"Normandie", the liner of all superlatives

Publié le 26 Juillet 2019

ss Normandie
Normandie - American Postcard

 

Last update :

May 12, 2020 :

Normandie's launch, on October 29, 1932 - Photos Keystone

April 25, 2020 :

Normandie's launch, on October 29, 1932 - 3 photos

Normandie in dry dock at Le Havre - Photo from April 8, 1938

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Introduction

When she went into service in 1935, Normandie was the largest and largest of all the steamers. It was also a ship with a modern and majestic line, with passenger facilities exceeding all that has been achieved so far. Floating showcase of decorative arts, she was an extraordinary ambassador wearing high colors of France.

Normandie was also the first and only French liner to have won the Blue Ribbon trophy...

Her exploitation was unfortunately stopped by World War II and she ended her short life in the Hudson River ice...

This article will allow you to discover her history from 1928, year of the first project, to 1947 year of her total disappearance...

Thanks and sources

1928 - 1935

From project to sea trials

It was in 1928 that John Dal Piaz, President of the Compagnie Générale Transatlantique (CGT - also known as French Line or Transat) considered the construction of a "5-day" liner to serve the transatlantic line from Le Havre to New York, in order to compete with the Norddeutscher Lloyd which announces, for 1929, the entry into service of the sister-ships Bremen and Europa.

 

Postcard - s.s. Bremen (1929 - 1941)

 

Postcard - s.s. Europa (1930 - 1945) later s.s. Liberté (1950 - 1962)

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On October 29, 1930, the order was placed at the Chantiers et Ateliers de Saint-Nazaire Penhoët [Shipyards] by President Octave Homberg, who succeeded John Dal Piaz, under the provisional name of "T6", for a reviewable amount of 700 million of francs. The ship would have 313.75 meters long, 35.90 meters wide, a draught [Height of the submerged part of a ship] of 11.49 meters. Its gross tonnage [Method of Measuring a Vessel’s Carrying Capacity] would be 79280 tons.

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Whether at the shipyards of Penhoët or at Le Havre, the ship’s future home port, the facilities did not allow the construction and reception of such a ship. In February 1929, the construction of the Forme Joubert began at the Chantiers et Ateliers de Saint-Nazaire Penhoët. 350 meters long and 50 meters wide, it would be completed in 1933, which would not prevent Normandie to borrow it on the day of her launch, to reach its fitting-out quay. In October 1929, work began on the large inclined hold, known as hold number 1 or hold Normandie (which would later be used for the construction of the "France" in 1957).

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The hull of the future liner was, during its design, the subject of numerous studies. It was necessary to build a hull whose hydrodynamic allows to have a good speed. The chosen hull was proposed by a Russian naval architect, borned from the nobility and who immigrated to France in 1922: Vladimir Yourkevich. That hull was characterized by very original shapes: the ship was much wider than its competitors and had a bow in the shape of Y to better penetrate the water and offered the least resistance possible. It was also rebalanced by a bow bulb and equipped with a breakwater.

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The "T6" keel laying took place on January 26, 1931, on the large inclined hold from Saint-Nazaire, which was being completed. In June 1931, the double bottom was in place and the transverse partitions began to be installed. At this moment, the Compagnie Générale Transatlantique, hit hard by the crisis that began on October 24, 1929 (Black Thursday) was on the verge of bankruptcy. On June 22, the French Government took control of the Company, which amounts to nationalization. On 3 August 1931, Henri Cangardel was appointed managing director of Compagnie Générale Transatlantique. His mission was to raise the Company.

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November 1931, construction reached the second deck above the boiler room ceiling.

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ss Normandie
"Super Ile de France" leaflet

 

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In June 1932, the stern post, a piece with hinges that will support the rudder from the one now known as the “Super Ile-de-France” was installed.

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Photo - View taken from the bow on June 1st, 1932

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On October 18, 1932, the CGT’s board of directors chose the name Normandie on the proposal of Henri Cangardel. Several arguments contributed to this choice: the Company’s tradition of naming the transatlantic ships as French provinces, the fact that the first La Normandie (1882 - 1911) half a century earlier was part of these successful liners...

 

Paquebot La Normandie
Postcard : La Normandie

 

...the ease of pronunciation in English, finally, the minister of the merchant navy was elected from Normandie province at the Chamber of Deputies. The same day the board of directors appointed René Pugnet, captain of ss Paris, as 1st captain of Normandie.

 

Paquebot Normandie
American Postcard - Normandie & Commodore Pugnet

 

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Postcard - Normandie as she will be... in 1934

 

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Postcard - Normandie ready to be launched

 

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T6 / Normandie launch - Invitations for enclosures A & B

 

October 29, 1932, Normandie was launched at Saint-Nazaire, under the chairmanship of Mr. Albert Lebrun, President of the French Republic, Madame Lebrun having accepted to be the godmother of the ship.

 

Paquebot Normandie
Photo Keystone

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On entering the waters of the Loire, the steamer lifted a large wave that broke over a part of the public who had unwisely positioned itself too close to the shore… 

 

Paquebot Normandie
Photo card - The imprudent crowd...

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After passing through the Forme Joubert, the liner was moored at the fitting-out quay (Quay where a ship is equipped with all the necessary equipment to put out to sea).

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L'Illustration from November 5, 1932

 

View the article about the launch

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November 1932, the construction work of the liner continued afloat. Initially planned for the spring of 1934, the maiden voyage was postponed for one year. Indeed, on January 4, 1933 the liner L'Atlantique from the Compagnie Sud-Atlantique was on fire...

 

Photo - L'Atlantique after the fire

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Following lessons from what the Compagnie Sud-Atlantique’s liner had just underwent, everything was done to ensure that Normandie would be, on the day it will put into service, a ship effectively protected from fire. 

 

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Normandie - Accommodation plan (from the yards)

 

View the part 1 : longitudinal cut, Sun Deck, Boat Deck, Promenade Deck, Main Deck

View the part 2 : A, B, C, D, E, F, G Decks

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The plans of the ship was revised and a division into 4 vertical slices, by insulated metal partitions, was adopted for the liner. A central monitoring station would be connected to a detection system serving the entire liner and a team of sailors-firefighters would be responsible for ensuring safety and ensuring that the entire system would be permanently operational.

