The French Marine Nationale interwar seaplane carrier
The Commandant Teste was France’s only dedicated fleet seaplane carrier in 1939. She was a large ship based in the Mediterranean where weather conditions favored the use of seaplanes to screen for the fleet, equipped with four catapults, cranes, hangar and workshops to manage a permanent fleet of 26 seaplanes of various types, mixing attack and reconnaissance, which evolved during her career. In the summer of 1940 she survived Operation Catapult at Mers el Kebir, but was scuttled at Toulon in November 1942.
Genesis of the Cdt. Teste
In WWI the French Navy experimented with seaplane carriers and platforms to launch land-based types, and they proved their usefulness. Thus, two types of ships were contemplated by the French Navy immediately after WW1, in the light of recent experiences in the Mediterranean. Seaplane carriers and aircraft carriers. In 1922, after the signing of the Washington treaty, it was even more evident as there was no limitation for these types, seen as auxiliaries of the fleet. Therefore it was planned to built at least one of each type.
For the first type, it was studied both the cheap conversion of an existing liner, or a brand new contruction, while for the second, the almost completed battleship Bearn was chosen for conversion.
The process for both started in 1922 already, and discussions for the seaplane carrier went on about its tasks. The name specified from the start was “porte-hydravions” so litterally “seaplane carrier”, not seaplane tender. Meaning the ship was to be a permanent base for these, not just a supply ships for seaplanes.
Seaplanes needed to be permentenly housed aboard hangar in larger numbers than for a classic converted vessels of WWI which typically could support 2-3 seaplanes, having extensive facilities and notably workshops and spare parts, catapults for rapid deployment and a holding turntable, cranes for recovery, and some self-defence capabilities. She was to be a moving self-contained naval air base.
The future ship, unnamed at the time, was to be created around three mission sets:
-To serve as a floating maintenance and supply base for seaplane formations.
-To transport spare aircraft to aircraft carriers and airbases.
-To serve as a seaplane launching platform and support a naval force for fleet actions.
For this, the rapid deployment of seaplanes dedicated the use of four catapults, to have at least a full squadron aloft at the same time, and five cranes with a capacity of 12 t, as well as a landing ramp with outriggers arranged along the edge for mooring seaplanes. As a naval base, she was to have also a large supply of avgas and oil, complete distribution network, maintenance and repair workshops, and to house these, a rather large hangar in order to accommodate a fleet of 26 seaplanes, which was soon precised to be CAMS 55.
For self defence, she was asked to possess 100 mm guns to fend off destroyers attacks, and against air attacks, up to eight single 37 mm guns.
Her propulsion was also discussed, and all agreed that range was less important than speed, although the latter was in 1925 fit for fleet actions, knowing that French dreadnoughts at the time were capped to 21 knots. Thus, a set of Schneider-Zoelly geared steam turbines mated with four superheated boilers was chosen. For the large ship, 21,000 hp were enough to procure 21 knots, with a fully loaded average run of 20-20.5 knots.
Official Marine Nationale’s archives general blueprint of the Cdt Teste.
Hull and general design
The Commandant Tests was an imposing ship, large at 167 m (547 ft 11 in) long overall, and quite beamy at 27 m (88 ft 7 in), for a Draft of 6.7 m (22 ft). Incidentally this was comparable to the beam of the aircraft carrier Béarn. This beam was dictated by the hangar, itself large enough for any seaplane model, wings unfolded. This made for a lenght-width ratio not favourable for speed, but consistent with her role. Her overall lenght was dictated by the size of the existing yards drydocks in France at the time.
As for the height of the hull above water, it was considerable with an “air draft” twice as high as her underwater draught. This caused some “sail effects” in high winds, and the ship tended to be pushed sideways.
Engineers worked to have her weight distributed in such a way as not to loose stability. Stability concerns in bad weather also could still be jeopardized by the heavy catapults, cranes and AA guns mounted high. For this the hull combined classic and innovative solutions: She had two generous counter-keels but also two lateral tanks fitted with a pressurized butterfly valve connecting them enabling water to flow between them and like a pendulum, counteract rolling. On trials in 1933, the system was judged successful, with estimations it reduced the roll from 37 to 65%. However, maintenance proved problematic due to their access. But this combination in the end pricured her a gentle, predictable motion in order to ensure safe aircraft operations at any sea conditions, and this include recovery (see later).
Hangar and Facilities
The Commandant Teste had a rather unique appearance, even among seaplane carriers. Her main hangar, of 84 × 27 × 7 m or 276 x 88 x 23 ft, dominated all her beam and took three decks in height, with its main opening located at the back, when her poop stands, on which was her real “weather deck”. The prow was an extension of the hangar, making for a very tall freeboard, which combined with a hull generous in portholes gave her a liner-like appearance. This hangar was partitioned in two by a bulkhead incorporating the exhaust uptakes truncated into a single funnel, plus the ventilation trunking. Inside could fit ten large folded wings torpedo bombers or two smaller stowed in place of each, so 20 in all. Two additional large aircraft, four smaller would be stored in crates as spares in a hold below the hangar.
Above the hangar, making a flush upper deck, the surface was arranged between three islands: The bridge forward and its wings with a combination of superstructures enabling the installation of three guns, and two more located a deck below behind recesses.
This bridge comprised a short tower superstructure and a conning tower. Behind were located a tripod foremast, with a platform supporting a fire control post (a telemeter was on a lower fore leg platform) and a projector. Behind the superstructure extended to the wings supported six service boats, two of each type for all uses. Two small yawls were located under davits aft.
After this, was the seaplane operation deck, which extended right aft to the aft island. It was almost ininterrupted but by the central funnel, surounded by platforms for AA guns, MGs and projectors. This main “flight deck” was composed of four side Penhöet compressed-air catapults with a capacity of 2.5 t (2.5 long tons) to 3 tons, for moderately large seaplanes as specified, while these were hoisted by cranes from the hangar through the four upper deck cranes. There was no lift and instead, large sliding hatches, 15 m × 7 m (49 ft 3 in × 23 ft 0 in).
1937 Trials showed that the ship needed the following time in operations:
-3 hours to embark or disembark a group of 16 aircraft
-17 minutes to embark a single Gourdou-Leseurre GL-812 reconnaissance floatplane
-7 minutes to launch and reload a section of four floatplanes by catapult.
Aft of the upper deck was located the rear island comprising the mainmast and some platforms were the four remaning 100 m guns and some extra AA guns were located.
On the poop deck three levels lower planes could be hoisted in the hangar via the rear opening, which could be enclosed by a rotating shutter, and served by a single fifth crane.
In normal operations, seaplanes landed at sea nearby the ship, using various recovery methods to bring them close to the poop crane, the hoisted on the poop deck and brought into the hangar through this rear opening. The upper four deck cranes were used only to hoist seaplanes from the hangar, not recovery at sea due to the height.
Unlike IJN seaplane carriers, there was not railing system to place extra seaplanes ready to be hoisted on catapults. The rest of the deck was “clean” with the only four catapults occupied.
The aircraft were moved on wheeled trolleys using Décauville rails, extending on each half-hangar floor, aft to the quarterdeck. The large torpedo bombers () were not catapulted but instead launched at sea moved to the quarterdeck aft where their wings were extended, lowered by the axial stern crane and recovered the same.
Armour protection layout
It was very limited, as she was supposed to be escorted or only proof against destroyer attacks.
-She had a 2-in (51 mm) main belt which was external and extended beyond the hangar, from the forward superstructure to the poop deck. The drawings saw no sloping to connect to the armour deck, as there was none for the entire lenght, 3.76 m (12.3 ft) high.
-Partial transverse bulkheads 2 cm (0.8 in) thick
-There was a main armor deck composed of two layers of 1.2 cm (0.5 in) plating making for 1-1/2 inches (25.4 mm) (three layers) above the boilers.
-The conning tower was the best protected place on the ship, with walls 3.14 in thick (80 mm), roof 3 cm (1.2 in).
-The ASW protection was rather classic, counting on extensive sub-compartimentation below the waterline, some filled with oil, as well as the main oil and avgas tanks.
-Magazines protected by 2-in (51 mm) sides, 1-in (20mm) ends and roofs.
-Extra layer of 26 mm (1 in) above the steering gear.
The Commandant Teste was given a classic powerplant four two propeller shafts, driven eaach by a Schneider-Zoelly steam geared turbine, fed in turn by two Loire-Yarrow boilers. The superheated Loire-Yarrow small-tube boilers worked at a pressure of 20 kg/cm2 (2,000 kPa; 280 psi) and temperature of 290 °C (554 °F). They were the first superheated boilers used in the French Navy and needed modifications post-trials. The two forward ones were oil-fired, while the aft ones, which were originally coal-only, were modified as mixed, burning fuel oil or coal. Total output was 21,000 hp as planned, and oberved on trials. She was specified 21 knots and reached on sea trials up to 21.77 knots during a three-hour test at full power and some overheating, and even exceeded 22 knots (41 km/h; 25 mph) during sea trials on 23 July 1933. But her standard high speed was of 20.5 knots.
The layout was typical of the 1920s with alternating boiler and engine rooms for better flooding resilience.
This provided a range of 2,000 nautical miles at 18 knots (33 km/h; 21 mph) or 2,500 nmi at 10 knots (19 km/h; 12 mph) using only coal.
Based on her fuel tank capacity of 1,163 t (1,145 long tons) of fuel oil and 700 t (690 long tons) of coal, she could reach 6,000 nm at 10 knots cruise speed or 2,500 nautical miles (4,600 km; 2,900 mi) at 18 knots, or 2,500.10 knots on coal alone. This was average, but judged sufficient for Mediterranean Operations.
Electrical power consisted in two 300 kilowatt (kW) turbo generators, which provided 235 volts for normal operations. It as completed by three 150 kW diesel generators to provide power while in harbor, when the ship had its machinery cold.
For an auxiliary ships, Commandant Teste was well protected, but the design evolved.
The original project was to carry 138.6 mm (5.5 in) or 155 mm (6.1 in) guns, and 75 mm (3.0 in) anti-aircraft guns originally. Due to the weight of turrets, the guns would gave been in limited numbers and unshielded in single mounts. However before construction began iit was decided a homogeneous main battery only with the new 100 mm (3.9 in) Modèle 1927, a brand new rapid-fire 45-caliber dual-purpose gun. It was much lighter and participated in preserving the top weight while almost doubling the firepower.
She had twelve 100 mm guns in total, the rest was composed of AA guns, eight 37 mm AA guns in single mounts, two on the forward bridge, four on around the funnel on a platform and two on the aft wings. This was reinforced before the war by six twin Hotchkiss 13,2 mm heavy machine guns mounts (see below).
Main: 12x 100mm/
Cdt. Teste was equipped with 100 mm/45 (3.9″) Model 1927 main guns. They were unshielded for weight reasons. These were dual purpose, on AA mountings, so they could participate to the AA defense of the ship as well. The Model 1927 was proper to Commandant Teste, but French torpedo boats had the Model 1932 which was given a standard mount instead.
These guns weighted 3,629 lbs. (1,620 kg) for a bore lenght of 177.2 in (4.500 m). They were capable of a ROF of 10 rounds per minute.
They fired a Fixed 53.2 lbs. (24.2 kg) ammunition, either HE 29.7 lbs. (13.5 kg) or SAP 32.96 lbs. (14.95 kg), coupled with a 8.87 lbs. (4.03 kg) BM7 propelland charge.
Muzzle Velocity for the SAP was 2,477 fps (755 mps) and for the HE: 2,575 fps (785 mps).
This made for a 16,400 yards (15,000 m) at 34° elevation, albeit the M1927 could elevated to 85°, ceiling is unknown, probably around 9,000m.
These 100mm guns were placed as said above on the islands and prow, two on the lower deck level behind recesses along the bow deck, one axial of the forward superstructure, two at the the same level on the wings, so five total, two on the broadside of the operation deck, abaft the funnel amidships, and the last five on two levels at the aft bridge, three on the lower level (one axial, two wings) and two on the upper wings platforms.
Anti-Aicraft Defence: 37 and 13.2 mm
The 75 mm initially planned were judged too slow for effective fire against 300 kph aircraft and so it was decided instead to adopt smaller calibers:
So she had eight 37 mm (1.5 in)/50 cal., semi-automatic AA guns. Again for weight reasons, they were carried in single mounts, unshielded, in the superstructures and platforms. 4,000 rounds were carried form them or 500 per gun.
These mpunts could elevate from -15° to 80° and they fired a 0.725 kg (1.60 lb) shell at 810 m/s (2,700 ft/s) for a 5,000 m (16,000 ft) ceiling. ROF was
This was completed by six single at first, then twin Hotchkiss 13.2 mm (0.52 in) “Mitrailleuses” Model 1929 heavy machine gun. Two mounts were located on the bridge’s wings, two on the upper funnel platform, two on the stern. They had an excellent cyclic ROF of 450 rounds per minute, reduced to 200-250 rounds to reload the 30-round clip magazines. Ceiling was on paper 4,200 m (13,800 ft), much reduced in practice. The Japanese copied the models and installed these on most their warships in complement to the 25 mm, anotehr derivative of the Hotchkiss design. By 1942, these AA guns were considered obsolete.
Two fire-control directors were installed for the 100 mm guns, above the bridge and atop the rear superstructure. Each was fitted with a three meters (9 ft 10 in) stereoscopic rangefinder. In 1939 it was planned to upgrade them to a larger, five meters (16 ft 5 in) models to improve their accuracy at longer range, but they were never installed. On thei side, the amidships 37 mm anti-aircraft guns were constolled by a single 1 m (3 ft 3 in) rangefinder close to them, but they were the only one. No radar was even installed or considered during their career, although they were available in 1942.
In grand total, the ship was tailored to carry out 26 seaplanes when she was designed. At the time in 1927 it was planned to have the F.B.A.17, CAMS.37, G.L.810, and G.L.812, but it evolved over time. The naval version of the large Farman F.60 Goliath torpedo bomber was intended to be operated from the poop crane and ramp, but it was obsolete when commissioned in 1932, and discarded. Instead, Cdt. teste was operating at first instead the Biplane Levasseur PL.14 torpedo bomber floatplane, but it was too heavy for the catapults and would have been deployed the same. It was briefly used but proved too fragile. Instead it was replaced by the Levasseur PL.15 by July–August 1934.
It was itself replaced by the Latécoère 298 monoplane by March–May 1939. The scouting squadron rested fro the start on the reliable Gourdou-Leseurre GL-81 series. The 810 was superseded by the GL-811 by October 1933, GL-813 in 1936. In 1939, she was planned to have a small complement of Loire 210 seaplane fighter, but the issues encountered by the time never materialized its adoption. In 1940, she is reported to have aboard 14 Loire 130 reconnaissance models (the catapulted classic) and 12 Laté 298 for attack as torpedo seaplane, so 26 in all. They were however larger than the models envisioned in 1927.
F.B.A. 17 (1923):
The most common observation seaplane of the French Navy, with 300 built until 1930. It was still good enough in 1927 but certainly no longer when Cdt. Teste was completed in 1930. It’s use is not corroborated by many photos.
CAMS 37 (1926):
A bit more modern, this was a seaplane built on similar specifications to replace the FBA 17, showing its WWI lineage. A pusher biplane similar in some ways to the Supermarine Seagull, it was built by Chantiers Aéro-Maritimes de la Seine, designed by Maurice Hurel to 332 models, making it the most common model when Cdt Tests was completed, and indeed equipped the ship during her early service years. Introduced the same year she was launched, this amphibian was still in service in 1938 when gradually replaced by the Loire 130. Capable of 175 km/h it only carried if needed 300 kg (660 lb) of bombs under lower wing and was defended by two gun positions with a twin Lewis LMGs each. The last were still flying in the French Empire by 1942.
Loire GL. 80 series (1926):
The Loire-Gourdou Lesseure GL.80 series (1926-38) was the staple of catapulted observation until replacement by the larger, more modern Loire 130. The serie comprised the L2, L3, GL-810, 811, 812, 813, 830, 831, and 832 HY for 108 built total. Loire 210 (1938):
The only attempt of the Aeronavale to procure its ships with an onboard fighter, a good way to alleviate a relatively poor AA. Ordered in 1933, this model however was completely mismanaged by the naval staff and ordered too late, unreliable, only 19 were built, tested and quickly retired after five accidents. A combination of these and the Latécoère 298 could have given the Commandant Teste quite a punch in operations. It’s another big what-if.
Loire 130 (1937): Loire 130 N°16, Escadrile HS1, Cdt. Teste, Arzew, Algeria, May 1940.
The Loire 130 was the go-to French seaplane in the later interwar and WW2. Equivalent to the Walrus but of a more modern conception (first flew in Nov. 1934), it was a high mounted monoplane with pusher engine to avoid water spray interferences. Not aesthetic, it was however practical and very robust, stable in flight, with a very large fin and rudder plus two extra tailplane finlets. Powered by its Hispano-Suiza 12Ycrs 12 cyl. rated for 824 hp (641 kW) it could reached 241 kph max, and had a 6,000 m ceiling, 1,100 km range, was defended by a twin Darne 7.7 mm MGs and can carry bombs or 2×75 kgs depth charges. 125 were procured in all to the Marine Nationale, assigned to each ship in service from 1938, replacing the GL 81 series. It arrived from April 1938, but needed the capapults to be improved and modified to handle their greater weight.
Latécoère 298 (1938):
The Latécoère 298 was Ordered to replace the massive Latécoère 290 torpedo seaplane (1934) by a slender, faster model that could be catapulted from any ship. It first flew in May 1936, and entered service in october 1938. 177 were built until the fall of France in June 1940. It could carry three MGs and a single DAI 400 mm (670 kg) or DA de 450 mm 750 kg airborne torpedo.
10,000 long tons standard, 12,134 tonnes full load
167 x 27 x 6.7m (547 ft 11 in x 88 ft 7 in x 22 ft)
12× 100 mm (3.9 in), 8× 37 mm (1.5 in) AA, 6×2 13.2 mm (0.5 in) HMG
Belt 30–50 mm (2-in) Deck 24–36 mm (1-1.5 in), CT 80 mm (3.1 in)
26 seaplanes, 4 catapults, 5 cranes
The Cdt Teste in service (1934-42)
Cdt Teste possibly in sea trials, 1932
Cdt. Teste construction was financed by the 1925 naval law, voted on July 13, 1925 after which she was built at Forges & Chantiers de la Gironde, Bordeaux, laid down on September 6, 1927, launched on April 12, 1929 and completed, then commissoned on 18 April 1933 after acceptance trials. Her first trip was from the Gironde started before that in 1928, she left the estuary to the coast of Spain, down to the Gibraltar strait and into the Mediterranean, to Toulon naval base.
Her official shakedown cruise started March 30, 1932, along the coasts of Algeria, Tunisia and Corsica and proceededing to qualifications with her first seaplane air group, catapulting and recovery thesen until the final commission by April 18, 1932.
Intervention in Djibouti:
Commander Teste sailed on March 26, 1933 from Toulon for Saigon to deliver naw aicraft for the defense of Indochina, with four Gourdou-Leseurre GL-810 HY aboard (7S2 squadron) assigned and three Farman F.168 Goliath (3B1 squadron) of Berre NAB, with supplies for one month plus bombs, ammunition and machine guns. Too large and obsolete for the ship, they were destined to the defense of Indochina. The aeronautical detachment included 35 maintenance personal and a company of Senegalese scouts. The ship reached Beirut on March 30/31 and embarked extra equipment and the, escorted by the sloop Ypres (she left on March 30, heading for Djibouti, her real destination.
The governor of the French Somali Coast warned the French government of the presence of Ethiopian warbands on the borders of his governorate in February 1933 and the sloop Vimy and Diana landing troops in Djibouti to bolster the defense of the colony. The Ministry of the Colonies and the Chief of Naval Staff Georges Durand-Viel decided in March 1933 to create a permanent air detachment in Djibouti. Arrived on April 5, 1933 the ship disembarked her aircraft and troops and started a routine of daily patrols carried out by GL 811 seaplanes Farman Goliath, which soon put an end to the border incursions on the Somali territory. The governor was reassured by the Ethiopian government and Cdt. Teste ended her mission and set sail for Toulon on April 20 via Aden (21-23), Port-Saïd (27, May 1) and Toulon on May 6.
1933 ended with tests with her anti-roll tanks in October, in the Strait of Gibraltar.
She teamed with the supply ship Jules-Verne, to take part in naval maneuvers off Quiberon Bay, by May 1934. The manoeuvers’s goal was to intercept a naval force preying on a French troop convoy from North Africa. The exercize combined also the cruisers Dugay-Trouin, Foch, Tourville, Dupleix, Colbert, and three destroyer divisions led by Bison.
On the Provence coast, date unknown (scan)
The French Navy sent both aircraft carriers, Cdt. Teste and Béarn to face the Spanish Civil War, starting with ecavuating French and international citizens and keep a watchful eye on arms contraband and the safety of international waters. The ship gained operational experience from and evacuated refugees in Barcelona by August 1936 before returning to the surveilance of international trade in 1937.
Commandant Teste started a new carrer as air transport, in order to reinforce French and colonial territories from 1937.
She started by loading 28 fighters at Hyères by November 2 (18 Dewoitine D.510 from GC II/1, 5 Dewoitine D.510 5th group, Sidi-Ahmed, 5 Nieuport-Delage NiD.62 from GC II/1). After this, she underwent fleet maneuvers between Tunis and Algiers and ensured its protection. She was in Tunis on November 4, 1937 and loaded at her returned 10 aircraft of GC II/1 by February 22, 1938 plus 5 from the 5th autonomous group. Thus was followed with fleet maneuvers with the 3rd cruiser division off Dakar from 17 February.
After she landed the 1st group, 6th squadron (21 Morane-Saulnier MS.406s) from Hyères to Algeria until March 1939, the naval staff wanted to bolster the local defense further, and she made another aicraft delovery to Syria from Beirut by February 10, 1940 (26 more Morane-Saulnier MS.406 for I/7 fighter group, Rayak).
Underway, date unknown
Transport activity was quite intense in May-June 1940 as by May 4-18, she delivered six Potez 63 and one Morane 406 in Port-Saïd, thirteen Potez 63, and two Loire 130 plus 11 vehicles in Beirut, and by May 17-18 to Algiers, 38 aicraft from 1st group, 62nd bombardment squadron and 40 training planes on May 22-26 and 40 more by June 14.
On July 3, 1940, Commandant Teste was docked at Mers el-Kébir when Operation Catapult started, moored next to the battleship Bretagne and Dunkerque, Provence and Strasbourg, primary targets for Sommerville’s force.
During this attack, she miraculously came out intact, hit by a single shrapnel hitting the aft mast. Damage was light and obviously she was not a designated target. She soon sent her boats to rescue survivors from Bretagne, later cared for on board. On order she was to sail to Oran after things calmed down a bit later.
She left the harbor on July 4 for Bizerte, narrowly escaping the patrolling submersible HMS Proteus, failing to get into firing position after spotting her.
Scuttling at Toulon Scuttling in Toulon, November 1942.
Unfortunately after the armistice terms, she was ordered to be sent to Toulon and placed under guard. Later in 1941 she was authorize to be used as a school ship.
She was still in Toulon when on November 27, 1942, Admiral Jean de Laborde ordered the scuttling of the French fleet, following the invasion of the free zone by the Germans. This was done by opening valves to flood her, and she was refloated in 1943 by the Italians. They never managed to had her operational again before their own capitulation in September 1943. The ship layed in disrepair, unused until sunk again in 1944 by Allied bombers. She was raised in February 1945.
By June 1945, a commission came aboard to study her future. Discussions about her fate led to several options:
-Having her scrapped outright as she was now an obsolete concept
-Convert her as a “fast troop transport” using her existing facilities and perhaps install new davits for standard US Landing Crafts.
-Transform her into a light training aircraft carrier (with most of her hangar already usable), with a new 502ft flight deck (all structures removed), 12 aircraft, but under cost study in a tense budgetary context.
-Convert her as a floating warehouse, again due to her facilities and roomy hangar.
The latter option was chosen after some alteration and refit, she was used to store US material until 1950, and then decommissioned on May, 15, 1950, discarded and sold in 1962, BU in 1963.
Air Group Operations
Underway in 1938, with a flyby by a Loire 130
Commandant Teste by september 1931 operated escadrille (Squadron) 7S2, followed by 7B2 by janvier 1932. Her air group was qualified by march 1932. She operated the Gourdou-Leseurre 810/811 until october 1935, and the Gourdou-Leseurre 812/813 from April 1938.
7B2 by october 1938 received the Levasseur P.L.14, maintained until november 1933, then the CAMS 37 and CAMS 55 until late 1934, Levasseur P.L.15 from April 1934, Loire 130 from may 1938.
By october 1938 the group was renamed F1H, formed of Sqn. HB1 (ex-7B2) and HS1 (ex-7S2). Two more are added HC1 in july 1939 (seaplane fighters Loire 210), and HB2 torpedo-bomber sqn. by september 1939, equipped with the Latécoère 298 from april 1939, replacing the older Levasseur P.L.15. The unit was discarded by August 1940. Eventually, HC1 was discarded by november 1939 due to the Loire 210 issues. Thus before being sent in Mers-El Kebir, she only had Loire 130 and Latécoère 298 aboard.
Flottille F1H on 31 january 1940 was landed at Arzew, until being discarded by august 1940.
To compare the Commandant Teste to existing ships of the time, it comes in handy to take the rivalry with Italy and equivalent Giuseppe Miraglia, Dédalo, and do comparisons with other ships, her capabilities, and her use, although the fate of the French Navy was very much dictated by land operations in 1940.
Compared to the earlier Miraglia, the latter was a conversion of a train ferry, almost half Teste’s dispmacement, and smaller overall. Her capacity was 17 seaplanes, but her speed comparable at 21 knots, she also had four catapults but they were placed at the front and aft of the ship, leaving the central platform free to handle aircraft, only cut by the central bridge and smokestacks. Overall, both ships shared similar traits, but Teste was dedicated, with more specialized features, better armed and carrying a larger group.
As for the Dédalo, the latter is an even smaller conversion, slower, operating less models, and due to the time of conversion and initial goal to carry balloons, she was obsolete by 1935 already.
Now, the Royal Navy preferred to trust aircraft carriers over seaplane carriers in the interwar, discarding her converted ships of the great war to the exception of HMS Albatross, a “seaplane carrier” initially built in Cokatoo, Australia, for the RAN and eventually judged too costly for service and transferred to Britain in 1938. In 1940 thanks to her small hangar, this 4,800 tonnes strange ship (the forecastle housed the hangar, and the bridge/funnel, artillery and most utilitarian stuff was stuck aft of it) could carry and operate nine Supermarine Walrus. In 1943 she became a repair ship. She had four cranes, a lift, and an explosive catapult, but was also capable of 21 kts.
Germany being out of the picture for this, as was USSR, were are left with the two Navies that took the type seriously looking at the vast expanses of the Pacific:
The USN indeed already had in 1918 already the 1907 Sahwmut class minelayers, both converted as seaplane tenders in 1920-23. But they would only operate a few models at once and lacked dedicated facilities. The type was completely forgotten until almost the war began, in part due to the IJN motivation in that matter: In 1940 was launched the Curtiss class (12,000 tonnes, 18 kts) class as “AV” and capable of supporting a whole seaplane squadron. But they were not fit to directly operate seaplanes, had a limited hangar space and facilities. The effort was pushed forward however after the US went at war with a slew of new ships: The 14,000 Currituck class, better equipped, and the “smaller” (still 12,000 tons) Barnegat, Tangiers and Whiting classes, some specialized, some converted freighters. But again, they were tenders, not carriers. No catapults and no large housing. They were only support vessels.
As for the Japanese, to compare oranges with oranges, they already saw the usefulness of a seaplane carrier in 1914 during the siege of Tsingato, operating with success the Wakamiya. This experiences conforted a dynamic seaplane industry as well as a doctrine, leading to ships that were either powerful and fast military vessels (with embedded conversion plans to full aircraft cariers in wartime), such as the two prewar Chitose and two Mizuho class ships with full complement of 24 seaplane and all needed facilities, plus good armament and 22-29 kts in operation. The last pair was never converted as served as such in WW2. They were the closest thing to a Commandant Teste. The IJN aslo had many tenders and transports (Notoro, Kamoi, Akitsuhima class, etc).
So all in all, Commandant Teste was pretty unique, not only in the French Navy, but in the whole of Europe as well. She was the pinnacle of the type, but also the fruit of essentially the same WWI thinking that still permeated the naval staff in the 1920s, reboot on a quite unique, large and capable dedicated platform. The concept was marred however by two factors:
1-Inadequate models to reach full potentia: If the Loire 130 was good, the Latécoère 298 was slow and the Loire 210 fighter a failure.
2-The lack of a consistent doctrine to fully exploit a seaplane park capable of both reconnaissance and attack to support the fleet, like an alternative to aircraft carrier doctrine, with the massive hinderance of lower performances compared to land-based models operated by carriers. In the end, they were doomed by war contingencies, both her and Béarn being used as aircraft transports from 1939 to the summer of 1940, and thus completely lacking any opportunity to really train with the fleet and be included in a significant naval action in wartime. So unlike IJN seaplane carriers which in 1941-42 were used to cover amphibious assault in place of the too precious carriers, the Cdt. was used as if the naval staff had no idea on how to properly exploit her assets, but agreed, that was the product of war contingencies (reinforce colonial possession’s own air defence). This was also due to the short duration of the “opportunity window” that was the war with Italy in June 1940. She could have been used for example from 1939 in the Atlantic, based in Dakar, to spot German commerce raiders or taking part in the chase for Graf Spee.
Chesneau, Roger, ed. (1980). Conway’s All the World’s Fighting Ships 1922–1946. Greenwich: Conway Maritime Press.
Dousset, Francis (1978). Les porte-avions français des origines (1911) à nos jours. Brest: Éditions de la Cité.
Ford, Roger; Gibbons, Tony; Hewson, Rob; Jackson, Bob; Ross, David (2001). The Encyclopedia of Ships. London: Amber Books.
Jordan, John (2003). “Aircraft Transport Commandant Teste”. In Preston, Antony (ed.). Warship 2002–2003. London: Conway Maritime Press.
Moulin, Jean; Morareau, Lucien & Picard, Claude (n.d.). Le Bearn et le commandant Teste. Marines éditions.
Green, William. “War Planes of the Second World War: Volume Six Floatplanes”. London: Macdonald, 1962.
Forges et chantiers de la Gironde, Le Monde colonial illustré, no 137, 15 décembre 1934
Raymond Lestonat, Le Croiseur d’aviation, Commandant-Teste, L’Aérophile aug. 1932
Adolphe Auguste Marie Lepotier, Cap sur la Corse, Editions France – Empire, 1951
Adolphe Auguste Marie Lepotier, Toulon, porte de Levant, Editions France – Empire, 1972
René Bail et Jean Moulin, Les Porte-avions Clemenceau et Foch,Vie des navires, Charles-Lavauzelle, 1985
Alexandre Sheldon-Duplaix, Histoire mondiale des porte-avions : des origines à nos jours, Boulogne-Billancourt ETAI
Jacques Ducros et Patrick Houy-Bezaux, La renaissance de la Marine française 1922-1939, Navires & Histoire n°12
Maurice Albord, L’Armée française et les États du Levant : 1936-1946 CNRS Éditions
Jean Moulin, 1939-1945, L’aéronautique navale, Hors-série Marines & Forces navales n°1 Marines éditions 2005
Major(r) Norbert Desgouttes, Les commandements de l’aéronautique navale, 1912-2013, ARDHAN
In September 1939, with 34 boats, a good chunk of the total submarine force of the French, the 600-630 series were supposed to defend French interests in the Mediterranean (notably against the Regia Marina) and perform a variety of missions, like commerce raiding in wartime. Retrospectively they were seen as average, to bad submarines, with limited performances, poor habitability, poor control underwater, and non-standard or odd features that made them peculiar, or difficult to use, like external having oil tanks and non-reloadable torpedo tubes, including TT banks firing substandard torpedo models intended for commerce raiding. AA became a consideration as well as standardization only from 1934. Improvement came too late, with the 900 tonnes Aurore class, a new standard imposed in 1939.
Ariane in Cherbourg in 1932
Roots of the 2nd class oceanic program
Like other nations in the interwar, France had great projects for submarines within the accepted framing of the Washington treaty of 1922. To manage the protection of her empire, submarines were considered ideal deterrents, an idea also embraced by the Netherlands for their Dutch East Indies Colonies, alongside minelayers. WWI already showed an operational pattern, from which four main types emerged:
600 tonnes coastal submarines (broadly inspired by WWI UB types): 600/630 tonnes serie
600-800 tonnes minelaying submarines (inspired by the WWI UC types): Saphir class
1,000/1,500 tonnes oceanic submarines: Requin/Redoutable class
3,000+ tonnes cruiser submarines: Only one, Surcouf.
The 600 tonnes coastal submarines were a deduction of the best standards and divisions of allocated tonnages. This displacement allowed to mount a sufficient torpedo armament, while the range was ideal for defensive sorties and the confines of the Mediterranean. The last WWI coastal types built by France has been the Armide class (1916) of 457 tonnes, requisitioned boats for foreign purchase, and the sole O’Byrne (1919) with 340 tonnes standard which already gave some hints of what a coastal boat could be. Alongside, France received as war reparation the Victor Reveille, (U79), Jean Auric (U 108), or René Audry (U 119) and 36 more German U-boats awarded, well studied and tried in the postwar year.
Definition by the 1922 naval program
Therefore when the 1922 naval programme was established, submarines were part of the menu. Indeed, on July 7, 1922, the naval program and general coastal defense program are elaborated, and sanctioned by Marshal Pétain, and as main advisor, Vice-Admiral Grasset since February 1921 at the head of the admiralty had to compose with massive budget-restrictions since 1919. He was a specialist of coastal defence, assigned in 1894 already to draft instructions for the application followed by a vast study published in 1899. Vice-admirals of Bon, Du Vignaux and Ratyé participated in this plan and well as Rear Admiral Lanxade, Director of the Aeronautics Department.
Report 22 of 12 June 1922 on the general coastal defense program reported by Rear-Admiral Brisson, Deputy Chief of the Naval Staff, urge the reuse of equipment from recrently decommissioned ships and construction of new “ouvrages” for the defense of naval bases and commercial ports, having the advantages of an almost immediate reactivity fleets cannot provide. Priority is given to coastal defense submarines too, because of their mobility.
Flotillas as defined comprised both submarines over speedboats, prohibiting any blockade, landing or minelaying operations by the enemy. They also could provided cover for coastal convoys and attack enemy submarines and play a surveillance and intelligence role. The program provides for five squadrons of four to five vessels each to be completed in 12 years. Speedboats were planned on paper, to be mass-produced during a mobilization. The program therefore only envisaged the construction of two squadrons in order to train personnel and perfect their design.
It should be noted that the program is ratified and voted by the parliament before a change of regime: In October 1922, Mussolini led the “March on Rome” bringing him to power on October 28, 1922. Since February 6, 1922 and the Washington Treaty, France already saw Italy as a rival and the Navy has a part in it. Coastal Submarines should play their part, with a first a squadron of four based on the Mediterranean rather than the Atlantic, and a future ratio of 3/4 new flotillas reserved for the Mediterranean threater.
Development of the “600 tonnes” coastal Types
Based on the previous studies made for the Requin class laid down in 1923, based on WWI U-Boats obtained in war reparations, and even earlier, like the Roland Morillot, a 265 tons UB-II type captured in 1917, the Oceanic types U-162 and U-166 (820 tonnes standard, U-93 class) of the late UB III types 94, 99 and 155, the 535 tonnes boats considered as the base for interwar German U-Boat designs. These ten units were actively used for years, until 1937 for some like Jean Corre. In addition, 36 were also awarded, but not pressed into service and rather studied and/or scrapped: 12 U-Types, 12 UB-types and 12 UC-types (minelayers).
The basic specification, drawn from the 1922 program asked for a 2nd class oceanic type, 1/3 lighter than the 950 tonnes Requin class, which was essentially a mix of late U-Types and UB III type, crucial notably for their powerplant arrangement and space management. This requirement logically called for a 600 tonnes type. Although “2nd class”, it was not considered “coastal”, but the small displacement made it obvious for the 1930s standards, less son in the early 1920s. They were just seen as a cheaper alternative to the 900 tonnes Oceanic types, essentially 1st class boats intended for colonial service, and thus for longer cruise.
The 600 tonnes were rather intended as defensive submarines for coastal operation, manoeuvrable and well-armed. The order for three squadron of four boats was to be spread between yards, leading to diverging specs, and therefore, three separate classes based on the same requirement: The Sirène class, at AC de la Loire, Nantes (Atlantic coast), the Ariane class at AC Augustin Normand (in Normandy, the former Torpedo Boat specialist) and the Circé class at Schneider et Cie (Chalon sur Saône, France) NyD. They were compared to the later Italian 600 Series, British S class, and German Type VII U-boat, although of a much older conception.
Sirene class submersibles (1925)
Sirene, Naiade, Galatee, Nymphe
FS Siree in Oran
The four 600 tons 2nd class were double-hull models Loire-simonot type. They were cramped and had a bad reputation. All four were built in A C de la Loire, Nantes. First of the serie. Retrospectively the small tonnage proved detrimental to their internal management. They had Poor habitability, were cramped, were slow to dive, showed repeated failure of the electrical controls. They were also handicapped by having three fourth of their fuel storage in the exterior holds.
Sirène was laid down on 2.1923, launched 6.8.1925, completed and commissioned in 1927 (Q123). She was scuttled in November in 1942 Toulon. Raised, to be repropriated by the Italians. But she was never refloated nor repaired and sunk in an allied air raid in June 1944.
Q124 was laid down on 2.1923, launched 20.10.1925, completed in 1927. On 01.10.1938 her captain was LV BLACHÈRE. On 27.11.1942 she was guarding the submarine dock in Toulon. Unable to set sail, sabotage was prepared and she was scuttled when the Germans took the port. She was refloated of 11.03 and on 16.03.1943 she was moored to the Milhaud wharfs. Due to both overhaul, she sank on 17.04.1943. Refloated on 17.07.1943 she was sunk at Petit Rang, following an air raid of the 15th Air Force, 24.11.1943 (no casualties). Refloated in 1945 she was stationed as a spare parts reserve.
Hull number: Q132. She was laid down on 7.1923, launched 18.12.1925, commissioned in 1927. Commandant on 08.27.1938: CC BERTRAND. On 27.11.1942 she was guarding one of the large North-West Vauban basins in Toulon with EURYDICE. Unable to set sail, sabotage was prepared and she was scuttled as the Germans arrived. She was refloated on 25.06.1943. She was seized by the Italians and placed in reserve in the arsenal. Seized again by the Germans on 09.09.1943 she was towed to the west Missiéssy moorings, in January 1944. She was next moored at Brégaillon on 03.02.1944. She was sunk during the 05.07.1944 allied air raid (No casualties). She was refloated in 1945 but used as a parts reserve.
Hull number Q133. She was laid down on 1923, launched on 1.4.1926, commissioned on 1927. Severe accident in 1938, considered a total constructive loss. She was never repaired and disarmed, stricken and BU that year.
⚙ Sirène class specifications
64 m long, 5.20 m wide, 4.30 m draft. ( feets)
609 t. standard – 757 t. Full Load
2 shafts Sulzer Diesels, 2 electric motors, 1300/1000 hp
surface/sub 14/7-1/2 knots
Practical depth 80 m
RA: 7,000/70 nautical miles surface/sub @ 7kts.
7 TT 550 mm (21 in), 1x 3-in (76 mm).
Ariane class submersibles (1925)
Ariane, Ondine, Eurydice, Danae
The Ariane class
All four were built at A C Augustin-Normand NyD, Le Havre. Normand-Fenaux type ordered under the same 1922 program. This was largely considered the most successful of the whole 600 series.
They displaced 626/787 tons submerged, for 64 m in lenght and a crew of 41. As usual, armed with a single 3-in gun, a twin 13 mm Hotchkiss AA and seven 21.7″ torpedo tubes, 6 in the bow and on in stern. To speed was 14 knots surfaced adn 7.5 knots submerged thanks to two Diesel engines, likely Sulzer, and two electric motors for a total output of 1,200 BHP/1,000 SHP.
Ariane in 1929
She was commissioned on 1 Sep 1929. In 1939, she was based at Cherbourg, 14th Submarine Division, 2nd Submarine Squadron (6th Squadron) with her sister ships Danaé and Eurydice and Diane, all based at Oran, Algeria. Ariane started patrols off the Canary Islands, as it was believed that German cargo ships had taken refuge there in September to act as supply ships for German U-boats.
