Jul 24 2013

One of Yachting’s Dozen: William K. Vanderbilt Jr.‘s Alva

In 2011, the editors of Yachting magazine selected 12 "yachts that we love" including Willie K's yacht which he used for expeditions from 1931 to 1935.  "Alva may have been the original, over-the-top superyacht but she nonetheless was put into service during WWII and became the USS Plymouth."


Howard Kroplick


The 264-foot motoryacht was built by Krupp Germaniawerft in Kiel, Germany on a design by Cox & Stephens. Top speed was 16 knots.

This luxurious yacht was named Alva, after Willie K.'s mother, Alva Vanderbilt Belmont. It was powered by two diesel engines with an auxiliary eletric motor.

The main living room's overhead was 15 feet high, while the stateroom overheads were 9 feet high.

1931 Cruise

William K. Vanderbilt II (Jr.), his wife Rosamund, his friends Mr. and Mrs. Earle Smith and crew set on a world cruise in 1931 aboard the Alva. They departed Long Island and traveled through the Panama Canal to the Galapagos Islands, the Society Islands, Samoa, Australia, Java, Bora Bora, Bali, Singapore, Ceylon, Arabia, through the Suez Canal to Cairo, Athens and Monte Carlo and westward across the Atlantic to America.

The cruise was documented in a seventy-minute film “Over the Seas” which opened in December 1932 in New York City. It is the only known record of Willie K.'s voice.

Part 1

Part 2

Vanderbilts meeting natives of the Great Palm Island off Australia.


Boston yards.

Transporting a Douglas Dolphin I Special Airplane.

Commissioned as USS Plymouth (PG-57)-1942

Less than one month after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, William K. Vanderbilt, Jr. gave the Alva to the U.S. Navy.

It was placed into commission and converted into a patrol gunboat (PG) in January 1942 at the Nortfolk Navy Yard. It was commisssioned as U.S.S.  Plymouth (PG-57) in April 20, 1942. On August 5, 1943, the ship was torpedoed by  German Submarine U-566 of Cap Henry, Virginia. The USS Plymouth sank within two minutes with 85 of the crew of 155 surviving.


Jul 24 2013 Howard Kroplick 11:18 PM

From Peter Warburton

“Rose was my Grandmother, this is the first and only time I have ever heard her voice.

This is very cool, i have only a copy of one of the books of the voyage. Thanks for this. I d like to get a copy of the entire film. Cheers, PW”

Jul 28 2013 Robert E. Richer 8:16 AM

Absolutely wonderful.  Ironic that she was both built and destroyed by Germany.

Jul 28 2013 Howard Kroplick 11:20 AM

From Bruce Adams:

The U-566 that sunk ALVA was built in the same Krupp Shipyard in Germany

Jul 28 2013 Lou K 12:37 PM

Another home run Howard ......Love it ....Thanks…

Sep 30 2014 Mame Dennis 9:25 PM

*The Alva named after William’s first wife, Alva Belmont, not his mother, who was named Maria Louisa.
From Howard Kroplick

Mame, Alva Vanderbilt Belmont was William K. Vanderbilt Jr.‘s mother and the first wife of William K. Vanderbilt.

Oct 01 2014 Ted 4:19 PM

All very interesting, never know when something is going to come up in regards to history, when it comes to the Vanderbilt family do you? Thanks

Aug 09 2016 Frank Graham 10:31 PM

My father served on the USS Plymouth during its Navy lifetime.  Vanderbilt II gave Alva II for the usual $1. She did several convoy runs from NYC to Key West and Gitmo.  Bit of a checkered career. Ran into a coast guard ship at one point. Had a new young commander who got Navy Cross & lost his left leg in U-566 attack using last torp of its duty. 
Supposedly Alva II was quite popular when docked in East River. Reading this & seeing images it’s no surprise why!  Quite the vessel.  Dad was killed and I came out 8 months later so some good from it all.  Always be prepared.
From Howard Kroplick

Thank you for your father’s service!

Sep 15 2016 Jeramy Williams 12:07 AM

My great uncle Alonzo Bolick served and died on the Plymouth.
From Howard Kroplick

Jeramy, thank you for your family’s service to our country.

Nov 30 2016 Linda Carawan 10:12 PM

My dad was on the Plymouth, talked about this ship and men.Passed away 2014.

From Howard Kroplick:

Condolences to your family. Thank you for your his service!

Jul 12 2017 Red Robbins III 4:22 PM

My grandfather Redington R Robbins Sr was first mate to Vanderbilt on both the Ara and Alva around the world trips.
Howard Kroplick:

Very cool? Do you have any photos to share? If so, please forward them to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Thanks!

Nov 15 2017 John F Kellermam 11:22 AM

My father, Frence (Francis) Kellerman was the doctor on Alva in the late thirties. He joined at Kiel in Germany and after sometime with WK he settled in the UK before the Second World War.

Howard Kroplick

Neat! Do you have any photos to share? If so, please forward to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) .

Jan 07 2018 Tom Gibson 12:14 AM

The book “McDonnell-Douglas Aircraft since 1920, Vol. 1,” by Rene Francillon states that two Douglas Dolphin Amphibions Model 119 were purchased by Alfred Vanderbilt II and Wm. K. Vanderbilt II, and operated from the ALVA. I don’t have the book, but that explains the Dolphin in the photo. Some tender!

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