Duquesne class heavy cruisers (1925)

Duquesne class heavy cruisers (1925)

France (1925)
These first French heavy cruisers according to the 1922′ Washington treaty’s new definition, sacrificed protection for speed and were enlarged Duguay-Trouin class. They served in the Atlantic, then Force X in the Mediterranean, disarmed at Alexandria and rearmed and modernized in New York, soldiering with the FNFL until V-Day and Indochina afterwards.

Genesis of the Duquesne class

In 1918, the French navy was worn out, in material and moral crisis. It was necessary to rejuvenate it by new constructions as well as recruiting new sailors with better conditions for them to want to serve. Priority was for light cruisers and torpedo boats. Therefore after the Washington treaty was digested, the previously non-built FY1912 Croiseurs éclaireurs were replaced on the drawing board, emerging as the Duguay-Trouin class ships, in conformity with the treaty. The admiralty gave them the role of wing scouts and squadron leaders. With almost twice the tonnage of the 1912 cruisers, they were also more heavily armed with their 155mm battery and eight TTs. They were also much faster, but this came at a cost: Their flimsy protection and weak construction.

The Duguay-Trouin

Start of the transalpine rivalry

Meanwhile in 1922, Mussolini came to power in Italy. This event was soon known around the world as the rise of Fascism in Europe. France as a democratic Republic did not saw the transformation of her neighbour without concern nor apprehension, as much for future relations between both Transalpine countries, but also encouraging similar political turmoil in the hexagon itself. Quite quickly the Mediterranean ambitions of Mussolini, compounded by the Regia Marina’s equal rank to France, boasted the “Mare nostrum” objective with sole probable opponents being the French Navy. The rivaly between the two countries emerged and fed the comparisons, especially between cruisers. The first Italian Washington cruisers, the Giussano class, has been designed to catch and destroy French super-destroyers in the early 1920s. The next were to be heavy cruisers of the Trento class.

The Italian Guissano class

The French admiralty three light cruisers FY1922 gave moderate satisfaction, but even before they were completed, the admiralty wated to test the new Washington standard (10,000 tons, eight 203 mm (8-in) guns) as defined in article XI for the FY1924 program. More points were defined over maximal protection but nothing prevented speeds in excess of 30 knots. The Italians soon answered with the Trento class, one year later, also worthy to be called “tin-clad cruisers”.

general scheme

Design of the hull

Author’s reworked profile of the Duquesne

The new class was to be fast, with modifications concerning the turrets and their barbettes, plus larger telemetric systems and slightly improved armour over the barbettes and ammunition rooms, plus extensive ASW compartmentation. The hull design mirrored the Duguay-Trouin class. Unlike some navies, with a high forecastle. The next Suffren adopted the same hull, until the Algérie took the flush-deck solution to spare hull weight for armour.

The two heavy cruisers were seaworthy, marine vessels but despite rheir roomy hull, comfort of the living quarters left to be desired and could have been better. Structural weaknesses at the foot of the forecastle were detected after trials and required bracing after commission. The superstructures called for a front heavy tripod around which the gangway is organized and different bridges setup. The two funnels were inclined at 5 ° to prevent smoke plumes interfering with the fire control station using classic optical systems.
The Duquesne class ships indeed did not possessed a rear fire station. The seaplane crane and catapult were located between those funnels. These ships carried 605 officers and sailors (637 as admiral ship).


From view of the main artillery
From view of the main artillery – Src Forummarine

Duquesne Main artillery

Artillery, comprised the first French 203mm guns (8-in) in service with the Marine Nationale, eight of them into four turrets in a classic configuration, in superfiring pairs fore and aft. These were twin mounts turrets, with independent elevation for each barrel. According to the forecastle, the aft pair was one deck lower. These were 203 mm/50 (8″) Model 1924, classic in manufacture with a thick autofretted ‘A’ tube, shrunk jacket and breech ring. These were fitted with a Welin breech-block wich opened upwards. These were 50 caliber, despite a tenacious legend stating the Algérie was given 55 caliber. The barrel length was 413.4 in (10.5 m) and the Chamber Volume 5,595 in3 (91.682 dm3).

Rate Of Fire was 4-5 rounds per minute on average. Ammunitions were the APC M1927: a 271.4 lbs. (123.1 kg) shell, or a 262.5 lbs. (119.07 kg) model, or the HE M1927: 273.0 lbs. (123.82 kg). They carried either a 17.8 lbs. (8.07 kg) AP warhead with Mélinite and for the HE 18.2 lbs. (8.3 kg). About 150 rounds were stored per gun onboard, so 1200 total. Loading could be performed at -5/+10 degrees and range was between 34,340 yards (31,400 m) for the AP and about 32,800 yards (30,000 m) for the HE shell. For the anecdote, the propelland charges of the Duquesne were colored in red, those of Tourville in Yellow. The total weight of the twin turret model 1924 in battle order was 180 tonnes, and it was electrically powered, with a -5°/+45° elevation (10° per second) and 150° traverse (6° per second).

Canon de 75 Modele 1924 – Src unknown – FR forummarine

Duquesne Secondary artillery

This was completed by a serie of 75 mm guns (3 in), installed laterally in two groups of four. One group was placed at the front, two on either side of the bridge, and a rear group ith pairs on each side of the seaplane catapult. These were likely the 75 mm/50 (2.95″) Model 1924 (rather than 1922), which weighted 1.05 tons (1.07 mt), with a 147.6 in (3.75 m) barrel lenght. It could fire 8-15 rounds per minute, a fixed round 26.5 lbs. (12.01 kg)with a 13.07 lbs. (5.93 kg) warhead. The ammunition was 12.8 in (32.5 cm) in lenght, the complete round was 38.1 in (96.67 cm), fitted with a 4.81 lbs. (2.18 kg) BM5 propellant charge, in a 27.1 x 4.33 in (688.5 x 110 mm), 13.4 lbs. (6.08 kg) case. Muzzle velocity was 2,789 fps (850 mps). In theory these were dual purpose mounts but without fuse, the HE were almost useless against aviation (but some lucky direct hit), but with setup shrapnells. The Duquesne class carried (like the Suffren) no less than 500 rounds, including about 100-60 starshells of the OEcl Mle 1923 type for target illumination.

Cutaway original plan of the Tourville SRC

Duquesne-class light AA artillery

Interestingly enough, extra artillery was added after entering service: Eight 37mm 1925 model guns, 50-calibe were fitted in single mountings, two on the front deck, two on the beach aft and the last four on the shelter deck. These fired 0.725kg shells at 8,000 m in overall range and 5,000m at ax elevation in anti-aircraft mode. They fired at a rate of 20 rounds per minute. The 470 kgs mounts elevated from -15 ° to + 80 °, and 1000 rounds were provided per cannon, 8,000 total for the ship.
In 1933/34, the front and rear mounts were relocated on the shelter deck, either side of the boat crane. Four twin 13.2mm Hotchkiss machine guns model 1929 were installed, replacing the obsolete 8mm Hotchkiss machine guns model 1914. Two additional twin mounts were installed in 1937 this time with shields followed in 1940 by shields on the remaining mounts.

The initial 8mm Hotchkiss model 1914 fired 13 gram cartridges in rigid bands of 24 or articulated of 250 cartridges at max range of 2,400m. Apparently it came in single or twin 1916 mounts superimposed. The 13.2mm Hochkiss 1929 model was a 76-caliber cannon. Max range was range 3,500m, and practical rate of fire was 250 rounds/minute, due to the use of magazines of 30 cartridges. They existed in single, twin and even quadruple carriages.

There were also two quadruple 550 mm (21 in) torpedo tubes installed at the same level as the crane located between the two funnels. These were likely the 55 cm (21.65″) 23DT Toulon 1923 models, introduced in 1924. They weighted 4,560 lbs. (2,068 kg) for an overall Length of 27 ft. 2 in. (8.280 m), carrying an explosive Charge of 683 lbs. (310 kg) of TNT. The had a range of 9,840 yards (9,000 m) at 39 knots, or 4,200 yards (13,000 m) at 35 knots on the second setting. They were powered by a four-cylinder radial engine Schneider with an alcohol/air heater with the alcool acting as a diluent as well as a fuel source.

Fire control

As with the Duguay-Trouin class vessels, the Duquesne’s fire control system was not ready when the ships were completed. Sea trials are therefore done without. The main firing direction tower was divided into an upper and lower levels. The upper one contained the fire control team while the lower compartment contained the telemetry and calculation team and their table, calculator and isntruments.
The main rangefinder was a five-meter coincidence model located at the rear of the lower compartment. It was not installed until 1929-1930. The front part contained a 3 meters Zeiss stereoscopic rangefinder. The whole fire direction tower cold traverse at 360°. Before it was available, an older Triplex rangefinder was installed. Data collected by the telemeter was analyzed by a 1924 model analog computer whch was also installed at the start but soon replaced by two computers from Avisos.

In addition to the central fire control direction, were additional fire control teams, but no secondary fire control station. Indeed the aft turrets were both equipped with a 5 meters rangefinder. For night fighting illumination, four 1.2m diameter Sautter-Harlé projectors were installed port and starboard on the tripod mast and on the aft mast. They were remote-controlled in order to avoid dazzling their operators. Until 1932 both cruisers were devoid of any specific fire control for AA defence. This was solved during their first overhaul of 1932-1934. Two specific AA fire control systems were installed on board. These were 3 meters rangefinder, both with their own ballistic computer.

Tourville in 1945 – SRC

Airborne Artillery spotting

By default of a radar, artillery spotting and long range reconnaissance was assumed by a floatplane which changed over time. The first seaplane catapulting tests were carried out aboard the Primauguet, and was Penhoet looked for a place for the catapult it was necessary to find space, the only one available being on the rear turret. Very quickly this spot turned out to be mediocre because of the cannon blast and transfer from this to the hangar and wa complex and long operation. As a result on the Duquesne, this spot was moved between the second funnel and the rear mast. The latter carried the crane allowing to hoist the plane when recovering it.

During trials and early service life until 1930 the catapult was still not operational, and the FBA-17 et CAMS 37A carried onboard were hoisted at sea for taking off, necessitating a calm sea. After 1930, the operational catapult received a Gordou-Leseurre GL-810HY monoplane. It was replaced by a more modern (and larger) Loire 130. This obliged to fit in 1938 a brand new catapult, more powerful.


Like all ships of the time (or almost), Duquesne had a propulsion system composed of gear turbines supplied with steam by small water tubes boilers. The eight Guyot Du Temple tube boilers were manufactired at the Indret plant (near Nantes). The engine compartment was divided into two rooms with four boilers, the boiler rooms 1 and 2 evacuating their fumes through the first funnel, with truncated exhausts and the boiler rooms 3 and 4 though the second funnel, forward of the aft mast. These were connected to four groups of Rateau-Bretagne turbines. Due to the separate rooms they could operate independently of each other, providing an economical cruise. Each group included two main turbines including one with reverse gear. The two front groups drove the external propellers while the rear groups (cruising turbines) drove the internal propellers. Rated horsepower was 30,000 shp per group, for a total output of 120,000 shp. The four propellers were identical, three-blade 4.2 m diameter models. Electric power was supplied by two pairs of turbo-generators fed by the main propulsion’s steam plus two standard diesel-generators.

Sea Trials
As the Duquesne class was developed, they were hopes to reach 36 knots. Sea trials however showed a maximum speed of 34 knots could be achieved.
During a six hours trial on March 17, 1928, Tourville (displacing 11,395 tonnes) developed 126,918 shp, reaching a top speed of 33.23 knots on a distance of 700 nautical miles (1,400 km). Through forced heating during one 1 hour, on March 31, the Tourville, and with a displacement lowered to 9,646 tonnes, developed 136,742 shp, reaching 34.49 knots. There were also endurance tests by March 27 and 28, 24h of navigation at 30 knotswhich for the Tourville showed an average speed of 30.04 knots maintained over 1,800 nautical miles. Duquesne reached 34.12 knots on 131,770 shp but she was able to maintain 31 knots in the endurance test.


