Hitchcock used extensive location footage in the film, especially in New York City, and utilized special long lenses to shoot from great distances. At one point Norman Lloyd glances at a capsized ship in the harbor and smiles knowingly; the ship is the USS Lafayette
, which was rumored to have been sabotaged by the Germans. There was clever matching of the location footage with studio shots, particularly in the famed Statue of Liberty sequence, where actor Norman Lloyd appeared to fall to his death. Hitchcock claimed "the Navy raised hell with Universal about these shots because I implied that the Normandie had been sabotaged, which was a reflection on their lack of vigilance in guarding it." In 1947 a man in Germany confessed to the sabotage.
 Saboteurs and Spies from a 1981 New York Times book review http://www.nytimes.com/1981/11/29/books/saboteurs-and-spies.html
USS Lafayette (AP-53) was the French luxury liner SS Normandie following the latter's seizure under the maritime right of angary in New York by the United States after the Fall of France.
Intended for conversion into a high-speed troopship, Lafayette caught fire at New York during the conversion process on the night of 9–10 February 1942 and capsized. She was eventually raised again at great expense and floated to the Brooklyn Naval Shipyard for repair, but the job proved too difficult and she was struck from the Naval Vessel Register 11 October 1945, and sold for scrap in 1946 to Lipsett, Inc.
On 16 December 1941, J. P. "Jim" Warburg
, advisory assistant to Colonel William J. Donovan, Coordinator of Information, in Washington, D.C., sent forward a short memorandum that he had prepared the previous day: "It would be a swell propaganda stunt now that we have taken over the NORMANDIE", he wrote, "to rename her the LAFAYETTE. What about it?" Donovan obviously saw merit in the suggestion, and passed it along, with an even shorter memorandum, on 18 December, to Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox: "Here is a suggestion on the 'Normandie' from Jim Warburg." Knox, in turn, passed the suggestion and its endorsement along to Admiral Harold R. Stark, the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO), with the notation: "Please note the attached suggestion. It has some good features." Soon thereafter, Adm. Stark contacted Rear Adm. Randall Jacobs, Chief of the Bureau of Navigation: "Looks good to me. Please stop in & talk it over."
Soon thereafter, on 20 December 1941, the Auxiliary Vessels Board "as a matter of official record took cognizance of the oral information received" that President Franklin D. Roosevelt "had approved the transfer of the S.S. Normandie to the Navy." On 22 December, the CNO issued orders that Normandie be converted to a "convoy unit loaded transport", and the following day sent a despatch to Rear Adm. Adolphus Andrews, Commandant, 3rd Naval District, authorizing him to accept the ship "under conditions satisfactory to the Bureau of Ships [BuShips]." The Maritime Commission turned Normandie over to the Navy the day before Christmas of 1941. From that date, security for the vessel came under Rear Adm. Andrews's jurisdiction, and under his orders, a USCG detachment of six officers and 277 men remained on board under Lt. Comdr. Earl G. Brooks, USCG, to "... have the safety of the ship in hand." A contract for her conversion to a troop transport was awarded to Robins Dry Dock and Repair Co., a subsidiary of Todd Shipyards, on 27 December. On that date, Capt. Clayton M. Simmers, the 3rd Naval District Materiel Officer, reported to the Bureau of Ships (BuShips) his estimate that the conversion work could be completed by 31 January 1942, and planning for the work to be done proceeded ahead on that basis. Lt. Comdr. Lester C. Scott, USNR, headed the detail representing the District Materiel Office on board the ship to monitor the contractors' carrying out the terms of their contract. Soon thereafter, Secretary of the Navy Knox approved the name La Fayette (later universally and unofficially contracted to Lafayette) on 31 December 1941, and she was classified as a transport, AP-53.Conversion
The exigencies of war, however, militated against Lafayette's conversion being accomplished in a shipyard, but alongside Pier 88. On 9 January 1942, the CNO offered the vessel to the U.S. Army, who accepted that offer on 14 January "with the understanding that the conversion would be completed by the Navy." At the Navy's invitation, the Army provided a group of "marine engineers and naval architects" familiar with U.S. Army transport construction "to recommend such changes in the conversion work as they might deem necessary if the vessel was to be operated by army personnel." On 26 January, however, the CNO asked the Chief of Staff of the Army if the Navy could retain and operate Lafayette after her conversion, to which the army responded in the affirmative. That change in plans "set back or delayed [conversion work] for an estimated period of two to three weeks ..." Capt. Simmers's advising BuShips that "it would not be practicable to complete the conversion until about 28 February" fell on deaf ears. The CNO insisted to BuShips that Lafayette would be commissioned as scheduled."
Capt. Robert G. Coman reported as Lafayette's prospective commanding officer on 31 January 1942. His crew, gradually augmented over ensuing days, consisted mostly of a skeleton engineering force that numbered 458 men, "less than half the number required for the efficient operation of the vessel at sea." Capt. Coman soon saw that the complicated nature and enormous size of his prospective command "was such to require many weeks, and, more properly, months, for a crew to familiarize itself with the ship and be prepared to function as an efficient unit ..."
