Paris: From Gem to Hazard

Paris: From Gem to Hazard


Approximately three years after she was laid down, French Line’s Paris was launched on 12 September 1916 at the Chantiers de l’Atlantique shipyard in St. Nazaire. With World War I underway, the liner wouldn’t be completed until 1921.

Paris-1921- Poster

The 34,570 GRT Paris, a 10-deck three stacker, was 764 feet long and 85 feet at beam. With a rated speed of 21 knots she could carry 1,930 passengers: 560 first Class, 530 second class, 840 third class.

Paris was unique in both good and bad ways. One odd feature was her stateroom portholes, which were square rather than round (perhaps to help people forget that they were actually on a ship).

Paris was like her namesake in the 1920s: fast, upbeat, bold, young and forward looking. Touches of Art Deco could be found all around the liner, although not to the same extent as on many later superliners, such as Normandie or even Queen Mary. Paris’ cuisine was, of course, exemplary (not stodgy, as on many British ships of the time). Her wine list was deep (not absent, as on American liners).

As the Roaring Twenties gave way to the Great Depression, Paris’ fortunes sank. With transatlantic passenger traffic falling to record lows, Paris was reassigned to cruise service, often sailing at only one-third to one-half capacity.

Liberté sails by the Paris wreck that would soon sink her.

Then things got worse. On 18 April 1939, Paris caught fire, sank and capsized in Le Havre, temporarily blocking the new superliner Normandie from exiting dry dock (talk about foreshadowing).

Her wreck was still sitting half-submerged in the harbor a year after the end of World War II. That’s when French Line’s newly acquired Liberté (ex-Europa) was pulled from her moorings by a December gale and sent careening into the Paris wreckage. Fortunately, Liberté sank upright, was refloated, and sailed successfully for over a decade for French Line. For Paris, however, the party was long over.

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