By far the least appealing aspect of these ships, which were first generation heavy cruisers, their protection was almost non-existent. The cursor was deliberately placed on speed over protection, and given the state of ballistic targeting science at the time, the admiralty considered that two-three knots were equivalent to 20 or 30 mm of extra armor. Of course if this was relatively true in 1924, the concept was no longer relevant in 1940 due to rapid progress in optics and ballistic computing. Fortunately for them, these cruisers never really duelled with other ships.

The hull was divided into seventeen watertight compartments, complete with their own ventilation and exhausts. Many could be flooded without much incidence on buoyancy. Bulkheads went placed from the bottom to the main deck, partitions also protected the engine rooms, reinforced by 20 mm steel plates, and 30 mm over the ammunition bunkers, while the bridge and waterline protective deck was only 20 mm strong (0.8 in). Propellers were protected by a a cover of 17 mm plates (0.6 in), while the conning tower and turret front received 30 mm thick armored steel plates (1.2 in).


The class name related to Abraham Duquesne (1610 – 1688) a noble huguenot, famous marine officer in Louis XII and XIV Marine Royale. There was previously a 1880 masted cruiser Duquesne, and several line vessels before that. In the 1960s the name was given to a missile destroyer. The Tourville was named after Anne Hilarion de Tourville, French admiral under Louis XIV. In 1914 the name Tourville was given to the third unbuilt Lyon class battleships.

The Duquesne in service

Even before entering service, the heavy cruiser carried out a first “mission”, participating on July 3, 1928 in an important naval review organized in Le Havre with seventy-six other ships. From January 31 to August 3, 1929, Duquesne toured the African continent, visiting Dakar, Cape Town, Madagascar, Djibouti, and returned to the Mediterranean via the Suez Canal. She was part of the former ‘Levant Squadron’, which became the Mediterranean Sqn on July 20, 1921, then 1st Wing in 1927 and back to the Mediterranean Wing in 1939 and Mediterranean fleet in 1939.

By May 10, 1930 Duquesne was in Algiers, for the celebration of the hundredth anniversary of Algiers expedition together with Lamotte-Picquet, Primauguet, Suffren, and Colbert. In the 1920s the French navy studied the replacement of the old schoolship Jeanne d’Arc, pending future replacement. As the new school cruiser Jeanne d’Arc was under construction, a decision was made to distribute the officer cadets of the 1928 class among three heavy cruisers including Duquesne and Tourville. The division departed from Brest on October 6, 1930, arriving in Toulon on January 10, 1931 after a trip through the French Caribbean, Rio de Janeiro, Dakar and Casablanca. The second school cruise started on April 22 to July 10 in eastern Mediterranean.

By April 27, 1930, Duquesne and Suffren were in the 1st Light Division (1st DL), attached to a 1st line squadron, 1st Wing and by July 1931 the training cruise ended. Tourville Duquesne, Suffren and Colbert were reunited in May 1, 1931, Foch in December 1931 and Dupleix in December 1932, bringing the heavy cruiser division to its full strenght. By October 9, 1934, the division was deployed to secure the visit in Marseille aboard Dubrovnik of King Alexander I of Yugoslavia. Off Marseilles were posted the Forbin, Trombe, Mistral destoyers, and 70 nm away the Gerfaut, Chevalier Paul and Vautour. Duquesne and Colbert were also screened by no less than twelve submarines.

On October 19, 1934, Algeria arrived in Toulon, becoming the flagship of 1st Wing while light divisions were reorganized. The 1st LD comprised now the heavy cruisers Algeria, Dupleix and Colbert, and the 3rd LD Foch, Duquesne and Tourville while in May 1936 Foch was replaced by the Suffren.
In June 1935 off Douarnenez (Britanny) fifty-eight vessels participated in a review both including Duquesne. After the Spanish civil war broke out, Duquesne sailed to Barcelona on July 24, 1936, and started evacuating French expatriates. She participated in a large naval exercize off Brest in 1937, involving both squadrons, 41 ships pin total.

By October 1937, Her squadron was modified again, combining both heavy cruiser divisions. By February 1938, the 2nd Cruiser Division (Duquesne and Tourville) was attached to the School of Maritime Application (EATM), making a Mediterranean cruise until the summer of 1938. Maintenance was postponed as the Sudetenland crisis erupted, and later the Munich agreements, until October 1938-January 1939. Both cruisers were placed under the 3rd Wing in two divisions when the war broke out. They faced Italy, likely to engage alongside its German ally. Their first mission was to track down German raiders until April 15, 1940, in Force Y (Rear Admiral Bouxin) with the battleship Provence, the Cruisers Colbert, Emile Bertin and destroyer Bison, Milan and Epervier. It was based in Dakar to operate on the Atlantic.

Force X was then assembled and based in Alexandria to cover the eastern Mediterranean, initially with the battleships Provence, Bretagne and Lorraine, destroyers Tigre and Lynx plus other ships, assembled in May and activated when reinforced by the heavy cruisers Duquesne and Tourville.
Later the battleships Provence and Bretagne left for for Bizerte and Mers-El-Kébir, while Force X was reinforced by the Duguay-Trouin. This squadron headed for Beirut in several groups and assembled for an ill-fated raid in the Aegean Sea, returning in Egypt in June 13, 1940. Another raid was planned against the Sicilian coast in June 23-26 which was prevented by the armistice on June 22. The squadron was immibilized in Alexandria until Operation CATAPULT took place.

Fortunately in Alexandria, a British controlled harbour, things went mch better than in Mers-El-Kebir. Admirals Godefroy and Cunningham passed a gentleman’s agreement allowing internment and disarmament despite pressure from Vichy hierarchy. It was signed on July 7, 1940. From there, part of the crews were repatriated to France, while others deserted to join the Free French Naval Forces (FNFL) like Honoré d’Estiennes d’Orves, a future figure of the resistance. After Operation Torch in November and the rally of Morocco and Algeria to the allies and Tunisia remaining under Vichy control, the Germans sent reinforcements there to help hard-pressed Afrikakorps.

Duquesne in 1945 (navypedia)

However Force X would only join the allies in May 10, 1943, six months after TORCH. After three years without maintenance, the ships were in poor conditions. The US Navy consulted over a modernization of the “10,000 tonnes” French cruisers declared themselves not interested as the ships were considered too lightly built and protected to be effective. However they went through an overhaul nevertheless in Casablanca, limited to the strict necessary. The original AA was replaced by 20mm Oerlikon and 40mm Bofors guns, all in single mountings, while the TTs, planes and catapults were removed. The Duquesne and Tourville left Alexandria for Dakar via the Suez Canal and the Cape of Good Hope, arriving in September 1943. At first they concentrated on searching and destroying German blockade runners. They were part of the allied ‘Pernambuco-Freetown line’ which mobilized USN, French and even Italian cruisers. Eight patrols were made between September 1943 and February 1944.

Afterwards, the cruisers sailed to Casablanca for a modernization and new overhaul, then they headed for the better facilities of the Scottish port of Greenock, leaving it on August 25 and back to Casablanca. They carried transport missions between Casablanca, Gibraltar, Oran, Greenock and Cherbourg, Oran and Toulon. By November 1944, the obsolescent Duquesne was immobilized in Casablanca, but later joined the Atlantic French Naval Task Force (FNTF) to bring fire support to retake the Atlantic pockets, notably Lorient and Saint-Nazaire, left to the Free French and resistance.

Tourville in 1945 (cc)

By December 1944, Duquesne and Gloire arrived in Brest and by January 1945, she was based in Cherbourg, until April. She was overhauled again, having modernized condensers, and two retubed boilers. She shelled the pocket of Royan and Pointe du Grave. She was resupplied at Casablanca and shelled the the island of Oleron in April 1945, in support to a French landing to subdue the German garrison. Soon afterwards in May, the French Naval Task Force (FNTF) was dissolved as the war ended in Europe.

Until November 1945 Duquesne was immobilized in Brest for an overhaul and will take part in the campaign in Indochina twice. The first ended in January 25, 1946, and she took part in the reconquest of Tonkin, also making rotations between Saigon and Tonkin. Her second deployment took place from January 17, 1947 and lasted three months. She was back in France by may. She notably shelled the the Tourane area to support ground operations. She was back into reserved in September 1947, attached to the Center for Instruction of Amphibious Operations in Arzew, Oran. She became a static ship-base in 1948 and served there for seven years discarded in 1955, as Q-52, towed to Mers-El-Kébir and sold for broking up in July 1956.

Duquesne, date unknown – Australian War Museum

The Tourville in service

duquesne stern
Duquesne, stern view credits: shipspotting.com

The Tourville was launched on August 24, 1926 and completed, trialled, in service by March 12, 1929. In July 3, 1928 already she took part in a naval review off Le Havre. By December 1929, she served in the Mediterranean’s 1st Light Division with her sistr ship and Suffren. Ths unit was changed several times afterwards; She also replaced the former old cruiser Quinet as schoolship before the Jeanne d’Arc was ready.

After the Béarn ws constructed there was some debate over converting unprotected cruisers into fast fleet carriers, as the Béarn was very slow. The admiralry was presented with four designs compatible with the 12,000 tons from the global allocation by the Washington treaty:
> With a 139m long flight deck:
Either 98 m/102 m long superstructure hangar and preserved 8-in lower front turret kept, or 102m first superstructure hangar and the lower rear turret of 203mm preserved.
> With a 176 m long flight deck: 116.50m hangar, no 8-in turret.
Capacity was enough to carry fourteen planes, and the ships were to received twelve 100 mm DP mounts and four 37 mm AA guns.
The weakness of the air group made the project dropped in favor of a dedicated design, the Joffre and Painlevé, never completed.
The conversion project resurface in 1945 by the influence of the USN Independence class, but the process would take much more longer.

Postcard – unknown origin, from pinterest

By June 1935 Tourville made an exercize off Douarnenez and in May 1937, took part in another exercize and naval review. She was in 1938 attached to the School of Maritime Application (EATM) and in July 1939, joined the 3rd Wing. From September, this squadron was composed of the Algeria, Dupleix, Foch and Colbert plus Duquesne and Tourville (2nd Division), tracking down German raiders.
In May 1940 she teamed up with Provence, Betagne and Lorraine, destroyers and TBs making the Force X based in Egypt at Port Said, later joining Beirut and from there, raided the Aegean Sea and back to Alexandria in June 13, 1940. After another raid on the Sicilian coast she was back to Alexandria and tied by the armistice to disarmament and inaction until late 1942 and the allied landings in French North Africa.

Tourville panama canal
The Tourville going through the Panama Canal.

At that time she was worn out but the Americans refused to upgrade and overhaul her. Tourville was slightly overhauled at Casablanca, notably receiving modern AA like her sister-ship. She was based in Dakar to catch blockade runners. Her last patrol ended in February 1944. After maintenance in Casablanca she was back into service in June 3, 1944. As her modernization in the USA was still refused at that point she was disarmed locally, with a probable sale for demolition. She was saved this fate by being reactivated for participating in the Indochina campaign.
She served with the Maritime Forces in the Far East (FMEO) with the Duquesne, Tourville and Suffren, later the Naval Division of the Far East (DNEO).