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In the summer of 1933, the propulsion apparatus was installed and mounted. At the end of November 1933, the rudder was installed.

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February 1934, Normandie was moved to the Forme Joubert. The cradle (a wooden or metal frame that supports a ship and slides with it during its launch) was disassembled and the submerged parts of the hull repainted. She went back to the fitting-out quay on February, 23.

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Paquebot Normandie
Postcard - Normandie as she will be... in 1935

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In the summer of 1934, 2 masts were installed; the forward mast was sited above and not in front of the bridge and this was an innovation.

Similarly, 3 funnels was set up. The third funnel was in fact a dummy and her role was purely aesthetic. It housed the ventilation systems for the turboalternators and the propulsion room, as well as the dining room rear air conditioning system, which allowed to clear the decks of any ventilation device. It also housed the dog kennel.

 

Diagram extracted from L'Illustration from June 1st, 1935

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Paquebot Normandie
Postcard - Normandie : finishing works

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In September 1934, the Company announced that Normandie would make her maiden voyage at the end of May 1935. The first boilers’ ship ignition took place in October 1934.

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ss Normandie
Leaflet from 1934

 

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1935

ss Normandie
Brochure-leaflet (with longitudinal section) from Maximilien Vox

 

View the brochure-leaflet

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ss Normandie
1st class accommodations brochure

 

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Descriptive booklet about 1st class accommodations

 

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Tourist class accommodations brochure

 

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Third class accommodations brochure

 

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On February 16, 1935, the shipyards’s workers demonstrated violently. They feared that the departure of the ship would result in massive layoffs and a long period of unemployment. On March 3, workers were on strike. To put an end to the movement, the shipyards granted exceptional higher wages on March 16, as well as a bonus linked to the end of construction.

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At the end of March, Normandie was again moved into the Forme Joubert. The interior finishes continued, and the hull received a final cleaning before being repainted. The three-bladed bronze propellers, which required extensive research, were installed.

 

Postcard - Normandie is moving to forme Joubert

 

Paquebot Normandie
Photo 1 - Normandie in forme Joubert

 

Paquebot Normandie
Photo 2 - Normandie in forme Joubert

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Paquebot Normandie
Photo 1 - Normandie at her fitting-out quay

 

Paquebot Normandie
Photo 2 - Normandie at her fitting-out quay

 

Paquebot Normandie
Photo 3 - Normandie at her fitting-out quay - Funnel number two

 

Paquebot Normandie
Photo 4 - Normandie at her fitting-out quay - Life rafts have been installed

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On May 5, 1935, Normandie, under the command of Captain René Pugnet and assistant Captain Pierre Thoreux, had her large bulwark. She left Saint-Nazaire at the end of the afternoon and carried out her sea trials...

 

Paquebot Normandie
Photo - Normandie going through forme Joubert

 

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Postcard n° 1 - Normandie leaving Saint-Nazaire

 

Photo - Normandie leaving Saint-Nazaire

 

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Postcard n° 2 - Normandie leaving Saint-Nazaire

 

She was accompanied by two torpedoes boats of the French National Navy: Adroit and Foudroyant. Works still remained to be done, shipped on board was workers from the shipyards, and also the staff from the Compagnie Générale Transatlantique and from the shipyards, as well as several journalists.

 

Photo taken from the Foudroyant on May 5

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Normandie reached the Base des îles Glénan where the performance measures will take place. On May 6 and 7, she performed a series of high-speed crossings and reached 32.125 knots without using her maximum power. On May 8, Normandie set the course for Brest. She crossed The Raz de Sein, a narrow passage between the continent and the île de Sein, where a bold maneuver by the Captain and the pilot demonstrated the very good stability of the ship. On the night of May 8 to 9, Normandie was at anchor in the port of Brest. On May 9, the ship sailed at 9:00 am for a series of speed tests. For 8 hours, the vessel was operating at full power and maintained at 30.99 knots. Consumption reflects performance: 50 tons of fuel oil per hour…

In summary, the results was excellent, the ship showed remarkable maneuvering qualities. However, at high speed, significant vibrations affected the after third of the vessel and impacted all three classes.

Menu - May 10 - Dinner

 

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Menu - May 11 - Lunch

 

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On May 11, 1935, at about 7:00 pm, the tests were completed and Normandie appeared in front of Le Havre where she received a triumphal welcome.

 

Postcard 1 - First arrival at Le Havre

 

Postcard 3 - First arrival at Le Havre

 

Postcard 3 - First arrival at Le Havre

 

Postcard 4 - First arrival at Le Havre

 

The liner docked at the Joannes-Couvert quay, in front of the new terminal, dominated by the 100 meters high tide gauge. The 600 meters long ferry terminal was equipped with a 320 meters long railway hall with improvements such as automatic sliding gates and escalators [The Gare Maritime would be destroyed in June 1944 by allied bombings. It would be rebuilt in 1952. Decommissioned in 1974 and abandoned, it was destroyed in 2009 and make way for a containers terminal...].

View the article from L'Illustration from June 8, 1932, about the new Gare Maritime

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May 1935 - French newspaper Excelsior - Issue devoted to Normandie

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Paquebot Normandie
Photo - May 1935 - Normandie is alongside at Le Havre

 

Postcard - Normandie at night at Le Havre

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From May 15 to 19, a strike by Transat crews jeopardized the opening ceremonies and the first departure for New York. For several weeks, a trial of strength was engaged between the Company and the unions about the status and tenure of the crews. It was fortunately settled by an arbitration of the Minister of the Merchant Navy which announced the tenure for 50% of the workforce.

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ss Normandie
Longitudinal section from Albert Sébille

 

View the longitudinal section

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ss Normandie
1935 medal (2,68 in)

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From May 23 to 29: opening ceremonies at Le Havre

 

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Inaugural programme for May 23 & 24

 

On May 23, President Albert Lebrun arrived in the late morning at Le Havre station by presidential train from Paris. Various obligations awaited him: wreath at the dead monument, visits, banquet at the city hall, inaugurations in the port area, including the new passenger terminal. At 6 pm, the President, his wife and their suite arrived at the ship’s gangway. They visited the ship. Normandie was now unanimously approved in terms of technology and decoration.

