"Oh Normandie! Oh Ship of Light!"
The French Line's Normandie is widely regarded as one of the most beautiful ships ever. Built by the Penhoët Shipyards in Saint Nazaire, France and designed by Russian immigrant Vladimir Yourkevitch*, she attracted worldwide attention because she was first ship to ever exceed more than 1,000 feet in length and the first passenger liner over 81,000 tons. Even New York City had to build new docks to accomodate the superliners (Normandie, Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth).
The Normandie was intented to be a floating monument to the French. The top artists, muralists, etc. all were invited to showcase their work on board the Normandie. The doors leading into her dining room showcased historical structures in France, murals and painting surrounded the ship's public areas. It would not be and understatment to call the Normandie a floating showcase of the best of contemporary French art in the 1930s.
Following time trials, the Normandie made her maiden voyage on May 25, 1935, capturing the prestigous Blue Riband as well. Afterwards, the Normandie and the Queen Mary settling into a friendly rivalry of trying to caputre the Blue Riband.
Sadly, in the outbreak of World War II, the Normandie was doomed. Docked in New York at the time, the French Line ordered her to remain...idle for the next 2 years maintained by a ghost crew of a few men who lived on the ship and maintain the ship's advanced emergency systems which would be useless when they were most needed.
Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Normandie was immediately seized by the United States government. While she was idle, a small group of French Line workers maintained the ship and kept it in excellent condition, her fire control system, one of the best in the world at the time, was staffed 24/7. Unfortunately, the fire system, which most certainly would have saved the ship, was disregarded following the government takeover. Renamed the USS Layafette, she immediately began conversion to a troopship (Thankfully, most of her furnishings and artwork were put into storage). But on Februrary 9, 1942 a worker accidently set several life preserves full of highly flammable kapok and it quickly spread throughout the ship. But the next morning the fire department had dumped so much water on the ship that it capsized (In a incredibly stupid act on the part of the Navy, the designer, Vladimir Yourkevitch, asked to be able to board the ship to open the sea cocks so she float evenly to the bottom. He was rudely rejected with the words, "This is a Navy job!")
The disaster shook the citizens of New York City, (Many editorials were found critisizing the Navy and city for blundering the fire) and was a hard blow to the French when they heard what happened. Shortly after though, immediate efforts were made to salvage the Normandie, she was stripped down to the hull, and was finally raised in mid-1943, and then endured a year idle while politicans bickered about what do do with her. In the end, by the time a decision was made it was too late to use the Normandie for the war effort, and was shortly sent off to the scrapyards. A pathetic demise for one of the world's greatest ships. The German liner, Europa was given as compensation for the Normandie following the end of the war and renamed the Liberte, she promptly then sunk in Le Havre's harbor when a storm broke her moorings and she hit the hulk of the Paris. Yes, she later was repaired, the harbor was too shallow for her to completely sink, her superstructure remained above water.
- Owners: Compagnie Générale Transatlantique
- Launched: October 29, 1932
- Broken Up: October 3, 1946 to October 6, 1947
- Length Overall: 1029 feet
- Gross Registered Tonnage: 79,280 (83,423 after 1936)
- Powered By: Four Turbo-Electric Engines (160,000 hp total)
- The Normandie had one of the largest dining rooms ever seen on a ship, it was longer than the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles.
- The children's playroom was located in the forward funnel, and featured a Judy and Punch show.
- Much of her artwork was done by well known French artists.
* It is interesting to note that Yourkevitch's designs were rejeced by Cunard for its then unamed Queen Mary. Yet they snuck an industrial spy on board to find details for the Normandie's ingenious ventilation system. Details later used on the Queen Elizabeth. Hypocritical, no?