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The USS Lafayette/SS Normandie Fire 1942

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Uploaded on Nov 4, 2007

From the historic "Stillman Fires" film collection:

The SS Normandie was once the pride of the French Merchant Marine and was the largest, most luxurious oceanliner afloat when she came into service in 1935.

In September, 1939 the war in Europe had just begun and Nazi-German troops were invading France swiftly. The Normandie was safely in the neutral waters of New York Harbor when war broke out. The US Government allowed the ship to remain in the harbor... a refugee which most certainly would have been immediately used for Nazi naval military purposes if she were to return.

Shortly after war was declared between Germany and the US on December 11th, 1941 the US War Department and US Navy seized the french liner at her berth and immediately began to convert her from passenger liner to high-capacity troop transport. She was renamed USS Lafayette and painted battleship grey with camoflage shadowing.

Threats of Nazi sabotage loomed across the eastern seaboard, but work continued with vigilance. However on the afternoon of February 9th, 1942 those rumored threats seemed to have possibly become true when a mysterious fire broke out aboard the Normandie/Lafayette.

The fire spread quickly through the upper decks, forcing shipyard workers to evacuate the ship. New York city fireboats pumped thousands of gallons of water from the Hudson River into the ship to help battle the blaze, but the extreme weight of the trapped water within her decks caused her to list dangerously to port. By that evening, the monsterous ship laid on her side, resting on the riverbed completely capsized.

She remained for several years in this condition while naval workers slowly cut away her superstructure and pumped out water from her hull to slowly right her. By the time she was refloated, the war in Europe was drawing to a close and the ship was no longer needed for war duty. The Navy kept her as surplus until 1947 when she was finally sold for scrap.

Although Nazi sabotage was immediately named as the probable blame, the investigation redirected the blame to a combination of careless workers with an acetyline torch, flamable materials stored in poor locations adjacent to the worker's location, poor or non-functioning fire-fighting protection such as waterpumps, fire sprinklers or alarms.

It is rumored that the fire may have been intentionally set by the Mafia. "Lucky" Luciano's mob had control of New York's docks and labor unions. The destruction of the Normandie forced the government to realize how vulnerable the docks were to possible Nazi sabotage and led the US Navy and the FBI to negotiate a deal with Luciano (while he was in Prison) for his mob to manage security of the docks until the end of the war. In exchange, Luciano and other leaders were given the opportunity to live a free life outside the US in Cuba, South America or even back in free Italy where many American Mafia leaders swept into towns and cities to establish local governments. This agreement led to the Italian-American Mafia networks to grow internationally and become more powerful and more bloody than ever before during the 1960's and 1970's.

YES THIS CLIP HAS BEEN RE-UPLOADED... YOUTUBE DOES NOT ALLOW YOU TO EDIT THE DESCRIPTION FIELD ONCE A CLIP HAS BEEN SUBMITTED AND I DID NOT HAVE THE DESCRIPTION FIELD FILLED OUT WHEN I ORIGINALLY UPLOADED THE CLIP. MY APPOLOGIES.

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