Author’s Preface: This event took place more than 50 years ago, and has been reconstructed by an imperfect memory. Hopefully, the reader will agree that it is worthy of a look into the past.
In the spring of 1955, I was OOD on USS SEA OWL (SS 405), lying to on the surface at night in Long Island Sound. The weather was crystal clear and the sea was flat calm. A battery charge was in progress, and within a few hours we were scheduled to provided services to ASW aircraft. The silence on the bridge was broken by a report from Radar that a large target was detected over the horizon. Tracking commenced. The first visual sign on the horizon was the masthead light. Speed was calculated to be more than 30 knots. Soon we could see the port running light, but as the situation became better defined, both running lights were in view. Visions of a port to port passage evaporated.
The only sensible option was to get the hell out of the way. Orders were issued to secure the battery charge and prepare to answer bells on four main engines. As soon as we could, we roared out of the way to port, and soon had a huge ocean liner in sight with a starboard angle on the bow, which got bigger as we pulled away. She was lit up like a Christmas tree, and as she sped by, I had the Quartermaster challenge her by a signal light. The answer: LIBERTE. She was obviously headed for New York City.
Not much thought was given to her heritage at the time, but recently the author looked up some details of her history.
Build by Germany and named EUROPA, she was one of the fastest liners in the world, and won the Blue Ribbon in 1931, with a crossing of the North Atlantic at an average speed of 27 .91 knots. France took her over as a war prize after World War II, and renamed her LIB ER TE. While undergoing refurbishment at Le Havre, during a violent storm, she was tom from her berth and into the wreckage of another liner moored nearby. LIBERTE sank. After being refloated, in 1948 she was towed to St. Nazaire and underwent a total refit and refurbishment. She finally made her maiden voyage in August 1950 and began service on the Atlantic run. Her final voyage was made in November of 1958, and she was scrapped in 1962.