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SS Normandie was an ocean liner built in Saint-Nazaire, France, for the French Line Compagnie Générale Transatlantique. She entered service in 1935 as the largest and fastest passenger ship afloat; she is still the most powerful steam turbo-electric-propelled passenger ship ever built.


Her novel design and lavish interiors led many to consider her the greatest of ocean liners. Despite this, she was not a commercial success and relied partly on government subsidy to operate. During service as the flagship of the CGT, she made 139 transatlantic crossings westbound from her home port of Le Havre to New York and one fewer returns. Normandie held the Blue Riband for the fastest transatlantic crossing at several points during her service career, during which the RMS Queen Mary was her main rival.


During World War II, Normandie was seized by US authorities at New York and renamed USS Lafayette. In 1942, the liner caught fire while being converted to a troopship, capsized onto her port side and came to rest on the mud of the Hudson River at Pier 88, the site of the current New York Passenger Ship Terminal. Although salvaged at great expense, restoration was deemed too costly and she was scrapped in October 1946.


Work by the Société Anonyme des Chantiers de Penhoët began on the unnamed flagship on 26 January 1931 at St. Nazaire, France, soon after the stock market crash of 1929. The growing hull in Saint-Nazaire had no formal designation except "T-6" (with "6" for "6th" and "T" for "Transat", short for "CIE. GLE. TRANSATLANTIQUE" aka the "French Line"), the contract name.[14] Many names were suggested including Doumer, after the recently assassinated president Paul Doumer; and originally, La Belle France. Finally Normandie was chosen. In France, ship prefixes properly depend on the ship name's gender, but non-sailors mostly use the masculine form, inherited from the French terms for ship, which can be "paquebot", "navire", "bateau", "bâtiment", but English speakers refer to ships as feminine ("she's a beauty"), and the French Line carried many rich American customers. French Line wrote that their ship was to be called simply "Normandie," preceded by neither "le" nor "la" (French masculine/feminine for "the") to avoid any confusion.


On 29 October 1932 – three years to the day after the stock market crash – Normandie was launched in front of 200,000 spectators. The 27,567-ton hull that slid into the Loire River was the largest launched and the wave crashed into a few hundred people, but with no injury. The ship was christened by Madame Andre Lebrun, wife of Albert Lebrun, the President of the French Republic. Normandie was outfitted until early 1935, her interiors, funnels, engines, and other fittings put in to make her into a working vessel. Finally, in May 1935, Normandie was ready for trials, which were watched by reporters. The superiority of Vladimir Yourkevitch's hull was visible: hardly a wave was created off the bulbous bow. The ship reached a top speed of 32.125 knots (59.496 km/h)[19] and performed an emergency stop from that speed in 1,700 meters (5,577 ft).

In addition to a novel hull which let her attain speed at far less power than other big liners, Normandie was filled with technical feats. She had turbo-electric propulsion, chosen for the ability to allow full reverse power, and, according to French Line officials, was quieter and more easily controlled and maintained.

The luxurious interiors were designed in Art Déco and Streamline Moderne style. Many sculptures and wall paintings made allusions to Normandy, the province of France for which Normandie was named.


Most of the public space was devoted to first-class passengers, including the dining room, first-class lounge, grille room, first-class swimming pool, theatre and winter garden. The first-class swimming pool featured staggered depths, with a shallow training beach for children.[25] The children's dining room was decorated by Jean de Brunhoff, who covered the walls with Babar the Elephant and his entourage.


A popular feature was the café grill, which would be transformed into a nightclub.[32] Adjoining the cafe grill was the first-class smoking room, which was paneled in large murals depicting ancient Egyptian life. Normandie also had indoor and outdoor pools, a chapel, and a theatre which could double as a stage and cinema.
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