She acted as a transport and fire support vessel. She shelled notably Cam-Ranh and Cap Saint Jacques, carried out Operation Bentré and the naval review of Halong Bay, followed by a short overhaul in Shanghai by June 1946. She made her last voyage from France and back in October 1946 to November 1947. She shelled the Tourane area, Annam and transported troops at Saigon. She was placed into reserve in 1948, served with the EOR (School of Reserve Officers) and EM (School of Maneuver) and was finally struck by April 28, 1961, broken up at La Seyne.

author's rendition of the Duquesne
Old author’s rendition of the Duquesne 1/700

Specifications 1940

Dimensions 186,2 m long, 20 m wide, 6,15 m draught (611 x 66 x 20.2 ft)
Displacement 10 000 t. standard -11,404 t to 12,436 tonnes Fully loaded
Crew 800
Propulsion 4 shafts direct geared SR turbines Rateau-Bretagne, 8 Guyot/Du Temple boilers, 120,000 hp.
Speed 34 knots (60 km/h)
Range 5,000 nautical miles at 15 knots, 1800 at 29 knots, 700 at 33 knots, capacity 1842 tonnes of oil
Armament 8 x 203 mm/55 (Mod. 1931), 12 x 100 mm DP (6×2), 8 x 37 mm AA (4×2), 16 x 13,2 mm AA HMGs (4 x 4), 2 x 3 550 mm TTs, 2 Loire 130 seaplanes.
Armor Ammunitions holds 20/30mm, CT 30 mm, turrets 30 mm (1.5 in).

Read More/Src
Gardiner Conway’s all the world’s fighting ships 1921-46.

Jean-Michel Roche, Dictionnaire des bâtiments de la flotte de guerre française de Colbert à nos jours.


French Cruisers Drawings/Plan Sets – WWI and later designs –


Detailed plans of the Tourville

The Models Corner. Wait to built amodel kit of the Duquesne or Tourville ?
1/700 resin kit by WSW in polyrethane SRC

Algérie (1930)

Heavy Cruiser Algérie (1930)

The best “washington” cruiser?Algérie was the last French heavy cruiser. She was also -as many authors agrees- certainly one of the very best, if not the best “Washington cruiser”. Meaning, built within the Washington treaty limitations (1922). She proceeded from two earlier heavy cruisers designs but took a radically new approach and ended as a finely balanced one.
But she was also the only one of her class because of global tonnage limitations, and unfortunately a ship which ended scuttled in November 1942.

Colorized - Algerie
Colorized photo by Hirotoko Jr. – From ONI identification book USN

The Washington treaty limits

The Washington treaty (signed by all major naval powers in 1922) was the embodiement of political power on the military and especially the navy. The needs of the navies were simply ignored or partially obtained after a wave of compromises.

The truth is this treaty left most nation’s own navy staff and some politicians deeply frustrated. But tax-payer side and lifting all egos apart, it helped also contain a dangerous trend in naval spending, towards even more larger and more powerful capital ships. It’s easy to see this mad race in 1917-18 projects: 50,000+ tons warships armed with eight to twelve 457 in guns…

The treaty not only stop this tonnage-wise per ship (on a qualitative level), on the nation’s authorized global tonnage and per-type tonnage, but also imposed a ten years moratorium. Seven years after an historical financial crisis at Wall street would have condemn any or these policies anyway.

France and naval treaties

France in particular was left unsatisfied by the treaty, which left her with 175,000 tons globally, the same as Italy whereas she estimated having more needs because or her more expansive colonial empire. The other nation, for the same reason, that felt frustrated was Japan, whose ambition was parity with the two “greats”, RN and USN, to built her empire.

Now some French policitians however saw these limitations salutary for budgetary concerns. And indeed, it was realism through and through: France has not remotelly close the budget to fill her ambitions, barely enough even to reach the limitations. Her huge ww1-era “prototype” fleet was 80% absolete and of dubious military value. The washington treaty would make this interwar a playground for new naval theories and help France securing “new blood” for her navy, with almost all new classes of ships and produced a compact, homogeneous, modern and well-balanced navy, amidst political turmoil and the 1929 crisis, but thanks to the stable policy of two visionary ministers, Georges Leygues and François Pétrie.
The shadow of the “young school” gabegie was still lurking over their folders.

Neither the following Geneva conference of 1927 and 1932 or the London treaty of 1930 made an impact on these policies, but the annoucement of the rearmment of Germany from 1933, quite obvious by 1935, made France denouncing the treaties and retired, just as Japan.

The 120,000 tons limited agreed in the Anglo-German naval treaty of 1935 would not changed the outcome and soon after Italy retired also whereas the treaty attempt at London the next year ended as a failure. But the 1929 crisis consequences had shattered old Europe, and amidt political turmoil in France, construction of new cruiser was stopped altogether.

Only the St Louis was projected in 1938, yet another radically new design (St Louis class) that borrowed to the popular concepts of the time, a 3×3 main artillery configuration among others, but largely inspired by the Algérie in terms of protection and general balance.

Algérie underway in 1943, USN photo for ONI identification book

Towards a better heavy cruiser design

Cruisers were no exceptions: The last ones were built in 1901-1902. 1912 projects has been scrapped. In 1922-23, came the Primauguet of a brand new design, followed by the heavy cruiser series Duquesne and Suffren, six ships relatively similar and also sharing the same issue: On the always true triptych speed/armament/protection, the cursor was set on the first two.

Also typical of the 1920’s and early 30′ fad of Mediterranean “tin-clad cruisers”, these ships lacked also good AA. The Algérie tried to set the cursor right in the center of the tryptich, therefore more towards protection, while sacrificing part of the speed and through compromised.

In the end it was a very well balanced design. The best France ever produced for an interwar cruiser and certainly one of the best at that time. With more time, the St Louis class then in construction would have beaten this probably. They were closer to the American Baltimore, no longer a washington cruiser by any margin in 1942.

Algérie circa 1936-37
Algérie circa 1936-37 – ONI naval recoignition USN intelligence plate, 1943

Design and Development of the Algérie

ONI- naval recoignition USN intelligence plate of the Algerie

Overall design

As it was said, The Algérie came after a series of cruisers criticized for their cruel lack of protection and too light construction, better suited for th Mediterranean than the Atlantic. The lack of range and AA could be added to the mix.

A new type of heavy cruiser subjected to Washington tonnage was studied under a new direction. This time it was an attempt clearly focused towards protection. Algérie was voted by the parliament under the provisional code PN 141, part of the 12 january 1930 law also funding the minelayer cruiser Emile Bertin and the famous super-destroyers of the Le Fantasque class.

The final design approved resulted in more modest dimensions, a flush-deck hull, revised interior designs, but a near-unchanged speed and armament (the true miracle of this design) in favor of excellent overall protection. But for the naval staff, she was mostly built in response to the Italian Zara-class cruisers, which themselved were better protected than the Trento. So the Algérie as a fitting response has to incorporater even better armour than not only previous French cruisers, but the Zara class themselves.

Her dimensions were the result of weight-saving measures, and this included significant savings by scrapping the traditional forecastle for a simpler and smoother flush deck, which prow was just as high. In addition, the hull was 186.2 m (611 ft) by 20 m (66 ft), by 6.15 m (20.2 ft) whereas the Suffren was considerably longer and deeper at 194 m (636.48 ft) by 20 m (65.62 ft) and 7.3 m (23.95 ft) draught. However both classes were a close match in terms of displacement: 10,000 tons (standard) and 13,641 tons (full load) for the Algérie and the same as standard but 12,780 tonnes (fully loaded).

So the Algérie was 860 tons heavier at full load, all of it was armour, in reality even more given the reduced size of the hull. In reality given the steel saved by shorter dimensons adnd more compact machinery, almost one meter saved in draught, which was considerable. So total weight of the armour was closer to 1500 tons, the displacement of a destroyer.

wow algérie
WoW’s rendition of the Algérie


To move these 13,000 tons fully loaded, Algérie can count on four-shaft Rateau-Bretagne SR (gearing with simple reduction) and Brown Boveri mixed geared turbines fed by six Indret boilers (with Penhoët burners), rated for a total of 84,000 shp (63,000 kW).

This was slightly less than the 3-shaft Rateau-Bretagne SR geared turbines rated for 90,000 shp on the Suffren, yet the latter achieved 32 knots (36.82 mph; 59.26 km/h). What was important however, was the fact some room was lost as the four turbines were all roomed independantly, so in case of a water gush, only one was flooded, allowing the ship to escape to safety.

However, Suffren had a range of 4,500 nautical miles while Algérie still maintained a top speed of 31 knots (57 km/h), so only conceiding a knot, but with a range of 8,700 nautical miles (16,110 km) at 15 knots (28 km/h), almost double.
This feat was achieved by partly using fuel tanks as an additional protection rather than seawater, and better internal arrangement, as well as the space gained by using slighlty smaller turbines. This range was a welcome addition also for Atlantic operations, the intended role of the new cruiser class.


The main armament of the ship was four twin turrets housing 203mm/55 Modèle 1931 naval guns. They used the same ammunition as the 203mm/50 Modèle 1924 and were similar except for the longer barrel, hence a better muzzle velocity at 840 metres per second (2,800 ft/s). On Suffren these were the latter, allegedly derived from older ww1-era 240 mm railway guns. These Modele 31 used separate charges and shell and the APC M1936 weighted 134 kilograms (295 lb). The gun breech block was of the same earlier Welin model, with a rate of fire of abot 4-5 RPM. Maximum firing range was 31,000 m (34,000 yd) at 45° elevation.

The secondary battery comprised twelve 100 mm/45 guns in six twin mounts, quite an improvement over the Canon de 90 mm Modèle 1926 used by the Suffren (which in addition carried eight single mounts). That was quite an improvement, still, fire direction was limited as well as the rate of fire. The AA battery comprised eight 37 mm (1.5 in) AA guns in four twin mounts. The already old Canon de 37 mm Modèle 1925 was a standard, used on most French cruisers and battleships.

Semi-Automatic (hand-fed with cartridge boxes), it can elevation -15° to +80° and had a 15-21 rpm, the lowest of all contemporary AA guns. By comparison the Italian Breda was 60-120 rpm and the German 3.7 cm Flak 18/36/37/43, 150 rpm, the Bofors 115-120 rpm. Its muzzle velocity was only 810 m/s (2,700 ft/s) and range 5.4 km (3.4 mi) at +45° up to 7 km (4.3 mi) at +45°. From 1941, the ship had sixteen 37 mm in twin mounts.

Algérie was also given sixteen 13.2 mm (0.52 in) AA heavy MGs in quadruple mounts and from 1941, this was bring to thirty-six 13.2 mm HMGs.
Also for close-quarter she was fitted with six 550 mm torpedo tubes in two triple banks on the sides.

The 13.2 mm model was the old Hotchkiss M1929 machine gun, air-cooled, which had a 450 rounds/min cycle, a muzzle velocity of 800 m/s (2,625 ft/s) and was fed by 30-round box magazines.

This model was also used by the Japanese and Spanish Navies, and was tried by Italy as well. But overall this AA cover had many gaping holes, between a slow 100 mm and 37 mm, and the very close-quarter 13.2 mm, which lacked punch and range.

These mounts were all replaced on French ships of the FNFL which went through an American refit, using the standard 20 mm Orelikons and 40 mm Bofors instead. For reconnaissance she also had three Loire-Nieuport 130 seaplanes, 1 catapult which were removed in 1941 while she later gained a radar.

The main tower was quite high and contained all the necessary detection and direction organs of the ship. The main telepointing turret or upper platform on top of the tower carried the telescoping turret for the main artillery, with a 5-meter rangefinder and two smaller telepointing turrets for AA artilley, each with a 3m rangefinder. With staff and all equipment, the main turret alone weighed 10.5 tons and the secondary turrets 5.5 tons.

