LINERS made in France
1st part

Face to the British predominance on the seas, the French government decides to create a mail service between  France and America.
After an unsuccessful try in 1847, the State favours the creation in 1855 by the brothers Emile and Isaac Péreire of the Compagnie Générale Maritime became in 1861 the Compagnie Générale Transatlantique
In 1866, PEREIRE, powered by a 1000 hp engine, reaches the speed of 13,6 knots. In 1868, she realise the passage from Brest to New York in 8 days, 10.5 hours, at an average speed of 14.5 knots, faster than the Cunarder Scotia between Queenstown and New York in 1863. She stays in service until 1882. 
Because of the prices practised en France, PEREIRE was built in Glasgow but the brothers Péreire purchase swampy fields close to St Nazaire, at Penhoët, to install their ship yards.
On 6 august 1851, the Compagnie des services maritimes des Messageries Nationales was created first to lead to the French possessions around Mediterranean sea. 

PERICLES, a paddle of 48 metres, 350 tons, with a steam engine of 120 hp, leaves  La Ciotat yards in 1851.


Normal  stamp

Variety with blue sea 

In May 1860, la GUIENNE launched on 15/10/1859 at La Ciotat, opens a postal service Bordeaux-Senegal-Brazil-La Plata until 1866 ; she wrecks on 1/8/1873.
(See photos

EMIRNE, an iron  screw steamer delivered at La Ciotat in January 1864, assured the first line Suez-Indian Ocean from 1864 until the canal opening, then was used as stationary in Madagascar until 1884. Refit in 1873. Transformed in pontoon in Malaysia, she sinks definitively in 1891.

The Chargeurs Réunis line from Le Havre to South America  is opened on 16 October 1872 by BELGRANO:  built in 1872 by Chantiers de L'Océan at Le Havre as LOUIS XIV, 107 m long, she is powered by a 2 compound cylinders of 700 hp.
On right side on the same stamp, appears  JEAN GUITON 37 m long, built in 1867 at Le Havre for Ré island service from La Rochelle.
On 5 February 1882, the Messageries Maritimes take possession of NATAL, first ship of a set of  7 designed for Australia and Nouméa service from Marseilles. She will steam until her wreck in 1917, off Marseilles, after a collision.

Post-card with NATAL cancellation "ligne N Paq Fr n°6 Suez à Hong Kong" ; 
arrival postmark at  Gravenhagen 12 December 1890

The Chargeurs Réunis Company operates from 1889 the postal line of western African coast with VILLE DE MARANHAO then EUROPE -1906 (note that A. Schweitzer will take her for his first trip to Africa)...
- and ASIE, built at Dunkirk in 1914. Requisite in 14/18, she is used as hospital-ship. She is seized in 1942, set on fire at Genoa in 1944, refloated and condemned.

CHARLES-ROUX successively Messageries Maritimes liner between Marseilles and Algiers, auxiliary cruiser during the war, then hospital ship, and again liner, first turbines ship of French  commercial navy in 1907.

 In May 1907,  the Ateliers & Chantiers de la Loire at St Nazaire deliver DACIA for Constantza-Constantinople-Piraeus-Alexandria service . Around 1916 she is requisite by the Russian Imperial navy then used as an auxiliary cruiser. On 20 August 1944 she is damaged during an air attack at Constantza.
 FELIX-FRAISSINET leaves Port de Bouc yards in 1919 ; cargo-passenger vessel of 3821 tons, 33 passengers, she is sold in 1933 to Société Commerciale Bulgare de Navigation à Vapeur at Varna. As KNJAGINJA MARIJA LUIZA, she sails in Mediterranean sea and blew up during a bombing raid at the port of Piraeus in 1941.

On 20 April 1912, the single French "4 funnels" leaves Le Havre for New York. FRANCE is used as hospital ship between 1915 and 1917 then as cruise ship at the end of 20's. Her carrier end by a fire at Le Havre in 1932.

Ordered in 1913, finished in 1921, PARIS equipped of turbines which drive 4 screws to reach 21 knots. She carries more than 2000 passengers (560 in 1st, 460 in 2nd and 1092 in 3rd) from 1921 to 1939.

Normal stamp

Stamp with printing on reverse

Launched on 26 November 1924 at St Nazaire, EXPLORATEUR GRANDIDIER is sent on the Indian Ocean line  until 1936. She stops sailing in May 1943 and is scuttled by the German on the 16/7/1944.
More on
Launched on 14 March 1926, ILE DE FRANCE, 241 m long, 43 153 tons, starts a 33 years carrier with her 3rd dummy funnel. After having been used as troopship from 41 to 46, she start again her transatlantic service until 1958. Her luxurious amenities  were designed for 673 passengers in 1st, 401 in 2nd and 496 in 3rd.

Un-issued air stamp


Launched in 1922 at La Ciotat, LECONTE DE LISLE leads to Indian Ocean and Indochina with 230 passengers in 3 classes. Although striking a mine after seized by Japanese in 1944, she returns to service from 50 to 52, before serving as troopship then scrapped in 56.
From 1920 to 1925, EL KANTARA is the first Messageries Maritimes liner to pass the Panama canal in 1919. From 1920 to 1925, she steams to Noumea via Panama at 13 knots.

ERIDAN -578 passengers in 3 classes- links Marseilles to Beirut via Alexandria and Jaffa from 1929 to 1942 and from 46 to 56 with reduced amenities for 210 passengers.

With NORMANDIE launched in 1935, the French Line catches the blue ribbon (transatlantic crossing record) at her first travel thanks to her hull conceived for high speeds, even with the most unfavourable weathers .

When achieved in 1939, PASTEUR, 212 metres long, is planed for South America, she will carry in fact troops until 1957.



To follow the second part dedicated to post-war liners, where the French yards show their know-how-know for cruise ships...


Click below for the pages list



Page on line on 9 November 2003
Update on 28 May 2005
Update on 28 march 2009

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