With the invasion of 10 May 1940, and war with Italy on 10 June 1940, Ariane still was still based at Oran and started operating against Italian assets, patrolling waters of Libya and the aegean.
After France′s surrender however, she went under control of Vichy France and during 3 July 1940 with Operation Catapult, Ariane was in port at Mers El Kébir, Oran that day. She was put on high alert, made ready to depart, which was done at 15:00 with Danaé leaving the outer harbor at 15:30 with Diane and Eurydice and ready for action at 17:54.
Ariane was 4 nautical miles (7.4 km; 4.6 mi) west of Diane which herself was close to Pointe de l’Aiguille but they were never close enough to attack. That night they patrolled off Oran in a north-south patrol line and remained on patrol until 20:00 on 4 July, then moved back to Port.
As rhe attack on Dakar was signalled on on 8 July Ariane, Diane, and Eurydice were ordered to patrol off Cape Falcon, Algeria. In October 1940, Ariane according to the 22 June 1940 armistice terms was at last disarmed, unfuelled, and placed under guard at Oran. Her career ended on 9 November 1942 during Operation Torch, as she was scuttled to prevent capture.
Eurydice was commissioned on 1st September 1929. On 7 October 1927, she departed Le Havre for Cherbourg but returned to Le Havre and back to Cherbourg with her official acceptance trials there. She was tested at Cherbourg Naval Base on 8 December 1928 and departed in April 1929 for exercises. On 2 May 1929, she performed diving exercises. She moved to Brest, in July 1929 and back to herbourg and only commissioned with Ariane on 1st September 1929. She was sent to North Africa, based in Casablanca, Morocco on 19 June 1930 and by July 1932 participated in the search for the submarine Prométhée in the English Channel during her sea trials. Eurydice was based at Île-de-Bréhat on 18 September and Brest on the 25th.
She was in Cherbourg on 10 May 1933, then Brest on 24 May 1934 and took part in exercises in June. She also moved to Le Havre and trained off Cherbourg with Oréade and Orphée.
On 12 March 1935, she was in Dieppe and by March 1935 headed for Boulogne and Le Havre on 15 April. She was in Paimpol on 14 August 1936 and on 16 October departed Le Havre for Dunkirk. On 30 October 1936, she was back at Paimpol. Records are uknown for 1937-38, but she likely had a long overhaul in between.
By September 1939 she was in the 14th Submarine Division, 2nd Submarine Squadron/6th Sqn with Ariane, Danaé and Diane at Oran in Algeria. After the surrender, and in July with Operation Catapult she was at Mers El Kébir, Oran and ordered to put to sea. But like Ariane she was never ready in tme to attack the British squadron. Shortly before 20:00 however a British aircraft sighted Eurydice and Danaé, dropping illuminated floats to British destroyers, which depth-charged them, but they escaped. On 3–4 July 1940, the four submarines they patrolled by night Oran’s waters. Later she would patrol off Cape Falcon in Algeria. Eurydice was in a floating drydock at Mers El Kébir refitted on 1-15 October 1940 and on 26-28 November performed her post-refit trials and training exercises. On 14 May 1941, she was placed under guard at Toulon as per the armistice terms and saw no further service.
On 27 November 1942, as the Germans launched Operation Lila against the so-called “free zone” she was moored at the Northwest Basin at the Missiessy Docks, scuttled like the others. She was refloated on 25 June 1943 and examined by the Germans which estimated her unusuable. Some sources states that the Italians examined her for possible repairs and integration but this never happened. On 26 January 1944 she was towed to Brégaillon and sunk by an allied raid on 22 June 1944.
Danaé was launched on 3 September 1927, was fitted out, made the builder′s trials on 1 December 1927, official acceptance trials on 3 January 1928, tests at Le Havre on 14 January 1928, her first unrestricted dive on 18 February 1928, final equipping and armament at Cherbourg from 1 August 1928 to 1 October 1929 with additional trials on 17 November 1928 and final commission on 1 November 1929, so two years after completion. This seems excessive but usual with French submarines at the time.
On 11 July 1932, Danaé looked after the disappeared submarine Prométhée in the English Channel (lost 7 July 1932 with her 62 men crew). Little is known about her interwar service.
On 1 September 1939 she was in the 14th SubDiv, 2nd SubRon/6th Sqn. with her sisters Ariane, Eurydice and Diane at Oran in Algeria. On 3 July 1940 (Operation Catapult) she was at Mers El Kébir as the British naval squadron arrived and like the others departed the inner port with Diane and Eurydice, and during the bombardment, Danaé was off Pointe de l’Aiguille, too far away to engage the British ships. During the night she was chased off and depht-charged by a Destroyer but escape. She patrolled and was back to Oran and in October, placed under guard at Oran, unarmed and unfueled. As Operation Torch commenced, she was scuttled at Oran on 9 November 1942.
Commander on 30.08.1931 LV RAYBAUD, followed by LV QUERAT in 1933, LV SEVELLEC in 1935, LV HEMMERICH in 1937, LV BOURGINE in 1939 (last captain). After having operated in the Mediterranean and in the Atlantic, she had a major refit in Cherbourg. Without powerplant, she was towed by a Belgian tug to Southampton on 18.06.1940, then Portsmouth on 20.06, seized there on 03.07.1940 (Operaton Catapult). Due to lack of equipment and spared she could not be rearmed. Stricken and used for spare parts, for MINERVE and JUNON. Her crew joined the F.N.F.L sloop CDT DUBOC. She was BU in 1945 and removed from the list on 26.03.1946.
Doris was commissioned 26 May 1928. In 1939 she was in the 10th French submarine flotilla, moved to Harwich in April 1940 to reinforce the British Royal Navy, under command of captain Jean Favreul. She arrived on 14 April but developed engine troubles in the main gas compressor. She could not be repaired in Harwich, nor in France due to the lack of spare parts, as the compressors has been designed and produced in Germany.
On 6 May 1940 she sortied on patrol in the North Sea, north of the Frisian Islands and off the Dutch coast (east entrance to the English Channel) anticiating an invasion of England. On 8 May there were five British and seven French submarines, on this patrol, but Doris was the only one unable to dive (the compressor was responsible of blowing the tanks with oxygen). Shortly after midnight, Doris was torpedoed and sunk north west of the Dutch coast (30 miles from Den Helder), while surfaced of course, by U-9 (Wolfgang Lüth) with Capitaine De Corvette Jean Ernest Marie Favreul, and all her crew. Her wreck was rediscovered in 2003.
Thétis was built at Chantiers Schneider et Cie, Bordeaux, and Commissioned on 24 Feb 1928. While she was fitting out at Toulon one of her compressed air tank exploded on 7 March 1929, seriously injuring a crewman. She was ventually commissioned in June 1929 after repairs, yard trials, official ones, and a test dive. Her interwar career is not known.
By September 1939, she was in SubDiv 13, SubRon 5, 1st Flotilla, 2nd Sqn. with her sisters Calypso, Circé, and Doris, based at Toulon. Twelve French submarines were to participate in an operation in Norway in 1940 to deny the Germans access to steel. Among these were the four submarines of the 13th Division. Overall command was Vice Admiral Max Horton, RN. Thétis and Calypso departed from Bizerte, Tunisia, on 23 March 1940 and sailed to Harwich, resupplied the submarine tender Jules Verne for a first wartime patrol in the Heligoland Bight and southern North Sea.
On 9 April 1940 Operation Weserübung commenced and Circé, Doris joined on 15 and 20 April Calypso and Thétis in Harwich for patrols off Norway. They were entirely dependent on Jules Verne and laked spare parts, sent from Cherbourg.
By 6 May 1940, an invasion of the Netherlands was featred and Horton ordered all available submarines to patrol these waters, the four Circé class joining four British, two Polish submarines. Their task was to intercept German U-Boats operating in the area. However soon the Battle of France shattered this routine and on 4 June 1940, Jules Verne and the class departed Harwich for Brest in France. As Italy declared war in turn on 10 June 1940 and be informed of German ground forces approaching Brest on 18 June 1940, the four subs evacuated at 18:00. At 18:30, Jules Verne and 13 submarines headed for Casablanca in French Morocco. They arrived on 23 June. Two days later they learned about the armistice. SubDiv 13 was now based at Toulon nominally, but assigned overseas at Casablanca, now under orders of Vichy France.
By 1 November 1942 Thétis was back at Toulon, under guard, unarmed and unfueled. Operation Torch meant the Armistice Commission authorized reactivation of Vichy French vessels at Toulon. However Thétis was not ready to depart when the Free Zone was invaded on 27 November 1942 and she was scuttled to prevent seizure. Later the Germans seized her, ans she was handed her over to the Italians, refloated on 1 March 1943 by the Mario Serra Company of Genoa but after seeing her general state, not repaired. After September 1943 the Germans handed her over to Vichy French authorities on 4 July 1944, but the latter left her at her moorings. Eventually she was presumably sunk during an allied air raid on 6 August 1944. She was refloated in September 1945 and scrapped.
Circé was built at Chantiers Schneider et Cie, Chalon-sur-Saône, France, Laid down on 15 January 1924, Launched 29 October 1925 and Commissioned on 29 January 1927, 22 March 1929, or June 1929 due to her delays, fixes and tests. By June 1935 she was part of the 5th Submarine Squadron until then, and moved to Casablanca in French Morocco to be reassigned to SubRon 3d. By September 1939, Circé was reassigned to SubDiv 13, SubRon 5, 1st Flotilla, 2nd Squadron. In her unit were her sisters Calypso, Doris, and Thétis, all based at Toulon in France.
In 1940, her unit was chosen to constitute a 13-subs strong force to intervene in Noreway under Beritish command French (Vice Admiral Max Horton). Calypso and Thétis departed from Bizerte in Tunisia by March 1940 and arrived to Harwich, meeting the tender Jules Verne. Next they sailed to Heligoland Bight, southern North Sea and commenced operations against German traffic.
On 9 April 1940, Operation Weserübung, commenced and Corcé was still operated from Harwich. On 6 May 1940 as the invasion of the Netherlands was imminent she joined four British and two Polish submarines in a patrol line off the Dutch coast to interecpt U-Boat. However with the Battle of France on 17 May 1940, it was planned to send them in Africa. By night Sibylle approached Circé to attack as she was submerging, believing she was an U-Boat, until realizing her mistake.
On 4 June 1940, Jules Verne and the 13 French submarines of Harwich departed for Brest, and after a short refit, departed on 18 June 1940, for Casablanca, reached on the 23th.
After the armistice two days later, Circé, Calypso, and Thétis (SubDiv 13) were in Toulon, but ordered to redeploy to “Africa and the Levant” station by Admiral Darlan.
In December 1940 Circé was disarmed in Bizerte. On 8 November 1942, with the Allied landings in French North Africa she was reactivated but never ready to go into action as the fight ceased on 11 November, Darlan chossing to join the Free France. On 14 November the French maritime prefect of the 4th Region at Algiers ordered French naval forces at Bizerte to gather in Algiers, but this was countermanded by Vichy French authorities there, which ordered them instead to sail to Sidi Abdallah Arsenal at Ferryville, Tunisia, then under German control.
Thus, the Germans seized Circé on 8 December 1942, over to the Italians on 22 December 1942. She was renamed FR 117 but never made operational. She was scuttled at Bizerte on 6 May 1943, raised by the Allies but not repaired, and stricken on 18 August 1947.
Calypso was also built at Chantiers Schneider et Cie, laid down on 7 February 1924 as “Q126” launched in January 1926,, commissioned either in May 1928 or June 1929 (varied sources). Her career was the same as her sister Circé. Disarmed at Bizerte in December 1940 and captured there by the Italians on 8 December 1942. Stricken, never recovered, towed to Bizerte and sunk here during an Allied air raid on 31 January 1943.
⚙ Circé class specifications
62.48 m long, 6.20 m wide, 3.99 m draft. ( feets)
615 t. standard – 776 t. Full Load
2 shafts Schneider Diesels, 2 EM, 1250/1000 hp
Submarine Tender Jules Vernes
Jules Vernes in 1932 at Cherbourg, Atlantic Submarine Flotilla. During the Harwhich deployment in the campaign of Norway she tended for 13 submarines, not the 6 originally planned.
France during the interwar developed a plan to include submarine tenders for prolongated off-shore operations, but only one was built: Jules Verne.
Authorized by the Law of August 4, 1926, the submarine supply ship Jules Verne was laid down on June 3, 1929 at Lorient arsenal (West Coast). She was launched on February 3, 1931 and started speed trials on February 23, 1931. She entered service on September 26, 1932.
Jules Vernes was equipped to maintain a squadron of six submarines. She can also accommodate 15 officers and 250 men. She was first assigned to Brest, operated in the Atlantic and in the English Channel as well as the North Sea. On January 18, 1934, she came to the rescue of the freighter Saint Prosper, which had hit a rock at Raz Blanchard off La Hague. On July 10, 1935, she was the flagship of the 2nd submarine flotilla.
At the start of the Second World War, Junes Vernes was based in Oran, then in Casablanca to provide support for submarines based in Morocco. She returned to Brest then was based in Dundee in Scotland, in May 1940, to serve as a base for submarines engaged in Norway. He returned to Brest, then on June 18, 1940, he reached Casablanca with the available submarines. It was placed in armistice guarding in Bizerte in November 1940, during which time she benefited from a refit. Fr the Norwegian Operation, she lacks parts and supplies to maintain the 13 subs under her care in good conditions and because of this, when the operation ended in June, the subs back in Brest were in refit, not able to depart as the city was under threat by the advancing Germans. Some were scuttled, others were towed to Britain, joining later the FNFL. Jules Vernes led the rest to North Africa.
In March 1941, she was assigned to the Dakar submarine group (there was a lack of spare parts and resources for maintenance there) until December 1942, and was then in Port Etienne from January 1943 until September of the same year. In December 1943 she was in Dakar, then in Algiers, until September 1944. In August 1945 she was transformed into a workshop ship before leaving for Indochina.
From March 1946 to July 1955, FS Jules Verne served in Indochina as support for the amphibious flotillas, and also as transport. During this period, two refits were carried out. At the beginning of 1948 she was back in Toulon and at the end of 1952 and early 1953, operated from Uraga in Japan to support French Forces in Korea. She was back to Toulon on August 23, 1955. Placed in reserve on December 1, 1955, she served as barracks ship for the amphibious corps at Saint Mandrier. She was retired from active service in 1959. Stricken on August 1, 1961, she was BU at La Seyne in 1962.
4 x 90 mm; 4 x 37 mm, 9x 13 mm AA HMGs. Wartime: 7 x 40 mm Bofors, 12 x 20 mm AA
186 standard, 304 full tender complement with 12 officers, 54 petty officers, 238 ratings
What imagined Clausuchronia if the war turned differently (uchronia)
Vestale: In September 1939, Vestale joined DesDiv 17 with Aréthuse, Vestale and Sultane, 6th squadron with SubDiv 20 (Turquoise, Rubis, Saphir, Nautilus) and 5th squadron (DesDiv 9, 10, and 11) to form the 4th flotilla part of the 4th maritime region, 4th Light Wing.
From November 20 to December 2, 1939, SubDiv 17 took part in a joint exercise with the DesDiv 11 (Milan, Bison, Aigle) and TopDiv 12, based in Tunis by December 3-8 and Bizerte.
The reorganization of September 1940 integrated SubdDiv 17 within the 3rd Submarine flotilla, together with the 6th Light Squadron.
From December 1, 1941 to January 15, 1942, La Vestale was refitted in the floating submarine dock of the Arsenal of Sidi-Abdallah. She started her post-fix trials on January 25, and official trials in January 26-28, and was back to operational status on February 12, 1942 making her firt patrol on February 19-March 1, 1942.
From April 13 to May 2, she trained with Arethuse, destroyer Mogador and the 12th TBD division.
Two years later, on May 12 – June 10, 1944, she took part in the “Harmattan” maneuvers with Arethuse, Saphir and Nautilus.
In November 18-27, 1944, with Atalante she took part in an ASW training with DesDiv 7 (Vauquelin, Chevalier Paul, Tartu).
On February 13-March 20, 1945, she was in refit at the Sidi-Abdallah Arsenal, on trials in March 31-April, 1 and in patrol from April 19 to May 3, 1945.
By November 13-18 and 20-25 SubDiv 17 (Atalante, Vestale, Sultane) made two ASW training sessions with DesDiv 12 (Marceau, Desaix, Kléber).
In March 29 – April 5, 1946, she trained off the Levant with DesDiv 5th and the 1st TBD. From May 25 to June 2, 1946, Vestale and Sultane made another ASW training with DesDiv 7 and Vestale was placed in reserve by September 9, 1946, while SubDiv 17 was dissolved. She was disarmed on September 21, 1946, discarded in October 5, 1946, placed Lake Bizerte by September 1, 1948 and latter sold for scrap.
La Sybille: The reorganization of September 1940 had SubDiv 16 16th attache to SubRon 5 based in Cherbourg. From January 17 to March 24, 1941, La Sibylle was overhauled at basin n°3, Arsenal de Cherbourg. Trials were done on March 8, 1941, official tested on 9-11th, post-refit March 13-27 and she made a first patrol on April 5-15, 1941. By March 17, 1942, by decree she was reassigned to the Northern Light Squadron (ELN) based in Dunkirk. SubDiv 16 left Cherbourg for Dunkirk, arriving on March 19, 1942.
From February 17 to 24, 1943, La Sibylle and Orphée took pat in ASW training with DesDiv 8′ Kersaint and Cassard and again on June 17-26 with Antiope. On October 9-15, 1943, more training followed.
On March 22-May 3, 1944, Sibylle was refitted on basin No. 4 of, Brest Arsenal followed by trials on May 13, 1944.
She made a post-refit cruise in the Iroise Sea and and Bay of Biscay in May-June and returned to Dunkirk by June 1944. She took part in the “Entente Cordiale 45” sortie with Antiope, Ajax and Pasteur, and was only disarmed after the disolution of SubDiv 16 in 1946, decommissioned on January 16, stricken on the 31th and sent to Cherbourg in February to be stripped of all salvageable equipment and BU from 15 June in Caen.
La Psyché: Psyché participated in securing of the Strait of Gibraltar. The reorganization of September 1940 assigned the SubDiv 18 to the 2nd submarine flotilla, 4th squadron based at Mers-El-Kébir. From August 21 to September 30, 1941, Psyché was refitted in a floating dock. After additional work and trials on October 12, 1941, she carried out her psot-overhaul trials from October 13-15, and final fixes in October 17-31, carrying out her first post-refit patrol on November 5-15.
From June 22 to July 2, 1943, Psyché and Oréade participated in ASW training with destroyers Le Terrible, Le Triomphant, and L’Indomptable (DesDiv 10).
From March 21 to April 30, 1944, Psyché had another lfloating drydock refit in order to hold out until her decommissioning at the end 1945. After trials in May 12-14 and exercizes on 16-30 May, she made a patrol from 7 to 17 June 1944. From September 23, to October 3, 1944, Psyché and Oréade made an ASW training with L’Alcyon and Le Bordelais TBs.
By March 7-18, 1945, Psyché took part in ASW training with L’Eveillé and L’Alerte TBs.
From April 12 to 21, 1945, same with the destroyers Valmy and Verdun.
Psyche was placed in partial decommission by September 7, 1945, along with Oreade, leading to the dissolution of SubDiv 18. Stricken on September 19, 1945, she was towed to Toulon on October 7, 1945 and discarded as Q-174. Anchored in Bregaillon she was taken in two for depmoition by September 5, 1948.
630 tonnes class submersibles (1929-34)
When it appeared clear that the 600 tonnes were too cramped, a new standard was defined was raising the bar higher in the 1926 naval programme. Two were authorized this year, one in 1927 and two in 1929. Four yards provided them, so they varied specs in between, more so than for the 600 tonnes. They were all based on mixed Commerce raiding/Defense boats, with six main torpedo tubes, including three in the bow, one fixed internal aft, two in the upper hull, external, plus an external torpedo tubes bank with 40 cm torpedoes (15.7 in) designed specifically for commerce raiding.
The same 3-in (75 mm) deck gun was provided, but it was the 35-caliber Schneider M1928. Also, the AA was often reinforced, from a single 8 mm Darne LMG to a single 13.2 mm and later twin 8 mm Darne. Diving time was improved, longitudinal transverse stability, and well as internal arrangement and habitability, although neither their performances or diving depth were signficalty improved, but their radius of action. Orders were also larger: Six to Schneider for the Argonaute class, nine for the Diane class (Augustin-Normand and AC Seine Maritime, and six for the Minerve class (see later).
Only the Minerve class ordered in 1934 showed by the Admiralty a true interest in standardization: They were all ordered from various yards: Dubigeon (Nantes), Cherbourg, Augustin Normand and Seine Maritime. The last, Cérès, was launched in 1938 and completed as the war was looming. They inaugurated a triple external bank with 15.7 in TTs for commerce raiding and a stronger AA with a twin 13.2 mm AA. Unlike the former boats they had also three bow tubes and two aft ones. The two Orion class (1931) were oddballs with a different machinery arrangement. Most of them, like the previous 600 tonnes were scuttled or sunk in action (in the hands of Vichy french) during Operation Torch and its aftermath (German invasion of the free zone).
Argonaute class submersibles (1929)
Argonaute, Arethuse, Atalante, La Vestale, La Sultane
This class of sixteen 630 tonnes were alternatively built with Normand-Fenaux plans for 9 of them (Diane class), Schneider-Laubeuf plans (5 Argonaute class) Loire-Simonot plans for the two remaining (Orion class). The Argonaute class were still called “Sous-marin de deuxième classe dit de 630 tonnes”, designed by Eugène Schneider et Maxime Laubeuf (yes, the one that started the French submarine lineage), and they were double-hulled, and they inaugurated the type. They had improved transverse stability submerged, same operational depht as the previous 600 tonnes, but suerior habilitability. Radius was slightly increased also at 4000/2500 nm respectively at 10/13 kts, or 85 nm submerged. They had three TTs at the bow, a twin external traversing 21.7-in mounting aft of the CT, one fixed external aft TT and seven torpedoes ad a twin 15.7-in external mount aft to deal with merchant ships. They were armed with the classic 3-in/35 model 1928 (75mm) gun forward and single 13.2 mm Hotchkiss AA aft, plus two 8 mm ones aft of the CT.
Surface tonnage was 630, 798 submerged, for an overall lenght of 63,6 m, 5,18 m in width, and 3,91 m draft. Top speed surfaced was not impressive at 14 kts, and 9.20 submerged. Aferty depht was 80m. The standard crew comprised four officers and 38 ratings. The mix of 550 mm and 400 mm torpedo tubes was typical of their dual role, deployed against warhips and commerce alike. The puny 75 mm was not helpful however in a surface engagement. Of the whole class, only Argonaute was lost in action.
Built at Chantiers Schneider à Chalons sur Saône (Eugène Schneider et Maxime Laubeuf) she was a typical double-hull type launched 23.05.1929 and commisioned on 01.06.1932. When war broke out in September 1939, she served with SubDiv 19 19th, 3rd region (Premar III), based in Toulon. On June 25, 1940, she still served in the sam unit with Galatée, Sirène and Naïade.
On December 5, 1940, dueing an exercize she collides with the torpedo Mameluck and disarmed on December 17, placed in armistice guarding (unfuelled, disarmed). In June 1941, she is rearmed to be assigned and by December 1941 sent Oran joining SubDiv 12, with Diane.
By November, 8, 1942, 02:50, Argonaute (Lieutenant Véron), Actéon (Lieutenant Clavières) and Fresnel (Lieutenant Saglio), the latter two of SubDiv 5, are ordered to reach Oran as soon as the Operation Torch landings begin. They leave quai Lamoune at 03:15 to 03:45, Argonaute heading east, Actéon east of Cape Falcon and Fresnel to the west.
Argonaut while at periscope depth, managed to arrive on the landing area, spots HMS Furious in the afternoon, but she is detected by HMS Purchase at 3:17 p.m. which start a sonar attack and depht charge her until she sank at the bottom at 3:31 p.m. A lot of debris roses to the surface to attest the kill. There were no survivors.
Aréthuse on September 1939 was in SubDiv17, SubRon 6, 4th Flotilla, Premar IV in Bizerte with Vestale, Sultane and Atalante. She was being refitted in Toulon when the war broke out and by June 1940, she was still Toulon. On December she headed for Dakar with Vestale (Corvette Captain Vidal), Sultane (Lt. Madec) and the Aréthuse (Lt. Gardair). In February 1941 Aréthuse is back Casablanca to repair her main electric motor. On February 10 she heads for Morocco for first trials, and by April a test dive to 60 m. Aréthuse and Thétis were relocated to Safi, then Agadir, Mogador, Safi and Casablanca on 2 May. Until the 23, she is in Agadir and in June Port-Lyautey, and by June 21, Lieutenant Jodon takes command.
On August 6, Aréthuse and Sultane left Casablanca for Port-Lyautey and Safi in September, then Agadir and back to Casablanca.
On March 4, SubDiv 17 is reloctaed at Toulon for an overhaul of all submersibles. In April 1942, Aréthuse is disarmed but rearmed on August 31, 1942 and on September 30 her unit is relocated set sail to Casablanca. By November she is heading for Dakar with Vestale, Sultane and Atalante and saw nothing of the allied landings.
On April 1, 1943, she is returned to Oran (Corvette Captain Fournage) with Casabianca, Glorieux, Marsouin, Vestale, Sultane, Antiope and Perle while Amazon is being refitted in the US. They are all officially under Vichy French control.
Because of this, on April 20, 1943, Aréthuse while in exercise off the Bay of Arzew is shelled by the escort of an allied convoy. On June 04, 1943 at 10:45 am, under orders of Lieutenant Jean Maximilien GOUTTIER she fired two torpedoes, on the “Dalny”, a French steam freighter of 6,672 ton, hit and badly damaged near Porto Cervo (Sardinia). At some point she is now under FNFL control.
In September 1943, she carried equipment and food to Ajaccio (to be liberated by the Free French) with Perle and on September 28, 1943, disembarked 5 agents and picked up 7 at Cap Camarat. On November 9, she is part of the Algerian Submarine Group in Oran and by January 3, 1944, she replaces Casabianca. By the end of 1944, she is a training vessel with Argo, the Junon and Narval. L’Aréthuse is used at the listening school in Freetown and Takoradi, Dakar. In July 1945, she is in La Pallice, French Riviera, stricken on March 25, 1946 and BU.
Atalante (Q-162) by September 1939, is in SubDiv 17, 6th Squadron, 4th Flotilla, Premar IV in Bizerte with her sisters but she remains in Toulon when the war broke out, due to a refit, disarmed from June to December 1940. By January 20-27, 1941, after being reactivated she is sent to Casablanca, and departed for Dakar, reached on February 1941. Due to issues with her Diesel engine, she is sent for repairs back in Agadir, and then Casablanca, after stopping at Safi with Vestale. She carried out patrols in the Atlantic and by November 1942, she is located at sea between Casabianca towards Dakar with Vestale, Sultane and Aréthuse and did not intervened. By mid-November 1942, with Orphée she is at the Oran submarine base. She is used for the listening school in Morocco, Dakar and Freetown and by November 1943, with Glorieux, Marsouin and Amphitrite, she is back at the Casablanca submarine base, and disarmed in Oran in May 1944. By August 1945, she is sent to La Pallice under command of Lieutenant Mescam to be deactivated, and is stricken on March 25, 1946.
La Vestale was laid down at Schneider shipyards (Chalons sur Saône) on January 30, 1931. She was launched on May 26, 1932, commissioned on September 18, 1934. On September 1939, she is part of the SubDiv 17, 6th Squadron, 4th Flotilla in Bizerte with Sultane, the Atalante and Arethuse. On June 18, 1940 she is in Toulon. By February 1941, she was in Dakar with a damaged Diesel, repaired locally. On June 25, Corvette Captain DEROO replacing VIDAL in command and at the head of SubDiv 17th. By April 1942, she is in Oran and on November 1942, she was in trasnit between Casablanca to Dakar with Sultane, Atalante and Aréthuse. By May 18, 1943, she sails from Oran for Algiers with a convoy (fleet tanker “Drôme”, escorted by three British RN patrol boats and a minesweeper) and they reach Ténès. On May 19, 1943 Vestale under command of Lieutenant ATTANÉ, is attacked at night by the destroyer HMS “Wishart”, mistook for an U-Boot, with one killed, several injured. The gunnery had her stern lost and she is towed to port for repair, but soon placed in special reserve and by November 1943, relocated in Oran.
In 1944, Vestale was repaired and operaional, with Sultane, Amazone, Curie and Doris for the local FNFL.
In August 1945, as part of the Oran Submarine Group, she is placed in reserve and by August 14, 1946, stricken and sold for BU.
Sultane was commissioned on May 20, 1935. By September 1939 she was in SubDiv 17 with Aréthuse and Vestale, SubRon 6, with DesDiv 20 (Saphir class) and SubRon 5 (Desdiv 9, 10, 11) with the 4th flotilla, 4th maritime, 4th Light Wing. She is then refitted in Toulon and still is by June 18, 1940. With the attack on Mers-el-Kebir on July 3, group B is prepared to set sail (Iris, Venus, Sultane, Sirene, Pallas, Cérès), with instruction to reach Oran, joining Group A (L’Espoir, Conquérant and Archimedes) and attack on sight any British warship encountered with as prime target, HMS hood.
They were deployed south of Ayre Island, towards the coast of Algeria between Ténès and Dellys, before heading to Oran. They arrived on July 4th in total radio silence but orders changed and they were ordered back to Toulon the next day, to defend against an expect British attack there, which never materialized, although it is awaited still on July 9 and Galatea, Sirène, Sultane, Diamant and Perle are anchored on high alert off Les Vignettes. Pallas, Iris, Vénus and Cérès are stationed 20 nautical miles south of Toulon.
On July 10 a British convoy is reported en route to Gibraltar and they are recalled to Toulon.
Sultane is disarmed in October 1940, but reactivated in December 16 to head for Casablanca with Archimède (Lt.V. Attane), Vestale (Capt.V. Vidal) and Aréthuse (Lt.V. Gardair). In January 1941, she is in Dakar and in August in Casablanca, then Port-Lyautey, Safi, Agadir and back to Casablanca. By March 1942, she is refitted in Toulon.
By October 1942, Sultane and Atalante taked part in exercizes with 2nd Light Squadron and are redeployed to Agadir, then Dakar in November.
SubDiv 17th (Vestale, Sultane, Atalante, Aréthuse) replaces SubDiv 16 to Casablanca, on November 7th, so they missed Operation Torch.
By March-May 1943, she patrolled the Mediterranean. By April 28, 1944, now under the FNFL, Sultane lands 4 agents and picked up 1 off Barcelona.
On May 9, 1944 at 8:50 p.m., she spots and fired three torpedoes at UJ 6070 (formerly Cetonia) and M 6027 off Villefranche but missed. On the 12, she fired three torpedoes at M 6020 (ex Dédaigneuse) and M 6027 (ex Givenchy) off Cap Antibes but missed again. On the 15th she is mistaken for an U-Boat and attacked by US plans despite recognition signals.
On June 6, 1944, she embarked 4 agents off Barcelona and on the 15th, takes part in Operation Anvil Dragoon.
On August 20 she is the first to enter Marseille. By December 1944 with other subs she is used to supply electricity to Toulon, crews on leave.
On October 30, 1945, she is relocated from Oran to La Pallice, then Lorient, La Pallice, Brest, Casablanca in February 1946, Algiers in May, Brest in july, Le Havre, Cherbourg she she is desarmed and stricken on December 26, 1946.
⚙ Argonaute class specifications
63.4 m long, 6.40 m wide, 4.24 m draft. ( feets)
630 t. standard – 798 t. Full Load
2 shafts Schneider-Carel Diesels, 2 electric motors, 1300/1000 shp
surface/sub 14/9 knots
Practical depth 80 m
RA: 7,000/70 nautical miles surface/sub @ 7kts, oil 65 tons.
Diane, Meduse, Antiope, Amphitrite, Amazone, Orphee, Oreade, La Sybille, La Psyche
La Sybille underway at sea (src unknown, via clausuchronia)
The Diane class was the largest of the 630 tonnes, with 9 boats, built on the Augustin-Fenaux type, built at Augustin Normand and Chentiers Worms. They are built in four sections, 1926 (law of April 29, 1926), 1927 (law of December 19, 1926), 1928 (law of December 27, 1927) and 1929 (law of December 30, 1928). Technically, they obeys to the same spec and are identical to the Argonaute class. They went through the same purgatory as other French subs, being sunk by error or voluntarily by allied ships, scuttled, or survived and served with the FNFL.
Second of the name (there was a 3rd one in the 1960s), Diane was built at Augustin Normand, Le Havre (ordered 1926, laid down 4 jan 1928, launched 13 may 1930, comm. september 1932). She was in service on September 1932, armed in Cherbourg. By September 1939 she is part of SubDiv 14, 2nd Squadron, 6th Wing, in Oran. By June 1940 she trained with Danaé, Ariane and Eurydice and patrolled the Madeira sector, Canary islands. On July 3, 1940 Mers-El-Kébir is attacked ans shi is put on full alert, departing with Diane and Eurydice, deployed in the outer harbor and set sail at 5:54 p.m. just before the start of the British cannonade.
Diane was posted 3.5 nautical miles west of the Rocher de l’Aiguille (now Wilaya, Oran) but not deployed in time, and patrolled for the next night until July 4, 1940, back in Oran. She returned by August-September in Toulon and was back later to Oran and from October 1941 to May 1942 she is disarmed. By November 1, 1942, she is reactivated as part of SubDiv 12 in Oran but scuttled on November 9, with Danaé, Ariane, Cérès and Pallas.
Refloated on January 1, 1944, her repairs are never completed and she is stricken and later BU.
She is built at Augustin Normand, Le Havre, laid down on 1st janr 1928, launched 26 august 1930, commisioned by september 1932. By September 1939 she is part of SubDiv 18, 2nd Squadron, 6th Wing in Oran with Psyché, Oréade Amphitrite, detached from Toulon to Morocco. She was back in Brest by June 15, 1940, with five divisions and the Jules Verne after an operation off Norway and the Netherlands. She is evacuated due to the German advance back to the Mediterranean. On June 25, she is back in Oran. On July 3, 1940 (Mers-el-Kébir attack) she made a sortie with Amphitrite and Amazone, patrolling 20 nautical miles around Casablanca.
On July 13, she relieved Casabianca, Sfax, Poncelet presence 20 nautical miles off the port.
On October 28, 1940, with Thetis and Amphitrite, she is reassigned to DesDiv 13, now with Orphée. by November 1942, she is reassigned to SubDiv 17 and sailed out for action with Psyché, l’Oréade and l’Orphée, of SubDiv 18, setting sail on the 8th (Lieutenant de Vaisseau Roy) for sector 2, El Hank. There, she is spotted and shelled seaplanes of USS Philadelphia, but escaped undamaged.
At 09:50, she spots at pericopic immersion the battleships USS Massachusettsfollowed by two heavy cruisers, Tuscaloosa and Wichita.
At 10:00 am, she launches four torpedoes on the battleship, which narrowly dodged them. Méduse moved away and returned to Casablanca to resupply but when surfacing in front of the port, she is spotted and shelled, taking a hot near the bow. Lt.V. Roy decides to proceed anyway, reloading his batteries under El Hank Fort, but his boats is machine-gunned by aicraft, with three wounded. He then headed for Safi at 6:20 p.m., disembarked the wounded and attempted to carry out repairs. On November 9, she is again spotted, shelled and damaged, made a crash dive, and resurfaced at 6:30 p.m. south of Cap Cantin. Dueing the night she is forced to dive again to escape an incoming PT-Boat. The captain then decised to go to Mazagan (El Jadida) but the boat now list by 20° to starboard with two punctured ballast tanks and at 06:40 he decided to ground his boat and evacuate, then scuttle Méduse by opening all water intakes.
Antiope by September 1939 was part of SubDiv 16, Premar I in Cherbourg, with Orphée, Amazone and Sibylle. On March 12, 1940, she set sail with “Jules Verne” for Harwich as part of the 10th Flotilla under command of British Vice-Admiral HORTON for Norwegian patrols and later off the Dutch coast, Operation Hartmut. On May 20, she launches three torpedoes by mistake on Sybille, which manages to avoid them. By early June she is back to Brest, and on June 18, still in repairs when orderes came to sally out or be towed to avoid capture, those who cannot navigate are scuttled.
Jules Verne set sail with 13 other submarines for Casablanca, arriving five days later and by June 25, the armistice is entering force. By July 3, it’s Operation “Catapult”. Fearing an attack on the battleship Jean Bart, Amazone, Meduse, Amphitrite created a patrol area 20 nautical miles around Casablanca.
Antiope is in Dakar on October 1940, and back to Casablanca with Sibylle Orphée, Amazone and departs in April 1941 for Toulon to be disarmed. She would later return to Casablanca and Dakar, and by September 1942 she was at sea from Dakar with convoy D-56. She stayed in Port-Étienne. She was sent back to Dakar with Amazone and took no part in the operations against the allies (Op. Torch) and instead she is disarmed in Dakar on 08.11.1942, inactive until the end of the war. She was discarded in 1946.
She served in AOF (Dakar) from February 1942 to November 1942. On the 8th of November 1942, having just arrived from Dakar and no longer having enough combustible to flee, at 08:00 she is bombed and badly damaged by Western Task Force Helldiver. She is partly evacuated, some remaining aboard firing with their AA. She was refloated on March 12, 1943. The extent of the damage combined to the weakness of the port resources lead to place Amphitrite as well as the other submersibles of Casablanca in “special reserve”. All recoverable material is is used for her maintenance in good condition. But she is never put back into service and disarmed in May 1944. She was BU after the war.
She was completed on 12 Oct 1933. No noticeable event in the interwar. 11 May 1940: Under command of Lt. R.H.G. Richard, fires two torpedoes at an unidentified submarine off the Dutch coast, possibly either U-boat U-7 or HMS Shark reported being missed by torpedoes. Vichy French service. She escaped from Casablanca to Dakar during Operation Lila (German operation on Toulon) and scuttling.
On 26 Feb 1943, Amazone arrived at Bermuda from Dakar and departed later for the Philadelphia Navy Yard for a refit. She left on 14 Oct 1943 for New London, Connecticut, and after a post-trials cruise and training, headd on 1 Nov 1943 at Bermuda and conducted exercises until 12 Feb 1944.
In October after several patrols, she was refitted in Philadelphia NyC, and New London, Connecticut, but was grounded underway on 15 Oct 1944 inside Fort Pond Bay, Block Island sound. Refloated, she was towed to New London, and Philadelphia NyDfor repairs by USS ATR-8. On 7 December, she headed for Key West in Florida, and then to Oran, Algeria, via Bermuda and Ponta Delgada in the Azores. and next to Casablanca, French Morocco, staying there until the end of the war. Stricken 26 April 1946.
La Psyché (Q-174) was laid down at Auguste Normand shipyards (Le Havre) on December 26, 1930, launched on August 4, 1932 and commissioned on December 23, 1933. On September1933, she was in exercises with “Glorieux” and later trained with the minelayer “Pollux” in 1934, and then was relocated to Dunkirk. By April 1934, she was overhauled at Cherbourg and operated by November 1934 in Scotland. By September 1939 she was with SubDiv 18, 2nd Squadron, 6th Wing, in Oran, with Meduse, Oreade and Amphitrite.
She was reolocated to Dakar on March 23, 1941 under command of Frigate Captain LE FLOCH, from Bizerte after a new refit, and with the sub-tender Jules Verne. By January 7-19, 1942, she was in Safi and in February in Port-Lyautey. By November 1942, she was in the Oran Sea, off Casablanca with Oreade. on the 8th she was deployed against the allied fleet with Méduse and Orphée.
That day at 06:15, USS Ranger and USS Suwanne‘s air groups and attacked ships presents in Casablanca at 07:10, notably using Helldiver bombers and Psyché (Lt. GUITTET) was sunk after being being hit at 08:15: captain, two officers, eight crewmen were killed and the rest escape, many being wounded. Six other submarines were sunk that day: Sidi Ferruch, Sibylle, Oréade, Amphitrite, Méduse and Conquérant.
La Sibylle (Q-175) was built at Ateliers et Chantiers de Seine Maritime du Trait, laid down on January 10, 1931, launched January 28, 1933, commissioned December 22, 1934. She was with her sisters in SubDiv 16 (Orphée, Antiope, Amazone) attached to the 1st region, Cherbourg. In 1940 she was back in North Africa and in 1942, in Oran.
