Clemenceau class Aircraft Carriers (1957)

Clemenceau class Aircraft Carriers (1957)

French Navy (1957)

For this 14 of july 2022, French national holiday, here is the Clemenceau class carriers: Clemenceau and Foch were the first purpose-designed aircraft carriers in France since the Joffre class in 1938. They were somewhat inspired by the modernized Essex class, and became the only CATOBAR carriers in Europe in the late 1970s. They were decommissioned in 1997 and 2000, although Foch was sold to Brazil as Sao Paulo and served for another 17 years.

In short, the Clemenceau class were practically the only French carriers active for most of the cold war. France however had operated before they were completed the former British Dixmude (ex- HMS Bitter C3 converted escort vessel) until 1960, Arromanches (ex- HMS Colossus) in 1946-74, and Lafayette (ex-Langley) and Bois Belleau (Belleau Woods) both fast light carriers of the Independence class in 1950-63. They were replaced by FS Charles de Gaulle (R91) after a long study for a nuclear carrier class planned since 1982.

Grumman F-14A Tomcats from VF-14 (USS JF Kennedy) fly over FS Foch (R99) in the Carribean Sea 1 May 1990 during an exercize

Design development

PA 28, the early draft

Since the old Béarn to the point of being deactivated, France in 1945 started studies for a replacement, in part based on studies already done for the purpose-built Joffre class. This led to a first design, called the PA28 Aircraft Carriers (1947). The initial “Clemenceau” was a secret project woekd on in occupied France, as an improvement over the late 1930s Joffre design.

It was planned to built it as soon as the war ended. By August 1947 the design was approved, construction ordered, to be laid down at Brest as “PA28”. Design-wise, it was in part inspired by British light carrier design. The straight flight deck was armoured, both hangars were offset to port, two lifts 15 x 10 m carried 12 tons installed forward and aft of the island and to stop planes, seven arrestor cables. Launches used two steam-driven catapults.

The propulsion system was basically twice the one used on the Mogador class large destroyers, for 105,000 hp and 32 knots. The AA rested on eight twin 100 mm turrets fore and aft, six twin 57 mm (So 24 in all) and 45 aicraft carried. As planned, a mix of Piston engines Fighters SNCASE SE 580 and Jets SNCAC NC1070. In 1949, after a change of minister, the design was revised and considered already outdated, while recent US upgrades planned on WW2 shown a new path more favourable for heavier jets. The PA28 was cancelled in 1950.

Specifications: 15,700/20,000 tons, 214/230 m oa x 25.4m/36 x x 6.5 m, 2 shaft Parsons turbines, Complement: 1800.

PA 54, a brand new 1953 design.

By the early 1950s, the French Navy had no less than four aircraft carriers in service, all dating back from the war: The most modern and larger was Arromanches, ex- British Colossus, followed by rather small vessels, the escort Dixmude (hms Biter) and two Independence class (Lafayette and Bois Belleau). All were fine for piston engine aircraft, but way too small to operated modern aircraft, jets in particular.

To ensure France remained independence in aicraft carrier construction two modern fleet carriers were planned, the first being about 35,000 tons each, comparable, but smaller than the Audacious-class carriers. Built from scratch would be the occasion of taking on the latest ideas in aircraft carrier design: They would be equipped at the onset with an angled flight deck, steam catapults and mirror landing aid now widespread in US and British carriers. They would operate a new generation of French designed jets as well.

The previous PA 28 being cancelled, the initial draft for the new carriers was prepared by the Naval General Staff in 1949. It asked for four aircraft carriers of 20,000 tons, delivered in two phases. After a meeting 22 August 1949, the Supreme Council of the Navy asked for six. On 15 July 1952 however amidst economic hardships, the French Navy looked for a total of up to five for the whole French Union that would not all be available to NATO.

According to RCM 12 after the Lisbon Conference of 1952, France was asked to have a carrier ready at NATO’s request on the first day, two on the 30th and three at 180, which implied laying down three keels in close order. However, plans changed gradually and by 1953 the Navy reorganized it’s strenght around just two tasks forces to cover all her needs, which implied only two aircraft carriers.

PA 54 was budgeted in 1953 but delayed until November 1955. She was in between named “Clemenceau” after PM Georges Clemenceau nicknamed the “tiger”, in charge from 1917. Next was PA 55 Foch, budgeted FY1955, and also delayed until February 1957. She was named after the WWI French entente generalissimo, Marshall Ferdinand Foch.

Detailed design

These were a class of multi-role aircraft carriers, in order to replace all WW2 era ships provided until then. They took everything that was appealing to the admirakty from the British and US models but in the end for their general appearance, they leaned more strongly to the latter. This was overall a small but effective design, like a mix od modernized Essex SCB-27C or even a Forrestal (also in construction at the time) but on a smaller scale for the latter. At the time, missile development was less advanced than in the UK or the US and thus, an all-gun armament was retained. The designers did not anticipated later additions making the ships top-heavy and requiring bulging the hull to solve stability issues.

The Clemenceau-class were conventional CATOBAR designs, launching standard jets through catapults. There was bi debate about the issue. There was a continuation of WW2 designs, years before any STOVL prototype was even in the works. Helicopters were also not a thing for power projection and thus a conventional park was though of from the beginning. At 22,000 standard tonnes and 32,780 max fully loaded, the two Clemenceau class were half the size of a Forrestal, and comlparable to WW2 Essex class, or the unbuilt Malta class. They measured 265 m (869 ft) overall at flight deck level, for a beam of 51.2 m (168 ft) and Draught of 8.6 m (28 ft).

Crew: Number of officers: 80, Number of petty officers: 500, Number of quartermasters and sailors: 800


Rudder wheel aboard Clemenceau

Clemenceau’s (PA 54 class) powerplant was classic. At the time, it is not clear if the French Navy knew the US were working on nuclear powerplant for their carriers and submarines, but in France its development was just started and lack funding. Its adoption was out of question. The radical impulse in the French nuclear program, also carried out for propulsion, started in 1958 under the impulsion and unrelentless drive of De Gaulle. Therefore since 1954 it was envisioned a classic powerplant, taking example of the one planned for the Gascoigne class fast battleships. It consisted two sets of the latest Parsons geared steam turbines fed by 6 Indret boilers. It was quite remarkable for a ship of this size with a figure of 63,000shp per shaft only surpassed only by USN super carriers.

Engine control panel

After their 1978-1980 refit the PA 54 had the following:
-Four propeller shafts (diameter)
-Four RB geared steam turbines
-Six massive double-ended small tubes oil-fired with injectors, very high pressure boilers
-Grand total output 126,000 shp.

-Top Speed: 32 knots (59 km/h) (32.5-33 knots on trials)
-Range as planned: 7,500 miles/18 kts or 3 500 miles nautical @ 32 knots

-2 alternative diesel power unit (2000 KW)
-2 turbo-alternators (2000 KW)

As of note, the range was short, compared to larger USN carriers at around 10,000 nm, but it was fit for the Mediterranean and a good achievement for their size.


The passive protection consisted in some classic armour, with the following:
-Fully Armored flight deck 2-in (45 mm)
-Armored boxes above the machinery space: 2.5-in (50 mm)
-Box around the ammunition holds: 1-in (30 mm)
-Citadel: Sides, bulkheads and deck of the hangar: 2-in (51 mm) of reinforced plates.


For 1954 when they were first studied, missile development was in its infancy in France, and thus, guns were retained for thes carriers at the start. It comprised only a single type: The new French turret developed as a universal gun, eight 100mm in sponsons, two fore and aft on both sides, in sponsons. This classic configuration was coherent with British and US practices of WW2 and the 1950s.
Although lesser-hitting than US pattern 5-in guns, they were faster-firing. These successful models updated in 1964 and 1968 were also used by the Bundesmarine, and the Navies of Belgium, Portugal, Turkey, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, Taiwan and Bulgaria. As of note, four turrets replaced by two missile batteries and finally the last four replaced in 1997 by two SADRAL systems. In the 1980s also five cal.05 Browning M2HB (12.7 mm) machine guns were installed for close-in defence, intimidation and training.

8x 100 mm

100 mm M68 on Foch after decommission

First generation M53. 55 cal., firing a 100 x 700mmR HR fuse shell. In brief:

  • Elevation: 29°/s
  • Traverse: 40°/s
  • Rate of fire: 78 round/min
  • Muzzle velocity: 870 m/s
  • Effective firing range: 17,000 m (elevation 40°)
  • Maximum practical range: 6,000 m aerial/12,000 m surface targets

FS Clemenceau main guns turrets

Stern sponsons details. FS Clemenceau waiting to be BU.

SACP Crotale EDIR systems (52 missiles)

Crotale system (here on FS Tourville)

This system was installed during the 1980s refits on both carriers. The Crotale EDIR (Ecartométrie Différentielle Infrarouge) works with the radars DRBV 15 and DRBV 51B/C. Guidance rests on auto alignment and fuse detonation. Each system comprises three elements, the launch turret equiped with a Thomson Ku-band Target Pointer and 8 canisters. Under the turret launcher is the FCS comprising a radar data display and digital compruting system with display. The third part is the storage area, behind the deck and tailored for 18 spare missiles, with a lift for a full 30 minutes reload (all eight missiles). This is a derivative of the 1971 design Crotale R-440 in use in many armies. The Chinese PLAN also used its own derivative version on the Type 05212, Type 053H313 et Type 054A vessels.

Sadral SATCP systems

Installed in 1997. This system derived from the short SAM (barery larger than a MANPAD). This Mount comprises 6 Mistral missiles with an automatic fire control of the FCR or EO systems. They carried a 2.95 kgs payload to 930 m/sec or Mach 2.71 via infrared homing to any target in the vicinity of 6 km. Short range indeed. This system was merely adopted for the last refit of FS Foch destined to the Brazilian Navy, replacing the remaining 100 mm guns for and aft in combination with the Crotales.


Both were equipped with the following systems over time:
-Radars DRBV-20C, DRBV-23B, DRBV-50, NRBA-50, CCA.
-Fire control radars: two DRBI-10, two DRBC 32A, two DRBC 31D
-SQS-503 sonar (fixed), removed in 1980
-ECM suite ARBR-16, ARBX-10
-Docoy launcher: 2x Syllex Rocket Launcher
-CCS: SENIT-1 Central Combat System
-Satnav: Syracuse, Fleetsatcom

Aviation Facilities

The landing area is 165.5 m (543 ft) long, 29.5 m (97 ft) wide angled at 8 degrees off of the ship’s axis. The flight deck was 265 m (869 ft) overall and its forward aircraft elevator was a side one, placed to starboard, as placed on US carriers, while the rear one was also placed the deck edge.

The ships had a single BS-5 steam catapult forward, both 52 m (171 ft) long at the bow, and a single BS-5 waist catapult on the angled landing deck. The hangar measured 152 m (499 ft) by 22 m (72 ft) fwd and 24 m (79 ft) aft, 7 m (23 ft) high, leaving plenty of room to spare for the parked aviation.

They also carried 1 800 m³ tons of jet fuel and 1100 liters (400 m³) of aviation gasoline (avgas) plus 3 000 m³ of ammunition for her air group alone. This was a far cry to the capacity onboard US supercarriers though and designed for shorter and less intensive deployments.

Air Group

French Aeronavale
French Aeronavale, 1980s air group.

Super-Etendard and F-8 aboard Clemenceau

1950-60s: The first commissioned air group only comprised 40 aicraft, half that on US supercarriers of the time. The mark comprised SE.20 Aquilon 202/203 jets, Étendard IVM/P fighters and the Br.1050 Alizé ASW planes.

In 1967 Clémenceau had aboard six F-8E(FN) superiority fighters, 18 Étendard IVM attack aicraft and 8 Alizé ASW piston-power aircraft.
In 1977, she had ten F-8E(FN) Crusader fighters, still sixteen Étendard IVM and four Étendard IVP for reconnaissance, six Alizé ASW and an helicopter park of two Super Frelon heavy SAR and two light Alouette II SAR and liaison helicopters.
In 1983, FS Foch still carried her six F-8E(FN) crusader fighters, alonsgide fifteen Super Étendard and three Étendard IVP plus five Alizé and six Super Frelon helicopters.

Their last 1990s air group at the time of the Gulf war comprised ten F-8E(FN) fighters, sixteen Super Étendard, three Étendard IVP, seven Alizé and two Alouette III.
The Dassault Rafale was the designed replacement for the F8 Crusader, but development dragged on so much the F8 was kept until their decommission, despite modifications made to operate the Rafale M (“marine”).

Alouette III used for SAR in the 1970s

PA 58 (Verdun class), the successor “atomic carrier”

As soon as the Clemenceau class was approved, the admiralty planned its next class, much larger in order to operate large jets able to operate nuclear strikes. Known as PA58 it was advanced enough for the Navy to have named the lead ship FS Verdun. Much larger than the PA54 (Clemenceau) they reached 45,000 tons, twice as much as the PA54, looking at the first Super-carriers like the Forrestal class. The ship reached 286 m overall, and was 34 m wide for 58 m wide flight deck, much more than the Clemenceau. It was still much smaller than the US carriers and the air group, much reduced in comparison.

Despite it’s atomic strike capabilities, nuclear power in France was not advanced enough to fir the new carrier with a nuclear plant, and thus, Steam turbines on 4 shafts for 200,000 shp and 33 knots was the solution chosen. Parking size on deck was larger, aircraft handling improved, with two larger, heavy capacity (22 tonnes) lifts, two large catapults forward and the same angled deck as the PA54. Armament comprised from the start two Masurca SAM systems on side sponsons plus eight 100 mm guns fore and aft of the flight deck on sponsons. The SAMs were placed just like on the Kitty Hawk class.

The air group was a repeat of the Clemenceau class, but with the addition of a squadron of Mirage IVM navalized version of the French atomic bomber. The Mirage IVM weighted 20 tons and so required new lifts and catapults. The rest comprised a park of Alizé ASW aircraft and Etendard fighter-bombers plus SAR helicopters for a total of 50 aicraft. In 1960, the admiralty considered the many delays and budget issues with the project, and eventually downgraded it without the Masurca SAM. Considered this time irrelevant, the program was terminated in 1961.

The result of these studies was the adoption of a nuclear strike aboard Foch and Clemenceau, carrying the AN52 nuclear bomb, which was brough to the objective bu a Super-Etendard, despite its limited range. A brand new carrier, this time nuclear-powered was announced in 1980 with the PAN program. Delays accumulated as discussions of a partnearship with the Ryla Navy which had broadly simlar requirements, although on a conventional basis. In the end, the Charles De Gaulle (R91) diverged considerably from the joint French-British project and PAN 2 was cancelled in the post-cold war budget cuts.

Infographics from wikimedia CC, Yannick Le Bris, from DCAN plans via Martine Destouches from Châtellerault archives.

⚙ Clemenceau’s 1961 Specs

Dimensions 9,085 t, 11,100 t FL
Displacement 180.5/187m x 20.3m x 6.5 m
Propulsion 2 CEM Parsons geared steam turbines, 4 boilers,
Performances 877,000 hp, 33 knots, range 4,000 nm
Armament Eight twin 127 mm M1958 DP, ten twin 57 mm M1951 AA guns
Sensors Radar DRBV 20A, DRBI 10
Crew 977

Clemenceau refits & modernizations

1966: Clemenceau had bulges fitted (like Foch).
1978: Lifts capacity increased to 20 tonnes and SENIT-1 CCS and SENIT-2 CCS installed
1986: Four 100mm/55 removed for 2×8 Crotale Navale SAM (36 R440) installed, as well as the radars DRBV-20C, DRBV-50, NRBA-50 and two Syllex decoy chaff launchers. The DRBV-15, and NRBA-51 radars were installed and Sagaie decoy RL, displacement rising to 27,307/32,780 tonnes.
1992: Two twin Simbad SAM (8 Mistral).
1997: Four 100mm/55 removed and 2×6 Sadral SAM (24 Mistral) installed and later two 30mm/82 OTO Breda-Mauser Model F for the Brazilian Navy.

