After launching she went to her fitting out wharf. For interest, her interior design was entrusted to “A. McInnes, Gardner & Partners” of Glasgow, who followed a well trusted standard set by her earlier sisters, but also made some new innovations!

Iberia almost completed - seen in June 1954 at Victoria Wharf fitting out basin

When completed, she underwent sea her trials during September 1954 where she achieved a respectable 24.9 knots. She was delivered to P&O on September 10, 1954. It was decided to name her Iberia after the 1836 namesake SS Iberia (I), which was named after the Iberian peninsular where Spain and Portugal are located and which had a strong connection to the formation of P&O and the company's early years.

*There was another ship that carried the name “Iberia,” but it was not related to P&O, yet for some reason P&O still considered this to be the third Iberia.

It is obvious to all followers of the Orient Line and P&O story that 1. These two ships were contemporaries of Orient Line’s Oronsay and Orsova respectively. In addition: 2. That the Himalaya, Arcadia and Iberia of P&O had been paralleled by Orient Line's Orcades, Oronsay and Orsova. These ships marked a coming together of new liners of the two companies. Indeed the six ships worked closely together on their Australian service with their sailing schedules organised so that sailings alternated between P&O and Orient. Thus they formed a Southern Dominions "Big Six" fleet.

The 29,614 GRT Iberia departed on her maiden voyage on September 28, 1954 from London (Tilbury) for Sydney, Australia, sailing via the Suez Canal. She arrived in Fremantle on October 22, then sailing via Adelaide and Melbourne, arriving in Sydney on November 1. Iberia had a cargo capacity similar to that of his sisters, of around 239,800 cu ft.

In June 1955 Iberia commenced her first summer season of Mediterranean cruises out of the UK.

Iberia seen at the Sydney “International Passenger Terminal” Circular Quay

Interior & Exterior Photo Album

1. First Class

The Main Lounge which was certainly built for comfort and having a simple elegance

This Iberia postcard collection is from the author’s private collection

 

The ever popular dance arena was semi indoors, but out on deck with sliding glass doors

that could be open or shut pending weather conditions – cane furnishings was the popular mode here

 

The floral and heavy patterned Writing and Reading Room

 

The ever popular Library and reading area

 

The Observation Lounge, the forerunner of greatly extended “Crows Nest” on the modern P&O ships

 

The expansive spaces of the Sports Deck

 

Far aft is the popular Verandah Café overlooking the stern

 

The Dining Room was adorned with fine timbers and murals and wall lighting and had an elegant feel!

 

The superb Verandah Cabin with comfortable lounge chairs

 

A Single Cabin

 

Tourist Class

The Main Lounge was a beautiful room with a fine mural and a Grand piano

 

Another view of the Main Lounge

 

The Smoking Room also had writing desks and was a popular venue for games

 

Verandah Café was a beautiful room with a fine mural

 

I was impressed that the Tourist Class Dining Room has so many tables for four

 

This postcard of SS Iberia was part of the above Iberia postcard collection – note the aft (tall) mainmast

Iberia’s General History – 1956 to 1973

Sadly, Iberia eventually became known as a much “troubled ship” due to accidents and constant breakdowns as the following overview will disclose. It is not that the author dislikes this ship, far from it, she was simply superb and I not only sailed on her, but I also visited her many times and dined on her often as a P&O guest. She and the Himalaya were my two favourites of the P&O ships of the time, Arcadia was OK, but somehow she lacked something for me. Thus, although the following will seem rather negative, I am simply presenting the facts and it saddens me for she was a fine ship and her passengers greatly loved her!

Below is a list of both good and the bad incidents of her ongoing troubled career.

On March 14, 1956 Iberia departed Tilbury bound for Australia via the Suez Canal. However, on March 27 at approximately 0130 Iberia was rammed broadside (amidships - portside) by the Esso tanker “Stanvec Pretoria” whilst sailing in heavy seas about 275 km (170 miles) off Colombo. Iberia received extensive damage to her portside Promenade, Boat and Sports Decks. Temporary repairs were made at Colombo. One of the things that had to be done was vertical irons bars had to be welded to the side of the ships upper decks to support boat deck. As soon as the work there was completed, Iberia continued to Sydney, and entered into the Sydney’s Cockatoo Shipyards on April 16 for extensive repairs. After seventeen days of extensive work, both at the shipyard and whilst docked at Pyrmont wharf, she was returned to her regular duties.

Collision Photo Album

 

Iberia is seen at Colombo during temporary repairs – Note the Iron bars just aft of the funnel

Holding the decks together, in order the will not collapse during the voyage to Australia

*Sources of these photographs are unknown – Please see Photographic notes at the bottom of page

 

Here we see some of the extensive damage up on Boat deck

 

It even extended as high as Sports Deck. 

