SS Île de France

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SS Ile de France c1935.jpg
SS Île de France
Career
Name: Ile de France
Owner: Compagnie Générale Transatlantique
Port of registry: Civil and naval ensign of France France
Builder: Chantiers de Penhoët, Saint-Nazaire, France
Laid down: 1925
Launched: 14 March 1926
Christened: 14 March 1926
Maiden voyage: 22 June 1927
Fate: Scrapped in Osaka, Japan, 1959
General characteristics
Class & type: Ocean liner
Tonnage:
  • 43,153 gross tons (1927)
  • 44,356 gross tons (1949)
Length: 791 ft (241.1 m)
Beam: 91 ft (27.7 m)
Speed: 23.5 knots
Capacity:

1,786 total passengers:

  • 537 First class
  • 603 Second class
  • 646 Third class

The SS Ile de France was a French ocean liner built in Saint-Nazaire, France for Compagnie Générale Transatlantique. The ship was the first major ocean liner built after the conclusion of World War I, and was the first liner ever to be decorated entirely with designs associated with the Art Deco style. It was neither the largest ship nor the fastest ship, but was considered the most beautifully decorated ship built by CGT (also known as the "French Line") until the Normandie.

Construction and launch[edit]

The construction of the Ile de France was part of an agreement between the CGT and the French government dating back to November 1912. This agreement was for the construction of four passenger-mail ships, with the first ship named Paris and the second, Ile de France. World War I delayed construction until the 1920s, with the Paris being launched in 1916 and not entering service until 1921 and the Ile de France during 1927. The Ile de France was launched on 14 March 1926 at the shipyard Chantiers de Penhoët and was greeted by thousands of government and company officials, workers, press, and French citizens. The ship would experience fourteen months of fitting-out before it left the shipyards on 29 May 1927 for its sea trials.

Interior[edit]

The liner's Grand Salon as it appeared in the 1950s, following post-WWII remodeling.

In 1926, the CGT released an elaborate gold-covered booklet devoted entirely to the company's new ship. The illustrations depicted huge, ornate yet modern public rooms, female passengers carrying feather fans and smoking cigarettes, and passengers being led around the uncluttered sun deck.[1]

Never before had a ship had its own style of interior design like the Ile de France. During the past, ships had imitated the shore-style. The Mauretania, the Olympic and the Imperator had all shown an interior that celebrated styles of the past and could be found in manors or châteaux situated on land. By contrast, the interiors of the Ile de France represented something new. For the first time, a ship's passenger spaces had been designed not to reproduce decorative styles of the past but to celebrate the style of the present.

The ship's degree of modernity was unlike that of any ship previously. The first-class dining room's decor was simple. The dining room was also the largest of any ship, rose three decks high, and had a grand staircase for an entrance.

In addition to the luxurious dining room, there was also a chapel with a neo-gothic style, a grand foyer which rose four decks, a shooting gallery, an elaborate gymnasium, and even a merry-go-round for the younger passengers. Every cabin had beds instead of bunks, and even many of the chairs aboard the Ile de France had a new design.[2]

As each of the major liner companies subsequently planned their next passenger ships, many of the planners visited this extraordinary and trend-setting French vessel.

Maiden voyage and early career[edit]

Flown cover carried on the first US to Europe "catapult" air mail from the Ile de France at sea on August 23, 1928

After its sea trials, the Ile de France traveled to its home port of Le Havre on June 5, 1927. The novelty of Art Deco aboard a ship was an immediate sensation and the reaction of the visiting press would be evident by favorable reviews the next week.

On June 22, 1927 the Ile de France traveled from Le Havre for its maiden voyage to New York. Upon its arrival in New York it received great attention from the American media and thousands of people crowded the docks just to see the new ship.

Her official accommodation was for 1,786 passengers, but her normal capacity was closer to 1400. With a listed capacity of 537 in first-class, the Ile de France, like the France and Paris, became fashionable. Captain Joseph Blancart and his chief purser, Henri Villar, became celebrities.

With the contribution made by this splendid vessel, the CGT ended the year 1928 with record earnings. For the first time the company's receipts exceeded a billion francs, and half of this derived from the New York service, which had transported more than 90,000 passengers. Its popularity was such that by 1935, the ship had carried more first-class passengers than any other transatlantic liner.

The ship was popular especially among wealthy Americans. It quickly became the chosen ship of the youthful, the stylish, and the famous. But they did not choose it for its speed- it was about as fast as the Aquitania of 1914, and no larger.

Even though the Ile de France was not the fastest vessel in the world, it briefly pioneered the quickest mail-system between Europe and the United States. In July 1928, a seaplane catapult was installed at the ship's stern for trials with two CAMS 37 flying boats that launched when the ship was within 200 miles, which decreased the mail delivery time by one day. This practice proved too costly, however, and in October 1930 the catapult was removed and the service discontinued.

In 1935 the Ile de France and the Paris were joined by a new mate, the new superliner Normandie. With these three ships the CGT could boast of having the largest, fastest, and most luxurious ships traveling the north Atlantic.

But this was not to endure, and two events ended the CGT's new prosperity. The first occurred on April 18, 1939, when the Paris was destroyed by fire while docked in Le Havre. The second was on September 1, 1939 when Nazi Germany invaded Poland which began World War II and ended civilian transatlantic traffic.

