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THE SS FRANCE AND THE SS LIBERTE – Elegance at sea – Now a memory.

Cruise History: THE SS FRANCE AND THE SS LIBERTE – Elegance at sea – Now a memory.

Enjoy these gorgeous full color home movies from SHIPGEEK shot by a lucky couple who traveled on the SS France Eastbound, and the SS Liberte Westbound, trans-Atlantic. Crossing the pond. Shipgeek has combined to suggest a mythical time when such a trip might have been possible. Bon Voyage!

The SS France.

The France’s maiden voyage to New York took place on 3rd February 1962, with many of France’s film stars and aristocracy aboard. On 14th December 1962, the France carried the Mona Lisa from Le Havre to New York, where the painting was to embark on an American tour.
From the 13th July to 26th July 1967, the France docked at the Île Notre-Dame in Montreal, acting as a secondary French pavilion at the 1967 World’s Fair, Expo 67.

She sailed the North Atlantic run between Le Havre and New York for thirteen years. However, by the beginning of the 1970s jet travel was by far more popular than ship travel, and the costs of fuel was ever increasing. The France, which had always relied on subsidies from the French government, was forced to take advantage of these more and more.

Using the ship’s versatile design to its full potential, the CGT began to send the France on more cruises during the winter, which was off-season for the Atlantic trade. One design flaw, however, was revealed when the ship reached warmer waters: her two swimming pools, one each for first and tourist class, were both indoors; the first class pool deep within the ship’s hull, and the tourist class pool on an upper deck, but covered with an immovable glass dome. The latter, perhaps, was the more aggravating in hot weather. She also had limited outdoor deck space, with much of what was available protected behind thick glass wind-screens; useful on the North Atlantic, but frustrating when blocking cooling breezes in the tropics. (The Queen Elizabeth 2 suffered from a similar design flaw as well.)

The first class dining room aboard the SS France.

Nonetheless, the France’s cruises were popular, and her first world cruise took place in 1972. Too large to traverse the Panama and Suez Canals, she was forced to sail around Cape Horn and the Cape of Good Hope. That same year, with the destruction of the Seawise University (former RMS Queen Elizabeth) by fire in Hong Kong, the France became the largest passenger ship in the world in service.

Still, as the opening years of the decade progressed, the cruise market expanded, seeing the construction of smaller, purpose built cruise ships which could also fit through the Panama Canal. Worse, in 1973 the Oil Crisis hit and the price of oil went from $3 US to $12 US per barrel. When the French government, at the end of the Trente Glorieuses, realised that keeping the France running would necessitate an additional ten million dollars a year, they opted instead to subsidise the then developing Concorde. Without this government money, the French Line could not operate, and with a press release issued in 1974 it was announced that the France would be withdrawn from service on the 25th October that year.

At that, the crew decided to take matters into their own hands: an eastbound crossing on the 6th September, her 202nd crossing, was delayed several hours while the crew met to decide whether to strike then and there, in New York, or six days later outside Le Havre; Le Havre won, and the ship was commandeered by a group of French trade unionists who anchored the France in the entrance to the port, thereby blocking all incoming and outgoing traffic. The 1200 passengers aboard had to be ferried to shore on tenders, while approximately 800 of the crew remained aboard. The hijackers demanded that the ship be allowed to continue to serve, along with a 35% wage increase for themselves. However, their mission failed, and the night of the hijacking proved to be the ship’s last day of service for the CGT. It took over a month for the stand-off to end, and by the 7th December 1974, the ship was moored at a distant quay in Le Havre, known colloquially as the quai de l’oubli – the pier of the forgotten.

By that time the France had completed 377 crossing and 93 cruises (including 2 world cruises), carried a total of 588,024 passengers on trans-Atlantic crossings, and 113,862 passengers on cruises, and had sailed a total of 1,860,000 nautical miles.

The SS Liberte.

The SS Europa was the pride of Norddeutscher Lloyd Line in the 1930s. She was the sister ship of the S/S Bremen.

Sadly the Second World War caused an end to her years in German hands and she was handed to the French as war reparations.

As SS Liberte, the ship became the stop gap flagship for CGT French Line as a replacement for the legendary S/S Normandie that had been lost during the Second World War.

Two lady passengers sailing aboard the SS Liberte.

She was transformed into the pride of France and finally was retired in 1961 after serving two great nations.

Compagnie Générale Transatlantique – THE FRENCH LINE

Compagnie Générale Transatlantique (French Line) was founded in 1861. The company began sailing in 1862 from Havre to Mexico and in 1864 they added a services from Havre to New York. They also sailed to Canada via Plymouth, plied the Mediterranean and they had routes to the West Indies. The vessels averaged 8 days to New York.

In 1880 CGT took over Cie Valery Eugene Pereire and their Mediterranean service and 12 ships. They purchased Cie Franco-Tunisienne and their three ships in 1907. Cie Havraise Peninsulaire was acquired in 1915 and in 1916 they formed a subsidiary company Cie Générale d’Armements Maritimes (CGAM) in partnership with Cie Chargeurs Reunis. In 1917 Cie Navale de l’Oceanie was acquired with five ships. By 1919 they controlled Cie d’Orbigny, Societe Plisson, Societe des Vapeurs de Charge and Societe Marseillaise d’Armament Fritsche & Cie. They were also a major shareholder in the Fabre Line. In 1973 CGT merged with Cie des Messageries Maritimes to form Cie Generale Maritime.


1862-1980 St Nazaire (Brest) to Caribbean and southern US ports.
1864-1974 Le Havre to Plymouth or Southampton and Philadelphia, Halifax, New York.
1866-1980 St Nazaire – New Orleans Marseilles to Havana, New Orleans.
1871-1878 Panama to Peru and Chile.
1878-1969 Marseilles to Mediterranean ports.
1905-1976 Le Havre to Halifax, Quebec, Montreal (1954 Great Lakes)
1914-1920 Caribbean service extended to Rio de Janeiro
1919-1966 French ports to Panama, Peru, Chile – later extended to French Pacific Islands.
1920-1976 French ports to Caribbean and US / Canada Pacific ports.
1875-1969 French ports to Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore & Norfolk, Va. (cargo)
1946-1960 Tunisia / Algeria to North America (cargo)
1953- West Indies – Antwerp (fruit service)
1956-1988 Dunkirk – Kiel Canal – Baltic ports (automobiles)

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