By March 12, 1940, she sailed with Jules Verne for Harwich, commenced operations off Norway on the 22th 1940 as part of the “1st Flotilla” (Vice-Admiral Horton) and later patrolled the Dutch coast. She took part with the allies in Operation “Wilfred” from Dundee (Scotland). By June 4, 1940, she returned to Brest, and was evacuated to Dakar in October.
On March 1941 Desdiv 16 lost “Sibylle”, disarmed in Toulon. By November 1942, she was back in Dakar with in addition, Amphitrite and Perle.
With Operation ‘Torch’ she sailed at 07:04, under Lieutenant Commander Kraut for sector 5 in front of Fédala where Méduse, Amazone, Antiope”and Orphée were deployed to monitor the outskirts of Casablanca. On the 8th, she was lost en route, probably hitting a mine off Fédala, after torpedong and sinking a US troop transport.
1937-41 part in research. After having operated in the Canary Islands, Oran, Morocco and in AOF, on 08.11.1942, at 08:15, Oréade sets sail from Casablanca, when she is bombed and strafed by USN Helldivers during Operation Torch, from the Western Task Force. One officer is killed on the bridge and EV GUILLOU takes command, but the submarine sank in the harbour. Oréade is Refloated on 10.06.1943, put in special reserve on 29.09.1943 in Casablanca and condemned in June 1944, removed from the list on 26.03.1946.
1937-45 part in research. On 16.10.1945 around 02:30 Orphée is boarded by the trawler JOSÉ CARMEN who was making a parallel route. The latter sank after half an hour of towing in front of Mazagan.
On Sunday March 3, 1946 at 11:20 a.m., following an abnormal concentration hydrogen from the batteries, an explosion took place on board while in Casablanca. Access panels will be closed for avoid any intake of fresh air and opened on Monday March 4 at 8 p.m. Two sailors died in the accident, four more injured. On 25.03.1946 Orphée is stricken.
Ondine – Musée de la Marine
The Orion-class submarines were ordered in 1928 (1928 naval programme) on a Loire-Simonot design, built in Loire-Dubigeon, as a variant of “630 ton” boats. They measured 219 ft 10 in long overall, 20 ft 4 in in beam, 14 ft 5 in in draught. They were capable of diving at an operation depht of 260 ft. Surfaced displacement was 558 tonnes (549 long tons), submerged displacement 787 tonnes (775 long tons). They were propelled on the surface by two diesel engines for a total output combined of 1,400 hp (1,044 kW) and 14 knots (26 km/h; 16 mph) surfaces. Ateliers et chantiers de la Loire à Nantes
They were assisted by two electric motors with rated for 1,000 hp (746 kW) total, foe underwater drives. Their electrical propulsion allowed them to reach 9 knots (17 km/h; 10 mph) submerged. Operational range was 4,000 nautical miles (7,400 km) at 10 knots (19 km/h), down to 82 nautical miles (152 km) at 5 knots (9.3 km/h) submerged. They were armed with a single 75mm/35 M1928, single 13.2 m and twin 8.8mm on the rear kiosk platform. Six 550mm Torpedo Tubes: 3 at the bow, one external tube aft, a twin external bank for seven tubes in all. Also two 400mm Torpedo Tubes external revolving bank. Equipments included an hydrophone.
She had a mediocre habitability and was Handicapped by the 3/4 fuel stocks on the exterior holds. Commanders since 1931: LV CHATELLIER, PETITOT, CABANIE, DROGOU and from 07.01.1939 to 07.03.1940: LV VICHOT. First master Serge VIGNALAT. After operating in the Mediterranean and in the Atlantic, she was in great refit in Cherbourg just as the Germans arrived. Without engine she is towed by a Belgian tug to Southampton (18.06.1940), moved to Portsmouth on 20 June, seized later there on 03.07.1940. Part of the crew rallied the F.N.F.L, set for a return to France, opposed by part of the crew. Cdt VICHOT eventually committed suicide on July 25, 1940. She could not be rearmed and was used for spare parts for MINERVE and JUNON while the crew went to the sloop CDT DOMINÉ. Condemned in 1943 she was cannibalized for spares and later BU. She was only stricken on 26.03.1946.
Orion was ordered on 27 December 1927, laid down 9 July 1929, launched 21 April 1931 and commissioned on 5 July 1932. Both were built at Ateliers et chantiers de la Loire, and Dubigeon Nantes (Simonot type double hull, Q165, 166). Ondine in 1939 was based in Toulon and patrolled the Canary islands in search of U-boat supply ships deployed there before the war. With Minerve, Orion and Junon was part of the 12th D.S.M., 2nd Squadron, 6th Wing, based in Oran. In 1940 like her sister she was overhauled in Cherbourg with engines removed and batteries ashore but on June 18, 1940 she was towed to England to escape capture, under order of Chief Petty Officer Pigamo.
On June 25, she was part of the sub fleet refugee in Britain with Minerve (LV Bazin), Junon (LV Jaume), Orion (LV Vichot), Ondine (LV Bourgine), Rubis (LV Cabanier), Surcouf (CC Martin) and unfinished Creole. On July 3, 1940 Operation Catapult had her seized by the Royal Navy in Portsmouth (without resistance). She was commanded by Free French Lieutenant de Vaisseau Bourgine by July 1940, then 1st class Vaisseau Ensign Vignalats, Rossignol in August 1940 and, Ensign de 1st class Cockquenet. But she was never made operational, and instead cannibalized in favor of Minerve and the Junon, stricken in 1943, BU in 1944 or 1945.
Ondine was ordered on 27 December 1927 like her sister, but laid down on 30 August 1929, launched 4 May 1931, but commiioned the same day, on 5 July 1932.
Nothing notable in the interwar. In 1939, she left Toulon and operated in the Atlantic, where she monitored the Canary Islands, looking for German supply ships. She was then part of the 2nd squadron, 6th squadron, based in Oran, and still was there by September 1939. In 1940, she was refitted in the port of Cherbourg. During the Battle of France, the crew managed to prepare her to escape, still deprived of engines under tow in England, Portsmouth. There, the crew was detained with Operation Catapult, but re-enlisted in the Free French naval forces, then dispersed among several other ships. Ondine was stripped of her equipment cannobalized to keep operational Minerve and Junon. Left without maintenance, inspected, she wasconsidered in April 1943 as unfit for duty. Stricken in April 1943 She was BU probably around 1945.
⚙ Orion class specifications
66.75 m long, 6.20 m wide, 4.40 m draft. ( feets)
558 t. standard – 787 t. Full Load
2 shafts Sulzer Diesels, 2 EM, 1400/1000 shp
4 Officiers, 38 sailors
Minerve class submersibles (1934)
Iris, Minerve, Venus, Junon, Pallas, Ceres
Junon in Plymouth Sound (IWM).
These six subs were the last of the 360 tonnes serie. They were not from private yards plans, Schneider or Normand, but an admiralty design, to be built in AC Dubigeon, Cherbourg, AC Seine-Maritime and Augustin-Normand. It was a change of policy to reach better standardization. Authorised in 1930 and the last two under the 1936 programme. They had an increased but simplified TT armament, with only six 21.7 inches TTs, four forward, two aft and still a triple traversing 15.7 in traversing mount abaft the CT and no reloads. Specs for range and depht were same as prior classes, and the last were completed in 1940: Pallas and Cérès.
On September 1939, Iris was part of the SubDiv 15, SubRon 5 under cammand of Frigate Captain Fitte as part of the 1st Flotilla, 2nd Wing in Toulon. SubDiv 15 also comprised Vénus, Cérès and Pallas, her 1937 sisters.
By January 10, 1940, Iris (now under Corvette Captain Antoine) set sail from Toulon, escorting the MAC ship X 43 (Captain Bichon) to Oran, Casablanca, Dakar, and Fort-de-France, French west indies, on February 22, 1940.
The unit stays for two months in the West Indies and May left for Toulon (June 3) after stopping at Port-Étienne (Nouadhibou, Mauritania) and Casablanca. The unit carried out 12 missions with 89 days at sea around Trinidad, Puerto Rico, Antigua and Saint-Martin. By June 14, with Italy at war, the 3rd Wing sailed to shell Genoa as part of Operation Vado. They patrolled off Genoa and La Spezia, and the landfalls of the Tuscan islands. On June 15 at 1:00 p.m. they made it back to Toulon, having spotted nor attacked any Italian ship.
By July 3, with the attack on Mers-el-Kébir she is part of group B, sent to attack the RN, especiall HMS Hood. But orders changed and they were back to Toulon. By November 1, 1942, Iris as par tof the relief group with Casabianca, Aurore, Vénus and Redoutable are prepared for an action, but never departs and on the 9th, they are disarmed as per the armistice conditions.
She is moored at Mourillon when the Germans launched Operation lila, and managed to depart against orders, surfacing at night, and Iris enters Barcelona the next day. After Darlan’s call to reach Algiers, Glorieux sets sail but Iris stayed at Barcelona and by mid-January 1943, a Spanishe inspection found scuttling charges on board Iris and the crew is interned, while the submarine is sent to a drydock to have her two propellers removed. Seven crewmen escaped and reached Africa, the rest were interned in Cadiz.
ByFebruary 1943 Iris is towed to Cartagena and in 1944 she is still in good condition maintained by 2 officers and 11 petty officers, with long transactions between France and Spain for compensation. Iris finally left Cartagena for Oran on November 29, 1945 placed in reserve for a refit. She was back in La Pallice submarine group for experimentations and was stricken on February 1, 1950.
Launched on 23 October 1934 at Arsenal de Cherbourg, Commissioned on 15 September 1936, she was the lead boat of her class. She was at the head of the 2e Escadrille des Sous-Marins (SubRon 2), Atlantic fleet. By August 1939 she was based at Oran and in November she started patrols off the Canary Islands, searching for German supply ships supected there since last month. Between February and May 1940 she escorted some seven convoys, between Gibraltar and Liverpool as part of the allied effort.
In May 1940 she was under maintenance and only reactivated by 18 June 1940 under command of Lieutenant de Vaisseau Bazin. She left Brest on the 19th, towed by the tugboat Zeelew to avoid capture, as Junon towed by Nessus and escorted by Pessac and Sauternes, to the British coast. Off Ushant, they were joined by HMS Broke to escort them to Plymouth. She stayed there awaiting instructions. After the surrender her status changed. Vichy French authorities would likely call her back to France, and thus on 3 July 1940 as part of Operation Catapult, she was boarded by Royal Navy troops. Fortunately nobody resisted, and the crew was interned.
By September, she was one of the very first subs transferred to the Free French Naval Forces, in September 1940. She was renumbered P26 according to RN nomenclature, fitted out slowly under two years due to the lack of spares, and recommissioned at last in January 1941, under command of Lieutenant de Vaisseau Pierre Sonneville. She was relocated at Dundee and carried out patrols around the coast of Scotland, North Sea and Atlantic.
On 19 April 1941 she attacked the Norwegian oil tanker Tiger off Egersund (Norway) but missed; She escaped, albeit depht-charged by escorting German destroyers. In April 1942, she escorted Convoy PQ 15 to Murmansk.
From October 1942, under command of Capitaine de Corvette Henri Simon-Dubuisson she went on patrolling and escorting allied ships. On 10 October 1943, while on a patrol close to the Western Approaches, now based from Plymouth, she was under repairs for her troublesome a diesel engine, 300 nautical miles west of Brest. Mistaken by a U-Boat, she was attacked by a RAF Coastal Command B-24 Liberator, armed with rockets. One impacted, killing two, wounding two more in the process, and she was so badly damaged as being unable to dive. She still was able to restart her engine, repair her diesel, and limped back to Britain, escorted by HMS Wensleydale. It seems she was in repairs until the end of the war from there. On 19 September 1945 while being towed back to France, she broke free in heavy weather, and ended on Portland Bill. Her wreck was dismantled postwar.
Laid down on 27 June 1932 at the Chantiers Worms shipyard, Rouen, Atlantic coast, Vénus was launched on 6 April 1935, commissioned on 15 November 1936. She joined SubRon 5 (5e Escadrille de Sous-Marin, SubDiv 15 based at Toulon from 1937.
On 10 January 1940, she left Toulon for Oran, patrolling the French West Indies (Carribean, French Antilles and Guadeloupe), and was back home on 3 June 1940. Under Vichy France authority she was sent back in North Africa and by February 1941 she was at Casablanca, French Morocco. From July 1941 to February 1942 she was relocated to Dakar, Senegal. Later she was sent back to Toulon and placed under guard, disarmed and unfuelled.
On 27 November 1942 she was being ordered to scuttle, yet not ready to depart in time, but her captain managed to have her underway anyway, disobeying the orders like Casabianca, Marsouin, Glorieux, and Iris. She proceeded while planning to avoid minefields and German bombers but eventually never made it past the entrance of Toulon Harbour. The captain ordered herto be scuttled and the crew was later interned. The wreck was salvaged in 1951, scrapped.
Junon in the Med (P19), Mediterranean 1944
Laid down at the Chantiers et Ateliers Augustin Normand yard, Le Havre, on 9 June 1932, Juno was launched on 15 September 1935, commissioned on 20 September 1937. She would have one of the longest and most fuctiful career of the whole 630 tonnes type. Under the command of Lieutenant de vaisseau Jaume from August 1939 she was based in Oran and Casablanca and back to France in March 1940 for refitting. She left Brest to avoid capture on 18 June 1940 while being unable to go under her own power, towed by the tugboat Nessus, as Minerve to Ushant, and then Plymouth, arriving on the 20th.
On 3 July 1940 Junon was boarded by Royal Marines, but transferred to the FFNF on 27 July, and like her sister due to the lack of parts, only recommissioned by February 1941, under command of Capitaine de corvette Jean-Marie Querville and from August 1941, she became flagship, 1st SubDiv, FNFL with Minerve and Rubis as P19.
By December 1941 she patrolled the Bay of Biscay observing German convoys from Brest and patrolled in 1942 off the Norwegian coast. On 13 March 1942, she was spotted and depth-charged but escape German escorts. In August 1942 she patrolled off Sognefjord. On 15 September she landed British and Norwegian commandos near Glomfjord for “Operation Musketoon”. In October 1942, she attacked several ships in the Vestfjorden, and sank the Nordland. On 13 November she made another “specop”, picking up infiltrated intel agents and their radios in the Melfjorden.
On 1 March 1943, under command of Lieutenant de vaisseau Étienne Schlumberger she went on patrolling off the Norwegian coast without noticeable event. By mid-1943 she entered a drydock for her wartime refit. She was back in operation in February 1944 and ordered to Algiers. She made several patrols in the Mediterranean and on 11 August, was placed due to her age and condition, in reserve at Oran; Her crew transferred to the submarine Morse.
Before the end of the war in Europe, she could have been discarded and scrapped. Instead, she was refitted at Brest from August 1945, recommissioned on 20 October, under command of Jean Dischamps, as a training boat for sonar operators in Brest, also ASW exercises off Toulon. She stayed in that rile under her decommission on 6 December 1954, and only scrapped in 1960, not preserved unfortunately.
Pallas (Q189) was built at Chantiers et Ateliers Augustin Normand shipyard (Le Havre) from 19 October 1936, launched on 25 August 1938, commissioned on 12 June 1939. Thus she was brand new when the war started. Her fate is unknown (main source unavailable), but after Operation Torch, inactivated at Oran like most of the Type 600/630 tonnes, she was scuttled by her crew on 9 November. Later salvaged by the Allies in early 1943, she was examined and judged not worthy of a recommission, instead stricken in 1944 and scrapped postwar.
Launched 9 Dec 1938, commissioned in 1939, she was disarmed at Oran like her sister Pallas in October 1942 and scuttled there on 9 November 1942. Raised by the Allies as being an obstruction in the port, she was mothballed and eventually stricken 18 February 1946.
RA: 7,000/70 nautical miles surface/sub @ 7kts, oil 65 tons.
6x 550 mm TTs (21.7 in),3x 400 mm (15.7 in), 1x 3-in/35 M28 (76 mm), 2x 13.2 mm HMG.
Conway’s all the world’s fighting ships 1921-47
Moulin, Jean (2006). Les sous-marins français en images (in French). Rennes: Marines Éditions.
Donald A. Bertke; Don Kindell; Gordon Smith; Susan A. Bertke (2011). World War II Sea War, Naval Actions from April 1940 through September 1940.
Jean Moulin, Les sous-marins français en images, Rennes, Marines Éditions, 2006, 91 p.
Jean-Jacques Antier, L’Aventure héroïque des sous-marins français : 1939-1945, Éditions maritimes et d’outre mer, 1984
Eddy Florentin et Jacques Zang, Les rebelles de La Combattante, Ancre de Marine Editions, 2009
Jean-Paul Nadeau et Claude Rogel, «Sous-Marin Orion»: Sous-Marins Français Disparus & Accidents
The Requin (“shark”) class submarines: Continuing with our study of interwar submersibles in 2023 with 100 years of distance (1923) here is another entry: The first French Oceanic submersible design of the interwar, launched 1924-27. The 1,000 tonnes models drew some inspiration from German designs and certainly brought a number of innovations, later cristallized in the excellent Redoutable class of the 1930s, large oceanic models equivalents of the German Type IX. Their career both on the side of Vichy and Free France reflected a complicated carrer in WW2, with only one surviving the war. #ww2 #frenchnavy #marinefrancaise #submersible #submarine #interwar #requin
Context: Renewing the Submarine Force (1919)
In 1919, the French WWI submarine force legacy was not particularly appealing: Akthough early in the game, the designs that were produced over the years in small batches and prototypes were often overengineered and unreliable, with the exception of those of the standardized Laubeuf type. In the war proper, only a few novel designs were built, like the Amphitrite, Bellone, Dupuy de Lôme, Diane or Joessel class in 1915-17. These were just pairs or trios delivered by civilian yards and rather small, confined to the Mediterranean.
Daphné in the 1920s
However the early Oceanic, 920 tons Lagrange class (four, completed postwar) saw some service until 1937, by default on the atlantic, as well as the much smaller Armide class requisitioned from foreign orders, built by Schneider on double-hulled Laubeuf type designs with Schneider-Carel diesels for the Mediterranean, followed by the O’Byrne class (launched 1919) which were truly the first postwar French models, although still using prewar designs.
The “game changer” was the Maurice Callot (1921) built at FC de la Gironde (Bordeaux), and designed in 1915-16 initially as the first dedicated minelayer types in French service. Only laid down in May 1917, other priorities delayed their completion until 1922. They used the original Normand-fenaux mine well delivery system and the classic Laubeuf double hull. The sole experimental submarine was the forebear of the “diamond” minelayer serie (1928 Saphir class).
Now this disparate fleet was supposed to be the main tool for a Navy that had been left in disregard during WWI as the land war took all the funds and workforce, and considerably weakened by the interpretation of the Young School by successive ministers. The Washington Treaty, as for many other matters, was instrumental for France. Famously capped, -despite its extensive colonial Empire- to the level of the Regia Marina, the Marine National was again constrained to choose a path, again in the shadow of the Army, of underfunded development which in turn dictated a largely asymetric type of fleet, placing the emphasis on commerce warfare with the next generation of 10,000 tonnes Washington Cruisers, and super-destroyers that caused quite a stir in naval circles, since no cap was defined in this area.
Original Plans of Pierre Chaillez, the last oceanic submarine delivered to the Marine Nationale, started in 1917 but modified and completed in 1922.
The naval rivalry with Italy was largely the result of both a similar global displacement authorized and similar conclusions reached by both Nations towards the way to control the main theater vital for French colonial possessions, the Mediterranean.
The third asset, to be severely restricted by the British Admiralty during treaty negociations, eventually was conceded to France as a concession for other grants, and the admiralty dreamed of a 250 to 300 submarine fleet. Most politicians thought that such a fleet would have been a deterrent for any nation. The latter view was largely a modern interpretation of the 1890s Jeune Ecole (“Young School”) passion for torpedo boats, with similar numbers in service when WWI broke out.
France unlike Italy did not saw a use for very small torpedo crafts, motor torpedo boats, but did not have the experience of the Adriatic and MAS as the Regia Marina, leaving this category completely to its rival, just as standard torpedo boats.
But plans for a large, coherent French Submarine fleet both for offense and defence were to be organized around three types in 1919:
-1500 to 2500 tonnes 1st class oceanic models to wage commerce warfare in the Atlantic or from distant stations (including cruisers such as the massive Surcouf)
-600 tonnes 2nd class coastal submersibles for the Mediterranean
-900 tonnes minelayers types for more offensive operations, commerce interdiction and harbour blockade.
However at this stage, negociations that were leading to the Washington Treaty had any significant naval plans postponed until terms were known. At the same time, France would obtain also by treaty war reparations, including a number of ex-German U-Boats, that will be scrutinized in detail and reports compiled to define a new generation of submersibles. These were Victor Reveille, (U79), Jean Auric (U 108), or René Audry (U 119) and 36 more awarded to the French, the largest amount of any belligerent, also creating some consternation, but also a concession. Léon Mignot (ex. U108), René Audry (ex. U119), Halbronn (ex. U139), Pierre Marrast (ex. U162), Jean Roulier (ex. U166), Trinité Schielemans (ex. UB94), Carissan (ex. UB99), Jean Corre (ex. UB155) were part of these pressed into service after the war under French flag, all discarded in 1935-37. See also French WW2 submarines on this preliminary chapter.
They represented nearly any type in use in the Kaiserliches Marine’s U-Boat Force, a good sampling of German experiments, plus extra spare hulls usable for cannibalization and keep them afloat as long as possible. Now, saying that early French Submarine types were merely copies of German types would be grossly simplistic and outright false given the set of specifications given to the new models planned. Unlike Germany, France had far-flung colonies and stretched lines of communication, plus local vulnerabilities. German models were tailored to wage commerce warfare in the Atlantic and North sea.
The French fleet’s expansion program voted in 1922 and 1923 advocated the construction of new submarines based on the three type classification of 1919, and in part fuelled by early report of experience gained from examining and using ex-German U-boats.
The 1920 C4 Program
Morse under construction at Cherbourg yards (Cotentin peninsula between Britanny and Normandy).
The first type of the “Sous-marin de première classe de grande patrouille programme 1922” (“1st class great patrol submarine, 1922 Program”) that as to be provided answered specification for a medium oceanic type. In 1920, indeed, the Superior Council of the Navy recommended the launch of a patrol submarine construction program called the “C4 project”, of 1,100 tons, to be designed by the Technical Section of the Naval Construction Department. This project was to combine qualities observed in German submarines, notably a robust hull and equipment, fast-diving, good periscope optics, and armament in contrast to prewar French designs that lacked these partly but combined with qualities associated by WWI French designs, like excellent navigation performance and deep diving, stability and speed underwater.
But the committee soon recommanded to increase the safety depth below 80 m, notably to allow the submarine to “land” on the continental shelf, to save battery, reduce noises and thus, prepare and ambush or escape destroyers.
Jean-Jacques Roquebert’s final design
Note: Can’t find the original blueprints and plans of the submarine at Chatellerault archives. It was apparently never scanned and digitized. Instead this is Protee of the following 1500 tons class. Both designs were rather similar, the second one being mostly stretched out.
J.J. Roquebert’s double-hulled submarine was relatively classic in shape, with a low profile and modest rounded bow, better suited for surface operations in the Mediterranean than the Atlantic. The conning tower was a brand new design, which drew inspiration both from French and German designs. It had a rounded forward section, pointed after section with bulwarks gracefully sloping towards the aft platform supporting the AA gun. The hull displaced 1,150 tonnes (1,132 long tons) when surfaced and 1,441 tonnes (1,418 long tons) when submerged. It measured 78.30 m (256 ft 11 in) from tip to tip, with a external hull overall beam of 6.84 m (22 ft 5 in) (so a 1/11 ratio) and a draught of 5.10 m (16 ft 9 in) at max load. She carried a crew of 14 officiers and 36 petty officer and ratings.
The whole “tube”, inner hull, with thick pressure walls, was separated in four sections and their respective bulkheads: Torpedo room, Crew’s quarter and Command Post, Engine room, and aft torpedo room. In the engine room was located one after the others, the two French Sulzer 1450 HP 2-stroke diesel engines, followed by the oil tanks and electric engines. The batteries due to their weight were located below the latter.
French Submarine Morse – Q117 – USN Axis Submarine Manual, ONI 220-M (cc)
These diesels were not very successful, with 10% higher consumption than usual 4-stroke diesels used by other countries. They were also more fragile but were lighter and more compact, and easier to maintain and replace. This choice prioritized speed over other considerations, notably the radius of action. Their surface speed was indeed set to 15 knots, which was average at the time. The later Type VII were indeed capable of 17.7 knots.
Roquebert improved their diving performances as requested as making them the first French submarine to be equipped with a remote control of the ballast purge valves. This automation enabled a dive in 75 seconds, almost twice that of previous models. Overall, destined for reconnaissance and colonial service as to attack enemy shipping lanes they had the large range required and better diving depth due to a more soldily built pressure hull but suffered while in service of poor maneuverability (in part due to their lenght ratio ans small rudder), and still lacked the required speed for surface actions. All were later corrected by the Redoutable class from 1929.
Since these patrol submersibles were setup to attack enemy merchant traffic, Roquebert also emphasised armament capacity: Torpedoes until then were of the 450 mm (17.7-in) standard inherited from WWI. He pushed it to the common 550 mm (21 in) of the surface fleet, to benefit new stocks of the surface fleet, and the new submersibles were supposed to carry 16 of them, including six in reserve. This was completed by a powerful deck gun, a 100 mm gun model 1917, mounted on a 1918-1924 mount. It was a match for the German 105 mm at the time. This was far better than the usual 75 mm Schneider deck gun (3-in) found on French subs at the time. Overall a well balanced design, the Requin class was afterwards judged too small for effective use in their intended role.
In the end, they were ordered along the 1922 (first six boats) and 1923 (last 3 boats) programmes, the second one stopped to study a new design (the future 1500 tonnes), Pennants Q119-129.
> Two shafts, Sulzer or Schneider diesel engines which developed 2,900 hp (2,163 kW)
> Two Schneider Electric motors which developed 1,800 hp (1,342 kW)
> Two Saft battery sets. In 1925, the company produced batteries with negative cadmium plate, which in certain applications advantageously replaced those with iron. In 1928, Edison patents fell into the public domain and Saft offered more efficient tubular positive plate batteries, which saw use in the next 1500 tonnes and Saphir class.
Performances: 15 knots (28 km/h) surfaced, 9 knots (17 km/h) submerged Range: 7,700 nautical miles (14,300 km) at 9 knots (17 km/h) surfaced or 70 nautical miles (130 km) at 5 knots (9.3 km/h) submerged, 30 days at sea. Test depth: 80 m (260 ft) which was good for the time.
As a comparison, the latest model delivered to the Marine Nationale, Pierre Chaillez built at Normand, Le Havre and launched 19.12.1921 commissioned in 1922, only had 1800/1400 shp for 13.7/8.5 knots and and endurance of 2800 kts at 11 kts or 80 nm at 5 kts submerged, diving at 60 m.
The Requin class were initially fitted with the 100 mm gun (4-in) model 1917 deck gun, on a 1918-1924 mount. It was an adaptation of a field gun for naval use, had good velocity and range but was not without flaws. It took eleven sailors to serve it and it had very basic pointing gear, primitive sights, plus using searate charge and shells greatly reducing the rate of fire.
During the class overhaul in 1936 in the Penhoet shipyards, it was decided to replace this gun for the 100 mm model 1928 SM, fully tailored for submersible use. It was a derivative from the 100 mm Modele 1925 onboard the 1,500 tons Redoutable class. It used one meter long complete cartridges (not separated), and thus only required a crew of six while much increasing the rate of fire to more than twenty rounds a minute.
It was rather weak, with just two 8 mm (0.31 in) Hotchkiss Mle 1914 using standard Lebel cartridges. They were located on two pintle mounts on either side of the aft platform. Barely sufficient to deal with 1923 biplanes, they were hopeless in WW2. It is possible (yet unconfirmed in my sources) that they were replaced during their refit in 1935-37 or in 1941, by a twin 13.2 mm Hotchkiss heavy machine gun in their place. It’s possible that the only one in Italian hands had it swapped for a Breda model of the same caliber.
As said above for the first time, these submersibles went from the 18-in to the 21-in caliber for their torpedoes. If that was not enough, they carried more.
These were 55 cm (21.65 inches exactly) 24V and 24M types manufactured at Toulon Arsenal. Close to the 55 cm (21.65″) 23DT made for destroyers and flotilla leaders.
Designed in 1924 they entered service in time for the Requin class commission in 1926. Specs: Weight: 3,285 lbs. (1,490 kg) Overall Length: 27 ft. 2 in. (8.280 m) Warhead: 683 lbs. (310 kg) TNT Range settings*:
-3,300 yards (3,000 m)/45 knots
-7,650 yards (7,000 m)/35 knots -Powerplant: Schneider alcohol/air heater engine. *Later version were improved and given the 4,400 yards/45 knots and 8,750 yards/35 knots settings and 915 lbs. (415 kg) TNT warhead.
The Requin class carried ten of these torpedo tubes, four forward and two aft. There was one reload for each. The remainder four tubes non reloadable at sea but from a specialized tender (which France lacked), they had the unique “innovation” of having two upper external hull’s traversible mounts, part of the upper hull. There were more appropriate for commerce raiding as they could be fired in broadside, and surfaced. This made for 18 torpedoes in all, eight internal, four external. In a sense they recalled the 1900s drop collars of earlier models.
In any case, this was truly specific of French interwar submarine designs, and repeated not only on the next 1500 tonnes but also all 600 tonnes and 800 tonnes coastal submersibles, the 900 tonnes La Créole class in 1940, Surcouf, the Saphir class minelayers and their successors the Emeraude class, as the successors of the 1500 tonnes, the 1800 tonnes Roland Morillot (started 1938, never completed).
Morse in June 1940, wartime livery and after refit, note the new deck gun and Hocthkiss 13.2 mm HMG aft of the CT.
Requin in 1932, in colonial interwar livery. The underwater hull section was painted on the usual aceotarceniate of copper, highly toxic to marine life.
⚙ Requin 1925 specifications
1,150 t surface/1,441 t submerged
78.30 x 6.84 x 5.10 m (256 ft 11 in x 22 ft 5 in x 16 ft 9 in)
2 shafts diesels 2,900 hp, 2 electric motors 1,800 hp (1,342 kW)
15/9 knots (28/17 km/h) surfaced/submerged
90 m (260 ft)
7,700/70 nautical miles (14,300 km/130) at 9/5 knots surfaces/submerged
10× 550 mm (21.7 in) TTs, 1× 100 mm (3.9 in) deck gun, 2x 8mm LMGs
Improving the concept: The 1500 tonnes
Promethee off Cherbourg in 1932. Next stop: Developing the “1500 tonnes” design.
Already in 1924, as the first boats of the Requin class were launched, the design was criticized for some in the admiralty for its inadequate speed, unsufficient range, also asking for better rudder arrangement and size, larger torpedo capacity, and as it turned out later in exercizes, a better deck gun. The Requin in hindsight looked more as drafts for a better model when it came.
In 1924 indeed, the French Admiralty already looked up another design of “Grand Croiseur (submarine)” model, in between an oceanic and cruiser type, especially tailored for commerce raiding. Since submarines were still not limited by the the Washington treaty it was seen as an essential tool to defend French coastline and the second largest colonial Empire. Thus, the ambitious submarine naval program went through its four next enterprises:
Building a very large, “proper” cruiser submarine also much in favor by other nations (cruiser gun-armed and with a reconnaissance floatplane and motor torpedo boats for shore operations) which turned out to be the sole Surcouf, a full range of defensive “600 tonnes” coastal models for the Mediterranean (spead between civilian and militar yards), a class of minelayer submersibles, and naturally a much improved long range successor of the Requin class. Engineers just retook the same basic design and stretched it to add more engine power (it was doubled), generating a 1500 tonnes hull, 400 more than the Requins. Léon Roquebert’s “grand cruiser” type was indeed impressive at 92 m long (302 ft) for 2,000 tonnes (1,968 long tons) submerged.
Just like the 600-tonnes, since French Naval yards lacked the capacity to built them, the help of civilian yards was required. To reach the large number asked, 31 submersibles, eight yards were enlisted in their construction spanning from 1927 to 1939 for some, so more than a decade. They were arguably more successful, topping 17 to 20 knots surfaced in the latter batches, and reaching 14,000 nmi (26,000 km; 16,000 mi), plus mixing standard and 400 mm torpedoes on external mounts only for commerce raiding.
However the war was not much tender for them than for the Requins, and their WW2 career often short and gloomy, ending scuttled for most or destroyed by the allies. Only the few passed onto Free French service had more successes. A class of 31 submersibles of that scale, built in civilian yards to boote, was something however unprecedented in the interwar, showing the resolve of the 3rd Republic to built its own naval deterrence at a cost inferior to a surface battlefleet, that can’t be spread out throughout the Empire.
Jean Labayle Couhat (1971). French warships of World War II. London.
Robert Gardiner; Randal Gray (1980). Conway’s All the World’s Fighting Ships, 1922-1946. London: Conway Maritime Press.
Fontenoy, Paul E. (2007). Submarines: An Illustrated History of Their Impact. ABC-CLIO.
John Moore (1990). Jane’s Fighting Ships of World War I. London.
Perepeczko, Andrzej (2014). Od Napoleona do de Gaulle’a. Flota francuska w latach 1789–1942. Oświęcim.
Lipiński, Jerzy (1999). Druga wojna światowa na morzu. Warsaw.
Parkes, Oscar (1934). Jane’s Fighting Ships 1934. London: Sampson Low, Marston & Co.
Marsouin and other Requin class in Toulon, 1929 (S 9 Phoque, S 2 Narval, S 7 Espadon, S 8 Caïman) – Musée de La Marine
From 1935 to 1937, all were overhauled to close on the better 1500 tonnes (diesels, deck gun, torpedoes, possibly AA). When WW2 broke out, all were based in Toulon, Mediterranean fleet, as part of the 4th Submarine Flotilla, soon moved to Bizerte in Tunisia. After the Armistice all except Morse (sunk June 1940) and Narval refugee in UK and later joining the FFNF (Free French Naval Forces) were impressed in the Vichy French navy and had various fates: By June 25, 1941 during Operation Exporter, Souffleur, present in the Levant fleet, was sunk off Beirut (Lebanon), spotted and torpedoed by the British submarine HMS Parthian. On November 27, 1942 the scuttling of Toulon following the German invasion of the free zone saw Caïman scuttled (later raised by the Italians, nevber repaired, sunk on March 11, 1944 by an air raid) and Marsouin which disobeyed orders and managed to escape to join the FNFL, in service until 1946.
As Italian Transport Submarines
On 8 December 1942 those poresent in Bizerte were Phoque, Requin, Espadon and Dauphin. Captured by the Germans, they were all handed over to Italy and effectively recommissioned into the Regia Marina as FR.111, FR.113, FR.114 and FR.115, but not assigned to an active combat squadron. Instead, they were rebuilt as submarine transports with both torpedo room cleared, crew and accomodations reduceds, artillery removed with just two 13.2 mm guns left (probably French Hotchkiss types). As such, they carried 50 tons of cargo, 145 tons of fuel for refuelling at sea. Inspired by German experience with the Type XIV Milchkühe they were used to resupply other Italian submarines or U-Bpootes, or resupply beleaguered garrisons. But this only was on paper. Indeed, the plan was only completed for Phoque (FR.111). Her maiden voyage started on February 28, 1943, and she was soon spotted by USN aviation and sunk near Syracuse, close to the strait of Sicily. None was completed afterwards and by Setember, the armistice meant the three remaining were scuttled by the axis to avoid capture.
Laid down in June 1922, Requin (Q 115) was launched in July 1924 at Cherbourg NyD, commissioned in May 1926. Her first captain, during completion, sea trials, and initial training, shakedown cruise was L.V BREITTMAYER J.G.E. Her interwar career was spent in the “Levant” (French Mandate of Syria), with periodic overhauls in Bizerta, Tunisia.
As the first “modern” French submarines, Requin is plagued by many technical issues and limitations that are fixed after a major overhaul at the Forges et Chantiers de la Méditerranée (FCM) in La Seyne sur Mer near Toylon, from February 20, 1936 to January 6, 1938. As the war in Poland broke out on September 1, 1939, she is assigned to 11th Submarine Division along with her sister ships Marsouin and Narval, deployed in the Levant, for colonial defence, as surveillance of the Italian Dodecanese.
On 18.06.1940 LV. PRÉVOST-SANSAC DE TRAVERSAY became her new Commander. With the entry of Italy into the war on June, 10, she patrolled for a time off Italian west coast ports, watching traffic, and the Tyrrhenian sea. The reorganization of September 1940 saw the 11th DSM sent to Bizerte with the 3rd flotilla, 6th Light Squadron, responsible for hitting Italian traffic. Requin underwent a major refit in Bizerte (October 20 to December 10, 1940) and is back at sea for trials on December 11-13 and refresher training until the 30th.
She resumes patrols off the Italian and Libyan coasts, monitoring Italian trade and reporting on maneuvers of the Regia Marina, evading Italian MAS each time. Often by night, several collisions are narrowly avoided when she is charged in front of well-guarded Taranto and Benghazi. On June 5, 1942 she is anchored in Lake Bizerte while waiting a decison. She inspected in a floating drydock in July 15-20, 1942, revealing a poor condition. She is therefore officially decommissioned on July 22, stricken on August 4.
She was later captured by Italian forces there on 8 December 1942. Renamed FR 113 she was towed to Genoa and prepared for service with the Regia Marina but seemingly never was fully operational, due to her poor general state. On 9 September 1943, she is recaptured by German forces in Genoa, but they neither plan to integrated her into the Kriegsmarine. Instead, she is blasted to prevent capture and blockade the harbor as the allies approached by mid-1945.
Souffleur in Gdynia, Poland
Souffleur (“Great Dolphin”) (Q 116) was built at Arsenal in Cherbourg, commissioned on August 10, 1926. After a long service in Toulon, she is sent for a major overhaul in 1935-1937 at FCM near Toulon. When WW2 started she operated with the 9th DSM with her sisters Caïman and Morse as part of the 3rd flotilla, 4th Light Squadron, in Bizerte. From March 15 to May 21 1940 she is again refitted in a floaring drydock at Bizerte, followed by sea trials (May 22-25) and refresher cruiser from May 27 to June 10, 1940 before resuming patrols, this time directed agains the Regia Marina.
The reorganization of September 1940 made her unit becoming the 6th EL and she multiplied patrols, notably in the Gulf of Sirte and up to the Dodecanese and a few forays in the Adriatic, with discrete refueling stops in Kotor. On March 14, 1942 she was anchored on Lake Bizerte awaiting a decision of the admiralty about her fate. She is inspected in the floating dock in June 5-15 and the team reports a good material condition. It is decided to use her as an experimental submarine with the GASM in Toulon. She is again modified in a floating dock in July 21-30 to have all but her two forward torpedo tubes kept, and two aft. The space is freed to house experiment equipments.
She left for trials in August 1-4 at sea, refresher cruiser in August 6-13, before operating off Toulon on the 14th for the GASM, testing engine tuning and armaments as well as new sonar tests and communication systems. She is spared the scuttling of the 27 November. Despite air attacks on Toulon in 1944 shee scape destruction, not bein stationed with the rest of the fleet but berthed near the GASM facility. The war ended, and she suffered serious engine damage on June 14, 1946. Disarmed the next day she is stricken on June 27, 1946, and moved to the Bregaillon naval cemetery, she was sold to a company at La Ciotat on September 4 and BU until October 1946.
Built in Brest Arsenal as Q119, Marsouin (“porpoise”) was completed on 7 September 1927. Her initial service was the same as other Requin class: Early service at Toulon and then Bizerte.
At first she served in the 3rd Submarine Squadron from Toulon, then 6th from Bizerte. When war was declared, she was stationed in the Levant, Beirut. By December 1939, she was stationed in Morocco, assigned to the surveillance of German ships taking refuge in the Canary Islands.
After the armistice, she was assigned in Toulon and entered armistice guard duty in October 1940. Rearmed from February 1941 in the Levant naval division (back in Beirut), during allied operations there she launched torpedoes at the British cruiser HMS xxxx on June 16, 1941. After a refit in Bizerte, he was in Algiers, North Africa.
