A Tale of Two Ships

The Normandie. The Toast of the Stars.

The Normandie - France's pride

The French built a ship called the Normandie considered the most beautiful ship afloat. She was laid down in January 1931 at St Nazaire Yard and subsidised by the French Government to the tune of $60 million.

The French quietly worked on the T6 project ( Normandie) to make the most luxurious and fastest ship for the North Atlantic run to compete with Canards. It was a time of depression and many citizens declared the liner an extravagance, but in October 1932 she was launched despite the protests. With the worlds largest bottle of champagne to baptise her signifying her greatness she slid into the Loire causing a tidal wave. The displacement swept over a hundred people into the river and dousing many others. This incident attracted rumours of future misfortunes.

By May 1935 after some delays she was complete ready to take on the world. 

This magnificent ship was the very first thousand footer to sail the North Atlantic and a contender for the prized Blue Riband.

She would embody Frances artistic and engineering talents to be a show case of sleekness, comfort, safety and speed. A brainchild of a Russian Vladimir Yourkevitch living in France who had previously designed ships for the Russian Navy. He had approached the Cunard line who turned him down for being too radical. Yourkevitch’s ship that could match the Queen Mary in speed and fuel consumption with much less horse power. Her silken hull was tapered at each end and the stern a semi conical form similar to a clipper. The Normandie was of fine proportion with three raked funnels the after one a dummy to containing the ships kennels. She was the quintessence of Art Deco matching interior works and columns. The dining halls were large and beautifully more attributed to a Ballet setting according to a British Diplomat. Her corridors were of glass, gold and scarlet leading to the unparalleled opulent cabins. Politicians, Stars, Entertainers, Gangsters and Tourists promenaded her decks.

 In June 1935 the Normandie took the Blue Riband for an Atlantic crossing of 4 days 3 hours and 2 minutes at a speed of 29.98 Knots on the Westward route. On the return journey
achieved an average of 30.31 knots. This was due to her innovative propulsion units of Turbo -Electric engines and elegant design.

Later she was given new propeller screws to add to her speed and overcome her vibration problems. They also added a new tourist class changing her striking lines adding to her gross weight.

Such was the competition in august 1936 the Queen Mary took the Blue Riband and in the following year in March the Normandie retook it, holding the prize till August 1939 when the Queen gained the upper hand. In July 1938 the Normandie had completed one hundred crossings, but in August 1939 her sea travels ended in Pier 88 New York. 

With the fall of France in 1940 many of the crew returned home while others stayed to care for her.  After Pearl Harbour  American Authorities commandeered the Normandie changing her name to USS Lafayette and began to fitting her out as a troopship for the US Navy. Unfortunately during the conversion process on  9th February 1942 a spark from an acetylene torch set alight bales of life jackets. Soon the flames engulfed the main deck. Tons of water from the fire hoses and the quick forming ice toppled her over to the dock side damaging the hull. The wind had carried the dense smoke over Manhattan blocking out the Empire State building as a funeral pyre.

After the superstructure and funnels had been cut to refloat her the Normandie was considered too damaged to repair and was scrapped in 1946. It may be the gun mountings and French fire extinguisher beginning to be refitted to American standard attributed to the end of the Normandie or her time had ended.
Owned by
Compagnie Générale Transatlantique
Built by
Penhoët Shipyards, Saint Nazaire, France
Launched in October 29th 1932 Maiden voyage 29th October 1935.
Length 1029 feet. Beam 118 feet
Gross tonnage 79,280 (83,423 after 1936) Number of decks 12
Engines Four Turbo-Electric, total 160,000 hp Cruising speed 29 knots
Top speed 32.2 knots 1ST Class Passengers 848
Second Class 670 3rd class passengers 54
Crew 1345 Scrapped October 3, 1946 to October 6, 1947

The Carisbrook Castle.  A Ship for all Seasons.
Towards the end of the ninetieth century there was competition between the Union Line and Donald Curries Castle Line for services to South Africa. They later formed the Union Castle Line. The fastest of the Castle ships was the Scot but entailed high costs. Cheaper to run were the Briton and Norman but proved much slower. The in-between ship Carisbrook Castle was built
by Fairfield Shipbuilding & Engineering Company on the Clyde in 1898. She was made of steel carrying three masts in a time when the conversion of ships was not conclusive.

The Carisbrook Castle was considered a fine ship with a straight stem and elegant counter stem hull. Her long forecastle and poop deck and reaching sheltered promenade along with a good standard accommodation made her a favourite for travellers. 250 First class passengers were carried amidships around 140 second in the aft and all third class accommodated forward.

Before long she gained a reputation for reliability as a Cape Boat cruising at 16 knots. In April 1899 she made the Cape Town to Southampton voyage in 14 days 17 hours and 3 minutes ideal for a Mail ship.

Soon heavier and faster twin screw vessel came on the scene out matching the Carisbrook Castle. Still, she continued in service during the South African War when other ships of that line became hospital ships. When the two shipping lines combined to became profitable on the Cape run the larger ships gained the upper hand. This meant the Carisbrook Castle was no longer appropriate for the Mail and she was demoted to the London Durban run via the Suez Canal. Ever popular as a passenger steamer she carried on till 1914.

 At the outbreak of hostilities she was converted to a hospital ship and transported wounded soldiers across the English Channel. In 1915 and 1916 she served in the Mediterranean and was involved in transporting the wounded of the Gallipoli Campaign. Also, the ship was involved in ferrying troops between Malta and Salonica and in one occasion helped move a Canadian Field Hospital from Alexandria to Salonica. Towards the end of the war she help carry the sick and wounded from France.

She survived the war safe and sound while some of her sister ships were sunk by German U Boats. 1919 saw the Carisbrook Castle back in the Mediterranean as an Ambulance Ship.

 Her sea life did not come to an end before being used once again on the old Cape route. Then for a while served on the East Africa Service until withdrawn from service and scrapped in1922.

Castle 1898-1900; Union Castle 1900-1922
Fairfield Glasgow 1891
4 cylinder quadruple expansion, Single screw
Capable of a nominal 1,490 horse power and
8, 500 indicated horse power
7,626 gross tons
485 foot length with a 56 foot beam

Single Funnel three masts. 1914 Converted to Hospital Ship
Company Ships lost in First World War

Thanks to Old Books and MaritimeDigital Archive Encyclopedie

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