The Normandie is considered by many enthusiasts as probably the greatest steamship liner of all. She was initially 79,280 tons and later expanded to 83,423 tons. She was floating palace of the kind the world had never seen.
She was built in the St. Nazaire yards of Penhoet, the same yards that had built the L'Atlantique that burned in the English Channel. The Normandie started service in May 1935 for Companie Generale Transatlantique. At that time she was the largest liner in the world, held narrowly from the Queen Mary, but later to be lost by a larger line the Queen Elizabeth in 1940.
The Normandie was a fast ship and even won the Blue Riband on her maiden voyage from the Italian liner Rex. She recorded a speed of just over 30 knots. In 1938 she lost the award to the Queen Mary.
It was the Normandie's decor that made her famous though. Very extravagant and a masterpiece of French design. A main feature was the size of her main rooms. The first clas dining room formed a vista that seemed as wide as a football field and seemed to go on and on as far as the eye could see. This was made possible by the design of the uptakes to the funnels. They were split up and ran up the sides of the ship, allowing unbroken views of interior space.
During 1939 she was laid up to protect her from the Germans. When France fell to Germany in 1940 her fate became very uncertain, and, on December 12th, 1941 she was taken by the U.S. Government. She was fitted out as a troop transport and her name changed to the Lafayette. On February 9th, 1942 a welders torch started a fire that consumed the superstructure. So much water was pupmed into her upper decks that she became very unstable and the following day rolled over on to her side at the pier.
The U.S. Navy was very embarassed by this and began salvage work immediately. This was successful and took 17 months. By this time it was too late in the war and the conversion work was never resumed. Soon after the end of the war she was scrapped.