On 08.11.1942 with Operation Torch, she left Algiers for Toulon, running into a powerful artillery barrage from the Center Western Task Force, suffering aerial bombardments, shelling and ASW grenades. She survived and arrives in the the morning on the 11th in Toulon.
On the 27th she was moored in the northern harbor of Mourillon as the Germans, which launched Operation Lila arrived at the military port gates. Since it was quick to start the diesels unlike most ships which scuttled themselves, and not following instructions, a small crew of four men, three sailors and an officer, managed to depart the moorings and break free of the port, reach an allied-held one. On 30.11.1942 she arrives at the port of Algiers, just like another submersibles, the 1500 tons CASABIANCA, but at dawn. The delay was due to previous damage and very low fuel.
From there, she is repaired, and used operationally by the Free French Forces from December 1942. After a refresher training she led several patrol cruises and alongside the USN undertook a few missions off the coast of Provence in May 1943. Afterwards, she is sent back to Casablanca and assigned to the underwater listening school there. She was finally disarmed in April 1944. Condemned and discarded, written off on February 18, 1946, she is sold for demolition in Oran. Like Casabianca, she earned the Liberation Medal in 1945.
Dauphin, date unknown. Musée de la marine.
FS Dauphin (Q120) was in service on 22.11.1927. After service in Tunisia, from Bizerte, she patrolled of the Canary Islands during the Spanish civil war and in the Levant squadron, in Syria and Lebanon. She was decommissioned in Bizerte after the armistice. As a consequence of the Bizerte ultimatum of 7.12.1942, she was seized the following day by Italian authorities and towed in Pozzuoli, Italy. There, she became FR 115, prepared as a transport submarine for the Regia Marina. Transformations however dragged on. On September 9, 1943 she was seized by the Kriegsmarine at Pozzuoli. No work was done to complete her, and due to the allied invasion, she was destroyed on site, using demolition charges. By 16.01.1946 her wreck was sold after recovery of the
anchors, chains, keel ballast and 25 tonnes of copper metal under supervision by the head of the French Marine Mission in Genoa, and the remainder scrapped.
Narval, date uknown. src.
FS Narval (“Narwhal”, Q 118) is built at the Arsenal in Cherbourg, commissioned on July 23, 1926. After service in Toulon in 1927-1935, she is refitted at the Dubigeon Yards in Nantes (November 22, 1935 – February 8, 1938). When the war broke out she was assigned to the 11th Submarine Division (11th DSM) with Marsouin and Requin, deployed in the Levant (Syria-Lebanon mandate) to had a watch on the freshly conquered Italian Dodecanese.
By September 1940 the 11th DSM is moved to Bizerte, 3rd flotilla, 6th Light Squadron. Patrols multiplied in the eastern Mediterranean and Adriatic going as far as Venice until another major refit at the floating dock of Bizerte (March 6 – June 15 1941) followed by trials and refresher cruise. On June 15, 1942 the 11th DSM is dissolved and she is inactivated, partly due to the lack of fuel.
A new inspection in drydock in August reveals a good material condition. She ends like Souffleur at the GASM for experiments, modified like the latter in September 1942, tested, and then moved to Toulon. She is used to test weapons systems and new tactics. She survived both the Toulon scuttling and landing in provence and is constantly used for trials until June 15, 1948, disarmed, moored in the naval cemetery of Bregaillon (DNM) until September and later sold for BU.
Morse with her Mediterranean colonial white prewar livery
Morse (“Walrus”) was built at Arsenal in Cherbourg, commissioned on February 10, 1928. Like her sister-ships, she served in the same unit at Toulon until her overhaul at the Ateliers et Chantiers de Saint-Nazaire-Penhoët (Britanny) in November 15, 1935 up to November 26, 1937. In September 1939, she is assigned to the 9th sub. squadron along with Caïman and Souffleur, attached to the 3rd Flotilla, 4th Light Wing, then 6th in September 1940. She is frequently at sea, multiplying missions along the Italian coast, interrupted for a new overhaul in August 23 – October 19, the last major refit of her career in Bizerte. After trials in October and refresher cruiser in November 8 she is back to 9th DSM for more patrols notably off the channel of Otranto, gulf of Sirte, gulf of Taranto, and ports of Sicily. Technically France capitulated to Germany, not to Italy and relations of Vichy with Mussolini are still tense.
Morse in her wartime black livery, 1939
On March 21, 1942 Morse saw the dissolution of the her unit. She is inspected in floating dock by May 1942, reveals a deteriorated condition. Part of this was due to a never repair grounding near the Libyan coast. Thus, she is officially decommissioned on May 24, 1942, condemned in June and anchored on Lake Bizerte. She was found there, in even a worse condition by September 17, 1945; She is towed out at sea and ends as an aerial bombing target, taking two torpedoes and four bombs before sinking.
Phoque in construction, in Brest
Phoque, Q 119 (“Seal”) is built at Arsenal in Brest, commissioned on May 7, 1928. Her service was spent in Toulon, with stops in Bizerte and the Levant. In 1935 she underwent the same long overhaul
as her sisters, in Saint-Nazaire Yards on the Atlantic. Work is complete in February 8, 1938. She patrols off the Spanish coast during the civil war and when WW2 starts, she is assigned to the 10th squadron (10th DSM) with Dauphin and the Espadon. She is refitted in March 1940, and resumed patrols in the Mediterranean, assigned in particular the Strait of Sicily. On March 21, 1942, her unit is dissolved and she is inspected on the floating dock in July, revealing a satisfactory general condition. She was reassigned as a training submarine in Toulon, arriving there on August 4, 1942. Spared the fate of others in November due to her location at the Var submersible school, she is still active by June 1945, moored at the Naval Depot of the Mediterranean, in Bregaillon. She is still there on September 15, 1947 when sold for BU at La Ciotat until October 1947.
Espadon after launch, C. Picard coll.
Espadon, (“Swordfish”) Q129 was built at Arsenal in Toulon, commissioned on December 16, 1927. Like the others she served from Toulon for most of her career, with assignments in the Levant and North Africa. She was also refitted at FCM, La Seyne in 1936-1938. Joining the 10th DSM she patrolled from 1939 the eastern Mediterranean and Adriatic before a new short refit in January 16, to February 17, 1940, trials and refresher, then resuming patrols. They became much more offensive from June 1940, closing on western ports and with several close call encounters with patrol vessels of the Regia Marina.
Espadon was placed in reserve on May 4, 1942 when her unit is dissolved, and in floating dock for inspection in June 24-30. Due to her poor general condition it is decided to have her decommissioned on July 2, 1942. Stricken on July 12, 1942 she is anchored permanently on Lake Bizerte. However, after the ultimatim of 7.12.1942 she is seize the following day in Bizerte, and allegedly towed to Castellamare Di Stabia where for conversion as the transport submersible SM FR 114 for the Regia Marina. However work never commenced. She is captured as is on 09.09.1943 by Kriegsmarine and destroyed on the spot, or for another sourcen stays in Bizerte until May 15, 1947 and is sold for BU at a local yard in Arzew.
Caiman and Galatee (a 600 tonnes) at Oran, 1932.
Caiman (“Cayman”) was built at Cherbourg Arsenal, commissioned on February 7, 1928. Like the other sher served in the Mediterranean, from Toulon mostly. She was also overhauled in 1937-37 at the Saint-Nazaire-Penhoët Yards, and in 1939 served with the 9th DSM, a division attached to the 3rd Flotilla, 4th Light Squadron. She had another refit in May 22 – August 22 1940 followed by trials and a refresher cruise, and then a reorganization of September 1940 keeping her in the 9th DSM, but with the 6th Light Wing. She multiplied patrols in the eastern Mediterranean and especially in the Italian Dodecanese with stops in Beirut and Cypru or the Adriatic in the waters of Bari and Venice.
On March 21, 1942, Morse was placed in reserve following the dissolution of the 9th DSM, making however two more patrols until June 4, 1942, as independent. In drydock at Bizerte in June she was flagged a in “good material condition” but to her age, resumed service as a training submarine. She left Tunisia on July for Toulon and served there until the end of the war, and until March 14, 1947, decommissioned after a diesel engine accident. On May 5 she is stricke, and spent as a target for ASW and torpedo in exercises in May 16-25 1948.
Named after a famous French naval engineer, Emile Bertin, this light cruiser innovated in the same way Algeria, marking a clear break for heavy cruisers.
In the interwar Germany was still the only country against which France imagined having to fight and there was a large-scale mining program considered to cripple the Kriegsmarine. A large-scale mining program at the time coul only be conducted by surface vessels, as submersibles such as the Saphir class were still in study (started in 1928). It was to meet that demand for modern, fast minelayer, that Pluton was launched, but it appeared quickly not as useful as intended. A more versatile ship was therefore considered, doubling as fleet cruiser. The Treaty of London limited construction of warships at the time, and decision was made on December 18, 1928, to built a “light minelayer cruiser of 5,980 tons Washington”. The equipment necessary for laying mines will be removable to convert her back as pure cruiser, but in the end, it will never be used.
*First republished on May, 3, 2016, original made back in 2004.
Basically, Emile Bertin was designed to support FS Pluto (later “La Tour d’Auvergne”) but it was soon decided to double her role as a flotilla leader. She was to conduct flotillas composed of large, long range Malin or Maille Breze class in the mid-Atlantic for escort and ASW duties.
When the design was accepted by the admiralty, Emile Bertin was ordered to Penhoët Yards in Saint-Nazaire on 18 december 1928. She was launched only on 9 mai 1933, four years after due to design changes, and eventually commissioned on 28 janvier 1935. In between naval technology leaped forward and she was again revised, notably for AA.
What made her brand new compared to the ten years older Duguay-Trouin class was her new three triple turret battery, completely new both in terms of caliber and arrangement. Secondary armament was primarily intended as anti-aircraft with four twin 90 mm, plus two single, on a displacement intended to spare Washington tonnage, at 5,886 tons, with with a machinery developing 102,000 hp for 34 knots. All these had to come up with a very light protection, no more than 30 mm (1.5 in) to deal with destroyer rounds. Range was also limited to Atlantic or Mediterranean short sorties, of just 3,600 nautical miles at 15 knots, and for others sources up to 11.100 km à 10 knots.
The officers’ quarters were gathered at the rear of the ship, where the pitching is least felt. On the first deck the admiral and commander each had a full bathroom and the admiral had a bedroom, office, dining room large enough for the upper staff, and living room plus his own cook and kitchen. The commandant had a bedroom and office. Just below, on the main deck, the second in command had his bedroom and office. He shared a bathroom with a toilet as well as a square with the other senior officers.
On the same level, further back, junior officers also had their own bedroom but shared a bathroom and a toilet. They also had a square on the back of the building (just in front of a gas bunker). On these two decks, forward, were the crew quarters in which up to 86 sailors and quartermasters slept in hammocks that had to be put away during the day to set up the tables for meals.
Bertin also served as a test gallop for the famous next class, La Galissonnière.
Emile Bertin was hardly armored. Only the bridge and the conning tower received 20 mm (0.8 in) plating. On the other hand, Bertin was compartmentalized into 14 areas enclosed by bulkheads. Thus, a projectile could cross it from side to side without causing her to sink. Her armored deck was 25mm thick (1 in) and her ammunition bunkers were the thickest at 30 mm (1.2 in). She was still of the “tin clad” era on that point, although post-London cruisers tended to be better protected in general.
Her hull was well studied in a test pool to give it an advantage of speed and fuel economy. As such, she was a very good walker, but also particularly fast, reaching 38-39 knots on her August 4, 1934 official trials but 40.2 on yard trials (the rival Italian rivals of the Bande Nere class on their side claimed 41-42 knots). Despite her 34 knots indicated her powerplant proved more than capable of delovering more output, so that she could reach on trials a record-breaking 40.2 knots based on 137,908 hp making her was the fastest French cruiser ever built.
The propulsion machinery occupied 3 compartments which enclosed 6 Penhoët boilers and 2 compartments in which were distributed 4 Parsons turbines with gears driving 4 propellers and developing a total power of 102,000 horsepower. This machinery was naturally placed in the center of the ship to ensure a good trim to the ship. The fuel and the water tanks were at the level of the last deck to limit the list as much as possible in the event of heavy seas.
However, sailing at high speed in rough seas under loaded conditions was not ideal to reach these speeds, and even dangerous due to the general lightness of construction, imposing strenghtening after her entry into service to allow broadsides.
Bertin in 1942, interned in Martinique
Lightly built (the hull was even reinforced to allow firing simultaneous broadsides), she was especially the first to use triple 152 mm guns (6 in) gun turrets, in order to save armor and weight in general. In this way she managed to have nine of them, one more than the larger Duguay Trouin ten years prior. Between the time she was designed in 1930 and 1940, her AA armament, both in quality and numbers appeared completely inadequate. Emile Bertin took on this full advantage of her US refit and modernization.
The heavy armament consisted of nice 6-inches or 152 mm model M1930, which launched projectiles of 54.17 kg in a radius of 26.474 km. These 9 guns were spread over 3 triple turrets (2 forward, one aft). These triple turrets, new in French design, were electro-hydraulic, the maximum elevation was 45°. These were the first to use use cased ammunition, and the guns were in individual cradles, with electric training and elevation, but hydraulic drive for traverse. It was an ambitious programme as these were designed to load at any angle, provided with triple-hoist systems:
1- for surface projectiles
2- for AA fire
3- for exercise cartridges and starshells
In theory they could quickly convert between the different shell types, but the reality was a source of jamming. The very optimistic initial Rate of fire could not be maintained. It a further degraded by the low train and elevation rates due to the inadequate electric motor. Completely inadequate for AA fire, this function was dropped entirely on the La Galissonière class, but Emile Bertin acted as testbed ship. It was also initially planned for the De Grasse and Richelieu Classes.
Range was 28,950 yards (26,474 m) with HE and 26,465 yards (24,200 m) with AP shells, and ROF was (except Gloire) 4-5 rounds per minute. In AA role, the ceiling at 80° was about 46,000 feet (14,000 m). After the 1943 refit in the US, she was given specially manufactured US shells. All 145 she carried aboard were of the AP type with extended charge, reaching 29,480 yards (26,960 m), so better than the original French ordnance. More
The anti-aircraft armament consisted of six 90 mm AA guns, grouped entirely aft of the ship around the after deck shelter. These are using an autofretted barrel and a semi-automatic Schneider breech mechanism. Designed from 1926, they entered service in 1931, also on the Suffren and La Galissonière class, as well as Jean Bart while in Casablanca. Loading above 60° proves difficult, and the rate of fire at best is bewteen 12 to 15 rounds/minute, firing 20.96 lbs. (9.51 kg) HE shells at 2,789 fps (850 mps) up to 16,885 yards (15,440 m) or 34,800 feet (10,600 m) ceiling.
Émile Bertin had onkt 250 rounds on board, a supply of just 20 rounds per minute for all four guns. Two more would be added later in 1943, but the supply remained meagre. More
The weak point of the Emile Bertin was well and truly the anti-aircraft defense. It conssisted intially of eight 37 mm AA guns and six 13 mm AA machine guns. They were located on the forecastle next to the bridge structure. The 37 mm developed in 1933 were hand-loaded and semi-automatic, but with relatively low rate of fire and so not considered very potent. During refits in the USA they were replaced advantageously by the 40 mm Bofors in quad mounts (see later). They had a practical ROF of 15-21 rpm, sending a 6.2 lbs. (2.8 kg) HE Model 1925 or Incendiary Model 1924 at 2,657 fps (810 mps) to 5,470 yards (5,000 m) effective. More The 13.2 mm (0.5″) Hotchkiss Model 1929 was the early close range weapon, generally in twin mounts. They could fire at 45 degrees to 7,850 yards (7,200 m) and had an AA Ceiling of 13,780 feet (4,200 m), and a practical ROF of 200-250 rpm.
It needed four operators, were relatively quick to operate but still lacked a potent shell to damage fast, modern aicrafts of the 1940s. They proved in 1940 inneffecient against modern torpedo-bomber or high-level bombers. They were replaced by 20 mm Oerlikons at the first occasion. The IJN both adopted it and the derived 25 mm as their standard light AA guns.
The ship also had six 550 mm torpedo tubes and could carry 200 mines. The former were two triple banks located on deck, abaft the catapult. Likelmy the 1925 55 cm (21.65″) 23DT type, built by Toulon arsenal. They were propelled to 9,840 yards (9,000 m)/39 knots or 14,200 yards (13,000 m)/35 knots by and Schneider alcohol/air heater four-cylinder radial engine, with a 683 lbs. (310 kg) TNT warhead. The mines were never carried and the wole system of rails was removed in 1943 as the torpedo tubes.
Author’s Profile of the Loire Gourdou-Leseure GL-83
On the main superstructure deck, a catapult was installed allowing the launch of a GL.832 model seaplane. On return, the latter landed on a patch of even sea created by the manoeuvering cruiser, before being recovered on board with the crane. This was only possible in moderate sea and the military value of these models, already obsolete when in service, was not high; both in speed and range. During navigation this seaplane was stowed in a hangar between the two funnels for maintenance.
Before 1939, in order to reinforce her AA, 2 twin 90 mm guns were added on the main deck amidships, close to the torpedo tubes. Still, need for better anti-aircraft defense urged the freeing of extra deck space on the deck. The seaplanes were withdrawn in WW2 as the catapult and hangar. In 1942 after her US refit, Emile Bertin was given four quad 40 mm AA mounts installed, two in the port and starboard wings of the bridge, two behind the funnel. Also twenty single 20mm were added around the bridge amidships, and on the stern. French AA guns were all removed for standardization.
The ship was also equipped with a radar and an asdic, and shoukd have been equipped with depht charges, but it’s not 100% sure.
Displacement: 5,880 t. standard – 8,840 t. Full Load Dimensions: 177 m long, 16 m wide, 6.6 m draft. Propulsion: 4 propellers, 4 Parsons turbines, 6 penhöet boilers, 102,000 hp. Maximum operational speed 34 knots. Propulsion: 20 mm belt, 18 mm anti-torpedo partitions, bridge 20, 26 mm turrets, 26 mm blockhouse. Armament: 9 pieces of 152 mm cal.55 (3×3 – 1930 model), 4×90 mm AA, 8x37mm AA (4×2), 8×13,2 mm AA (4×2), 2 Loire 130 seaplanes. Crew: 550
Emile Bertin in martinique, late 1942.
Emile Bertin in operations:
Prewar service in the Atlantic fleet: Homeport Brest, with Jeanne d’Arc and the battleship Lorraine
After her acceptance, and prior to the declaration of war, Emile Bertin sailed in the Atlantic as the flagship of a flotilla of twelve destroyers. Little is know about her prewar carrer, but it spanned fived years, where she is soon sent from the Atlantic fleet to the Mediterranean fleet. She was under command of Captain Gabriel Auphan in 1936 and Captain Jean Odend’hal in 1937.
By September 1939 Emile Bertin was employed on a secret mission to transport gold from the Bank of Poland from Beirut to Toulon. In April 1940, she operated with the British Home Fleet and took part in the Norwegian campaign. She is departing with a brigade on 17 troopships escorted by Emile Bertin, leading the destroyers Bison, Tartu, Chevalier Paul, Maillé-Brézé, Milan, Épervier, three torpedo boats and four AMCs.
Bertin underway in 1940, note the tricolor bands on the turrets
She is covering Maurice Force, making the initial French landings at Namsos at dusk on 14 April. The whole force was ashore on 17 April and on 21 April, the 146 Brigade secured the road to Steinkjer and Namdalseid, engaged by German troops in the vicinity of Vist. But the Luftwaffe is also well present off Namsos. Emile Bertin is attacked and badly damaged by a Stuka bomb, also showing her poor AA was not sufficient for the task at head. The AP-capped bomb pierced her aft deck without exploding but caused the compartment to be flooded, oil lost but her ASW compartimentation saved her. She is soon evacuated to safety, replaced by Montcalm and will come back for the evacuations in May. During the campaign, the fleet also lost the destroyer Bison and a submarine.
In May 1940, as the invasion started, she patrolled the coast but could do little to help the ground effort. In between, she received order to evacuate the remainder of the Banque de France gold reserves, previously evacuated. 286 tons of fine gold were eventually loaded in Brest on June 10, 1940 (it was time !), to be carried to safety in Halifax. She was chosen at the time as the fastest French cruiser, in the hope nothing could catch her, while the bulk of the French Fleet was on war foot in the Mediterranean. Indeed Italy declared war the same day she departed. She arrived without incident on June 18, 1940.
Bertin underway, aft view (USN)
However in Halifax, the British prepared to have her interned,long before Operation Catapult. Captain Battet had orders not to have anyone taking control of his ship, and to reach Martinique,in the French Carribean. There, she was watched by heavy cruiser HMS Devonshire as she arrived in reached Fort-de-France, still with her geavy load of gold on the 24th. The gold was stored at Fort Desaix, until the end of the war. Emile Bertin stayed afterwards in Fort-de-France Bay, together with the aircraft carrier Béarn, loaded with 106 planes, and the school cruiser Jeanne d’Arc.
Internment (June 1940-July 1943)
The three ships remained in this neutral area following the armisice signed in June 22, 1940. When on July 3, 1940 was launched Operation Catapult order was given to the British Admiralty to sail there and sink the two cruisers and aircraft carrier. This was canceled by a personal intervention of US President Franklin D. Roosevelt, literrally at the last minute. This episode is not well known, but a deal was struck that would free the Royal Navy for keeping a watch there: The USN would replace them into enfording strict neutrality of this fleet and prevent any departure.
Between the presence of this massive gold reserved and the three ships motivated a blockade of the island by British, and later relieved by US ships and so Émile Bertin remained totally inactive for the remainder of 1940, but also the whole year of 1941 and 1942. The only exception was again, obtained by permission to proceed to two exercises. On May 16, 1942, pressure of the US had her initiating a disarmament. It was planned to remove for a start of all breech blocks mechanisms, like in Alexandria in the past, moved to a guarded locker.
Operation Torch saw the invasion and occupation of the so called “free zone” in southern France, nominally under supervision of the Vichy Govrnment. Faithful to the oath of Darlan, the fleet was scuttled in Toulon. The French interned squadron of the West Indies waited a decision by Admiral Robert, a hard-line Petainist. Even after the swap to the allies by Admiral Darlan, he chosed to stay neutral, with implicit support of the US.
Robert was also de facto the high commissory of Vichy, governor of Martinique. A hatred figure, his harsh application of Vichy policies, cracking down on any dissent and ban everything, had the local population verged on rebellion. When the US enters the war, a total allied blocus of the Island is declared, imports ceased and in March 1943, there is widespread famine. By June 1943, nearby Guyane and Guadeloupe joined Free France and pressure amounts. Two army officers, Ranvoisé and Tourtet with nine companies, mutinies and march on the Governor’s villa. Admiral Robert managed to gather a marine company and armed sailors and almost starts a shootout, but is advised to take refuge on Emile Bertin, negotiating there with the Americans for a “change of authority”. On July 14, after tough negotiations with Washington, Henri Hoppenot, sent by De Gaulle, is appointed and the island joins Free France. Robert is later arrested, thrown in prison and judged by the High Court of Justice of Versailles in March 1947.
Modernization in the US and return in operations
The Bertin in 1944. Note his equipment revised to US standards and the standard camouflage of that time. U.S. Navy’s recognition slide. (cc)
At last the fleet is now free to return into operation on the allies side, but it would not be easy.
Émile Bertin indeed had not been drydocked and in these warm waters, needs some serious hull cleaning. She is sent to Philadelphia to proceed to a drydocking and between September and November 1943, she is also thoroughly modernized. Her original light AA is disposed of, replaced by modern 40 and 20 mm AA guns (Four quadruple 40 mm mounts, and twenty single Oerlikon), new shells compatible to her main guns are provided, and she receives a new lattice mast, with a modern US pattern aerial and navigation radar, plus a modern sonar.
Both the catapult, minelaying installations and torpedo tubes are also unloaded to keep her stability and free space. Two additional twin 90 mm turrets are also added. With her AA beefed up she is ready for service and after a shakedown cruise in the Cheseapeake Bay, she is sent to the Mediterranean for her first mission.
Bertin in 1944.
Emile Bertin joins the Mediterranean Allied fleet, and after some training takes part in naval support operations for the landings in Italy, not the Salerno landings apparently (Operation Avalanche) on 11 September 1943 but she was involved in shore bombardments and close support operations fot eh Anzio landings (Operation Shingle) on 19–24 February 1944.
The landings in Provence (Operation Anvil Dragoon): She is committed to shore bombardments operations in support on German defenses on the Italian Riviera. Captain Paul Ortoli is in command at the time, since July 1944 (and until November 1944).
In Toulon postwar wth the destroyer Albatros (USN)
After the war, Emile Bertin is sent from Toulon, after some upkeep, to Indochina, where she arrives via Suez in October 1945. There, she is committed to various operations, and notably the Tonkin landings. She hosts an important meeting on board between Admiral Thierry d’Argenlieu, the C-in-C and representative of French military authorities in Indochina, an Ho Chi Minh, on March 24, 1946. No agreement is struck. Soon after the situation degenerates and ends with the tragic bombardment of Haiphong by D’Argenlieu. This creates a stir in Paris. D’Argenlieu is sacked and recalled to Paris, replaced by famous general Philippe Leclerc de Hauteclocque (the “French Patton”). Emile Bertin is back with D’Argenlieu in Toulon by July, and returns with Leclerc, but the latter dies not long after arrival. By December 4, 1947 the cruiser returns to France with his ashes for national funerals. He rests in the Paris Military Pantheon.
After that, there was no further missions for the cruiser, which is moored at Toulon and used as a training vessel. Attached to the 3rd region (Toulon), iÉmile BERTIN is assigned to the gunnery schools in Toulon. Then she is used as a floating barracks and a target, before being decommissioned in 1952, and sold for BU in 1959.
Henri Le Masson, Navies of the Second World War The French Navy, vol. 1, Londres, Macdonald&Co Publishers Ltd, 1969
LV Jean-Michel Roche : Dictionnaire des bâtiments de la flotte de guerre française de Colbert à nos jours, tome II (2005)
Jean Lassaque, Le Croiseur Émile Bertin 1933-1959, Marines éditions, 2004
Richard Seiler, « L’histoire mouvementée de l’Émile Bertin, croiseur rapide de la marine française 1939-1946 », in 39-45, no 186, janvier 2002
Tibéry, Denis Lefebvre et Jean-Pierre Pécau : L’Or de France (tome 1, « La croisière de l’Émile Bertin » Le Lombard, 2011 et 2012.
Armand Nicolas, Histoire de La Martinique, tome 3 : De 1939 à 1971
Jean Meyer et Martine Acerra, Histoire de la marine française : des origines à nos jours, Rennes, 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, Quimper, éditions Palantines, 2011
Rémi Monaque, Une histoire de la marine de guerre française, Paris, éditions Perrin, 2016
Draper, Alfred (1979). Operation Fish: The Race to Save Europe’s Wealth 1939-1945. London: Cassel.
Jordan, John (1996). “Emile Bertin: Fast Minelaying Cruiser”. In McLean, David & Preston, Antony (eds.). Warship 1996.
Jordan, John & Moulin, Jean (2013). French Cruisers 1922–1956. Barnsley, UK: Seaforth Publishing.
Whitley, M. J. (1995). Cruisers of World War Two: An International Encyclopedia. London: Cassell.
David Miller (2001) The Illustrated Directory of Warships: From 1860 to the Present, Salamander Books,
Jean Lassaque (2004) Le croiseur Emile Bertin 1933-1959, Marines éditions
René Auque, Paul Carré ‘Le croiseur Emile Bertin. De la mer du Nord aux Caraïbes (1940-1943)’
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.
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).
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
-The main armament was nothing revolutionary, the triple turrets went back to the Emile Bertin design (1931), but main guns were -according to naweaps.com- 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.
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
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.
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 (src netmarine.net).
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.
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 in Genoa, 1961. Detail of the bridge and armament by augusto nani, Col. Giorgio Parodi
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.
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
188.62 x 16.6/21.5 x 5.54 m (422.0 x 42 x 18 ft)
9,380 t standard, 11,545 tons FL
Same as 1938 design
105 000 shp (120 000 overheat), 33,8 knots
8×2 127 mm M48 (5 in), 10×2 57 mm M51 (3.5 in)
950, 980 as flagship, 620 as PCS 1966
The De Grasse in service
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.
Photo taken by 1st class sailor Georges Rini in 1957, secretary of the amdirals Barjot & Jozan. Src: Forum alabordache.fr (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.
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
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 (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 as a command ship after reconstruction. Src netmarine.net
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 (src alabordache.fr)
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.
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
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.
In thirty years, from her first dreadnought battleship, Courbet, started late, in 1910 to the Jean Bart and Gascogne project in 1940, France only had produced four classes of battleships, the Courbet, Bretagne, Dunkerque, and Richelieu, transitioning from dreadnought to super dreadnought, and semi-battlecruiser to fast battleship, respectively. Each iteration brought innovations in concept and design. In 1939, the French capital ship force was in Europe only second to Great Britain, dwarfing the Kriegsmarine and a serious threat to the Regia Marina in the Mediterranean. The defeat on land, soon after Italy declared on France in June 1940, put forward the question of its fate. Churchill was certainly not at ease thinking what the Germans could have done with the Richelieu, or complete the Jean Bart.
Pagemarker of all the French Battleships in service in 1939, from the old schoolship Condorcet, to the rebuilt Jean Bart in 1950.
Jean Bart and the cruisers Suffren and Montcalm in the 1960s
This story ended in tragedy in Mers-El Kebir, seeing the Bretagne blewing up, Provence and Dunkerque badly damaged, and Strasbourg escaping though a barrage of fire and magnetic mines. Richelieu was also attacked in Dakar, Jean Bart escaped to North Africa, and others were interned and disarmed. Sadly, the mass scuttling of Toulon in November 1942 completed the destruction, leaving in 1943 only one truly active French battleship, but the most impressive: Richelieu, which after a modernization in the USA went on soldiering in the far east with the Free French Naval Forces and Royal Navy.
This picture only shows the actual use of French battleships, crippled by divided loyalties, but should not occult a rich and innovative design history, with numerous projects in between. France also had in 1954 the rebuilt Jean Bart, the world’s only AA battleship of the cold war, more advanced in many respects than the HMS vanguard or USN battleships still in service during the Korean War. Richelieu for her part is now saluted as one of the best Washington treaty battleships, with a ratio between speed, armament and protection noted better than the Bismarck, and in the top five best battleships ever designed*. Some of her innovations like the “mack” (a combined mast-funnel) became the staple of cold war radar mast/funnel integration.
The only French semi-dreadnoughts
The last pre-dreadnought French class (about 40 has been built since the 1880s, and France “invented” the concept of ironclad in 1859) was the Danton class battleships. France had the infortune to start well after HMS Dreadnought was launched, on 23 August 1907 when the first was laid down. So why choose to keep the schedule and went on with them ? Because the Danton were in effect already transitional, “semi-dreadnoughts”.
By definition according to naval experts and historians, a semi-dreadnought is a formula keeping a reduced main battery of four guns in twin turrets for and aft (or two single on the Regina Elena), completed by a powerful secondary battery made of 8 inches, up to 10 inches guns. The latter compensated for the lengthy reload time of the first, conceding some range. With its battery of two twin 12-in and twelve 9.4 in in six twin turrets, the six Danton were able to deal on paper some damage on any dreadnought.
They were a compromise, but lacked in speed, with turbines only capable to make the ships approach 19 knots. Moreover they delayed the start of “true” dreadnoughts until 1910. The last of the Danton, Vergnaud, was completed on 18 December 1911, whereas at the same time the Royal Navy seen the near completion of the first of its “super-dreadnought”, HMS Orion. France was only barely catching-up with the Provence in 1916, whereas the British were still a step away with the Queen Elisabeth class and their 15-in guns. Apart USA which stayed close in this race, Germany stayed behind, with the contemporary König still armed with 12-in guns as well as Russia, which never passed this caliber due to the revolution. Japan was also a bit late in this as well as Italy. So as a whole, it was difficult to any Nation to keep up with the Royal Navy, which was thought of and planned since 1905. Why they are in this section you ask ? It’s because while her older sister-ships were all scrapped until 1922, these battleships at least still served actively until 1922 and were converted as schoolships afterwards, surviving for some in WW2.
Various photos of the barrack ship Condorcet in Toulon, after the scuttling of 1942. The profile shows its interwar modifications, but she had no propellers nor funnels left at the time, those seen are from the battleship Provence anchored alongside. Ctds: forum.pages14-18.com
In 1922-25, the ASW protection on Condorcet, Diderot, and Voltaire was improved.
–Condorcet is perhaps the most interesting of all. From December 1918 to March 1919, she represented France in the Allied squadron in Fiume, in resolution of the Yugoslav question. She served with the Channel Division of the French Navy, was modernized in 1923–24 concerning her underwater protection like the others, her four aft 75 mm guns were removed and she teamed up with Diderot and Voltaire in the Training Division, Toulon. Condorcet became a schoolship for the torpedo and electrical cadets, showcasing a torpedo tube on the port side, quarterdeck for training. She was partially disarmed in 1931, converted into an accommodation hulk. In 1939 she was still there, and her propellers were removed. Among others, one of her cadets was the future famous underwater explorer Jacques Cousteau which served on board and learned diving from 1936.
In April 1941, Condorcet was towed to sea to evaluating a new propellant, used by Richelieu later at the Battle of Dakar, on 24 September 1940. She was fitted for the occasion by a single, fixed 38-centimetre (15 in) gun similar to those onboard the Richelieu. During the battleship’s tests, there was indeed an explosion in the breech, the investigation thought at the time the propellant was the most likely cause. So Condorcet’s aft turret, which was modified to house this gun, fired several mock shells using remote control. This exonerated the propellant for any harm.
In July 1941, Condorcet modified to house the signal, radio and electrician’s schools. New structured with extra housings were installed at the bases of four funnels, previously removed. Instead, the latest radio equipment were installed to train students. Condorcet at the fall of 1941 was however rammed accidentally by a submarine, Le Glorieux, as she latter was just leaving drydock. It punctured the condorcet’s hull, flooding a compartment. This required a drydock period for repairs. In November 1942 the Germans launched operation Paula, following the North African landings and subsequent swap of Admiral Darlan, in charge of the forces there. Condorcet was not “precious” enough to be scuttled, and was left intact when she was captured by Germans troops. Since it was already fit for this, they used her as a barracks ship until she was practically destroyed by and allied air raid over Toulon in August 1944 (Operation Anvil Dragoon), and scuttled by the Germans. Some of her main guns were unloaded and used in a coastal battery, on the north bank of the Gironde estuary, Bay of Biscay, the same year. They never saw service.
Condorcet was eventually salvaged to be scrapped in September 1945, broken up in 1949.
–Mirabeau was in the Mediterranean after the 30 October 1918 armistice of Mudros, for the Ottoman Army. She participated in the occupation of Constantinople until 12 December. And returned to Toulon in 1919. Modernized in 1922–25, she became a training ship in 1927, and was condemned on 17 March 1937, ten years afterwards, scrapped in August the same year.
–Vergniaud took part in early 1919 in the allied fleet stationed off Sevastopol and when the White Russian’s situation became hopeless, the high command ordered the French ships present to withdraw, but Vice-Admiral JF. Charles Amet refused and send a land party to participate in the fight, which backfired as a bolshevik mutiny onboard, some even unfurling red banners. Later one of these sailors was killed during a mass shooting. The battleship left the black sea.
Vergniaud next was in Beirut in May-August 1919, watching Turkish moves along the coasts of Palestine, Lebanon and Syria. Back in Toulon by September, she was placed in “special reserve” and inspected. It was established that due to her in poor shape, she would be decommissioned in June 1921 and completely disarmed in 1922. Her 240mm guns were reycled in the coastal defence batteries of Dakar, Senegal, and the Île de Gorée. During the battle of the same name, they hit Barham and other British ships trying to assault the port. Vergniaud became a target ship, and poison gases and bombs were tested on her until 1926. Sold on 27 November 1928 for scrap.
–Voltaire has been torpedoed on 10 October off Milos island by UB-48, struck by two torpedoes. She survived and temporary repairs were made in situ, before she sailed to Bizerte for permanent repairs. Back in Toulon in 1919, modernized in 1922–25, she had her underwater protection improved, and became a training ship in 1927. Ten years after she was stricken and scuttled in Quiberon Bay, still above the waves, in order to be used as a permanent, fixed target from May 1938. Eventually what was left of her was sold in December 1949.
The three Courbet class battleships were the first dreadnoughts of the French navy. The class included the lead ship Courbet, Paris, Ocean, and France. They actively participated in and survived to the Great War. In 1922, the battleship France sank off Quiberon on an unlisted reef. The other three were extensively modernized in 1926-29. Still, this never reach the level of sophistication of Italian or British reconstructions, mainly due to budget restrictions. By September 1939 they were still very much apparently “in stock condition”. However modifications included their machinery overhaul, funnels truncated into one, with new oil-fired boilers and revised turbines. Two new masts were erected, notably a stronger forward tripod to support a new command tower and new range finders. The communication and electrical systems onboard were also modernized. The main gun mounts were also modified for better elevation, increasing their range. They also received additional AA guns, seven 76 mm (3 in) and two 45 mm (2.5 in). Courbet alone received new turbines, those taken from the stock provided for the unfinished Normandie class, and old design, but better than the original VTE coal only engines. ASW protection was also improved by the addition of longitudinal bulkheads and extra armour strays over the machinery spaces and ammunition storage. But despite of this they had a completely outdated artillery layout and 12-in guns were sub-standard at the time. In 1939, both the AA and associated firing systems were also obsolete. Their role was therefore very reduced in operations and they were kept in the Atlantic, while the better modernized Bretagne took charge of the Mediterranean.
–Ocean was renamed Jean Bart in 1936, and partially decommissioned in 1938, acting as a training ship in Toulon. Spared in November 1942 in Toulon, she was later sunk by an allied air raid in August 1944 during operation Operation Anvil Dragoon. The Germans themselves completed the destruction by testing explosives.
–Courbet and Paris were also provisionally transferred as training ships in 1939, but returned to active in the Fifth Squadron (Admiral Mord) in May 1940. Their mission was to attempt to intercept German forces attempting to close in from Cherbourg. They helped evacuating Cherbourg as well as Le Havre, but were criticized for their weak AA defense when attacked. With the Luftwaffe hard on their heels, both took refuge in Portsmouth in June 1940. During Operation Catapult in July 1940, both they were successfully captured by Royal Navy troops and their crews were interned. Later, Courbet was donated back to the FNFL (Free French Navy). Rearmed with more modern AA, she served as a floating HQ and floating AA battery for the FNFL. Paris became a depot ship, partially disarmed and with a skeleton crew. Courbet was decommissioned in 1941 and also used as depot ship at Portsmouth. In 1945, Paris headed for Brest and ended her career as a service vessel, floating barracks, before sold for BU in 1947, as Courbet.
Specifications (Paris 1940)
Displacement: 22,200 t. standard 25,600 t. Full Load Dimensions: 162 m long, 28 m wide, 7.3 m draft. Machinery: 4 shafts, 4 Rateau-Bretagne turbines, 9 Guyot Du Temple boilers, 120,000 hp. Top speed: 21.5 knots. Armor: Same as WW1 but AS bulkhead and compartmentation Armament: Same but 7 x 76 mm AA, 2 x 45 mm AA, 6 x 13.2 mm AA, 2 x 21-in TTs sub. Crew: 850
The Battleship Provence in 1935 – ONI recoignition plates, USN Intel
The three battleships of the Bretagne class (Bretagne, Provence, Lorraine), launched in 1913 and completed in 1915-16 were the second series of French Dreadnoughts to emerge. Although based on the same hull, they were given a more modern battery of axial artillery mirroring the Iron Duke class, with ten 340 mm (14 in) guns. Machinery had been improved with new steam turbines but still, running at least partly on coal. The model 1912 main guns turned out to be outstanding pieces of ordnance and they were mass-produced for to be sent on the western front (railway batteries), reliable, rugged and accurate they were also provisioned for the Normandy and Lyon class. The last were captured during the occupation in ww2 and ended in the Atlantic Wall. Initial range was 21,000 meters. An fourth in this class was ordered in 1914 by the Greek Navy, but construction was suspended in August 1914.
