Joachim Sparkuhlís Miscellany

The unhappy history of hull 161

Marechal Petain was apparently not badly damaged and was lying in shallow water where she could be salvaged. However it was not until May 1946 that the hull was re-floated and towed to Toulon where she was dry-docked. After preliminary repairs, Messageries Maritime had her returned to the yards of La Ciotat but post-war material shortages and labour disruptions combined to delay completion of the ship for other three years.


Finally in March 1949, more than ten years after she was originally ordered, the Marechal Petain was finally ready to undergo preliminary sea trials. But first a new name was needed. Marechal Petain was too closely associated with the collaborationist Vichy regime and a humiliating occupation. The ship was patriotically re-christened La Marseilles and her launching was a major event. At 17,408 gross tons and 181 metres in length she was the largest French liner built since the end of the war. Each of her three brass propellers was driven by a Sulzer diesel engine producing† a top speed of 23.6 knots and an operational speed of 20.5 knots. This was to make her both the largest and fastest ship on the Indochina run, and a fitting symbol of Franceís determination to reassert her stature in her pre-war colonies in the Far East.


La Marseilles began her maiden voyage on June 30th 1949 in the Mediterranean. The ship could accommodate 673 passengers which was low for a vessel of this size. However, 279 of the passengers spaces were in first class and accommodations included two suites and 20 luxury cabins with private verandas. The ship was comfortably furnished and lavishly decorated. An open air swimming pool surrounded by a veranda was the focal point of the recreation facilities.


On August 18† La Marseilles began regular service between Marseilles and the Far East with stops in Port Said, Djibouti, Colombo, and Singapore. She arrived in Saigon on September 5th and then continued on to Hong Kong and Manila.

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