The late 1920s and 1930s marked the beginning of the brief reign of the super liner as the speedy behemoths of the sea. In moves foreshadowing the hostilities of World War II, the British, French and Germans all launched super liners in an effort to win the battle for national pride. France’s contribution to the super liner race was the Normandie, a sleek technological marvel that was launched in St. Nazaire France in 1932. After final fitting out, Normandie began commercial service across the North Atlantic in 1935. During her 139 trans-Atlantic trips, the Normandie won the Blue Riband several times.
The outbreak of World War II found the Normandie in New York City where she was interned by the United States. After the fall of France in 1940, she was taken over by the US government, renamed USS Lafayette, and efforts were begun to convert her into a troopship shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941. On February 9, 1942 while the ship was docked in New York City undergoing conversion a fire engulfed the ship. Firefighting efforts resulted in the ship capsizing. Although the ship was salvaged, bringing the ship back to sailing trim was deemed cost prohibitive and she was scrapped after the war.
While Normandie failed to make any direct contributions to the war effort, the dry dock built in St. Nazaire to accommodate her became an asset for the Nazis in the Battle of the Atlantic. The dock was large enough to fit the Kriegsmarine’s largest capital ships Bismarck and Tirpitz and the Royal Navy launched a successful commando raid (Operation Chariot) to demolish the dry dock.