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Société Générale des Transports Maritimes à Vapeur (France)


Last modified: 2018-10-28 by ivan sache
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House flag of the SGTM, two versions - Images by Ivan Sache, 16 September 2018

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Presentation of the SGTM

The Société Générale des Transports Maritimes à Vapeur (SGTM) was founded in March 1865 by Paulin Talabot (1799-1885).
Talabot was the founder of the P.L.M. (Paris-Lyon-Méditerranée) railway and the director of the bank Société Générale. He also exploited the iron mine of Mokta-el-Habib, near Bône (Annaba), in Algeria. A wise manager, Talabot founded a shipping line to transport iron ore from his mine to Marseilles, from where it would be brought to the smelting furnaces of the south and center of France by his P.L.M. railway.
In 1866, Talabot bought nine ore tankers from the shipyard of La Seyne, all named after French provinces: SS Alsace, Artois, Auvergne, Bretagne, Dauphiné, Franche-Comté, Lorraine, Normandie and Touraine. The purchase by Talabot of this series of tankers was such an extraordinary event that these ships were nicknamed talabots. However, the name talabot seems not to have spread out of Marseilles and might have rapidly been forgotten, since the Grand Robert de la Langue Française has not entry for it.

Several other ships of the SGTM, mostly cargo-passenger ships, had similar names: SS Savoie, Poitou, Picardie, Bourgogne (1867); Anjou (1868); Bretagne (2) (1876); Navarre, Béarn (1881); Auvergne (2) (188); Provence, Languedoc, Berry (1884); Aquitaine (1891); Orléanais, Nivernais (1901); Flandre (1909); Maine (1910)... However, the iron mine yielded much less ore than expected than expected and part of the 1867 fleet was reallocated to the transport of material required for the building of the Suez Canal, with cotton as the return cargo. The Suez temporary line disappeared in 1870.
In September 1867, Talabot bought four second-hand liners (mentioned above) and opened a monthly service to Brazil. The line was very profitable, so that, in 1871, the SGTM bought its flagship SS La France, which would remain for ten years the biggest merchant ship under the French flag.
In 1870, the company owned 17 ships and operated lines to South America and North Africa. The latter lines was extended to Senegal in 1883.
When Talabot died in 1885, he was one of the most respected men in Marseilles. He remained famous for Castle Talabot, a big house built in pseudo-oriental style in the posh borough of Roucas-Blanc, surrounded with greenhouses and exotic gardens.

In 1893, the SGTM set up an alliance with Compagnie de Navigation Mixte and Caillol in order to provide a less expensive service to Algeria. The alliance worked ten years. In 1896, the company was granted a state contract for the line Marseilles-Oran, served by SS Russie. The launching of the sister-ships SS Les-Alpes and Les-Andes increased the service to South America. The SGTM owned 22 ships in 1900. Three years later, the company bought SS Île-de-France, allocated to leisure cruises, which was extermely original at that time.
In 1909, the Spanish government passed new laws on the transport of emigrants to South America. The SGTM created a subsidiary called Compagnie de Navigation France-Amérique.
In 1914, the SGTM owned 25 ships, most of them being commissioned by the French state. However, the company did not stop its activity and took over the contract granted by the sugar producers of the French Antilles to the Austrian shipping company Cosulich. The Caribbean line was opened in 1915 and doubled next year by a line to Mexico and New Orleans, which was used for the resupplying of France during the war.
Seven cargo-passenger ships and five cargo ships were lost during the war, representing half the SGTM. Reorganized in 1919, the company was granted German ships and built seven cargo-passenger ships and another six cargo ships. In 1930, the company operated 30 ships and was the fourth biggest shipping company in France, after the Compagnie Générale Transatlantique, the Messageries Maritimes and Chargeurs Réunis, and the biggest company completely based in Marseilles.

The crisis of the 1930s caused a dramatical reduction of the tonnage: the SGTM kept only 15 ships in 1939, serving South America, Algeria and the Antilles and the Gulf of Mexico. In this last area, cargo ships carried mostly sugar and rhum and there was no passenger service.
The SGTM lost nine ships during the Second World War and had once again to reorganize with the help of the state. However, the golden age of the shipping lines was over because of the quick development of air transport. The economical crisis that broke out in South America forced the SGTM to abandon the line in 1961, although the company had built the modern liners MS Provence and MS Bretagne specifically for that line. The war and the independence of Algeria suppressed most of the Mediterranean trafic of the company.
In 1960, Fraissinet took control of the SGTM. Fraissinet later merged with Chargeurs. In 1964, Fabre and the SGTM merged as Cie Fabre - Transports Maritimes à Vapeur, under the control of Fraissinet-Chargeurs. In 1974, Sthe GTM sold its last ship, MS Mont-Aigoual and definitively lowered its house flag.
[Paul Bois. Armements marseillais - Compagnies de navigation et navires à vapeur (1831-1988) [boi03]]

Ivan Sache, 13 February 2004

House flag of the SGTM

P. Bois [boi03] shows the house flag of the SGTM is quartered white-blue-white-blue with the letters "T" (blue), "S" (white), "M" (blue), and "G" (white) in the quarters, respectively.
Album des pavillons nationaux et des marques distinctives des marines de guerre et de commerce (1889) [f9r89] shows the flag with only the black letters "S" and "G" in the two respective white quarters.

Ivan Sache, 16 September 2018