Below, The Admiral’s Control bridge was originally called the “Headlamp Control Platform” but developed to house the admiral and had a serie of squared windows and doors to access the platform.
This level comprises the navigation shelter, reduced transmission and operations PC and two gyroscopic compass repeaters/taximeters.

The remote control station of the rear axial projector as well as the lookout stations were replaced on the intermediate gateway and the signaling projectors installed on the intermediate bridge, placed in front of the Admiral’s platform. The main bridge was below, in two stage behind the ‘Y’ turret.

The upper bridge, above the main turret, The lower bridge, housed the captain’s bridge with all the usual ship command organs and a map room and communication room behind. It was crossed by the main blockhaus with a repeat of all essential command features. The lower, or intermediate bridge, included the Admiral navigation shelter under the commander’s naval shelter, still with an unobstructed view of the bow and housed the central operations, transmissions and cipher office. On the CT’s back was installed the telegraphic station and a large maps room for the admiral watchmen restroom.


By far, the best aspect of the ship was its armour, comprising a main belt 120 mm (4.7 in) strong, transverse bulkheads 70 mm (2.8 in) thick, longitudinal bulkheads 40 mm (1.6 in) thick.

The subdivision was provided by sixteen main transverse bulkheads rising from the bottom to the upper deck. These transverse partitions closed completetly any circulation from the bottom to the main deck (machines roof and boiler rooms).

Their main deck was 80 mm (3in-1in) and below in the interdeck bulkheads were pierced with watertight doors. They contributed to the sturdiness of the ship, since their amounts connect the elongated and coamings of the upper decks with reinforcement bars.

The turrets faces were 95 mm (3.7 in), and 70 mm (2.8 in) on the sides and roofs. The conning tower had a 70 mm top and 95 mm walls (2.8 to 3.7 in). There was also an internal torpedo bulkhead, about 30 mm thick, and great compartimentation which acted as additional safe cells.

Compared to that, the previous Suffren were made in paper, with a belt 50 mm (2.0 in) to 54 mm (2.1 in) up to 60 mm (2.4 in) thick depending on the ships, a main armoured deck 25 mm (0.98 in) thicks, and the turrets and conning tower protected by 30 mm (1.2 in). Your authentic “tin-clad cruiser”.

About the new St Louis class (1938)

World of Warships
World of Warships what-if rendition of the St Louis

Algérie inspired the construction of new heavy cruisers to be launched when the limitations of the Washington Treaty would have expired. In effect, these were to reach 14 to 15,000 tons standard (up to 20,000 tons fully loaded), or 5000 more than the limit. Other navies were beginning to study such cruisers, including the United States Navy.

The St. Louis were therefore very close to the Baltimore design, with a same arrangement of three triple turrets. The larger dimensions were intended to improve active protection (AA) and passive protection (more armour and compartimentation) while the larger hull allowed to double to power at about 130,000 hp, regaining two knots.

They were scheduled to replace in 1943 the Duguay-Trouin class (1923) and were approved on April 1, 1940. However due to wartime urgency, their construction was never ordered. Their AA has a well-cleared arc of fire since the St Louis class were to use the same “mack” or “mast-stack”, characteristic of the Richelieu, for the benefit of additional deck and aerial space.

The guns would have been either of the same model as Algérie or an improved model with a longer barrel and reworked breech block for improved rpm. However, the AA battery was pretty much the same as Algérie, and two planes were carried, no radar at that point.

Her details were as followed:
Displacement: 14,470 t. standard -17,620 t. at full charge
Dimensions: 202 m long, 20 m wide, 5.80 m draft.
Powerplant: 4 shafts Parsons turbines, 6 Indret boilers, 130,000 hp.
Top speed: 34 knots
Amour: Up to 210 mm turrets and CT, 90 mm decks, battery, 60-70 mm internals.
Armament: 9 x 203 mm (3 × 3) – New 1940 model, 8 x 100 mm (4 × 2), 8 x 37 mm (4 × 2), 16 x 13.2 mm AA HMGs (4 x 4), 3 aircraft
Crew: 760

St Louis
Rendition of the St Louis class cruisers by the author.

The Algérie in action

Algérie and crew at Bregançon
Algérie and crew posing in 1941 at Fort de Brégançon, Les Salins d’Hyères, French riviera. src. MP CHURET – Chef mécanicien (cc)

Algérie was laid down in 1931 at Brest NyD (Britanny, Atlantic coast) on 19 March 1931, she was launched on 21 May 1932 and commissioned on 15 September 1934, operational after trials that month. Her name was in relation to the centennary of the former colony, then a department (so officially part of mainland France), fastuously celebrated with a large naval review in front of Algiers, May 1930.

She started after her first sea legs, on 23 août 1933, and the end of preliminary trials on 22 december 1933. Her official tests started in January 1934 by endurance and consumption checks, to test her propulsion system. On 2 February, she made firing tests with her main battery and also reach her top speed ever registered at 33.2 knots with forced heat and a calm sea.

After these satisfactory tests, Algérie joined Brest for after testing work and refits. She layed in drydock Lannion until June 9, 1934 and was definitely commissioned on June 15, 1934 and the definitive armament was tested and provided on September 5, 1934. She left Brest in October for Toulon, with the long range crossing as the last test, making a stopover en route at Casablanca (October 11). Her final admission to active service was on October 19.

From November, she was attached to the 3rd light division also counting Duquesne, Tourville, Colbert Foch and Dupleix. She spent the next years in fleet exercizes, showing excellent characteristics. However no sister-ship was ever ordered as the global tonnage limit for cruisers defined at Washington was reached.
Despite her qualities, Algérie was never really put to the test, the only time she fired was on coastal installations.

Dakar and South Atlantic (1939)
Assigned to the first cruisers squadron (in the company of Foch, Tourville, Duquesne, Colbert and Dupleix), she was detached from Toulon to hunt for the Graf Spee in the South Atlantic. For this reason, she joined Dakar, French West Africa, where she was based, and operated with Strasbourg and the British aicraft carrier Hermes, but never spotted the German raider. She was back in the Atlantic.

North Atlantic (1940)
In March 1940, she escorted the battleship Bretagne carrying French gold reserves (3000 tons) to safety in Canada.

Mediterranean (1940-41)
After the Italian declaration of war, Algérie was sent to the Mediterranean. She reached Toulon, and was prepared for her first mission to shell facilities and installatons at the port of Genoa.
This episode has been seen in detail through Operation Vado 13-14 June 1940. She was part of the French 3rd Squadron (four heavy cruisers and 11 destroyers) which raided the Italian coast.

Algérie was part of the northern group, comprising Foch and the destroyers Aigle, Cassard, Chevalier Paul, Lion, Tartu and Vauban, heading for Vado and Savona, by night at 25 knots. She had there, a fair share of shelling starting before dawn, 16,000 yards (15,000 metres).

Algérie indeed set ablaze several storage tanks in Vado Ligure, not the cleverest decision however as due to the anemic wind, the thick black smoke soon obscured the other objectives and fire lost precision.
Later, MAS539 attacked Algérie at 2,000 yards (1,800 metres) but missed. She made it home unscaved like the rest of the fleet, also attacked by a TB Catalafimi, another MAS and submarines along the way. This was her only significant war action.

Algérie was afterwards on an escort mission when the capitulation came. She was anchored in Mers-El-Kébir but departed to Toulon and was miraculously not present when Operation Catapult began. So she escaped destruction, but later escorted the battle-damaged Provence to Toulon for extensive repairs. In 1941 she was given a better AA battery (16 x 37 mm and 36 x 13.2 mm) and a radar in 1942, or early French design.

Scuttling of Toulon (Nov.1942)
Algerie scuttled
On November, 27, she sank at Toulon, like the rest of the fleet, scuttled to honor the pledge made by admiral Darlan that no French ship would ever be captured by the Germans (German photo, unknwon author)

Demolition charges were set on the ship and while the Germans arrived an tried to persuade the crew to not do so under the Armistice provisions; Algérie’s captain requested the Germans to wait until his superior could advise, leaving ample time for the crew to lit the fuses.

Admiral Lacroix ultimately arrived and by then the captain suddenly ordered the ship to be evacuated. The Germans prepared to board, but to avoid slaughter, the captain told their officers that the charges were about to blew up. The Algerie burned for 20 days, but overall was not that badly damaged.

Later that the Axis was now master of the harbor and the fleet, even in this sorry state, salvage operations took place. The intention was to transfer these ships to the Regia Marina after losses of 1941-42.

The Italians raised Algérie in pre-cut sections on 18 March 1943 after much effort, but the capitulation later stopped all progress. What left of the ship was bombed and sunk again on 7 March 1944 by allied aviation. Algérie would be raised and broken up for scrap in 1949 eventually.

author's rendition of algerie
Author’s rendition of algerie 1/700

Algérie specifications 1940

Dimensions 186,2 m long, 20 m wide, 6,15 m draught (611 x 66 x 20.2 ft)
Displacement 10 000 t. standard -13 641 t. Fully loaded
Crew 748
Propulsion 4 shafts direct geared SR turbines Rateau-Bretagne, 6 Indret boilers, 84 000 hp.
Speed 31 knots (57 km/h)
Range 8,700 nautical miles (16,110 km) at 15 knots (28 km/h)
Armament 8 x 203 mm/55 (Mod. 1931), 12 x 100 mm DP (6×2), 8 x 37 mm AA (4×2), 16 x 13,2 mm AA HMGs (4 x 4), 2 x 3 550 mm TTs, 3 Loire 130 seaplanes.
Armor Belt 120 mm, AT bulkheads 70 mm, deck 80, turrets 95 mm, CT 95 mm.

Read More/Src
Gardiner Conway’s all the world’s fighting ships 1921-46.
Jean-Michel Roche, Dictionnaire des bâtiments de la flotte de guerre française de Colbert à nos jours.

Croiseur lourd Algérie

Chronology of the war at sea 1939-1945 (3rd ed.) London, Chatham Publishing
Paper model kit on kartonmodellbau.de
3D model on digitalnavy.com
Sketchup Model on 3dwharehouse
Turret Details on shapeways

The old Kombrig model kit

Aircraft Carrier Béarn (1923)

Aircraft Carrier Béarn (1923)

The Béarn, first French Aircraft Carrier:
Apart the Foudre, an early seaplane carrier of 1911 converted from a 1890s torpedo-boat carrier, the wartime aircraft depot ships Campinas and Nord, France did not relied a lot on ship-based aviation during the great war, certainly not on the scale of the Royal Navy. However at the end of the war there was greater interest in the matter and from 1919 take-off tests started from the sloop Bapaume (1919), with an evaluation campaign by aviator Paul Teste and his Hanriot HD2 fighter (photo below).
*Cover: Colorized photo by Hirootoko Jr.

paul teste
Paul Teste making trials on board the Sloop Bapaume (cc).

The Washington treaty of 1922 placed a ban on battleship construction but left a gaping hole in terms of aircraft carriers, by then still unexplored territories.

Therefore, France like UK, Japan, and the USA could choose to complete unfinished hulls of battleships or battlecruisers, after HMS Furious showed it was possible. More so, the completion of the unfinished Almirante Cochrane, as HMS Eagle from 1918, showed it was also possible on a battleship. At a time air power was still not well defined, having a ship well armored and capable to fight cruisers with a barbette armament and turrets was seductive.

Unfinished Battleships: Normandie class

Normandy class BBs

On the other hand, France had on her slipways before the war five 25,000  battleships that has been launched in 1914: Flandre, Gascoigne, Languedoc and Normandie (named after France’s historical regions) on all her four major yards, Arsenal de Brest, Lorient, FC de la Gironde (Bordeaux) and AC de la Loire.