Foch refits & modernizations

1966: Same as Clemenceau: Bulges added
1980: From July 15, 1980 to August 15, 1981, Foch had a major overhaul in Toulon: Internal quarters installations, living quarters, flight deck, propulsion system with 2 additional boilers, SENIT 2 satnav system and television network proving infos to all departments, inertial unit for Super-Etendard reclalibration, bunkers layout fit to house the AN 52 tactical nuclear weapon.

1987-88: From February 1987 to June 1988 Foch received two Crotale EDIR replacing the four aft turrets, and a DRBV 15 radar, 2 chaff EW Sagaie system and the Syracuse + Inmarsat satnav and transmission systems, modernized SENIT with links 11 and 14, CSEE DALLAS laser/IR camera landing assistance system, SNTI intercom, Minicin inertial navigation unit and ammunition bunkers fit to manage the ASMP cruise missile. The the fixed SQS-503 sonar was removed.

1993: Foch had some mofifications on the launching system to test the Dassault Rafale Marine, taking place in April 19-20 this year. For better NATO operability she was also fitted with the US Fleetsatcom transmission system, 2 OE-82 antennas and the AIDCOMER system.

1995-97: From September 1995 to September 1997 she had her last radical upgrade before being resold to Brazil: The while propulsion system was modernized; New boilers and control systems, and two Sadral SATCP systems installed to replace last turrets forward and aft port and starboard plus the latest SENIT 8/01 (SARA) combat system.

✚ Read More/Src

Shipbucket rendtition by Vossieln via


Short construction video footage in US news of the time
Comparison with HMS Audacious
100 mm gun on
The 100mm on

On bbc news 2009
Kagero Book/topdrawings


❏ John Gardiner Conway’s all the world’s fighting ships 1947-1995 (1978, reedition 1990)
❏ Boniface, Patrick (September 2015), “Clemenceau carriers”, Ships Monthly: 46–49
❏ War Machines Encyclopedia, Aerospace Publishing Ltd, London, 1984, p.476
Plans: ArromanchesLafayetteDixmudeJoffreBearnFoch

The models corner:

Heller 1:400

1:400 Foch Heller’s starter kit
. The company also proposes a full 3-ship pack sea supply including Clemenceau/Foch, a Durance class tanker and Dupetit-Thouras class Frigate. Or FS Charles de Gaulle.

The famous 1:400 Heller Kit (likely out of stock). It was also poposed by HP-Models at 1:700, Progresswerk Nürnberg 1:400, Shizukyo (SK) 1:1000, Blue Ribbon Collectors Series, but also Heller, Lodela and ADA XIEDA at 1:1750 for wargaming.Query

Marine Alouette III from FS Clemenceau

FS Clemenceau (1957)

The construction start date dates from May 26, 1954 and the assembly of the first prefabricated elements (at the Brest arsenal) began in December 1955 at basin no. 9 in Laninon (DCAN). Launched on December 21, 1957, the Clemenceau carried out its first sea trials on November 23, 1959. Admitted to active service on November 22, 1961 and assigned to the aircraft carrier group (ALPA), she immediately sailed for Toulon where it will be based initially.

From January 29, 1962, she participated until February 5 in the BigGame NATO exercise, with the US Sixth Fleet (USS Saratoga and USS Intrepid aircraft carriers), in the Western Mediterranean, as an anti-aircraft carrier. submarine, then he continues, from March 9 to April 2 with the NATO exercise Dawn Breeze VII, in the Gibraltar area.

Ckemenceau’s deck between Upgrades, in 1970 and 1990

During her long career, Clemenceau took part in the majority of French naval operations:

  • 1968: deployment of Force Alfa in the Pacific;
  • 1974-1977: operations Saphir I and II in the Indian Ocean for engagement and protection during the independence of the Republic of Djibouti;
  • 1983-1984: Operation Olifant in the eastern Mediterranean during the Lebanese civil war;
  • 1987-1988: Operation Prometheus in the Arabian Sea during the war between Iran and Iraq;
  • 1990: Operation Salamander in the Red Sea and Arabian Sea during the conflict between Iraq and Kuwait;
  • 1993-1996: Operation Osprey then Salamander in the Adriatic Sea during the Yugoslav civil war.

Between 1959 and 1997, FS Clemenceau underwent like Foch numerous modifications, among which the the “Crusader Capability” in 1966, “nuclear qualification” on December 10, 1978 with five AN-52 bombs and medium-range ASMP cruise misiles from 1993, 2 “Crotale” EDIR systems in 1985, modernization of its propulsion and detection system. In 1960s and 1970s, the two aircraft carriers were often moored side by side at the “aircraft carrier berth” in Brest’s harbor.

She sailed on all oceans and seas of the world. At the end of her career, she cumulated one million nautical miles, 48 times around the globe, having spent 3,125 days at sea, with 80,000 hours of air operation, more than 70,000 catapult launches.

In 1983, she also disrupted a long tradition as the first Marine Nationale seagoing vessel to greet female personnel on board. The three women were an Army doctor, senior master military secretary and first quartermaster. Of course this will change on the long run and peak to around 20% recently.

Faithful to another long-held tradition of Marine Nationale, while anchored in Toulon, she welcomed on board many painter artists like Maurice Boitel, Gaston Sébire (official painter of the Navy) and others. Her Junior Officers’ Wardroom was decorated with an oil on canvas by naval painter Mathurin Méheut. Filmmaker Pierre Schoendoerffer, which immortalized the French Indochina war, and was himself a navy veteran, also sailed on board in 1981, from Brest to Hamburg.

Clemenceau, overhead view, in 1981

Throughout her lengthy career, the “clem” as she was popularly known by her crew and the French public at large, participated almost all major French naval operations. From 12 January to 5 February 1962, her firdt test was NATO exercise BigGame with the US 6th Fleet, in the western Mediterranean. There she acted as ASW aircraft carrier. From 9 March to 2 Aprilshe took part in NATO’s Dawn Breeze VII, in the Gibraltar zone.

-From January 1968, Clemenceau took part in the large research for the recently disappeared submarine Minerve, in the Mediterranean. Contact was lost just 25 nautical miles from Toulon, her home port. On 22 July 2019 French Defence Minister Florence Parly announced her wreck had been discovered, and causes of her loss now more clear. That was also a great relief for the crew’s relatives, so many yeasr after the event. Minerve’s wreck is now a grave site.

-Also in 1968, Clemenceau was deployed for the first time to the south Pacific. She assisted to preparation and detonation in French Polynesia of Canopus, first French hydrogen bomb. As the centerpiece of Alfa Force she assumed the defence of two atolls where at that time was assembled more than 40% of the entire French navy in tonnage. Clemenceau as flagship directed forty ships. This was at the time also one of the largest fleet in the pacific, outside the US 7th fleet and JSDMF. However at the time, De Gaulle decided to keep France out of NATO and she no longer took part in joint exercizes.

-In 1974–1977, Clemenceau was deployed off the African coast and Indian Ocean. She took part in Operation Saphir I and Saphir II to defend the recently obtained concession of Djibouti, transformed into a naval base.

-In 1983–84 saw her deployed off the Lebanese coast during the Civil War, rotating with Foch and providing constant air support to French peacekeepers operating within the Multinational Force in Lebanon and the United Nations Interim Force (UNIFIL) in what was called Operation Olifant.

Super-Etendards launched from FS Clemenceau in 1980s operations.

-In 1987–1988 she took part in Operation Prométhée in the Gulf of Oman, as observer and to protect trade in the red sea during the Iran-Iraq war. The Promethée battle force, called Task Force 623, centered around Clemenceau, also comprised the mine counter-measures support ship Loire, the fleet tankers Meuse, Var, and Marne.

-In 1990, she took part in Operations Desert Shield & Operation Desert Storm. Under escort of the missile cruiser Colbert and the tanker Var, she carried 40 army antitank helicopters SA-341F/342 Gazelle and transport SA-330 Pumas, plus trucks. The French side of the 1991 campaign was called Operation Salamandre in the Red and Arabian Seas until the liberation of Kuwait.

-In 1993-1996 Clemenceau experienced three tours of duty off the former Yugoslavia: Operation Balbuzard in support the UN troops. She also later took part in Operation Salamandre in the Adriatic Sea. Her later years were less impressive and she remained mostly in the Mediterranean for her last sorties in between maintenance rounds, which proved more difficult as time passed.


In Brest, 2008, before being transferred to UK for scrapping.

On 31 December 2005, Clemenceau left Toulon and sailed to Alang in India to be BU, despite ecologist protests about improper disposal. On 6 January 2006, the Supreme Court of India denied access to Alang and the ship was boarded by activists held by Egyptian authorities when transiting the Suez Canal. Eventually the French Conseil d’État ordered Clemenceau back to France, and the British Graythorp yard near Hartlepool was tasked to scrap her in far better conditions. It started on 18 November 2009 and ended in late 2010.

FS Foch (1959)

F-14 Tomcats from USS JF Kennedy above FS Foch during a joint exercises in 1990.

In brief

  • In 1966, Foch took part in Force Alfa, in the Pacific French nuclear experiments. She was relieved by FS Clemenceau.
  • In 1977 she was in the Red Sea to relieve Clemenceau, to protect the independence of Djibouti (Operation Saphir II).
  • In 1978 she was redeployed in the Red Sea, always for Operation Saphir II.
  • In 1983, she took part in supporting the French contingent deployed in Lebanon (Operation Olifant), rotating with Clemenceau and providing constant air support to French peacekeepers in coordination with UNIFIL.
  • From 1993 to 1999, she took part in Operations Balbuzard, Salamandre and Trident (Osprey, Salamander, Trident) in the Adriatic. It was part of the deployment off former Yugoslavia in coordination with UNPROFOR, SFOR, and KFOR. Foch was tasked of the close protection of French elements in thes eoperations, and carrying out air strikes when directed by UN and NATO HQ.

In 1992 for the first time she deployed the Dassault Rafale for its first tests, after deck modifications made in preparation to and operate it. These tests went on in 1995-96 after further deck modifications.

Combat history

Etendard IVM and Super-Etendard aboard FS Foch in 1983

Her “near-duel” in which her French F-8 Crusaders had a serious confrontation was On 7 May 1977: Two Crusaders on patrol were interecepting for an exercizes French Air Force (4/11 Jura squadron) F-100 Super Sabres stationed at Djibouti. The flight leader initiated a dogfight but quickly called his wingman for help as it happened these were not the expected French jets but two Yemeni MiG-21 Fishbeds. Master armament was switched to “on” but, but after a few passes, all four fighters wisely disengaged.

Super Etendards launched from Foch off Lebanon, 1983
Super Etendards launched from Foch off Lebanon, 1983

In October 1984, Foch took part in Operation Mirmillon off the coast of Libya due to the Gulf of Sidra crisis (International waters claimed by Libyan leader Khaddafi). She flew many sorties, spotted Lybian jets but unlike US Navy’s F-14s, never was closed enough to engage Libyan jets, most of which were Mig-21 and 23.

Operation Dragon Hammer, 1992
Operation Dragon Hammer, 1992

During the Yugoslav Wars in the summer of 1993, winter of 1994, and summer 1994 she was in close support of UN operations, deploying her F-8 Crusaders to encfoce the no fly zone, and Super Étendards. Later in 1998 she deployed the same super-etendards for close strike missions over Serbia in 1999. She lost no planes, despite two SAM being launched one day. However she had to be withdrawed earlier than expected after four continuous months, longest yet, in part due to problems with her catapult system. and sadly other sites reports also a mutiny in 1999 as cause for her departure. It indeed happened, but its story was amplified by a disgruntled former (Ret.) officer, which faslely reported to the press at the time that 60 volunteers of Maghrebi descent took the captain hostage in the cafeteria to protest against French raids on several sites in Kosovo, considered holy for the Muslim.

Replenishment at sea (RAS), called in french RAM (RavitAillement en Mer)

This had been debunked since in Cols Bleus Magazine, the official navy review. Instead of the alleged commando operation, a few gendarmes solved the issue, and six sailors (not of Maghrebi decent) only were ousted of the ship because of their conduct, and repatriated to Hyères NAS. There was indeed general discontent of some recently enlisted young recruits after a four-month non-stop deployment with only two short stops in Trieste, during Operation Trident. Sadly this fake new is still found on some websites.

In 2000, Foch made her last deployment. She led Task Force 473 on a four month around-the-world tour. In fiction she appeared in the 1995 film “Crimson Tide” with American journalist Richard Valeriani playing himself aboard reporting. Foch also appears in Tom Clancy’s 1986 novel “Red Storm Rising”.

As São Paulo

sao paulo

Foch was in disposal until September 2000, afetr negociations with the Brazilian government, interested in acquiring her. She was purchased eventually for US$30 million with no air group and recent Mistral SAM additions. She was to replaced the WW2 Minas Gerais after 40 years of service. Previouslt Bazil also approached Spain for a new built US$500 million or acquiring Dédalo. 23 second-market upgraded AF-1 (A4 Skyhawk) fighter were purchased from Kuwait for $70 million, combined with existing Brazilian helicopters were intended for the São Paulo air group.

Purchased while still operational, she was received in her current state by the Brazilian Navy and incorporated, commissioned on 15 November 2000. Next she trained with her AF-1 fighter group for qualificatitions and was visited while in Rio de Janeiro on 17 February 2001.

Given her age and despite her last upgrades, the new carrier (same pennant R99), had a short active life. She took part in Operations ARAEX, PASSEX, and TEMPEREX, to qualify and train the Argentine Navy’s Super Étendards and S-2T Turbo Trackers. She also practice carrier-based attack missions. In 2005 she was struck by a major fire, started by an explosion killing one and injured ten, due to a rupture in the steam pipeline. The Brazilian Navy newt launched an extensive overhaul.

When completed in late 2009, she had all steam turbines repaired and cleaned, maintenance of the surface condensers, all boilers retubed, high-pressure compressors fixed, AC electrical generator refurbished, spare parts purchased and new pumps, valves and piping network replaced. Sghe received two new API oil-water separators, two water cooling units, new chemical oxygen generator, new oil tanks, new Naval Tactical Data System, closed-circuit television system, IFF transponder, MAGE system (ESM), new flight deck inspection facilities and new Optical Landing System processing unit and complete overhaul of the aircraft catapults.

Her 12 A-4 Skyhawks were upgraded by Embraer for $140 million as the AMX and F-5EM. They gained the new Elta 2032 radar and carried the MAA-1B, Python 4, and Derby AAMS. Marsh Aviation converted her four S-2T Turbo Trackers to AEW planes to be later delivered. This was added to six S-70B Seahawk helicopters purchased in 2008. However even so after her recommissioning in 2010, her service life was cut short. São Paulo suffered another major fire in 2012 and by September 2016 repairs were still going on when the commander of the Brazilian Navy, Admiral Eduardo Leal Ferreira announced a radical overhault of her old propulsion systemand replacement of catapults. But it was never done as of 14 February 2017, she was announced decommissioned due to budget constraints. It was formal on 22 November 2018 and since 2020, there is an ongoing French effort to turn her into a museum back in France.

