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Vichy’s Ocean Liner

In response to:

Vichy Lives!—In a Way from the April 25, 2013 issue

To the Editors:

Much as I appreciated Robert O. Paxton’s thoughtful and informative review, “Vichy Lives!—In a Way” [NYR, April 25], I was left puzzled by his comments that the keel of the Flandre, the liner on which he traveled in 1960 and knew humorously as the “Flounder,” had been laid down in the Vichy years (circa 1940–1945) as Le Maréchal Pétain. The Flandre was built for the CGT between 1949 and 1951 and did not make its first transatlantic voyage until 1952, all long after Vichy had happily become history. Was the Flandre built on the same keel and to the same plans as Le Maréchal Pétain? Would it be too much to ask Professor Paxton to let us in on what happened between the laying down of the keel in Vichy times and the eventual building of the Flandre under the Fourth Republic?

D.D. Hebb

Robert O. Paxton replies:

Mr. Hebb’s question sent me back to work. Vichy’s ocean liner, built “to affirm on the oceans the rebirth of France” (L’Illustration, October 24, 1942), was indeed christened Le Maréchal Pétain when it was launched at La Ciotat on June 8, 1944 (two days after D-Day). It was put into service not as the Flandre, however, but as La Marseillaise, and was employed on the Indochina run. It is extraordinary that, at a moment when the Germans were melting down French church bells and statues for armaments, Vichy was able to devote tons of high-quality steel to maritime prestige.

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