One thousand guests attended the inaugural dinner.

 

ss Normandie
Table seating plan for inaugural Dinner

 

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After dinner, the party continued in the lounges where another one thousand guests took place.

 

ss Normandie
programme for the party at the Grand Salon

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At the theater, the President and Mrs. Lebrun attended a play of Francis de Croisset: "Billet de loterie". The party ends for some guests in the early morning.

Several hundred guests would spend the night on board the ss Paris berthed behind Normandie.

 

Paquebot Paris
Postcard - ss Paris

 

Indeed the work was not completed on board Normandie and many of the cabins were not yet usable. The President and Mrs. Lebrun would spend the night in the apartment Caen, on board Normandie.

On May 24, before leaving the ship, the President visited the engine room. For lunch, the press was invited onboard, while in the evening, the dignitaries and notables from Le Havre, were received for a dinner and a variety show.

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ss Normandie
Programme for the Gala evening on board on May 25

 

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On May 25, Normandie received her first paying hosts: a Gala evening was provided for the benefit des œuvres de la mer et des fonds de chômage. The Tout-Paris [Parisian high society] was there.

 

ss Normandie
Programme at the Theater

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On May 27, the chapel was consecrated by Monseigneur André du Bois de la Villerabel, archbishop of Rouen. The ceremony was followed by the first mass on board, celebrated by Abbé Tardi.

 

ss Normandie
Invitation for the blessing of the chapel

 

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L'Illustration from June 1st, 1935

 

View the article about the opening ceremonies

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Postcard - Normandie at the gare maritime

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On May 29, French and European travel agents were received on board for a lunch. But this day was also the first departure to New York, with 1216 passengers on board including 830 in first class, 308 in tourist class and 123 in third class, mainly workers from the shipyards, embarked for latest finishes. A huge crowd came and watched the Normandie. The liner left the Joannes-Couvert quay at 6:25pm. The cheers came from all sides, and all the ships in port was making their whistles and sirens worked. Mrs. Albert Lebrun and William Bertrand, the Minister of Merchant Navy, were on board.

 

Paquebot Normandie
Postcard 1 - Normandie leaving Le Havre

 

Paquebot Normandie
Postcard 2 - Normandie leaving Le Havre

 

Paquebot Normandie
Postcard 3 - Normandie leaving Le Havre

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paquebot Normandie
Voyage No. 1 from Mai 29 to June 3 - Commemorative envelope No. 1

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Paquebot Normandie
Voyage No. 1 from Mai 29 to June 3 - Commemorative envelope No. 2

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Paquebot Normandie
Voyage No. 1 from Mai 29 to June 3 - Commemorative Card No. 1

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Paquebot Normandie
Voyage No. 1 from Mai 29 to June 3 - Commemorative Card No. 2

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The Channel was crossed at the average speed of 26.67 knots. At 11:15 pm Normandie presented itself to the pilot boat at Southampton; she did not go to dock. Embarkation and disembarkation were carried out by tender. Despite the late hour, the British authorities were received on board. Normandie sailed at approximately 3:07 am.

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 On May 30, at 10 am, the liner went around Bishop Rock, the landmark from which the distance chosen for the Blue Ribbon record was measured [Award created by the transatlantic shipping Companies in the 19th century, which was the occasion for rivalry and emulation between the main shipping Companies. Only the transatlantic route between Western Europe and North America was concerned. It was awarded for the first time in April 1838, In New York, on the occasion of the first crossing made by a ship entirely powered by steam: the ss Sirius, a wooden liner of the St George Steam Packet Company, which took 15 days to cross the Atlantic… The last liner to win the Blue Ribbon was the American liner ss United States on her maiden voyage in July 1952, at the speed of 35,59 knots (65,91 km/h)].

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On May 31, Engineering Incident: The failure of a condenser tube, The starboard central alternator was shut down for 24 hours, but with no significant impact on the vessel’s speed.

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ss Normandie
Ingenious pocket plan (19,5 x 12,5 cm) that allowed to the 1st class passengers to orient themselves inside the boat

 

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On June 3, at 5 am Normandie doubled the Nantucket fire boat. At 11:03 am she passed Ambrose, which marks the other selected landmark for the Blue Ribbon record. The 2971 miles travelled between the two landmarks were in 4 days 3 hours and 2 minutes, an average speed of 29.94 knots. The record was broken. It was, since August 1933, held by the liner Rex from Italian line, which had completed the crossing, from Gibraltar to Ambrose, at 28.92 knots of average speed. Normandie was awarded the Blue Ribbon, which was immediately raised at the head of the mast, 30 meters of night blue stamina, one meter for each knot. Normandie sailed up the Hudson, greeted by the fire-boats and escorted by a multitude of boats, planes and airships. At 3:30 pm she reached Pier 88, 48th Street. She berths after some delicate maneuvers, and the machines were stopped at 15:45 pm under the acclamations of an immense and enthusiastic crowd, with the accents of the French hymn La Marseillaise. The same evening a gala dinner was given at the Hotel Waldorf Astoria by Mr. La Guardia, Mayor of New York, in honor of the French officials.

 

Photo - Normandie maiden arrival in New York

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On June 4, the liner was visited by thousands of Americans.

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On June 5 and 6, receptions on board in honor of the American official personalities.

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Normandie sailed from Pier 88 on June 7, at 1:15 pm, bound to Le Havre.

 

ss Normandie
American medal for the commemoration of the 1st voyage (1,18 in)

 

ss Normandie
Postcard - Normandie leaving New York

 

Voyage n° 1 from June 7 to 12 - Commemorative envelope

 

A new record was set, with a distance slightly greater than the one-way distance (3015 miles), Normandie made the crossing in 4 days, 3 hours and 28 minutes, an average speed of 30.31 knots. On call at Plymouth on June 12th, at about 4:00 am. At the end of the morning, the liner sailed to Le Havre, where a huge crowd came to cheer the winner of the Atlantic.

 

Paquebot Normandie
Normandie at Le Havre, after her eastbound inaugural voyage. The hull painting was attacked by the Atlantic Ocean...