 

The Stanvec Pretoria had damage on its lower hull see lower left, as well as the upper bow

Just aft of her name where the plates have buckled extensively. However Iberia came off the worse of the two

 

 Iberia is seen here in Sydney during her final repairs

In April 1957 she called at St Paul Island in the Indian Ocean and this marked the first call there by a P&O ship since the Malacca rescued the crew of the HMS Megaera which had run around there in 1871.

On February 15, 1959 Iberia ran aground whilst sailing the Suez Canal northbound.

In January 1958 P&O and Orient services to Australia were extended across the Pacific in a joint service marketed as Orient & Pacific Line. The Iberia thus started operation in March 1960 on her first trans-pacific services and sailings continued from Sydney to Auckland, Suva, Honolulu, Vancouver and San Francisco.

In May 1960 her management and operation was transferred to P&O-Orient Lines.

In 1961 from January to March she was refitted by J.I. Thornycroft Ltd, Southampton. During the work she was modernised and finally fitted with air-Conditioning and stabilizers. 

On October 17, 1961 she suffered a complete electrical failure having just departed Auckland New Zealand. She required five days of repairs.

On August 12, 1962 she struck a sandbank near Port Tewfik and damaged a blade of her portside propeller.

A Christening in the Ships Bell

Teresa Swan’s journey began in England where she was born in Kent on November 8, 1962. She and her parents Mr. and Mrs. G.L. Swan departed London England on the SS Iberia on January 8, 1963 bound for Australia.

Special arrangements had been made to have baby Teresa Baptized on Sunday January 20 directly after Holy Mass in the Port Writing Room forward on Promenade Deck. For this special occasion, it had been decided that they would use the ships bell as the Baptismal Basin.

The Captain and the Ships Company gave Teresa and the family two boxes of silver gifts containing egg cups and napkin rind as well as a special Egyptian teaspoon as the ship was in the area.

Above SS Iberia’s daily Events & News paper for January 20, 1963

All images related to this story were provided by Teresa Shaw

 

Iberia’s Bell is seen being used as Teresa’s Baptismal Basin

 

With the event over, a happy family gets together

 

A beautiful BUB and the gifts given by P&O

 

Two silver egg cups and napkin rings and note the delightful Egyptian tea spoon

The Paul Soper Story

Iberia is seen here at the International Passenger Terminal in Sydney in 1964

Photograph by & © Iberia’s Radio Officer Paul Soper

I received the following interesting story from ex P&O Radio Officer Paul Soper and decided to add it to the page as well as his photo above of the Iberia. I have slightly edited his story, but not changed any of its content in any way whatsoever.

The Iberia was my first passenger liner where I served full time as a Radio Officer in 1964, although the first ship I worked on was the Canberra earlier in the year when we went to the New York's World Fair. I had a wonderful time on this fine ship but the highlight of my time on the Iberia was probably going to the Olympic Games in Tokyo in 1964 and we had an absolutely wonderful time even if I did not get to see any of the games - enough said!

However, during my time on her I can recall at least two other unfortunate incidents occurring either in 1964 or 1965. The first was when we were in a long beam sea and the stabilizers became stuck in position. The ship started to roll to port, and continued rolling and then rolled more and more until the radio transmitters were hanging off the bulkhead, then the typewriter smashed to the floor and the whole ship resounded to the sound of breaking crockery. She did eventually come to a halt, but not before a great deal of damage had been done and I suddenly realised how many prayers I knew. But all ended well and there were no real injuries except for a little one related to pride.

The second incident occurred when we were anchored off Malta and we were taking passengers ashore in the ship's tenders (lifeboats) for a run ashore. During the afternoon the sea got a little rough and the crash boat (which should have been fitted with the optional spray cover over the fore deck, but was not) ploughed into a big sea and was immediately swamped, and somehow some of the passengers and crew were flung into the water. Fortunately they were all picked up by one of the other ship’s lifeboats and there were no serious casualties, but it could have been quite a serious incident and in the Radio Room we spent the rest of the day fielding queries from the press and anxious relatives.

Paul Soper (P&O Radio Officer 1964-1971).

Iberia’s General History – 1956 to 1973 – continued.

In 1966 her passenger capacity was revised to 651 First Class and 733 Tourist. In addition her management and operation was transferred to “P&O Lines.”

On June 10, 1966 on her way to Yokohama from Kobe, she had to return for repairs to a turbine coupling. This delayed her voyage by four days.

On January 19, 1967 Iberia collided with wharf in Funchal, Madeira and damaged her bow plates 2.5 metres above the waterline.

On February 2, 1968 she was delayed in Funchal by two days with a power system breakdown.

On November 16, 1968 her number 2 boiler room forced draught fan failed. Repairs were made in Dakar and delayed the voyage by 24 hours.

On June 12, 1969 she sailed on her final voyage from London (Tilbury) bound for Australia before P&O's terminus moved to Southampton.

