the French Line decided to supplement the revolutionary Ile de France
of 1926 with a record-breaking super-liner in early 1930, they turned to
naval designer Vladimir Yourkevitch to design the new ship. It was intended
that the ship would be France’s contender for the Blue Ribband of the Atlantic,
and it would be a floating showcase for the talent of French artisans and
craftsmen. In designing the ship, Yourkevitch incorporated turbo-electric
engines and the relatively new and innovative bulbous bow. The French Line
also announced with much fanfare that new ship would be the first liner
to exceed 1000 feet in length, and it would have a gross tonnage of 60,000
tons—making it the world’s largest ship.
the liner—designated as “T 6”—commenced in early 1931 at the Penhoet shipyards
at St. Nazaire. As was traditionally the case with the naming of a liner,
there was much speculation about the name of the new liner. It was widely
thought the ship would be named after the recently assassinated French
President Paul Doumer, but the widow of the slain leader had requested
the name “Doumer” not be used. It was just prior to the launching that
it was revealed the new ship was to be called Normandie. On October
29, 1932, Madame Lebrun—wife of the French President—launched the new ship.
By this time, however, the economic depression that was gripping the world
economy made it necessary to halt construction on the new liner. When construction
Normandie resumed, her maiden voyage had been delayed until spring
was completed on Normandie, she was the longest and largest ship
afloat—measuring 1,028 feet in length with an initial tonnage of 79,280.
To the pride of her owners and countrymen, she claimed the Blue Ribband
from the Italian Liner Rex on her maiden crossing in May 1935. Keen on
keeping the title “longest, largest, and fastest” ship in the world, it
did not escape her owner’s attention that the British had announced the
tonnage of their new super-liner Queen Mary that was nearing completion
at 81,235. So during the winter refit in 1935, a deckhouse was added to
her aft deck increasing her final tonnage to 83,423, allowing her to maintain
title of world’s largest ship. And though she eventually lost the Blue
Ribband to Queen Mary in August 1938, her top speed of 31.2 knots
was only a fraction slower than Queen Mary’s record-breaking speed
of 31.6 knots.
Though she was
the world’s largest ship, the enormous size of Normandie did not mean she
carried more passengers than any ship had ever carried. Her grandeur meant
that each passenger had more space. The dimensions of her dining-salon—walled
in molded glass, air-conditioned and decorated by the foremost artists
and craftsmen of France—were breath taking. The sun deck, clear of all
obstructions, stretched two city blocks in length. She was equipped with
a permanent theater, seating nearly 400, and a beautiful chapel. Staterooms
Normandie—virtually all with luxurious bath or shower facilities—afforded
a new scope for the kind of gracious living that French Line passengers
had come to expect while on board ship.
Grand Salon of the Normandie|
click to enlarge
|Her cruiser bow
and the turtleback extending over the foredeck enabled Normandie
to take the roughest seas smoothly, without loss of speed. Her electric
drive reduced vibration to an absolute minimum—though she was plagued with
terrible vibration because of inappropriately designed propellers during
her early crossings. Radios onboard allowed her to be in constant touch
at all times with both Europe and America. Normandie was truly a
wonder-ship that one could not see without wanting to travel onboard.
| Regrettably the
service career of what is arguably the most superb liner to ever sail was
tragically short. Scheduled to sail the day before war started in Europe,
she was detained at New York as U.S authorities checked to ensure she did
not have munitions or arms aboard. She would spend the remainder of her
days in New York, and with the fall of France to the German armies, her
fate seemed uncertain. However, with America’s entry into the war, the
U.S. Coast Guard seized
Normandie in May 1941. In December, the
U.S. Navy took control of the vessel and renamed her USS Lafayette.
|On February 9,
1942, while undergoing the major refit to accommodate thousands of U.S.
troops, sparks from a workman’s welding torch set her ablaze. Firemen were
able to extinguish the blaze, but tragically the liner capsized as a result
of the tons of water used to fight the fire. She would be salvaged, but
ultimately was scrapped at Port Newark, New Jersey—truly an ignominious
end for perhaps the greatest liner to ever sail.
HTML layout and design by Bryan R. Guinn. Text and images
on this page are from French Line advertisements from the private collection
of Bryan R. Guinn. Bibliography on career details and statistics available
No unauthorized reproduction of text or images.