theophile-Gautier sulzer powered ships
Theophile Gautier
1927 - 1941

A publicity view of the Theophile Gautier.

The Theophile Gautier was the first diesel powered ship built for the Compagnie des Messageries Maritimes company. It was built to replace the aging Andre Chenier for service on the Mediterranean routes, being launched June 26th 1926 at Dunkirk and beginning service on this route on January 18th 1927.

On February 8th 1927 whilst moored at Naples a mob of Fascists boarded the Theophile Gautier looking for twenty Italian workmen who had stowed away in the hold of the ship in order to escape from Italy. The workmen sustained serious injuries during the attack and removal from the ship, leading to the deaths of seventeen. They had previously been refused passports and were smuggled on board by friends within the crew.

July 12th 1928: departed Marseilles for Noumea??

On April 27th 1937 the route to the Black Sea was reopened, with the Theophile Gautier sailing from Marseilles on this service. Other ships on the Black Sea service were the Patria and General Metzinger. The operation of this service was brief, it was discontinued during 1938, the Theophile Gautier returning to work the northern Méditerrranan ports service.

At the outbreak of World War II the ship became part of the Vichy French fleet but was initially stopped at Pirée due to fuel shortages. However by September 16th 1940 the Theophile Gautier sailed for Beirut for repairs and to repatriate 2,500 French troops (from a total of 10,000 to be repatriated). En-route a British plane instructed the ship to make for Haifa, as a result of this threat two French warships escorted the Theophile Gautier in to Beirut, arriving September 22nd 1940.

On October 1st 1940 whilst docked at Beirut a skirmish was reported on the Theophile Gautier between supporters of General de Gaulle, leader of the Free French and a group of Vichy Government followers.

Allied forces blockaded the port preventing the departure of the ship until June 11th 1941 when the ship sailed to Salonika, Greece, partly to escape the air-raids then affecting the Beirut area. From June 19th to October 3rd the ship remained at Salonika.

Photograph courtesy Alexander Schatek.
The Theophile Gautier at Thessalonica, Greece.

On October 3rd 1941 the ship sailed for Marseilles with a cargo of tobacco, five passengers and 105 crew as part of a small two ship convoy escorted by Italian destroyers. The next day the ship was torpedoed by the British submarine Talisman in the Aegean sea north-east of Kea Island in the Doro channel at position 37°45' north and 24°35' east. Eighteen lives were lost in the sinking.

It is reported that the vessel was sunk because 'the British swore she would never return to France in view of her participation in the defence of Syria'.

Builder: Chant. de France, Dunkerque
Launched: 1927
Length: 425 feet, 133.50m
Beam: 56 feet
Draught 35 feet
Gross Weight: 10,300 tons
Engines: Two CCM Sulzer 6ST60 six cylinder diesel engines of 2,800hp each at 110rpm
Auxiliary engines: four x 4RH31 totalling 1,000hp at 300rpm
Screws: 2
Service Speed: 14.6 knots
Passengers: 105 first, 96 second, 77 third, 310 steerage

(Théophile Gautier 1811-1872 was esteemed greatly by Baudelaire and eulogized profoundly by Mallarmé as poet, novelist, critic, editor, and ballet scenarist.)

Page added August 10th 2007.
Last updated May 3rd 2024.

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