With the success of the Swedish America Lines diesel powered liner MS Gripsholm, the French Line designed the MS Lafayette to a size that could be powered by the largest marine diesel engines available at that time. Before setting out on her maiden voyage from Le Havre – New York May 19th 1930, the French Line operated Lafayette on a weeklong cruise in European waters to test the reliability of the diesel engines. The French Lines second diesel powered liner, the 28,094-ton Champlain, joined Lafayette on the Atlantic run in 1932. This similar sized ship was the French Line’s first liner to incorporate the new sweeping hull design. The French Line’s largest ever liner SS Normandie entered service in 1935 with a similar hull design and almost every ship thereafter.
On a return crossing from New York in March 1934, Lafayette was caught up in a severe North Atlantic storm. Huge waves crashed through about 50 of her promenade windows causing injuries to many of the passengers. Lafayette’s return to France saw her undergo a few weeks of repairs before being re-deployed on the Atlantic run. Four years later, disaster struck when she was undergoing an overhaul at Le Havre. Oil had been spilled on Lafayette’s furnace room floor and caught fire May 4th 1938. The fire spread to one of her fuel tanks setting of a series of explosions. By the time the explosions ceased and the fires were extinguished, Lafayette was damaged beyond repair. The French Line had her burned out shell towed to the ship breakers in Rotterdam to be dismantled. Champlain also had a short life as she hit a German mine near La Pallice on the French coast June 17th 1940 and sank soon after.