 

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L'Illustration from June 8, 1935 - Short article about the first arrival to New York

 

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From June 15 to 20, second transatlantic Le Havre - New York, with return from 22 to 27.

 

ss Normandie
Souvenir card for the crossing from June 15 to 20

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Postcard - Normandie at Le Havre

 

Postcard : Normandie leaving Le Havre

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L'Atlantique (daily newspaper) from July 12, 1935

 

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ss Normandie
Postcard - Normandie at sea

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On July 19, 1935, Normandie sailed for a cruise to England with 1500 passengers on board. On July 20, Normandie was anchored in the Solent, in front of Cowes (Isle of Wight). A large reception was given on board. The English official delegation was headed by Lord Walter Runciman, Chairman of the Board of Trade, a leading expert in maritime affairs and one of the key players in the plan of fusion between the Cunard and the White star which allowed, early 1934, the resumption of work on the RMS Queen Mary site. Captain Pierre Thoreux showed him the ship from top to bottom. Leaving the liner, Lord Runciman had these words: “Captain, you have here a magnificent ship but it is so far ahead of its time that I wonder if my compatriots will appreciate it properly…” .

ss Normandie
Cruise from July 19 to 22, 1935 leaflet

 

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On July 22, Normandie resumed its transatlantic service.

 

ss Normandie
Photo 1 - Normandie leaving Le Havre for one of her transatlantic crossings

 

ss Normandie
Photo 2 - Normandie leaving Le Havre for one of her transatlantic crossings

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In August, an electromagnetic obstacle detector (the radar ancestor) was provided. Normandie was the first liner to be equipped with it.

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From October 2 to 7, eighth transatlantic Le Havre - New York, with return from 9 to 14.

 

ss Normandie
Souvenir card for the crossing from October 2 to 7

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On October 28, Normandie completed her 9th voyage. The liner was laid-up and entered dry dock at Le Havre to undergo work. The transformation work involved modifying the propeller ailerons and replacing the original 3 blades propellers with 4 blades propellers, in order to remedy the vibrations which particularly affect the passengers of the tourist and 3rd class. Multiple structural reinforcements were put in place inside the vessel, mainly in the vessel’s quarterback, to limit the propagation of vibration phenomena. The vessel’s gross tonnage increased from 79280 to 83423 tons.

On this occasion, interior renovations were carried out. While Normandie was far superior in her 1st class facilities compared to the Queen Mary, it was not the same for the tourist and the 3rd class facilities. The 3rd class was only secondary for Normandie, but this was not the case for the tourist class which constituted an essential market to the economic success of the ship.

The most important and most visible modification was the construction of a new tourist lounge on the site of the large terrace that extended the Grill; terrace shared by the 1st and the tourist class.

On the site of the former tourist lounge, 16 tourist cabins were created on the Main Deck, and four first cabins on the Promenade Deck. A small chapel, in place of the bridge lounge and a synagogue, were also built for the tourist class. In the huge 1st class dining room, six of the twelve pots à feu designed by René Lalique were removed and leaved room for 17 additional tables. The balconies of the 24 cabins balconies (1st class) were equipped with insulating glass and radiators. Outside, the bridge wings were extended to improve forward visibility during maneuvers. On the Sun Deck, between the first and second funnel, was installed a long covered bench that cut the space in half, and the space between the second and third funnel was enlarged to install a tennis court with regulatory dimensions! The illuminated name boards Normandie were removed, their cables and bulbs attacked by the sea air making them cracked up continuously.

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1936

New sea trials from April 28 to 30. Once doubled the Île d'Ouessant, the Captain Pugnet gave the order to climb in speed. The 30 knots were reached, the vibrations were gone.

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ss Normandie
Cabin class deck plans - April, 1936

 

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On May 5, Normandie was at Le Havre, on the eve of its 10th voyage. Descended for a check on the status of the propellers, a diver noticed the disappearance of the propeller on the central port side; there were now only 3 propellers… Cancelling the next day’s voyage would be disastrous in terms of communication, especially since the ship was almost complete. Normandie was entering dry dock. In the absence of a replacement 4 blades propeller before departure to New York, the vessel was equipped with two 3 blades propellers, an older model, at the central shafts and two 4 blades propellers at the side shafts. The technical teams were working tirelessly to ensure that the next day the ship could returned at sea.

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On May 6, Normandie, according to its schedule, resumed her service to New York. After the Southampton stop, at full speed the vibrations reappeared almost as intense as before. The evidence was that they came from the 3 blades propellers, but the passengers were furious.

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ss Normandie
Postcard - Normandie is coming to New York

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Back to Le Havre, Normandie returned to dry dock. The four tail shafts were fitted with new 4 blades propellers. For the May 20, departure everything was in order.

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ss Normandie
Photo - Normandie featuring the Blue Ribbon

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From May 27 to June 1, the inaugural crossing of the English liner Queen Mary took place. Technical problems with the turbines did not allow her to seize the Blue Ribbon. As Normandie, the ship vibrates at high speed and, as Normandie, Queen Mary will undergo some modifications (new propellers and reinforcement of the structures at the stern) during the 1936 - 1937 winter.

 

rms Queen Mary
Queen Mary Maiden voyage envelope

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Ocean liners Normandie (in 1935 version) & Queen Mary - Postcard

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On June 22, Normandie was on call at Southampton. A small Royal Air Force float plane flew over the ship at a very low altitude. Since the pilot did not take into account the turbulences caused by the hot gases escaping from the funnels, he lost control of his aircraft, which crashed on the bow of the vessel. Fortunately, only a little railing was twisted, the pilot of the plane being not even wounded.

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Program - Soirée de Gala from July 22, 1936 - Berthed at Le Havre

 

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From August 19 to 23, the Queen Mary made her fourth voyage and made the crossing between Bishop and Ambrose at an average speed of 30.14 knots. On the way back, the Cunard’s liner powered up the Blue Ribbon to Normandie by making the journey at the speed of 30.63 knots.

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On July 28, Captain Pierre Thoreux succeeded to Captain René Pugnet.