Last user of “Le Crouze”

F8E (FN) of Flotilla 14F, landivisio, June 1985 in its original livery

When facing the construction and planned completion of its two large aicraft carriers (about Essex-size) to replace natably the smaller Arromanches, oppoortunity arose in 1962 to consider the acquisition of something better than the current SE. Aquilon (French-built de Havilland Sea Venom), but only had Dassault’s Etendard IV, a small multirole naval attack plane, not able to take on first rate interceptors of the time. Without an easy way to convert the Mirage III into a naval fighter, as it was never maent to be, one quick solution was to turn to the US and it’s ever growing menagerie of naval aircraft. In 1962 there was no contest at the best: The Vought F8 Crusader, the “last gunsliger” made it’s entry debut in the USN and was quite promising as interceptor, even breaking all records of USAAF models of the time.
The French Navy was especially interested into its main asset, an innovative variable-incidence wing provided with high-lift slats, flaps and drooping ailerons allowing such a low-speed lift that despite it’s huge size, the new interceptor can operate from the fleet of SBC-34 Essex carriers, safely. The French looked at the similarities to their requirements and don’t look further for its adoption, starting negociations with the Pentagon for their acquisition. However they realized the Clemenceau were still smaller and the bird needed to be further tamed if possible, to what Vought answered with having the angle of incidence of the wing going from 5 to 7°, enabling a 12 knots drop in landing speed, which was quite welcome.
Henceforth, the French gocernment announced in 1962 the purchase of 40 F-8E(FN), plus six TF-8E(FN) for training. In all, 42 single-seaters were ordered, to be placed into two Flotilla in France, the 12F and 14F based in landivisiau, Britanny. The first F-8E(FN) flew on June 26, 1964 while Pilots trained in VF-174 “Hell’s Razors” at NAS Cecil Field, Florida.
The new warbird was outright loved by the French for its capabilities and nicknamed “Le Crouze”.
With these, both Clemenceau and Foch would have a first rate interceptor for many decades. Perhaps too much. Indeed in the early 1980s was asked the question of their replacement, despite a proposal for a serie of possible upgrades. They were planned to be replaced by the Dassault Rafale, but the latter was still in nigociations with other partner countries, which eventually created the European 4th gen. fighter split precisely due to differences of views concerning the CATOBAR carrier constraints specific of the French (leading to the Eurofighter Typhoon). Delays had the Rafale only first flying on July 4, 1986, and the Rafale M for “Marine”, only were operational from December 2000.
This meant all this time, “Le Crouze” had to make due for first rate interception.

F8E (FN) modernized in 1986 with its new livery, Flotilla 12F.

As planned, an answer was provided: Dassault introduced in 1978 already the “Super Etendard” to replace the Etendard IV and provide some well-needed modern electronics and capabilities, but only with a secondary air defence role due to its speed of only 1 560 km/h (Mach 1,3). The second measure was the modernization of the F-8E(FN) Crusader:
It was first upgraded to carry four pylons for US Sidewinder missiles, replaced by the more modern Matra R530 missile, until withdrawn from service in late 1989 and the Magic 2 therafter. But also they received the new improved airframe of the F-8J in the early 1970s, and by the late 1980s they were given the following improvements as a life-extending measure:
-New zero-zero capable Martin-Baker Mk. 7 ejection seat.
-New wiring and hydraulic system
-Cockpit instruments rearranged and modernized.
-New avionics fitted (radar altimeter, IFF, ILS, VOR)
-Mirage F1 gyroscopic navigation system adopted.
-Thomson-CSF SHERLOC radar warning receiver.
The first of these was completed and tested by June of 1992. By September 1994, 12 were delivered, now known as the “F-8P” (For Prolongé/Prolonged). Sea trials took place in 1993. This was the penultimate version of the venerable Crusader, started in the 1950s as a pure gun interceptor. The last operational ones, No.7, 10, 11, 34, 39 were retired on December 15, 1999 at NAS Landivisiau, after a 40+ years service…

The Missile Cruiser Colbert (1953-1991)

FS Colbert missile cruiser (1956)

French Navy (1953-1991)

The last French cruiser

With the start of the cold war France still possessed a number of cruisers and a modernized battleship (Jean Bart), which provided cover for its aircraft carriers. In 1946 was launched her last prewar unfinished cruiser, the De Grasse completely redesigned and reconverted as a modern AA cruiser with command facilities. Soon the design was jusged s successful the admiralty ordered in 1953 a sister-ship at Arsenal de Brest, to be named Colbert.

The new cruiser was eventually completed in 1959, three years after De Grasse, with a very similar arrangement and artillery. The two cruisers operated for years as fleet escorts until their path diverged with the advent of the missile era. De Grasse became a command ship for nuclear experiments in the pacific while Colbert was taken in hands in 1968-70 to be completely recbuilt as a missile cruiser, the only one in the French Navy. She served for the remainder of the cold war, a known ambassador of the French Navy around the world with the other cruiser of the fleet, the helicopter cruiser Jeanne d’Arc until the end of the cold war. She was later decommissioned and anchored in Bordeaux for her second life as a museum ship.

Origin and development of the Colbert

The Colbert was initially planned to second the cruiser De Grasse, as an oceanic aircraft carrier AA escort. She was basically a sister ship, built with a considerable gap, between 1938 (the keel of De Grasse being laid down) and 1950, when the new cruiser was planned. In between other solutions were studied, notably the conversion of former inerwar cruisers still extant at that time: The Suffren and Montcalm notably were in good general state, relatively recent still, and could be modernized. However as they were designed with larger turrets and with all their loading systems in barbettes also tailored for a traditional heavier gun, the conversion was judged too costly. It seems more interesting to just copy the De Grasse conversion plans and applied them to a brand new ship.

There were back-and-forth discussions before the design was ready in early 1952, with modifications directly driven by studying De Grasse’s plans and trying to improve the design in many points. The design was approved and construction was approved and planned in FY1953 budget. The final plans of Colbert retained the same specifications, with an almost identical silhouette and the exact same artillery plan, but the hull and machines underwent many revisions. Indeed the De Grasse hull was basically a 1938 design, with a standard poop and turbines based hig speed machinery, which impacted range. Superstructures followed the same general lines of the De Grasse, but been considerably redesigned, taking advantage of early feedback from De Grasse. Revisons were made during construction as well.

Colbert design: AA cruiser

The biggest change inside the hull was the powerplant (see later) but the hull lines were modified as well. Prewar designed stressed the best lenght/width ratio to take advantage of a powerful machinery. This was revised and the Colbert’s stern was modified for a transom stern, already used on the 1936 La Galissonière class and preferred now by the French as it presented hydrodynamic advantages. The hull’s final dimensions were als follows: An overall lenght of 180.5 m (592 ft 2 in), versus 188.3 m (617 ft 9 in) on De grasse, explained mostly by the transom stern, making the hull shorter. A beam pushed to 19.7 m (64 ft 8 in) at the waterline, versus 18.6 m (61 ft) for the De Grasse, but about 21.5 m at the upper deck level due to the hull flare. And a draft of 6.5 m (21 ft 4 in) fully loaded way more than for De Grasse 5.54 m (18 ft 2 in). Thes overall larger volume made for a slightly lighter tonnage however, 9,084 t (8,941 long tons) standard, 11,587 t (11,404 long tons) full loaded versus 9,389 t (9,241 long tons) standard, 12,350 t (12,155 long tons) full load. This was largely explained by the absence of armour and choice of a lighter and more modern powerplant.

The crew comprised, in 1959, 997 men: 70 officers, 19 senior masters and first masters, 52 masters, 108 second masters, 748 quarter masters and sailors.

Powerplant of Colbert

While the prewar De Grasse adopted two Rateau turbine groups from Chantiers de Bretagne rated at 52,500 hp, 39,149 kW each so about 150,000 shp, fed by four Indret oil-fired boilers, French engineers looks at a better way to dispense power on a lighter package while reaching a better range, a comon prewar critic of both Mediterranean-Oriented French and Italian cruisers. Indeed the Colbert was now classed as an oceanic escort, thus performing missions both in the Atlantic and Pacific. Range became crucial.

She received indeed 2 CEM-Parsons turbines groups, really the latest tech for steam turbines at the time, very efficient, and driving 2 propellers. They were fed by four Indret boilers, also of a modern design working at 45kg/cm², 450 C°. Total output was an honorable 86,000 shp or 63,286 kW. Top speed, as planned was reached and surpassed on sea trials: 33,7 knots, while it was limited to 32, and after the 1970s refit, down to 31,9 knots in 1987. Her range was however as good as planned, 4,000 nautical miles at 25 knots, so better than the 6,000 nm at 18 knots for the De Grasse. The powerplant was never changed and had a lot of commonality to the helicopter cruiser Jeanne d’Arc.


These two cruisers constitute at the same time the pinnacle and also the swan song for classic antiaircraft cruisers. At the start of World War II, AA artillery was seen as secondary still, directed only by optical devices, but already the US (wuth the Atlanta) and UK (with the Dido and many conversions) were looking into these ships as specialized escort. The war only confirmed these assumptions, etablishing air power to the eyes of many as the dominant force in WW2. Therefore, both the De Grasse and Colbert were bristling with heavy and intermediate cannons, but with just two caliber better suited to modern AA, long range and fast planes, including jets:

5-inches (127 mm)/54 Modele 1948:

For the ammunition commonality were saw already for the De Grasse and T47 destroyers, the 5 inches or 127 mm caliber was chosen because ot used the same standard US caliber, available in large quantities to NATO countries. Colbert, like De grasse, had sixteen in all: Four twin mount forward and four after, two at deck level in the ship’s axis, with a superfiring turret, and two in tandem on the superstructure deck. These guns were powerful and still dual-purpose, but they were over-complicated, required 11 trained personel per gun, with performances less than stellar with 11 rpm in the best conditions. Their ceiling was 29,530 feet (9,000 m). It was longer in antiship fire and gunnery support inland (up to 24,060 yards (22,000 m) at 45°).

57 mm/60 caliber 1951

These were basically the Swedish post-WW2 succesor of the legendary 40 mm Bofors. They were primarily intended for the short and medium range anti-aircraft protection.

The later completion of the Colbert as an AA cruiser was problematic. Indeed two years prior already, the USN was about to complete its first missile cruisers (converted). It will take another ten years before the Colbert accessed to a missile launching array, both to deal with AA and AS threats. In Italy, the Garibaldi, a converted Tartar missile cruiser in 1964, became the first missile cruiser in Europe, years ahead of the Colbert, although it used an already proven USN missile system. Italy also completed the two Doria soon after. So basically until 1972, the Colbert was obsolete. The 57 mm guns proved too slow for the 1960s jets generation, not speaking of the 127 mm. Her sister ship De Grasse was already converted as a specialized command ship, leaving her alone as task force escort, but De Gaulle’s policy to leave NATO meant France needed to develop its own SAM systems, instead of accessing already existing and proven US missile systems, long and costly to develop. These would take years in R&D, hence the late conversion.

Onboard aviation

Colbert had a lare enough transom stern to create an helipad aft. This helipad unfortunately due to structural reasons could not be followed by a hangar underneath. So whatever helicopter was carried for specific missions, it needed to be strapped and covered by a tarpaulin in between used. Facilities for maintenance were also limited. The ship for this reasons not always carried helicopters in missions, and it was for many years a single Alouette III by sud-aviation; This sturdy, dependable first-gen turbine helicopter had an excellent visibility for reconnaissance, SAR and liaison operations. In the 1990s it was replaced by an Aerospatiale Dauphin (now Airbus Helicopters).


These guns needed to be controlled by stabilized radar telepointers, for roll and pitch, with automatic fire tracking. Repartition was the same as for the De Grasse: Two main telemeters were installed fore and aft on superstructures, while secondary systems were placed in the axis behind, in superfiring positions, and four systems on the bridge’s sides for the secondary AAA.
The large superstructures and lattice masts of the Colbert supported radar aerials and transmissions antenna.

Main radar equipments

The main air surveillance radar was the rectangular DRBV-22A (replaced by the end of 1959 par the DRBV 23) mounted on a lattice attached to the funnel, and the hemispheric DRBV-20A, placed on the platform of the main lattice mast after of the bridge. It was also replaced by the end of 1959 by a DRBV 20C. The ship was also given a DRBI-10B system and a DRBV-31 on the lower bridge platform a TACAN navigational system on the main lattice mast, and four DRBC-31B for the 127 mm guns, plus four DRBC-31A for the 57 mm AAA.

Transmission & electronic warfare

For transmission, the Colbert had 12 UHF antennae, 5 VHF radio systems, 3 HF systems, and a single MF systems, 18 portable transmitter-receptors, 7 transmitter and 28 receptors, as well as two gonios: One VHF et One MF for long range radio detection, and an AN/URD-4 system plus one Loran receptor and TUUM-1 underwater communication system.

Fo electronic warfare, Colbert was equipped with the following: One ARBA-10B and ARBR-10B signals distruption systems, a RRBM-1, later replaced by an RRBM-2 and an AN/SPR-1.

Command & Control Facilities

There was a consequent central information (CI) in the main bridge of the cruiser, which like De Grass, was meant to above all coordinate all assets in an area, and well beyond their practical range, for example to help coordinating long range air strikes from the carrier and landing operations. Their extensive communication suite allowed them to coordinate friendly fighter aviation, both in control, interception and relay, and play the role of a command ship for naval air operations in complement to aircraft carriers. But another aspect of the Colbert was its secondary role as rapid transport: It was capable of carrying in rapidly mounted accomodations, an intervention force of 2,400 men. This feature was never used during her career.

Colbert along the Quai des Chartrons, Bordeaux

⚙ Colbert’s 1959 Specs

Dimensions 9,085 t, 11,100 t FL
Displacement 180.5/187m x 20.3m x 6.5 m
Propulsion 2 CEM Parsons geared steam turbines, 4 boilers,
Performances 877,000 hp, 33 knots, range 4,000 nm
Armament Eight twin 127 mm M1958 DP, ten twin 57 mm M1951 AA guns
Sensors Radar DRBV 20A, DRBI 10
Crew 977

Colbert’s early career (1968-1970)

Launched on March 24, 1956, Colbert begin her post-completion trials on December 5 1957 until officially admitted into active service on May 5, 1959, based in Toulon, Mediterranean Squadron. From 1959 to 1964, she alternated with De Grasse, as the flagship of the Mediterranean squadron and assumed this function alone from 1964 to 1995. Colbert’s representative role for France worldwide was also important. In 1961, she repatriated the ashes of Marshal Lyautey. In 1964, she escorted General de Gaulle on his tour of South America for three-week onboard his Sud Aviation Caravelle. De Gaulle was also hosted by Colbert from September 29 to October 1, 1964 and made athe crossing to Valparaís, a 900 mile journey along the Chilean coast. De Gaulle for the anecdote signed several laws and decrees later published as “Done aboard the Colbert. C. de Gaulle.” From October 10 to 13, she crossed to the Atlantic again and went to Montevideo in Uruguay and Rio in Brazil. The cruiser was soon known in “peaceful” missions of diplomatic representation, but was also implicated in humanitarian missions, using its internal facilities, bith to Agadir in 1960, and the evacuation to Bizerte in 1961.