Workers enlisted to fight and therefore the hulls were left unfinished for years. Only one ship has not been launched: Béarn, laid down in January 1914 at FC de la Méditerranée, Toulon. The reason was she was to be completed on a modified design. She was the only one with a direct drive and four Parsons turbines. All the others had neither their boilers installed, fitted on other ships, nor their guns installed, which ended on railways to pummel the front.

This famous class was the first to inaugurate the trademark French quad-turret design. The advantage was to limit the armor scheme to three turret wells and ammo rooms, therefore allowing some weight-saving for a better overall speed of 21 knots. It was good in 1913, but the same year the new British designs of “super-dreadnoughts” capable of 23 knots appeared (Queen Elisabeth class). Still, these battleships had a broadside of twelve 340 mm guns, two more than the Iron Duke class. The only backside was that a single hit can disable twice more guns. All in all, these new Normandie class would have been formidable battleships if completed. With the manpower resources of the British Empire of Germany, it could have been so, but not in the current situation.

Therefore in 1922 the new Washington treaty obliged the French to make choices, left with the same tonnage as Italy, which was felt insufficient by the naval staff to defend the French Empire, but realistic on the economic point of view. Already in service, older battleships were kept for future modernizations, while the new ones had to be broken up to respect the new tonnage limits, while recycled materials were reused in modern units.

By that time, Béarn’s incomplete hull has been launched in April 1920 to clear the slipway, and the Admiralty was not sure what to do with it. Her hull was about 8–10% complete, the engine rooms had received 25% of their equipment, boilers were 17% assembled, turrets were 20% completed, guns not received.

view of the flight deck of the Béarn after the 1935 refit, U.S. Navy Naval Aviation News May 1963

About Project 171 (1920-24)

In 1920, a French naval delegation was sent to visit HMS Argus, making observations about operations, aircraft handling, etc. They came out with the idea of a complete transformation of the unfinished ship, named Project 171. This was later ratified by the Admiralty on 18 April 1922, not long after the hull was made available for completion on a new design. Her sister-ships, the four unfinished battleships of the Normandie class would be scrapped and materials recycled into the light cruisers of the Primauguet class and further constructions.

Conversion work started in August 1923, on plans at first derived from the conversion of HMS Argus, and lasted until May 1927 after many modifications. Just after Béarn was launched, the Marine Nationale constructed a mocked-up flight deck right on the unfinished hull to perform some tests.

Indeed pilot Paul Teste multiplied landing experiments until October 1920 and advised the Marine Nationale to convert the ship for experimental purposes, to allow time to design proper scratch-built aircraft carriers (which will be the Joffre and Painlevé).

Béarn off Martinique Island 1942 (src U.S. Navy All Hands magazine January 1948)

Design of the Béarn

The Béarn was 170.6 m (560 ft) long and up to 182.6 m (599 ft) overall, useful length to build the flight deck, large enough to authorize both landings and simultaneous flight-offs.
Beam was 27.13 m (89.0 ft), enough to stack some folded wings planes on one side, and use the bulk space for spacious hangars and aviation gasoline and improved ASW protection.

Standard displacement was 22,146 long tons (22,501 t) up to 28,400 long tons (28,900 t) at the end of the conversion. The most recognizable feature at first was a retractable charthouse installed in the flight deck near the bow, something inspired by HMS Argus and the first British aircraft carriers.

Bearn, colorized by Hirootoko Jr
Bearn, colorized by Hirootoko Jr.


Béarn’s machinery consisted of two sets of steam turbines driving the inner pair of propeller shafts, plus a pair of reciprocating engines for the outer shafts. The advantage of the formula was to allow long cruises and extending the range when speed was not an issue. In case of emergency, the whole machinery could deliver up to 37,000 hp, that is 22,500 shp (16,800 kW) with the turbines alone and 15,000 ihp (11,000 kW) with the reciprocating VTE engines.

Steam was supplied by six Normand du Temple water-tube boilers. Their exhausts were truncated into a single funnel on the starboard side of the flight deck and stacked down to it was a large vented chamber to mix cooler air with the boiler exhaust. The idea was to reduce air turbulence over the flight deck.

Thanks to this system, Béarn could reach 21.5 knots (39.8 km/h; 24.7 mph) at max power, carrying 2,160 long tons (2,190 t) of fuel oil, enough for 6,000 nautical miles (11,000 km; 6,900 mi) at cruising speed of 10 kn (19 km/h; 12 mph).


As a former battleship, the hull was stripped of all and any armor, with only a symbolic 80 mm belt on the central section of the ship, with a buttress of ASW compartmentation behind. However as shown by the blueprints, there were still an angled bulkhead over the machinery, which seemed relatively thick, possibly also 80 mm. The second point is of course the flight deck, which was 25 mm thick, in relation to the usual figures for armoured ship’s less exposed vertical surface at that time.

Bearn 1927 Bearn 1927 Bearn blueprints 2 Bearn blueprints 3 Bearn blueprints 4 Bearn blueprints 5


Béarn was built to accommodate up to 40 aircraft. The ship’s aviation facilities consisted of a 180-meter-long (590 ft) flight deck served by three electrically powered elevators: The rear and central elevators were larger, to lift the torpedo bombers and reconnaissance models which needed more taking-off space while fighter was lifted by the smaller forward elevator. To house these, there were two hangars 124-metre (407 ft) long each and below aircraft maintenance facilities and storage for spare parts.

In addition, the ship carried some 3,530 cubic feet (100 m3) of aviation gasoline and plus 15 m3 of aviation oil, with inert gas inserted in double tanks case of a rupture. There was one main lift for crashed aircraft recovery and lifting storage and payloads on board. A second one was installed during the American refit. In 1928, the provisional ropes-sandbags were replaced by hydraulic arrestor systems but no catapult was ever fitted.


Her defense, in addition to light AA guns, was ensured by the old barbette guns of the battleship. These were the eight 6.1 in (150 mm) /55 Mod 21 guns in casemates, inherited from the battleship and thought for ship-to-ship naval defense. She also had six 76 mm (3.0 in) AA guns and eight more modern 37 mm (1.5 in) AA guns. From 1935 this was reinforced by sixteen 13mm machine guns in single mounts.

This would will evolve in 1944: In addition to a radar, modern navigation systems, a new heavy-duty crane, USN equipments, she also received a brand new anti-aircraft battery of four single standard 5″/38 dual-purpose guns (to make room, barbette guns were deposed and openings removed or welded shut) and twenty-four (Six quad mounts) Bofors 40 mm guns and their fire directors, and eventually twenty-six Oerlikon 20 mm guns in individual mountings under masks, all along the bridge in bath-tub arrangements, and along the island, like American aircraft carriers.

Her level of AA protection was similar to USN Sangamon class escort aircraft carriers. She carried a wide array of planes and operated Wildcats when performing escort missions.

Overview of the Béarn in 1935 – src www.navweaps.com

Onboard aviation

She carried up to twelve different types of aircraft at this time of naval aviation experimentation. In 1939, her fleet consisted of Wibauld 75, LGL 32, and Levasseur PL4 torpedo bombers, all of which were out of date in 1939. Her initial group was a squadron of twelve torpedo bombers, twelve reconnaissance aircraft, and eight fighters.

-Hanriot HD.12 (1920)
-Nieuport 21 (1920)
-Nieuport-Delage NiD-32RH (1920)
-Ansaldo/Dewoitine D.1ter
-Wibault 74 (1928)
-Loire-Gourdou-Lesseure LGL.32 (1932)
-Dewoitine D.373/D.376 (1937/39)

-Levasseur PL 2 (1926)
-Levasseur PL 4 (1930)
-Levasseur PL 5 (1932)
-Levasseur PL 7 (1933)
-Levasseur PL 101 (1937)

Modernized Complement 1940:

-Dewoitine D.790 (Navalized Dewoitine D.520)
-Latécoère 675
-Grumman F4F Wildcat (as carrier 1943-45)

-Latécoère 299
-Loire-Nieuport LN.401
-Vought SB2U Vindicator (called Vought  V156F): 40 delivered

Vought 156F tested on board in 1940, here in the hangar (a French version of the Vought SB2U Vindicator). Scr forummarine.forumactif.com/t4805-france-porte-avions-bearn

The SB2U were purchased with a franchise to be later built in France, called V156F.
The Land-based naval aviation was located and tested was located in Hyères (SE France), from 1936 and was later relocated to Lanvéoc in Britanny.

Active service: The Béarn in action 1929-1967

Pioneering era (1928-35)

Béarn started active service in 1928-29, testing airplane handling, take off and landings, and training a generation of airmen. The first years were spent in the Mediterranean, with clear skies ideal for onboard aviation, and she was based in North Africa. She also toured from 15 April to 25 June 1932, stopping at Beyrouth and Athens.  But she bore within herself her own limitations. She was slow, especially given the standards of the thirties, at least ten knot slower than the slowest French cruiser. In fact she was unfit for squadron exercises, and taking an active part in a combined fleet operation was out of the question.

Despite her limitations, Béarn was every bit a fully-fledged aircraft carrier, akin the Eagle. Her full deck was well cleared, with a port island, a double-stack hangar running on two-thirds of the ship,  and lifts (albeit slow). Reports were not flattering on their performance, in particular one of 1937 which underlined Béarn could make land fifteen planes in one hour eight minutes, thirty-two aircraft for the Glorious in  forty-two minutes and on the Saratoga forty in just eleven minutes.

Loire-Gourdou Lesseure LGL-32
A Loire-Gourdou Lesseure LGL-32 fighter of the ET1 landing. This 1930 plane was armed by two synchronized Vickers MGs and propelled by an Hispano Suiza 8Ab of 180 hp at 240 kph. (cc)

Levasseur PL101
Levasseur PL101 (1933). Comparable to the Fairey swordfish, 30 of this recce/bomber were built, which served until September 1939. This 3150 kg plane, 14.20m wide and propelled by an Hispano-Suiza 12Lb 600hp (220kph), like other Levasseur planes was able to survive a sea crash thanks to its hydroplane features. (cc)

Prewar career (1935-39)

From 1936 she was redeployed in Britanny, operating from Brest. The main reason was new ships had been acquired by the fleet for the Mediterranean and Béarn was to be replaced here by the two brand new Joffre class in 1939. This would allowed the French naval air to finally accompany the squadron. Béarn replacement was planned for 1948 by an aircraft carrier of 20,000 tons (2,000 tons more than the Joffre) whose start was scheduled for 1943.

A new generation of aircraft was being developed, notably to serve onboard future ports. planes under construction, the Joffre and the Painlevé. Among these aircraft, the LN401 dive bomber, the D376/373 fighter, the naval version of the Bloch 200, and the American-built Vought V156F (SB2U Vindicator) torpedo bomber.

Wartime: 1940 campaign

All these planes never touched her flight deck. In September 1939, the Béarn Air Group fought from land bases during the May-June 1940 campaign, destroyed on the ground, thrown against columns of Panzers and eliminated by FLAK, or decimated by the Luftwaffe.

Bearn, because of her wartime limitations was sent to Martinique, neutral after carrying French gold reserves to Halifax. Until May 1940 indeed she made several rotations between Brest and Halifax before returning to the Mediterranean for training naval air pilots.

This was brief as at the end of May 1940 already she was back at Halifax to load planes ordered from the United States. US neutrality prevented indeed French ships from loading directly from any US harbor. However the process took time and when France surrendered, both Béarn had the school cruiser Jeanne d’Arc were present in Halifax, with 44 Curtiss SBC-4 Helldiver, 23 Curtiss H-75, 6 Brewster B-339 and 33 Stinson 105 on board. She sailed from Halifax on June 16, 1940 to France, but was re-routed to the West Indies on June 20, 1940 as the Germans now controlled the coast as well.