 

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Postcard with Captain Pierre Thoreux autograph. The Postcard shows the Normandie before the winter 1935-1936 works

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At the end of October 1936, the Queen Mary suffered her first great storm. Unlike Normandie, the ship was unstable and developed a rolling motion. In addition, since the designers did not see fit to install a system of fasteners for furniture or handrails in passageways, the storm caused extensive damages on board. [In 1937, during an eventful crossing on board the Queen Mary, the American writer Paul Gallico would have the idea to write a novel from which a movie would be base on : «The Poseidon Adventure»]. This design weakness was not corrected until 1958, when stabilizers were introduced. Despite this, the ship will be an economic success and will end its career in 1967, purchased by the town of Long Beach, California, where it is still docked.

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During the winter of 1936 - 1937, the technical shutdown was used to improved the boilers, which resulted in a significant increase in the available power margin, and equipped the vessel with new 4 bronze blades propellers, with better propelling performance.

 

ss Normandie
Normandie coming in the dry dock, at Le Havre. The ss "Paris" is on her left

 

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1937

ss Normandie
Tourist class deck plans - January, 1937

 

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During her return journey, from 18 to 23 March, Normandie made the Ambrose-Bishop journey in 4 days and 6 minutes, at the average speed of 30.99 knots, beating the Queen Mary record and took back the Blue Ribbon.

 

ss Normandie
Voyage n° 25, from March 18 to 23, 1937 - Blue Ribbon Gala Dinner

 

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Postcard - Normandie featuring again the Blue Ribbon

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Normandie - Book edited by Compagnie Générale Transatlantique (English language)

 

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From July 29 to August 1, Normandie made the Bishop-Ambrose course in 3 days 23 hours and 02 minutes at the average speed of 30.58 knots beating the Queen Mary record in Europe United-States direction. For the first time, a liner crossed the Atlantic in less than 4 days in the east-west direction, which was the least favourable.

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From August 4 to 8, the return between Ambrose and Bishop was made by Normandie in 3 days 22 hours and 07 minutes, at an average speed of 31.20 knots, thus improving her previous record. On the last day of the crossing the average power developed rises to 195850 hp with a speed peak at 32.70 knots (60.56 km/h).

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On August 9, at Le Havre, a diver inspected the propellers found that the propellers had suffered erosions and deformations at the ends. Nevertheless, the following trips were normal. The first incident occurred on September 1st, after the departure from New York. The starboard side propeller was distorted. The speed of rotation of that propeller was reduced and the journey continued normally.

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On September 6, at Southampton, a new incident occurred. The centre port propeller was missing. She left with the cone of the propeller shaft on which she was hooking up. The departure from Le Havre scheduled for 8 September, could not be postponed, it was agreed that Normandie would make its next round trip with only three propellers, which he would do without difficulty, at a speed of about 27 knot.

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1938

During the technical stop in January, the terraces of the luxury apartments Deauville and Trouville were covered in preparation for the Rio cruise.

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On January 29, 43rd departure to New York where the liner arrived on February 3. Departure from New York on the 5th, bound to Rio de Janeiro. Her first cruise in the South Seas. That cruise, in association with Raymond Whitcom, one of the most important American travel agencies, aroused an exceptional enthusiasm in the United-States and this despite very high prices. The number of passengers was limited to 1000, which corresponded to all cabins in the Cabin class - former 1st class - and the best cabins of the tourist class. The planned stopovers were: Nassau (Bahamas), Port of Spain (Trinidad), Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), Fort de France (Martinique) and return to New York.

 

ss Normandie
Normandie - Cruise to Rio - Passenger list

 

The stopover at Rio was marked by very brilliant receptions. The vessel was opened to visitors who must hold an invitation card. The number of visitors was set at 1000 per day, for security reasons and did not disturbed passengers on board. On the first evening more than 2000 visitors were recorded… On the second day several thousand people were waiting to visit the ship. The Captain was furious, asking for explanations at the Company’s local agent who was surprised too… After investigation it was found that a traffic of invitation cards was operated ashore, invitation cards however printed with a fault «Compagnie trasatlantique» (in place of «Compagnie Transatlantique»)... The stopover at Rio will have been a great success despite the bad weather.

At Fort de France, Normandie was greeted by an immense and enthusiastic crowd. While the passengers were ashore, a great banquet was offered to the Martinique’s and Guadeloupe’s elected and personalities. Normandie left Fort de France just before 8 pm and went along the coasts of Guadeloupe, her three funnels illuminated. The ship was acclaimed from a far by the population which had moved in numbers.

 

ss Normandie
Postcard - Normandie is coming back to Le Havre

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ss Normandie
Leaflet - Sailings to and from England - France - March 10, 1938

 

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From April 7 to 26, during the technical stop at Le Havre, Normandie received a new set of propellers.

 

ss Normandie
Normandie in dry dock 7 at Le Havre - Photo from April 8, 1938

 

ss Normandie
Postcard - Normandie leaving the dry dock 7

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ss Normandie
Third class deck plans - May, 1938

 

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Lunch from May 23, 1938

 

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From July 6 to 11, one-way trip, and from July 13 to 18, return trip. Normandie celebrated hers 100th crossing. She travelled over 330,000 miles at an average speed of 28.72 knots, carried over 100,000 passengers, and welcomed over 650,000 visitors.

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From 10 to 14 August, Queen Mary travelled between Ambrose and Bishop at an average speed of 31.69 knots. The English liner definitively awarded itself the Blue Ribbon which she would keep until the entry into service of the American liner United States, in 1952.

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On September 27, the RMS Queen Elizabeth was launched on the Clyde (Scotland).

 

rms Queen Elizabeth
Commemorative envelope - Queen Elizabeth launching

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Autumn 1938, the Compagnie Générale Transatlantique, supported by her supervisory ministry, was thinking about a new project for a giant liner which could bear the name of Bretagne, but it was unknown whether this new liner would be a development of Normandie or if it would be totally new.

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On December 3, the departure from Le Havre to New York was cancelled due to a strike by the sailors.

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1939

From February 4 to 28, the second cruise to Rio de Janeiro was as successful as the one in 1938.

 

Envelope dated February 4, 1939 - Departure from Rio Cruise

 

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Spring 1939 despite the threat of international conflict, Normandie continued her normal exploitation.