Their career was active in the Mediterranean, their main theatre of operation for their whole career. They been designed as the 1st BS division of Toulon, the head of the squadron. After 1918, they underwent a number of modifications, including main gun cradle mounts in order to increase their range in 1921-23. Their reconstruction also implied the replacement of all their coal-fired boilers by more modern oil-fired boilers in 1927-30. In 1932-35 they went into drydock once more to received new superstructures, bridge and tripod, a new fire direction top and rangefinders, and completely modernized secondary anti-aircraft artillery. They also received new 14 inches guns and more powerful ammunitions for higher velocity, their range now was raised to 30,000 meters. Their central casemate armour and bulkheads, ASW protection were also greatly improved. Lorraine operated a seaplane, complete with a hangar, cranes and a catapult in place of her central 340 mm turret. In 1939, if these modernizations were impressive, they were less extensive than Italian and British total conversions.
During the WW2, Bretagne and Provence were part of the Mers-el-Kébir squadron. When Admiral Sommerville’s ultimatum expired the British force opened fire, and the Bretagne, hit in an ammunition storage, exploded and capsized in the harbour, causing a great loss of life. Provence almost suffered the same fate and she sank slowly in the harbour, evacuated by her crew. Later in 1941 she would be refloated and towed to Toulon for permanent repairs. Provence returned into service in 1942, but was scuttled in November with the rest of the fleet. Lorraine on her side, was in Alexandria during operation “Catapult”. Thanks to the diligence of both admirals to avoid a bloodshed and agreement was found in which she was partially disarmed and interned until 1943. After joining the FNFL, she received modifications in NY NyD, radar and modern AA to the allied standard. She subsequently served in the Mediterranean, notably covering the landings in Provence (Operation Anvil Dragoon). From 1945 to 1953, Lorraine served as a training ship and was decommissioned and converted into a depot ship before being scrapped.
Aerial view of the Lorraine, alongside the carrier Béarn in Toulon (from pinterest, date unknown)
Displacement: 23,230 t. standard -25,200 t. FL Dimensions: 166 m x 28 m x 9.8 m. Machinery: 4 shafts Parsons turbines, 12 Guyot Du Temple boilers, 29,000 hp. Performances: Top speed: 20 knots Armor protection: Belt 270 mm, Barbettes 170 mm, Deck 40, Turrets 340 mm, CT 314 mm. Armament: 10 x 340, 4×2 100 mm AA, 4×2 37 mm AA, 6×2 13,2 mm AA, 2 TTs. Crew: 1130
Normandie & Lyon class (1915-17)
These classes already had been covered in detail in the WW1 French Battleship article. The four Normandie class were cancelled after launch and scrapped, Béarn was chosen for a conversion as an aircraft carrier. The Lyon class remained on paper stage only. Guns and machinery were reused in modernizations of the earlier dreadnoughts. The best merit of both classes would have been to introduce quad turrets, which became the standard for French Battleship design during the interwar. Battleships were also planned in 1912, but they were left at paper stage only, read more about these in the dedicated article on Durant-Viel projects.
The signing by France of the Washington treaty in 1922 had drastic consequences: Their first victims were the Normandie class, which could replace advantageously the Courbet class. But that would have signified deactivating the already existing four Courbet class while completion of their replacement was still far ahead, and due to the wartime interruption and probable redesigns due to wartime lessons (like improving vertical armour), revision in AA as well, pushing their completion date to 1922 at the earnest, and at great cost. But France was near-banrkupt at this point and maintaining the Courbet class was a way safer option. What could be “recycled” from the Normandie class was, from the machinery to the guns and Béarn was entirely rebuilt as France’s first aircraft carrier. The Lyon class design, completed after 1925 would not have been a wise option as the 1913 design needed a complete revision, which were done in the 1920s proposals to “fill up” the Washington treaty tonnage by testing various tonnage and feature options. Since the trend in 1922 was already to a fusion of the fast battleship and battlecruiser roles, the concept of battlecruiser was dropped in favor of intermediate designs, culminating with the Dunkerque class in 1930.
The ships of the Dunkerque class, with her sister-ship Strasbourg, were the first French fast battleships, and first capital ships launched since 1915. Following the Washington treaty, and the Treaty of London (1931), the Marine Nationale explored many designs to take the best advantage of the tonnage allocated, making compromises to allow more ships with the best possible features. This ling process started in the 1920s ended in strange vessels, which were not true battleships, neither battle cruisers as protection was not entirely sacrificed to speed. Basically they were somewhere between the two. They also answered directly to the threat of “pocket battleships” of the German Deutschland class, and hunt them down. For the design, the solution already planned for the Normandie and Lyon was chosen, of quadruple turrets. The solution, unique to France, maximized protection of vital related to artillery, notably just two barbettes instead of three or four and less ammunition storage rooms. The weight of these turrets was not negligible, and in the light of new tactical developments that led to the Nelsons and G3 in UK, it favored forward-firing. Critism fell however on this choice over the question that a single hit could disable an entire turret and thus, delete half of the ship’s firepower at once. This was addressed on the next Richelieu, which internal turrets were subdivided into two compartments separated by a thick bulkhead, making a collage of two twin turrets in reality.
These ships were the first of the new serie of fast battlesips built at the eve of WW2 and during it. Germany in response designe the Scharnhorst class while Italy announced the construction of the Littorrio, with arguably a better armor while the Germans were more favourable to a better speed. As a result, the French already started to plan for the next class, the Richelieu. The two Dunkerque were the result of a reflection on the usefulness of battleships, based on little knowledge could be gained after the battle of Jutland. Defense of trade routes of the wide French Empire seemed paramount, so cruisers were better suited for this task. These ships were therefore tailored for this purpose. Even after the release of the heavier Scharnhorst class, their artillery and armor remained roughly adequate. The Dunkerque was launched in 1935 and her sister ship Strasbourg in 1936. They were operational in 1936-37, patrolling during the Spanish civil war.
Their peacetime careers comprised intensive squadron exercise, and they were based in Toulon, regularly anchored in bases in Africa like Mers-El Kebir. When WW2 broke up, the two ships operated with the Force de Raid against German raiders in the South Atlantic, notably the Graf Spee, and protecting merchant traffic. In December 1939, Dunkerque took the gold reserves of the Bank of France to Canada. The force de raid based in Brest, completed with heavy cruisers and destroyers, was transferred to the Mediterranean in the light of the changing attitude of Italy in June 1940, and were based at Mers el Kebir. Both were attacked by the Royal Navy during Operation Catapult in August. Strasbourg was able to escape though, chased for a time by the Hood and attacked by planes from the Ark Royal. She managed to sail to Toulon. Dunkerque had been hit by four 15-in direct hits, destroying in particular hr whole electrical installation. She was towed across the harbor and later attacked by Swordfish torpedo bombers, and sank after a barge moored alongside exploded. She refloated later, towed to Toulon for repairs, but both battleships were scuttled in November 1942.
A GI examining Srasbourg in Toulon, circa September 1942, after the city was taken by allied forces following the landings in Provence.
Displacement: 26,500 t. standard 36,380 t. Full Load Dimensions: 215.10 m x 31.10 x 8.7 m draft. Machinery: 4 shaft Rateau-Bretagne turbines, 6 Indret boilers, 135,600 hp. Top speed: 31 knots. Armor: 225-280 mm belt, 30 mm bulkheads, 115-137 decks, 330-360 mm turrets, 330 mm CT. Armament: 8 x 330 mm, 3×4+2×2 135 mm DP, 5×2 37 mm AA, 8x 13.2 mm AA, 4 Loire 130 seaplanes. Crew: 1380
Given in response to the German Scharnhorst and Italian Littorio, the two Richelieu class retake most of the previous design, but incorporated a much more powerful machinery and above all integrated a significantly superior armor. They were in fact the first real French “fast battleships”. In addition to their new bow cut clean and supposed to improve its penetration, it also had a unique “mack”, configuration which became commonplace in the cold war. By concentrating superstructures in the center, and the turrets, with a smaller space than classic battleship, weight-savings made it possible to rationalize even more the overall protection. Their ASW protection was further refined and even better. They only barely met the standards of the Washington Treaty, but were also very fast, in fact the fastest battleships afloat before the Iowa class in 1943.
The longer ships allowed to separate even more the two forward turrets, which were subdivided into two twin guns compartments for further protection. The front configuration was still inherited from the simple tactical “crossing the t” tactic, to create the smallest possible silhouette while having the whole artillery to bear. Interior sub-divisions had been carefully designed to minimize effects of a direct impact. The secondary armament consisted of a uniform battery of three triple turrets armed with rapid-fire 6-in guns (152 mm), dual-purpose and semi-automated. Their high incidence provided a long range anti-aircraft cover, but without their specific fire control system, never installed in time, they were slow and practically useless for this.
The secondary AA was more effective while on the other hand still weak in 1937, not to mention the tertiary AA composed of heavy machine guns in single and quadruple mounts. The 37 mm twin mounts proved effective, but there were too few of them. After WW2 broke out, this configuration was very quickly judged ineffective. The reconfiguration of the Richelieu was made in 1943 and outside the british radars which equipped her, her AA armament was entirely based on US Navy standards. Thanks to her large size, she was able to host a very large quantity of 20 mm and 40 mm AA guns, showed her effectiveness as an AA escort, especially in the fasr east where she was deployed. Shortly after she was laid down, the Italians announced the construction of second pair of improved Litorrios, starting with the Vittorio Veneto and Impero (only the first was completed). As a result, in 1938 France voted to build two sister ships to the Richelieu class, called the Gascogne class (see later) and another pair in the 1940s, armed with larger guns.
Richelieu in Dakar
Richelieu, launched in January 1939, was not yet ready in June 1940, about 95% completed. Her tests took place in April 1940 and she left Brest hastily in front of the German advance, with too few main guns rounds and just enough fuel oil to reach Dakar. She arrived here on June 23, escorted by destroyers Fronde and Le Fier after a stop in Casablanca at the time of the armistice. During the operation catapult operation in July 1940, swordfish from HMS Hermes attempted to damage her with depth charges, failed but this was followed by a Swordfish torpedo attack, actually managing to hit Richelieu. Flooded she sank slowly to the bottom, but still emerging, so combat capable. After some repairs and water pumped out, she was towed to a less exposed part of Dakar harbor. The squadron was later reinforced by the cruisers Georges Leygues and Montcalm. On September 24, the Battle of Dakar took place. This raid by a Naval British force also carried Free french, led by De Gaulle. Their hope was to negociate a swap of allegiance, bringing these ships to Free France, but it was a failure, underestimating the loyalty to Vichy and hate for the british after Mers el Kebir. During this event, Richelieu exchanged fire with Barham and another battleship, both being hit by coastal fire and a submarine attack.
In 1941, Richelieu was refloated, completely repaired and her equipment completed in Casablanca, notably additional AA, a radar, while its on-board aviation, hangars, catapults and equipment were unloaded. She returned to Dakar. After Operation Torch Admiral Darlan agreed to turn to the side of the allies, and the remaining ships in North Africa joined the FNFL (Free French Navy).
Richelieu left Dakar in January 1943 for Puget Sund in New York. Her conversion to allied standard was completed in October 1943. She had no less than forty eight 20 mm guns in single mounts and forteen quadruple 40 mm batteries. In November, Richelieu joined Scapa Flow and was integrated into the Home Fleet. She thus participated in convoy escort missions, to Murmansk. From April 1944, she joined the Trincomanlee squadron in the Far East, integrated into Task-Force 65. She actively participated in Operation Cockpit against Sabang and Operation Transom against Surabaya, then operation Concillor and Operation Pedal in June 1944, and Operation Crimson against Sumatra. She was relieved by HMS Howe, and set sail for Toulon, then Casablanca, and finally Gibraltar for a refit, lating until October 1944. In March 1945, she was back at Trincomanlee, participating in a second operation against Sabang and the Nicobar islands with Task Force 63. Refitted in Durban, she set sail for Diego-Suarez, anchored there when hearing about the Japanese surrender. She then participated in the liberation of Singapore but was later damaged by a magnetic mine in the Strait of Malacca. After repairs in Singapore, she returned to Toulon, carrying troops to Indochina.
In 1946 she was back in Toulon, spending of her carrer in squadron exercises, notably with Jean Bart completed in 1956. She was partially re-equipped on this occasion with moren radars, fire controls and more modern mounts for her main guns. Placed in reserve in Brest in 1958, she was condemned in 1968 ad BU in Italy.
Jean Bart escaping her drydock to North Africa to avoid capture in May 1940. Notice the A turret lacked guns and B turret lack the upper part of her turret. Only gun cradles were in place.
Second battleship of the Richelieu class, the unfortunate vessel had been launched on March 6, 1940. Although completion work was well underway, it was far from being completed in June, something like 70%. She was therefore in Saint Nazaire when her captain, Lieutenant Ronarc’h, decided to set sail (her machines never worked before) to Casablanca in Morocco, to avoid capture by the advancing wehrmacht. She was followed by a cargo carrying all the parts to complete her second turret on board, but she was sunk by an U-Boat underway. Her navigation, control and AA equipment stayed in France, a good part of her electrical network and other equipment. Nevertheless, the crossing (which was a feat in itself) was a success, and Jean Bart arrived in Casablanca to be anchored there, protected by ASW nets and surrounded by AA batteries, waiting for equipments to arrive and hopefully some completion in 1941 or 1942.
Jean Bart in Casabianca in 1943 – only her “A” operational turret, duelled with USS Massachusetts in November 1942.
Jean Bar was officially under the responsibility of the Vichy government. Completion work continued slowly, while materials and manpower were lacking. During Operation Torch in November 1942, Jean Bart constituted a threat for the allies at the same title of coastal batteries, and was attacked by USS Ranger aviation, but Jean Bart opened fire with her sol working turret “A” on the invasion fleet. Soon, USS Massachusetts adjusted her fire and and Jean Bart duelled for some time until A turret was silenced for good. She took several 16-in shells and aircraft bombs, and thought to have been silences. However on November 10, just two days later, Jean Bart opened fire on the cruiser USS Augusta, to the great surprise of the landing forces. She was hit again by a wave from USS Ranger, some hits piercing her hull,and she sank in shallow water, definitively out of action. After Darlan’s shifted to the allied side, there was a brief study to refloat and repair her and then bring her to the USA to undergo a completion with US systems, but this project never materialized. The war ended in Europe, and in 1945 she was towed to Toulon, and completed in 1949 under a new design, as an AA battleship with modern electronic equipment. Her cold war career was short as after the Suez affair in 1956 and some period as flagship and schoolship, she was costly to operate and was withdrawn from service in 1961, BU in 1968.
Displacement: 35,500 t. standard 48,950 t. Fully Loaded Dimensions: 248 m x 35 m x 9.6 m. Machinery: 4 shafts Parsons turbines, 6 Indret boilers, 150,000 hp. Top speed: 32,5 knots. Armor: 225-280 mm belt, 30 mm bulkheads, 115-137 mm decks, 330-360 mm turrets, 330 mm CT. Armament: 8 x 380 mm, 3×3 x 135 mm DP, 4×2 x 100 mm AA, 4×2 37 mm AA, 2×4 13.2 mm AA, 4 Loire 130 seaplanes. Crew: 1380
Gascogne class (1941)
In addition to the Richelieu class fast battleships, two other sister ships planned for the next phase, according to the B3 specification of 1938. They were planned when the shipyard’s drydocks holds would be free (so after Jean Bart was out), before proceeding. Technically, they were close sister-ships, but in the last approved plan, the second quadruple turret was placed aft, to give back a real firing capacity in retreat, accompanied by a replacement of secondary artillery in the front. These drawings were judged to be more balanced, corresponded to the changes and lessons learned from the first squadron exercises, no longer giving priority to forward firing. Their on-board seaplanes facilities were moved to the center and it was planned to equip them with with radars and the same unique “funnel-mast” sparing space. Their artillery was almost unchanged, with eight 380 mm, twelve 152 mm in three triple DP turrets, a secondary battery made up in particular of 100 mm four twin mounts and also six twin 37 mm (6) plus six quadruple 13.2 mm HMGs. With larger dimensions 252 meters overall versus 248) and 51,000 tonnes fully loaded, this class no longer respected the Washington treaty, and comprised Gascoigne and Alsace, but remained at the drawing board stage.
Displacement: 35,500 t. standard -48,950 t. Full Load Dimensions: 252 m x 35 m wide, 9.6 m draft. Machinery: 4 shafts Parsons turbines, 6 Indret boilers, 150,000 hp. Top speed: 32 knots. Armor: 225-280 mm belt, 30 mm ASW bulkheads, 115-137 decks, 330-360 mm turrets, 330 mm CT. Armament: 2×4 380 mm, 3×3 135 mm DP, 4×2 100 mm AA, 6×2 37 mm AA, 2×4 13.2 mm AA, 4 Loire 130 seaplanes. Crew: 1380
Other French battleship classes (1944)
The battleship “Alsace” (Planned 1940)
The Alsace class was supposed to be a response to the construction of the German “H” class battleships and a development of the Richelieu/Gascoigne classes, but with a more powerful artillery arranged in less radical scheme, with twelve 380 mm guns in three main turrets, including two forward. This triple turret arrangement was the staple of fast battleships of that era.
World of warships’s République class, is made up, but is allegedly a version planned in 1939 for the post-war period with a powerful AA and a two quadruple 431 mm main battery, which is difficult to assert. At first assumed to be a fake, as there is no trace of such developments in Conways, most French author’s literature. Now, the “431 mm modèle 1939” was however mentioned in the naval gun board of Ruelle. In this document there was discussion was about the barrel liner, indicating a matching gun design. It is mentioned in a single French forum entry dating back from 2016 (WoW EU), or naweaps.org forum, and mentions of a document in the Châtellerault archives with limited access. The contents list indeed a Calibre 431 mm on page 51, listing both the Canon de 431 mm modèle 1939 barrel and Chemise modèle 1939, 431 mm modèle 1939 (liner). However, since the second Gascoigne class would have been completed at best in 1943 if the war did not took place, and due to the time needed to develop a new gun, that pushed the launching of any battleship based around this gun to at least 1946, for a commission in 1947-48.
The “Republique”, a 430 mm guns project for at least 1945
As a conclusion, the capital ships development in the French Navy for the interwar period were capped by treaties, but also also limited budget, in the immediate post-war era, and later consequences of the 1929 crisis, a powerful internal peace movement leading to political opposition to navy spendings, or the limited threat represented by the Versailles-bound German navy in a future conflict. The needs of the Empire were to be covered by cruisers, and following a gentleman’s agreement with Britain, the best capital ships were based in the Mediterranean. All contributed to a state in which the French Navy aligned six relatively obsolete battleships with limited modernization: Two fast battleships that lacked armor to risk a confrontation with anything built in 1940-42, and two excellent ones, which were caught by the start of WW2 and disastrous land defeat, and subsequent armistice. In 1943, between destructions, scuttling and inactivations (like the surviving Lorraine), the Free French Navy was limited to a single, active, modern ship, the Richelieu, which is something of a redeeming “happy end” to the whole story.
The topic of French cruisers could be summup in a few points: It was framed by the Washington treaty limitations, a situation causing a de facto rivalry with Mussolini’s Italy. Like their Italian counterparts, the accent was placed on armament and speed, not protection. They were part of the “tin-clad cruisers” generation. Compared to the global tonnage of other countries, they were relatively modern (no ww1 cruiser in service) and had some innovative features like the La Galissonière class transom stern or the Mack on the Saint Louis.
An overview of individual French cruisers with various liveries.
They remained largely untested in combat, due to the early capitulation and a limited use by the FNFL (Free French Naval Forces) for coastal bombardment and patrols. In a general way, they also had a relatively poor AA, relying on machine guns and dual purpose ones without much in between. WW2 modernization would be the occasion to improve on that, based on US standards. The tonnage cap and subsequent treaties was dissuasive: At first, France started a serie of light cruisers to test superfiring twin turrets, after a gap of 15 years (since 1908).
Indeed, the planned construction of new cruisers dated from 1912, was never realized (see later). After the Duguay Trouin “test”, the Duquesne and Tourville classes were homogenous heavy cruisers, but in 1931 it was realized protection was needed, and the Algérie was built, sole in her class as France was stopped by the London treaty whereas Italy had the time to complete its four Zara. Capped for heavy cruisers, like in other navies, the 1930s saw the exploration of light cruisers, the “prototype” Bertin, and the La Galissonnière serie, followed by the unbuilt De Grasse and Saint Louis class as the war started sooner than expected. Alongside were also built two specialized cruisers, the Pluton for mine warfare and the school cruiser Jeanne d’Arc.
The war largely split these cruisers into those who would remained trapped under Vichy’s base and those which could swap sides in due time (November 1942), and continue the war until the end. See the French cruisers in action.
Development for the the cruisers lineage started in 1909 in fact, not in 1919, where planning for a class or scout cruisers was decided. In 1912 a grand naval plan was decided to get rid of the “young school” theories which had left the Navy in a situation of having odd ships with limited homogeneity, an emphasis on armoured cruisers and torpedo boats, at first influenced by the possible scenario of a war and confrontation to the British Royal Navy, at least twice larger. The launch of HMS Dreadnought stopped dead cruiser development in France as shown in the previous article on WW1 French cruisers. The 1912 conducteur d’escadre (flotilla leader) was born.
The 30 March 1912 naval law and program defined an ambitious plan of building 28 battleships, 10 scout cruisers and 52 fleet torpedo boats, with an ideal completion date for around 1920. Of course the war breaking up in 1914 shattered these plans and “La Royale” had to make due with the “old fleet”, with dreadnoughts just completed, others in construction and for cruisers, just a paper project. As manpower was depleted from the yard to be sent on the front, construction focused on the most important ships and shifted towards lighter vessels. Cruisers were sacrificed.
The 6,000-tonne fleet scouts would have been relatively similar to the British Arethusa class and later evolved to include features influenced by the Karlsruhe and Magdeburg classes.
The “old hulls”
Edgar Quinet as a training ship in San Diego, California, 1928
The interwar saw the survival of partly disarmed cruisers dating back from 1892 to 1908. Some actually survived until the late 1930s and many saw WW2. The latest were actively used for some more years, well into the 1930s. Their large hulls and 13,000 tonnes displacement made them suitable for further conversions/modernizations, but they never took place because of global cruiser tonnage issues. It could have been interesting to see them converted during WW2 as AA floating batteries, such as the Italians did with their San Giorgio class.
These old cruisers were the:
-La Touche Tréville (1892): Discarded 1926
-Pothuau (1895): Discarded 1929
-Cassard (1896): A 3890 tonnes light cruiser, sticken in 1924.
-Jeanne d’Arc (1899): Discarded 1934 (actually France’s main school cruiser until her replacement by her namesake).
-Gueydon (1899): Utility Hulk until 1942
-Montcalm (1900): Discarded 1933
-Desaix (1901): Discarded 1927
-Condé (1901): Discarded 1933
-Marseilaise (1900): Discarded 1929
-Jules Ferry (1902): Discarded 1927
-Victor Hugo (1904): Discarded 1930
-Jules Michelet (1905): Discarded 1937
-Ernest Renan (1906): Discarded 1931
-Edgar Quinet (1908): Wrecked in 1930
-Waldeck Rousseau (1908): Hulked 1936.
Here are samples of their interwar and ww2 career: Montcalm was decommissioned and an accommodation ship from 28 October 1926, renamed Trémintin in 1934, in Brest and sunk by the RAF on 16 August 1944. Condé was reduced to special reserve on 15 March 1920 and barracks ship for Fusiliers Marins from 1922 in Lorient (Britanny). From 1928, she hosted the Naval Infantry School and was stricken in February 1933 but still used during WW2 as a torpedo depot ships by the Germans. Marseillaise was a gunnery training ship at Toulon in 1925–1929 and scrapped in 1933. Jules Ferry served in the far Eastern Division from September 1923, to her return to Toulon in November 1925, placed in reserve and stricken 1927, scrapped 1928. Her fate was similar to Victor Hugo.
Jules Michelet during a state visit of the Dutch General Governor at Tandjong Priok, 1929. She was the flagship of the Eastern Squadron.
Jules Michelet was based in French Indochina in 1922–1923 and returned home in 1923 and returned in Asian waters until May 1929, replaced by Waldeck-Rousseau. Placed in reserve she was disarmed and used as barracks ship at Toulon and target ship later for aircraft and submarines. She was actually sunk by the submarine Thetis in 1937. Ernest Renan saw her mainmast removed and she was modified as a towing balloon vessel and AA floating battery, and later a gunnery training ship from 1927 to 1929, training notably Émile Muselier, future commander of the Free French Naval Forces. She ended as a target ship in 1931.
A better view of the Quinet in 1937, showing the modified bridge (http://ecole.nav.traditions.free.fr/jeannedarc.htm)
Edgar Quinet served in the Mediterranean Squadron 1923-1924, and reduced comm. in Toulon, and from 1925, converted into a training ship. She briefly replaced the much older Jeanne d’Arc. Until 1927 she only had ten 194 mm guns left (two funnels removed and boilers removed) and a rebuilt and modernized bridge. From 1928 she was training ship for cadets at the Naval Academy and under command of Captain François Darlan made a world tour, as far as California. In 1929 she was overhauled again, equipped to handle reconnaissance floatplanes. However her career could have bring her in WW2, until she was foundered on 4 January 1930 off the coast of Algeria, west of Oran. Waldeck Rousseau was in the reserve fleet, Toulon in 1922 until April 1929, recommissioned for a tour in East Asian waters and replaced Jules Michelet as flagship of the French Far East Squadron until May 1932, when relieved by Primauguet. She was decommissioned and in reserve until June 1936, stricken and converted into a hulk at Landévennec, outside Brest, and a breakwater in WW2.
The war prize cruisers
The Strasbourg (ex-Regensburg).
Of course after the victory in November, The French admiralty considered the options. The light cruiser project was still favoured, but became influenced by the transfer as war reparation, of modern German and Austrian cruisers. On November 26, 1919, France was authorized by the Allied Council to choose five cruisers and 10 torpedo boats in this wealth of “war prizes”. The German light cruiser Königsberg (ii) was renamed Metz and the Regensburg renamed Strasbourg, the Stralsund Mulhouse and the Kolberg Colmar, while the light Austro-Hungarian cruiser Novara was renamed Thionville.
The Colmar in Shanghai, 1924
SMS Kolberg was stricken on 5 November 1919 and handed to the French in Cherbourg on 28 April 1920 as “W”. She was recommissioned as Colmar in 1922, her original 8.8 cm guns replaced by 75 mm ones. A new aft deckhouse was built and an extra 75 mm gun installed on its roof. Her sea trials lasted until late 1922, and she was sent for colonial service in French Indochina, departed in June and arriving on 7 September 1922. She replaced Montcalm as flagship of the Naval Division of the Far East and was sent in Vladivostok in 1923 after the Great Kantō earthquake, proceeding to Yokohama to assist in the relief effort with Jules Michelet, Victor Hugo, and Jules Ferry. In 1924, Colmar and Jules Ferry also landed troops to protect western interests during the violence in Shanghai. Colmar was back in France in February 1925 and lasted in service a few more months, until decommissioned in November. She was cannibalized until 1927, for the other ex-German cruisers until and stricken on 21 July 1927, sold for BU.
Stralsund served briefly with the reorganized Reichsmarine in 1919 but the Treaty of Versailles asked her to be disarmed and handed over to the Allies, two months before the signing, pending attribution as war reparation, which was France under the transaction name “Z”. She was formally handed over in Cherbourg on 3 August 1920 and had her 8.8 cm replaced by 75 mm (3.0 in) anti-aircraft guns but her apperance stayed the same. As “Mulhouse” ashe served in the French Mediterranean Fleet (3rd Light Division) with Metz, Strasbourg and Thionville.[ Mulhouse was refitted in 1925 in Brest as her powerplant was worn out, but it was soon established sue to her age it was preferrable to place her in reserve, which was done after the refit. On 15 February 1933, she was stricken and BU in Brest in 1935 but her bell was later returned to Germany (now at Laboe Naval Memorial).
SMS Regensburg once attributed and received by the French Navy was renamed Strasbourg from 1920. To standardize her armament, she was given a new battery of French 75 mm (3 in) AA guns in place of the usual German 8.8 cm guns. Aso her aft superfiring 150 mm gun was remove and a single 75 mm gun installed in its place for extra AA. Commission eventually was completed by 1922. She served at first in Brest, but was transferred to Toulon in 1923, until 1926, in service with Mulhouse, Metz and Thionville, called the 3rd Light Division, and and Light division in December 1926. Her major overhaul came about in 1925 and her boilers were cleaned up and upgraded, all worn out components replaced. She made 26 kn (48 km/h; 30 mph) on her post-refit speed trials. She was sent to support troops in the Rif War landings on 7 September 1925, with Metz and the battleship Paris. By 1928, she brought aid to the victims of the Corinth earthcake and later searched for the wrecked airship Italia northeast of Svalbard, also looking for Roald Amundsen’s aircraft which went missing too. Her bow was to be protected by wooden planking to protect it from pack ice. She also operated two FBA 17 seaplanes in the effort. On 30 August, at last she located one of the floats from Amundsen’s aircraft, but she wrapped up on 17 September and returned to Brest via Reykjavík. From 1928 to 1934 she resumed her Mediterranean service, renamed “Strassbourg II” that year as a new battleships was just launched under that name.
She was back in Landévennec and Brest and in January 1936, moved to Lorient to be stationed as a depot ship for the 6th Destroyer Division. By June she was stricken, placed in reserve but not scrapped. The irony was that after the fall of France, she was back into the hands of their ancient proprietor, and they briefly considered restoring her to active service or used as FLAKschiffe. But she ended as a barracks ship in Lorient for U-Boat crews, moored next to the U-boat pens. Barrage balloons and anti-torpedo nets were installed from her. In 1944, she was scuttled in front of the pens to protect them from torpedo attack and remains in the harbor up today, visible at low tide.
The hull of the ‘Strassburg’ in lorient as of today.
Königsberg (1915) was stricken on 31 May 1920 and ceded to France as “A”. Received in Cherbourg on 20 July, she was renamed Metz on 6 October and her 8.8 cm guns were replaced by standard 75 mm (3 in) anti-aircraft guns in French service, submerged torpedo tubes removed and above-water tubes replaced by 60 mm (2.4 in) tubes of French manufacture. Externally there was no change. Recommissioned in November 1921, Metz joined Atlantic Light Division, and then the French Mediterranean squadron by early 1922. She will serve with Mulhouse, Strasbourg and Thionville as part of the 3rd Light Division. In October, she carried Henry Franklin-Bouillon to Turkey for the negotiations of the Treaty of Lausanne. From 1925, she participated in the Rif War, covering landings on 7 September 1925 with Paris and Strasbourg. She was back to the French Atlantic Fleet in 1927-28 and stationed in Brest, while her division was dissolved and her aft funnels and main mast were removed. In 1929, she was sent to Landévennec in reserve and eventually stricken on 18 August 1933, sold in 1934, caught fire but was scrapped in 1936 at Brest.
The SMS Novara suvived WWI and waited her post-war fate. In 1920, under the terms of the Treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye, she was surrendered to the Allied and awarded to France. However during her transfer to Itaky, she started to leak badly in the Adriatic but reached Brindisi, she sinking in the harbour on 29 January 1920. She was refloated by early April 1920 and sent to France, Toulon, where she was renamed Thionville. She assigned to the torpedo school until 1st May 1932, disarmed and converted into a barracks ship. She was still there by 1941, but later broken up for scrap.
The light cruiser program
Apart Metz which had 15 cm guns, these light cruisers were all armed with light (100-105 mm) shielded guns in single positions, but this force constituted at least until 1925 the core of the light cruiser fleet. At last in 1922, a naval program was established right after the conclusions and signature of the Washington treaty. Tonnages and gun caliber limitations has been setup and soon was voted the construction of three scout cruisers, of 8,000 tonnes. The first design of such cruisers in France since 1912, a ten years gap.
Therefore, the French started with light cruisers, before engaging in the construction of the brand new “heavy cruiser” class defined by the 1922 treaty. The light cruisers registered in the prewar programme, but new additional tasks were given which rose their tonnage considerably compared to the WW1 cruisers generation.
WoW’s “Friant” is a known fake to fill the lineage. Nothing in 1920 was ever drafted resembling to this, as it looks like a compact version of the Primauguet class, with a roomy hull and unlikely alleged power of 20-25,000 hp, no protection, for a speed as low as 23 knots.
The true light cruiser program, started in 1919, ended with the design of blueprints in 1920 which were relatively advanced for their time, compared for example to British designs like the Hawkins and Enterprise class, still armed with single masked guns, but already introducing twin turrets, as with the more comparable Omaha class.
The use of the new 1921 pattern 155 mm guns (unusual as the largest bore in the loose “6-in” range) in four twin turrets from the start was indeed quite a novelty, and quickly imposed itself later as an evidence as it maximized the firepower at all angles. Nevertheless, they were the first cruisers in the world with this configuration.
The design of the bridge was rational, centered around the conning tower, with open “wings” for observation, a roomy hull which authorized for ample machinery, allowing a speed in the range of 30 knots, justifying their place in the fleet as scouts.
Armament of French cruisers
We will exclude from this pre-ww1 designs and entente-built war prize cruisers.
-8 in/50 (203 mm) modele 1924 (Duquesne, Suffren, Algérie)
-8 in/55 (203 mm) modele 1937 (St Louis)
-6.1 in/55 (155 mm) modele 1921 (Duguay Trouin class, Jeanne d’Arc)
-6 in/50 (152 mm) modele 1930 (Emile Bertin, La Galissonière, De Grasse)
-5.5 in/40 modele 1927 (in single mounts: Pluton)
-3.9 in/50 modele 1931 DP (100 mm) (Algérie, St Louis)
-3.5 in/50 DP (90 mm)(Bertin, La Galissonière, De Grasse)
-3 in/60 (76 mm) AA modele 1921, 22, 26, 30 (Pluton, Jeanne d’Arc, Primauguet, Duquesne, Suffren)
-37 mm AA modele 1925, 33
-25 mm AA (all) Hotchkiss: 1939 – “mitrailleuse de 25 mm contre-aéroplanes modèle 1939”
-13.2 mm AA (all) Hotchkiss modele 1929, in twin, quad mounts.
-21.7 in (550 mm) Torpedo tubes
The last French cruisers
SAINT LOUIS class heavy cruisers (Design C5) (1940)
WoW rendition of Saint Louis
The heavy cruiser Algerie was considered the most successful of the “Washington cruisers”, a perfect technical compromise respecting the treaty. The admiralty planned for the ageing of the tranche of heavy cruisers of the Duquesne class to launch a new series, voted in 1939 when it appeared that the treaty was no longer respected by the belligerent navies (and was lifted de facto).
Therefore, the next class called “Saint Louis” which was to include four ships, was of a whole different level, with a standard displacement increased to more than 14,000 tons, and a main artillery of nine 8-inches in three triple turrets. This was the “French baltimore”, but with smaller dimensions and much lighter AA. Another innovation, the Saint Louis had to have a “mast-stack” taken from the Richelieu and had to be provided with a sonar and a radar, although retaining their seaplanes. With 202 meters long by 20 wide, armor increased to more than 210 mm in places, a tonnage at full load estimated at 16,000 tons, they were able to respond effectively to the German heavy cruisers of the Blücher class (1937).
In addition to their 8-in (203 mm) artillery, they had to carry four twin 100 mm and eight 37 mm also in turrets, the model of which will be used on escort and destroyers after the war. Their turbines coupled with 6 Indret supercharged boilers were to give them 130,000 hp for a top speed of 34 knots. Their construction was approved in April 1940, but their construction was never started nor approved, the campaign of France cut short there. If they had been built, they would probably have been put into service in 1943-44 and would have been very comparable to the Baltimore of the US Navy.
From 1935 it was more urgent to plan for the expected replacement for its 1920s Duguay Trouin class, by more modern ships. This was the trigger for Project C5, a heavy cruiser project, facilitated by the expected end of binding naval treaties. French naval engineers could really now search for the optimal design without compromises. They could propose the admiralty a fast, well armed and well protected ship like nothing before in the French Navy. The first C5 project was presented on May 12, 1939. It existed in two versions, with or without aviation, with a standard displacement of 10,349 or 10,246 tonnes, but both with the same nine 203 mm guns (8-in) as main armament, in three triple turrets. The secondary armament was planned to comprise 10 to 14 100 mm guns in twin turrets. As the design progressed with back-and-forth propositions with the admiralty, the C5 design reached 14,770 tW in April 1940, when it was approved by decree dated April 1, 1940. The construction of three ships was authorized.
Technically, these vessels were still quite close to the Algérie, seen retrospectively as a flush deck hull prototype. But they were much longer, reaching 194 up to 202 m overall. For construction, Welding was generalized but for only a few sensitive elements sensible to vibrations, which were still riveted. The choice of welding and light materials for the internal structures allowed more protection to be applied, thus, closing to an armored cruiser. Superstructures were much inspired from Algérie but with a more modern “mack” or mast-stack like for the Richelieu class behind the main bridge, and replacing the Algérie aft tripod. There was also an aft telemeter tower, combined into a new superstructure to house an AA platform.
Renditions of the C5A1 and A3, basically with or without aviation. From Warships International, Jean Moulin.
The final C5 cruiser’s most striking arrangement was the choice of nine 203 mm guns in three triple turrets allowing one more gun to bear, plus sixteen 100 mm guns in eight twin mounts. The lighter AA was made up of six twin 37 mm mounts model 1935 and sixteen twin 25 mm Hotchkiss mountings. The project gained traction as it was hoped construction would proceed, and on May 15, 1940, a circular proposed names: Saint Louis for the lead ships, Brennus, and Henri IV, but also Charles Martel, Charlemagne, and Vercingetorix, all great classic figures and statesmen of French history. The Minister of the Navy eventually settled on Saint Louis, Henri IV, and Charlemagne.
Construction of Saint Louis was entrusted to Arsenal de Lorient, Henri IV to Ateliers et Chantiers du Havre and Charlemagne was attributed to the Ateliers et Chantiers de France based in Dunkirk. Little they could guess that the city would be under the Luftwaffe’s bombs and assaulted by a panzerdivision from 26 May, barely ten days afterwards !.
Originally they were meant to replace the Duguay-Trouins. Three more were ordered to be sent to the Mediterranean, expected to enter service in 1944.
Displacement: Initial Washington: 10,349 t (C5A3) or 10,246 t (C5SA1). 14,770 april 1940. Dimensions: (Final CS5A1): 202 x 20 x 5.8m Armament:
-3 x 3 x203/55 modèle 1937 (range 27,840 m, 10 rpm;
-5 (C5A3) or 7/6 (C5SA1) twin 100mm/45 modèle 1933, range 15,800/10,000m, 10-16rpm.
Planned replacement by the much faster automated 100mm/55 modèle 45 (Range 17,260/11,300m, 20-25rpm)
-4 (C5A3) to 6(C5SA1) quadruple 37mm/48 modèle 1935 (ceiling 8000m, 162rpm)
Planned upgraded, 57mm/60 m51 postwar (120rpm)
-8 twin 25mm/77 modèle 38, ceiling 1,800m, 250/300rpm
-2 x 4 533mm TTs, modèle 1935 torpedoes, range 13,000m/45n
-3 floatplanes on C5A3 variant. Powerplant: 130,000 hp (Rateau-Bretagne turbines*, Du Temple boilers, 35 knots). Armor: Possibly up to 21 cm belt. Details unknown.
*Likely Parsons models would be unavailable due to British requisitions
Author’s rendition of the St. Louis
DE GRASSE class light cruisers (1940)
Rendition of the De Grasse blueprint in 1937.
The replacement of buildings of the Duguay-Trouin class, dating from the Vintg years, had been envisaged in 1936. Approved in 1937, the De Grasse class (also including the Chateaurenault and the Guichen), was ordered in 1938 and the construction of the De Grasse started at the Lorient arsenal in November 1938. In June 1940, with a lack of personnel and equipment, the construction of the hull was not completed.
In fact, the occupier authorized the Vichy regime to terminate it on its own account, but the staff being lacking, and for fear of recovery by the Germans, the works never succeeded. Work was resumed, on new plans, in 1948, and the De Grasse became an anti-aircraft cruiser in 1950, and had a long career, only being written off in 1976.
The De Grasse had to be better protected than the La Galissonière , while retaining the arrangement in three triple turrets of the previous buildings. Their anti-aircraft artillery included 6 pieces of 90 mm in three turrets (placed at the back), as well as 5 simple mountings of 25 mm of a new model, with rapid fire.
Cutouts schemes of the De Grasse – from “French Cruisers: 1922-1956”, John Jordan, Jean Moulin. Drawings by Jordan adapted from 1938 plans
In addition, they carried 13.2 mm quadruple carriages and two triple benches of 550 mm torpedo tube launchers. They had four additional seaplanes, including two Loire 130 observation vessels and two Laté 298 torpedo boats and ASM grenades. They kept their square bow, and their dimensions, although still compact, increased to 176 meters by 18 meters wide, and 9900 tonnes at full load. They had four propellers driven by as many Rateau-Bretagne turbines and four indret boilers for 110,000 hp and 33 knots.
