SS France - Construction and Launch


The ship was constructed to replace the line's other aging ships like the SS Ile de France and SS Liberte, which by the 1950s were considered old and outdated. 

Without these vessels, however, the French Line had no ability to compete against their rivals, most notably Cunard Line, which also had plans for constructing a new modern liner. It was rumored that this ship would be a 75,000-ton replacement for their ships RMS Queen Mary and RMS Queen Elizabeth. (This ship would eventually be the 68,000-ton RMS Queen Elizabeth 2). 

Further, the United States Lines had put into service in 1952 the SS United States, which had broken all speed records on her maiden voyage, with an average speed of 35.59 knots (65.91 km/h).

At first, the idea of two 35,000-ton running mates was considered to replace the Ile de France and Liberté. However, Charles de Gaulle (the futurePresident of France) opined that it would be better for French national pride (which was flagging due to the then ongoing Algerian War of Independence) to construct one grand ocean liner as an ocean-going showcase for France, in the tradition of the SS Normandie. The idea of the liner caused some controversy, with some for and others against it, as its construction would be publicly funded, leading to raucous debates in the French parliament. The dealing lasted three and a half years, and though the letter commissioning the construction was finally signed by the Chairman of the Compagnie Générale Transatlantique, Jean Marie, on 25 July 1956, debate about the form, cost and construction schedule for the France lasted a further year.

Beyond the luxuries, the French Line had to also face the realities that transatlantic passenger trade was, at that time, forecast to decline due to increased air travel. Also, costs to operate ships were increasing, mostly due to prices of crude oil. Thus, the new ship would be larger than the Ile, but smaller and cheaper to operate than the Normandie. She would also only be a two-class liner, which would, like the recently built SS Rotterdam, be able to be converted from a segregated, class restricted crossing mode to a unified, classless cruising mode, thereby allowing the ship to be more versatile in its operations. Despite these requirements, she was still to be the longest ship ever built, as well as one of the fastest, meaning not only an advanced propulsion system, but also a hull design which would withstand the rigours of the North Atlantic at high speed.

Hull G19 was built by Chantiers de l’Atlantique shipyard, in Saint Nazaire, France, her keel being laid down on 7 September 1957. She was built in a non-conventional manner: rather than constructing a skeleton which was then covered in steel hull plating, large parts of the ship were prefabricated in other cities (such as Orleans, Le Havre and Lyon). She was built with a unique double bottom that enabled her to carry 8,000 tons of fuel - enough for the trip toNew York and back. The hull was fully welded, leading to weight savings, and had two sets of stabilizers fitted.

She was blessed by the Bishop of Nantes, Monseigneur Villepelet, and launched on 11 May 1960, at 4:15 pm, by Madame Yvonne de Gaulle, wife of the President, and was then named France, in honour both of the country, and of the two previous CGT ships to bear the name. By 4:22 pm the France was afloat and under command of tugs. President De Gaulle was also in attendance at the launch, and gave a patriotic speech, announcing that France had been given a new Normandie, they were able to compete now with Cunard's Queens, and the Blue Riband was within their reach. In reality, however, the 35 knot speed of the United States would prove impossible to beat.

After the launch, the propellers were installed (the entire process taking over three weeks), the distinctive funnels affixed to the upper decks, the superstructure completed, life boats placed in their davits, and the interiors fitted out. The France then undertook her sea trials on 19 November, 1961, and averaged an unexpected 35.21 knots. With the French Line satisfied, the ship was handed over, and undertook a trial cruise to the Canary Islands with a full complement of passengers and crew. During this short trip she met, at sea, the Liberté which was on her way to the shipbreakers.

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S|S France Launch Speech

With these words, read by Madam Yvonne de Gaulle, the S|S France was launched at Saint Nazaire at high tide, 16:15 hours, on May 11th 1960. 

This translation is believed to be correct and has been supplied by “caroluseligidius”

Longue vie au France ! (Long life for France!)

The France is launched. It is going to marry with the sea. The sea, so dreaded and so desired by the people, the sea which separates the nations but makes it possible to join them, the sea by where the worst dangers can threaten the States but without which there is no greatness.

The mission of «France» will be to transport, from one of the Atlantic shore to another, the men, that is to say thoughts and activities, hearths of knowledge and sources of work, art and richness. For long, such a role has been important. Today more than ever. 

Civilization depends, indeed, of the relationship between different people, in other 

words exchanges. The progress of our species involves a reciprocal knowledge of the countries, a co-operation of the values and labours, a practice of the contacts, or else people would stagnate, each one on his side, in mistrust and objections, intead of feeling their mutual dependence and develop what they have in common. May this ship achieve its destiny: to carry men towards men!

By doing it, « France» will contribute to reinforce and multiply the two-centuries old links which exist between two countries. The friendship will find its account there, because the United States is dear to France and I believe well that France is dear to the United States. 

It is not in vain that these people were together each time it was necessary to save the freedom of the world. It is not in vain that there is in Occident a certain air where the human rights and human dignity can express. We shall see this splendid ship, being added to the squadrons of planes and vessels connecting directly Europeans and Americans, to connect over the sea all kinds of activities, material, intellectual, 

morals, in order, for the chance of the universe, to harmonize their efforts. 

«France» will leave its building site of Loire-Atlantique that I have seen, fifteen years ago, completely ravaged. At that time already, I had heard thousands of voices expressing the will that the building site of Saint-Nazaire lives again. So ! It is alive now, I can even say it is triumphing. Undoubtedly it is true, that because of the actual 

circumstances, the whole companies building ships have some difficulties, requiring certain measures of adaptation and conversion, and inspiring some concerns to the personnel which is employed there. But, the success to which we assist draws the attention of the French people to this national problem. The appearance of France on the Ocean shows to everybody what the phalange of leaders, engineers, technicians and workmen are able to, by animating our shipbuilding industry. At the same time, everyone can measure the role our merchant marine plays in the economy and in the prestige of our country. There is a demonstration that will not be ignored.

I spoke about a success. Yes! «France» will be one. Initially by the fact that the ship, with its 315 meters length, its displacement of 57000 tons, its propulsion of 160.000 horses, its normal speed of 31 knots, will be larger, safer, more powerful, faster than any other of its species. 

Then, for this reason that its installations must be a sum of masterpieces. Finally because tomorrow, it will welcome aboard elites. In this vessel, we greet one of the great successes, that now French technique offers to the fatherland, successes on ground, under ground, on sea or in the airs. The ceremony of today adds to the proudness we feel towards France. 

And now may «France» be achieved and go away to the Ocean to sail and to serve !

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May 11th 1960: With more than 100.000 spectators present, the SS France is christened by Madame Yvonne De Gaulle, wife of French President Charles De Gaulle and slides into the Loine River at 16:15 hours - her launching speed reaches 14 knots. (Unknown photographer).

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SS France is launched and French President Charles De Gaulle raises his arms in triumph. (Unknown photographer).

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The hull of the France is being moved to outfitting at Saint Nazaire.  (Photo Spirale)

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Le paquebot <<France>> enters her home port of Le Havre for the very first time on 23rd of November 1961. (Photo Ektachrome R. Augustin)

Another version of the song at the top of the page: what could be more fitting?
Michel Sardou - Le France (Youtube)

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