SS France


The France of 1958 was the last ship built for the Compagnie Générale Transatlantique. Her owners made much of the fact that she was the longest passenger ship to date (1,035 feet), a statistic not broken until the RMS Queen Mary 2 was launched in 2003. I believe she was the last true two-stacker to be built until the Rotterdam of 1997. Her funnels incorporated a novel design, with “wings” intended to deflect the exhaust to either side, but in practice some still fell on the afterdecks.  Midships between the funnels, a ring of first-class cabins which would have otherwise been insides faced a private patio. She had two pools, one located under a glass roof on the stern and the other deep in the hull.

When built, she was 66,348 GRT and carried about 2,000 passengers in two classes and a crew of 1,200. Like her peer the SS Rotterdam her interior arrangement were such that physical class barriers could be opened to give all passengers the run of the ship while in cruise mode. Even on crossings, passengers shared amenities like the theater and the chapel, and — although it was not heavily promoted — a small discotheque known as the Cabaret d’Atlantique which could be accessed via a discreet staircase.

The increasing cost of fuel and declining traffic made the CGT heavily reliant on government subsidies. The France became the only passenger ship in the fleet when older secondary ships were retired. She ran a coordinated schedule with the SS United States — also an only child by this time — for several summers, finally closing out the Franch transatlantic service in 1974.

The SS France appears in many Hollywood films as symbolic of the connections between America and Europe, and between New York and France specifically. Examples include Sidney Lumet’s classic ’70s thrillers Dog Day Afternoon and Serpico, the latter of which concludes with Al Pacino waiting to set sail on the ship, which can clearly be seen docked behind him.