1815 to 1965: A port constantly evolving

Major developments strengthened the commercial power of the port of Le Havre, which was destroyed during the Second World War and rebuilt in 1965.
- Port du Havre

Published on

1815 – 1965: A high-growth port 

After the troubled times of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Empire in particular, with the return of peace, the trade that had been so promising at the end of the previous century, started to develop once more and even better, since the port had abandoned its role as a naval base with the transfer of the arsenal and its facilities. 

The Lamandé plan was completed by the successive entry into service of the Commercial ‘Bassin du Commerce’ and Barre ‘Bassin de la Barre’ basins (1820), as well as by the extension of the outer harbour towards the south-east (Broström quay), and the construction of a new sluice-dock (the Florida forebay). 

From 1825 to 1865, the average capacity of ships (in registered tons) more than doubled, with the appearance of steam ships (the "Elise", the first steamship to call at Le Havre, berthed in 1816). New installations were necessary (and the decision was taken to expand eastwards rather than to the west): 

  • from 1840 to 1843: the Vauban basin was constructed,  
  • from 1845 to 1859: the Leure basin was built,  
  • 1845: the entry to the port was widened from 32 to 45 meters,  
  • 1847: the Florida basin was built (on the eastern section of the sluice-dock dam),  
  • 1862: the Transatlantic lock and New York quay were constructed. 

From 1865 to 1885, the capacity of ships doubled once again and justified a new extension, consisting of the Bellot basin (1887), together with the Leure basin forming what people in Le Havre have called the "great basins" ever since. At the same time the Tancarville canal entered service, and together with the railways that reached Le Havre in 1847, it provided faster, closer links with the hinterland. The demolition of the François 1 tower in 1861 resulted in the entry of the port being widened to 100 m in 1874. 

The port was equipped with modern facilities: no.4 dry dock (1864), the first hangars (1879), and a large number of land-based and floating cranes from 1887 onwards. Industry developed along the Vauban canal and then the Tancarville canal. In 1871 the basin of the Citadel was opened (after the demolition of the citadel), and was connected to the outport by a lock of modest size. 

From then on, the "great basins" were only accessible by a single lock, and therefore only at slack tide. This was a hindrance, in particular for the liners berthed by CGM (Compagnie Générale Transatlantique) from 1864 onwards at the New York quay in the Leure basin. Large steamers in the end of the 19th century were up to 200 m long. 

English and German competition in terms of both goods and passengers was sharp and the port of Le Havre launched a vast program of new extensions, defined and decided after long discussions, mainly as the result of two laws: 

  • law of March 19, 1895: this enacted the construction of a vast outport between two seawalls (North and South), a tidal quay (the future Roger Meunier) and a one-stage lock (the future Quinette de Rochemont). The work was completed just before 1914. 
  • law of February 11, 1909: this decreed the construction of a large tidal dock with a quay 1,000 m long (the future Joannès Couvert) and a dry dock for liners (dry dock no.7). This program was not completed until 1927 (dry dock) and 1929 (quay). 

Between the two world wars, general cargo traffic continued to expand, the great foreign and French liners such as the "Normandy" increased in number, and there was high growth in oil traffic. 

It was at this time, after several decades of lobbying by the business community in Le Havre, that the port gained the status of a port authority, on January 1, 1925. It was allocated a specific budget as such, but due to the inadequacy of the State subsidies that were designed in part to finance it, the Port Authority entrusted the construction and operation of new infrastructures in the tidal dock to a concessionary company, the CIM (Compagnie Industrielle Maritime): 

  • oil terminals entered service from 1926 onwards along the Southern seawall; this enabled the construction of a large oil refinery in Gonfreville Orcher in 1933; 
  • berths for liners and cargo ships on the western section of the 1,000 m-long quay (quai de Floride and Môle Oblique) between 1929 and 1935. 

The latter constructions were the main changes made to the landscape of the port between the two wars: the Port Authority had to abandon the creation of new basins towards the East, and only the Tancarville canal – the Despujols basin – was widened in 1932 –33. 

The Second World War ended in the virtually total destruction of the port. Reconstruction work was based on the site plan of 1939, with two modifications: the Southern bank of the Bellot basin became a linear quay, as did the section to the west of the Joannès Couvert quay (the future Pierre Callet quay). By 1965, reconstruction was finished with the Pondichéry quay (future Jean Reinhart). 

The renaissance of the port is best represented, together with the salamander of king François 1, by the six armoured-concrete pierhead cofferdams of the "Phoenix" type (identical to those used to build the artificial harbour of Arromanches) used in the post-war reconstruction, and by the appropriately named mythical bird, symbol of immortality and resurrection.