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In April, Normandie was in dry dock at Le Havre for her annual maintenance. Lifeboats are repainted in bright colours to be visible in the event of a marine disaster [the war threatens]. There were threats of attack to the liner, whose security was strengthened during his stay at Le Havre.

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On April 18, the ss Paris then docked at Le Havre, was on fire. The fire department took control of the disaster, but on 19, the liner capsized… so preventing Normandie from getting out of the refit basin.

 

ss Paris
Postcard - ss Paris on fire on April 19, 1939

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The mast of the Paris was cut out so that Normandie could reach her quay for her departure on April 26. Because of the war, the shell of the Paris would remain in the same place for many years. She would not be scrapped until the late 1940s.

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Match (French magazine, actually Paris-Match) from April 20, 1939

View the 13 pages article (lot of illustrations)

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ss Normandie
Cabin class passenger list - April 26, 1939 - Le Havre - Southampton - Plymouth - New York

 

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The Captain Pierre Thoreux left the command of Normandie on May 8, 1939 at the arrival of voyage no. 62. He was replaced by Captain Etienne Payen de la Garanderie, Captain of the ss Ile de France.

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ss Normandie
Voyage n° 69, from August 9 to 14, 1939 - 5 menus from the crossing

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On August 16, Normandie, according to his schedule, made her return crossing to Le Havre. It would be her last departure from New York.

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On August 23, the German-Soviet pact was signed, and on the same day, at 2 pm, Normandie left his home port for his 70th voyage. 1417 passengers were on board, the majority of whom were Americans rushing back to the United-States in the threat of an imminent outbreak of hostilities. The liner crossed the Atlantic Ocean for the last time. France would not see it again. On 24, Normandie overtook the liner Bremen from the Norddeutscher Lloyd and docked at Pier 88, in New York, on August 28, at 10:15 am.

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New York (1939)

On August 30, 1939, Normandie was ready for her journey to Le Havre. Only 350 passengers were expected on board. Captain Payen de la Garanderie received an order from the Transat’s head office for postponed the departure.

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On September 1, Germany invaded Poland, and on September 3, France and Great Britain declared war on Germany.

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On September 4, for the first time Normandie and Queen Mary were together, side by side, in New York. Normandie at Pier 88 and Queen Mary at Pier 90.

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On September 6, the decision was made to keep the liner in New York for security reasons and to disarmed it. There was on board, 1327 crew members in any categories.

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On September 8, a first contingent of 650 men was landed and repatriated by the French liner De Grasse via Halifax. Then, a second contingent of 165 men landed on September 11. They were repatriated by the French liner Champlain. And finally, on October 21, a third and final contingent of just under 400 men landed. Normandie retained only 113 men and maintained her in good working order and good maintenance.

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At the end of October, the Navy was worried about the potential risks with Normandie and Queen Mary set up the safety of the basin occupied by the two giants. The Navy had Hudson’s side fitted with a powerless searchlight at the end of Piers 88 and 90. On the city side, access was guarded and monitored by American sailors. A starship patrolled continuously in the waters of the basin, between the two liners whose captains were instructed to keep the watertight doors closed.

At the autumn of 1939, the CGT questioned on the validity to keep Normandie in New York for reasons of security as well as for the costs induced by the immobilization of the liner at Pier 88 whose royalties exceed 50,000 dollars quarterly...

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1940

In the morning of March 7, the Queen Elizabeth painted in the grey of warships entered New York. The Cunard Liner ran along the stern of the Normandie and docked at pier 90 North. Winston Churchill feared a bombing of the shipyards by the German air force, the ship had left the John Brown shipyards on March 2. It was an unfinished ship that crossed the Atlantic and took refuge in the United-States.

 

ss Normandie
Postcard - Ocean Liners Normandie, Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth together in New York

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On March 21, Queen Mary left New York. The Queen Elizabeth took its place at Pier 90. She would remain there until November.

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1941

On January 11, Captain François Le Bez was relieved by Captain Hervé Le Huédé.

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In April, a press campaign implicated the crew of Normandie and suspected it of preparing the sabotage of the ship.

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On May 15, in order to protect the vessel from a sabotage from outside or inside, about 100 Coast Guards men occupied the vessel. On May 16, an additional detachment of 8 officers and 105 men occupied the liner. The Coast Guards were, in theory, responsible for ensuring safety but had no knowledge with the ship’s facilities. Many technical incidents happened, which the French must remedy.

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On December 8, the United-States declared war to Germany and Japan after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour the day before. On the same day, it was announced to Captain Le Huédé that Normandie should welcome an additional contingent of 940 Coast Guards at the expense of the Compagnie Générale Transatlantique…

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On December 12, all French vessels stationed in U.S. ports were seized. Their crews were disembarked and replaced by Americans. On board Normandie, the order of seizure was signed at 1pm. Navy sailors were stationed in the various stations. Captain Le Huédé tried to negotiate the maintenance of a core of French sailors which he considered essential for the safety of the ship. He only obtained from Washington authorities that 11 men remained on board. The rest of the crew disembarked at 16:00 pm.

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On December 15, the difficulties accumulated. Drinking water distribution was interrupted, all light circuits cracked up and the only electrical circuit that remained in service was the emergency one. On December 16, the United States confirmed the takeover. Normandie became officially American.

The official requisition order was posted on the bridge. The document showed compensation to the owner. The French who had been allowed to remain on board since December 12, left the liner. The officers were housed in a nearby hotel to continue their mission of assistance with the American staff. The Compagnie Générale Transatlantique attempted to propose a temporary sale of Normandie to the United States with guarantee of restitution at the end of the conflict or with compensation in tonnage in the event of destruction.

This simple seizure of the ship would lead to a long and complex dispute that would not be settled until 1946.

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An increasingly important disorder reigns onboard Normandie. No one knowed who had the operational responsibility. The Coast Guards had taken possession of her, but in the first days the liner remains under the supervision of the Maritime Commission...

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On December 18, contradictory inventories were started by Marine Commission representatives and members of the ship’s staff, assisted by agents of the Transat at New York.

