The SS Normandie Ocean Liner

MatthewA By MatthewA, 14th Sep 2015 | Follow this author | RSS Feed | Short URL
Posted in Wikinut>Guides>Transport>Boats, Ships & Ferries

A brief history of the SS Normandie Blue Riband ocean liner.

The SS Normandie Ocean Liner

The SS Normandie was a French ocean liner that sailed during the interwar period. French Line laid down the plans for a new super ship to rival Cunard's and White Star's ships and the new breed of German ocean liners such as the SS Bremen. Even during a period of economic decline, the chief players in the transatlantic shipping industry continued to design liners with ever larger scales.

The SS Normandie's blueprints were something of a revolution in naval architecture. French Line designed it with a hull that was more efficient than anything that preceded it. The ship had a slim hull with a clipper-like bow that gave it unprecedented hydrodynamics.

Aside from its innovative hull design, French Line also laid down other specifications for the ocean liner. They planned the ship to be 80,000 tons, which was larger than anything constructed before it. In addition, the SS Normandie was to reach up to 30 knots on the high seas. For that the ship's designers added steam turbo electric engines which turned four propellers.

Despite the crash of '29, construction of the SS Normandie still went ahead. In 1932, they slid the hull of the ship into the Loire River. Thereafter, the outfitting of the liner followed, with interiors, funnels and engines added to it. By 1935, the ship was set for its maiden voyage across the Atlantic.

When unveiled at the docks of Le Havre, it set a record for ocean liner scale. The liner weighed in at 79,280 tons, which eclipsed any ship built before it. It could transport about 1,972 people for transatlantic crossings.

During its maiden voyage, the Normandie reached America in record-breaking time. When it arrived, it clinched the Blue Riband for westbound crossings. On its return to France, the liner also wrestled the eastbound record from the Bremen as it reached up to 30 knots.

However, the Normandie was not entirely unmatched at sea. Cunard-White Star's Queen Mary was under construction in Clydebank, and was expected to eclipse the Normandie in size. To retain its record-breaking scale, French Line gave its liner a winter overhaul shortly before the Queen Mary sailed. They added an enclosed lounge at the aft boat deck, which increased the overall tonnage to 83,423 gross tons. This ensured that the Normandie remained the largest liner after the Queen Mary made its maiden voyage.

The liner continued transatlantic crossings until 1939. When war engulfed Europe, the liner was in New York. The United States interned the ship in harbor. When in harbor, it was joined by the Queen Elizabeth liner, which sailed in as the world's largest with a marginally greater tonnage than the Normandie.

After Pearl Harbor, the U.S. Navy added the Normandie to its fleets. They planned to convert it to a troop transport ship renamed as the Lafayette. However, in 1942 a spark ignited a fire aboard the ship. As the woodwork aboard the ocean liner had not been removed, the fires spread rapidly. As the fires blazed, the ship began to leak water and gradually capsized in the harbor.

After the fire, tugs towed the Normandie to Port Newark where French Line scrapped it. Undoubtedly, the Normandie was a great feat in naval architecture. Its scale, engines and sumptuous Art Deco interior decor made it the finest ocean liner of its time.


French Line, Normandie, Ocean Liners

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Matthew is the author of the book Battles of the Pacific War 1941 - 1945. You can find further details at

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