In 1963 she was fitted with the new and expected DRBV-20C radar, greatly improving her long range detection capabilities. The radar was good enough to remain in service until the end of her operational career in 1991. Her most famous trip was in July 1967, carrying General de Gaulle in anoher American official visit, stopping at Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon (July 20) and entering the St Lawrence river to stop in Montreal. During this visit he provoked controversy in Canada by declaring, to the delight of French Canadians “Vive le Québec libre!” in July 24 at Montreal City Hall. The following diplomatic incident cut short his official visit. Colbert still made yearly missions in the Mediterranean until 1970 and her decommission for overhaul.

Vice admiral philippe De Gaulle during Colbert’s stop in Amsterdam, early 1970s, showing the cruiser’s aft Masurca SAM and guiding radars

✚ Read More/Src

About De Gaulle’s american trip on Colbert
The former museum site (archive)
On shipspotting
French 127 mm naweaps
French 57 mm navweaps
Another gallery
Some footage
On wikipedia FR

Conway’s all the world’s fighting ships 1947-1995
“Le Croiseur Colbert”, Jean Moulin 01/01/1994 by Marines Editions (no longer available). ❑
René Besnault, « Chroniques. Visite des Amis de l’Institut à bord du croiseur Colbert », Espoir, no 107 ❑
“Colbert, le dernier croiseur” by Frédéric Bouquet ❑
Jean Meyer et Martine Acerra, Histoire de la marine française : des origines à nos jours, Rennes, éditions Ouest-France, 1994 ❑
Michel Vergé-Franceschi (dir.), Dictionnaire d’Histoire maritime, Paris, éditions Robert Laffont, coll. « Bouquins », 2002 ❑
Alain Boulaire, La Marine française : De la Royale de Richelieu aux missions d’aujourd’hui, éditions Palantines 2011 ❑
Rémi Monaque, Une histoire de la marine de guerre française, Paris 2016 ❑

The models corner:

Heller Colbert 1/400 – Src Scalemates
Also Heller Colbert 1/1200. Both before 1970s conversion. Note: I purchase the 1/400 heller Colbert a few years ago to show the kids what a model kit looked like back in the days and they helped me painting and assemble the model. It is the only one exposed at home, after all relocations. 20 years ago i used to have about 250 ship’s model kits, mostly scratch-built 1/700. All given up or just trashed.

Colbert’s reconstruction as a missile cruiser (1970-72)

Like De Grasse, or even the battleship Jean Bart, both started before the war but completed in the 1950s due to the disastrous state of the country’s finances and arsenals, Colbert entered service at the end of the 1950s. The rapid development of air threats and rise of the missile as a new standard defense system had the planned weaponry of the Colbert considered obsolete and ineffective. They were completely useless already in 1959 against supersonic combat aircraft, and in the later 1960s, the advent of efficient antiship sea-skimming missiles rendered Colbert even more vulnerable. She was completely supplanted by a new generation of ships more adapted to new threats. For example in France itself, in 1960 already, were studied two missile destroyers, the Suffren class. They were completed in 1967-70. More were to come: The Aconit and Tourville class.

To preserve the military value of the Colbert, more useful as a prestige ship at that point, the admiralty had the choice to either scrap her or overhaul her entirely, but withing the frame of drastic budgetary restrictions. Conversions plans as a missile cruisers started with studies in 1968, and led to a desfinitive design approved in 1970, with her conversion being voted. Conversion would take tow full years, from 1970 and 1972. She became in effect a missile cruiser and started a new life that would have her in service until the end of the cold war. Her new cornerstone, suitable for long range anti-aircraft warfare was her twin Masurca SAM missile launcher aft. This also imposed a decrease in classic AA armament and later in 1980, the addition of four MM-38 canisters forward enabled anti-ship capabilities. The electronic warfare, radar and fire guidance systems were also completely overhauled, as the superstructure. The Colbert however had no ASW systems.

The hull and machinery of the ship had lost nothing of their value, so a complete modernization of the weaponry and equipment was decided in 1969. Work started in April 1970 amidst a heated debate between the Chief of the Naval Staff and the then MoD. The latter made budget cuts which severely restricted the overhaul, initially muc more ambitious: Colbert indeed was to be armed with six 100 mm turrets, also replacing the old 57 mm and the installation of six MM 38 Exocet was planned as well as a hoist-dome hull sonar for her planned ASW armament. The final modernization was far less advanced in terms of detection, electronic warfare and habitability. If done properly, the Colbert would have been easily the most modern and powerful missile cruiser in Europe. Instead, the ship had a half-baked refit, keeping her old AA artillery, her old surveilance radar, no Exocets, just two 100 mm guns and the Masurca. She was eventually completed, made her sea trials and eventually readmitted to active service in July 1973.

About the Masurca SAM

Contrary to Italy and Germany, which adopted US missile systems, like UK France developed its own. The Masurca was planned for the first missile destroyers and frigates of the early 1960s. Missile development started in 1948 based on a German ww2 experimental weapon for the Malafon, and in 1955, ECAN based in Ruelle, began work on a supersonic missile using solid-propellants. The MASURCA (MArine SURface Contre-Avions) “Naval surface anti-aircraft” (system) was developed by DTCN (Direction Technique des Constructions Navales) with ECAN, Ruelle and Matra, another french missile manufacturer.

First tests started on the Île du Levant in 1958-59, then from 1960 in Ile d’Oléron, in an experimentation center. 50 test were made until 1968, both for operational validation on the Suffren and improved marks (three). Meanwhile, US missile systems were also adopted for the conversion of the destroyer Dupetit-Thouars (T47) with the RIM-2 Terrier, while the RIM-24 Tartar systems was installed in four other destroyers.

Colbert was to be equipped with the Masurca Mark 1, designed from 1960 in its final form, but only accepted in service in 1966. The launcher was placed aft, on the lower poop deck, just in front of the helipad, which needed to be cleaned up in case of a launch, as there was no hangar. The helicopter could be deployed to spot the missile launch anyway. The reload system was placed aft of the launcher, with a conveyor system for the stored missiles underneath the aft superstructure, 48 in all. From 1973, the system was upgraded to the Mark 2.

The MASURCA SAM was a two-stage weapon, with a rocket booster to reach operational altitude, and the missile proper. The latter was capable of Mach 3, weighted 950 kg (2,090 lb) plus its 1,148 kg (2,531 lb) booster, was 5.38 m (17 ft 8 in) plus 3.32 m (10 ft 11 in) with the booster for a diameter of 0.406 m (1 ft 4.0 in) and 0.770 m (2 ft 6.3 in) wingspan. It carried a 100 kg (220 lb) HE blast-fragmentation warhead with proximity fuze. Performances-wise, the Masurca reached 20,000–30,000 m (66,000–98,000 ft). It used an inertial initial guidance system and Semi-active radar homing for terminal approach.

The Masurca was guided by two DRBR 51B dish-style radars to track both missiles independently, placed just aft of the missile launcher on superfiring platforms. The whole electronics suite was modernized as well, notably the air warning radar.

The refit

The aft part of the ship was completely rebuilt for the Masurca, the storage and reload system and the guiding radars above, but the main surveillance radar suite was also modified and new latice masts built: The bridge superstructure upper open bridge was rebuilt as an enclosed two-storey structure, with a small open bridge on top, a new lattice with two platforms, supporting a DECCA 1226 navigation system, a DRBV 50 radar above and a DRBV 23C radar on the upper platform. On both sides of the bridge were later installed a SATNAV, Syracuse system. At the aft end of the rebuilt bridge was constructed a new, sturdied lattice mast, supporting a DRBV 31 system, the main DRBV 23 surveillance radar, and navigational and communication systems.

Another big change was the aft mast, a brand new lattice that did not existed originally, and there to carry a whole array of sensors: At the very top, a TACAN navigation radar, and the same large DBRB 20C rectangular aerial that already existed on the 1959 configuration, but move from the funnel to the aft superstructure.

Armament wise, the elimination of the main 5-in guns was obvious, leaving some free space forward, which was occupied by two 100 mm Model 1968 dual purpose fast firing automated turrets now standard on the French Navy. They were placed on the pots occupied previously by the forwer axial 5-in turrets. The 57 mm AA turrets were also removed in part, but stil six were kept, two abaft the bridge and two amidship, abaft the funnel, as well as their guiding radars. Their role was to bring additional support firepower and constitute a last ditch, close quarter AA defense, complementary to the missile. But they were not comparable to modern autocannons.

When completed in 1972, Colbert had the following: Six twin 57mm/60, a twin Masurca Mk 2 Mod 2 SAM (48 in reserve), two 100mm/55 Mod 1968, assisted by DRBV-22A, two DRBC-31B, four DRBC-31A radars, a DRBV-23C, DRBV-50, two DRBI-51, two DRBC-32C radars, an ARBR-10F and ARBB-31/32 ECM suite, and two Corvus decoy Rocket Launchers. Complement was reduced to 560 thanks to automation and deletion of the old 5-in guns.
In 1974, the Masurca missile system was swapped for the Mk 2 Mod 3 SAM. In 1980, Colbert was fitted with four single MM38 Exocet SSM (4 MM38) canisters placed on the wings of the forward superstructure deck, providing antiship capailities. At that time was also installed the Syracuse Satnav/Satcom system and the decoy launchers were replaced by two Syllex chaff mortars on both sides of the bridge. She was also given two single cal.50 heavy machine guns, to deal with small boats and training.

⚙ Colbert’s 1972 Specs

Displacement 12,500 tons FL
Armament Four Exocet MM 38 (1980), 1×2 Masurca SAM, 2x 100mm, DP 6×3 57 mm AA, helipad.
Sensors DRBV-22A, DRBI-10, 4x DRBC-31B, 4x DRBC-31A radars, DSBV-1 sonar, SENIT-1 CCS
Crew 880

Colbert’s late career (1970-1991)

First based in Brest until 1976 for NATO atlantic exercises and as flagship of the Atlantic squadron. At the end of 1976, she took part in the celebrations for the bicentenary of the independence of the United States, representing France during the naval parade, and symboizing the decisive help of the French Navy back then. With the plan for redeployment of naval forces, dictated by the crisis in the Mediterranean theater, the Colbert left for Toulon. There, she reclaimed her role as flagship of the Mediterranean squadron. In 1980, she was equipped with four MM 38 Exocet missiles and in 1982, she was the first French Navy vessel to be fitted with the Syracuse satellite transmission system, two radomes, 2.50 meters in diameter, placed on boath sides, aft of the bridge.

After a period of various exercises cuises she took over another long range cruiser from August 6, 1988. She set sail for a four-month mission to Australia, to represent France at the bicentenary celebrations of this country. On May 16, 1990, she departed again for a new mission of representation, whose goal was the resumption of relations with the Soviet Navy. For the first time for any French ship, she anchored in Sevastopol, staying here from May 22 to May 26. The Colbert was nearing the end of her career, never firing a single shot in combat. Her last and only war mission was during the First Gulf War in 1991, just a few months before her disarmament: She participated in Operation Salamander. – In August 13, 1990 she headed to the Suez Canal for to escort the aircraft carrier Clemenceau, carrying men and materials to constitute the embryo of the “Daguet” division, involved in the ground Operation of Desert shield. Her last stopover took place in Venice, from April 12 to 19, 1991. On May 24, 1991, she was withdrawn from active service. Indeed the admiralty planned initially to retain her in active service until 1997, but due to post cold war budget cuts, this was advanced to 1993, and eventually two more years in advance, in May 24, 1991. She had fortunately a second life as museum ship, but this would not last long.

As a museum ship

The Colbert, being the last French cruiser, was soon presented to be a floating museum. An association was created for the purpose, which obtained public subsidies, both from the host city of Bordeaux, and the ministry of defence. After months of maintenance and preparation she was open to the public at quai des Chartrons, moored in the port of Bordeaux in June 1993. She became the most visited museum ship in France in 2004, and even the most visited “monument” in the city. Colbert was a private museum, and if the ship belonged to the State, she was managed by the association “Les Amis du Colbert”. A restaurant, fed by the one onboard the ship was stationed on the quay and many events were organized onboard, including seminaries. She became a landmark in the city, a recoignised tourist attraction as popular as HMS Belfast in London.

But despite of this in the 2000s, the museum ship aroused criticism from a part of the population. In part from ecologist associations and from a residents association named “Coulons le Colbert” (‘sink the colbert’) which had a candidate named during municipal elections in 1995. In addition, the museum association soon went into financial troubles. The State decided to cease subsidies in a context of severe budget restrictions, and the huge maintenance cost of the ship could no longer be covered. For example, the complete planned repainting of the ship, budgeted to 500,000 euros was way too steep for the museum’s touristic revenues and contributions. Yet, maintenance was necessary both for safety and the image of the city at large, which, especially in this part of the city, quite classy. Both under fire local environmental associations and the city itself, the Colbert was closed to the public on October 2, 2006. On May 31, 2007, the expiry date of the concession, she was towed out of the Gironde estuary into the Atlantic, and there to Brest.

Colbert in landévénnec

Colbert BU in Bassens, Gironde, 2017
Moored in the Landévennec ship cemetery, she waiting for her fate, cannibalized for spare parts for the Jeanne d’Arc, still in service, until herself was decommissioned in 2010. Colbert stayed there until June 12, 2014, when the navy announced she would leave for the return to the Gironde estuary, to be dismantled in Bassens, by the companies Bartin Recycling and Petrofer along with the Jeanne d’Arc. She only left Brest on June 3, 2016 for Bassens and was broken up until 2018. A fate similar to most prestige ships of the French Navy, like the battleships Richelieu or Jean Bart and the other cruisers. The French just don’t know and appreciate their navy, only seeing a waste of taxpayer’s money.

About the name: Colbert is named after Jean-Baptiste Colbert, a Louis XIV (The “sun king”) minister of marine, also considered the creator of the Marine Nationale, that he contributed to standardize and organize from 1661 to 1683. Many other ships were named after him, a 1848 paddle corvette, a 1877 ironclad frigate, a 1930, 10,000 tonnes Suffren class cruiser. She was not replaced (yet) but a future Frigate planed FY 2030 might took her name again.

De Grasse (1946)

AA Cruiser FS De Grasse (1946)

French Navy (1946-1976)

De Grasse was the first French post-WW2 cruiser completed, with Colbert. Both their stories went back to the interwar, De grasse being the lead ship of a class of three light cruisers designed to replace the old 1922 Duguay Trouin class. Caught by the war, she was captured by the Germans that studied, then decided her conversion into an aircraft carrier, later abandoned. After the war she was first completed as a semi-conventional cruiser, then entirely redesigned as a specialised AA escort cruiser and then a command ship for nuclear tests in the Pacific, before being stricken in 1972.

Sole remainder of the De Grasse class (1938)

The last cruiser class started during the interwar was a logical follow-up of the La Galissonière, launched from 1934. It resulted in an order for a batch of three light cruisers, improved versions of the latter, in 1937. The design was quick as essentially an elaboration -with some innovations- of the previous type. The original class comprised De Grasse, ordered in 1937, Chateaurenault and Guichen, both ordered in 1938 at FC de la Mediterrannée and FC de la Gironde respectively. Their keel was never laid down. Of the three ships intended, only the first, De Grasse, was half-way close to launching when the Germans seized Arsenal de Lorient, Britanny, in May 1940. The latter examined the possibility of completing her, but eventually renounced due to shortages of manpower and other priorities. Eventually, work resumed after the war, before being stopped again, in order to reevaluate her design, obsolete by postwar standards. Until the late 1960s, France maintained in reserve four other conventional cruisers, but only the De Grasse and Colbert, entirely rebuilt (the latter as a missile cruiser) were really modern. They served until the end of the cold war.
Plans were redrawn entirely for a new role: A specialized escort AA cruiser. The process went on until approved and De Grasse was completed in 1956, 18 years after her keel was laid down. She served the Marine Nationale in her new role until 1966, when she was converted again as a command ship for the French nuclear programme.

