France at Sea: SS Ile de France

After the Great War, England was awarded German ships as reparations, greatly depleting their fleet. This gave Compagnie Generale Transatlantiqe – CGT (French Line) a chance to make its mark on the Atlantic trade.

In 1912 the only four funneled liner CGT ever operated was the beautiful SS France. The French were not concerned with speed. Luxury was the focus. France had the reputation of being “Versailles at sea” because her interior was gorgeous. When the war was over, CGT decided to take a slightly different approach to ship design. There would be four ships ordered, each one to be unique. The first was SS Paris. The second SS Degrasse. The third was Ile de France.

Ile de France had an interior unlike any ship before her. Art deco was now at sea. Her take on the style was a huge success and would influence ship interior design for over ten years. This ship was high fashion and Ile de France became one of the most popular and profitable of her time.

Ile de France was introduced in 1927 to quite the warm welcome. She was unique and glamorous. Before this ship, liners had imitated palaces and castles on land. The new style of Ile de France actually set off a trend on land this time.

As the immigrant trade began to slow, this fashion icon began to attract names. She was the Hollywood of the ocean, attracting film stars, famous musicians and the super-wealthy.

When the stock market crashed in 1929 setting the Great Depression into motion, many companies began selling their ships for scrap. Ile de France avoided this fate due to her popularity among the elite of society.

In 1939, war erupted in Europe again. France surrendered to the Nazis. The Île de France was laid up at Pier 88 in New York harbour, adjacent to the French Line’s new flag ship; the 80,000-tonner Normandie. Ile de France was taken by the Royal Navy of England and was converted to carry troops until 1945.

Aquitania and Ile de France during WWII

In 1947,back in the hands of the French Line, conversion back into a luxury liner began. Ile de France would emerge with a new look. Her three funnels were reduced to two. The number of staterooms was reduced. She was more popular than ever.

On July 25, 1956, the Ile de France responded to a distress call from the Italian liner Andrea Doria. In fog, the Swedish American Line’s Stockholm accidentally rammed the side of the Italian ship. Despite a crushed bow, Stockholm was still afloat. Andrea Doria was listing toward her wound which made half of her lifeboats unusable. The arrival of Ile de France on the scene was a welcomed sight. Every survivor was rescued, making Ile de France a hero.

At the end of the 1950s, the jet plane was gaining popularity and the ocean liners began to disappear. Ile de France was starting to show her age. She was sold to a Japanese ship breaking company, but she was called on for one more hurrah. A film director wanted to use her in a movie. She became the SS Clarendon in the movie The Last Voyage. It called on the ship to be partially sunk. The Last Voyage truly was her last voyage.

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