SS Champlain

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Name: SS Champlain
Owner: French Line
Builder: Chantiers et Ateliers de Saint-Nazaire, Penhoët
Yard number: Y6
Launched: 15 June 1931
Completed: June 1932
Maiden voyage: June 1932
Fate: Struck an air-laid mine on 17 June 1940
Later torpedoed
General characteristics
Tonnage: 28,124 GRT
Length: 641 feet (195.38 m)
Beam: 82 feet (24.99 m)
Propulsion: Steam turbines
oil[citation needed]
Speed: 19 knots (22 mph; 35 km/h) cruising speed
21 knots (24 mph; 39 km/h) maximum
Capacity: 623 (cabin class)
308 (tourist class)
122 (third class)

The SS Champlain was a cabin class ocean liner built in 1932 for the French Line by Chantiers et Ateliers de Saint-Nazaire, Penhoët. She was sunk by a mine off La Pallice, France, in 1940 -- one of the earliest passenger ship losses of the Second World War.

Although not as well remembered as her larger fleetmates, the Champlain was the first modern ocean liner and embodied many design features later incorporated into the French Line's SS Normandie. Her interiors were designed by Rene Prou who decorated spaces on several earlier French Line ships, including the cabin motorship Lafayette. When she made her début in June 1932, the Champlain was the largest, fastest, and most luxurious cabin class liner afloat.

At the outbreak of the Second World War, the Champlain was pressed into evacuee work, transporting refugees from Europe to the safety of North America. This included many European Jews escaping Nazi Europe. Vladimir Nabokov and his family were passengers on the last voyage to New York in May 1940. It was on the return trip that the Champlain met her fate. On 17 June 1940, the liner struck a German air-laid mine while swinging at anchor in the waters off La Pallice, France, near Île de Ré, and quickly heeled over on her side.

A few days later a German U-boat fired a torpedo into the hulk -- possibly to finish her off, as much of the ship lay above water level. Many sources quote a wire service report from 1940 that as many as 300 lives were lost but this is erroneous. Although there were many injuries there were only 11 or 12 fatalities. The wreck lay quite visible for over twenty years and was eventually scrapped in 1965.


  • Picture History of The French Line, by William H. Miller
  • Pictorial Encyclopedia of Ocean Liners, 1860-1994, by William H. Miller
  • S.S. Champlain, French Line's "Dernier Cri" in Cabin Liners; by William Tilley
  • Eye-witness Account of the sinking of Champlain by Chief Purser M.J Dusser; "A Propos Du Champlain; "Transat" (French Line Publication) 1963. States the number of victims was eleven and that the number on board was 350 total, many of whom were members of the French Lines Technical Department.
  • New York Herald Tribune; 7/3/40; (A German report stating that "a few members of the crew drowned, but that all passengers had been saved,")