Original plan

After the signing of the Washington Treaty (1922), the first (1931) and second (1936) London treaties increased maximum authorized tonnage for light cruisers by 400 tonnes. This prompted that year and 1937 the General Staff to ask the Service Technique des Constructions Navales (STCN) for the best possible way to use this extra tonnage. At the same time, the Navy planned already the replacement of its 1922 class (Duguay Trouin). The first 7600 tonnes designs were successful ships with good speed, armament and protection, making the Galissonnières a difficult base to exceed. But it’s in a note from June 25, 1936 that their successor was first planned by the STCN. It proposed to start from that 7600 tonnes design, but tried to improve the hull’s internal arrangement, to have better seaplane installations, better loading angle for the main guns, and increase propulsive power to 110,000hp for 35 knots.

The future armament was also debated, and three configurations were studied:
-1: Increase the main battery to ten guns, in two triple turrets forward, quadruple aft. It was compared to the Condottieri configuration judged was too heavy for displacement and dimensions.
-2: Nine 152mm guns in three triple turrets, but the high angle M1936 turret designed for the Richelieu.
-3: Three triple turrets M1936 with a more limited angle at +70° elevation.

The first solution was abandoned due to the space taken by aviation facilities leaving only the other options. The secondary armament was setup early on at 100mm guns, the same used on the cruiser Algerie, but with a different mount. The STCN affirmed its preference for the third option regarding the main armament. It required a secondary armament of 2-3 twin 100mm mounts, two catapults and three seaplanes, and a protection similar the Galissonnière class. This was accepted by the General Staff.
By the end of 1936, detailed plans for the new cruiser were prepared, showung a single funnel to allow the installation of two aviaton hangars abreast. Rangefinders were also installed on these hangars. By January 1938, the plans were modified with Richelieu type triple DP turrets with 70° elevation. The secondary armament was fixed at three twin 100 mm and light AA to four 37mm model 1933, but replacement was planned by the 37 mm ACAD model 1935 plus quadruple and twin 13.2mm mounts. At that stage two catapults were kept and two seaplanes, including a fighter but the twin hangars abreast the funnels were eliminated.

The first cruiser named “De Grasse” was financed in the 1937 tranche (December 31, 1936 naval law). A second cruiser named “Chateaurenault” is financed by the 1938 phase (December 31, 1937 naval law as well as the aircraft carriers Joffre and Painlevé and Le Hardi-type destroyers and many other ships caught later by the war). The third unit, “Guichen” is financed by the 1938 bis phase (May 2, 1938 nval law).

Design development

rendition of the cruiser
Rendition of the cruiser, from the blueprints, by Bruno Gire in 2007. See the cutaway and comparison with the rebuilt De Grasse

The last prewar French cruiser class was a follow-up of the La Galissonière, with a triple 152 mm guns arrangement (nine times nine inches). It mirrored the St Louis class for heavy cruisers, and the added size meant she was to be more heavily armed on the AA side, and carry three reconnaissance planes. “De Grasse” was named after the famous admiral De Grasse, who played a crucial role in the American war of Independence in 1778. On blueprints, she measured 188 meters (616 ft 10 in) for a beam of 18.6 meters (61 ft) and a draft of 5.5 meters (18 ft 1 in). Displacement was calculated at 8,128 metric tons (8,000 long tons) standard, and up to 11,431 t (11,250 long tons) fully loaded. For extra ASW protection the hull was divided by 15 bulkheads and 16 watertight compartments, combined with underwater longitudinal bulkheads and a double hull for 70% of the hull. She was designed with a transom stern, which was replaced by a standard one during the later rebuilding.

Author’s old rendition of the De Grasse 1938

Design Observations:
-The main armament was nothing revolutionary, the triple turrets went back to the Emile Bertin design (1931), but main guns were -according to of the old M1920 6.5-in 50 caliber (155 mm) also used by the cruiser Jeanne d’Arc and the Duguay Trouin class. But it was fitted on a completely reworked gun mounts, ensuring independent high elevation. Two turrets, B and C, had their own backup telemeter. There were four more telemeters on the bridge and one on the hangar roof.
-The secondary armament comprised three anti-aircraft turrets with 3.5 inches, 5 caliber turrets (89 mm), all grouped aft on three levels. The design sketch showed one on an elevated platform and two abaft it on the quarterdeck. It was basically an evolution of the trusted 90 mm/50 (3.5″) Model 1926. It used an autofretted barrel and a semi-automatic Schneider breech mechanism, and capable of 12-15 rounds a minute.
-The light AA armament also comprised the old and trusted 25 mm Hotchkiss Mle 1940. They were all in individual high elevation mounts. In Bruno Guire’s excellent depiction, Two are on the bridge and two on the hangar’s roof. The position of the fifth is unknown, possibly above the navigation bridge. Link (naweaps)
-The smaller 13.2 mm (0.5″) Model 1929 are already covered in other articles, we will not spend time here, only mentioning they were provided in two quadruple and two twin mounts, located on the bridge and possibly hangar roof. Link (navweaps)
-The ship was remarkable however in the way she carried no less than four aircraft, like the previous cruisers, all of the medium sized Loire 130 seaplane type, roughly similar to the British Supermarine Walrus. They took place in the large hangar built around the unique funnel, providing enough storage for the planes to be stacked one above the other, and placed on the catapults behind, placed in front of the aft mainmast on the beam. They were served by a single axial gooseneck crane between them. The eight boats carried were stored just behind the bridge, at the feet of the funnel, and served by two small cranes installed on the hangar.
There was another large service gooseneck crane aft, its purpose is unclear but perhaps to handle mines, as rails are shown close by. Besides the unique funnel and hangar built around, the other striking aspect of the De Grasse class was the tall bridge, unlike the most classic tripod of the La Galissonière and previous French Cruisers. It’s not sure how this structure would have played on stability.

The original surviving sketch
The original surviving sketch

1938 design

Dimensions 180 x 18.6 x 5.5 m (616ft 10in x 61ft x 18ft 1in)
Displacement 8,128 t standard, 11,431 tons FL
Propulsion 2 shafts Rateau Bretagne geared steam turbines, 4 fuel oil boilers
Performances 63,000 shp (47,000 kW), 34 kts (63 km/h; 39 mph), range 5,000 nmi (9,300 km)/18 kts
Armament 3×3 6-in/50, 3×2 3.5-in/50 AA, 5×25 mm AA, 8×0.59 in (13.2mm) AA, 2×3 21.7 in (550 mm) TTs, 4 aircraft
Crew 580

Construction and fate


Construction of De Grasse started on August 28, 1939 in the Lanester basin, Lorient Shipyard. But in September 1939, construction is suspended, and her sister-ships to be named Châteaurenault (F C de la Méditerranée, La Seyne) and Guichen (F C de la Gironde, Bordeaux), were cancelled before their keels were laid down.
Work was stopped completely until 1940, short of workforce and due to other priorities. Vichy French admiralty had the same problems, already struggling for the maintenance of existing ships in service, so nothing happened before the end of the war and months after.
The cruiser was captured by German troops in June 1940 at about 28% completion. Lorient shipyard previously indeed had to wait for freeing the construction shapes used by the previous last La Galissonière class ships, delays in delivery, low priority compared to other projects (so less workforce assigned) until a complete stop. In 1939 recruitments dried down the workforce but work was still possible, it was stopped by governmental decision.

De grasse in construction in 1939. Src naval-group

German conversion projects

The invading Germans sent a Kriegsmarine delegation to inspect captured French ships in construction and discussions went on about her possible use. By April 1942, they started planning to convert her as a light aircraft carrier named “II” (future Standalone post). On 3 December the same year, the free zone fell, more ships were captured in Toulon, and Hitler confirmed the conversion into a light carrier, but work was stopped abruptly in February 1943. Among reasons were materials and manpower shortages, and further disruption because of frequent air attacks in Lorient, where was situated the largest U-Boat base of the Atlantic. Nothing happened but possible damage to the hull until the end of the war. Lorient became a pocket which was recaptured on 10 May 1945. Note: There are no known photo of the De Grasse in construction during the war. If you know one, thanks to contact me.

Due to other priorities for the provisional government, the unfinished hull stayed in place for until a commission reassessed the practicality of completing the hull, at least to replace war losses. However there was no clear consensus over the design, which needed to be radically updated. The hull was eventually completed in 1946, and it was decided at some point to complete her as a modern AA cruiser. Design therefore stopped again to create a brand new design, and the process lasted until 1951. In January, completion work started. At some point however because of human error, the drydock was filled while the ship still had its sea-cocks open. The hull filled rapidly and sank to the bottom of the dock. She was refloated and the modernization progress restarted.

New design as an AA cruiser

Original blueprint cutaway
Original blueprint cutaway (src

There was a whole range of modifications attempted as testified by the different between the top profile (as completed in 1956) and the 1936 design below. The armament was a sure choice: The new 127 mm dual purpose automated twin mounts model 1948 would constitute the main artillery, and in total eight were provided and twenty twin 57 mm mounts of the 1951 pattern. There was nothing else, like torpedo banks, despite the fact original plans called for two triple 550 mm banks, they were dropped from the final plans. She became a true AA cruiser, with an extensive electronics and fire control array and some facilities for command and control. The armament was the same as found on the new T47 destroyers, therefore authorized a lead role.

After reconstruction, the hull was lengthened, notably because the transom stern was replaced by a conventional one, and the hull was beamier: It was now measuring 188,03 (overall) for 180,40m between parallels, and 21,50 in beam (18,60 waterline) for a 5,54 (6,30 m FL) draft. She was slightly lighter than the original design despite being larger, displacing 9000 tons standard. The design still had one common point with the 1938 cruiser, the central funnel. Apart that, it was entirely redesigned, with a much larger and sturdier boxy bridge, higher stepped superstructures, no aviation, less boats, placed abaft the funnel, no goose neck cranes, four large main telemeters placed in lozenge (One on the bridge’s roof forward, two either side of the funnel, one aft after the radar. The 57 mm were served by two smaller ones placed either side of the bridge. The mainmast supporting the aerials and navigation/surveillance/tracking radars were placed aft of the main bridge forward. The crew comprised 70 officers, 160 petty officers and 750 quartermasters and sailors.

The compartimentation was as follows: Below the main deck, 16 watertight main bulkheads like for the original design, making for 17 watertight sections. Under the false deck were found the equipment and ammunition bunkers, ballast and water bunkers, air fridge, stores, aft engine, aft boiler room, forward engine, forward boiler room and fuel bunkers, store, auxiliary compartments, various bunkers and chain lockers. Below the main deck were installed the steering gear, various bunkers, crew, diesel and auxiliary positions, admiral and officer quarters, front auxiliaries. Above the main deck, were found the sailors quarters, those for petty officers and officers, local fan auxiliaries, crew stations, workshops and stores. The 1st deck comprised offices, senior officer accommodation, sanitary facilities, kitchens, drunken rooms, hospital, crew stations, the lower bridge comprised the weather rooms, 127 mm artillery, accommodation, cafeteria, laundry room, ventilation, the upper bridge contained the rear ventilation, radar room and annexes, converters, some offices and housing and on platforms, hygiene rooms, ventilation, offices, navigation shelter, and telepointer.


A model of the T47 showing the 127 and 57 mm AA gun turrets.

Main armament:
The 5-in/54 (127 mm) modele 1948 became the standard large caliber AAA of the Marine Nationale in the the 1950s. It was shared by it two modernized cruisers, destroyers like the T47 class, and Jean Bart. It was a completely new design taking full advantage of cheap, largely available US 5-in shell originally designed for surface and anti-aircraft uses. It was the first French first high-angle successful mounting of the French, and a reflection on the threat posed by aircraft attack. It was replaced in the 197s by the excellent single 100 mm Model 1968 gun.

It was a development of the prewar twin 130 mm mounting seen on the Le Hardi DD class, but with reduced caliber for compatibility. Still, automation was not achieved and it required no less 11 personnel per turret, making it heavy and over-complex for its time. It failed to meet its 15 rpm per gun figure and had to go through many modifications before being accepted into service.
The bore length was 270.0 in (6.858 m), and it fired with a 18.5 lbs. (8.188 kg) propellant charge plus 34.1 lbs (15.5 kg) Cartridge a the AAC Mark 41 of 69.45 lbs. (31.505 kg), HC Mark 41, Mark 48 Parachute Flare, the HE Com Mark 42 and VT Mark 41. Muzzle Velocity for the HC type was 2,650 fps (808 mps). With a 80° elevation (-10 depression), the 48 tonnes mount was able to reach 24,060 yards (22,000 m) at 45° in antiship fire, and at 85 degrees, 29,530 feet (9,000 m) for aircraft.
These eight twin 127 mm were placed in lozenge arrangements, with forward and aft guns in tandem, the B and Y position slightly superimposed on their barbettes, and the next two either side of the forward upper deck and aft deck.

de grasse 1961
De Grasse in Genoa, 1961. Detail of the bridge and armament by augusto nani, Col. Giorgio Parodi

Secondary armament:
Fr the secondary AA, the French turned to a trusted manufacturer which became the staple of AA defense on all allied ships during the war and made a nice career during the cold war, up to the 1970s. But it was not the 40 mm Bofors, but it’s Swedish successor, the 57 mm/60 (2.25″) SAK Model 1950. The French 57 mm/60 (2.25″) Model 1951 was its development. This water-cooled design also used by the Netherlands was introduced shortly after WW2 as a scaled-up version of the 40 mm/70 Model 1948. The four-round clip was now too heavy for handling, and loaders dropped individual rounds into the ammunition boxes feeding quadrant-shaped hoppers. The same system was also used by Breda.
In a review after the war, the French Conseil Superieur decided the 40 mm Bofors was now inadequate against modern aircraft and preferred the new Bofors 57 mm AA gun in development. Essentially the same as in Swedish service, they were installed in a French-designed twin turret. It fired the HE 5.73 lbs and lighter HE Model 1950 6.53 lbs. (2.96 kg) at 2,840 fps (865 mps), and the turrets had 80 ready rounds plus about 1,500 in magazines.
These 57 mm twin mounts were placed on the secondary upper deck, four aft, two tandem pairs either side of the rear fire directors, and three forward, one either side of the main bridge and one superimposed on an upper deck extending the bridge.
The 5-in were served by two main directors placed on the main bridge and aft position, completed by four secondary directors either side of the bridge and aft.
This armament was considerably downgraded after reconstruction as a command ship later.

In service, the De Grasse served with the French blue water fleet as an escort vessel, but it happened her AA was perhaps a bit too optimistic: The four innermost 57 mm mountings and their respective fire directors were inefficient and deposed in 1961. At the same time she received the new DRBV 20A radar.


The electronics suite comprised a DRBV 20A surface surveillance radar, a DRBV 11, DRBI 10, four DRBC 11 and four DRBC 30. All guns were fully stabilized with gun-layers and radar-controlled tracking. Another interesting aspect of the design was its command structure, with coordination of air defence with other ships in the area, and capability to direct air strikes in an assault operation. This task in particular was well managed by the DRBI 10 height-finding radar.

Protection (armour)

Despite a modern design, the cruiser still retained part of its original armour: The armored bridge was 100 mm thick, just as the main belt extending from couple 32 to 144, and over a height of 3.50 m (between barbettes, 1.60 m at both ends. The upper deck armour was 38 mm thick, extending the same length to create the armoured box. This structure protected the ammunition rooms and machinery. But the bridge and turrets were left unarmoured.