On December 8, 1969 she finally arrived in Southampton from Australia after a much troubled voyage. Whilst in Pago Pago her funnel caught fire. Then she suffered an electrical failure in Honolulu. But her problems did not end there, for her the starboard engine failed by the time she arrived at Acapulco and whilst bunkering in Curacao it was discovered that some of the fuel has escaped into one of the first class baggage rooms, which had been flooded with fuel oil.

On December 9, 1969, the day after she returned to Southampton, she underwent a major two week overhaul in dry dock. This included the removal of her (aft) Mainmast.

Iberia is seen here without her aft Mainmast

Photographer unknown – Please see Photographic notes at the bottom of page

On December 26, 1969, after all the work done at the major overhaul, guess what? She suffered yet another major a stabilizer failure.

In October 1971 her management and operation was transferred to the “P&O Passenger Division.”

Iberia seen on a cruise around 1971

Photographer unknown – Please see Photographic notes at the bottom of page

On November 6, 1971 she sailed from Southampton on her final voyage from the UK bound for Cherbourg, Panama, the USA, Canada and Sydney. But then in February 1972 it was announced that the Iberia would be retired from service. Iberia would be the first of P&O's post war liners to be retired from service as the line voyage loading were less and less, and Iberia was not as popular as Arcadia as a cruise ship. In addition, she took precedence over her sisters due to her poor mechanical performance over the years having been a much troubled ship, whilst her sister had a good run.

Iberia was withdrawn from service in 1972 arriving at Southampton for the last time on Wednesday 19th April 1972 with an 18ft paying off pennant flying from her mast. Captain Trenfield rang “finished with engines.” At the end of April, Iberia was laid up at berth 101, awaiting a buyer, which was soon found for P&O by Mitsui & Co. Taiwanese breakers, Tong Cheng Steel Manufacturing Co. Ltd, purchased the Iberia to be broken up.

A superb photograph of the Iberia in mid 1972 - Note that her lifeboats are being removed

Photographer unknown – Please see Photographic notes at the bottom of page

 

Again we see the Iberia mid 1972, but now without any lifeboats

For she was about to sail to Taiwan with just two lifeboats

Photographer unknown – Please see Photographic notes at the bottom of page

On June 28, 1972 Iberia sailed from Southampton for the final time, but this time without passengers and with just two lifeboats up on Boat deck. She was under the command of Captain Michael Prowse. There were also 66 other crew members, 14 on deck, 20 in the engine room and 32 catering and fire-patrol staff. Iberia made calls for fuel and stores at Dakar, Durban, Mauritius and Hong Kong arriving at Kaohsiung Taiwan on September 5, 1972. Demolition of the still beautiful looking 18 year old SS Iberia commenced in October 1973.

Statistics:

Built by:                     Harland & Wolff Ltd - Belfast

Yard Number:             Yard 1476

Launched:                  January 21, 1954

Launched by:              Lady McGrigor the wife of the “First Sea Lord” - Admiral Rhoderick McGrigor

Maiden Voyage:           September 28, 1954

Length:                      718.8 ft – 219m

Breadth:                     90.10 ft – 27.5m

Draft:                        36.6 ft

Tonnage:                    29,614

Power:                       Single Reduction Geared Steam Turbines

Propellers:                  2 – 42,500 SHP

Speed:                       22 knots service speed - 24.9 max

Passengers:                679 First Class, 735 Tourist - 1966 = 651 First Class and 733 Tourist

Crew:                        711

 

The way we like to remember her!

 

SS Iberia, a ship with a superb stern and built for the tropics, thus all those wonderful wide promenade decks!

Today ships are closed in like apartment blocks and deck spaces are taken up by private balconies that are seldom used

 

How I miss those wonderful days when ships were ships – SS Iberia you make many relive many fine memories

 

Also Visit our Features on the following Orient Lines/P&O Ships

 

Orient Lines: RMS OrcadesSS Oronsay - SS Oriana - RMS Orion

P&O: RMS Strathaird  SS Himalaya - SS Iberia - SS Canberra

 

Read the book

Orient Line – A Fleet History

It is available for £23.50 plus p&p from “Ships in Focus”

Email: sales@shipsinfocus.co.uk 

 

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Who is the Author of ssMaritime?

Commenced in the passenger Shipping Industry in May 1960

 

 

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Photographs on ssmaritime and associate pages are by the author or from the author’s private collection. In addition there are some images that have been provided by Shipping Companies and private photographers or collectors. Credit is given to all contributors. However, there are some photographs provided to me without details regarding the photographer/owner concerned. I hereby invite if owners of these images would be so kind to make them-selves known to me in order that due credit may be given.

This notice covers all pages, although, and I have done my best to ensure that all photographs are duly credited and that this notice is displaced on each page, that is, when a page is updated!

 

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