A Tough-to-Forget Launch for an Ocean Liner in France

October 29, 1932

The ocean liner SS Normandie was launched into the River Loire at Saint-Nazaire, France. At least 40,000 people – including French President Albert Lebrun and his wife Marguerite – were on hand for the event. Madame Lebrun was selected to christen the ship, and she performed the duty with the world’s largest bottle of champagne. 

As planned, the ship then slid down slipways that had been extended 328 feet (100 meters) underwater to accommodate the size of the vessel and greased with both 43 tons (39 metric tons) of soap and more than two tons (1.8 metric tons) of lard. The ship’s landing into the River Loire, however, displaced thousands of tons (metric tons) of water and resulted in a huge wave that swept about a hundred spectators off the banks of the river and into the water.  Fortunately, none of those spectators were seriously injured. 

Despite Normandie’s memorable public debut, it would be more than two-and-a-half years before she actually entered service as an ocean liner for the French shipping company Compagnie Générale Transatlantique. At the time of her maiden voyage across the Atlantic Ocean in the spring of 1935, Normandie was the world’s largest passenger ship afloat. In addition, she set records at several points during her service career for the fastest transatlantic crossings of a passenger ship. Normandie still holds the record as the most powerful steam turbo-electric-propelled passenger ship ever constructed. Normandie was further distinguished by her Art Deco design style and other trend-setting features on board. 

Normandie made a total of 139 westbound transatlantic crossings from her home port of Le Havre, France, to New York City. The ship was seized by the U.S. government in New York during World War II. She was subsequently transferred to the U.S. Navy and renamed USS Lafayette. While in the process of being converted into a troopship in 1942, the vessel caught fire and capsized onto her port side in the Hudson River. She was salvaged the following year, but ultimately scrapped in 1946.

For more information on SS Normandie (later renamed USS Lafayette), please check out https://www.thehistorypress.co.uk/articles/the-brief-but-glorious-career-of-ss-normandie/

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