Rendition of de De Grasse class
Other cruisers projects (1920-45)
This Appeared in the 1920 issue of the American Society of Naval Engineers, page 216. Several designs being considered by the “Conseil Superieur” are written down. These were the following:
5,300 tons 32knts, eight 5.5 inch 55 caliber guns
6,000 tons 35knts, eight 5.5 inch 60 caliber guns
7,600 tons 33knts, six 7.6 inch guns
8,500 tons 33knts, five 8 inch guns
In 1919 there were plans for a 4,750 tons cruiser with eight 5.5 inch guns and 30 knots speed, a follow-up of the Eclaireurs d’escadre of 1912
Fiction and reality: WoW’s fantasies
Rendition of the “Friant”.
Friant was indeed a French cruiser name dating back from 1896. The name could have been used on the initial 1920 project, one of the preliminary designs before the blueprints of the Duguay-Trouin class were drafted. The design is consistent with the early designs that already regarded superfiring twin turrets as a solution. However in the game, the low speed was not reflecting the tendency already started in 1912 with the projected scout cruisers. Now the other French cruisers presented by this video game:
The Martel is classed lower than the St Louis because of its tonnage. This was a heavy cruiser project (labelled “Project C5A3”) aimed at the German heavy cruisers of the Hipper class but also in the context for future treaties expirations and denunciations. This was the first model with triple turrets. The St Louis then should be a derivative or evolution incorporating more armour. At that point in 1938-39 it was clear that in case of war, the belligerents would enter with treaty-capped compromised vessels. Although it is not sure French intelligence at the time knew about the real displacement figures, nobody wanted to be sending its sailors on death-traps. So provisional projects were voted and when wartime broke out, several “un-capped” cruisers designs were studied. The experience gained with the La Galissonière class and seeing navies around the world carry on with triple turrets showed the way forward. It seems to have been the early 10,000 tons (Washington)
This one is totally legit and well-known. See the dedicated topic. It was the C5A1 version (with aviation) which was retained.
According to WoW, “it was developed from the preceding projects” (aka C5 cruisers) “with enhanced anti-aircraft defenses, and carried 240 mm main guns designed in the 1930s.” According to naweaps.org, there is simply no entry in the 240 mm category. And it’s quite doubtful a reuse of the old 24 cm/50 (9.45″) Model 1902-1906 already used on the Danton class battleships as secondaries, even modified with new breech blocks and mounts. In the interwar, the Danto class were in reserve, but still armed. Extra guns would have been kept for spares. So for this “1930s 24 cm gun”, we should consider this one a pure fabrication. As for the name, Henri IV really existed, she was one of the serie of six Saint Louis class, second batch, and would have been a repeat of the C5A1/3 design.
A point on French cold war cruisers
An impressive sight, Toulon in the 1960s: Left to right, the battleship Jean Bart, the cruiser Suffren (disarmed), Montcalm, and behind, the still active colbert.
Basically post-war France had still two WW2 cruisers in reduced service until 1970: Océan (ex-Suffren, accomodation ship 1962, discarded 1974), and Montcalm (same from 1958, discarded 1970) modernized in the 1960s with modern radars and AA, but the Frecnh Navy only had two modern ‘conventional’ cruisers, also in service in 1970 and similarly armed: The De Grasse & Colbert. Former cruisers were discarded in the 1950s (Duguay Trouin, Duquesne, Jeanne d’Arc, Emile Bertin, Gloire, G. Leygues) with the exception of Tourville (discarded 1962).
Of the 1940 De Grasse class, only one was completed, but due to the war, all work came to an abrupt stop and the design was completely, entirely revised for a pure AA cruiser, well rendered by WoW. Even that concept had a limited usefulness, but for the very early jets, given the fact this powerful AA artillery was medium to long range. In 1960, SAMs were all the rage. So Colbert was rapidly converted whereas De Grasse stayed in her original configuration, but modified to take on more specialized role (base ship in the Mururoa pacific nuclear test facility).
World of Warships shows an hypothetic “Bayard” which is allegedly based on a project from 1945 regarding a light cruiser carrying 4 triple turrets with 152 mm guns. Thsis pathway was abandoned in January 1948 to concentrate on a more useful pure AA cruiser, used to protect French CVs. No source is specifically cited, but it present an alternative early completion design for the De Grasse class, using original De Grasse artillery, but with four triple turrets and a more advanced AA and a roomy superstructure closer to the 1950s projects. A right comparison would be the Soviet Chapayev and Sverdlov classes.
ONI Recoignition plate of the Montcalm, as she was in 1953 after her refit. Notice the new tripod mast supporting a new set of US-built radars and WW2 era AA.
Conway’s all the world’s fighting ships 1922-47 French Cruisers 1922-56 Google Books
Nomenclature of French WW2 cruisers
In September 1939, the French Navy aligned 19 cruisers: In chronological order: The three Primauguet, the two Duquesne, the four Colbert, the Pluton, Jeanne d’Arc, Emile Bertin, Algérie and the six La Galissonnière, not the last French conventional cruisers in service (This would be the new Colbert and Suffren). One was lost in an accident, one beached (1942), on sunk in 1945 and seven scuttled in Toulon in 1942. The drama of their active life was of course dictated by events. Of the few which actually fired in anger, were against British and US targets during operation Torch, ground objectives in 1944 (France, Italy…), the Thai Navy (in 1941) and Indochina in 1949-50. Of the ships that survived, the last was Suffren, renamed Océan in 1964 and BU in 1974.
Lamotte-Picquet in Shanghai, circa 1939. Left is the British light cruiser Birmingham’s tern and bow of the U.S. Navy troop transport USS Chaumont, right. Also spotted in the frame are the Danish steamer Promise British steamer Yingchow (right background), British steamer Shantung (right foreground) Src Official U.S. Navy photo NH 81987 from the U.S. Navy Naval History and Heritage Command.
The three light cruisers of this class, including the Duguay-Trouin, Lamotte-Picquet and Primauguet, were the first French cruisers built since 1906. The war had sold the resources of the French naval industry, but in 1920, They had recovered their potential, partly in part because of the war damage imposed on the Germans, and uninterrupted and consequent efforts. The design of Omaha class ships, as well as those of other navies, was carefully studied, with Italy as a rival. The definitive design C was stopped in 1922.
The hulls of these ships have been carefully studied to take full advantage of the available power of modern triple expansion boilers associated with turbines. The speed of 33 knots had been considered as soon as the plans were drawn. Their 155 mm guns of the 1920 model, a weapon from army stocks, (the standard was 152 mm), which amounted to 26,100 meters for 4 bursts per minute, which was relatively slow at the time , and was even more so in 1939.
A protection against combat gases had been envisaged, the turrets were thus conceived as hermetic. The protection was the poor child of this design, with however a very strong subdivision around the engine room, and a sufficient protection of the roof of the turrets. The trials were successful, with these ships easily exceeding 34 knots, and able to maintain 30 knots with half of their boilers for more than 24 hours, which at the time was a good performance. However, their AA was sufficient for the time, but totally inadequate in 1939, and their range was low (6000 km at 14 knots) which was barely enough for fast sorties in the Mediterranean.
The Primauguet class in operation
All received seaplanes and associated catapults. First LGL32 (loire Gourdou Lesseure) then the Loire 130.
The Primauguet was rearmed in 1942 with a superior AA, as well as the Duguay-Trouin, passed to the allies in May 1943, then rearmed in an American arsenal. Radars, equipment and AA were at the American standard. The latter, under the command of Admiral Godfroy, was interned in Alexandria in 1940. Donated to the FNFL (Free French Navy), the cruiser participated in the campaigns of the allies, including operation Anvil Dragoon. She was scrapped only after the war, after some service in Indochina.
Duguay-Trouin (completed 2 November 1926) served in French Indochina in 1931 and from 1939, patrolled the Atlantic, looking for German shipping and commerce raiders. From May 1940 she was sent to the Mediterranean Sea, and ended in Alexandria with Force X when France surrendered. Thanks to a gentleman agreement between the two admirals, Force X was ‘demilitarized’ (breech blocks were removed and stored into a guarded, locked room) and stayed idle with only minimal staff for three years. From August 1943, the FNFL was attributed the ship and started to modify her, removing her torpedo tubes and augmenting her AA with fifteen Oerlikon 20 mm cannon and six twin 13.2 mm. In 1944 it was modified again to twenty 20 mm, six Bofors 40 mm guns and radar installed. Duguay-Trouin assisted Operation Dragoon in August 1944 and was part of the Flank Force, shelling German positions in Italy. After the war she was sent in Indochina, shelling coastal Viet Minh positions. Back to France, she was scrapped on 29 March 1952.
Lamotte-Picquet was sent in 1935 to Indochina. She was part of Cam Ranh’s squadron, the “occasional group” near Saigon under Capt. Bérenger, and participated with two colonial avisos (sloops) and two corvettes, to the battle of Koh Chang, playing the instrumental role in destroying the Thai navy in January 1941, on paper with two armoured ships armed with 8-in guns. In December 1941, the Japanese demanded her disarmament and she was interned in saigon. She was finally sunk in January 1945 by Task Force 38 aircraft.
The Primauguet as soon as she entered the service, made long cruises of several months. In 1932, she was sent to Indochina, then he was replaced by the Suffren, and then escorted the French convoys to the Atlantic from 1939. In May 1940, he was at Fort de France, raising the Jeanne d’Arc; Then he went to protect the Dutch Indies. In June 1940, he was back in Dakar. He helped transport some of the Bank of France gold stocks to Africa. While escorting a tanker departing to supply the 4th squadron of cruisers in Libreville, he was intercepted by HMS Cornwall and Delhi.
After negotiations, she was forced to turn around. In November 1942 she was in Casablanca, undergoing a major overhaul. During Operation Torch she fired at USS Massachusetts which soon replicated (as well as on Jean Bart). Ther was little she could not do with an almost non-existent protection, and after several salvoes from the American battleship she was left with 45 dead and more than 200 wounded. She moved out of range, burning and adrift, was beached, and declared the next day as a total constructive loss. The rest of the crew escaped and she was scrapped after the war in situ.
The Primauguet at the battle of Koh Chang.
Displacement: 7,250 t. standard -9350 t. Fully Load
Dimensions: 181.3 m long, 17.50 m wide, 6.15 m draft.
Propulsion: 4 propellers, 4 Parsons turbines, 8 Guyot boilers, 120,000 hp. Maximum speed 34 knots.
Armour: 20 mm belt, 15 mm anti-torpedo partitions, bridge 20, 30 mm turrets, 30 mm bunker.
Armament: 8 x 155 mm (Model 1920), 4 × 75 mm AA, 4 × 3 550 mm TTs, Loire 130 seaplane.
The Duquesne and Tourville were the first heavy cruisers from the Washington Treaty in France, and the first since 1906. Preceded in 1923-24 by the three Primauguets (light cruisers), these vessels were wider, had classical “Washington” main artillery of eight 8-in (203 mm) all with a tonnage of less than 10,000 tonnes. Out of rivalry with the Italian Navy, emphasis was placed on speed. From the start a speed of 32-33 knots was required. During sea trials, she managed to reach 34 knots, but the maximum “normal” speed was 33.5 knots. With 191 meters long, a length/width ratio of 1:10, the 10,000 standard tons could only be respected at the cost of a very light construction, to the point that their action in the North Atlantic was only a time not even considered.
The construction was rational, with a military mast supporting the firing direction at the front, a gangway lined with an admiral bridge surrounding the blockhouse, ASM protection in caissons, light armor (30 mm) around the turret wells. 203 mm, a reduced belt, torpedo tubes, a DCA which was then considered sufficient, and reconnaissance seaplanes launched from the deck of the rowboats. The lack of shining armor indicated that in the event of combat against other ships of the same class, they would have absorbed the blows without being able to bear them. But their philosophy was primarily based on the tactical use of speed, as well as for battle cruisers. Their Creusot guns just out of the arsenals allowed a range up to 31,000 meters, which at the time put them “out of reach” of most cruisers. They fired up to four rounds per minute, which was also very honourable for the time.
Duquesne in 1944, after its passage in US arsenals. Note the two-tone hull camouflage
The Duquesne class in operation:
They hardly had the opportunity to prove their military value. Indeed by June 1939, after having served with escorts in Mediterranean, the two ships were immobilized for a short refit;
Duquesne from September 1939 was assigned to one of the South Atlantic hunting groups searching for KMS Admiral Graf Spee. Tourville meanwhile patrolled for eventual German ships in the Mediterranean. Both were eventually assigned to Force X in the Mediterranean. In addition to the two sister-ships, the squadron comprised also the old battleship Lorraine, the Suffren, light cruiser Duguay-Trouin, the destroyers Basque, Forbin, and Fortuné, and the submarine Protée.
Admiral Godfroy’s squadron departed Toulon on 25 April 1940, and made it in Alexandria on 24 May. In June, Italy declared war on France, justifying their presence at Alexandria where they could operate with the Royal Navy. In July 1940 however, after the fall of France, the fat of the French fleet was immediately put into question. 4 July 1940 PM Churchill’s secret order Operation Catapult had all French ships captured or destroyed if necessary. However due to a gentleman agreement between Godfroy and Cunningham which knew each other well and even had family alliance, spared both fleet a futile bloodbath and destruction to the city. A complete contrast with Mers-El-Kebir. It was agreed to empty fuel fro their bunkers and retire the breech block mechanism, while the remaining crews would not attempt to escape and in exchange would be repatriated at the shortest notice.
The ships stayed idle until mid-1943. Darlan (assassinated in between) indeed had swapped sides to the allied on North Africa, and so did the remainder of French ships. it was decioded to send both heavy cruisers for a refit in the United States. Their torpedo tubes, catapults and aircraft were removed, and they received eight Bofors 40 mm guns and sixteen Oerlikon 20 mm for AA. From then on, they would patrol the mid-Atlantic, looking for Axis blockade runners. Due to heir light AA, they were denied to participate in the invasion of Normandy. Duquesne however joined the Task Force sent in December 1944 to shell coastal pockets of German resistance. Both would be sent in 1946 in French Indochina, part of the task force deployed for counterinsurgency. Both were paid off in 1950 after their return to France, and BU in 1955 and 1962 respectively.
Displacement: 10,000 t. standard -12 200 t. Full Load Dimensions: 191 m long, 19 m wide, 6.3 m draft. Propulsion: 4 propellers, 4 Turbine turbines, 9 Guyot boilers of the Temple, 120,000 hp. Maximum speed 33.7 knots. Armour: 30 mm belt, 30 mm anti-torpedo partitions, 25 bridge, 30 mm turrets, 30 mm bunker. Armament: 8 pieces of 203 mm cal.55 (Model 1925), 8×76 mm DP, 8×37 mm AA (4×2), 8 ML of 13.2 mm AA (2×4), 2 Loire 130 seaplanes. Crew: 605
Tourville in 1939. Well designed, these ships however had a protection sacrificed to speed.
Overview of the Suffren and Duquesne in Port 15 October 1934, photo from USN scouting fleet. There is a U.S. Navy Wickes/Clemson-class destroyer tied up in front of Duquesne. (cc)
More armour, less speed
The Suffren class succeeded to the Duquesne class cruisers, ordered from their launch on the same basis, 10,000 tons washington heavy cruisers. Laid down between 1926 and 1929, they were launched between 1927 and 1930, entered service between 1930 and 1932. In outline, they were closely derived from Duquesne, with slightly larger dimensions in length, width and draft and with a significantly better protection (though still very light). The belt, for example, was increased to 65mm, which was still too weak to stop most projectiles and torpedoes. compartmentation was more advanced, allowing medium and light projectiles to lose velocity before reaching the most sensitive parts, although delayed fuses became widespread at the same time, making these dispositions soon obsolete.
Their speed, with a slightly different machinery arrangement rested on three shafts. Top speed was less impressive than Italian cruisers, always displayed exceptional performances. The class included the Suffren, Colbert, Foch, and Dupleix. They varied slightly in size (Foch was larger) and their anti-aircraft artillery was now composed of the new 88 mm mounts, varying slightly in details from one ship to another. Sufficient in 1935, this AA was no longer relevant in 1940.
The history of these four ships was relatively short (apart Suffren) During the conflict, these vessels were active, searching for the Graf Spee in the South Atlantic and the Indian Ocean.
In June 1940, Suffren was in Alexandria with Force X while her sisters were in Toulon. She was interned, partially disarmed under British control. She waited there until May 1943 and passed under the control of the FNFL (Free French Naval Forces). She was sent to New York for a major overhaul anti-aircraft rearming to US standards she emerged anew.
Suffren was then sent to reinforce the Franco-British squadron of the Far East alongside the Richelieu, participating in mainly coastal support missions. She would return home, to return after the war in Indochina. In 1962, she was placed in pre-reserve and served as a floating pontoon under the name Ocean in 1964 (to clear the name for a new missile cruisers). She was BU in 1974, a good career for a ship designed in the late 1920s.
Foch, Dupleix and Colbert stayed in Toulon most of their time of service, making only rare sorties due to fuel rationing. They were all three scuttled in November 1942. Dupleix was refloated in July 1943 by the Italians who wanted to repair and integrate her in the crippled Regia Marina. Repair work was slowed down by the French workers, and never was completed. The ship was sunk by an American air raid during the landing in Provence (operation Anvil Dragoon).
Cruiser Suffren at Toulon 21 Sept. 1945 – Personal archive by André Marton (cc)
Displacement: 9,980 t. standard -12,780 t. Full Load Dimensions: 194 m long (196 Foch), 19.3 m wide, 7.2 m draft. Propulsion: 3 propellers, 3 Turbine turbines, 9 Guyot boilers of the Temple, 90,000 hp. Maximum speed 31 knots. Armour: 65 mm belt, 25 mm anti-torpedo partitions, 25 bridge, 25 mm turrets, 28 mm bunker. Armament: 8 pieces of 203 mm cal.55 (Model 1925), 8×88 mm DP, 8×37 mm AA (4×2), 12 ML of 13.2 mm AA (2×4), 2 Loire 130 seaplanes. Crew: 750
Colbert in 1939. The four Suffren took over the defects of the previous Duquesne in terms of protection, and while they were completed, the Italians had the Zara class in construction, much better protected. Another HD Photo of the Foch (uncertain source)
Algérie arrived after a series of cruisers which had been criticized for their cruel lack of protection and their too light construction. We came to study under a new direction, a new type of heavy cruiser still subject to Washington tonnage, but trying this time a compromise clearly focused on protection.
This resulted in more modest dimensions, a flush-deck hull, revised interior fittings, but almost unchanged speed, and all this was in favor of excellent general protection. It was in fact, even in the international opinion undoubtedly one of the most successful if not the most successful of the “wahington cruisers”. Laid down in 1931, it was launched in 1932 and operational in September 1934.
Algérie in operation:
Despite its qualities, Algeria was never really put to the test. Assigned to the first cruiser squadron (with the Fochs, Tourville, Duquesne, Colbert and Dupleix), he was detached from Toulon to operate the pursuit of the German privateer Graf Spee in the South Atlantic. He was therefore based in Dakar. In March 1940 he escorted the battleship Bretagne, putting French gold (3000 tonnes of ingots) in safety in Canada.
After the Italian declaration of war, she was sent to pound the facilities of the port of Genoa. He was on an escort mission when the capitulation came. Wet in Toulon, escorting Provence from Mers-El-Kébir after the attack. In 1942, a radar and a better AA battery were added to it. But on November 27, she was scuttled in Toulon, like the rest of the fleet.
Displacement: 10 000 t. standard -13 641 t. Pleine Charge
Dimensions: 186,2 m x 20 m x 6,15 m draft
Powerplant: 4 x Rateau-Bretagne turbines, 6 Indret boilers, 84 000 ihp. Top speed 31 knots.
Armor: Belt 120 mm, 70 mm ASW bulkheads, decks 80 mm, 95 mm turrets, blockhaus 95 mm.
Armament: 8 x 203 mm cal.55 (Mod 1931), 12 x 100 mm DP (6×2), 8 x 37 mm AA (4×2), 16 x 13,2 mm AA (4×4), 2×3 TT 550 mm, 3 seaplane Loire 130.
Official U.S. Navy photo NH 88990 from the Naval History and Heritage Command
The breakthrough French cruiser
Named after a famous French naval engineer, Emile Bertin, this light cruiser of the new generation innovated in the same way that Algeria had marked a clear break for heavy cruisers. Basically, she was designed to support the Pluto (later renamed “La Tour d’Auvergne”) as a minelayer cruiser and heavy destroyers leaders of the like of Malin or Maille Breze class in the Atlantic.
Slightly built (she was even reinforced to allow firing in simultaneous side bursts), its hull was very studied to give it an advantage of speed and fuel economy. As such, a very good walker, he was also particularly fast, reaching 38-39 knots for testing (the rival Italian rivals of the Band Nere class on their side claimed 41-42 knots). He was especially the first to use triple turrets of 152 mm guns, in order to save armor and weight in general. In this way they managed to have 9 pieces. Bertin will serve as a test gallop for the famous next class, La Galissonnière. It was built at the Penhöet (Saint Nazaire) shipyards, launched in 1933 and completed in 1935.
Emile Bertin in operations:
In 1939, Bertin was transferred from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean, then based in Toulon, still in his role as a flotilla leader. He secretly delivered the gold reserves of Poland to Lebanon. After a short remake, he left to patrol around the Canary Islands. Then in April 1940 he was back in Brest, where he was assigned to Group Z for Norway under Admiral Derrien. In Namsos he was attacked on April 19 by the Stukas of the Luftwaffe and had to return to Brest for repairs. Subsequently, he was sent with a gold stock from the Bank of France in Nova Scotia, Halifax, along with Jeanne d’Arc and Béarn.
The Bertin in 1944. Note his equipment revised to US standards and the standard camouflage of that time. U.S. Navy’s recognition slide. (cc)
Meanwhile the news of the capitulation arrived. Emile Bertin was then sent to Martinique and inactive, then partially disarmed in May 1942. In June 1943, he was officially handed over to the FNFL and joined the arsenal of Philadelphia to be rearmed and re-equipped to the standards of the US Navy. He was then sent to participate in the Italian campaign and landing in Provence. After 1945, she participated in the operations in Indochina, before being disarmed and sent to scrap in 1959.
Displacement: 5,880 t. standard – 8,840 t. Full Load
Dimensions: 177 m long, 16 m wide, 6.6 m draft.
Propulsion: 4 propellers, 4 Parsons turbines, 6 penhöet boilers, 102,000 hp. Maximum operational speed 34 knots.
Propulsion: 20 mm belt, 18 mm anti-torpedo partitions, bridge 20, 26 mm turrets, 26 mm blockhouse.
Armament: 9 pieces of 152 mm cal.55 (3×3 – 1930 model), 4×90 mm AA, 8x37mm AA (4×2), 8×13,2 mm AA (4×2), 2 Loire 130 seaplanes.
4th generation of French training ships bearing this name, the “Jeanne” was a new light cruiser specifically designed for this purpose, with sufficient internal layout for many cadets. (156 student-sailors and 20 officer-instructors) Starts at Saint Nazaire in 1928, launched in 1930 and completed in 1931, this vessel was derived from the design of Duguay Trouin, but only had a speed of 25 knots. Its autonomy, on the other hand, was much more important.
The “Jeanne” in action
In May 1940, this ship was in Brest, and rushed for Martinique. Declared neutral, then officially under the control of Vichy, the ship remained immobilized until June 1943. At that time, the US command accepted its transfer to the FNFL. A major modernization was undertaken in the USA. The ship lost its catapult, its torpedo tubes, and received American standard AAA, with two 40 mm quadruple lugs and 20 single 20 mm carriages, plus a radar. Its main campaign was conducted in Italy, protecting the convoys and supporting its troops on the ground. His career continued long after the war, replaced by the helicopter carrier of the same name. She joined the torches for the demolition in 1966.
Author’s illustration of Jeanne d’Arc 1940
Displacement: 6,500 t. standard -8,950 t. Full Load Dimensions: 170 m long, 17.70 m wide, 6.4 m draft. Propulsion: 2 propellers, 2 Parsons turbines, 4 penhöet boilers, 32,500 hp. Maximum speed 24 knots. Armour: 20 mm belt, 15 mm anti-torpedo partitions, 20 bridge, 26 mm turrets, 25 mm bunker. Armament: 8 x 155 mm (model 1920), 4 x 75 mm AA, 4 x 37mm AA (2×2), 12 x 13.2 mm AA (6×2), 4 x 3 TLT 550 mm, 2 seaplanes Lgl-32. Crew: 500 + 176 cadets
La Galissonnière, Gloire, Georges leygues, Montcalm, Jean de Vienne, Marseillaise
Closely derived from Emile Bertin and responding to Italian Condotierri class buildings, the La Galissonnières displayed 9 pieces of 152 mm in triple turrets. They were distinguished by more compact superstructures, a square stern, a more solid hull and reinforced protection. In the end they were heavier by almost 1000 tonnes, which was not negligible for their size.
No less than six vessels had been planned, which entered into service between 1935 and 1937. These were the last French cruisers before the De Grasse class (see projects).
These ships were compromises intended to guarantee at the same time a good speed, an imposing armament, and the adequate protection on a limited tonnage allowing for more ships. Their main sacrifice was their range, due to a reduced hull, but adaptated to the Mediterranean. In addition they were armed with 90 mm model 1926, probably the best AA of the French arsenal (12-15 rounds/minute, launching a fuse HE shell 9.5 kgs up to 15,000 meters) and had a flawless construction massively using welding. These ships were among the most beautiful assets of the fleet fleet in 1939, both in quantity and quality.
La Galissonnière in July 1940
Their long post-war career attests to this. Their 550 mm model 23DT torpedoes were efficient, with an offensive head of 310 kg of TNT, they weighed 2070 kg, measured 8.30 m and were able to hit a target at 9,000 meters at 39 knots. Their armor still used strong compartmentation, but the general thickness allowed in theory to withstand impacts from cruiser shells of the same caliber (152 mm), which was a first.
Their driving apparatus varied according to the units, between Parsons turbines (La galissonnière, Georges leygues, Montcalm) and Rateau-Bretagne (Gloire, Marseillaise, Jean de Vienne). Their nominal top speed was 31 knots, but some like the Marseillaise managed to maintain a speed of more than 35 knots.
All had four LGL 32 seaplanes (and later two Loire 130) housed in a hangar located in front of the turret back. The latter had a catapult to authorize their launch. The goose neck crane at the base of the aft mast was used to retrieve it and launch the boats. In the end, apart from their insufficient secondary DCA in 1939, the La Galissonnières were judged, in France and abroad, as particularly successful ships.
La Galisonnière-class cruisers in operation:
The La Galissonnière, Jean de Vienne and Marseillaise formed the 3rd cruiser division in 1939, based in Bizerte for the Mediterranean, and the other three, the 4th division based in Brest for the Atlantic. The 4th division was attached to the Raid Force in 1939, along with the Strasbourg, Dunkirk, heavy cruisers, and destroyers at Brest. They protected the convoys from the Atlantic routes and gave chase – without success – to the German corsairs. Montcalm replaced Bertin in Norway, to cover the French troops engaged around Namsos. Then in April 1940, with the bellicose attitude of Italy, it was decided to send the 4th division to the Mediterranean, the ships being based at Algers.
In June, they made two sorties to try – in vain – to intercept the Italian cruisers. The 3rd and 4th divisions received an order from the admiralty asking them to join the squadron of Mers-El-Kebir (the order was received in key by the Royal Navy and the squadron of Admiral Somerville, then in Negotiations with Admiral Gensoul, was forced to shorten the discussions. We know the rest.The six cruisers, arrived too late to take part in what would have been probably a Franco-British naval battle of a certain scale, diverted on Toulon.
In September 1940, the Vichy government asked the admiralty to strengthen Libreville (Gabon) where an attack on free France was planned. The 4th division was therefore sent on the spot. But in the meantime they learned that the oil tanker Tarn, escorted by the Primauguet, was intercepted and forced to turn around by the Royal Navy, and were therefore in their turn forced to divert and set sail for Dakar, without the Glory , slowed down by turbine problems and forced by the Royal Navy to return to Casablanca.
Georges Leygues and Montcalm therefore took part in the ultimately successful defense of the Vichy fleet against the combined Allied forces (Operation Menace). In June 1941, Glory joined them. They remained anchored on the spot until 1943 (Le Gloire left in September 1942 to try to save the victims of the liner Laconia, sunk by the U156. (For his part Jean de Vienne did the same with La Moricière off the Balearic Islands) The 3rd cruiser division was based in Toulon and their operational outings were practically impossible due to the lack of fuel oil.
In November 1942, things changed: Jean de Vienne, La Galissonnière and La Marseillaise were scuttled on the 27th, during the Lila operation. Two of them were later given to the Italians, renamed FR11 and FR12, but the salvage work and repairs were never successful. They were sunk by Allied raids in 1944 during the landing in Provence. For their part, the Dakar cruisers joined the allies. Before taking part in FNFL operations, they were sent for rearmament and retrofitting to US standards in Philadelphia and New York.
Glory, Montcalm and Georges Leygues thus participated in the Italian campaign, the landing in Provence (Anvil-dragoon), the landing in Normandy. After the war, they went to Indochina. They were then assigned to Toulon, re-equipped with more modern AA artillery and new radars. They were taken out of service in 1958 (Gloire), 1959 (G. Leygues), whereas Montcalm survived until 1970. She was considered for a while to be converted into a missile cruiser.
Gloire in 1940
The cruiser Montcalm in 1944. Note the typical two-tone camouflage of the US Navy standard between mid-1944 and early 1945.
The cruiser Gloire in 1944. Note his famous camouflage in “railway accident”. In line with the naval camouflage experienced then, it was applied for the first time to a large tonnage vessel. The Glory, fully rearmed and re-equipped in 1943 at the arsenal of Philadelphia like its twins, had 6 quadruple 40 mm mountings (24 pieces) and 20 single 20 mm Oerlikons. Her aircraft equipment was removed as well as the hangar, canoes, masts and cranes.
Displacement: 7,600 t. standard – 9 120 t. Full Load Dimensions: 179 m long, 17.5 m wide, 5.35 m draft. Propulsion: 2 propellers, 4 Parsons/Rateau-Bretagne turbines, 4 Indret boilers, 84,000 hp. Maximum operational speed 31 knots. Armour: 105 mm belt, 120 mm anti-torpedo partitions, 38 bridges, 100 mm turrets, 95 mm blockhaus. Armament: 9 pieces of 152 mm cal.55 (3×3 – 1930 model), 8×90 mm AA (4×2), 8x37mm AA (4×2), 8×13,2 mm AA (4×2), 4 TLT 550 mm (4×2), 2 seaplanes Loire 130. Crew: 540
A little apart, the cruiser Pluton was built as a training ship for the gunners and minelaying missions. She was assigned to Toulon and also served to train future officers of “La Royale”. In September 1939, Pluton has been renamed “The Tower of Auvergne” and was sent in Casablanca to prepare for a minelaying campaign. During an unfortunate manipulation when loading mines, one of them exploded ripping the ship apart and killing most of her crew in the blast, also damagin the surroundings and breaking windows in Casblanca. The wreck was in such a state that it had to be blasted again to disperse debris and clear off the harbor.
The “Auvergne tower” formerly Pluto, May 1929.
Characteristics: Displacement: 4,773 t. standard – 6,550 t. Full Load Dimensions: 152 m long, 15.60 m wide, 5.20 m draft. Propulsion: 2 propellers, 2 Breguet turbines, 4 reduced tube boilers, 57,000 hp. Maximum operational speed 30 knots. Armour: none. Armament: 4 pieces of 140 mm under masks, 2x37mm AA, 12×13,2 mm AA (3×4), 290 mines. Crew: 424
Second generation of warship bearing this name, the “Jeanne” as she was nicknamed was a new light cruiser specifically designed for this purpose, with sufficient accommodations in its layout for many cadets: 156 student-sailors and 20 officer-instructors. Started at Saint Nazaire in 1928, launched in 1930 and completed in 1931, this cruisers was derived from the design of Duguay Trouin, but with a lower top speed of 25 knots, compensated with a much larger autonomy at sea, as she was to cruiser regularly around the world, as as such became one of the most common French cruiser in harbours around the world during the interwar. Her role in WW2 was complicated by the uneasy neutrality position of the Vichy regime. In May 1940, she in Brest and rushed for Martinique, Caribbean (West Indies) to avoid capture. She remained immobilized until June 1943 when the US command accepted its transfer to the FNFL (Free French Navy). After a major modernization in the USA, loosing her catapult and torpedo tubes and fitted with modern AA and radar she started her campaign in Italy, protecting convoys and supporting troops inland. Her career went on long after the war, replaced by the helicopter carrier bearing the same name, also the last of the kind and perhaps better known.
Stern view of the Jeanne in the port of Varna, Bulgaria, on the black sea.
The 1899 cruiser of the same name designed by the famous naval engineer Emile Bertin, as a large protected cruiser for overseas service and converted as a 11,500 tonnes armoured cruiser, but not tailored as as schoolship. She was converted as a training ship for naval cadets in 1908, and apart the interruption of WWI, resumed this service until August 1919, this tie refitted for the purpose. She was retired 15 February 1933, her last commander in 1927-28 being no other than François Darlan, the future head of the French Navy in WW2. Meanwhile, a new, tailored cruiser for the task was planned FY1928. Specifications were prepared by the naval staff and transmitted to naval Genie engineer Antoine. His school cruiser design was accepted and the ship is authorized that year, the keel laid down at St Nazaire (Normandy) in September 1928. As a cruiser, she as then designed to be both a training ship and fully operational warship and procure Naval Academy’s “midships” decent and modern housing and accommodations for long cruises at sea. This however imposed some compromises. If the armament was sufficient for a 6,500 tonnes ship, AA and ASW equipments were limited, as the top speed. Her main advantage resided in her long range patrol and escort capability rather than taking part with the fleet in a naval action. Jeanne d’Arc or “Joan of Arc”, was the Maiden of Orleans during the Lancastrian phase of the 100 years war that helped turn the tide and was later sanctified by the Church.
Design of the Jeanne d’Arc
The cruiser was undisputedly “light” by all measures, with a standard displacement noted at 6,500 tonnes, and in regards to the Washington treaty, with just eight 6-in guns. Her general configuration was the same as previous light cruisers such as the Primauguet class (1923), with the same armament configuration, hull shape with a forecastle and tripod mainmast supporting the main fire control telemeter. There were differences like the clipper stern, and the powerplant management, with truncated funnels far apart. But the most obvious difference was the long central section dedicated to cadets housing, with galleries, stretching the cruiser amidship. This looked almost if a standard light cruiser has been cut in half and the whole central section of a liner has been fitted. The final cruiser was 170 m long for 17,70 m wide, so a 1/10 ratio for speed, and a 6,30 m draft. As described by one officer on board, “with her slender lines, oval section funnels slightly raked and well balanced, her stepped superstructures and very rounded stern, the “Joan of Arc” already appeared to be as successful as the other light cruisers to which she was similar by her displacement as well as by her armament”.
Bow view of the cruiser anchored in Vancouver
The distribution of the premises reserved for the School, quite distinct from military installations were evident in this design, pupils being housed in twelve stations grouped in the two floors of the large central deckhouse. The central section comprised 12 stations where the cadets slept in hammocks. There was a middle passageway separating the two workstations from the upper deck. There was also a vast conference room aft, where the entire promotion could be gathered to listen director of studies and officer-instructors. These premises open onto side sheltered gangways, not unlike promenade decks of cruise ships. The captain’s apartment was large, installed aft of the deckhouse, and officers quarters were placed under the main-middle deck. The crew was housed in the bow. Nothing was forgotten for life on board with an small hospital, a cooperative, a master tailor’s workshops and shoemaker, a laundry room, a butcher, a 80m2 refrigerated room, a pantry, a wine stall, distributed in the front sections. This design dictated the middle section of the ship, which was a rectangle for 3/4 of the total length.
Above the boilers and forward engine room, posts of masters and second masters were placed as well as the administrative office and the military office, the printing house, the photographic laboratory, as well as various workshops and stores. Bakery and kitchens were spread over two level, forward of the superstructure. There was also a senior officer’s room close to the captain’s secretariat, a student disciplinary room, subaltern officers quarter and a saloon occupying an entire section in width. There was also an aft engine and boiler room section (in case one was flooded, the other could still prove the ship some mobility). Close to it was located the aft ammunition compartments and steering gear room. The navigation bridge was rather classic, resembling other French cruisers of the time, with good visibility and additional instrument and repeaters to be used to train future officers.
The powerplant was classic for cruisers at the time in order to train future chief-mechanics, with Parson geared turbines, fed by four Penhoët boilers, making for a total output of 32,500 shp, and a top speed, as designed, of 25 knots. This was eight knots below what were capable most French cruisers of the time, but in line with the requirement which did not planned the cruiser to be integrated in an active fleet division, but act independently. 25 knots was still sufficient to attack trade, misc. ships and evade submarines, and for convoy escort duties. But overall, a lesser speed favoured range, which was the main concern here. Oil tanks were larger, giving her a range of 5,000 miles at 14.5 knots, to compare with the Primauguet class, 3,000 nautical miles at 15 knots. The funnels were also thinner and placed far apart, due to the large section occupied by cadets amidships. The “Jeanne” powerplant performed well, as she reached on a 3 hours trials 27.03 knots at 39,000 hp.
It was similar to the Primauguet class and rather divers in order to give cadets an idea of the diversity of weaponry used on French cruisers, ans enough to make the Jeanne d’Arc a fully capable wartime cruiser. It comprised chiefly eight 155 mm (6.1 in)/50 guns in four twin turrets, 2 forward, B in superfiring position, and two aft, with X in superfiring position, a standard for Cruiser, light and heavy of the time, adopted for the Primauguet, Duquesne and Tourville classes. The 155 mm caliber was the largest authorized by the Washington treaty for light cruisers. British, German, US standards were rather 152 mm, still generally called “6-inches” for simplification in naval nomenclatures and literature of the time.
These guns were created for the Primauguet class, called modèle 1920. It had a Welin interrupted-screw breech, and can elevaten from -5° to +40° and a rate of fire of 3-5 rpm. HE and AP shelled exited the barrel (life expectancy circa 700 rds) at 850 meters per second (2,800 ft/s), at a maximum firing range of 26,100 meters (28,500 yd).
The armament was completed by four 75 mm (3 in) Canon de 75 mm modèle 1924 anti-aircraft guns. All in single mounts, they were located on the upper deck, two admiships between the funnels and two abaft the bridge. In addition, eleven 37 mm (1.5 in) Canon de 37 mm modèle 1925 anti-aircraft (AA) guns were installed in single and twin mounts, and twelve 13.2 mm (0.52 in) AA machine guns, also in single and twin mounts, plus two 550 mm (21.6 in) torpedo tubes on the sides, amidships, located abaft the fore funnel on the lower gangway. The choice of a single tube was self-evident giving the central section’s width. Traverse was limited. There was no room to carry mines, however ASW racks and grenade launchers could be fitted to the stern, although non was ever installed. For reconnaissance and spotting, the Jeanne d’Arc carried two 2 CAMS biplanes, installed on the aft section of the superstructure, behind the second funnel and served by a boom mated on the aft mast. There was a catapult as shown on the blueprints, apparently never installed. Other service boats were located behind the bridge, and a crane was installed between funnels to serve them.
Designed at a time of “tin-clad” cruisers and being light was not going to help it. The Jeanne d’Arc was very lightly protected, even accorded to the standards of the time. It was “close to inexistent” as stated by one involved in the design process. By default of more precisions, we only know that the main belt was 20 mm thick, the turrets: 25 mm faces, and that the Conning Tower (CT) had 25 mm walls (0.8-1 inch). This indeed made her vulnerable pretty much to any weaponry at sea but heavy machine guns. This engineer’s idea was probably to avoid problems with the metacentric height, and he just followed the specifications.