Under Vichy Control (1940-43)

The Bearn sailed to Martinique, Fort de France (French Caribean) arriving May 27 where she met the cruiser Emile Bertin. On board were loaded 290 tons of gold later stored at Fort Desaix. Planes landed, and stored in open air. Not only they quickly deteriorated, but the absence of air crews prevented any use. Despite of this, American authorities feared an for example over the Panam canal action after the British bombarded Mers-el-Kebit and interned the French fleet. Diplomatic relations of Vichy-France were broken with the British and icy with the Americans to this point.

The Bearn was kept under theoretical Vuchy control, remaining immobilized in the West Indies until July 1943. Admiral Robert, High Commissioner of France in the West Indies refused to rally to the government of Algiers despites several calls and remained faithful to the Vichy government. However later another attempt was made later with the modernization of French ships as an issue of tight negotiations between the Americans and the French Naval Mission in the United States of Vice Admiral Fennard.

Second career with the Free French

The French demanded a lot of equipment despite USN reluctance to modernize ships that were already obsolescent. Béarn will undergo a transformation into an aviation transport. She was to be escorted, partially demilitarized, sailing on a floating drydock for New Orleans on September 8, 1943. She was to be converted to the Avondale shipyard. To make room for the additional AA, the forward flight deck section and the rear one are cut off. On December 30, 1944, she left Lousiana for Norfolk where the refit was completed and on March 3, 1945, she was in New York where she carried planes in a convoy bound for Great Britain.

On March 13, 1945, she collided with an American troops transport to take (4 dead on Béarn) and had to stop on the Azores for makeshift repairs. She reached Casablanca on March 25, 1945 and was maintained for prolongated repairs until July 19, 1945.

Third career in Indochina and the Med

When fully repaired, the Béarn was used to transport the French Expeditionary Force in the Far East (CEFEO) in October 1945 and was deployed to support it until June 1946. There, she only carried planes to be based on land, not operating them, as the task was given to the modern Dixmude and Bois Belleau already.

Completely worn out when the Indochina war ended, she returned to mainland France, Toulon on July 23, 1946. On October 1, 1946 she was paid off and mothballed until December 9, 1948. She underwent a short refit to serve as floating barracks for submarine crews of the 1st ESM, compensating for the destruction of the installations of the harbor. She was finally written off the lists and broken up in 1967.

Specifications (1940)

Dimensions 182.6 x 35.2 x 9.3 m (600 x 115 x 30 ft)
Displacement 22,146 long tons (22,501 t), 28,400 long tons (28,900 t) FL
Crew 856
Propulsion 2x Parsons geared steam turbines, 2x RPC steam engines
Speed 21.5 kn (39.8 km/h; 24.7 mph)
Range 7,000 nmi (13,000 km; 8,100 mi) at 10 kn (19 km/h; 12 mph)
Armament 8 × 155 mm (6.1 in)/50, 6 × 75 mm (3 in), 8 × 37 mm, 16 × 13.2 mm AA, 4 × 550 mm (22 in) TTs
Protection Main Belt: 80 mm (3.1 in), Flight Deck: 25 mm (1.0 in)

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Gardiner Conway’s all the world’s fighting Ships 1921-1947

  • On navypedia.org
  • http://www.alabordache.fr/marine/espacemarine/desarme/porte-avions/bearn/
  • http://www.hazegray.org/navhist/carriers/france.htm#bearn
  • On secondeguerre.net
  • Alexandre Sheldon-Duplaix, Histoire mondiale des porte-avions : des origines à nos jours, ETAI, Boulogne-Billancourt, 2006
  • Jean Moulin, L’Aéronavale française: les avions embarqués, Marines Éditions, 2006
  • Bearn on wikipedia
  • http://3dhistory.de/wordpress/warship-drawings-warship-blue-prints-warship-plans/french-aircraft-carrier-drawingsplan-sets/french-aircraft-carrier-bearn-as-build-1927/
  • https://www.secondeguerre.net/articles/navires/fr/pa/na_bearn.html

Bearn 1940
Author’s Profile of the Béarn in 1940.

Beran 1944Author’s profile of the Béarn as a carrier in 1945, after a refit in the USA. It started in April-May 1943 but only concluded in March 1945. In addition to a radar and more modern equipments, her flight deck fore and aft was curtailed and she was rearmed with four USN standard 5-in (127 mm), 24 2-in (40 mm) in 6 quadruple mounts and 26 single Oerlikon guns.

La Galissonnière class cruisers (1934)

La Galissonnière class cruisers (1934)

France – La Galissonnière, Gloire, Georges leygues, Montcalm, Jean de Vienne, Marseillaise

Gloire 1944
Cruiser La Gloire in April 1944, probably during a naval exercise, filmed by US news in the Mediterranean, showing her amazing and world famous dazzle camouflage. This “adaptor scheme” was originally developed for PT boats. The livery was nicknamed by her crew the “railway accident” livery.

The best French light cruisers?

The La Galissonière class (good luck pronouncing that!) was the last of this type (the next class, De Grasse, was laid down in 1939, way too late to be completed). Arguably the latter completed post-war after many modifications were on heavy cruiser side, at 12,350 t (12,155 long tons) fully loaded. The 1930s La Galissonnière were “serial” cruisers derived from the 1933 Bertin that acted as a prototype for the new triple-turrets that were very much in favor in all navies in the 1930s. They all had long and significant careers during and after WW2.

The La Galissonnière in a nutshell

In the 1930s the only light cruisers in service -outside the Primauguet class– has been the war reparation Thionville, Colmar, Mulhouse, Strasbourg and Metz, former Austro-Hungarian and German cruisers. They were modern cruisers whereas French cruisers during ww1 has been largely obsolete and wartime construction stopped completely during the conflict and allowed to study modern foreign designs. At the same time, the 1930 London Naval Treaty precise a distinction between Type A cruisers (with guns from 155 to 203 mm) and Type B with less than 155 mm caliber. But this caliber was precisely adopted by the French on their Primauguet class.

So to comply with the allocations of units per nation, France on the new Emile Bertin had to design a minelayer/destroyer flotilla leader armed with 152 mm guns, which also allowed to fit them more easily in triple turrets and fill the allocations in light cruisers. The Bertin not only innovated with its triple turret design -as far as France was concerned- but also with her secondary artillery with dual purpose twin and single 90 mm mounts, which appeared unable to cope with the speed of modern monoplanes after 1937. However, with 39.66 knots (73.45 km/h) on speed trials, Bertin blasted all records and became the fastest French cruiser ever built.

Gloire December 1944
Gloire in December 1944, apparently with the standard two-tone pattern of the time, Measure 22 graded system also used by Montcalm. She had during her lifetime tested five different liveries.

The Bertin design was therefore considered as a trusted basis for the new design, as well as the armor scheme already given to the Algérie, which was considered the best of its class. The la Galissonière was however intended to answer the Italian Condotierri class. the La Galissonnière displayed nine 6-in guns (152 mm) in triple turrets, for medium range saturation fire. They were marked by more compact superstructures, a square stern, a stronger hull, and reinforced protection. In the end, they were heavier than 1000 tons compared to the Bertin, which was not negligible for their size.

No fewer than six ships were ordered, which entered service between 1935 and 1937. These ships were compromises, designed to ensure both good speed, impressive weaponry, and adequate protection. These ships were, all things considered, among the most beautiful and capable cruisers of the fleet in 1939, on part with Algérie for heavy cruisers. Their long post-war career bears witness to this. In the end, apart from their secondary AA still too weak in 1939, the La Galissonnière were judged, in France and abroad, as rather successful light cruisers, although light for the new standard of the day. Their square stern was an innovation, already tested by the Germans and which became popular postwar.

But the La Galissonière was not the last French light cruiser design. According to the new fad of 1935 started by the Japanese and followed by UK and virtually all other nations, a new type of “light-heavy” cruiser was preferred: Entirely armed with “light” 6-in guns but with the displacement of heavy cruisers, 10,000 tons and beyond. This design was intended to provide “saturation” fire with one more triple turret (so 12 guns total), and the French quickly followed suit with the De Grasse, Guichen and Chateaurenault of a new design. They would have the same dual-purpose 90 mm guns and three to four floatplanes, combining if needed Loire 130 and Latécoères 298 torpedo floatplanes. Started in November 1938, De Grasse construction was not advanced enough to allow a premature launching and completion in French Colonies. The Germans did not intend to complete here either, and she was launched in 1946, then taking in hands for a complete rebuilding and modernization as fleet AA cruiser.

ONI identification files – US Navy Intelligence service


Main artillery: The concentration of triple turrets gave the new class an advantage of one gun compared to the older Italian Condottieri III Group, and used a unique caliber proper to this class and Bertin, the 152 mm/55 Model 1930. The turret mount M1930 weighted 169.3 tons. Rate of fire for each gun was 12 seconds between each round or 5 rounds per mn. This was equivalent to less than the equivalent Italian 5-8 rpm, but with a slightly better range, of 26,147 meters (28,595 yd) at 45°, versus 22.6 kilometres (14.0 mi) at +45°, slightly better same muzzle velocity (therefore penetration power) of 850 m/s (2,800 ft/s) versus 870 meters per second (2,900 ft/s).

Dual purpose artillery:
They received four 90 mm twin mounts (3.5 in/50) model 1926, probably the best AAA in the whole French arsenal at that time (12 to 15 rounds/minute shell up to 15 000 meters). These were of the fixed QF ammunition type, firing a 90 x 674mm shell, weighing 9.51 kg (21.0 lb). The mount provided used a Schneider semi-automatic breech mechanism breech with -10° to +80° elevation and -150° to +150° traverse and 850 m/s (2,800 ft/s). Maximum firing range in horizontal plan was 16,885 m (18,466 yd) at 45° and ceiling was 10,600 m (11,600 yd) at 80°. The model was most efficient against low-flying bombers and the Germans captured and reused many land-base types called 90mm CA, as 9 cm Flak M.39(f).

AA artillery: It comprised four twin 37 mm guns. These were true AA caliber, quick and hard-hitting enough to have the job done against fast, modern monoplanes. But few in numbers. This was completed by twelve 12.7 mm heavy machine-guns which were proved totally useless in 1940. In 1941 all ships received a complement of 1 x 37 mm, 2 x 25 mm and 4 x 13,2 mm AA. But that was still not enough to 1942 standards. However the surviving Dakar ships sent to the USA in late 1942 (Georges Leygues, Montcalm, and Gloire) would receive 24 Bofors 40mm (2-pdr)L/60 in six quadruple mounts and twenty 20 mm Oerlikon guns. To avoid the management of AA artillery to be a nightmare with five different calibers, older AA artillery was removed as well as the turret catapult and aft hangar and aviation to clear a nice AA arc of fire. However the elimination of aviation was not compensated by the adoption of radars apparently.

On board aviation
These cruisers had also impressive onboard aviation: Four LGL 832 seaplanes quickly replaced by two Loire 130, housed in a hangar located in front of the aft turret. The latter had a roof-mounted catapult to facilitate launching. The gooseneck crane at the base of the aft mast was used to retrieve these and also to manage the yowls and boats. These facilities and the large Loire 130 made them well suited for long-range reconnaissance. The ideal combination was two Loire and two Latécoère 298, the latter able to strike enemy destroyers.

La Galissonière aircraft

Torpedo tubes: Two quadruple banks
Their 550 mm model 23DT torpedoes were effective, with a larger offensive payload as the usual 21-in models, 310 kg of TNT. They weighed 2070 kg, measured 8.30 m and were capable of hitting a target at 9000 meters, at 39 knots.