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On December 23, the conversion contract was awarded to Robbins Dry Dock and Repair Company, a specializing company in ship processing. The contract stipulates that Normandie must returned at sea in operational condition on January 31, 1942, after having passed in dry dock, having received her military equipment and bunkering. As no New York shipyard was able to accommodate a ship with the size of Normandie it was decided that the work would take place at Pier 88 which would become, for a few weeks, technically and legally an extension of the shipyard.

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The day after the contract signing, the employees of Robbins Dry Dock and Repair Company and employees of subcontracting companies invested Normandie. More than 2400 people, two thirds of whom belong to the main contractor, would be divided into three teams that would work in 3-8, in the light of powerful projectors.

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The removal of the furniture and the decors dismantling would be done in a serious and meticulous manner by the Americans as well as President Roosevelt expressed the desire that the ship was restored and returned to France after the conflict. The ship was estimated at $60 million. Everything on board would be inventoried and transported to five warehouses in Manhattan after being carefully packed.
Only a very small part of the premises would retain her vocation and her original decor: the theatre, the chapel and the luxury apartments Deauville and Trouville so that
Normandie could continue to welcome VIPs.

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On December 24, the vessel was officially transferred to the Navy, which listed it as a troop transport. It should be able to transport 15,000 men.

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1942

A grey camouflage paint was applied on the hull from the beginning of January. The letters Normandie in gilded bronze located at the bow and the stern of the liner were disassembled. On January 1st, Normandie was renamed USS Lafayette.

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For a moment, it was considered to transform the ship into an aircraft carrier. But on January 9, the decision was taken by the Navy to convert the liner into a troop transport, as were the liners Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth.

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On January 23, the inventories were continued and completed. Some ship’s French officers were still summoned on board and consulted for advice by the American authorities.

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The extremely strict security during the entire period of occupation of Normandie by the Coast Guards would be directly and dramatically affected by the conversion program. The access to the ship, authorized every day for thousands of people, had literally became free. There were not many control and the ship was at the mercy of an accident or sabotage. Over the course of the days, fire-fighting systems had become inactive for many reasons, the systems for connecting the shipboard fire hoses would be brought up to the American standard and this work took time.

Another problem, at low tide, Normandie had a slight but almost permanent list on the port side. To this problem, it should be added the very large quantity of equipment on board in an anarchic manner and without any concern for load distribution, and above all, oil tanks, such as water ballasts, were almost empty and would remain so while the filled water ballasts would have largely helped to restore the stability of the liner.

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January was passing; it became certain that the date of the 31st would not be held and Normandie would not quickly resumed at sea. Too little preparation of the crew, the chaotic organization of the conversion yard, the prolonged discussions between the Army and the Navy that contributed to delaying the operation, everything contributed to that at the end of January the programme authorities requested and obtained a deadline from the Bureau of Ships which acted as project owner.

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The new schedule included a departure from New York on February 14, then a dry docking in Boston between February 15 and 22, and a return to New York on February 23, so that the ship would receive its last military equipment and its refueling. The first departure of the USS Lafayette should take place on February 25, 1942.

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1942 - 1947

The end

On February 9, more than 3,000 people worked on board. The bulk of the force consists of Robbins Dry Dock and Repair Company crews and subcontractors, plus 450 naval officers and men. These were the core of the liner crew, which should sail in only 5 days. Finally, there were a little over 280 Coast Guards who still made up the bulk of the machine force, all of whom report to different authorities, with no coordination in command....

Among the many projects planned for this day, at least one could be considered as a non-urgent and even minor operation. The aim was to remove from the four corners of the large first class Grand Salon the structures which were used to support the crystal luminaires created by Les Établissements Labouret. From these fixtures, only metallic columns about 4 meters high remained, the base of which had to be preserved as it houses air shafts.

At the beginning of the morning, a team of about ten men, including those responsible for monitoring the risk of fire and cleaning, was appointed for this work. Many of Robins' men had very limited experience in their new professions. By joining the Grand Salon, which had retained of its splendor only a grand piano, the group discovered that it could not be alone to work there. Another team installed linoleum in the entire room of nearly 700 square meters. To glue the linoleum in good conditions a powerful pulsed air heating system has been installed and thousands of kapok life jackets which for a few days have been stored in the Grand Salon had to be moved in permanently… 12,000 jackets packed in just over 1,100 packages. The material was highly flammable and the wrapping paper used was everything but protection.

After the dismantling of the first three structures without major difficulty, work resumed early in the afternoon on the last structure located in the port rear corner of the lounge. At 2:37 pm when the operation of desoldering the column at its base to bend it came to an end, someone noticed a tiny flame. The fire caught in a bundle of lifejackets, due to a spark projection or perhaps because the crewman held the shield lifted it a little too early….

The spread of fire was immediate in an instant several packs of life jackets burnt. Men reacted instantly but in a disorderly and dramatically ineffective manner. The use of a fire extinguisher or fire hoses action was unsuccessful as there was no pressure in the fire manifolds.

A thick smoke invaded the premises and chased out the occupants. The order to evacuate was given by speakers. At 14:49 pm, the firemen were called from a post at Pier 88. They arrived three minutes later but their progress towards the ship was complicated, the flow of men leaving the ship being important.

At this point the fire began to spread towards the Smoking Room and the staircase leading to the Grill. In the Grand Salon where the fire started, the large windows began to break. The fire fueled by the strong northwesterly wind spreads over the Promenade Deck, an ideal propagation ground, where more than 2,000 canvas bunks were stored…

The engine crew was worried that the boilers were gradually being filled with smoke from the ventilation systems, and thought they were being affected by the evacuation order, unaware, for example that a circuit breaker protected the machines from the risk of smoke flooding.

This premature abandonment by a team that knew too little about the ship was one of the essential moments of this tragedy. The pressure in the boilers would begin to drop less than 30 minutes after abandoning the engine room.

Soon there was no electricity on board, no driving force to operate the pumps whose action would have made possible to fill the water ballasts, no more ventilation, no more pressure to return the shipboard fire hoses to service, and no more pressure to operate the Horowitz compressed air ejectors that were used to drain water.

Firefighters worked in terrible conditions, in darkness and smoke. The liner burnt without any of its powerful firefighting capabilities.

