SS Normandie  

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SS Normandie was a French ocean liner built in Saint-Nazaire France for Compagnie Générale Transatlantique. When launched in 1932 she was the largest and fastest ship in the world, and she maintains the distinction of being the most powerful steam turbo-electric propelled passenger ship ever built. Her novel design features and lavish interiors have led many to consider her the greatest of all ocean liners. Despite this, she was not a commercial success, and relied partly on government subsidy to operate. The ship is perhaps best known for Adolphe Cassandre's famed 1935 commercial depiction.


The Normandie was an ocean liner built in Saint-Nazaire, France in 1935. She displaced 79,000 tons at first but when the 81,000 ton RMS Queen Mary was launched the French Line added a large deckhouse that brought the Normandie's tonnage to 82,000 tons.

Though she was designed to represent France in the nation-state contest of the great liners, and though she was built in a french shipyard, parts of her came from all over Europe. The innovative design of her hull was done by Vladimir Yourkevitch, who had been a ship architect in the Imperial Russian Navy before the revolution and the ship's great rudder was built by Skoda in Czechoslovakia.

She was 1,032 feet long and 114 feet wide, and was capable of a speed of 36 knots. She seemed like a little chunk of France herself and was the second ship to have an outdoor swimming pool. (The Italian liner Rex was the first.) On the Normandie's maiden voyage she became the Blue Riband holder, the world's fastest ship, beating the Rex. Her interiors were marvels of Art Deco and the Streamline style. Many of her sculptures and wall paintings made indirect or direct allusions to Normandy, the province of France for which she was named. Drawings and photographs of the era show series of vast public rooms of great elegance.

The menus kept in archives and museums are witness to the variety and excellence that came out of her kitchens. This ship was a floating promo for the most sophisticated French cuisine of the period.

In addition to a novel hull shape which made it possible for her to attain her great speed at lesser power expenditure than that of the other big liners., the Normandie was filled with technical feats. She had turbo-electric engines which eliminated the massive gearing of other liners and made control and maintenance much easier. All of the machinery of the top deck and forecastle, normally an eyesore or an annoyance for passengers on the other liners, had been integrated within the ship, giving all the exposed deck space to the passengers.

The Normandie had been laid up in New York Harbour along with the Ile De France, another French liner, in the summer of 1939 when World War II started. They were all seized when France fell to the Germans and Japan attacked Pearl harbour.

By 1941 the United States Navy decided to convert the Normandie into a Troopship, the aptly named USS Lafayett. On February 9th 1942, during the conversion, sparks from a welding torch ignited a fire in a stack of thousands of lifevests that had been stored in the first class dining room. No woodwork had been removed so the fire spread rapidly. The ship had a very efficient semi-automatic fire extinguishing system, but all of the members of the original crew had been removed (the US feared the possibility of sabotage) and the US Navy personel and the contractors did not know how to turn it on. They all fled the ship. The water being poured from fireboats caused her to turn over, crushing a fireboat and getting still more water in the decks. When the fire was extinguished, the world's most expensive salvage operation started, but when the hull was finally righted in 1943 there was no need any more for such a large troopship. Eventually the French line planned to cut her down to size but in the end she was scrapped.


  • Brinnin, John Malcolm. The Sway of the Grand Saloon : a Social History of the North Atlantic. New York : Delacorte Press, 1971
  • Coleman, Terry. The liners : a history of the North Atlantic crossing. Harmondsworth, England : Penguin Books, 1977
  • Fox, Robert. Liners: The Golden Age. Die Grosse Zeit der Ozeanriesen. L'Age d'or des paquebots.[trilingual text ] Cologne: Konneman, 1999.
  • Maddocks, Melvin The Great Liners. Alexandria, Virginia: Time-Life Books, 1978.

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