The armor was still relatively light and to compensate, heavily compartmentalized, but the overall thickness theoretically allowed them to withstand shells from cruisers of the same rank armed with 6-in guns (152 mm). In detail, this comprised a main belt 105 mm (4.1 in) in thickness, bulkheads ends of 30 mm (1.2 in) and 120 mm (4.7 in) sides, 38 mm (1.5 in) decks, 100 mm (3.9 in) turrets and 95 mm (3.7 in) conning tower. Underwater compartmentation allowed in theory a torpedo hit damage to be contained.

Gloire 1944


Their propulsion 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. There were two shaft geared turbines fed by 4 Indret boilers, for a total of 84,000 shp (63 MW). The nominal top speed of 31 knots (57 km/h) was as designed. Range was 7,000 nmi (13,000 km) at 12 knots (22 km/h), enough for the Mediterranean. All in all, these cruisers were comparable to the Nürnberg/Leipzig, Italian Montecuccoli and Crown Colony class.

Gloire firing her guns at Anzio
Gloire, from a USN movie, possibly during an exercise in April 1944.

La Galisonnière class in operations:

La Galissonnière, Jean de Vienne and Marseillaise formed the 3rd division of cruisers 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 Strasbourg, Dunkerque, heavy cruisers and destroyers at Brest which protected convoys from the Atlantic routes and hunted German corsairs.

aerial view of the Gloire, from reddit

After the fall of France, both divisions experienced all the turmoils of occupation and divided loyalties. The 3rd Cruiser Division was based in Toulon until the scuttling of late 1942, and their operational sorties were almost impossible due to the lack of fuel whereas ships of the 4th division joined the FNFL (Free French Naval Forces) and fought on until 1945.

Gloire, Montcalm and Georges Leygues participated indeed in the Italian campaign, the landing in Normandy (Overlord) and Provence (Anvil-dragoon).

After the war, the cruisers served in Indochina. After returning in the Mediterranean they were assigned to Toulon, re-equipped for a second time with more modern AA artillery and new radars. They were maintained in service until 1958 (Gloire), 1959 (G. Leygues), and even 1970 (Montcalm). The admiralty briefly considered the conversion of the latter into a missile cruiser. But the light tonnage and frail construction left few options. And her hull after 40 years of service, had its fair share of stresses.

wow la galissoniere
wow la galissoniere
Two nice 3d rendering of La Galissoniere class in World of Warships

Camouflaged Gloire
After some research, it appeared this was the livery of the cruiser Gloire at her arrival in the USA in June 1943. This Dark grey was applied at Dakar, with stocks from the 1940 campaign, but in poor condition. She was repainted just before her arrival. And of course before leaving NY harbor, received the famous experimental “zebra” pattern, only then applied to smaller ships, such as PT boats. >

La Galissonnière

The lead ship of the class (launched, completed ) bears the name of a famous French admiral Roland-Michel Barrin de La Galissonière, 18th-century governor of new France and winner of the battle of Minorca. The cruiser served with the 3rd Cruiser Division at Toulon. She first patrolled the Tunisian coast but was refitted in Brest and returned to Toulon. Ordered to Mers-El Kebir too late in August 1940, she stayed in Toulon afterwards deprived of fuel. Her only sortie was in November 1940, escorting to Toulon the battered battleship Provence, from July 1940’s Operation Catapult. Disarmed and inactive she was scuttled (Operation Lila) to prevent her captured by German troops on 27 November 1942.

La Galissonnière in July 1940

Two of these ships were given to the Italians, renamed FR11 and FR12, but the salvage and repairs failed and were eventually canceled. They were sunk by Allied raids in 1944 during the landing in Provence (Anvil Dragoon).

Jean de Vienne

She started with the 3rd Cruisers Division based in Bizerte, and was undergoing a refit at Toulon when the war broke out. She escorted Dunkerque while she sailed to Halifax, Nova Scotia in December 1939 with French gold reserves, and after the declaration of war from Italy she hunted down the Italian submarine Dandolo.  She was at Algiers at the time of the armistice and received in July 1940 the message from the French Admiralty to join Mers-El-Kebir to sail from Algiers at once. The message was sent in clear and was intercepted by the Brtish admiralty who urged Sommerville to speed up the negotiations and ultimatum. But the three cruisers were en route when the shelling began and later received a message to sail to Toulon instead.

Part of Vichy’s French High Seas Force, Jean de Vienne left idel because of the lack of fuel until late 1942. Her only sortie, in January, was to save survivors of liner Lamoriciere off the Baleares. When scuttling orders were given on 27 November, Jean de Vienne was in drydock. However her captain had her moved forward to obstruct the gates, valves opened and equipment smashed, whereas German commandos found and disarmed the demolition charges. So she also rendered the gates useless. She was given later to the Italians as FR.11 and raised on 18 February 1943. But work progressed slowly and was 85% complete at the time of the Armistice of Cassibile. She lay there until 24 November 1943, when she was bombed by USN aviation and recaptured during operation Anvil Dragoon and scrapped afterwards.


Marseillaise joined the French Mediterranean Squadron in 1938 as flagship, flying the colors of Contre-Amiral Decoux. In January 1939 she was part of the 3rd Cruiser Division based in Casablanca. In September she was at Toulon as flagship of the 4th Squadron (Force Z). She escorted Dunkerque carrying the French gold reserves in Canada in April 1940 and sent to Bizerte as part of the Force de Raid, if Italy was to enter the war.

She was in Toulon in July 1940 and after the British attack on Mers-el-Kebir she was authorized by the Germans to be kept ready as part of the Vichy High Seas force. Nevertheless, because of the lack of fuel she stayed inactive until her scuttling, sabotaged and set on fire on 27 November 1942. For the anecdote, German commandos arrived at the gangplank when the ship was just started sinking with valves opened to one side only. They were refused permission to board the ship but did not open fire either in their exposed position and just waited for the ship to capsize. Later on the cruiser was blown apart by explosive charge after the crew evacuated while officers were taken prisoner. The ship burned for seven days and her state was so sever she was never considered to be given to the Italians. Marseillaise was scrapped in 1946.

Georges Leygues

Georges Leygues started her career in brest, in Britanny, NW France. She soon joined the Atlantic Force de Raid patrolling the Atlantic and shelled by error the French submarine Casabianca. She then joined Mers-el-Kebir (Oran) on 24 April 1940 but was in toulon when the british attack took place (Operation Catapult). With her sister-ships Gloire and Montcalm she sailed through Gibraltar and refuelled at Casablanca to join Libreville, Gabon, and then Dakar. She fought the combined allied force sent there in September 1940. She duelled with HMAS Australia and dodged several Fleet Air Arm attacks.

hmas australia
HMAS Australia in 1942

After joining Casablanca in August 1941 she swapped sides on orders to the allies after the defection of Admiral Darlan late 1942. In April 1943 operating from Dakar she caught in the Atlantic the German blockade runner Portland. She was sent later for a refit at Philadelphia Naval Shipyard, renamed there by the Royal Navy and USN personal “George’s Legs”. She was refitted with modern USN standard AA and equipments from July to October 1943.  She then returned to Dakar, and later covered the Allied landings in Normandy in June 1944 and on the French rivieria in August. Her last action was to shell a pocket of resistance near Genoa by March 1945. Refitted at Casablanca she served in Indochina, and later during the Suez Crisis, shelling positions in front of the Israeli advance in the Gaza Strip. She was decommissioned in 1957 and paid off in 1958.


After trials was based in Brest in November 1937. But she left for French Indochina in December, and was back in April 1938 with the 4th Cruiser Division. She then toured Britain and the United States in 1939 and refitted in October-December 1939. She escorted Dunkerque with French gold reserves to Canada, and back with a Canadian troop convoy. She patrolled the Atlantic with Gensoul’s Force de Raid. Anchored at Algiers in June 1940, she was urged to leave for Toulon to join in July the new Vichy French Independent Naval Force.

Gloire was called to rally in emeregency Mers-El-Kebir but missed the engagement. However soon African colonies were falling to the Free French and both cruisers received an authorization from the axis naval commission to rally Libreville (Gabon). The three ships passed through Gibraltar unchallenged but Gloire developed engine problems and was left behind. She was soon caught by HMAS Australia and HMS Cumberland and escorted back to Casablanca, missing the fight at Dakar. Refitted on 12 September 1942, she saved passengers from Laconia, and after Operation Torch, swapped sides on orders from the commander in chief, admiral Darlan. She would join later Philadelphia from February 1943 for a comprehensive refit including AA armament.

She was given six 40 mm quadruple mounts (24) and twenty single 20 mm Oerlikon. Aircraft equipment was removed as well as the hangar, boats, masts and cranes. There is controversy about her famous camouflage and when it was applied. She was indeed taken in photo with a more conventional french 1940 type pattern in the summer of 1943, was seen with her new razzle dazzle livery in the Mediterranean and Italian campaign. Indeed she operated from Dakar, teaming with Italian cruisers to hunt Axis blockade runners in the south Atlantic.

By January 1944, she covered the Allied landings at Anzio, shelling positions from the Bay of Gaete and carrying reinforcements to Italy and Corsica. Refitted agains in Algiers (27 April-17 June) she covered Operation Dragoon in August (Landings in Provence) and supported Allied forces along the Riviera, before returning to NY (where the photo was taken) in 1945. After WW2, she operated in Indochina, was paid off in 1955 and sold in 1958.

Author's illustration of the Gloire in 1944
The cruiser Gloire in 1944 (1/400th). Note his famous camouflage in “railway accident”. In the tradition of experienced naval camouflage then, this spectacular dazzle pattern was applied for the first time to a large ship. The Razzle Dazzle was a British Cubist painter experiment of WW1 intended to confuse submarine observers about the shape of the ship and first applied to merchant vessels. Often, the prow, bow were masked or replicated on another part of the hull, false waves to lure about speed, etc. >


Montcalm 1940
Montcalm in 1940, at the time of the campaign in Norway

Montcalm replaced Bertin in Norway, to cover the French troops engaged around Namsos (Campaign of Norway). Then in April 1940, with the bellicose attitude of Italy, it was decided to send the 4th division in the Mediterranean, the ships being based in Algiers. In June, they made two trips to try – in vain – to intercept Italian cruisers on their way back from a raid. The 3rd and 4th Divisions received an order from the Admiralty in August 1940 ordering them to reinforce at once Mers-El-Kebir force. This order was intercepted by the Royal Navy and Admiral Somerville’s squadron, while negotiations were taking place with Admiral Gensoul, forcing him to abbreviate discussions. The six cruisers arrived too late to take part in what would have been probably a Franco-British naval battle of a certain magnitude. Learning of the one-sided shelling and tragedy, they were ordered to sail back to Toulon.

Montcalm off the Philadelphia Navy Yard, Pennsylvania, 30 July 1943. She had just finished a refit at that Yard.

In September 1940, the Vichy government asked the Admiralty to strengthen Libreville (Gabon) where an attack of free France was envisaged. The 4th division was sent on the spot. But in the meantime they learned that the oil tanker Tarn, escorted from the Primauguet, was intercepted and forced to turn around by the Royal Navy, and so they were forced to divert themselves and set sail for Dakar, without Gloire, slowed down by turbines and forced by the Royal Navy to return to Casablanca.

Montcalm took part in the successful defense of the Vichy fleet against the combined Allied forces (Operation Menace), along with Georges Leygues. In June 1941, Gloire joined them. The cruisers remained anchored at Dakar until 1943, but Gloire already left in September 1942 to try to save victims of the steamer Laconia, sunk by U156. Jean de Vienne did the same later with the Moricière off Baleares. Whereas the 3rd division, after almost two years of inaction was scuttled at Toulon, cruisers of the 4th Division survived. Remaining at Dakar, as the latter swapped sides, they joined the allies. Before taking part in new operations, they were sent for rearming and refitting to US standards in Philadelphia and New York naval yards. They emerged with modern artillery, radars, and new camouflages.