Just before 15:00 pm, a first fire boat arrived at Pier 88 and began dumping very large quantities of water on the upper parts of the liner, only the port side of which was accessible.
The latter was soon joined by four other fire boats. These are tons of water that was poured on the superstructures and then t
he list was 10 degrees to port.

 

ss Normandie
Fire boats in action - Press photo

 

The water was progressively accumulated on top of the ship, freezes and practically did not discharged. All this soon contributed to the fact that Normandie, already stranded in the sand and in the mud, developed an increasingly marked list on the port side. At 16:45 pm, the ship was already listing 10 to 15 degrees. At about 18:00 pm, the fire was under control, but the time of full sea was approaching. Normandie rose and the list reached 15 degrees.

The fire boats alone probably dumped more than 10000 tons of water on the liner, all on the port side.
Most of that water had not been evacuated and 6000 tons would probably stagnant in the highs, the other parts of the liner not being impacted.
In the evening it became possible to inspect the ship and even to photograph the interior.
On Main Deck, on the port side, the former luxury apartments and cabins were filled with water.
Above, on Promenade Deck the large premises appear devastated. Only the theatre whose fire doors had been closed proved to be intact. In the Grand Salon all kinds of debris litter the ground. At the front, the Bridge and navigation instruments suffered. The bar remained in place, but it still bore the marks of the fire. Despite the devastation caused by the fire, the damage appeared relatively superficial. The steel structure had resisted heat and deformations inside and outside remained limited. The refurbishment would justify the ship being handed over to a shipyard, but it would not be a problem.

But the tide was coming down. During the evening, the ship was in very unstable equilibrium silt again arises. The tide continued to drop, further weakening the vessel’s position. The current moved up the Hudson was pressing to starboard and inexorably, the list began to increase again. At midnight it exceeded 25 degrees. Soon after the whole area was forbidden to photographers.
On February 10, at 0:30 am, the order to abandon the ship was given. At 02:15 am the list, greater than 40 degrees. On board, everything that was not secured starts to slip and came crashing against the walls.
At 2:37 am
Normandie capsized slowly 80 degrees to port in the icy water separating Pier 88 and Pier 90.

The American public reactions would be extremely strong, especially since rumors of sabotage would very quickly disappear behind the confirmation that negligence and negligence were at the root of the loss of the ship.
Right after the capsizing, the Navy was talking about a raising. A committee of experts appointed by President Roosevelt would propose not only to attempt to refloat the ship but also to consider military use after the rescue. These recommendations would be accepted by the U.S. government on May 21.

The raising work was entrusted to Merritt-Chapman & Scoot, a large New York rescue company. It began on February 21, with the demolition of the upper part of the superstructures: the Promenade Deck, the Boat Deck and the Sundeck. The funnels disappeared first. 

 

ss Normandie
French newspaper 7 Jours from February 22, 1942 - Article about the fire of Normandie

View the article - The photo used shows the Dining Room and not the Grand Salon, where the fire really started...

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During this work, the fire took again in the shipwreck on March 18, and required the firefighter’s intervention.
By the end of March most of the demolition work was completed.
At the end of May, after the US government approved the recommendations of the expert panel, raising operations could begin.

The submerged area where many portholes and ports of loads remained open prior to capsizing would be watertight. This would require divers to work deep inside the ship, oriented themselves and travelled tens of meters without the least visibility despite powerful lighting. It would take more than a year of work before pumping operations could begin on August 4, 1943.

 

ss Normandie
Press photo - August 8, 1943 - Pumping operations

 

ss Normandie
Press photo - August 11, 1943 - Pumping operations

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The ship’s recovery was completed on September 15, 1943. On October 27, the shipwreck floated again. It was cleaned, cleared of the silt and the tons of debris there, the structures put in place for the refloating were dismantled.

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Envelope with 8 postcards (1995)

 

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The Pier departed on November 3, 1943. The convoy took the direction to Bayonne, in New Jersey, where the liner was to inaugurate a new refit basin, the first capable of receiving ships of this size in New York.

 

ss Normandie
November 3, 1943, departure to Bayonne - Associated Press wirephoto

 

The dry docking first revealed the extent of the hull damages. The condition of the machinery did not allow for any restoration. Putting the ship back to sea would require a completely new evaporator and propellant, which was a major difficulty.

In addition to the financial cost, it would take probably a year or two before the ship could simply return at sea and contribute to the war effort. The situation was no longer what it was in 1942; the American industrial apparatus was at full speed, including in shipbuilding where, alongside the liberty Ships, the shipyards were beginning to produce specialized troop transports. These were the reasons that would lead the Bureau of Ships to recommend stopping the shipwreck restoration.
On January 11, 1944, the immense hull was driven to Brooklyn to be moored to a Pier rented by the Todd shipyards: Columbia Street Pier.

In 1944 few men whose President Roosevelt was still trying to save the ship arguing that the long abandoned hull could be interested.
But on the eve of the landing on the beaches of Normandie, at a time when the human, financial and industrial resources of the country were mobilized to the maximum, these efforts remained in vain.
The shipwreck was towed again and moored for a while in New Jersey, then it returned to Columbia Street Pier.

On September 20, the shipwreck was delisted from the Navy’s list and declared "surplus". The scrap sale would take place the following year, on September 7, 1946, after France had confirmed that she would not take possession of the shipwreck. There were only 5 bids, the highest of which came from Lipsett Inc. a company managed by two brothers, for $161,680. The wreck was dismantled in Port Newark, New Jersey. Brooklyn’s final voyage to Port Newark took place on November 28, 1946. For this, 12 tugs went with the hull which bore the name of Lipsett painted in huge white letters on the sides of the ship. The demolition process began on January 7, 1947 with the front part and ended on October 6, 1947 with the discharged of a 75-tonne part having belonged to the boiler room No. 2 of the one who was the most beautiful liner at sea.

Thanks and sources

Thanks

My thanks to Philippe for his assistance and his superb website about the "Normandie" :

paquebot-normandie.net

Sources :

Normandie un chef d'oeuvre français - Frédéric Ollivier

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Normandie - John Maxtone-Graham

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

J'ai commandé Normandie - Commandant P. Thoreux

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Il y a cinquante ans Normandie

 

 

 

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Rédigé par Gérard

Publié dans #Collection

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