Salvage of the French Liner: NORMANDIE

Text from Library of H.I.B. Spector and U.S. Navy

“ The S.S. Normandie, built by the Compagnie Generale

Transatlantique, was launched at Le Havre on 29 October, 1932.

Upon completion, she was the largest and fastest liner afloat. In

an effort to design the ultimate in luxuriousness, little, if any, cargo

space was provided, and great areas were given to salons and

dining rooms.

“The U.S.S. Lafayette, formerly the French liner S.S. Normandie,

was transferred by the U.S. Maritime Commission to the Navy Department

on 24 December, 1941, for conversion and operation

as a troop transport.”

“The conversion of the vessel into a troop transport was being done

at Pier 88, North River, New York City. On 9 February, 1942 at about

14:30, a fire broke out in the Grand Lounge where 1100 bales of life

preservers had been placed for stowage and stenciling. Investigations

indicated that the fire had started when a workman’s

torch ignited a bale of life preservers. In a very few minutes, the fire

had spread throughout the Grand Lounge, destroying furniture, rolls of

carpet, decorative trim and combustible material there, and becoming so

fierce that huge volumes of dense smoke were given

off almost immediately.

The fire, fanned by a strong northwest wind (over the port quarter

of the Lafayette), swept forward over both sides of the promenade deck

until by 15:30 that entire deck was aflame. Shortly thereafter, the fire

caught hold on the quarters of the boat and sun decks and burned fiercely

on the bridge, so that the three upper decks, in practically all spaces except

the theatre, were in flames.

By 1530, the vessel had taken a list to port. The list gradually increased to

about 40 degrees, at 23:30 on 9 February. At 02:45

on 10 February, the vessel completely capsized, coming to rest on the port

side at an angle of a little more than 79 degrees.

“It was apparent that the salvage of the U.S.S. Lafayette would

undoubtedly exceed, in both magnitude and complexity, any

salvage operation hitherto undertaken....”

excerpts from a contractor bidding for the right to do the salvage:

“ Mr. Franklin Roosevelt - President of the United States

Capitol Bldg,, Washington, D.C.

Mr. President

Dear Sir:

I and my bench partners are both tool and die makers working

for Rowe Mfg. Co of this city.

We have both been studying the pictures of the overturned French

Liner Normandy at New York Pier.

We have also read all the accounts of this Major disaster to our


We both think it is sabotage which is very plain.

We know it was being taken care of by totally incompetent engineers

or the disaster could not possibly have happened. We know that many

people in high and low stations are solely responsible for this disaster. We

know it is another treasonable blunder of which this nation is lately

absorbing much more of shocks

than it should, but all of this is more pardonable than the do nothing

attitude of those in high place who by their inaction is letting our nation be

sold down the river.

We need that ship badly and we need it right now...What are

you waiting for? Are you waiting for China and Russia to do the job

for us I ask you. To hell with those who sabatoged her save here now at

once and kill them after that. We need that ship now, not next year.

The same people who are directly responsible for our loosing the

war in the Pacific are now Responsible for this fine ship laying upside

down in the mud going to ruin because they to dam traitorus

and dumb to start the salvage workt at once that will save her and give us a

great plain and troop transport that might make it possible to bomg Italy

and Japan and Germany off the map. You are the

Nations Commander what are you wating for this time?”

the salvage of the U.S.S. Lafayette was completed in

September, 1943............