Mindful of that, and with his entire crew not yet assembled, Coman consulted with Capt. Simmers about 5 February 1942 — the CNO-mandated commissioning date of 11 February 1942 looming ever nearer — and "expressed his anxiety over attempting to take the vessel out on 14 February." Rear Adm. Andrews, cognizant of Simmers's concerns, authorized him to take his complaint to Washington. Consequently, the latter communicated with the office of the Assistant Chief of Naval Operations, asking that Lafayette's sailing be delayed for two weeks.
On 6 February 1942, Capt. Coman and Capt. Simmers traveled to Washington, and conferred with the CNO and with the Chief of BuShips, personally acquainting them with the situation and again urging that Lafayette's sailing be delayed. The two captains who had just come down from New York received encouraging word: "plans would be changed so that certain top[-]hamper ... might be removed to improve her stability, and that [that] work would take another 60 to 90 days, and thus afford ample time for completion of the other work and preparation of the vessel for sea." Undoubtedly relieved that their personal entreaties had bought time, Simmers immediately telephoned the contractor in New York, telling him of the change in plans. Accordingly, supervisors let off many workmen who would otherwise have been engaged in the rush to get Lafayette to sea.
An altogether unwelcome surprise, however, greeted Capts. Coman and Simmers upon their return from the capitol the next day (7 February 1942). They learned that plans for the reduction of top-hamper had been abandoned and Lafayette was to sail on 14 February as planned. This abrupt reversal necessitated summoning workmen back to the ship "and further added to the confused state of affairs" prevalent over the ensuing days. Coman and Simmers "made an appointment with Rear Adm. Andrews for 3 p.m. on 9 February, at which time they hoped to persuade [him] to take a definite stand." Simultaneously, BuShips's chief had arranged to consult with the CNO to postpone the sailing date. Meanwhile, contractors' workmen rushed about their assigned tasks.
Shortly before "... the time set for the respective conferences in New York and Washington", however, sparks from Clement Derrick's torch set alight a bale of kapok life preservers stored temporarily in the ship's main salon.Fire and capsizing
The meetings planned for the afternoon of 9 February 1942 to discuss Lafayette's sailing never took place. The fire that began at 14:30 that day rendered any points, that could have been discussed, moot. Derrick quickly extinguished his torch and joined the frantic initial efforts of workmen who tried to put out the flames by beating on it with coats, pieces of carpet — anything that came to hand. Witnesses described the ensuing blaze as a "racing fire", a "singeing fire on the surface of the bales", and a "grass fire." All men engaged, whether employees of Robins Dry Dock and Repair Co., Coast Guardsmen, or Navy bluejackets, made "strenuous efforts" to extinguish the fire by "manual means and by fire fighting equipment available in the vicinity" — "some of [whom] were in a state of exhaustion when the [New York City] fire department [eventually employing both land and maritime units] arrived approximately 15 minutes after the fire was first discovered." A strong northwesterly wind blowing over Lafayette's port quarter swept the blaze forward, eventually involving the three upper decks of the ship within an hour of the start of the conflagration. Capt. Coman, along with Capt. Simmers, arrived about 15:25 to see his huge prospective command in flames.
Between 17:45 and 18:00 on 9 February 1942, authorities considered the fire "under control" with "mopping up" operations continuing until 20:00. Water entering the ship through submerged openings and flowing to the lower decks negated efforts to counter-flood, however, and Lafayette's list gradually increased to port. Shortly after midnight Rear Adm. Andrews ordered Lafayette abandoned, and the ship continued to list, a process hastened by the 6,000 tons of water having been played on her, New York fire officials concerned that the fire could spread to the nearby city buildings. Lafayette eventually capsized during the mid watch (02:45) on 10 February, "coming to rest on her port side at an angle of about 80 degrees."
"The world military situation at the time", Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox later wrote, "imposed a most pressing demand for troop transports and the enormity of the expansion of ship construction and conversion resulted in the placing of an extremely heavy burden upon the shoulders of those engaged in readying ships for military service. As a result, corners had to be cut and responsibility delegated to personnel less experienced and capable than would be the case in normal times..." A subsequent investigation opined "that the gross carelessness and utter violation of rules of common sense on the part of the employees of Robins Dry Dock and Repair Company, Incorporated, was the direct and sole cause of the fire on [board] the U.S.S. Lafayette."
Almost miraculously, only one man died in the tragedy — Frank "Trent" Trentacosta, 36, of Brooklyn, a Robins' employee and a member of the fire watch. Some 94 USCG and USN sailors, however, including some not only from Lafayette's pre-commissioning crew but men assigned to the receiving ship Seattle, 38 fire fighters, and 153 civilians "received medical treatment or hospitalization for various injuries, burns, smoke inhalation, and for exposure."
The Chief of BuShips assumed jurisdiction over the ship on 24 February 1942, and placed the wreck under the immediate cognizance of the Supervisor of Salvage, USN. "Removal of the superstructure, installation of scaffolding for access inside and outside the ship, removal of the fire hazard, and the exploration of certain unknown conditions which held the possibility of salvage in the balance" then began. Two days later, on 26 February 1942, as a result of the disaster, President Roosevelt issued an executive order vesting "full responsibility for the protection of the water front, water-front activities, and ships in our harbors in the Navy Department" with the Secretary of the Navy investing the Commandant of the Coast Guard as the "responsible individual" under that order.