Author Topic: the Normandie  (Read 838 times)

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Offline franksolich

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the Normandie
« on: February 02, 2008, 05:08:28 PM »
Oh my.

This is from Time magazine, April 27, 1942, written in that wonderful Timesque prose:

Quote
Blame for the humiliating and shameful disaster to the liner Normandie (renamed by the Navy the Lafayette) landed on the U.S. Navy with a thud last week. A House investigating committee declared: "The line of demarcation of the responsibility ...was much confused. ..." But the committee's outraged report put the blame on "Government representatives."

Background to Disaster was laid in December, when the Navy Department "accepted the vessel and 'full responsibility' therefor." Few steps to safeguard the $60,000,000 liner were taken. Coast Guards put aboard became only casually familiar with her intricate machinery. Only three or four of her fire extinguishers were examined. Expert estimate: probably only about 50% were in good condition; faulty equipment was not replaced. Robins Dry Dock & Repair Co., subsidiary of Todd Shipyards Corp., which had the contract to convert her into a naval auxiliary vessel, took inadequate precautions against fire. Authority was undefined.

Although the committee found no evidence of sabotage, opportunities for it were "abundant." Background to Chaos was laid when Washington ordered the Normandie made ready to sail for Boston on Feb. 14. Workers protested that it would take much longer. Washington insisted. For weeks rush orders, counter-rush orders kept contractors and subcontractors in a whirl.

Plans were made, altered, restored. Work men were hired, laid off, hired again. Official wrangling over the sailing date was cut short only on the afternoon of Feb. 9, when sparks from an acetylene torch ignited kapok life preservers piled carelessly near by in the ship's grand salon, sent fire roaring through her topsides.

Swarming over the ship that afternoon were Coast Guards, many of them raw recruits; 500 men of the prospective crew, unfamiliar with the ship, 1,750 employes of Robins, "of whom 50 were untrained men designated as 'fire watchers'"; 675 employes of subcontractors, all under various straw bosses, foremen, superintendents, officers. No one was in over-all command.

Nightmare. The story of the fire sounded like a carefully told bad dream. Hoses spewed weakly and went dry. Fire extinguishers failed. Someone tripped over and spilled a precious bucket of water. The man at the central fire-control station telephoned the bridge to sound a general alarm-the Coast Guardsman on duty there could not find the right switch (there were two switches but both had been disconnected).

Donning gas masks, men tried to get into the smoke-filled salon, discovered that the gas masks did not work, retreated, gasping for air. An officer found some hose, frantically tried to hook it on to a valve, failed because the valve was a French type and the hose had a U.S.-type fitting. He found another hose already hooked up-no nozzle. The ship's power failed. The ship's water pumps and hoses quit.

Twelve hours later, her fire quenched by New York's fire department, topheavy with thousands of tons of water, the Normandie capsized.

Said the Congressional committee dryly, on the testimony of over 350 witnesses: "It is difficult to imagine a more confused state of affairs. . . ."

That's half the news article; the rest is at http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,795771,00.html

Also, there's some good photographs at http://www.worldshipny.com/normandie.html and http://image.sl.nsw.gov.au/cgi-bin/ebindshow.pl?doc=best/b238;seq=2
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