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Compagnie Générale Transatlantique (Shipping company, France)


Last modified: 2012-05-13 by ivan sache
Keywords: compagnie generale transatlantique | transat | disk (red) | normandie (liner) |
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[House flag]

House flag of the Compagnie Générale Transatlantique - Image by Ivan Sache, 11 January 2012

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Presentation of the Compagnie Générale Transatlantique

The Compagnie Générale Transatlantique, aka Transat was founded on 14 October 1854 and registered on 24/25 February 1855, as the Compagnie Générale Maritime, by the bankers Émile and Isaac Péreire; the main shareholder of the new company was the Société Générale de Crédit Mobilier, the credit bank founded by the Péreire, which funded several industrial projects during the Second Empire. The statutes of the company listed it aims as "the building, equipping and chartering of all kinds of ships, and, in general, all operations linked to maritime trade".
In 1860, the company was granted a 20-year state contract for the postal service. The contract required the company to operate its own fleet on two scheduled lines: Le Havre-Brest-New York and Saint-Nazaire-Panamá (with three secondary lines to Guadeloupe, Mexico and Cayenne [French Guiana]). The next year, the company was renamed Compagnie Générale Transatlantique and the Péreire founded the Penhoë:t shipyard near Saint-Nazaire. The Transat was so important for Saint-Nazaire that locals used to say "Saint-Nazaire is sick when the Transat coughs". The Le Havre-New York line was inaugurated in 1864 by the paddle steamer Washington; the journey lasted 13 days. The Péreire bankrupted in 1868, which did not stop the development of the company, which experienced on 22 November 1873 its first accident, when the Ville du Havre collided with the Loch Earn, the acident claiming 226 lives.

The Transat was granted in 1879 a state contract for the postal service in the Mediterranean Sea, purchased from the Valéry company, together with its 22 ships; the state contract for the transatlantic service was renewed in 1882-1884. The Bourgogne sailed from Le Havre to New York in slightly more than 7 days. The Touraine made the first leisure cruise of the company from New York to Constantinople in 1894. Following harsh years marked by increased competition in Europe, wreckages (the Bourgogne collided on 4 July 1898 with the Cromartyshire, the accident claiming 564 lives, that is the worst accident experienced by the company in peace time) lost and strikes, the company was reorganized in 1904 by its new president, Jules Charles-Roux. The company launched a series of new liners, favoring comfort onboard rather than speed, whose name has remained associated with the Gilded Age of the company; the three most famous of them were the France, the Île-de-France and the Normandie.

The France (II), inaugurated on 20 April 1912 (5 days after the loss of the Titanic), was then the biggest French steamer (211 m x 23 m) and the only one with four funnels; it was the third fastest steamer in North Atlantic after the Lusitania and the Mauretania operated by the Cunard Line. Nicknamed "Versailles of the Atlantic" or "Palace of the Atlantic", the France was used as an hospital-ship during the First World War, as a cruise boat in 1929-1932 and eventually scraped in 1935.
The Île-de-France, inaugurated in May 1927, was the most famous steamer of the Transat, and, then, the biggest steamer launched in the world since the end of the First World War, also the biggest French steamer (subsequently superseded only by the Normandie). Designed as a slightly increased version of the France (232 m x 28 m), the Île-de-France was fitted in art deco style, which made of it the most modern steamer in the world; it was nicknamed "Rue de la Paix of the Atlantic", as a reference to one of the poshest streets in Paris. Seized by the Brits in 30 June 1940 in Singapore, the Île-de-France was managed during the Second World War successively by P & O and Cunard to transport troops. Retroceded to the Transat in February 1946, the liner was completely revamped and reinaugurated in 1949. Contributing to several rescue operations in the Atlantic Ocean (Greenville, September 1953; Andrea Doria, 25 July 1956), the Île-de-France was then nicknamed "St. Bernard of the Atlantic". It was eventually scrapped in 1959.
The Normandie was the biggest and most luxurious liner ever launched by the Transat. Then the biggest liner in the world, the Normandie was also the fastest, winning the Blue Ribbon award for its inaugural journey (less than 4 days), and for a second time in 1937. Its main competitor was the faster but slightly smaller Queen Mary; the size record was confirmed in 1936 when the ship was increased to 83,000 tons. Also used for cruises in South America, the Normandie was popularized by three movies shot on board in 1937-1939. After having completed its 139th scheduled transatlantic journey, the ship was laid up in New York on 6 September 1939, close to the Queen Mary. Seized in December 1941 by the US Maritime Commission, the ship was allocated to the US Navy to be transformed in a troop carrier under the name of Lafayette. On 9 February 1942, a solderer inadvertently set up fire to the ship, which sank capsized one day later. The revamping operations being deemed much too expensive, the Normandie was eventually scrapped in 1946-1947.

