Millions of words have been written about the most magnificent ocean liner ever built and there are some excellent books and web sites covering the history of her short career, but here, in a unique pictorial sequence, is the story of her last years, from the fire in 1942 to her final destruction in 1947.
The Normandie commenced the return leg her 138th Atlantic voyage on the 16th August, 1939, sailing for Le Havre from New York and arriving back there on the 28th. Four days later war was declared.
By a strange quirk the Normandie's fate would be sealed by her awesome splendor. The liner had only ever averaged an occupancy rate of 48.68% during her career. The sheer magnificence of her interiors was just a bit too intimidating for the average trans-Atlantic passenger, who preferred the cozy Cotswold cottage atmosphere of the Queen Mary or the functional minimalism of the even more popular Bremen. Normandie's return voyage had been cancelled as there were too few passengers and she remained at New York's Pier 88. She was later joined by the Queen Mary and the new Queen Elizabeth and for a few months, the three largest liners in the world remained idle at their New York terminals. The British liners sailed for troop-carrying duties whilst the Normandie remained at her berth.
France surrendered in June, 1940, and the Normandie was seized by the United States Government in December, 1941, to convert her into a troopship. Her equipment and fittings were removed and sold and stripped of her glory, she was renamed Lafayette, painted Grey and prepared for sea.
What the Americans did not seem to realise however, was that the Normandie was not adaptable for war like the British liners. Sailing day neared and life jackets filled with an inflammable substance were piled high in the former First Class lounge; but there was a problem. It was Monday, 9th February, 1942, the time approximately 2.30 pm. The four stanchions built in to correct vibration had to be removed, One by one they were felled by oxy-acetylene cutter. After three had fallen the fourth was tackled with added zest and it was during this process that the life jackets caught fire. This would have been of little consequence as the liner was virtually fire-proof and had extensive fire fighting facilities. However, she was devoid of all essential electrical power. The fire raged on and the ship was evacuated, there being some casualties.
Zealous firemen swamped the Normandie with water from tugs alongside. This then froze as New York was experiencing Arctic conditions. It was all too much for her, the fire was extinguished but the ship turned on her side, settled on mud and half sank. Then a new fire started. Salvage was planned but, only after the top three decks were removed and millions spent, was she righted in September, 1943. Once salvaged, plans to convert her into an aircraft carrier were considered but these were dropped due to the excessive costs involved.
Battered, scarred and mutilated, the Normandie was sold in 1946 for scrap. The sale stipulated that every part of the ship was to be "completely scrapped, dismembered, dismantled or destroyed within the continent of the United States within eighteen months of delivery." And so, on 28th November, 1946, she was towed sadly to her last resting place in Newark, New Jersey. There were no waving crowds or cheers any more and the occasion was an ironical contrast to the day in June, 1935 when she was welcomed for the first time by all of New York.
After delivery, the work of breaking up her remains began the very next day and the ship, considered by many to be the most beautiful and magnificent liner ever fashioned by the hand of man, passed into the realms of history.
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