SS Normandie

The SS Normandie, pride of France, sailed the oceans from 1935 until 1942. Many historians claim that the ship was the greatest and most elegant ocean liner ever. Sailing the transatlantic route during the mid-late 1930's, the SS Normandie competed against the SS Rex of Italy, RMS Queen Mary of Great Britain, and the SS Bremen and SS Europa of Germany.

Sailing during the golden age of ocean liners, the SS Normandie showcased the pinnacle of steam ship design, accommodations, and service. Using a hydrodynamic hull design, as well as a streamlined deck design, the ship contended for the Blue Riband throughout her career, capturing the prize multiple times.

As WWII broke out, the Normandie was claimed by the United States Navy in NYC and renamed the USS Lafayette. During a refitting to become a troop ship, the Normandie caught fire and capsized, another casualty of war.

SS Normandie steamship ocean liner

An Elegant and Sleek Ship

Although not as powerful as the competitors, the Normandie was quite fast. Capturing the Blue Riband on her maiden voyage, the ship showcased French elegance, design, and style throughout the 1930's.

On the exterior, the ship utilized new streamlined loading equipment on the bow that concealed itself during travel. This feature proved to not only be aerodynamic, but gave the appearance of a futuristic vessel.

 

Another aspect of the exterior sleek design are the hidden ventilation shafts. Most vessels have visible fresh air intakes along the base of the funnels.

 

These design cues created an un-cluttered ship with clean lines, and a wonder of the seas. 

A Unique and Futuristic Design

Designed as a superliner from the progress innovation an prosperity of the 1920s, the Normandie was like no ocean liner before. Designed with new technologies, such as a bulbous prow, and hydro-electric propulsion, this ship embodied French design and Russian ingenuity.

Designed by renowned naval architect Vladimir Yourkevitch, the ship was a blend of non-traditional ship design and French Art-Deco panache. 

Although sleeker and just as fast as her rivals, the Normandie suffered from too much emphasis on first class accommodations. The opulent interiors made for a ship of the wealthy and powerful. 

SS Normandie Interior Main Dining Hall Art Deco French
Tragedy at Pier 88

After the final voyage as a passenger liner, the Normandie was seized by the US Navy to be converted into a troop transport to help the allied forces during World War II. Renamed the SS Lafayette to commemorate Marquis de la Lafayette, the French general who fought with the American Continental Army, the ship underwent extensive modifications.

 

On February 9th, while all of the opulent interior accommodations were being removed for new spartan furnishings, a spark from a torch started a fire. Although the ship had a modern fire suppression system, it was deactivated during construction. Fire spread rapidly throughout the ship and was ultimately contained by surrounding port fire ships pouring tons of water in the process. Unfortunately, the ship would not survive the evening and by morning, rest peacefully on its side. A casualty of war without ever fighting, the Normandie was a ship passed before her time.

SS Normandie under construction at Saint Nazaire shipyards
A Ship Interior Like None Other

Utilizing several design tactics, the ship layout was unlike any other. The interior spaces were on a majestic scale. The main dining hall, longest room afloat at the time, highlights this with the incredible size due to the unique routing of the mechanical systems - split exhaust ducts staggered to the exterior hull allowing for open space to run between them. 

Designed in an art-deco theme throughout, the SS Normandie showcased opulence in a new fashion. Most of the ship was focused on first class, including the pool, winter garden, dining hall, and theater.

All over the ship, grand artwork adorned the walls and intricate lights, especially the two chandeliers in the main dining hall gave the ship the nickname "Ship of Light."

SS Normandie docked in New York City 1930s
Capsized SS Normandie 1942 Hudson River New York City
SS Normandie on fire Hudson River WWII refit troop transport

SS Normandie Ship Facts

 
Tonnage:
79,280 GRT
Length:
983'
Beam:
119' - 5"
Draft:
37'
Number of Decks:
12
Cruising Speed:
29 Knots (33 mph or 54 km/hr)
Max Speed:
32.2 Knots (37.1mph or 59.6km/h)
Line:
Shipyard:
Chantiers de Penhoët, Saint-Nazaire, France
Port of Registry:
Le Havre
Maiden Voyage:
May 29, 1935
Years in Service:
1935-1942
Current Status:
Capsized in New York City in 1942, scrapped in 1946

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