View Full Version : Lives of the liners: Valiant voyages on the "serpa pinto"

Doc Vernon
10th April 2017, 10:30 PM
The Portugese passenger steamer Serpa Pinto is hardly remembered for her size or her high speed or her great luxuries. Nevertheless, the 8,500-ton ship played a very important role during World War II.

Built as the British-flag Ebro (in 1915), she later passed to Lisbon-headquartered Companhia Colonial, the Colonial Steamship Co. Her role: trips to colonial Africa and across the South Atlantic to Brazil.

When World War II began in Europe, in September 1939, Portugal began a quiet role as a neutral. Consequently, the Serpa Pinto -- even in the darkest days of war -- was able to make periodic voyages with passengers to the Caribbean and to America, to Philadelphia, Baltimore and often to New York. Her routing was interesting, in fact quite curious: Lisbon-Casablanca-Azores-Bermuda-Ciudad Trujillo-Havana-Vera Cruz-New York. The Serpa Pinto offered one of the only routes of safety and escape to the USA.


A recent article added: "Some well-to-do refugees were able to afford expensive seats aboard Clippers, the “flying ships” of Pan American Airways, which linked America to Europe twice a week. But the majority of refugees in Lisbon had only one option: to obtain the necessary visas and secure passage on board one of the Portuguese liners continuously crossing the Atlantic. Havana, Philadelphia, Baltimore, New York and Rio de Janeiro were among the most desired destinations. In the Portuguese capital, exhausted refugees scrambled to gather the long list of materials necessary to emigrate. They visited understaffed consulates, crowded travel agencies, and waited for long hours in queues to obtain financial and administrative assistance from relief organizations."

Most of these refugees were Jewish and bonds of as much as $150,000 and $200,000 -- staggering amounts for the Wartime Forties -- had to be posted by Jewish relief organizations. But in all, by 1944, the Serpa Pinto had delivered 110,000 refugees to the safety of America.

One passenger didn't make a trip, however. In 1941, film queen Greta Garbo -- having been told that Hitler himself was all but bewitched by her -- decided she would travel to Lisbon, make her way into Nazi Germany and then convince the Fuhrer to stop "his horrible war". She was booked on the Serpa Pinto. But this unlikely plan never came to pass -- Garbo was sensibly talked-out of her misplaced mission.


Des Taff Jenkins
11th April 2017, 01:00 AM
Hi Vernon.
Maybe that is why she stayed incommunicado for the rest of her life, missed out on her great moment. Then again one never knows she might have stopped the war, after all Hitler was a star gazer
Cheers Des