The Ship That Died Of Carelessness

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Just thirteen days after D-day, the U.S. Navy dropped whatever plans it might have had for rebuilding the Normandie. It seemed unlikely that a huge transport would be needed again soon. On September 3, 1945, the war over, President Truman announced that the United States had settled with France concerning the Normandie. France would get $13 million outright, along with Germany’s single remaining superliner, the Europa. That ship eventually became the Liberté 

 
 

Two weeks later the Normandie’s battered hull was declared surplus.

ON JULY 17, 1946 , the Maritime Commission announced that she would be scrapped and requested bids. Yourkevitch frantically tried to raise enough money to buy the ship, but it was Julius Lipsett, of 80 Wall Street, who topped the bidding. He bought the hulk for $161,680—quite a bargain, considering her total cost had been $79.25 million—$56 million to build, $13 million in compensatory payments, $5.5 million for her aborted conversion, and $4.75 million to salvage her.

Early in the morning of Thanksgiving Day, 1946, the Normandie began her final voyage, a five-hour trip to Port Newark. Twelve tugs towed her. The name Lipsett was painted on the sides of her hull in several places. Demolition began the next day. By October 1947 the last fragments of her had been shipped to Pennsylvania steel mills.

Not all of the Normandie was gone. After all, many of her furnishings and fittings had been removed during the conversion process.

Most of these items had been sold at auction during 1942—her 18,000 bottles of wine had brought $20,000, four wooden hobbyhorses from her playroom $30 each, six pianos $80 to $700 apiece, her 8,534 life preservers $310.

Some pieces of the Normandie have found their way to public places: the huge bronze doors that had once led to her dining room are now in a Brooklyn church; one of her propellers is at the Gare Maritime at Le Havre; part of the Grand Salon’s glass murals are in New York’s Metropolitan Museum.

The war that ended the Normandie’s life also ended the ocean-liner era—for it was during World War II that transatlantic air travel was perfected. Liners continued to reign on the North Atlantic for another decade or so, but it was a lame-duck rule. And when the Queen Mary, that most durable of ships, and her sister, the Queen Elizabeth, finally retired, it was over.

“In the album of vanished Atlantic liners, the Normandie figures as the ship without peer,” wrote the steamship historian John Malcolm Brinnin. “Probably the greatest ship ever built anywhere, she was a lively and beloved legend while she lived; and when, after four brief years on the ocean, she died, she became a shameful reminder of the way in which blind, brutal carelessness allows men to kill the things they love.”