French Line’s SS CHAMPLAIN

Ahoy There!  Brooke Astor – The late Brooke Astor, from the 1900s to 1950s, sailed trans-Atlantic on scores of famous liners including the SS Champlain.  These were not cruise ships but floating palaces known as ocean liners.  They would have had three or four classes of travel… First, Cabin, Tourist, 3rd Class and Steerage.  Brooke Astor sailed first or cabin.  Cabin before world WW2 was first class on many liners.  This is a type of service you will never see today on the floating condos called cruise-ships.

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.

(Left: SS Champlain, Salon – The French Line’s SS Champlain of 1932 was another truly modern ocean liner and embodied many design features later incorporated in the more famous SS Normandie. Her gorgeous in-teriors were designed by Rene Prou who déc­or­ated spaces in several earlier French Line ships.)

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.

SS Champlain sailing into New York… 1930s…

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. She was one of the largest ships sunk in WWII. Her wreck lay quite visible for over twenty years and was eventually scrapped in 1965.

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About Michael L. Grace

During the mid-80s, Michael Grace worked as a writer on the TV Hit Series THE LOVE BOAT. He wrote many of the two hour special featuring great stars of the past, including Lana Turner, Claire Trevor, Anne Baxter, Ethel Merman, Alexis Smith, etc. The public’s access to these stars, in familiar dramas and comedies, made them want to go on a cruise. They could see the stars in an ordinary world as “regular” people. The phenomenally successful series was responsible for creating the cruise industry as we know it today. By the time he was writing for Love Boat, the great steamship companies and their liners were flying hand me down foreign flags, painted like old whores, scrapped or doing three day cruises to the Bahamas. He had sailed on over thirty ships and liners with his parents, aunt and grandmother in late 50s to early 70s. The very successful CRUISING THE PAST website has been an outgrowth of Michael’s strong interest in cruise and social history. Drawing on his own knowledge and a vast maritime and social history collection, he is able to produce a very successful website. Michael is part of the award winning team that created the internationally performed award winning musical SNOOPY, based on PEANUTS by Charles M. Schultz. He has written for television and films. Read more by going to "About" (on the above dashboard) and clicking "Editor"…

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