Displacement: 6,500 t. standard -8,950 t. Full Load Dimensions: 170 m long, 17.70 m wide, 6.4 m draft. Propulsion: 2 shafts Parsons turbines, 4 penhöet boilers, 32,500 hp. Top speed 24 knots. Armour: 20 mm belt, 15 mm anti-torpedo bulkheads, 20 bridge, 26 mm turrets, 25 mm CT. Armament: 8 x 155 mm M1920 (6 in), 4×75 mm (3 in) AA, 4x37mm AA (2×2), 12×13.2 mm AA (6×2), 4×3 TLT 550 mm (21 in), 2 Cams seaplane Crew: 500 + 176 cadets
The “Jeanne” in action
The cruiser had a rather long career, spanning to the 1960s and her replacement by a new helicopter cruiser. The school cruiser had a strange launch. Sponsored by the wife of the then Minister of the Navy, Georges Leygues, she did not wait for the release to slip into the water on her own a few minutes before the scheduled time, and incident due to the rupture of the retaining slipper, but this all went well.
She entered service on October 6, 1931. Four days later, she sets sail for her first round-the-world cruise, carrying a fresh promotion of 156 officer cadets on board. This first cruise was aimed primarily at Latin America but back in the Mediterranean she would complete the journey by visiting major ports of the Mediterranean, after the West Indies, Dakar in West Africa and Casablanca on the Moroccan coast. This first 1931-32 cruise totalled 25,000 miles in 267 days with forty stopovers, under command of captain René Marquis.
The cruiser would carry eight campaigns for aspirants, giving all satisfaction to her captains and the general staff. The 1932-33 campaign bring her on a globe circumnavigation, passing through the Panama canal, visiting US West coast cities, stopping at Honolulu and then visiting ports in Asia, from Osaka to Bali and Columbo, and back to Toulon via Suez. The 1933-34 cruise started via Suez, to South Africa, and the South and North American east coast and west indies, then back to Brest. The 1934-35 includes the Mediterranean and the Atlantic, a round trip to the west indies and American west coast via Panama and back. The 1935-36 cruise was via Suez the Indian Ocean, south Africa, then cape horn and west coast of south America. The 1936-37 one included northern Europe, and the American east coast on both continents, plus west africa. The 1937-38 one was another circumnavigation via the pacific and asia and the 1938-39 campaign mostly included south america.
During this time, the cruiser acted as a “floating embassy” as well, to show the flag and reinforce French influence overseas. “Midships” learned all this time about navigation, weaponry and activities to exercise in their future career as an officer.
World War Two
When the war broke out, Jeanne d’Arc was back at Brest on the Atlantic coast since March 1939. She was assigned to the West Atlantic Division, taking part in the blockade of German cargos in neutral ports and patrolling to spot raiders and merchant cruiser, through her planes. This was still a risky business as if caught by even one of the well-armed German armed merchant raiders she would have stood little chance or surviving a duel. She was sent in drydock for maintenance one year later in 1940. Like the rest of the French fleet, events were not tender for the country once its surrendered.
Out of drydock, the French cruiser was delivered in June a very special cargo, and sensitive mission: Carrying French gold reserves to Halifax in Canada after the armistice. She teamed with the cruiser Emile Bertin and aircraft carrier Béarn in order to protect the whole content of the Bank of France. She stopped at Halifax, and then headed south to the French west indies.
The Squadron arrived at the island of Martinique, and according to international law and neutrality treaty, the cruiser was to be disarmed and remaining anchored at Fort de France from June 25, 1940. The disarmament was a simple operation, consisting at removing the breech block mechanism. A similar fate awaited ships in Alexandria. In any case, the US Fleet was not far away, and after December 1941, stationed ships to watch for any breech of neutrality. The squadron indeed could have rallied the fleet at Toulon. During this period it is noted she received in January 1942 six 12.7mm/90 heavy machine guns, Browning M2HB.
On June 3, 1943, discussions between De Gaulle and the allies led to an agreement. Like the squadron at Alexandria and ships detained in UK since Operation Catapult, the Martinique squadron was allowed to joined the Allied forces. Jeanne d’Arc was rearmed and prepared, and following month, she left Fort-de-France and headed for Puerto Rico. She was not by then taken in hands in US arsenals for modernization, which was refused. She sailed to the Mediterranean, stopping at Casablanca, and arrived in Algiers on September 17, 1943.
There, negotiations between the French Naval staff and Navy led to the permission of modernizing the AA of the ship by using storage and equipments from the repair ship and floating workshop USS Vulcan.
She notably received six Bofors and twenty Oerlikon, the modern anti-aircraft artillery she deserved, while older 75 mm and 13.2 mm partly dismounted. Her armament now comprised two single 37mm/50, four twin 13.2/76, six single 12.7mm/90 M2HB, siw 40mm/56 Mk 1/2 in single mounts and twenty 20mm/70 Mk 4 also in single mounts plus a surface search radar and an ASDIC sonar. On the 19, she set sail for Ajaccio. In October and December 1943 she took part in the reconquest of Corsica from axis troops. She stayed there until the summer of 1944, events for these months are foggy, but the crew trained and prepared for the landings in Provence. In May her AA armament was reinforced: She received two additional 20 mm/70 Oerlikon guns and four additional single 40 mm/56 Mk 1/2 Bofors.
Before August 1944, she received and armoured belt in Malta and was kept there for reinforcements. Rear Admiral Lemonnier appointed her to ensure the transport to Normandy of a part of the Provisional Government which would later rally Paris. The cruiser headed for this purpose on August 28 from Algiers to Cherbourg.
She was back in North Africa in September 24, she remained unavailable until her incorporation into Task Force 86, later renamed Flank Force, from October 25, 1944 until March 1945, carrying out several artillery rounds on various objectives in Italy. She went back to Toulon and drydock for maintenance and stayed mostly inactive until the war ended. She will be cited to the order of the Nation for the services rendered during the war.
After the war, she resumed her training function, making twenty-seven cruises. She left Toulon on September 29, 1946, for her first cold war campaign, between the Mediterranean, West Africa, West Indies and Central America. In the 1952-1953 training cruise, the naval staff planned to include more cadets but this reached the capabilities of the cruiser. A specific unit offering this capacity was searched for, and found, the Colonial sloop La Grandière, an escort vessels which carried French support during the Korean war in 1950, the first French U.N. operation. She was deployed ther with the Jeanne d’Arc. By June 1952, La Grandière was assigned to the Second Maritime Region, and versed to the School of Application of the cruiser Jeanne d’Arc. The cruiser and aviso were back to Brest on April 2, 1953 after making 28,500 nautical miles in 120 days at sea. In 1956, both schoolships formed a group under command of the captain of the Joan of Arc, from July. In addition to general maritime training, La Grandière formed aspirants to anti-submarine warfare, the cruiser could not due to her equipment, and aeronautics.
In 1953, the movie “Le Grand Pavois” by Jack Pinoteau was shot on her decks.
The 1958-59 the cruise was last with the old colonial ship La Grandière. A brand new escort, the Commandant Rivière was chosen to replace her for campaign of 1960-61, and later Victor Schoelcher for the campaigns of 1961-62, 1962-63, 1963-64. But it was obvious at that point that a larger, dedicated ship was needed and in fact, studies had been started to build a new cruiser since 1955.
In November 1962, the cruiser started a new cruise with Victor Schœlcher. This tour was a circumnavigation covering the Atlantic, Panama, the Pacific, the Indian Ocean, Suez Canal, Mediterranean and back to Brest. On December 8,however, the ship suffered the loss of her starboard shaft line. She was found stranded in the middle of the Pacific. At least a solution was found to have her able to sail to Tokyo for repairs, when she encountered an especially rare phenomenon: A triple rogue wave. The even was later called the “Three Glorious”.
It happened on February 4, shortly before 10 a.m. between Tokyo and Pearl Harbor. The walls of water were spotted, spaced by a hundred meters apart. They hit the ship, tilting her to 35°, but she did not capsize thanks to the manoeuvers, especially when the new two waves came rapidly, topping 15 to 20 m high. Victor Schœlcher at that time was just 2 nautical miles behind, and witnessed this without feeling anything, as they bulged where the cruiser was. The event lasted for about thirty seconds, and shook the crew, recalled ironically by the second in command that to avoid these freak events at sea the only solution was for them to not leave the mainland. Actually, cadets generally lived half the year on solid ground, at the Marine Academy in Britanny, the “Ecole Navale” at Lanvéoc-Poulmic.
In 1964, the old school cruiser was definitively worn out and maintenance now too costly, whereas an new cruiser scheduled to replace her entered service already. Her name was La Résolue, and she was an helicopter carrier. Of course when the first of the name was stricken, the new cruiser was renamed, to ensure a new “Joan of Arc” would ream the waves for 50 years, training the future French Navy elites. About 4,000 tonnes more, larger and longer, she was large enough to accomodate all the cadets needed and served until 2010, placed in reserve before she can be scrapped from then. The French Navy nowadays shrinked in size, and with new modular ships, renounced to built a new dedicated vessel. Instead, a roomy Mistral class BPC is used for the task, tasked for six months of training at sea (the rest is done on land) called “mission Jeanne d’Arc”. Nobody knows if this name will be used again in the French Navy.
Illustration profile of the Jeanne d’Arc in 1940
Gardiner, Robert (toim.): Conway’s All the World’s Fighting Ships 1922–1946.
Whitley, M. J.: Cruisers of World War Two – an international encyclopedia.
Campbell J.. Naval weapons of World War Two. Annapolis, Maryland, 1985.
Draper, Alfred (1979). Operation Fish The Race to Save Europe’s Wealth 1939-1945.
Jordan, John & Moulin, Jean (2013). French Cruisers 1922–1956. Barnsley, UK: Seaforth Publishing.
Osborne E. W.. Cruisers and Battle cruisers. An illustrated history of their impact.
Jordan J., Moulin J.. French Cruisers. 1922 – 1956. London, 2013.
Smith P. C., Dominy J. R.. Cruisers in Action 1939 – 1945. London, 1981
Whitley M. J.. Cruisers of World War Two. An international encyclopedia. London, 1995
Note about pictures:
There are only a few creative commons, opens source material about this ship, which are all exposed there. Namely those taken out of France, like here, in Canada, or possible personal possessions not yet released under CC licence. However there at least a dozen official photos which are all copyrighted property of Marius bar Editions and collection, the first, second and third cruiser of the name.
Genesis: The Dunkerque (Dunkirk) class (Dunkerque and Strasbourg) were the first French battleships launched since the Great War. Following the 1922 Treaty of Washington, and the Treaty of London (1930), France took advantage of the tonnage allocated to her in terms of battleships and cruisers, making a compromise to allow more vessels to be built in the allocated tonnage.
The global tonnage question was also a matter of pride, and to be relegated to the same level as Italy was considered by the naval staff as insufficient to say the least. Due to her Empire, France needed a fleet at least 20% of the size of the Royal Navy. But the truth was France made it out of the great war impoverished and near bankrupt. Germany would never pay the financial repairs agreed at the Versailles Treaty, so much so that the industrial Sarre (Saar) and Ruhr were occupied by French and Belgian troops to be repaid “in nature”.
Despite the anger upon this apparent downgrading of the French Navy, the exhausted country was in not way able to fulfill the alternative plan wanted by the admiralty. More so, the spectre of pre-1912 young school era mistakes was still looming over it and French politicians of the IIIrd republic looked with suspicion the naval staff initiatives. However it’s a politician, Georges Leygues (photo), which will forge a fleet at the same time coherent and modern, and probably the best the country ever had for decades. The Dunkerque class was like a symbol of it, but its development took years (and the treaty ban for a start).
US Navy Recognition plates of the Dunkerque
Development of the new French Capital ship
First off, the Washington ten years ban prevented the signatories, including the French and Italians to built any battleship before 1932. But given the fact both accepted a reduction in size (especially the French), a derogatory measure was approved and France and Italy were allowed to replace two old battleships after 1927. This allowed considering many designs from then on. However, the new Dunkirk were not “battleships”, nor really true battlecruisers, as for this tonnage, protection was sacrificed for speed. The new battleships would emerge as a compromise between both types, as the Scharnhorst will.
The question of tonnage
Both France and Italy concentrated on modernizing their old battleships and keeping their allocated replacement tonnage of 70,000-long-ton to design brand new ships. The choice was soon either two 35,000 tons ships or three 23,000-long-ton (23,369 t) or even four 17,500-long-ton (17,781 t) ones, “pocket battlecruisers” as the future German Deutschland class.
In fact all these cases were carefully examined by the admiralty in turn, but they had in common the trademark French quadruple turrets.
Dunkerque as built, photo colorized by Irootoko Jr.
The question of armament: “Quad or die”
Before even the start of the great war, as the Bretagne class dreadnoughts were under construction with five twin 340 mm turrets, Charles Doyère, head of the Shipbuilding dept. since 1911 and one of the 1912 program writers, proposed the Normandy class. He proposed right away quadruple 340 mm turrets, a world first, ahead of the triple turret innovated by Italy and soon copied by Russia and Austria-Hungary, and the US later for the Nevada4 class.
Lyon class blueprint, they would have been completed in 1918-19 if the war has not broke up.
It was a practical reasoning: Since size of the available construction holds was limited, also also limited size and tonnage, using quadruple turrets would it possible to have two more guns in the same space, one same dimensions as the Bretagne class and for a lower weight. This allowed to improve armor, raising it to 340 mm on the turrets armor’s front, down to 250 mm for the two aft turrets.
The Normandy class was promising and was laid down in 1913, launched in 1914, but none was completed. The following Lyon class was larger (as a lengthening of the holds was planned in the years 1915-16), allowing one more turret for a staggering 16 guns volley (4×4). At the time they would have been completed however in 1918, navies planned already 18-in guns (457 mm) which would have far out-ranged the French battleships. Also, the question of shell dispersion was still not well considered at that time.
When in 1925 the Italians launched their Trento-class cruisers, French Vice Admiral Salaun considered the construction of 17,500 tons large cruiser, armed with two quadruple turrets with a seemingly obsolete caliber, 12 inches (305 mm) all forward. They would have been capable of 34 to 35 knots and with a partial armor able to defeat 8-in (200 mm) calibers shells (those of the Trento). *Note: Letter denominations are for easier understanding, they were never official.
Design B1: 37,000 tonnes battlecruisers (1927)
Next, three 37,000-ton battlecruisers designs were drawn in 1927-1928. Blueprints showed a very enlarged Suffren-class cruiser at 254-metre (833 ft) long, with the same tripod foremast but three quadruple 305 mm turrets, two forward, one aft and eight single 90 mm Mle 1926 HA guns, plus 37 mm AA mounts and torpedo tubes, 220 to 280 mm armour and 33 knots.
The story of the croiseurs de bataille de 37,000 tonnes is convoluted: In 1927-28 Vice-Admiral Violette was Chief of General Staff of the Navy, and launched studies for capital ships, and specifically “battle cruisers of 37,000 tonnes”. 35,000 tonnes was considered a “normal” displacement, 37,000 tonnes fully loaded versus the “standard” as defined by the Washington Treaty, of 32-33,000 tonnes. Blueprints showed a silhouette inspired by the Suffren class cruisers wit two raked funnels and three turrets, including two superimposed at the front, one aft, and a secondary artillery of 130 mm quadruple turrets. Heavy AA comprised single shielded 90 mm guns M1926 as used on Colbert and Foch. They had two side catapults an single crane between the funnel and a hangar for four seaplanes total. The design has many similarities with the future Dunkerque.
A Russian amateur depiction of the 37,000 tonnes battlecruiser, the hull as seen from above and turret size is probably innacurate.
Two types were designed in fact: -The 1927-28 design had twelve 305 mm guns in three quadruple turrets, twelve 130 mm guns. The latter were forward, abreast and behind the forward main artillery turrets, a third superimposed over “Z” main artillery turret aft, eight 90 mm, twelve 37 mm AA, 2×3 TT. Protection ranged from 220 to 280 mm, with 75 mm deck and ASW compartimentation with 20-50 mm sandwiched layers, coal and oil tanks and void ones, similar to the heavy cruisers plus machine compartimentation as the Duquesne class in separated groups. A top speed of 33 knots was planned and the hull was to be 254 m long.
-The second type of 1928, was more a battleship with three twin 406 mm turrets, four 130 mm quadruple turrets, lower propulsion for 27 knots, but better armour.
Construction for both however was dropped at the time as beyond the capacity of existing shipyards. The largest at the time was the Salou basin in Brest, 200 m long. British shipyards were at the time large enough at 270 m, Germans one reached 290 m. Île-de-France (1927) was just constructed and measured 245 m long and this was not enough. For the planned Normandy, famous transatlantic of 313 m, Ateliers et Chantiers de la Loire, Penhoët was forced to built a new construction hold, hold n ° 1. but its construction was beyond the French Navy budget at that time, so the project was postponed, and relaunched later on more reasonable dimensions, with compromises.
Design B2: 35,000 tonnes battlecruisers (1928)
The second, 1928 alternative design called for a capital ship armed with three twin 406 mm turrets and four quadruple 130 mm turrets which was more capable of dealing with other battleships. It was shorter at 235 metres but wider, armor was thicker but the powerplant was smaller, thus reducing the top speed to 27 knots. However the choice was easy to make as there was no dock large enough to build a 35,000-ton hull longer than 250 metres (820 ft) at that time. In fact building the required docks would have cost the same as the two battleships, just when more stringent naval restrictions were discussed.
Author’s reconstitution from the original Algérie blueprint
The last chapter of this development came when the new chief of staff of the Marine Nationale, Vice Admiral Violette, ordered the Service Technique des Constructions Navales to design a modern “armoured cruiser” of 23,690 tons, a ship with a triple and quadruple turrets forward and one triple aft, all armed with the same 12 in caliber but protected with 8 in plates only.
They were to be also armed by four twin 138 mm turrets and eight twin 100 mm AA turrets for 29 knots, and a general appareance which recalled the Algérie. In fact the design had the most influence over the Dunkerque proper development.
In Geneva, indeed, a Committee for Disarmament from the League of Nations planned a Washington treaty expansion into 1936, and United Kingdom strongly urged to cap displacement and maximum caliber to 25,000 tonnes and 305 mm for new capital ships. The French Government protested it needed larger ships and at that time pushed for larger designs, but the French Admiralty nevrthless, allowed to sturdy a contingency design to use the available tonnage, of 23,333 tonnes. Therefore a 23,690 tonnes “protected cruiser” was worked on by 1929. It was to have three 305 mm turrets, triple and quadruple and eight 138 mm guns, in twin half turrets as those of the Mogador class, and twin DP 100 mm (Algérie). With a sungle funnel and superstructures recalling the latter, it was closing on the silhouette of the Dunkirk.
Armour scheme of the Dunkerque class
Final displacement choice and the Deutschland class
What really decided the admiralty for good was the threat of Reichsmarine’s “pocket battleships” recently launched of the Deutschland class. Both ships “cheated” over the 10,000 tons Versailles treaty limit. They were superior to any cruiser yet fast enough to escape battleships.
It was like a reinvention of the battlecruiser concept and perfectly suited for commerce raiding. Only three ships back then were able to catch these, the British battlecruisers Hood and the two Renown class. There were doubts also to the will or capacity of the Royal navy to protected French colonial routes in case of war with Germany. So new designs were immediately scrambled to deal with the new situation and protection against German 280 mm shells was at the center.
With the choice of a speed of 30 knots, the final design displacement was a relatively easy choice: 23,000 – 25,000 tons, which fitted British limitations and allowed to built three capital ships for the allocated tonnage. Although the London 1930 treaty prolongated the “battleship holiday” to 1936, the Washington’s derogatory measure still applied and negociations took place between France and Italy in regards of their respective plans.
Bilateral discussions ended in March 1930 with the acceptance of a 23,333 tonnes standard capital ship until 1936. The French had from then free hands for the Dunkerque. The new design was quickly drawn, with a 213 m hull, 27.5 m wide to fit in the existing dockyard, and 30 knots. A 230 mm armored belt and well thought ASW and machinery compartimentation, plus two quadruple 305 mm/55 gun turrets forward. However after a parliament submission, it was rejected.
By 1931 Admiral Durand-Viel became C-in-C and reworked the design for a new submission: This time, tonnage was augmented to 26,500 tons and the hull slighly larger to accomodate a caliber capable of dealing with Italian ships, 330 mm/50 guns. Armor was also slightly increased, and an additional 130 mm DP turrets were procured. The design was accepted in 1932 and the Dunkerque was ordered on 26 October and laid down on 24 December at the Arsenal de Brest shipyard.
The choice of the main artillery
The last unfinished battleships built by France were the Normandy class (1915), followed by the Lyon class. Both had in common a main artillery in quadruple turrets, but in separated pairs. The solution, unique to France, made it possible to maximize protection of vital parts related to artillery and ammunition supply.
The Lyon class, with their four quadruple turrets, would have had 16 pieces for their main artillery, a world record for a battleship. The weight of these turrets was not negligible either. However in the new tactical developments post-Jutland the advantage favored hunting fire, which explains the original chosen solution of the front artillery for the Dunkirk class, whose genesis went back to 1925 and the British Nelson class that showed the way.
Dunkerque in 1938, src: ONI203 booklet for identification of ships of the French Navy, Nov. 1942
Italian’s replica to the Dunkirk
However, when these ship’s construction was well advanced, Italy announced the construction of the Litorrio, in response to Dunkirk, with armor this time equivalent to their main artillery.
As a result, plans were made for the next class, the Richelieu to answer them in turn, to which the Italians replicated during ww2 with the Roma class. The two Dunkirks stemmed from a reflection on the usefulness of battleships, since no major naval battle had a lasting impact on strategic level, the latest being that of Jutland. In general all naval battles of WW1 with few exceptions have been battlecruiser engagements.
Also the defense of trade links in the French colonial Empire seemed to be paramount in 1930 and cruisers always had been considered better suited to this task. These ships were therefore designed specifically for this purpose. Even after the release of the heavier Scharnhorst, their artillery and armor remained nearly adequate. The Dunkirk was launched in 1935 and her sister-ship Strasburg in 1936. They were in operation in 1936-37.
Propulsion consisted in four 4.20m bronze propellers at the end of the shafts turned by Parsons gear turbines, with the steam coming from 62 boilers made at Indret. The powerplant was divided into four groups but five rooms: Forward was located the No. 1 boiler room under the forward Bridge turret two boilers, then came the front turbines, in two groups made of Parsons turbines mated on the external shafts, medium pressure a low pressure turbine. The third space contained two more boiler rooms right under the main funnel. Then came the central room boilers and rear room boilers and aft turbine room, with the high pressure inner shaft Parsons turbines.
Sets of turbo generators were installed in the two turbine rooms. This arrangement was quite an innovation for the time. It was pioneered already by the projected 17,500 tonnes battlecruisers, and implemented on the first French 10,000 tonnes cruisers of the Duquesne class. This arrangement was not a substitute for protection but rather a rational way of managing power in case of a hit. A single hit was now unable to disrupt the whole power system. Even turbines were placed far apart and between boilers and rooms and turbines thick bulkheads prevented flooding.
Both battlecruisers were planned to achieve a top speed of 15.5 knots with just 25% of the available output, limited on two shafts, and 22.5 knots with four. Indeed the two high-pressure turbines were only started to reach 35-50% of the normal power, rated as 112,500 hp. This allowed, when all were in action, to propel the ship at 29.5 knots. Speed tests of May 1936 on Dunkerque and in July 1938 for Strasbourg, shown they were capable of sustaining 31 knots, notably on the “9th hour” run, at outputs, respectively of 132,000 hp to 135,000 hp.
Radius of action
Maximum capacity was comprised between 4,500 tonnes to 5,000 tonnes of oil (peace time and wartime) but it was in practice limited to 3,700 tonnes, leaving compartments to fill counterbalance load as an ASW protection. It was also determined not to fill these fully as this attenuated the torpedo hit shockwave. Autonomy as listed was 7,850 nautical miles at 15 knots. It went down to 2,450 nautical miles at 28 knots sustained for long hours.
Sea trials also shown smoke interference with the bridge control facilities from the flat-topped single funnel. Both battecruisers would receive in 1938 a funnel cap in “volute”, larger than the old whistled top. It was also determined during the winter of 1939-1940 in the Atlantic both ships were not perfectly suited for heavy weather, taking gushes of water quick. The same problem was identified at the same time on KMS Scharnhorst and Gneisenau so they were fitted with their so-called “atlantic” bow.
All or nothing scheme
Total protection figure on both ships represented 35.9% of the total displacement, the highest percentage for a French war vessel at that time, but was of the “all or nothing” scheme.
The armoured belt extended over 126 m (60% length), and was 225 mm thick leaving an unprotected fore deck. The forward bulkhead was 210 mm thick and aft one 180 mm thick, while the upper armored deck was protected by 125 mm and lower one only 40 mm. The conning tower/bridge was 270 mm at the front, 220 mm aft and 210 mm on top, while the main turrets’ bases were protected by 310 mm barbettes while the turret faces had 30° sloped 330 mm thick faces, 345 mm back. The superfiring turret was protected by a 335 mm face and 150 mm roof. The secondary turrets were given 120 mm for their barbette, and the turrets themselves were protected by a 135 mm face, 80 mm back plate and 90 mm on the roof. The twin turrets only had for that part 20.5 mm.
The Superior Council of the Navy wished to modify the Strasbourg during construction. Plans were altered. The battlecruiser armoured belt was raised to 283 mm, the forward bulkhead thickened to 260 mm, and aft one down to 210 mm; The main turrets’s barbettes were now 340 mm thick, faces 360 mm, back 352 mm (A) 342 mm (B) and roof 160 mm. This represented a 749 tonnes displacement increase, to 37.2% for the total.
The principle of underwater protection consisted in a lateral “sandwich” of armored partitions ranging from from 16 mm to 50 mm in plating thickness, plus compartments, mostly filled with a rubber-based compound called “ebonite foam” or left empty, to be used as fuel tanks. The outer part of the ASW longitudnal compartment close to the armored belt was 1.5 m tall, filled with foam ebonite. Partition between them was 16 mm thick. Following compartments were a filled one 0.9 m deep, fuel tank 3.90 m deep new 10 mm thick separation, 0.70 m deep void compartment and this ended with a 30 mm torpedo partition, using plates with special steel. Under the 330 mm turret barbette, the torpedo partition was 50 mm and the fuel tank was replaced by ebonite-foam filled for a grand total of 7.50 m wide ASW partition. This was also innovative, way above existing battleship’s protection, rarely beyond 5 meters in width. This protection proved efficient at Mers el-Kébir (July 6, 1940), preventing damage from fourteen submarine grenades which exploded near the hull of Dunkerque when she evaded the port.
For the first time, French battleships used a quadruple turrets, and it was also a world’s first which interested naval experts around the world. This was a radical choice, which had its logic, but also tradeoffs as we are about to see.
The long-planned quadruple arrangement dated back at least from 1911. The turrets were arranged forward, following ideas derived from the experience of WW1, also tried on the Nelson class. This arrangement was also adopted by the Richelieu class and contemporary King Georges V class, while the next planned (Gascoigne class) had both turrets rearranged fore and aft.
The admiralty thought quadruple turrets as a way to reduce weight and improve the armor, in this never-ending puzzling problem of how to combined best armament vs. protection vs. speed, something all admiralties tried to resolve. The two forward turret arrangement made it possible of a free range forward, presenting a small target when approaching an adversary. When the Dunkerque was started, it became overnight the most powerful modern battleship compared to its Italian or German rivals, and faster than any other battleship other than pure battlecruisers like the Hood.
The forward-only artillery was possible in a relation with inferior navies, likely to retreat. The artillery disposition however was quite radical and very soon doubts would appear over its merits, starting as early as December 1937. While Dunkerque was undergoing testing, some in the naval staff voiced a design revision for the next 35,000 tonnes design, which will resurface with Gascoigne in 1938. The battle of Rio de la Plata showed indeed with the Amiral Graf Spee duelling against three cruisers, that evolution of the fight imposed to fight in retreat, while on paper its artillery was superior and could keep its adversaries at a distance. The latter closed in, the light cruisers even acting “as destroyers”.
But before these considerations, on paper, the main goal for this artillery was to allow a more radical “all or nothing” approach for protection. The armored citadel was much reduced as it was reduced only between the main turrets, resulting in a weight saving allowing to increase plates thickness. This was so refined, these armor figures even went further and beyond the scheme planned for the Normandy class in 1912. This why both ships were eventually classes as “battleships” and not battlecruisers, as their protection figures equates, or went beyond the artillery caliber, characteristic of a battleship.
The use of two quadruple turrets however, had drawbacks.
-If one of these turrets was knocked out, half of the main artillery would be gone. The turret design therefore integrated an armored partition 25 to 40 mm thick inside the turret, just like hull compartimentation, preserving half of the guns. It showed its effectiveness when a 16-in shell (381 mm) hit the Dunkerque at Mers-el-Kébir. A hit in the barbette was also a huge risk and to further reduced risk of propagation the two front turrets were located 27 m from each other versus 19-23 m on HMS Nelson. Calculations also included the beam versus gunnery size and weight. It was of 406 mm/32 m on the master beam versus 340 mm/31 m master beam, so comparable.
-The other factor was shell dispersion. It was however only really a problem in case of a full broadside (when all guns fired at the same time). It happened for exhibitions, trials and reviews, but in operation, the phenomenon of dispersion was clear enough to stage firing (ex. two guns from both turrets, then the two next, or firing outwards guns only). Unfortunately, the accuracy of both ships was never seriously tested. Perhaps only the gunnery duel between the Vichy-Held Jean Bart against USS Massachusetts in November 1942 gave some clues.
The Dunkerque’s secondary artillery was concentrated aft, more as an afterthought to avoid too daring destroyers and light cruiser to close to torpedo range. Again, the Nelson class solution was studied. But the Dunkerque class innovated by adopting a dual purpose anti-ship and long-range anti-aircraft model. Brand new, it was fixed at 130 mm in caliber, and for better concentration, placed in three armored quadruple turrets. There was one axial above the hangar and two broadside, little armored.
The 130 mm gun was considered however too weak in anti-ship use and too slow for effective AA fire. This caliber was used by the Chacal class and Bourrasque and Adroit class destroyers since the 1920s, whereas the following Bison and Fantasque classes were armed with the 138.6 mm guns. The same was planned for the 23,690-ton ‘protected cruiser’ project of 1929. It was considered a middle ground in secondary caliber range, between the 6-in and 5-in, also adopted by the U.S. and British (5.25-inch (133.35 mm) navy.
Dunkerque’s 130 mm DP guns fired a 33.4 kg Shells (OPf Mle 1933) at a 20,800 m range, when elevated to 45°. Initial velocity was 800 m/s. When elevated to 75° in AA mode, they fired a 29.5 kg Steel Explosive Shell (OAS Mle 1934) at 840 m/s and 15,000 m practical ceiling. A total of 6,400 rounds were carried (400 per gun). The guns could also fire a Lighting Shells (OEcl Mle 1934 30 kg) and the rate of fire was around 10-12 shots per minute while turrets traversed at 12°/s and elevated at 8°/s.
The Dunkerque’s secondary artillery was fragile and complicated, and unsatisfactory in both areas. The US Navy put some emphasis on semi-automated loading systems, allowing their ubiquitous 5-in (127 mm) /38 caliber twin mount (North Carolina, South Dakota, aircraft carriers, many cruisers) was able of 15 rpm, and up to 22. But moreover it was better served by the radar-assisted firing direction system Mk37 FCS during the war. Some of its technologies were not available to the French in 1930.
The Royal Navy’s 5.25-inch (133.35 mm) found on the five King George V-class battleships and Dido class cruisers, was initally as slow as the French models and criticized, but the war allowed them to be much improved, tanks to the RP10Mk2 FCS and HACS AA firing control system first seen on HMS Anson and Bellona class cruisers. In contrast, the older French FCS did not had time to mature and never worked properly. Compared to it, French 75 mm, 90 mm AA gave satisfaction. It should be noted also that the French had no access to a radar, which was fitted on the Richelieu in 1942, and eventually found its way on the Strasbourg juste before her scuttling.
French Hotchkiss naval 37 mm Modele 1925.
Until the fully automatic twin mount 37 mm AA ACAD M1935 was available (capable of 150 rpm) the naval staff settled for the older semi-automatic Model 1933, capable of only 15-20 rounds per minute. It was by comparison much lower than the British Pom-Pom (200 rpm) and standard Bofors 40 mm (120 rpm). They were mounted either side of the 330 mm B turret in single positions, two other abreast the funnel and aft on a twin mount platform between the axial secondary turret’s back and aft telemetric tower, so eight in all, four single, two twin.
In addition, the Dunkerque class carried thirty two 13.2 mm machine gun in quad-mount, none of them. They were derived from the well-proven Hotchkiss model also adopted by the IJN. It was a dependable, sufficient model for the aviation of the 1920s (but no longer in WW2), based on the same gas-operated trademark system derived from the 8 mm mle 1914, which proved extremely reliable. The choice of a 13.2 x 99 cartridge was changed to a 13.2 x 96 cartridge just as the Dunkerque class were fitting out. They were fed overhead by 30 round curved box magazines and were able of 450 rounds per minute, 200-250 rpm sustained due to magazine changes and overheating.
French Hotchkiss 13.2 mm M1929.
The fire control arrangement of the Dunkerque was inspired by the British Nelson class, with a massive tower superstructure instead of a tripod, strong enough and high enough for the telemetric turrets to stand above the funnel’s smoke. The tower bridge was so high (even reminiscent of IJN battleships !) that for the first time an interior elevator was fitted to access all levels instead of simple ladders and steep stairs (still mounted externally as backup). The tower supported three telepointers on the same axis, for a total weight of 85 tonnes. Aft, just before the three secondary turrets, was fitted a much lower second tower, with two telepointing stations on the same axis.
On the front tower comprised first telepointer A for the main artillery (45 tonnes) fitted with a 12 m triplex OPL (Precision Optics of Levallois-Perret) rangefinder. In 1940 it was considered obsolete and replaced by a 14-meter OPL model. The second unit was used for the secondary artillery and comprised two telepointers, 25 tonnes each. The lower one was intended for anti-ship use (6 m duplex OPL stereo rangefinder) while the upper one (20 tonnes, 5 m duplex OPL stereo rangefinder) was for AA guidance.
The aft tower comprised two telepointers with an OPL duplex stereo rangefinder of 8 m (main artillery telepointer B), and a 6 m for the secondary artillery. These turrets were protected against gas, closed tight, and had splinter lining. Additionnal turret roof models were fitted on Strasbourg later: A 5 m OPL rangefinder for the upper turret and conning tower roof for Dunkerque, plus two smaller telepointers (SOM stereoscopic rangefinder) installed on the front tower’s for night firing. In 1940, a 12 m duplex OPL stereo range finder was fitted in both turet roofs and a 6 m OPL stereo range finder on the 130 mm secondary turret roofs.
Optical watch was allowed on three stations either side of the bridge, intended to spot surface ships, around navigation bridge, and five watch stations used for AA optical detection on the sides, plus five used to detect mines and torpedoes. For night illumination, Strasbourg had six 120 cm projectors: Four were located on a platform between the funnel and aft tower, two forward of the main tower. Dunkerque had seven of these.
Aviation facilities comprised a hangar, catapult and crane to retreive the floatplane at sea and place it on the catapult. They were modern and well designed, and high enough not to be disturbed much by heavy weather’s spray. The single catapult was 22 m long, 360° traverse. It launched its payload thanks to a compressed air piston, fed by a unit installed in the axis of the aft deck; Its capacity allowed to propelled a 3,500 kg plane at 103 km/h.
The crane had a lifting capacity of 4.5 tonnes. The battleships carried initially three Gourdou-Leseurre GL-832 HY models. In the mid-1930s they were replaced by two single Loire 130, accommodated with folded wings in the two-storey hangar. It allowed a third to be ready on the catapult at all time, or transferred and tightly moored on the roof of the hangar, where a fourth could be accomodated as well. The hangar housed all necessary repair and maintenance facilities as well to service the planes.
The Loire 130 was a small, compact one-engine seaplane powered by a Hispano-Suiza V12, 720 hp unit. The plane weighed just 3,500 kg fully loaded, but was slow, reaching only 210 km/h, over 6,500 m and capable of flying however for 7h30 at 150 km/h. They had two defensive 7.5mm machine guns, but could strafe submarines or small ships with their two 75 kg bombs.
The Dunkerque class in action
Both battleships were quite active until the fall of France, with their short peacetime career well occupied by squadron exercises. They were based in Toulon and in North Africa. During the conflict, the two ships chased German raiders in the south Atlantic (including KMS Graf Spee which they had been specifically designed to cope with), and protected merchant traffic.
Strasbourg underway, side view – Src ONI203 booklet for identification of ships of the French Navy Nov. 42
In December 1939, Dunkerque took the gold reserves of the Bank of France to Canada. The Atlantic task force force, based in Brest and formed by these ships and heavy cruisers and destroyers, was transferred in the Mediterranean in the light of the changing attitude of Italy in June 1940. They were now based at Mers el Kebir, Algeria.
Construction and trials
Plans and blueprints of the ship were drawn by the Technical Service for Shipbuilding and Weapons (S.T.C.A.N) and she was laid down in the form of the Salou in Brest, December 24, 1932. The hull was floated on October 2, 1935 and launched, then completed and fitted out, ready for testing on February 1, 1936. She was fully armed and equipped by December 31 while her first official trials took place in May 22 1936, completed by October 9, 1936. She was commissioned in May 1937, but not officially entered service. Further testing, fixings would go on for nearly a year.
Pre-service trials and exercizes
In her first sortie, Dunkerque was sent to represent France on May 23, 1937, at the Spithead naval review, Portsmouth, for the coronation of Georges VI, as the new head of the United Kingdom.
On May 27, she was parading off the Ile de Sein (Britanny) for a combined naval review with the Mediterranean Fleet.
By August 15 1936 she entered the Brest arsenal dockyard for maintenance, which was long and complex, but completed between September and October 1937, concluded by artillery drills. On January 8, 1938, one of the workers died, wedged between a 130 mm turret and the battleship railing. On January 20, 1938, she sailed out for transatlantic cruise to the West Indies and back to Dakar on the W African coast.
Back home, she paid a visit to her namesake city, staying there as an attraction in July 1-3, 1938. She was at Brest later and Saint Vaast la Hougue one day after. On July 17, she hosted the British Royal family in Boulogne and bring them to Calais.
Dunkerque entered officially active service on September 1, 1938, joining the Atlantic squadron as a flagship for her first mission. On November 18-20, she teamed up with the aircraft carrier Béarn, escorted by the torpedo boats Boulonnais, Foudroyant and the sloop Somme, in exercises off Brittany. She entered drydock for maintenance from November 29 until February 27, 1939. She made a few escort missions until April. Until April, 16, she was in the Caribbean, together with the cruiser Jeanne d’Arc. Bith ships were mobilized during the Sudetenland crisis, searching for the German pocket battleships off the Spanish coast during the civil war.
In May 3-6, 1939, she teamed with Strasbourg to visit Lisbon, Portugal. From May 23 to June 14, she toured British ports, and was back in Le Havre on June 20.
Wartime Operations: 1939
After a maintenance maintenance during the summer, she was scrambled in operations on September 2, 1939. She sailed out with the 1st squadron, escorting the minelayer Pluto to Casablanca and Jeanne d’Arc to the French Caribbean (Antilles). She was back to Brest on September 6 while her seaplane HS.21 was lost at sea, while searching for the CGT SS Flandre. Two days later, another of her seaplane was damaged in operations.
At that time, Dunkerque was part of the Raid Force: Dunkerque, Strasbourg, the cruisers Montcalm, Georges Leygues, Gloire and several destroyers. It operated from Brest, under command of Vice-Admiral Gensoul, onboard Dunkerque. In October-November 1939, she joined the Royal Navy to protect maritime trade, trying to spot German surface raiders.
The combined forces comprised Strasbourg and the aircraft carrier HMS Hermes in the South Atlantic, searching in particular for the KMS Admiral Graf Spee, notably patrolling off the Cape Verde Islands. Meanwhile the other half of it combined Dunkerque and HMS Hood, operating in the North Atlantic. They were scrambled to look for the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, recently sinking HMS Rawalpindi on November 23, 1939. By December, Dunkerque transferred gold reserves at the Banque de France to Halifax, Canada. At hr return, she escorted a British convoy, teaming with with HMS Revenge; She was back to Brest on December 30, 1939.
Wartime Operations of 1940
Early in 1940 the attitude of Italy was unclear. The Force de Raid sailed to the Mediterranean, starting operations in April 1940 at Mers-el-Kébir, to almost immediately sail back north, to Norway, due to the German invasion starting on April, 9.
By April 12-24, Dunkerque stays on high alert in Brest. She then returned ton Mers-el-Kébir for further operations, starting on June 13, 1940. She sailed to Sardinia, shelling the coast. however after the French debacle the British started to worry on the fate of the French fleet. After the French signed an armistice, the admiralty rushed orders for preparations to to seize the French fleet or neutralize it by all means necessary (Operation Catapult).