After the Second World War, the fleet of the Transat was reorganized, with the incorporation of several liberty-ships. The sales increased but airlines emerged as potential competitors. The Transat entered the cargo transportation market and built a brand new, luxurious liner, the France (III). Launched on 11 May 1960 and inaugurated on 3 February 1962, the France was patroned by Yvonne de Gaulle, the General's wife. It was then the longest liner in the world (316 m). Operating on the line Le Havre-Southampton-New York, the France also circumnavigated the globe twice, in 1972 and 1974, this being the only two circumnavigations ever organized by the Transat. During the second circumnavigation, it was announced that the French government would no longer subsidize the France. On 11 September 1974, after having completed its 202nd transatlantic journey, the France was blocked by its seamen off Le Havre; on 9 October, the liner was moored in the Tancarville Canal, the place being quickly nicknamed "Quay of Oversight". On 18 August 1979, the ship, renamed Norway by tis new owner, Kloster Rederi, left Le Havre to be transformed in Bremerhaven into the biggest cruise liner in the world (70,000 tons, increased to 76,000 tons in 1990). The ship was eventually scrapped in India in 2007-2008.
The abandon of the France was perceived as a national tragedy and a symbol of the progressive loss of industrial heritage, and, therefore, of sovereignty of the country. The singer Michel Sardou wrote in November 1975 a song dedicated to the ship (Le France), selling more than one million records.

On 23 February 1977, the Compagnie Générale Transatlantique merged with the Compagnie des Messageries Maritimes to form the Compagnie Générale Maritime, reestablishing the name of the Péreire's first company.

- History of the Transat, French Lines association's website
- History of the France, French Lines association's website

Ivan Sache, 11 January 2012

House flag of the Compagnie Générale Transatlantique

The house flag of the Transat (counter [table] flag) is white with a red disk in canton and the red writing: CIE GLE (for COMPAGNIE GÉNÉRALE) TRANSATLANTIQUE.

The flag is shown on different items related to the company, for instance:
- a poster advertizing the Touraine (late 19th century; the ship actually sailed 1891-1923);
- a Normandie passenger's booklet;
- a Colombie luggage label (1952);
- a France promorion leaflet (1962);
- a Transat calendar;
- a passenger's ticket sold in 1995 by the CGM (still using the stocks from the Transat!);
- the cover of the book Saint-Nazaire et la Transat. 1860-1940 (Mémoire et savoir nazairiens, No. 11).

Ivan Sache, 11 January 2012

Early reports of the house flag of the Compagnie Générale Transatlantique

Early reported variants of the house flag of the Transat are all white with the red disk in canton.

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Flag shown in the Liverpool Journal of Commerce - Image by Ivan Sache, 11 January 2012

The Liverpool Journal of Commerce chart (1885) shows the flag with the red letters "CG" over "T".

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Two flags shown by Reed - Image by Ivan Sache, 11 January 2012

Reed (1891) shows two different flags, one having "Cie Gle" in chief and the second having the top letters replaced with the larger "CG".

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Flag shown in Lloyd's - Image by Ivan Sache, 11 January 2012

Lloyd's book of house flags and funnels of the principal steamship lines of the world and the house flags of various lines of sailing vessels, published at Lloyd's Royal Exchange. London. E.C. (1912) [LLo12], also available online thanks to the Mystic Seaport Foundation, shows the flag with dots under "IE" and "LE".

Neale Rosanoski, 11 January 2012

Launching of the Normandie liner

When the liner Normandie was launched at Saint-Nazaire in 1932 she went down the slip-way with what appeared to be a Breton style flag at her jack-staff; four equal horizontal stripes which, in a black and white photograph, appear to be dark/white/dark/white.
Is/was this sort of flag normally flown when a ship is/was launched in France?

David Prothero, 2 April 2007