|Armament||8 x 2 5" DP|
Numerous 40mm and 20mm
|VTS Rating||1 7 6 (4)|
The French Normandie was the world's largest ship before WW II and the fastest liner afloat, winning the "Blue Riband" for the fastest crossing of the Atlantic. When France fell in 1940 the Normandie lay idle in New York harbor. She was taken over by the US Navy, who had plans to convert her into a troopship or CV, and kept her in poor maintenance and security. A fire in a pile of mattresses roared out of control and inept fire boats poured so much water topside that Normandie capsized in port and was eventually scrapped.
In "Grand Fleet" the US Navy, upon takeover, immediately rehired the crew and began her conversion to a carrier. When the US Navy shipyards rebuilt the battered HMS Illustrious , they inspected the armored carrier thoroughly to gain insight, but the cost of the heavy armor on a medium-sized ship was the penalty of a small air complement. Normandie's huge size and speed meant that a small complement of a new generation of twin-engined naval aircraft could operate aboard and she could still have her armor, too. Here was the ideal "European CV" that could operate near Axis air bases. When conversion was complete, her name was changed to Lafayette to honor the French American patriot who came to the aid of the Americans in another war.
When the war started for the Americans, Lafayette was attached to the British Mediterranean fleet in Gibraltar while other American CV's went to the Pacific. Her huge deck could launch, but not recover, the twin-engined Beauforts and Beaufighters that she flew off to reinforce Malta. Her own aircraft were the twin-engined Grumman F5F "Bobcat" (formerly known as "Skyrocket") fighter and and an improved version of the British De Havilland Sea Mosquito licensed-built by Fairchild. Lafayette helped escort the Anglo-American Torch convoy to Mediterranean North Africa, and battled the Italian battlefleet with the new "Highball" bouncing bombs slung under the Fairchild "Flounders". Proceeding "around the Horn" to the Pacific (too big to fit through the Panama Canal) she helped offset attrition from previous carrier battles. Lafayette's armor kept Japanese bombs from piercing the flight deck, but her great length made her clumsy and unsuccessful in dodging torpedoes. Her "Flounder" bombers successfully disabled the giant Musashi off Saipan, but her fast-climbing "Bobcats" were too high to stop Nibai's wave-skimming torpedo bombers from scoring multiple hits and nearly sinking Lafayette.
Knocked out of the remainder of the war for repairs, Lafayette brought home thousands of servicemen from the Pacific theatre during Operation Magic Carpet. She berthed in the port of San Francisco, but a pile of mattresses left over from her rescue missions roared out of control. Fireboats poured so much water topside that Lafayette capsized. Stuck with a surplus of CV's, the Navy didn't need the Lafayette so she was eventually raised and scrapped.