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With Reuben Goossens

Maritime Historian, Cruise‘n’Ship Reviewer, Author & Lecturer

Please Note: All ssmaritime and my other related ssmaritime sites are 100% non-commercial and privately owned sites. Be assured that I am NOT associated with any cruise or shipping companies or travel/cruise agencies or any other organisations! The author has been in the passenger shipping industry since May 1960 and is now semi-retired, but continues to write article on classic liners and cruise ships in order to better to inform cruise and ship enthusiasts for their pleasure!

The First Series of the Much Loved “Four Aces”


The American Export Lines (AEL) ordered the New York Shipbuilding Company of Camden, New Jersey, a special contract #394, to build four liners commencing in 1929 with the last ship to be completed by1931 and commenced sailing by 1932.

All four ships were designed by George G. Sharp, Inc., and the SS Excalibur was the very first-generation of what became the famous “Four Aces.” Her sister ships that soon followed her were the SS Excambion (I) in 1931, SS Exochorda (I) 1931, and SS Exeter (I) also in 1931.

Excalibur’s keel was laid on November 4, 1929 and she was launched on August 5, 1930. She was delivered on December 18, 1930. AEL placed the 4 Aces in service between the USA and the Mediterranean, and with the ultimate of comforts and fittings. On board passengers could be assured that the ship would offering luxury 43 day cruises in the sublime of luxury, sailing the Atlantic and the warm waters of the Mediterranean!

The SS Excalibur (1) was an unimpressive looking liner, but internally she was as good

and luxurious as any one of the great Trans Atlantic liners of the 1930s to 1950s, etc!

Photograph by R.T. HildebrandRich Turnwald Collection

Every stateroom aboard the SS Excalibur and her sisters were noted for having private bathrooms as well as being superbly furnished in the most elegant of furnishings and bedding. Staterooms were located on Promenade deck and one deck down on Upper deck, where staterooms also featured a separate sitting room. This ship offered all the luxury you could possibly want, and we need to remember that this was a relatively small ship at just 9,359 GRT (gross registered tons) passenger cargo liner, and not one of the grand Trans Atlantic liners, yet she and her sisters offered a boutique style of service, offering the finest style on offer for her days!

A single bed Stateroom with a private Bathroom, but the wash basin in these rooms were in the cabin

Photograph from the author’s collection

Her Lounges and bar were all simple elegance beyond compare. Forward on Promenade deck was the spacious Main Lounge featuring a centred high domed ceiling running the length of the room, the floor carpeted in blue, the walls clad in beige timbers and the furnishings comprised of sofas and various styles of chairs in aqua, orange, red, blue and patterned upholsteries. Tables where all made of fine dark timbers. Aft from the Main Lounge there were mostly staterooms until reaching the ships Main Stairwell semi aft of the ship, which was followed by the elegant Smoke Room that was also domed and the venue and the lower walls were timber clad some eight feet high with timber embellishments above. The Smoke Room Bar was located aft of the venue and the bar was semi circular and clad in all timber. The floor was in dark tiles that were of a similar colour to the walls. As were the timber tables. Chairs were upholstered with green leather, thus this venue was designed to be very much like a typical men’s club. Aft of the Smoke Room was a stairwell followed by the delightful Country Club Veranda Caf? that overlooked the aft decks. This venue was more like the typical “Winter Garden” having teak decking, palms everywhere, rattan chairs to ensure the tropical feel and tables always clad with tablecloths.; The windows on the sides and aft could be opened for cool breezes, thus this was an ideal place for a drink, or morning tea or coffee. There were also comfortable sofas with deep cushions in red for those who would just love to sit and read in this delightful atmosphere!

Down on Upper (A) Deck the main public venue was around located towards the mid to aft of the ship at the Main Stairwell and the upper level that looked down into the Dinning Room below on B Deck. The balustrade that surrounded the spacious well above the Dinning Room included a series of superb white columns as well a beautiful wrought iron balustrade. Around the this beautiful area there was lounge as well as a reading and writing facility, all part of the luxury and glamour of these superb ships!

Below, the Dinning Room was without doubt the sublime in beauty. This light and bright venue, being two decks in height in the centre, and due to this made this room one of the most elegant public rooms afloat at the time! It featured a neoclassical design with eight solid round columns all decorated with floral crowns atop on the top level, and a simpler decoration on the lower level. Everything on the lower and upper levels was glistening white, yet the walls were of a fine painted woodwork, and then there was that break in all that white with the black detail in the metal work on the mezzanine floor balustrade. Of course the tables in the Dinning Room were always set with fine crystal, silver and the best quality bone china and the freshest linens!

The luxurious two story high Dinning Room, although the top level was a lounge area

Photograph from the author’s collection

The ship had a long and a spacious glass enclosed Promenade Deck, which was just wonderful for the cooler days on the Atlantic with ample wooden deckchairs and stewards would always be at hand with a pure woollen blanket, a hot drink or whatever one would desire!

