Monday, November 4, 2013

SS Ile de France

By Julie Rahm

Like many of the French Line's great passenger ships, Ile de France was built by Chantiers et Ateliers Saint Nazaire. Launched in 1926, she was the sixth largest in the world. Her maiden voyage on 22 June 1927 was from Le Havre to New York by way of Plymouth. During World War II, she was used by the British and served as a troopship. Her postwar career began in October 1946 providing service from Cherbourg to New York.

On 25 July 1956, the Ile de France was eastbound and had passed the westbound Andrea Doria many hours earlier. After receiving the distress call from the sinking (see last week’s column) Andrea Doria, Captain Baron Raoul de Beaudean, demonstrating the moral courage of the finest human being, turned the Ile de France around to rescue those aboard the Andrea Doria. The decision, fraught with risk, was a major turning point in the rescue effort. The French liner had sufficient capacity to accommodate the many extra passengers, and was fully provisioned, only a day out of New York on its planned eastbound crossing. While Captain de Beaudean steamed back through the fog to the scene, his crew prepared to launch its lifeboats and receive those to be rescued.

Arriving at the scene less than three hours after the collision, as he neared, Captain de Beaudean became concerned about navigating his huge ship safely among the two wounded liners, other responding vessels, lifeboats and possibly even people in the water. Then, just as Ile de France arrived, the fog lifted, and he was able to position his ship in such a way that the starboard side of Andrea Doria was somewhat sheltered. He ordered all exterior lights of Ile de France to be turned on. The sight of the illuminated Ile de France was a great emotional relief to many participants, crew and passengers alike.

Captain de Beaudean managed to rescue most of the passengers by shuttling his ten lifeboats back and forth to Andrea Doria, and receiving lifeboat loads from those of the other ships already at the scene (as well as the starboard boats from Andrea Doria). Some passengers on Ile de France gave up their cabins to be used by the wet and tired survivors. Many other acts of kindness were reported by grateful survivors.

Two years later the Ile de France was laid up and then sold for scrap to Japan. Renamed Furanzu Maru for the journey to Japan, she became a movie star under the name Claridon in the movie "The Last Voyage". Once filming was completed, she was taken to Osaka and scrapped in 1959.

So, this week, Captain Baron Raoul de Beaudean serves as the metaphor for answering the call for help. He assumed great risk by turning Ile de France around in the fog and racing back to help. When faced with a similar choice, I hope we all have enough courage and accept the risk to help others.

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