World War II[edit]

Ile de France was the last ship to leave France before the outbreak of war, departing from Le Havre on the morning of September 3, just hours before France and the United Kingdom declared war on Germany. She carried 1,777 passengers, 400 more than her usual number.[3] Most of the passengers were Americans, many of whom were tourists clamouring to leave France before the war broke out. During the voyage, the passengers were not only inconvenienced by the overcrowded conditions, but their activities were limited because the ship sailed with her lights extinguished.[4] Other ships were not so lucky. The Ile de France arrived in New York harbor on September 9, and while she was crossing the Atlantic Ocean, 16 vessels were sunk by torpedoes, mines, or gunfire.[5]

Once the Ile de France was berthed at its New York pier, her career as a passenger ship was temporarily ended. Since the French were not anxious to return the ship to its homeland, it was towed to Staten Island by ten tugs and was laid up after special dredging that cost $30,000. Its crew of 800 persons was reduced to a security staff of 100 while it was inoperative for the next five months. Then during March 1940, commanded by the British Admiralty, to which it had been lent, the ship was loaded with 12,000 tons of war materials, submarine oil, tanks, shells, and several uncrated bombers that were stowed on the aft open decks. On 1 May 1940 she departed for Europe, veiled in gray and black. From there, it traveled to Singapore where, after the Fall of France, it was officially seized by the British. In 1941 it returned to New York[6] and made several crossings from the northeast as a troop ship such as the one on February 14, 1944, sailing from Halifax, Nova Scotia, to Greenock, Scotland, carrying among others the 814th Tank Destroyer Battalion.[7][8]

In August, 1942, the three-funnelled Ile de France tied up alongside the Charl Malan Quay in Port Elizabeth. During one of her visits to the city she was subjected to one of the less happy events to befall this magnificent ship. Furniture, chandeliers, carpets, fittings, all the evidences of her former luxury, including hundreds of square feet of rare and beautiful panelling, were ruthlessly torn out and flung on the quayside as "she was gutted as thoroughly as a herring".[9]

A small party of workmen fitted the luxury liner out as a floating prisoner of war camp, "with festoons of barbed wire sprouting from her decks and disfiguring her graceful lines" as the ship was prepared for the task of bringing POWs back from north Africa.[10] 

In October, 1942,the Ile de France was spotted off Port Elizabeth, by aircraft of the South African Air Force.[11] While in the city she was converted into a troopship. The extensive alterations, the largest ever undertaken in the harbour,[12] was completed in 1943.[13]

Post-war career and demise[edit]

In autumn 1945, the Ile de France was returned to the CGT after five years of military service with the British Admiralty. In honor of its wartime performance, the Southern Railway company named one of its locomotives French Line CGT.

At first the Ile de France was used to ferry American and Canadian troops home. Then in April 1947, the ship returned to its builder's yard at Saint Nazaire for a two-year restoration. The outcome included the removal of its third "dummy" funnel and an upturn of the straight black hull to meet its upper forepeak, in keeping with the new style of the CGT's ships beginning with the Normandie in 1935. These changes increased the Ile's de France's gross tonnage to 44,356.

It traveled to New York on her first postwar luxury crossing in July 1949. The Ile de France proved to be just as popular as before the war. In 1950 the ship received a new running mate, Liberté, the former German Blue Riband-holder SS Europa.

On July 25, 1956, the Ile de France had a major role in the rescue operation after the collision of the passenger liners SS Andrea Doria and MS Stockholm off Nantucket. Of 1,706 passengers and crew of the Andrea Doria, approximately 750 were transferred to the Ile de France during the approximately 6-hour rescue operation.

With the development of jet transport, and the decline of ocean travel, the CGT wished to dispose of the ship quietly. In 1959 the ship was sold to a Japanese breaker and departed Le Havre on February 16.

Before scrapping, the Ile de France was used as a floating prop for the 1960 disaster movie The Last Voyage with the name SS Claridon. During filming the ship was sunk partially, explosive devices were detonated in the interior, and the forward funnel was sent crashing into the deckhouse. The CGT sued the filmmakers to get an order to have the funnels repainted and prohibit the use of the name Ile de France from appearing in the movie.


Eaton's Ninth Floor[edit]

Eaton's Ninth Floor restaurant

In 1931 the ninth floor restaurant in Eaton's Department Store, Montreal, Canada, was styled after the first class restaurant aboard the ship. The store owner's wife had just traveled transatlantic on the liner and requested the style of the Ile de France.


See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Great Luxury Liners 1927-1954, A Photographic Record by William H. Miller, Jr.
  2. ^ Designing Liners: A History of Interior Design Afloat by Anne Massey
  3. ^ "Times Wide World (1939, Sep 10). Ile de france here with 1,777 aboard. New York Times". 
  4. ^ "Times Wide World (1939, Sep 10). Ile de france here with 1,777 aboard. New York Times". 
  5. ^ "Times Wide World (1939, Sep 10). 16 ships sunk in 7 days; 9 of them were British. New York Times". 
  6. ^ "Ocean Liner Museum- Ship History". 
  7. ^ "1944 WWII Troop Ship Crossings". 
  8. ^ Boykin, Jr., Calvin (1995). Gare la bete (beware the beast) a history of the 814th Tank Destroyer Battalion 1942 - 1945. College Station, Texas: C & R Publications. p. 228. ISBN 0-9646161-0-6. 
  9. ^ Template:Eastern Province Herald, April 29, 1959
  10. ^ Template:Eastern Province Herald, April 29, 1959
  11. ^ Secret War Diary. 42 Air School, South African Air Force
  12. ^ John H Marsh, South Africa and the War at Sea.
  13. ^ Belling, Ron. A Portrait of Military Aviation in South Africa. Struikhof Publishers,1989.

External links[edit]