Promenade deck ready with cosy blankets, but palms give it a tropical feel as passengers head for the Mediterranean

Photograph from the author’s collection


Please Note: There is a Colour Interior Photo Album Down the Page!


A poster promoting the SS Excalibur as her sisters had not entered service as yet

Form the author’s private collection

The Excalibur was ready for her maiden voyage on January 24, 1931 and departed New York sailing across the Atlantic for Marseilles, then Naples, Alexandria, Jaffa, Haifa, Beirut, Alexandria, Naples, Leghorn, Genoa, Marseilles and back to New York. She continued on this route until she departed Genoa for New York, sailing via Alexandria and Lisbon.

The Excalibur is seen at the “American Export Lines Terminal” in Jersey City, - New York Harbour, but a wonderful view of her stern

Photographer unknown - Please see photo notes at bottom of page!

During her entire career the Excalibur (I) delivered a great deal of cargo, mail, passengers the vast majority of them being American’s on round voyages from the “American Export Lines Terminal” to various ports in the Mediterranean and the service had been a wonderful success! But now we had entered the war years in Europe and a new schedule was required.

On July 18, 1940 The Excalibur departed sailing on the New York to Lisbon service, and it would be during one of these voyages that the Duke and Duchess of Windsor boarded her in Lisbon as they were being evacuated, and special arrangements had been made for the ship to call into Bermuda for the Royal couple to disembark there. The ship continued this service for around a year, until Uncle Sam needed her and all her sisters!

This photograph was taken during the early war years denoting that she was a neutral ship of the USA, whilst on the Lisbon service

Photograph by Roger Scozzafava – From the Rich Turnwald collection

Her Three Identical Sisters:

SS Excambion (I)


SS Excambion (I) commenced sailing in 1931

The SS Excambion became the troopship USS John Penn, but she was sunk by a Japanese torpedo bomber off Guadalcanal on 13 August 1943

Photograph by Roger Scozzafava – From the Rich Turnwald collection


SS Exochorda (I)


SS Exochorda (I) also commenced sailing in 1931

During the War she was named USS Harry Lee and survived. In 1948 she was sold to Turkey and became the very popular classic SS Tarsus

Photograph by Loren Graham – From the Rich Turnwald Collection

A Short History regarding the SS Exochorda / SS Tarsus:

After the war the USS Harry Lee arrived back in the USA on February 9, 1946, and she was decommissioned at the Brooklyn Navy Yard May 9, 1946. She was placed in the “Reserve Fleet,” that really means she had been shutdown and was a dead ship, thus “mothballed” for there was no further use for her, and she was no longer required by the “American Export Lines” considering her condition after the war as well as her age, and as the company by now had acquired a more modern quartet of ships, being the new “Four Aces” to take the place of their three lost ships, and they desired to keep the four original names in tact with four identical sister ships!

Then in April 1948 the ex SS Exochorda was sold to the Turkish State Maritime Line who gave her an extensive refit that saw various changes that were visible externally, her aft two king posts were removed, and her promenade deck completely rearranged, with new floor to ceiling windows in the forward section and now the decks aft were open. In addition additional lifeboats were added as the ship would now accommodate more passengers, such as; 189 First Class, 66 Second Class and 210 Third Class, who were housed in large style dormitories.

Turkish State Maritime Line – SS Tarsus

Photograph from the author’s collection

The SS Tarsus at the time was Turkey’s largest passenger liner and became one of the counties most popular ships! However, due to a tragic accident involving a blazing oil tanker that drifted towards her whilst she was at Bosphorus (Istanbul) Turkey, she was completely destroyed by fire in December 1960. She had been the innocent bystander, but this sadly beautiful and once glamorous luxury ship was a total loss. She was scrapped in that same year.

SS Exeter (I)


And the last of the “Four Aces” the SS Exeter (I) also completed in 1931

She became the USS Edward Rutledge in 1941, but sadly she was also torpedoed and sunk

off Casablanca in November 1942 much at the same time as Excalibur

Photograph by John O’Leary – From the Rich Turnwald collection

Back to the Excalibur:

For interest, from 1940 through to 1941 the Excalibur made many round voyages between Portugal and the USA and she was instrumental in the success of the war-time Emergency Rescue Committee; transporting thousands of refugees from Nazi Europe to freedom in the United States.

USS Joseph Hewes - AP-50:

With the outbreak of the World War II the SS Excalibur was appropriated by the U.S. Navy and refitted to become a troopship renamed the USS Joseph Hewes (AP-50). Besides her external paintwork, she was fitted with a pole radar mast atop the bridge and two forward 3”/50 guns are on the main deck behind bulwarks.

The USS Joseph Hewes - AP-50 shown here as she heads off for War duties, note her guns forward and her radar pole on top of the bridge

Photographer unknown - Please see photo notes at bottom of page!