There was no significant progress in the design. The original configuration was kept, which ease design work and completion. The ship kept a truncated arrangement of exhaust into one single funnel. The two Rateau-Bretagne steam turbines planned were still efficient in 1950 and provided 110,000 hp. Since armour was absent of kept minimal, top speed was a comfortable 33 knots. However the transom stern was redesigned but despite some savings, the final design was 1400 tons heavier than planned.

Conway's profile of De Grasse in 1956
Conway’s profile of De Grasse in 1956

1949 design

Dimensions 188.62 x 16.6/21.5 x 5.54 m (422.0 x 42 x 18 ft)
Displacement 9,380 t standard, 11,545 tons FL
Propulsion Same as 1938 design
Performances 105 000 shp (120 000 overheat), 33,8 knots
Armament 8×2 127 mm M48 (5 in), 10×2 57 mm M51 (3.5 in)
Crew 950, 980 as flagship, 620 as PCS 1966

The De Grasse in service

De Grasse underway off Toulon
De Grasse underway off Toulon in the 1950s (from reddit)

Fresh from fitting out, De Grasse was prepared for yards tests on August 17, 1954 but only carried out her first sea trials in 1955 off Brest. It started in January 27, and went on in February 9-11, three days in March, on April 13, May 10-14, and 21-27 and in November 15-16. This process went on, with modifications in between until January, February 1956 and June to August. On the 10th at last trials were complete and she left Brest on August 29 for her first mission, in Arzew and Toulon. She was admitted for active service on September 10, 1956.
She was assigned to the 1st F.E.E., carrying out numerous exercises off Toulon (base port) and a yard’s countervisit was conducted on board on December 15th headed by the construction wing Admiral Jozan. She spent 1957-1959 in Exercises with the fleet.

de grasse 1957
Photo taken by 1st class sailor Georges Rini in 1957, secretary of the amdirals Barjot & Jozan. Src: Forum (archive)

In 1957 she left Toulon for a mission to Ajaccio on February 23th and Cannes on March, 9th, then Mers el-Kébir, Algiers, Arzew, and back to Toulon on April, 6th. She made an artillery training on April 25 and particpated in exercises Atout and NATO’s Medflex Epic, stopping at Naples on April 30. Back to Toulon she left egain for her first long cruise on May 11. This brough her across the Atlantic to the West Indies. She arrived in Fort-de-France, stopped at les Saintes, then headed for Norfolk, New-York, and crossed back to the Mediterranean, arrived at Casablanca and returned to Toulon on July 12. She was sent in drydoc for a maintenance overhaul and fittings, notably work on her boilers in 15-4. She left in September 1957 for exercises and departed for a cruise, stopping at Bône, Philippeville, Algiers and back in Toulon, on September 28, and a new refit from October 1957.

De Grasse underway at sea – src unknown, from Reddit

She returned to duty in January 4, 1958, leaving Toulon the 9th for Bizerte and headed for Ajaccio and back on the 19. Exercises followed until mid-February and she was in maintenance period January 24-30. On the 20 February she sailed to Algiers and was back to Toulon in March, departed again for Arzew and Mers el-Kébir and back on March 22. Maintenance followed in May including the replacement of a damaged boiler. On May 18 she was back at sea for her spring cruise. She stopped in Messina, Palermo, Naples, Algiers, Bône, La Sude (Crete), Beirut, and Jounié. Sehe was back in Toulon on August 2 and unavailable until September 17. Next, followed various exercises off Toulon until November and December 19, with stops in Algiers, Mers el-Kébir, and Villefranche in between. At the start of 1959, she sailed to Les Salins and Villefranche during exercises in January(February, and was refitted at Toulon in March-April. She sailed in mission to Malta and Bizerte and was back in April 16 for NATO exercise Medflex Guard.

Unavailable from April 20 to 29, she started her spring cruise from April 28, up to June 25, stopping in Naples, Santorini, Piraeus, Phalera, Istanbul, Bone, Mers el-Kebir and Algiers. In maintenance from June 26 to August 4, she was back for exercises off Toulon and Cannes until November. On November 24 she sailed for Oran, Mers el-Kébir, Algiers, Agadir, Dakar, Gibraltar and left the Mediterranean for Brest Naval Base on December 22. Indeed she was to be refitted there, a serie of modifications. The first, limited phase, started on December 23, 1959, and went on until January 18, 1961.

De Grasse in Venice -src unknown, reddit

The very similar Colbert in 1959, photo by U.S. Navy All Hands magazine December 1959, international fleet review.

At the start of 1961, De Grasse left Brest for a series of tests (18-20 January, February, and early March), stopping in Plymouth on March 23, back to Brest and departing again on April 28 for Toulon. On May 6, she stopped at Mers el-Kébir and was reassigned to the Mediterranean squadron, in exercises interrupted by maintenance at the end of the month. She left Toulon on June 2 Genoa and on June 29 for Bizerte, with stops at Toulon in between, and a small refit from September 25th to October 14th. She then took part in Medaswez 46 exercise in November, stopping in Malta and Mers el-Kébir. By December 15, she left for Oran, and stopped at Mers el-Kébir and Algiers back on December 23 and in maintenance until January 14, 1962.

De grasse in Genoa, 1961. Collection Giorgio Parodi
De grasse in Genoa, 1961. Collection Giorgio Parodi

1962: The great world cruise

1962 saw De Grasse making a world cruise, lasting for more than 8 months, stopping in 45 ports along the way. After a few exercises in the Mediterranean until the end of January, she left Toulon on February, 3, for Dakar (Senegal, Western Africa). From there she crossed the Atlantic to the West Indies: Fort-de-France, Les Saintes, Pointe-à-Pitre, Saint Barthélémy, Saint Martin, Cristobal, Balboa, Clipperton. She crossed the Panama Canal and arrived in San Diego, then departed for Honolulu (Hawaii) and went on in the pacific south, arriving in French Polynesia (Nuku Hiva, Hiva Oa, Papeete, Rangiroa, Fakarava). She then departed to The Gambier Islands and headed for New Caledonia, in Raevavae, Nouméa, Taridou, Lifou, Uvéa, Efate, Port Vila (Efate), Norsup (Malekula), Fauna (Espiritu Santo), Tanna, Poindimié, and Port Darwin (northern Australia). She headed for the Southwest Asia, arriving in Saigon, then heading west to Colombo, Diego Suarez in the Indian Ocean, the Reunion Island, and Madagascar (Tamatave, Tulear, Juan de Nova, Majunga), then Dzaoudzi (Mayotte), Moroni, Djibouti, and Suez. She crossed the canal to Alexandria and headed back to Toulon on October 9, 1962. She was in a well deserved maintenance in October-November and December. She also took part in the last exercises in this year, stopping at La Spezia.

De Grasse off Australia
De Grasse off Australia (AWM)

In 1963 she was back at the head of the Mediterranean Squadron, resuming her exercises routine. By January 1963 she operated off Toulon and in February and March went on in another cruise in the Atlantic, stopping at Las Palmas, Dakar, Abidjan, Port Etienne and back to Casablanca in North Africa. She underwent a small refit in March-April stopped in Marseille and Cannes and headed east for more exercises off Greece and in the Aegean islands: Salonika, Mykoni Delos, Santorini, Rhodes, Taranto, Corfu, the adriatic (Venice, Catania) and back to Toulon on June 21. In August she was off Corsica, stopped in Ajaccio and was back to Toulon on September 25. She departed again for the Indian Ocean, crossing the suze canal. She stopped in Djibouti, and Mahé (Seychelles), then Madagascar (Diego-Suarez, Port Louis, Massawa) and back to Toulon on December 20. She was in maintenance until January 7, 1964. By then the admiralty had new project for her. This was her last year as an AA cruiser and flagship:
Leaving Toulon the next day, she stopped at La Maddalena during an exercize and was back in February 8 in Toulon, in maintenance for a week. She then left Toulon for the last time, stopping in Gibraltar in May 4-6 before reaching Brest on May, 10th. She entered the drydoc for her major (last) reconstruction and tranformation of her career.
This major refit started officially on May 10, 1964 and went on for two years, until February 1, 1966.

1966 reconstruction as Pacific Command Ship

de grasse 1970
De Grasse as a command ship after reconstruction. Src

In 1966, De Grasse AA role was now taken over by missile vessels, but she was still a roomy ship, valuable for other roles. So it was decided to convert her for the Pacific experimental centre in Tahiti, both as flagship and command ship. Little attention was given to her ageing powerplant but usual maintenance as she was destined to be almost permanently anchored. However her facilities were completely overhauled and she was partially disarmed:
-Extended signals operating C&C room
-50 m tall lattice mast raised aft with communication long range array antennae
-Aft 5-in mounts removed
-All 57 mm mounts removed
-All directors but the main forward one removed.
-Former search radars replaced by a single DRBV 23.
-Additional protection against radiation fallout (isolation, NBC type, overpressure system)
-Gateway block is doubled
-All accommodation and electrical systems are modernized
-New electric generators
-Displacement fell to 9,000
-Complement now down to 500
-Accommodate for 120 engineers and technicians (Mururoa test team).

The goal was to use her as a command ship for the nuclear tests of the Pacific, in Mururoa, French Polynesia as part of De Gaulle’s deterrence policy. Her communication set allowed her both to command the explosion at a safe distance and to communicate directly with Paris, for the tests greenlight.
She became the de facto the “atomic command ship” of the French Navy. She kept this role until 1973 until the pacific tests “open air” campaign stopped, amidst violet international protests and the presence of RNZN warships. France abandoned atmospheric nuclear testing in 1974 for undergound ones. In particular, the 41st test which took place over Mururoa Atoll on 17 July saw the atomic cloud taking a competely different trajectory than planned and ended over most of the inhabitants of Tahiti and the surrounding islands of the Windward group leading to widespread contamination. To this day, there is an expert battle over the amplitude of contaminations, some argues over 110,000. The French Government have yet to declassify these 1970s documents (top secret for at least 50 years). So far the CEA (atomic energy commission) study only led to 63 Polynesian civilians compensated. In total, France performed 193 tests in the South Pacific between 1966 and 1996.

De Grasse left Brest for the Pacific on March 8, 1966. Anchored close to Mururoa atoll or Fangataufa, she operated as semi-permanent command ship until the end of 1972, carriying out seven atomic fire campaigns for the benefit of the DIRCEN (Directorate of the Center for Nuclear Experiments), later CEA. She headed back home nevertheless every winter for her IPER (Periodic Unavailability for Maintenance and Repairs). One of these ealy campaigns saw the first shot from a balloon (Betelgeuse test) in presence of General De Gaulle, observing the test from the bridge. The Betelgeuse test was trigerred manually by De Gaulle himself from De Grasse’s bridge at 7:30 am on September 11, 1966. The atomic yeld was just under 200 kt.
Captain Jaouen took command of De Grasse while in maintenance in Brest (her home port until the end of her career) on November 29, 1971. She made her final trip to Mururoa as part of a new nuclear test campaign. In September 1972 she was placed in special reserve B but was only back in Brest by December 9, 1972. The reserve was only effective from March 20, 1973. She headed for the disarmament dock and apparently while en route, the captain knowing her excellent propulsion pushed De Grasse machinery to 33 knots that day, arriving one day earlier than planned in Brest.

De grasse, stern view, 1971
De grasse, stern view, 1971 (src

In 1973-1974, De Grasse was kept in reserved, watched over by a small guard crew, waiting for her fate. She was condemned on January 25, 1974 (decree number 7), renamed with the disarmament number (hull) Q521, handed over to Brest with a planned sale to be broken up. Having no longer any military value, the age of her hull negated any possible conversion. A possible use as museum ship was also brushed apart due to her contamination, even light, being a hazard for the public. In addition, she would have been reverted to her 1950s appearance, a too costly prospect to consider. Her near-sister-ship Colbert had this chance however.

Documentary: De Grasse 1962 world tour (Fr)

More resources

The De Grasse on naval analyses
archive – alabordache forum (FR)
Extra photos – same source
Heller Model forum discussion


Conway’s all the world’s fighting ships 1947-1995
Kriegstagebuch der Seekriegsleitung 1939–1945 in 68 Bänden (Herford 1988–1996)
Erich Gröner, Dieter Jung, Martin Maass: Die deutschen Kriegsschiffe 1815–1945, Bernard & Graefe
Frank Omeda: Die deutschen Flugzeugträger. Von den Anfängen bis 1945 (E-Book 2012)
John Jordan and Bruno Guire, The Cruiser de Grasse in Warship 2008 (Conway’s)
J. Jordan, J. Moulin (2013). French Cruisers 1922–1956. Seaforth Publishing
MOULIN Jean, BAIL René, Les croiseurs De Grasse et Colbert, Marines Ed.

The model kit corner

heller de grasse box
The De Grasse was a best-seller for Heller at 1/400 a,d 1/1400 scale (below) for many years. It was first released in 1963 and re-edited seven time until 2000.
It was also sold by Progresswerk Nürnberg in Germany, in a new box as the “colbert”
Not a popular model outside France.

Surcouf (T47) class destroyers (1956)

Surcouf (T47) class destroyers (1956)

French Navy (1956)
The first French postwar destroyers:
The T 47 class or Surcouf class were the first destroyers built for the French Navy after the Second World War. Twelve ships were built between 1955 and 1957, heavily modernised and totally rebuilt in the 1960s and ultimately decommissioned in the 1980s, and replaced by the Cassard and Georges Leygues-class frigates. The T47 were authorised in 1949, designed as aircraft carrier escort vessels. Three were modified to become flagships, four became anti-air guided missile destroyers during their career and five ASW destroyers. One survived, Maillé-Brézé, now as a museum ship at Nantes. Their importance in the French Navy could not be understated, by their numbers and longevity they provided the bulk of the French destroyer force for most of the cold war.

The Du Chayla after refit in the late 1970s
The Du Chayla after refit in the late 1970s

Genesis of French postwar destroyers

These destroyers were larger than other contemporary destroyers in Europe, but still, were based on a WW2 design, the Hardi class, but much enlarged and integrated dual purpose armament to integrate lessons learned with late war allied destroyers, notably those of the Gearing class. The basic design, drawn from early studies in 1948-49 were aimed at creating a Squadron escort, or “Escorteur d’escadre” in French. They were not meant for independent operations, and had a slower speed than previous designs, a trademark of earlier French destroyers. Their standard displacement was still considerable at 2,750 long tons (2,794 t), up to 3,740 long tons (3,800 t), fully loaded for 128.6 metres overall. This situated them between the Le Fantasque and Mogador class “super destroyers”. Technically they were of course conventional, as no alternative design as possible for the time. Antiship missiles were still in their infancy, at least in Europe.
The T47 were ordered to four different yards. Most went from Arsenal de Lorient (Surcouf, Kersaint, Bouvet, Maillé Brezé, Vauquelin), AC Bretagne (Cassard, Casabianca), Arsenal de Best (Dupetit-Thouars, d’Estrees, Du Chayla) and FC de la Gironde, Bordeaux (Chevalier Paul, Guépratte). The names mostly referred to ancient famous Marine officers, mostly from the XVII-XIXth Centuries.

Blueprint of the class in its first design, 1949
Blueprint of the class in its first design, 1949.


