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NORMANDIE: Ship of Dreams

Jeffrey Syken

She was the greatest transatlantic liner of her era and, in the opinion of many, the greatest liner that ever was or ever will be built. She was the flagship of The French Line (Comapagnie Generale Transatlantique; a.k.a. CGT) and the pride of the French nation – she was the S.S. Normandie. Her sleek, streamlined appearance makes her look modern even today and her interior décor is the stuff of legend. From a technical perspective, her bow nose and hydrodynamic hull design allowed her to reach unprecedented speeds and her turbo-electric drive set new standards for powering transoceanic liners. So too, she was a pioneer in advancing maritime technology being one of the first ships to use Radar, Radio Direction and Ultrasound.

On her maiden voyage from Le Havre to New York, Normandie won the coveted Blue Riband; the prize for the highest average speed (west-bound) during the transatlantic crossing. The U.S. government seized her in 1941 after the fall of France lest she fall into the hands of the Vichy French government. Upon America’s entry into WWII in December 1941, it was decided to convert Normandie into a troopship. During the conversion, a fire broke out and she capsized due to the tremendous amount of water poured onto her to fight the flames. Thus, the great ship died an ignoble death; sold for scrap, but her legacy lives on as the Ship of Dreams.

The tragic fire event provided a valuable lesson for the U.S. Navy and the maritime industry about the necessity of maintaining adequate fire suppression system even during a ship conversion. In this course, we will discuss the background and events leading up to the design, construction, launching, operations, salvage and ultimate demise of the transatlantic ocean liner S.S. Normandie. We will study the origins of CGT, evolution of transatlantic liners up to and including the development of the “Super-Liner” (for which Normandie was the French representative) in the nation-contest for supremacy in speed, engineering and accommodations. The ship’s hydrodynamic hull design, turbo-electric propulsion and many technical innovations will be highlighted and discussed in depth and detail as well as the ship’s magnificent interior architecture. Also, we will examine the fire that caused the ship to capsize in February 1942 and the heroic and innovative salvage/righting effort in the following months.

This course includes a multiple-choice quiz at the end, which is designed to enhance the understanding of the course materials.

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