May 22, 2022

was the largest French liner sabotaged by the Nazis in New York in 1942?

“The biggest, the most luxurious, the fastest.” Superlatives abound in 1935 to greet the arrival on the waves of the Normandie, the largest transatlantic liner in the world ever built in France. Modernity of its silhouette, splendor of its interior spaces, revolutionary propulsion, the ship is the pride of the State and becomes the flamboyant symbol of France throughout the world.

The pride will be short-lived. Europe is preparing for a war that seems inevitable. On August 29, 1939, the Normandie, with many European passengers on board who have decided to flee their countries, docks in New York. On September 1, the Germans start World War II. the Normandie is forced to remain docked in the port of Manhattan, which he will never leave.

At the end of 1941, the United States in turn entered the war and requisitioned the ship for the transport of troops. During the conversion work, the Normandie, renamed Lafayette by the Americans, was destroyed by flames.

If the official investigation quickly concludes to an accidental fire caused by a torch, the idea that the Normandie, could have been the victim of sabotage quickly creeps into people’s minds.“Of all real or imagined threats – gangsters, communists, Gaullists, journalists… – the most serious remains sabotage by Nazi sympathizers”, details the documentary. While the port of New York is under siege by German submarines, the United States fears that the country is plagued by Nazi spies. A real psychosis sets in and raises fears of attacks of all kinds. A hypothesis reinforced when the FBI dismantles a powerful network of German spies even before the destruction of the ship. “The crew of Normandie discovers that Germany had been monitoring the ship for almost two years”, says the documentary.

The sabotage is beyond doubt for the American authorities and President Roosevelt. Even the cinema seizes the subject. The famous British director Alfred Hitchcock, present in New York at this time, directs a film in which a German spy sabotages… a boat. He does not hesitate, to illustrate his feature film, to use real images of Normandie lying sadly on its side in the Hudson.

The documentary, rich in archival images, casts doubt like a thriller, without being able to really prove these allegations, especially since it evokes another hypothesis: the involvement of the mafia.

"Sabotage or not sabotage?"

The documentary Normandy will not leave tonight directed by Tal Zana is broadcast on February 6 at 11:55 p.m. on France 5.