The powerplant was conventional, using Rateau geared turbines, on two shafts, and with four boilers working at 500 pounds per square inch (3,400 kPa), they produced a total rating of of 63,000 shaft horsepower. This allowed a top speed of 34 knots (63 km/h; 39 mph) which was still honorable, and consumption still authorized a range of 5,000 nautical miles (9,300 km; 5,800 mi) at 18 knots (33 km/h; 21 mph) thanks to 700 long tons (710 t) of fuel oil aboard, compared to 2,900 nmi at 15 knots for The “Fantasque” but more of less equivalent to the larger Mogador.


The class was initially designed for fleet anti-aircraft warfare, and as other ship’s class of the time drawing lessons from WW2, their main guns were dual-purpose.

5-in M1948 (127 mm)

Three views from the shipyard model showing the armament of the T47 class.

These were the Model 1948, 5 inches (127 mm)/54 guns which used the same standard U.S. ammunition present across the board within NATO. This main armament was placed in three twin turrets, like the Sumner and Gearing classes. This was the standard major-caliber AAA weapon of the Marine Nationale in the early cold war, shared by cruisers and destroyers. A completely new design taking advantage of the massive stockpile of US 5-in ammunition. It was also the first high-angle mounting use on French vessels and essentially a dual-purpose development of the prewar twin 130mm mounting (Le Hardi class). However it was not automated, with 11 personnel per gun, so ‘heavy and over-complex’ as described at the time. It failed to meet its requirements for the rate of fire (15rpm per gun) and was heavily modified before and after entering service. It was superseded by the single 100 mm which became the new standard, until the end of the cold war. There will be a detail outlook during a future upgrade of the French cold war navy page. More.

2.2-in M1951 (57 mm)

The secondary armament comprised three twin 57mm/60 guns modele 1951. Called also 57 mm/60 (2.25″) SAK Model 1950 in Sweden and 57 mm/60 (2.25″) Modèle 1951 in France. Indeed, it was orignally a new Bofors water-cooled design, used by Netherlands, France and Sweden. Bofors introduced this weapon a scaled-up version of the highly successful 40 mm/70 Model 1948. Unlike the latter, the four-round clip (main critic of the operations) was dropped, since the much larger ammunition would have made the clips way too heavy. Loaders were asked to drop individual rounds into ammunition boxes, feeding in turn quadrant-shaped hoppers mounted at the gun’s trunnions, working by gravity at all angles. After reviewing weapons in 1946, the French Navy Conseil Superieur decided the 40 mm Bofors was now inadequate against upcoming jets and decided to adopt the Bofors 57 mm AA gun. They were mated to a French-designed twin turret, ending on the Jean Bart and T47 destroyers. Still, their effectiveness against jets was questionable. More on these on

Light AA

The light AA armament was still very much influenced by WW2 and comprised four single-mounted 20 mm Oerlikon cannon, but no 40 mm Bofors. It was believed the 57 mm guns took their role in the close-to-medium range defence. This emphasis on AA armament reflected a complete U-turn in the French admiralty compared to WW2, now centered around aircraft carrier protection. France acquired
indeed the Arromanches in 1946 (purchased 1951), Lafayette and Bois Belleau in 1950. Of course in 1957, the first local large carriers were built, the Clemenceau class, while the T47 were still in construction: The last four were commissioned in 1957.

ASW/AAW armament

L3 Torpedo launch banks
L3 Torpedo launch banks. These acoustic ASW torpedoes were larger, but shorter than standard 21-in models.

Originally, the ships were pure AA escorts, with little to no anti-submarine warfare armament. There were still the basic depth charge racks and a sonar. The design however included a single quadruple 550 mm (21.7 in) torpedo tubes bank for AAW. It was mounted between the aft 127 mm and 57 mm gun mounts, and allowed some close range antiship defense. However the design was modified and it was changed to four triple banks, same caliber but carrying more variety of torpedoes for AAW/ASW warfare. Two were placed the each broadside and the forward pair was modified to fire the L3 ASW homing torpedoes while the aft pair could fire either the L3 torpedoes or the K2 anti-ship torpedoes. Indeed, the French considered the Hedgehog and Squid but preferred to stick with the torpedo formula, which arguably was less complex and space-consuming. This will change with the mid-life refits.
The L3 was an electric acoustic-homing anti-submarine torpedo designed in the 1950s and in service in 1960. About 600 has been manufactured. Powered by a Nickel-cadmium Battery, they carried a warhead of 440 lbs. (200 kg) with Tolite A1, and can reach 5,500 yards (5,000 m) at 25 knots. The K2 (1956) was essentially similar to the American Weapon Alfa, British Limbo and Italian Menon, but using a torpedo body rather than a rocket. It was made for speed, powered by an Oxygen-alcohol turbine, carrying a 617 lbs. (280 kg) HBX-3 or TNT warhead at 1,000 yards (900 m) at 50 knots.


At the origin, the T47 carried French sonars DUBV 1 and DUBA 1 mounted on the hull. There were considerations to adopt British-pattern lattice mast, but a compromise was found, twin tripods with lattice to carry a DRBV 11 surface/air search radar. These were completed by DRBV 20A and DRBC 11 and DRBC 30 radars installed partly on the other tripod in front of the aft funnel. The main armament direction was was managed by a single FCS at the front, placed over the bridge as in earlier designs. A second one was installed aft for the 57 mm guns, on a raised platform behind the aft funnel.

DUPETIT THOUARS (D 625) nearby MÖLDERS (D 186) and FEARLESS (L 10) in the background, on Tirpitzmole at the “kieler Woche” (Kiel’s navy week).

1960 modernizations

During the 1960s the entire class were comprehensively modernised and divided into three specialized classes, AA (missile) and AAW/ASW and others as flotilla flagships.

Flotilla Flagships:

Cassard refuelling from USS Savannah on 1974
Cassard refuelling from USS Savannah on 1974 (USN photo)

These modifications concerned the Surcouf, Cassard, and Chevalier Paul. Called “conducteurs de flottilles” they were rebuilt between 1960 and 1962. After this conversion they lost one 57 mm gun turret, two triple torpedo launchers and two 20 mm AA guns. This was in order to enlarge the superstructure and accommodate the admiral bridge and staff, plus additional long-range communications equipment (later upgraded for satellite communication). They were designed as replacements for two light cruisers acting as such, but recently withdrawn from service. In 1962, Cassard was fitted with a flight deck to carry an helicopter.

AAW Destroyers

Du Chayla in 1991
Du Chayla in 1991
This major reconstruction concerned four ships: Bouvet, Kersaint, Dupetit-Thouars and Du Chayla – They became anti-aircraft guided missile destroyers. The reconstruction took place in 1962–1965.
Their main weapon system was the US-provided Tartar missile launcher placed aft with a new superstructure for the reloading system and stores, and SPG-51 tracker-illuminators, but they retained their three twin 57 mm AA turrets. The other important addition was a single sextuple 375 mm (15 in) Model 1972 ASW mortar. The new aft raised deckhouse was installed between the aft 57 mm guns and housed the complete reload chain, down to the missile store. The Model 1972 mortar replaced the forward 127 mm turret and the main artillery fire control director was removed. They all kept their forward set of torpedo tubes.

Tartar mark 13
Tartar mark 13 on the T-47 destroyers

This sub-class received an upgraded DRBC 31 radar, moved to the fire control director’s former spot, atop the bridge. The DRBV 11 radar was removed and replaced by the US SPS-39A 3D and later B model. Complement was down to 278, 17 officers, 261 ratings. In the late 1970s, these ships also received the SENIT 2 action information centre, housed in a reworked bridge superstructure aft. In 1979, Dupetit-Thouars and Du Chayla received the new air search radar DRBV 22.

ASW Destroyers

The bridge as Maillé Brezé as rebuilt
The bridge as Maillé Brezé as rebuilt (now a museum ship)

This was the last reconstruction programme for the T47, and the most radical. It concerned the conversion of D’Estrées, Maillé-Brézé, Vauquelin, Casabianca and Guépratte as specialized ASW destroyers. This took place in 1968–1970. D’Estrées was a trial vessel, inaugurating a variable depth sonar, already tested before reconstruction in the early 1960s.
As rebuilt, they had now:
-Two Mod 53 DP 100 mm (4 in) guns, one forward and one aft, controlled by a DRBC 32A fire control director.
-One 375 mm sextuple ASWR (anti-submarine rocket launcher) Modele 1972 forward, behind the 100 mm on a raised deck on “B” position.
-A Malafon anti-submarine missile launcher. The Malafon was comparable to the US ASROC and similar systems. It was installed aft, with the magazine directly in front of it. More on this on the future upgraded French Navy cold war weapons section.
-Two 20 mm Oerlikon guns for close defense.

Malafon ASWM on Maillé Brezé
Malafon ASWM on Maillé Brezé

Their DRBV 22A air search radar was mounted atop the tripod mast and the DRBV 50 air/surface radar was located below it on its own advanced platform. They all carried the DUBV 23 and DUBV 43 sonars which needed a reconfigured bow. This also required them to have a new clipper bow, and a stern anchor. Overall length went to to 132.5 metres (434 ft 9 in) and complement was reduced to 260 due to greater automation.

Surcouf, as built (1955)

Maillé Brezé
Maillé Brezé 1971

Dupetit-Thouars 1972

2,750 t standard, 3,740 tons FL

T47 class destroyers (as designed)

Dimensions 128.62 x 12.7 x 5.4 m (422.0 x 42 x 18 ft)
Displacement 2,750 t standard, 3,740 tons FL
Propulsion 2 shafts Parsons geared steam turbines, 4 fuel boilers
Performances 63,000 shp (47,000 kW), 34 kts (63 km/h; 39 mph), range 5,000 nmi (9,300 km)/18 kts
Armament 3×2 127, 3×2 57, 4 × 20 mm AA, 4×3 550 mm TTs
Crew 347

More resources


Document: Profiles of all destroyers and their evolution over time (pdf)
Photos of the Maillé Brezé as museum ship


J. Gardiner, Conway’s all the world’s fighting ships 1947-1995
Blackman, Raymond V. B., ed. (1953). Jane’s Fighting Ships 1953–54. London: Sampson, Low and Marston.
Gardiner, Robert; Chumbley, Stephen & Budzbon, Przemysław, eds. (1995). Conway’s All the World’s Fighting Ships 1947–1995. Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press.
Jordan, John (2020). “T47 Surcouf”. In Jordan, John (ed.). Warship 2020. Oxford, UK: Osprey.
Moore, John, ed. (1974). Jane’s Fighting Ships 1974–75. New York: Franklin Watts Incorporated.
Jean Moulin, L’escorteur d’escadre Maillé Brézé, Rennes, Marines Editions, jan. 2010
Jean Meyer, Martine Acerra: Histoire de la marine française des origines à nos jours, Rennes, Ouest-France, 1994
Michel Vergé-Franceschi, Dictionnaire d’Histoire maritime, Paris, éditions Robert Laffont 2002
Alain Boulaire, La Marine française : De la Royale de Richelieu aux missions d’aujourd’hui, Quimper, éditions Palantines, 2011
Rémi Monaque, Une histoire de la marine de guerre française, Paris, éditions Perrin, 2016



The model kits corner

The great classic: 1/350 Heller 81013 SURCOUF French Destroyer
Model by l’arsenal 1/700

The T47 in service

The destroyers would have been completely obsolete in 1960 so they were the object of a large modernization programs making them “specialists”. The less upgraded were those of the first serie, and understandably they left service sooner: Surcouf and Chevalier Paul in 1971, cassard in 1974 and the remainder in the 1980s. None, apart Maillé Brezé, saw the end of the cold war. The latter became a museum ship at Nantes.

Surcouf (D-621)

Surcouf 1960s
She was commissioned in November 1955, based in Toulon, First Destroyers Flotilla and heading the Fourth Destroyer Division (DEE4). In 1956, she took part in naval exercises notably with including NATO’s MEDCOM and coastal surveillance off Algeria. By October-December 1956 she took part in Operation Musketeer as part of the landings in the Suez Crisis.
On 10 April 1959, she was attached to the Tenth Destroyer Division (DEE10), Light Fleet at Brest. On 26 March 1960, she collided with the cargo Léognan off Groix. The damage needed long repairs.
In the early 1960s, she was converted as a command ship and flotilla leader. Her forward 57 mm mount was removed and her bridge extending forward, as well as her two aft torpedo banks and new housing quarters built. This tok place in drydock at arsenal of Brest, from 11 June 1960 to 4 October 1961 after she completed post-refit sea trials. She was then assigned to the main fleet in Toulon, as admiral flagship, 1st FEE (ALFEE). In March 1962, at the Battle of Bab El Oued (OAS coup in Algeria), she shelled OAS troops holding Bab el-Oued quarter, Algiers, together with Maillé-Brézé. However the bombardment was called off as giving few results and massive collateral damage. The destroyers kept their station as a deterrent until the coup was over. Both ships would later ferry troops from France to Algiers on 2 March, fighting the OAS rebellion.

On 6 June 1971, 60 nautical miles (110 km) southeast of Cartagena, Spain, Surcouf was underway with the tactical group led by the aircraft carrier Arromanches, when she collided, rammed by the bow of the Soviet tanker General Busharov, six times heavier than the destroyer. The impact ocurred at 16 knots (30 km/h; 18 mph), almost cutting Surcouf in half. Nine men were lost during the impact. Surcouf was later assisted by the French destroyer Tartu of the same same tactical group, which attempted to tow her out, when she snapped in two, the bow sinking quickly. The aft part however still had buoyancy, and was taken in tow to Toulon, via Cartagena. What was left of her was sunk as target by Exocet missiles off Toulon after being decommissioned on 5 May 1972.

Kersaint (D-622)

Kersaint underway in 1963
Kersaint underway in 1963

Second of the T47/T51 serie of 18 destroyer escorts, Kersaint was designed as an AA/ASW escort, laid down in Lorient in June 1951, launched in October 1953 and in service by March 1956. The eary part of her career alternated between fleet exercizes with the fleet and NATO. Until 1963 she served at her home base in Toulon, visiting most ports of the Mediterranean, but made longer trips, in the Atlantic as well. In 1956 for example she stopped in Brest, Bône, Philippeville, Monaco, Izmir, Smyrne, Rhodes, Crete, Gibraltar, Casablanca, Dakar, Conakry, Bizerte, Haïfa while in 1957 she visited Bizerte, Dakar, Simonstown, The Cape, Diego Suarez, Djibouti, Tamatave, Réunion, Lourenço Marquez, Abidjan, Dakar, Brest, Plymouth and Alger.
She participated also in the Suez operations of October 1956, firing 65 shell on an unknown ship, later identified as the Egyptian destroyer Ibrahim el Awal (disabled and later boarded by the Israeli Navy). She had two major overhauls during her active life, the first from February 1964 to April 1965, called the “Tartar” overhaul, with this weapons system installed with reloading houising, magazing and fire control directos ans assoviated radars. The second was performed from December 1970 to June 1972. After her conversion she was based in Brest, Atlantic squadron. She escorted the task forces of Foch and Clemenceau when active in the Atlantic.
She was active for the last time on March 3, 1984, condemned on May 23, 1985, and mothballed as hull number Q638. Instead of being sold for BU she was used as a target in May 1986, sunk during an exercise with the Escadre de l’Atlantique.