Force H (Admiral Somerville) was made responsible by Winston Churchill for execution of the plan. Operation Catapult also concerned the British ships anchored in British Ports. French Forces at Toulon were important, but the objective was well defended, whereas Force de Raid was in Mers et Kebir and other elements in Alexandria and many other places. The Royal Navy concentrated on the best units.
Therefore by July 3, 1940, in the afternoon, the Royal Navy’s Force H faced off the best squadron of the French Navy off Mers el Kebir. Due to Admiral Gensoul cold reception, discussions under an ultimatum dragged on, and crews were uncertain of their fates; In the hypothesis the British fleet would fire, the French ships had no chances. They were anchored with their prows (and big guns) facing the cliffs and could not manoeuver.
The umtimatim eventually expired, and under Churchill’s insistence the matter was settled quickly, Admiral Sommerville eventually opened fire. Dunkerque, as soon as the first cannon shots were heard, struggled to drop its moorings and heated its powerplant. Meanwhile, and due to the short distance, she was accurately framed and hit four times, by 381 mm shells. The first hit “B” turret, the concussion being enough to kill all personal. The right secondary half-turret wwas hit and disabled while the other remained operational. The aviation hangar and catapult were damaged, and another 130 mm twin turret was disabled. Another hit destroyed the heat lines, depriving the ship of all electrical power. To avoid sinking, her captain manoeuvered her to the other side of the harbor and grounded her, as water was filling her bottom.
Meanwhile Provence was also grounded to avoid sinking and Bretagne was blasted, capsized and sank. Meanwhile Strasbourg was ready sooner, avoided being hit and scrambled to the harbor entrance, escorted by 5 destroyers. She escaped, framed by 381 mm shells from HMS Hood and attacked by Fairey Swordfish bombers from Ark Royal, (see later).
Dunkerque’s protection was tested during this “battle” showing her 225 mm armored belt did not stand a change against the 16-in (381 mm) shells fired from 16,000 m. Admiral Esteva, Commander-in-Chief of the French Navy of the Mediterranean discovered the damage was however less extensive that all feared. Willing to reassure the population he spoke of minimal damage, and this was publicized in the press in Oran, and soon known of the British Admiralty. Soon Admiral Somerville was ordered to return at Mers El Kebir and definitely write off the Dunkerque.
To avoid bombading civilians at the fishing village where Dunkerque was stranded, Sommerville decided on July 6, 1940 to scramble the aviation: Three waves of Swordfish from Ark Royal took off to drop torpedoes. Dunkerque’s most evident damage was caused by the explosion of depth charges carried by an auxiliary patrol boat which took a torpedo hit while moored alongside the battleship. The hull was blasted open, making 200 victims in addition to those of the previous attack. Sommerville then departed, satisfied of the result, and Dunkerque would stay there until February 1942. Summary repairs has been carried out with some difficulties, enough for the battleship to sail to Toulon and placed in dry dock for further repairs.
By November 1942 and operation Torch, situation degenerated. The French fleet in Toulon was prepared for the worst. By November 27, 1942 indeed, the Germans invaded swiftly the “free zone” and scrambled to Tooulon, in order to seize the fleet (Operation Lila). However as they burst into the arsenal, almost all of the docked vessels were in the process of being scuttled by their crews. Dunkerque was by then still in dry dock in the Vauban basin, repairs far from completed. She never returned to active service after Mers El-Kebir.
The famous sister ship saw her keel laid down on November 25, 1934, at hold No. 1, Ateliers et Chantiers de la Loire Penhoët. It was the same place where the famous liner Normandy was built. The French battleship was launched on December 12, 1936 and headed to Brest for fitting out, armaments and testings, lating until June 1938. After the nearly year-long period of exetended exercises and furthers tests and modifications, she was admitted in active service by the fall of April 1939. Together with her sister shi, she formed the 1st Line division. In May 1939, she teamed with the 4th cruiser division and headed for Scotland, Liverpool, Glasgow, Scapa Flow and Rosyth in an effort to reassure the public, the French Navy can add her might to the Royal Navy when facing Germany.
Force de Raid in the Atlantic
On September 3, 1939, she joined her sister ship in Gensoul’s Raid Force in Brest. Outside both battleships, the unit also comprised the 4th cruiser division and several of the large French destroyer of the Mogador class and others. The Raid Force soon was split into two groups, and Strasbourg teamed with Force Y, based in Dakar. Assisted by the aircraft carrier HMS Hermes which became her eyes, and screened by the heavy cruisers Dupleix and Algerie (Admiral Duplat), this forced started a sweep off the Cape Verde Islands which lasted until the end of November 1939, trying o locate and intercept the Graf Speed. Strasbourg will left Dakar, leaving behind 800 powder pods, used in September 1940 by the Richelieu, possibly a reason behind her 380 mm guns serious misfires. Admiral Graf Spee was finally intercepted in December.
Strasbourg was back in a recompleted Raid Force, and joined the Mediterranean in late April 1940 amidst tensions with Italy and a dark fate on land. The armistice of June 1940, saw her anchored poop facing the berth, and the sea, at Mers el-Kébir. She was in the process of being demobilized.
Operation Capatult: A miraculous escape
During operation Catapult in July, Gensoul received a British ultimatum to either join an English port, French port in the West Indies or to scuttle. Force H on this fateful July 3, 1940, afternoon’s end, as discussions went on without end with Gensoul, eventually opened fire. Soon, shells falling from 16,000 m framed ost ships with deadly accuracy. Two battleships and the Dunkerque were hit several times in succession by heavy shells. Howver amidst the chaos, Strasbourg crews out-did themselves to extract the ship from its precarious position, and warm her machinery enough to sail past the other ships, capsizing or burning, started to exit the harbor.
Captain Collinet, indeed before even news of the ultimatum when Force H was spotted, carefully prepared its mooring chains to be dismantled and drop its anchors, while the machinery was kept warm. Fortunately for this, Strasbourg was prepared to set sail as soon as the first shells hit the pier. She was joined by an escort of five destroyers amidst the chaos, making a small but efficient task force in case of a battle with Force H. Modagor was the only one sank that day, her rear pulverized by a 16-in shell. Strasbourg miraculously escaped shells and magnetic mines previously laid at the entrance by Ark Royal planes.
Strasbourg at Mers El Kebir, under fire – Author Jacques Mulard (cc)
Strasbourg was at sea, heading north-east at 28 knots, framed by the destroyers, which in case, could either lay smoke of distract pursuing British ships. Somerville indeed followed the actions closely and detached HMS Hood to chase the Strasbourg. It was even question of catching her with the Ark Royal’s planes, but distance grew as fast as light fell, and the whole pursuit was abandoned after dark. Indeed, Fairey Swordfish were indeed launched from Ark Royal, spotted the Strasbouth at full speed, but fail to placed themselves at a favorable position in order to launch a torpedo attack.
Strasbourg would head to the Sardinian coast before heading for Toulon that she reached the next evening. She had “only” five stokers died in a compartment, quickly asphyxiated by a smoke backflow caused by exhaust valves blocked by shrapnells. Needless to say, with only Strasbourg left, the 1st line division was dissolved and Admiral de Laborde on 25 September 1940 hoisted his mark on Strasbourg.
Flagship of the Vichy Navy
The proud battleship which skillfully and miraculously escaped hell at Mers el Kebir became the de facto admiral ship of the Vichy “high seas fleet”. Due to severe restrictions, notably of oil (reserved to the Axis), she was left at anchor and her only sortie sanctioned by the German-Italian armistice commission was in November 1940 to escort back to Toulon the battered battleship Provence, summarily repaired from Mers el-Kebir. In early 1942 however, Strasbourg became the first French warship to receive an “electromagnetic detection equipment”, in fact the first French radar.
The Allied landings in North Africa in November 1942, caused concerns for the fat of the fleet, now completed with the arrival of the Dunkerque, still in repairs at that time. German motorized divisions soon occupied the free zone and by November 27 made it into the arsenal of Toulon. Enough time has been spared to allow the fleet to be scuttled, 90 ships in total. Strasbourg was scuttled by opening sea valves and completed by demolition charges as the crew evacuated; It was still perilous as Germans troops and armored vehicles, including tanks, were now rolling in the arsenal in between the ships. It is reported that some gunners not only trailed, but fired at German vehicles as she sank, and that she was hit by a Panzer in return. The action saw 1 officer killed and 6 sailors wounded.
Strasbourg scuttled at Toulon (unknown author) cc.
The axis took possession of the arsenal, bitter as the scope of the loss and failure in their mission, but at the same time admitting the French “made their duty”. This fleet layong not deep into the port was too tempting to resist of course bailing out the last damaged ships. The more interested were the Italians, after crippling losses of the Regia Marina. They will indeed managed to refloat and starting repair several ships, but failed to have a single one back into service. Strasbourg was certainly the most tempting of these prizes and efforts were made to refloat the hull. But repairs stalled and she was eventually refloated on 17 July 1943, this time for scrap metal value.
Strasbourg after an air raid in Toulon harbor, short by USN reconnaissance 18 August 1944 (cc)
In Late 1943, the armistice came for Italy, and the Germans had nothing to make of Strasbourg, returned to Vichy authorities. Thoughts were made of sinking her at the entrance as blockship. The final chapter of this story came in August 1944 at the occasion of the landings in Provence (Operation Anvil Dragoon). Toulon was attacked by US aviation, hit by several bombs and sank again, on 18 August.
She was again refloated in 1945, and her rusted hull was towed off the Giens peninsula to be used as target, and for tests on underwater explosions. She survived and was left in the harbor to be eventually scrapped in May 1955.
Displacement: 26,500 t. standard -36,380 t. Full Load Dimensions: 215.10 m long, 31.10 m wide, 8.7 m draft. Machines: 4 shafts Parsons turbines, 6(32) Indret boilers, 135,600 hp. Top speed 31 knots. Armour: 225-280 mm belt, 30 mm anti-torpedo partitions, 115-137 bridge, 330-360 mm turrets, 330 mm CT. Armament: 8 x 330 mm cal.50 (Model 1931), 3 x 4 + 2 x 2 135 mm DP, 8x 37 mm AA, 32x 13.2 mm AA, 3-4 Loire 130 seaplanes. Crew: 1380
The four musketeers: The Suffren were thought out as 10,000 tons Washington heavy cruisers, follows-up of the previous Duquesne class. The latter were not even completed when plans for the Suffren were laid out. Indeed by 1925, France financed the construction of Suffren, followed the next year by the Colbert, in 1927 Foch and 1929, Dupleix. In 1930, at last this was Algeria, the last before the London conference banned 8-in cruisers. The four cruisers were loosely based on the same hull, and they are classed by most historians in the same Suffren class. The last, and Foch in particular, differed however greatly in numerous details.
French heavy cruiser Suffren in Hampton Roads on 15 October 1931
Their active career was active until the armistice of 22 june 1940. From there, their fate diverged depending of their situation at that date. Unfortunately, the last three, Colbert, Foch and Dupleix happened to be in north Africa and were repatriated in Toulon, held as a negotiation lever with the axis by the Vichy government, until scuttled in November 1942 like the rest of the fleet. Suffren was in Alexandria and thus was disarmed under British control.
She escaped the bloodbath of Mers El kebir mostly thank to the two good will admirals that solved the matter. rearmed and modernised in USA she resumed her career with the FNFL in the far east and had a long postwar career as well.
Suffren original blueprint, hull lines and general overview
Genesis of the Suffren
The Suffren and others were on paper called “croiseurs légers” or light cruisers however. The reason was there were still in the 1920s older armoured cruisers in service. After the London conference and the latter sent in reserve and demolition, these A-type cruisers (8000-10000 tonnes versus 1850-8000 tonnes) were reclassed either “croiseurs lourds” (heavy cruisers) or “croiseurs de première classe” (first class cruisers).
One thing was transparent in the first design discussions in 1924: After the Duquesne which were still “light cruisers” upgraded with 8-in guns compared to the earlier Primauguet class, the Suffren needed to lean more towards true heavy cruisers and protection was better worked out, even to the cost of some speed.
Before even the construction of the Duquesne started, the Technical Service of Naval Constructions (STCN) and naval staff discussed the follow-up class in the heavy cruiser program. There was some hesitation, and one one ship was financed for the 1925 tranche. At the same time, French intelligence passed information about the Italian cruisers Trento and Trieste, notably their armour.
It was therefore decided logically to step up for this third French heavy cruiser the passive protection level. That was not without resistance as for many, speed was seen as an active protection and did not accept any compromise.
The Suffren design process was started by a a note from STCN (11 February 1924), three months before even the official order for the Duquesne class. It listed requirement for the third cruiser, in the future 1925 tranche:
Maximum displacement 10,160 tonnes
4×2 203mm guns in four twin turrets & 120 rounds per cannon*.
AA included eight 75mm guns (500 rds each), eight 40 mm guns (1000 rds), twelve 8mm MGs
2×3 550mm TTs, six reserve torpedoes
Range of 5000 nautical miles at 15 knot, top speed 33 knots
ASW protection against a 550mm torpedo hit/100kg bomb
Protection of sensitive areas vs. 140 mm shells, 100kg bomb damage.
*This round reduction was dictated by Washington treaty clauses peacetime allocation. In wartime, it would have been back to 150.
Various discussions and modifications over these specs led to replace the 40mm guns with 37mm cannons of the new 1925 model and reduce the torpedo allocation, by having no reserves. The 1925 tranche cruiser was called ‘Suffren’ and ordered on the first of November. The yard chosen was Arsenal de Brest, which will also build her three sister-ships. Therefore these were “cruisers of the north”. The arsenal was located in Britanny, NW France, close to Normandy.
The second of the class was initially known ‘C-1’. It was financed by the 1926 tranche. Later it was named Colbert, followed by C-2 ordered on March 1, 1927 at first called “Louvois” after the great minister of war of Louis XIV. However in between, the death of Marshal Foch in in March 20, 1929 was followed by a government request to rename the cruiser, which thus became the first to bear the name of the allied generalissimo.
C-3 had to be financed with the 1928 tranche but Brest having limited capacities, it was postponed to 1929. Soon, to be named Dupleix. The plans were finalised and gradual modifications were made for each tranche.
Reconstruction of the Suffren, the blueprints.
–Suffren was named after Pierre André de Suffren (1729-1788), massive noble from Provence, an successful admiral under Louis XV. His battle records included the Battle of Toulon, Cape Finisterre, Minorca, Lagos, Porto Praya, Grenada, Sadras, Providien, Negapatam, Trincomalee, and Cuddalore. He was the “plague of the British” in India during the seven years war.
–Colbert was named after Jean-Baptiste Colbert, France’s able minister of the Navy under Richelieu and later Louis XIV, the driving force behind the French Navy.
–Foch (Ferdinand) the French Generalissimo of allied forced during WW1 just passed out in 1929.
–Dupleix or Joseph François Dupleix (1697-1762) was a French admiral under Louis XIV, great rival of Robert Clive during the seven years war, also instrumental in India and the far east.
After the war, the name Colbert was given to a 1950s AA cruiser, and Suffren to a guided missile destroyer, Foch to an aircraft carrier.
The three ships were rated having 10,000 tonnes (standard) in displacement, 12,780 tonnes fully loaded. Suffren was 194 m (636.48 ft) in overall length, with a beam of 20 m (65.62 ft) and a draught of 7.3 m (23.95 ft), so a nearly 1/10 ratio. The tall hull was basically the same as the Duquesne class, derived from the 1922 Primauguet class, with a forcastle, clipper bow and rounded poop. The French would wait until the Algérie to test a flush-deck hull, to save weight.
The silhouette was about the same, minus the differences stated below (see later), with two equally spaced funnel, a tripod mast supporting the main director, a forward conning tower with the bridge around (not the suffren, which bridge as placed higher up on the tripod), a single or thin tripod aft mast and two catapults.
Propulsion & performances
The Suffren class heavy cruisers were propelled by three Rateau-Bretagne SR geared turbines, fed by nine Guyot boilers, rated for a total of 90,000 shp (67 MW). These were all oil-burning units, apart the Foch which retained two mixed-burning boilers. The turbines all had a separated room in case of ASW flood.
Top speed as stated in the contact specs was 32 knots (36.82 mph; 59.26 km/h), far less than the Italian Trento-class, but after modifications due to a lack of strength, they were about the same. On trials, the Suffren class ships passed 33 knots with ease. Range was stated as 4,500 nautical miles (5,178.51 mi; 8,334.00 km) at 15 knots (17.26 mph; 27.78 km/h).
Scan of the Colbert (cc)
It was slightly better than the Duquesne, with a multi-layered internal arrangement. The belt was 50 mm (2.0 in) thick to 54 mm (2.1 in) depending on the ships (see later), and the armored deck: 25 mm (0.98 in). The turrets and conning tower were protected by 30 mm (1.2 in). This was still quite thin, making these ships another serie of ‘tin-clad cruiser’. behind it was a school of though share by many officers that speed was a kind of active protection. The theory was still popular in the 1950s about tanks. The problem was of course the not anticipated rapid progresses in ballistic computing and telemetric precision, and the introduction of the radar-assisted precision fire during WW2.
All four cruisers has the same main and secondary armament, with some minor differences.
The four twin turret arrangement, in superfiring pairs was inherited from the Duquesne, themselves derived from the Primauguet class. The last cruiser with this arrangement was Algérie. In the late 1930s, a triple turret arrangement was designed for the new (unbuilt) Saint Louis class.
These turrets were the standard type also used in the Duquesne, carrying 8-in guns/50 (203 mm) model 1924.
These guns used two bags with 23.5 kilograms (52 lb) of smokeless powder each, and fired a 123-kilogram (271 lb) HE shell at 45 degrees maximal elevation and 850 metres per second (2,800 ft/s). Rate for fire was about 4-5 rpm, range 31.4 kilometres (34,300 yd).
Range was less with the heavier, 134 kg (295 lb) M1936 armour-piercing shell.
It comprised eight 90 mm (3.5 in)/55 calibre anti-aircraft guns in single mounts, except Dupleix which had four twin mounts. The Canon de 90 mm Modèle 1926 was a decent DP gun, weighting 1.60 metric tons for a barrel length of 4.5 m (15 ft), 50 caliber. The gun manufactured by Schneider had a semi-automatic breech mechanism. Its mount could elevate -10° to +80° and traverse 360°.
It fired a Fixed QF ammunition, 90 x 674mm R weighting 9.51 kg (21.0 lb) at 850 m/s (2,800 ft/s). Rate of fire was 10-12 rpm. Max range was 16,885 m (18,466 yd) at 45° and against aerial target it had a 10,600 m (11,600 yd) ceiling at 80°. These guns were not shielded and placed on the forward casemate and aft.
Top view of the Colbert
It varied between ships but the norm was height 37 mm (1.5 in) anti-aircraft guns in four twin mounts, placed on the aft deck and abaft the boom cranes.
Also were carried four triple 13.2 mm (0.52 in) AA Hotchkiss heavy machine guns, twelve total. This arlmament was modernized in 1941 for Colbert and Dupleix, and Suffren from 1943.
Torpedo tubes & Onboard aviation
It comprised six 550 mm (22 in) torpedo tubes in two triple banks, placed on the deck abaft the funnels, with around 150° of traverse. At first 12 torpedoes were carried, but reloaded were eliminated.
Onboard aviation evolved over time. In 1930, two or three Gourdou Lesseure GL-810HY Monoplanes, replaced from 1936 by two Loire-Nieuport 130. The latter were comparable in size to the Supermarine Walrus but slower. They were used for artillery spotting, liaison and transport, and reconnaissance. Catapults positions were changed (see modifications). They were eliminated when the Suffren was modernized and equipped with a radar.
Heavy Cruiser Foch, front view (src) – This source is a true bible (FR), containing many more information on the cruisers;
Cruiser Foch. Notice the tripod mast, with the legs further apart to support a larger platform. Apart Colbert and Dupleix which were very close, Suffren and Foch were easily identifiable
– Colbert for a start has completely redesigned superstructures to improve the use of seaplanes and limit the interference between the use of her on-board aviation and service boats. They were installed at first either side of the aft funnel on Colbert, but amidships between the two funnels for Suffren.
-Suffren’s bridge superstructure was taller, placed higher up on the tripod.
-Another change was the secondary artillery seeing 75mm guns replaced by more modern 90mm guns, imposing some weight saving measures as to respect the Washington’s treaty limits.
-Foch and Dupleix own superstructures were the same as Colbert, but displayed a some differences:
-The Foch had widely spaced tripod mast and thinner aft funnel than the fore funnel. Added protection on the Foch had a different scheme and two boilers mixed heating boilers were removed.
-The Dupleix had superstructures closer to the Colbert in detail, her aft funnel size was the same as the fore funnel, and she missed the tripod mast.
Dupleix’s protection was reinforced to withstand the 6-in shells (152 mm), notably the hybrid SAP of the new Italian cruisers of the Condotieri class, with a new box system introduced on the Foch.
-In the late 1930s it was question to replace 90mm guns by new standard 100mm guns but the latter was still in development and only the crusier Algérie used it, in twin mounts instead of the single mounts planned for Foch.
Blueprint of the Foch
Blueprint of the Suffren
Specifications (Suffren, Colbert)
Displacement: 9,980 t. standard -12,780 t. Full Load Dimensions: 194 m long (196 Foch), 19.3 m wide, 7.2 m draft. Propulsion: 3 propellers, 3 Turbine turbines, 9 Guyot boilers of the Temple, 90,000 hp. Maximum speed 31 knots. Armour: 65 mm belt, 25 mm anti-torpedo partitions, 25 bridge, 25 mm turrets, 28 mm bunker. Armament: 8 pieces of 203 mm cal.55 (Model 1925), 8×88 mm DP, 8×37 mm AA (4×2), 12 ML of 13.2 mm AA (2×4), 2 Loire 130 seaplanes. Crew: 750
The Colbert in 1939. The four Suffren took over the defects of the previous ships in terms of protection with only minor improvements.
Visuals: HD Photo This HD photo has uncertain origin, probably copyrighted, so in doubt it’s only linked, not displayed.
The Suffren class cruisers in action:
Counting the ten years of the interwar, the career of these four “musketeers” was well filled. Multiplying exercises in the 1930s, after the war broke out, these cruisers became very active, including hunting the Graf Spee in the South Atlantic and Indian Ocean. Basically, after the armistice, their fate was sealed, but diverged. The Foch, Dupleix and Colbert were stationed in Toulon from June 1940 to November 1942, showing little activity due to fuel rationing. They were scuttled in the harbour, and written off until the end of the war.
Only Suffren managed to survive the course of events. She was trapped in Alexandria in June 1940. Interned and partially disarmed under British supervision, she had to wait for Darlan’s swap for the allies to the authorized service with the FNFL. Fully modernized in the US she saw action in the Far East alongside the Richelieu and Indochina after the war, in service until 1962.
Suffren was known as hull No. 54, laid down at the Arsenal in Brest on April 17, 1926. She was launched on May 3, 1927, completed, trialled and accepted for service on March 8, 1930. She was the sixth ship in “La Royale” (The French Navy) honoring the pre-revolutionary admiral. Before, three sailing ships has been built, two 74-guns and a 90-guns first-rate (1831), an armoured frigate by famous engineer Dupuy de lôme (1875), and a pre-dreadnought battleship (1901); After the heavy cruiser, the name was given to a guided missile destroyer, and then the current French attack submarine, first of the Barracuda class (2020).
Suffren started her initial yard sea trials on August 20, 1928. She carried out her official trials for commission in December 20, 1928 and until May 1, 1929 and she was considered completed on January 1, 1930, put into service in March. Although built in the Atlantic coast, she was sent like her sisters in the Mediterranean, to counter the Regia Marina new cruisers.
Service in the Mediterranean
She integrated the “Levant Squadron” (1920) stationed in Toulon, renamed successively the Mediterranean squadron, 1st Wing and then Mediterranean Wing on October 30, 1936 and Mediterranean Fleet in 1939. Suffren was part of the 3rd Wing of this fleet when the war broke out. Before the wing was created, Suffren teamed up with Duquesne and Tourville.
On October 6, 1930 they set sail from Brest, carrying the 1928 class cadets on board. They stopped in Dakar, Rio de Janeiro, the French west indies, and back to Casablanca and Toulon on January 10, 1931. Another cruiser started in the eastern Mediterranean April 22-July 10, 1931. In october 1931, Duquesne and Suffren were Norfolk taking part in a diplomatic and celebration review. They carried Marshal Pétain, then the representative of the French government and five descendants of La Fayette, De Grasse and Rochambeau for the opening of the monument dedicated to the victory of Yorktown (1781). They also visited Chesapeake Bay, New York and Newport.
On October 19, 1934 the cruiser Algérie arrived in Toulon and became the 1st Wing flagship, leading a reorganization into two light divisions. Algeria teamed with Dupleix and Colbert in the 2nd DL, while the 3rd DL comprised Foch, Tourville and Duquesne. Suffren was in maintenance and semi-reserve due to staffing problems common at that time in the French Navy.
On May 1, 1936, Suffren replaced Foch in the 3rd LD. In August, she sailed to Tangier, an international city of Spanish Morocco., protecting all nationals from insurgents and protect French assets there. In 1937, La Galissonnière Jean de Vienne and La Marseillaise arrived in Toulon, and the light divisions became Cruiser Divisions (DC). From November 2, 1937 therefore, the 1st DC was now composed of Algeria, Dupleix, Foch, and Colbert while the 2nd DC comprised the Duquesne, Tourville and Suffren, the 3rd DC the three La Galissonière cruisers.
Service in Indochina
In January 1939, Suffren evacuated nationals from trapped Barcelona. In July 1939, the Mediterranean Wing became the Mediterranean Fleet, and the 2nd DC separated from the Suffren, sent into Indochina. She arrived on July 23, 1939 in Saigon, relieved the light cruiser Primauguet as part of the Far East Squadron. She was still present in Indochina when the war broke out and formed the 5th DC with Lamotte-Picquet. The force also was composed of Rigault de Genouilly, Amiral Charner, Savorgnan de Brazza and Tahure.
From Saigon, the FNEO squadron patrolled Indochina waters until 20 November 1939 and 5-13 April 1940. Suffren also escort a troop transport to Colombo (30 January 1940) and Singapore (February 1940).
In Alexandria, Egypt
In April first, 1940 Suffren sailed out for Alexandria, as part of the newly Force X mounted to act agains Italian forces in the eastern Mediterranean. Activated on May 3, tis powerful force also comprised the dreadnoughts Provence, Bretagne and Lorraine, the large destroyer Tigre and Lynx, and fleet TB Forbin. On May 4 they were joined by the 2nd CD, heavy cruisers Duquesne and Tourville. Suffren was included on May 18. Two days after Provence and Bretagne rallied Mers-El-Kébir via Bizerte, a fateful decision.
On May 24, Duguay-Trouin joined Force X but before that this force has sailed for Beirut, only first the Tourville, Suffren and Forbin and later other ships including the TBs Fortuné and Basque.
They covered a troop convoy, leaving on 11 May for a raid in the Aegean Sea. They failed to spot Italian ships and were back to Alexandria on June 13, 1940.
On June 21, Lorraine shelled Bardia while Suffren was back to Tobrouk to attack three Italian cruisers there, but this turned out to be a misinformation and she was back to Alexandria.
An operation on Sicilian coast was planned in late June when news of the armistice came out. The Suffren and Force X stayed put, waiting for instructions.
On July 3, 1940 British Forces launched Operation CATAPULT. At Mers-El-Kébir things went out badly, but in Alexandria, Admiral Godfroy (photo) commanded Force X, and soon discussed openly and without reservation with Admiral Cunningham. Both men knew and appreciated each other. But this was facilitated by Philippe Auboyneau, back then a liaison officer on board HMS Warspite, which played an important role in the negotiations. Auboyneau became later a prominent FNFL admiral.
They soon signed a gentleman’s agreement to neutralize Force X, by disarming it. It came not long after news from Mers-El-Kebir came out. Many lives were spared that day. But doing this both admirals took the risk to disregard their respective orders. Churchill wanted the French ships sank and Darlan ordered them to set sail immediately, under enemy fire and replicating if necessary.
Force X will’s ships were disarmed by simple means. Critical parts from the guns were dismounted and landed, guarded under lock and key by the British. The ships remain immobilized for almost three years, with part of the sailors deserting to join the Free French, including Estienne d’Orves (later a prominent figure of the resistance), under British cool laissez-faire. Others choose be repatriated home, including most officers.
On November 8, 1942 the situation changed dramatically. Allies landed in North Africa (Operation Torch). In Toulon, the remaining three cruisers of the Suffren class scuttled as free zone was invaded on 27 November. The decision was and is still controversial to this day. Faling to join the allies was a formidable waste, while it allowed the Axis to try to refloat and repair some of these valuable naval assets they lacked at that time, particularly the Italians.
Back in Free French Hands
Force X was idle and maintained in uncertainty until May 17, 1943. Nearly six months has passed since Darlan in North Africa swapped sides and thes populations and forces joined the allies. Force X at last was authorized to resume the fight, but the ships were in bad condition due to the alck of maintenance and now too old to be authorized by the Americans a modernization. The French therefore limited themselves to the more urgent maintenance work, and later on overhaul and modernization with old radars but modern AA, with stocks in North Africa or UK depots. This was carried but in Casablanca and later Dakar, not in New York as frequently believed, like for the Richelieu.
The allies considered their age and lack of protection, and Suffren was barred from frontline missions and diverted to perform interceptions in the Atlantic of German blockade runners coming back from Asia.
Dakar Atlantic patrols
Suffren Dakar became the Allied cruisers operation base for the south Atlantic, French but also notably free Italian ships. American cruisers were deployed in Recife, Brazil. Relations between the French and Italians were however tense, so the Italians would be redeployed to Freetown, Sierra Leone. Suffren carried out eleven patrols, covering the best of 1943 and early 1944. In April 17, 1944, Suffren returned to Casablanca for maintenance work and only returned in April 21, 1945 to Oran, stopped at Toulon and back to Oran.
Cruiser Suffren at Toulon 21 Sept. 1945 – Personal archive by André Marton (cc)
Suffren’s far east and Indochina campaigns (1945-47)
In June 29, 1945, Suffren was in Diego Suarez, land equipmentments to be installed on the battleship Richelieu. Both ships were ordered to be redeployed in the British Eastern Fleet. However Suffren never had the opportunity to cross fire with Japanese ships, but coverred the Light Intervention Corps in Colombo in August and returned to France, Toulon on August 26. She was back again in the far east, sailing on september 21, as a transport with a reduced crew of 130 but 440 soldiers and their equipments on board. She arrived on October 19, 1945 and returned to Toulon on November 21, 1945.
She was back in February 1946 in Saigon now as a proper cruiser, and participated in a naval review in Halong Bay on 24 march. She repatriate troops and stopped in Hong Kong, Chinwangtao and Shanghai. In october she escorted more convoys to Saigon and Tonkin, but following the Haiphong incidents, she carried 500 soldiers and fired sixty 8-in shells against Appowan battery in the hands of insurgents. The Indochina campaign started for Suffren.
In December 1946, she carried more troops to Tourane where a landing took place, covering also landings at Hue and Qang-Tri, firing 92 shells. She left Saigon in Februaryand arrived in Toulon in March 24, but remained idle and was placed in reserve in October 1947, moored at the Robert jetty, together with other WW2 veterans, used as fixed training ship for the shooting school and from 1961 sonar operators school. For the 1927 ship, this was the end of the road. On January 1963 the cruiser she was renamed Ocean to free the name fo a missile frigate and in 1971 did not played any significant role. She was stricken on March 24, 1972, anchored in Bregaillon, and eventually sold on November 5, 1975, BU in 1976 in Valence.
Overview of the Suffren and Duquesne at Port 15 October 1934, photo from USN reconnaissance (cc)
G.Garitan photo – Exposition “Le siècle de Colbert Reims au XVIIe siècle”.
While not yet officially in service, Colbert was participating in a naval review in Algiers for the 100th anniversary of the Algiers expedition, together with Lamotte-Picquet and Primauguet, Duquesne and Suffren. On May 1, 1931 in Toulon she integrated the 1st DL also comprising the Tourville and Suffren, and awaiting Foch. In October 19, 1934, Algeria joined Toulon and the 2nd DL noew comprised also Dupleix and Colbert.
On May 27, 1937 she participated in another review in Brest combining both Atlantic and Mediterranean fleets, quite a rare sight with almost the entire French Navy on the coast of Britanny. As part of the Mediterranean Wing Colbert cruised the eastern Mediterranean until July 1938, display the flag in a context of international tensions, and in between exercises. In July 1939, she was part of the 2nd DC with Duquesne and Tourville, Suffren departing for Indochina.
On september 1939, Colbert stayed in the Mediterranean. In December 1939, she left Bizerte with Tourville to monitor the eastern Mediterranean an Beirut waters. In January 1940, force X was replaced in Dakar by force Y (Provence, Duquesne, Tourville) and Colbert was detached to force X (Algérie, Bretagne) escorting a gold transport to Canada and back two planes transprts for the Armée de l’air, purchased in the US. On June 10, with Italy decalring war to France a bombardment of Genoa and northern Ligurian coast was envisioned. It was scheduled for June 11, but first cancelled and revived by Vice-Admiral Duplat after an Italian bombarding of Bizerte.
Thus, Colbert took part in Operation Vado, shelling Genoa with Dupleix on June 14, 1940. It was largely symbolic as the ships mostly fired into the sea in front of the jetties. The Force came back unmolested. The cruiser then covered a convoy of 17 ships between Marseille and Oran.
Yard Model of the Colbert
When the armistice came, Colbert was in Toulon with Foch, Dupleix and Algérie. On 25 september 1940 the “Forces de Haute Mer” (FHM) were created by Vichy. In January 1941, Colbert underwrnt a limited modernization (modern AA and Electromagnetic Detectors) but staed moored like the rest of the fleet, maintained just in case but because of the lack of fuel, not making any sortie. On November 8, 1942 Operation TORCH was followed on the 11 by operation ATTILA, the invasion of the free zone. At dawn, Operation LILAS began, the assault of Toulon, and the capture of its precious fleet.
Unable to set sail, the fleet was a mic of disarmed and operational vessels almost deprived of fuel. The Luftwaffe laid mines in the Grande Rade and eventually five submarines would slip through and join North Africa. Colbert was moored at post 5, Milhaud wharves, left to the battleship Strasbourg and right to Algérie. The crew already prepared the detonation of 35kg loads to destroy the cannons while water intakes were open and gears sabotaged. She sank and was partially dismantled until the end of the war, what remaining being extracted in 1948.
Scanned photo of Foch – ONI203 booklet for identification of ships of the French Navy, published by the Division of Naval Inteligence of the Navy Department of the United States (9 November 1942). (cc)
Foch was first assigned to the 1st Light Division as flagship until replaced by Algérie in October 1934. She later joined the 3rd DL with Duquesne and Tourville, again as flagship. In June 1935, she took part in the fleet’s naval review at Douarnenez bay in Britanny. In May 1936 she was replaced by Suffren, and in May 1937, participated in a combined new naval review off Brest. In November she became part of the newly formed 1st DC with Algerie, Dupleix and Colbert. After maintenance she was back to normal dury in July 1938.
from September 1939, and with italy out of it, Foch was dispatched to track down German raiders, and protect Allied merchant traffic, in an hunting group onn the south Atlantic, at Dakar. She arrived there on November 13, 1939, joining Force X, dispatched in December to find Captain Langsdorff’s Admiral Graf Spee. Foch teamed up with Dupleix, light cruiser HMS Neptune, long-range destroyers Milan, Cassard and the British light aircraft carrier Hermes.
However in this large scale hunt, French cruisers showeved their limited range, fit for the Mediterranean. Unable to refuel at sea, their sorties were quite short. None spotted the Graf Speed, which ended scuttled off Montevideo. French cruisers prior to that refuelled quickly in order to set sail again to meet the Geraman pocket battleship of repaired after the battle of Rio de la Plata. Force X made a new sortie in December-January 1940 and the cruisers Foch and Dupleix left Dakar to escort a convoy bound for Morocco, then joined Toulon.
From June 10, Italy was at war and the cruiser was mobilized for a shelling sortie on the Genoes coast. First cancelled it was revived again (Operation Vado), where Foch shelled installations with Algérie, and DDs Vauban, Lion, Aigle, Tartu, Chevalier Paul, Cassard, on June 14. Se fired around 250 8-in shells, but also 90 mm rounds on ground objectives and the sea.
She suffered a helm damage on return, making her difficult to steer but returned to Toulon on manual backup. She later covered a convoy between Marseille and Oran and after the armisice was stranded in Toulon.
French Heavy Cruiser Foch, Official U.S. Navy photo NH 55716 from the U.S. Navy Naval History and Heritage Command (cc)
Pretty nothing happened during this period as the fleet never ventured out, fault of very limited oil supplies and finicky controls of the Armistice commission. Foch was part of the 1st DC (Algeria, Foch, Dupleix). She only made a sortie on November 6-8 to cover the badly damaged Provence limping back to Toulon after Operation Catapult.
In June 29, 1941, Foch, Cassard and Tartu made a sweep to Algiers, embarking a light Africa, battalion (Bat d’Af’) to Marseille, to be dispatched on the Lebanese-Syrian front. On november 27, 1942 her crew opened condensers and water intakes while guns were destroyed with explosives, fire control sabotaged. She sanks straight and seemed recoverable though. The Italians studyed her recovery, towing her to Genoa to convert her into an aircraft carrier. This never materialized and she was dismantled under German supervision at La Seyne sur Mer in 1944.
Dupleix at sea, ONI recoignition book (cc)
Dupleix was the last French cruiser of the infamous “tin-clad serie” (the next was Algérie). Laid down in Brest on 4 november 1929, she was launched on 9 october 1930 and, making in between her sea trials in octobre 1931 by the yard and in december for official trials and commissioned on 1st may 1932, with official full completion and fittings on 20 july 1932. She entered service by 15 november 1933, rallying the Mediterranean wing.
She entered the 1st Light Division which lated included Algeria and her sister-ship Colbert. In June 1935 she participated in a naval review in Douarnenez Bay (fifty-eight ships). From May 1938, she toured the eastern Mediterranean and in 1939 was part of the 1st DC (Algeria, Dupleix, Foch and Colbert) when the war broke out. From there her career was similar to Colbert.
She first Force X in Dakar and departed for a mission on December 7, 1939, in search of the Graf Spee, returning to refuel and wait for the German battleship to make a sortie and escape the English blockade.
Dupleix and Foch left Dakar and returned to Toulon and after Italy entered war, participated in Operation Vado, shelling the Genoese coast. Back home, she was prepared for a special mission in
19-20 june by order of the president with DDs of the 5th DCT (Tartu, Chevalier-Paul, Cassard) at Sète to carry the government in case of failed armistice negociations, of the government decided to leave for North Africa and continue the fight. This of course never materialized. Dupleix was interned in Toulon, mostly inactive for the remainder of 1940-42.
Dupleix in exercises before the war (ONI) (cc)
In the High Seas Forces as part of the 1st DC, her flagship was the battleship Strasbourg. She made just two sorties in October and November 1940 and was replaced by the Colbert, placed on guard with a reduced maintenance team until reactivated in October 1941. On November 27, 1942, Dupleix was anchored in the Missiessy area, near the submarine barracks. The cre sabotaged the gears, blown the guns but failed to open flooding valves as Germans troops managed to climb onboard sooner than other ships due to her location. Nevertheless, the explosives let Dupleix burn and sink straight. Two sections were refloacted on July 3, 1943 by the Italians. They failed to do more before an Allied bombing in March bombed and sank the two sections, scrapped on the spot in 1951.
Note: The 1/700 “colbert” AA cruiser of the 1950s by Heller is the one most often shown in the results. As the Suffren missile cruiser, Foch aircraft carrier.
Heller did not undertook many WW2 ships sadly, especially French ones.
I own the De Grasse kit (left uncompleted), i will do a review of it. Heller as a brand is now history since a while. This kit was a stock one.
So in short, the offer is very poor. If you are interested by a model kit of these ships contact me.
Pierre Vincent-Bréchignac, Flottes de combat 1940-1942, Paris, 1942
Gerard Garier: Les Croiseurs Français de 10 000tW – T1, SUFFREN & COLBERT Lela Presse
R. Gardiner, R. Chesneau, Conway’s All the World’s Fighting Ships (1922-1946) Les croiseurs De Grasse et Colbert (Google book)