On this day in 1935, the French ocean liner, the S.S. Normandie, broke a world record making the fastest trip across the Atlantic Ocean in 4 days, 3 hours and 2 minutes. When the ship arrived in Manhattan, 30,000 people were waiting in Battery Park, with another 5,000 on Liberty Island.
During the war, the French Line canceled trips, fearing the ship would be torpedoed by German U Boats and kept her docked on Pier 88 on West Side of Manhattan. After the fall of France in June 1940, 15 Coast Guard men were sent to guard the Normandie, then, following the attack on Pearl Harbor the Coast Guard took possession of the ship, converting it to a Navy "troopship," and renaming it the U.S.S. Lafayette. During the retrofit, a spark from a welder set a group of lifejackets on fire, quickly spreading to the rest of the ship (the ships elaborate fire protection system was disconnected during the conversion and its internal pumping system was deactivated). The fire was eventually put out, but all the water that was pumped on to the ship by firefighters caused it to tilt, eventually capsizing and coming to a rest on her port side at an angle of approximately 80 degrees. Photos of the capsized ship along Manhattan's West Street illustrate the massive size of the ship, which was over a thousand feet long!
An intensive investigation and one of the largest salvage operations in history followed, and in August 1943 the ship was stripped of her superstructure and righted. Despite extensive damage, the Navy reclassified the ocean liner as an aircraft transport ferry. But the damage would eventually prove too great for conversion and the ship was declassified and sold to scrap in 1946 without ever sailing under the US flag.