SS France (1910)

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S.S. France
Career (France) Civil and naval ensign of France
Ordered: 1908
Builder: Chantiers de l'Atlantique
Laid down: February 1909
Launched: 10 September 1910
Commissioned: 1912
Decommissioned: 1936
Out of service: 1935
Struck: 1936
Homeport: Le Havre
Fate: scrapped 1936
General characteristics
Tonnage: 23,769 gross tons
Length: 713 ft (217 m)
Beam: 78 ft 4 in (23.88 m)
Propulsion: Four direct-action steam turbines; Quadruple propeller; 45,000 ihp (34,000 kW)
Speed: 23.50 knots (attained a speed of 25.09 knots (46.47 km/h) on her trials)
Capacity: 1,623 passengers
The SS France, from a 1912 postcard.

The SS France was a French ocean liner which sailed for the Compagnie Générale Transatlantique (French Line). At the turn of the 20th century, British and German liners dominated the North Atlantic, carrying not only a huge number of immigrants, but catering to the socially elite as well. Shortly after the advent of Cunard's luxurious ocean greyhounds, Mauretania and Lusitania, the French Line's directors decided it was high time to enter the race for supremacy.


Laid down in February 1909, the new liner was to be a marvel of French engineering. Not only would she be over twice the size of any ship in the French merchant fleet, she would be that nation's first quadruple-screw liner, as well as their first (and only) four funneled liner and their first ship powered by Parson’s steam turbines. Less cumbersome and much more powerful than the more traditional reciprocating engines, the turbines would produce nearly 45,000 shaft horsepower and drive the ship at a top speed of 25 knots (46 km/h).

She was launched 10 September 1910 into the River Loire, watched by scores of cheering Frenchmen who had gathered for the occasion. In the following months, her machinery was installed and her luxurious interior were fitted. Completed in 1912, she set out on her maiden voyage in April of that year, setting a new precedent for speed, luxury, service and cuisine for the French Line and quickly establishing a premium reputation among the socially elite. At 23,769 tons, the France was half the size of the newest British liners, but what she lacked in size, she made up for in opulence. Decorated in Louis XIV style, the France was more akin to a floating bit of King Louis XIV’s great palace at Versailles than any ship in France’s fleet. Very proud of their great achievement, the new France was not without problems; she suffered from disturbing vibrations, and had a marked tendency to roll, even when the seas were flat calm. She was withdrawn from service after just a handful of crossings to have these two serious issues addressed. She was sent to the Harland & Wolff Shipyard in Northern Ireland, where longer and wider bilge keels were fitted to her hull to reduce rolling and new propellers were fitted to reduce vibrations, making her not only more comfortable to travel aboard, but faster as well. Sailing at a service speed of 23.5 knots (43.5 km/h), she was faster than any ship afloat save for the Mauretania and Lusitania.

World War I

File:Hospital ship France.jpg
The France as a hospital ship.

When World War I erupted in 1914, the France was immediately requisitioned by the French Navy for use as an armed merchant cruiser and renamed France IV. Her time as a cruiser was short-lived- the ship was too large and burned too much coal to be of good use and she was subsequently reconfigured to carry troops, and later still in 1916 she was painted white and used as a hospital ship in the Dardanelles, operating in tandem with White Star’s new flagship, Britannic and Cunard Line’s new flagship Aquitania. When the Britannic was sunk in late 1916, the need for high-capacity hospital ships was even more dire, and she continued in this role until the United States entered the war in 1917, when she was deployed back to the Atlantic to ferry American troops to the continent. In 1918, her military service was cut short by an engine room explosion that killed nine crew members and required extensive repairs.

The 1920s

Returned to the French Line in March 1919, her name was promptly changed back to France, although she was kept busy repatriating American troops until that autumn. She was sent for refurbishment that winter, returning to commercial duty in 1920. In 1921, she passed flagship status on to the newer and larger Paris, but continued to be a popular means of travel, with a near club-like following among the wealthy. Her affluent passenger loads swayed the French Line in 1924 to convert her to an all first-class ship, save for just 150 third class berths. During the conversion, her boilers were modified to burn oil fuel rather than coal, allowing her engine room staff to be greatly reduced. She sailed without incident, crossing the Atlantic during the peak months and cruising in the winter until 1927. With the advent of the new Ile de France, France was diverted almost totally to cruising.

The Great Depression and scrapping

The Great Depression essentially sounded the death knell for the liner. Many of the millionaires she had carried over the years had been financially destroyed and the general downturn in business cut deeply into transatlantic travel. The France spent more and more time idle, until she finally was withdrawn from service in 1932. Laid up at Le Havre, she sat unattended until January 1933, when a fire was discovered by a night watchman. Although it was rapidly extinguished, the fire had caused some minor damage. But by now she was outclassed by her newer running-mates, and a new flagship, the great Normandie was nearing completion and the French Line decided it was time to scrap the 21-year-old liner. On 15 April 1935, the old France departed Le Havre under her own steam to the scrappers at Dunkirk.

See also

External links

fr:France (paquebot de 1912) pl:SS France (1910)