The Joseph Hewes operated her duties well, but on the morning of November 8, 1942, she completed landing her troops in Morocco especially for “Operation Torch” the invasion of North Africa and she duly departed. However, around twelve hours later, the USS Joseph Hewes (ex SS Excalibur) was hit by a torpedo from the German submarine U-173. Regardless of the many heroic efforts by the ships captain and her crew, the ship tragically went down in around forty-two minutes. Sadly the captain and some 100 sailors went down with the ship.

It is amazing that three of the much loved “Four Aces” had been lost during the war, for only the SS Exochorda survived and was sold to Turkey to become the charming all white SS Tarsus, but she also met up with a tragic end, and not of her own making, but that of a oil tanker that drifted against her which was on fire in 1960. These were some of the most beautiful and luxurious combo liners ever, externally, they certainly did not look much, but once you stepped on board, it was all glamour and ships full of charm!

Colour Interior Photo Album

For your enjoyment I present a series of images that depict the interiors of all the “Four Aces.” These originate from an old brochure kindly provided by Bjorn Larson, sadly the quality may not be so out standing, but I have attempted to improve them be it but a little. But I am sure that they will provide you with an idea of the wonderful facilities of the days when these four combo liners sailed on their 42 day voyages and I can just see myself on board - for just a moment in time!

Promenade Deck

Commencing from forward to aft


The Main Lounge – looking aft to the main entrance


A Promenade deck twin bedded stateroom with a delightful lounge area and a full sized bathroom

These are located between the Main Lobby and the Smoke Room


Further aft was the Smoke Room and Bar had that dark timber feel, which was so typical of the day. A typical man’s room


Far Aft was the Country Club Veranda Caf?


Upper (A) Deck


The Upper Stairwell, Lobby and Lounge and writing and reading area


This is one of only two special Staterooms on each side of the ship that had their own lounge, but also shared a Veranda with another stateroom

The veranda was located in the centre and there was a door from each stateroom for them to share this delightful area with big windows


The special veranda shared by the two special de-Luxe staterooms on each side of the ship!


B Deck


The Dinning Room as already described earlier, but here we see it in its full glory!


I wish to thank Bjorn Larsen of Maritime Timetables for the colour images on this page!

He is a remarkable source for images and it is much appreciated that he allows me to use these!

Visit his site at: - Thank you also to all contributors of images!


Details & Specifications – Passenger – Cargo Liner SS Excalibur (& spec’s for her 3 sisters)

Built by:????????????????????? York Shipbuilding Company of Camden.

Launched:??????????????????? August 5, 1930.

Maiden voyage:???????????? January 24, 1931.

Length:??????????????????????? 450ft – 217.39 Meters.

Breadth:????????????????????? 62ft – 19 Meters.

Draught:????????????????????? 26ft – 7.9 Meters.

Gross Registered Tonnage: 9,359 GRT.

Main Engines:?????????????? Steam S.R. Geared Turbines.

Propellers:?????????????????? 1.

Speed:???????????????????????? 16 knots.

Passengers:????????????????? 125 First.


The SS Excalibur II (built as the USS Dutchess) was 9,644 GRT, and 473ft long, with a beam of 66ft, and a draught of 27.9ft. She was one of a quartet of post-war almost identical sister ships placed into service by American Export Lines. These four sister ships, SS Excalibur, Excambion, Exeter and Exochorda, were the replacements for series One of “Four Aces,” and these four ships took on the same title, as series Two of the “Four Aces.”

SS Excalibur II was the third of a series of almost identical ships

Photograph provided by Bjorn Larson's maritime timetables -

All four ships were originally built in 1944/45 as US Navy ships, but they were all converted and delivered to American Export Lines in 1948. They operated between New York and the Mediterranean, and accommodated 124 First Class passengers, and departed from Hoboken, New Jersey (New York harbour) sailing to Cadiz, Barcelona, Marseille, Naples, Beirut, Alexandria, Piraeus, Naples, Marseille, Genoa, Leghorn and Barcelona back to New Jersey.

The SS Exeter II is seen in New York Harbour

From the author’s private collection

SS Exochorda and Excambion were laid up in 1960, being sold in 1967 and 1965 respectively. The remaining two ships SS Excalibur and the Exeter were both sold in 1965 to the Asian shipping giant C.Y. Tung's Oriental Overseas Line and were renamed the SS Oriental Jade and Oriental Pearl respectively. Some nine years later, the Oriental Jade and Oriental Pearl were scrapped in 1974.

SS Oriental Jade seen with an extension to the top of her bow that was added after her refit

Photograph by A. Duncan – From the Rich Turnwald Collection


A fine photograph in colour of the SS Oriental Pearl

Author’s private collection


Memories of the Original “Four Aces”


A very old print of one of the “Four Aces” scanned some time ago

Who would have thought that a ship such as this would be as luxurious inside?

Yet they were simply the very best ships of the day and recorded in books as being

ships with the “Most Glamorous Interiors!”

From the author’s collection



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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 (my email address may be found on only), in order that due credit may be given.

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