Cassard (D-623)

Laid down at Ateliers et Chantiers de Bretagne, Nantes, in November 1951, launched in May 1953 she was in service in April 1956. She was rebuilt in the early 1960s, modified as flotilla leader and command vessel, like his sisterships Surcouf and Chevalier Paul. Cassard took part in the Suez Canal crisis in November 1956, shortly after her return in active service on May 7, 1962, together with Georges Leygues and Bouvet. She stayed in reserve for a possible sortie of Egyptian vessels and shelling on demand. Afterwards, she returned to her home base in Toulon, until the end of her career.
As a flotilla leader she acted as flagship of the Third Flotilla of fast escorts (3rd FER). With the reorganization of the naval forces on September 15, 1965, she hoisted the mark of the admiral commanding the Mediterranean Escort Flotilla (ALFLOMED3). On November 1, 1969, she became flagship, Mediterranean squadron, replacing Colbert lefing for Brest and transformation as a missile cruiser from November 19691. Cassard spent the rest of the 1960s and early 1970s participating in NATO exercizes and was decommissioned on October 1, 1974, but remaining in special reserve until June 1, 1976. She was written off from service, removed from list and was mothballed as the hull Q555 hull. She later served as a breakwater in the Anse du Fret, between Île Longue and Rostellec (Britanny), and later moored on a safe in the Landévennec ship cemetery. She left for Spain on August 14, 1989 to be BU.

Bouvet (D-624)

The Bouvet after her Tartar refit, seen from an US Navy plane, Norfolk, 1965

The Fourth in the T47/T51 serie she was designed as an AA/ASW escort, laid down in Lorient (Lanester basin) in November 1951, launched in October 1953, and in service by May 1956. Just admitted in active service, she participated in the Algerian war, shelling shore objectives in the region of Nemours (June 5 and 10, 1956), and went on with on demand fire support for a battalion of the 2e REP, south-west of Bougaroni on June 29, 1956. The same year, she was involved in the “Suez affair” by November 1956 with Georges Leygues, Cassard and Dupetit-Thouars, for escort for the French task force of Operation Musketeer. She was modernized in 1964 as a missile destroyer, her main armament being now the Tartar surface/air missile on a single Mk 13 ramp. From the on she was based in Brest, Atlantic Sqn, multiplying exercizes with NATO atlantic command. Her first Atlantic trip took place before conversion in 1963 rallying Cherbourg to head for Fort-de-France, and Pointe-à-Pitre (French Caribbean), and on the American north coast, Saint Pierre island, Québec, Chicago, Montréal, and back to Royan, French Atlantic coast. After refit, she visited Ponta Delgada, Norfolk, Mayport, San Juan, de Porto Rico, Yorktown, New-York, Montréal, Chicago, and Detroit. In 1970 she underwent her second refit, with new electronic and command systems SENIT. She was based in the Mediterranean squadron again. In 1973 she visited Lisbonne, Lagos, Gand, La Horta, Ponta Delgada, Porto Rico, Jacksonville, New-York, Saint Malo, and La Spezia. She carried out also four missions in the Indian Ocean in 1974-1975, 1977, 1979 and 1980.
She was decommissioned on January 1, 1982, mothballed as hull number Q635. She served as a breakwater in Lorient, but left on September 21, 2012, to be towed to Ghent in Belgium, sold to shipbreaker Van Heygen Recycling yards, a subsidiary of Galloo group.

Bouvet at Kiel navy week, 1971
Bouvet at Kiel navy week, 1971

Dupetit-Thouars (D-625)

DUPETIT THOUARS (D 625) close to MÖLDERS (D 186) and FEARLESS (L 10) in the background, in Kiel.

Fifth in the T17 serie, Dupetit-Thouars was laid down in Brest, March 1951, launched in February 1954, and in service by September 1956. She took part in the Suez crisis of November 1956, shortly after entering service, teaming with Georges Leygues, Cassard and Bouvet. She was based in Toulon, taking part in NATO exercizes, Mediterranean command, until her Tartar refit in 1962. In 1957 she made her first transatlantic trip, visiting Oran, Alger, Fort-de-France (Martinique, French Caribbean), Norfolk, Philadelphia, adnd back to the med, Casablanca, Malte, Bizerte, Bône, and Marseille. In 1963, she visited Punta Delgada, Norfolk, Mayport, San Juan de Porto Rico, Yorktown, and Washington and made a North sea/Baltic trip in 1964, visiting Hamburg, Copenhague, Haugesund, Arendal, Oslo, and Amsterdam. She took part in seven missions in the Indian Ocean, and one off Lebanon, Exercize Olifant XVII. In 1973 she had her SENIT refit.
During her career, Dupetit-Thouars covered 753,000 miles. She was decommissioned in April 1988, hull number Q662. Since then, she is a breakwater at Lanvéoc (Britanny), in front of the Marine Naval School. Dupetit-Thouars was sponsored by the Foreign Legion.

Chevalier Paul (D-626)

A shipyard model of D626 Chevalier Paul
A shipyard model of D626 Chevalier Paul

Sixth T47 squadron escort, Chevalier Paul was laid down at the Forges et Chantiers de la Gironde, February 1952, launched in July 1953 and in service by December 1956. She was based in the Mediterranean, visiting in 1956 Copenhague, Oslo, Narvik, Reykjavik, Ponta Delgada and in 1957 Fort-de-France (French Carib.), Hampton Road, Philadelphia, Casablanca, Brest, Cherbourg, Portsmouth, Malte, and Bizerte. In 1961 she was based in Brest and was rebuilt as a flotilla leader like Surcouf and Cassard, with new accomodation for the admiral and his staff. In 1963 she visited Portsmouth, Fort-de-France, Basse Terre, Key West, Halifax, Montréal, Invergodon, and Rosyth and in 1964 Copenhague, Vikser, Hangesund, Kristiansund, Oslo, Amsterdam, Portsmouth, Le Havre, and the was present in the armada at the D-Day beaches of Normandy during the 20th anniversay celebrations. In 1970 she made a round trip, stopping at Chatham, Dakar, Pointe Noire, Capetown, Diego-Suarez, Colombo, Port Swettenham in Malaisia, Singapore, Bangkok, Madras, Durban, Abidjan, and Las Palmas.
Decommissioned in June 1971, hull number Q537, she became a breakwater at Saint Mandrier (Var, French Rivera) from 1978 to 1979, and was later sunk off Toulon as a target by Super Etendards from the aircraft carrier Clemenceau. The previous ship bearing this name was a large destroyer (1930 to 1941) and today, a Horizon class frigate. Chevalier Paul (born 1598) was a commoner, and a bastard, which rose in the ranks of the French Navy to become an admiral under Richelieu, distinguished himself in the Mediterranean an died in 1667.

Maillé Brezé (D-627)

Maillé Brézé as a museum ship today in Nantes.
Maillé Brézé as a museum ship today in Nantes.

Maillé-Brézé was initially intended as an anti-aircraft escort, but modified as an ASW escort. She was laid down in Lorient on October 9, 1953, launched on July 2, 1955, and admitted into active service on May 4, 1957, sponsored by the city of Saumur. Her missions spanned ten years, including rotation in the Atlantic and Mediterranean, undergoing significant activity and fleet exercizes with NATO. In 1957 she visited Bergen, Bodø, Tromsø, Hammerfest, Oslo, Hamburg, Gibraltar, Palma de Mallorca, Bizerte, Lebanon, Algiers, Oran, Mers el-Kébir, Arzew, Bastia and in 1958 Bône, Bougie, Arzew, Malta, Palermo, Sciacca, and Naples. In January 1967-August 1968, she was completely overhauled, reconstructed and fitted with new modern detection and ASW weapons systems, notably the Malafon missile and a very characteristic towed sonar. By then she supported the Strategic Oceanic Force (FOST).
After a long and active career she was eventually decommissioned on April 1, 1988, renamed Q661. Handed over to the “Nantes Marine Tradition” association, she became a naval museum, refitted as such, and opened on July 1, 19881. She was classified later as an historical monument since October 28, 1991, benefiting from state funding for her maintenance.

Her second career as a museum ship did not stopped there: In September 2015, she took part in the “Teenage Kicks” urban art festival, and painted on the river side of the hull, gangway, funnels and gun as temporary artwork by two artists, Velvet and Zoer4, inspired by the Razzle Dazzle.
Also between May and June 2016, she was used as a prop by movie director Christopher Nolan during the filming of “Dunkirk” (Operation Dynamo) and to be shot as a French ww2 destroyer, certain modern elements were dismantled. She was towed to Saint-Nazaire for fitting-out work during 7 days, after which she returned to Dunkirk and the filiming with all costs covered by Warner Bros.

Vauquelin (D-628)

Vauquelin in 1957

The eighth in the T47 serie, Vauquelin was at first an AA before, redesigned as ASW escort. She was laid down in Lorient, Lanester basin, on March 8, 1954, launched on September 26, 1954, and admitted to active service on November 3, 1956. She took part in the Suez operations in 1956, patrolled the coast of North Africa during the Algerian war. In 1957 she made her first long trip,, stopping at Cannes, Villefranche, Dakar, Simonstown, Le Cap, Diego Suarez, Djibouti, Aden, Majunga, Tuléar, Lourenço Marquez, Abidjan, Brest, and Plymouth. She was refitted in 1968-69 and in the early 1970s, joined the Atlantic squadron. Her missions were from then on to support the new French nuclear missile launching submarines of the FOST operating from Brest, Long island, and protected commercial navigation roads. In 1978 she made one of her longest cruise, stopping at Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Dakar, Abidjan, Freetown, Recife, Belem, Fort-de-France , Pointe-a-Pitre, Saint Barthélemy, Port au Prince, Miami, Norfolk, Boston, Halifax, Saint Pierre et Miquelon, Saint Jean de Terre Neuve, Toulon, and Plymouth.
Until the end of her career she covered 664,272 miles in 2000 days at sea.
She was decommissioned on November 6, 1986, hull number Q654 in April 1987. She was used in 1988-2001, as a target for missile tests for the benefit of the DGA. She was hit notably by the marine Crotale NG missile. From 2001 she was used as a breakwater in Toulon. She was sunk on February 13, 2004 by a Super-Etendard strike from Charles de Gaulle.

Vauquelin in 1962

D’Estrée (D-629)

She was the ninth in the T47 serie, designed as AA escort before and redesigned as ASW escort. She was laid down on October 6, 1953, in Brest, Laninon basin, launched on November 27, 1954 same day as her sisters ship Du Chayla, and admitted to active service on March 19, 1957. She served with the Med squadron, Toulon. In 1959-1961, she tested a landing platform for a Marine Alouette III light helicopter with floats. On November 9, 1961, she was damaged following a collision with her sister ship Tartu. She had a first great drydock maintenance in 1962. She was rebuilt in 1966 in Brest, but returned to Toulon. In 1975 she made one of her largest cruise, stopping at Malaga, Naples, Patras, Djibouti, Singapour, Bangkok, Belawan, Colombo, La Réunion, and Augusta. In 1982 she patrolled off Larnaca during the Lebanon civil war. Her career saw her covering 422,000 miles.
On July 3, 1985, D’Estrées was decommissioned, hull Q642 by December 1985. She was used as a breakwater at Saint Mandrier, but was sunk on September 12, 2001 off Toulon by a F17mod2 torpedo from the nuclear attack submarine Saphir.

Du Chayla (D-630)

Du Chayla in 1991.
The Tenth in the T47 serie, Du Chayla was later rebuilt as a missile destroyer and squadron escort. Laid down in Brest, Laninon basin, in July 1953, she launched on November 1954 and admitted to active service in June 1957. She spent his entire career at Brest Naval Base, with the Atlantic squadron. In 1961 she made one of her longest cruise, visiting Mers el Kébir, Alger, Arzew, Cadix, Le Havre, Cherbourg, Bordeaux, Bergen, Stockolm, Karlskrona, Gdynia, Dunkerque, Ponta Delgada, Norfolk, Yorktown, Key West, Port au Prince, La Guayra, Fort-de-France, La Désirade, Les Saintes, Pointe-à-Pitre, and Dakar. On July 4, 1973, she collided with the fast escort Le Corse, cutting her bow clean out. She was repaired and was back in service. In 1977 she made her first trip in the Indian Ocean, after visiting Cherbourg Portland, Santander, Augusta, Djibouti, she stopped in Colombo, Mayotte, and Port des Galets.
In 1984, she was in Brest’s functional rehabilitation center. Du Chayla covered 913,860 miles during her career. She participated in the 1990-91 Gulf war, covering 30,700 nm and visiting 100 ports. The last flag hoisting ceremony took place on November 15, 1991. She served as a breakwater at Ile Longue (Brest, SSBN base), she was sunk in September 2001 off Brittany, testing a 80 kgs depth charge, which broke her in two. She is now an artificial reef for marine life.

Casabianca (D-631)

Casabianca in Amsterdam, 1964

The eleventh in the T47 serie, Casabianca was later redesigned and rebuilt as an ASW destroyer, like Maillé Brezé. Shhe was laid down at the Forges et Chantiers de la Gironde (Bordeaux, former Dyle & Bacalan yards) in October 1953, launched on November 13, 1954, and in active service by May 4, 1957. She made her first trainig cruiser in 1956, visiting Hambourg, Kiel, Bergen, and Plymouth. She was based in Brest for all her carrer, hunting Soviet submarines. She underwent a major overhaul (notably with the Malafon missile) in Brest arsenal, from January 1968 to January 1969. She was decommissioned on September 7, 1984, hull Q639 in May 1985 and part of her aft deck hydraulic system (MSR2C) towed sonar was mounted on the aviso Commandant Rivière for experiments. Casabianca was named after the Corsican Marine officer under Louis XIV Luc Casabianca, which notably served under De Grasse, taking part in the battles of Fort-Royal (29 april 1781), Chesapeake (5 september) and Saint-Christophe (jan. 1782). For this reason, the destroyer was sponsored by the city of Bastia. Her name was of a former, famous French submarine which served witn the FNFL in WW2, and again given to a moden SSN.

Guépratte (D-632)

Guépratte and Duperré in Trondheim, 1965
Guépratte and Duperré in Trondheim, 1965

The last in the T47 serie, Guépratte was designed was later rebuilt as an anti-submarine destroyer escort. She was laid down at the Ateliers et Chantiers de Bretagne, Nantes in August 1953, launched on November 8, 1954, and in service on June 6, 1957. Her shakedown training cruise in 1956 took her to Morgat, Swansea, Royan, Granville, Brest, Toulon, Ponta Delgada and the next year she visited Brest, Tanger, Toulon (which became her homebase), Cherbourg, Portsmouth, and Bizerte. In 1961, she made her longest trip, bringing her to Cadix, Plymouth, Cherbourg, Bordeaux, Bergen, Copenhague, Thorhavn, Nemours, Ponta Delgada, Norfolk, Yorktown, Key West, Port au Prince, various Atlantic islands and Dakar.
On December 14, 1966, the Naval Missile Testing Group (“Group M”) was formed, working for the benefit of the Landes Test Center, studying ballistic missiles. Guépratte was used as lead ship for a squadron comprising also Le Savoyard and Le Basque and the 24th minesweeper division. She was rebuilt into an anti-submarine destroyer at Brest arsenal from August 1968 to August 1970.

On may 12, 1981 a Soviet SSN of the Victor class was spotted 50 nautical miles in front of Toulon, while tracking the aircraft carrier Clemenceau. Guepratte, Georges-Leygues and several Atlantic maritime patrol planes plus Lynx ASW helicopters started to hunt her down. She tried everything to throw off its pursuers, stopping dead and pushing at 30 knots, to try to deceive French sonars, but after 18 hours of this, she was forced to surface and left the area.
Guépratte was disarmed on August 5, 1985. By then, she covered 640,000 miles in 2,600 days at sea. She became hull number Q643 on March 13, 1986, sunk on November 9, 1994 by two Exocet missiles AM39 launched by a maritime patrol aircraft of 23F flotilla and a Super-Etendard.