The cruiser Montcalm in 1944 (1/400th). Note the typical two-tone camouflage of the US Navy standard between mid-1944 and early 1945.


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

Read More

Gardiner Conway’s all the world’s fighting Ships 1921-1947

—-The Models corner———-
A relatively more popular subject than the Bertin, it was served by:
Kombrig: Montcalm 1/350
Neptun: Gloire 1943 1/1250
Nothing from Neptun (http://www.navis-neptun.de/produkte/preislisten/preisliste.pdf), Armo models, AJM Models or the French historical modeller Heller. There is also a 1/400 paper model by Mikroflota.

Richelieu class battleships (1940)

Richelieu class battleships (1940)

France – Richelieu, Jean Bart, 2 more

French top battleship

Ordered in response to both the German Scharnhorst and the Italian Littorio, the Richelieu and jean Bart took up the essence of the previous design, but incorporated a much more powerful machinery to cope with a much higher armor. They definitely draw a line between battlecruisers and battleships.
*Cover: Richelieu at sea in 1944 (as seen by the AA on the bridge and dark paint of the bridge). Src: Unknown, retreived from Flickr in May 2018.

These were the first true French fast battleships. In addition to their bow cut straight, assuming improved penetration, these also had a unique “mast-funnel”/”mast-stack” or “mack”, a configuration that will be adopted later in the cold war. By concentrating superstructures in the center, as well as turrets, this made it possible to rationalize protection and save tonnage. Therefore the ship was lighter, could meet the standards of the Washington Treaty, but also be faster than many battleships of the day.

Technical Profile
Technical Profile of the Richelieu (click to enlarge)

Design specifics


The main armament solution chosen was the front two quadruple turrets, just like the previous ships of the Dunkerque class. However, in the classic configuration of two turrets close together, a single hit well placed could have annihilated all the main artillery in one swoop. As a result, those of the Richelieu were quite spaced. The all-front configuration was also inherited from the tactical principle of “crossing the t” of an enemy formation, the attacking ships presenting their bow, presenting the smallest possible silhouette while having all their artillery to bear. On the technical side, the interior division and compartmentation had been studied extensively to minimize the effects of a direct hit and burst of flame, while the main gun mountings were mounted in pairs to save weight and width and also for internal firewalls to be mounted.

US Navy ONI recoignition plate, 1943
US Navy ONI recoignition plate of the Richelieu, 1943

The secondary armament included triple turrets at the rear, armed with semi-automated, fast-firing, 152 mm pieces. Their high incidence made them effective pieces AA artillery pieces, but their specific fire control system was never installed in time. The secondary AA array, most effective against planes, was on the other hand still weak (even by 1940 standards), not to mention the tertiary AA, composed only of heavy machine guns, in simple and quadruple mountings. Only the twin 37 mm mouts proved to be effective, but they were too few. This kind of AA configuration, which then existed nearly everywhere (at the time of Pearl Harbor, the main anti-aircraft armament of the US Navy rested on 3-in guns (75 mm) and 12.7 mm mounts), was very quickly deemed ineffective against planes flying low at 400 kph and more.

The Richelieu in New York harbour, 1943
The Richelieu in New York harbour, 1943, Maneuvered by tugboats up New York’s East River. Library of Congress. PD (cc)

Richelieu rearmament 1943

The reconfiguration of the Richelieu in 1943 was therefore entirely based on the standards of the US Navy and the ships received many standards equipment, most notably a large AAA comprising the standards single 20 mm Oerlikon shielded mounts and quadruple 40 mm banks. This combination showed its effectiveness, especially during the Pacific War. Shortly after the start of construction, the Italian Littorio were well advanced, and the Italian Government announced the construction of a third sister-ships, albeit modified, the Vittorio Veneto. As a result in 1938, France voted for the construction of two sister ships of the Richelieu, the Gascogne class. These ships were virtually identical, except that their main armament was distributed this time between the front and rear. They would remain on paper only.

Front and rear deck view of the Richelieu after her 1943 New York refit. Shipbuilder’s Photos, USN, now PD.

Richelieu in action:

The battleship Richelieu was launched in January 1939, therefore she was not ready in June 1940 (95% completion) when invading German Forces aimed at the ports of the coast. Richelieu’s trials had already took place in April. So she left Brest naval Yard before the German advance, with just a small provision of shells for her artillery, just enough fuel oil to reach Dakar and a skeletic crew.

After a true odyssey she reached the African west coast city on June 23 in with her escort of destroyers. After returning to Casablanca at the time of the armistice, the ship want back to Dakar, by then making allegiance to the Vichy regime. During the Operation Catapult in July, after an ultimatum was issued by HMS Hermes, a squad of Royal Marine Commandos in a fast motor boat tried to damage the ship with depht charges, but failed, prompting the release of Fairey Swordfish torpedo planes to finish off the job.

Richelieu in Dakar, 1940
Richelieu in Dakar, 1940 – ONI203 booklet for identification of ships of the French Navy, Nov. 1942

These “stringbags” actually managed to sink the Richelieu partially (the drowned compartments caused the keel to partially lay on the bottom). After some rough repairs and the water pumped, the ship was towed to a remote part of Dakar harbor. She was later joined by the cruisers Georges Leygues and Montcalm. On September 24, a British force raided Dakar once more, but this time with Free French troops led by De Gaulle.

Their hope was to make capitulate the French ubwilling to fire on their own, and make these ship transferred to the Free French Navy. But it was another failure, the Vichy French garrison stubbornly resisting. In the course of 1941, the Richelieu was completely repaired and her fitting-outs completed. In particular, she received additional AAA. She was fitted with a radar and her naval aviation (Loire 130 seaplanes) was disposed, as well as hangars, catapults and equipment completely removed to free the rear deck for more AAA. After Operation Torch and Admiral Darlan’s swap, the fleet moved to the Allied side.

Battleship Richelieu in 1943
Battleship Richelieu in 1943 – Official U.S. Navy photograph after refit.

The Richelieu left Dakar in January 1943 to reach Puget Sund in New York. She came under a massive re-equipment to American standards, completed in October 1943. She received among others no less than 48 single mounts of 20 mm and 14 quadruple 40 mm mounts. In November 1943, the Richelieu sailed across the Atlantic and joined Scapa Flow where became part of the Home Fleet. She participated in convoy escort missions, including to Murmansk.

In April 1944, she joined the Trincomanlee squadron in the Far East, to be integrated into Task Force 65, actively participating in Operation Cockpit against Sabang and Operation Transom against Surabaya, then Operation Concillor and Pedal in June 1944, and finally Operation Crimson against Sumatra.

Along with battleship HMS Howe, the Richelieu sailed back for Toulon, then Casablanca, and finally Gibraltar, for refit in October 1944. In March 1945, the French battleship was back again in Trincomanlee, participating in a second operation against Sabang and the Nicobar islands with the Task Force 63.

wow Richelieu

Richelieu as seen from USS Saratoga in May 1944
Richelieu as seen from USS Saratoga in May 1944, USN Photos, PD (cc)

After a some refittings in Durban, she set sail to Diego-Suarez, anchored there only to hear the announcement of the Japanese surrender. She then participated in the liberation of Singapore. A magnetic mine damaged her in the Strait of Malacca. After repairs in Singapore, she sailed back to Toulon to carry troops including marines to Indochina. Back in France 1946, she spent the rest of her life in squadron exercises, notably with the Jean Bart, her sister-ship finally freshly completed in 1956.

She was party refitted on this occasion, receiving new radars, new fire control systems, and modernized 381 mm mounts. Then she was placed in reserve in Brest in 1958, and stricken from the list in 1968. Under the name Q432, she was sent to Genoa to be broken up, although one of her salvaged guns is still visible nowadays on the Penfeld in Brest (NW France).

How fared the Richelieu compared to ther BBs ?
There’s now a famous study on WW2 top battleships on combinedfleet.com showing the rank of the Richelieu compared to other famous BBs like the Iowa, Yamato, Bismarck, KGV, South Dakota and Vitorrio Veneto. It shows the Richelieu in the middle, equal globally to the Bismarck on general rank and in several areas.

In terms of guns, both the Bismarck and Richelieu are on th same level, she’s superior in terms of armor, and on top of all BBs in terms of underwater protection. She’s also above in terms of fire control systems, but slightly below for tactical factors (speed, survivability, damage control …). For other factors taken in accounts, the final scores shows the Richelieu at 174, below the Iowa and South Dakota, but above the Bismarck, Yamato, KGV, and Veneto.

Richelieu closeup
Closeup of the rear AAA after refit off NY, Sept/Oct.1943. U.S. Navy National Museum of Naval Aviation photo

The Jean Bart:

Second battleship of this class Richelieu, the unfortunate ship named after a famous Dunkirk corsair was launched March 6, 1940. Although work advanced well she was far from completed in June. She was therefore in Saint Nazaire when her captain, Briton Lieutenant Ronarc’h, decided to sail (with brand new engines that were never tested before, to Casablanca, Morocco. She was followed by a freighter carrying the second turret on board and all the remaining equipments, but the ship was sunk by a U-Boote en route.

She sank therefore with navigation equipment, fire control, AAA, a good part of electrical network and other equipment. So open arrival the ship was incomplete and far from completion in these circumtances. Nevertheless, the voyage has been a feat in itself, and a success. The ship anchored in Casablanca was from there protected by ASW nets and surrounded by AA batteries.

They were officially under the responsibility of the Vichy government. Completion work proceeded very slowly, with little equipment and manpower. During Operation Torch in November 1942, she was attacked by US Navy planes from the USS Ranger, and answered with salvos, duelling with the American battleship USS Massachusetts.

The Jean Bart at Casablanca, November 1942 during Operation Torch – USN aerial photos – PD cc

However she was soon hit by several 406 mm shells and aerial bombs. So as spotted by observation planes it was thought she had been silenced but on November 10, only two days later, the Jean Bart opened fire again, on the cruiser USS Augusta, at the big surprise of American landing forces nearby. She was struck by a vigorous new air raid from USS Ranger, hit hard this time, so as to sink in shallow waters, definitively out of action for the remainder of the war…

After the fleet swapped side to the allies, it was consider to repair her tenough to be sent to the USA for a completion to American standards, but this project never materialized. It was not until 1945 that the ship was towed back to Toulon, for a completion in 1949, but on completely design with modern AAA, better protection, completely redesigned electronic equipment. She was perhaps the most modern battleship so far, before the American Iowa were modernised in the late 1980s. Jean Bart potwar career, however, was short. During the Suez crisis she took part in the Franco-british landings cover operations he was withdrawn from service in 1961, broken up in 1968.

Battleship Jean Bart at Toulon, 1968, deactivated but showing her impressive 1950s refit
Battleship Jean Bart at Toulon, 1968, deactivated but showing her impressive 1950s refit

Last but not least
Similar in many ways but with turrets on both ends, the Gascogne class was started far too late. Clemenceau was laid down at Arsenal de Brest on 17 January 1939 and her hulk sunk in air attack, 27 August 1944. The Gascogne (after the Gascony region) was to be started at Chantiers de Penhoët, Saint-Nazaire but was cancelled due to German Invasion.


Displacement: 35,500 t. standard -48,950 t. Full Load
Dimensions: 248 m long, 35 m wide, 9.6 m draft.
Engines: 4 propellers, 4 Parsons turbines, 6 Indret boilers, 150,000 hp. Maximum speed 32 knots.
Armour: 225-280 mm belt, 30 mm anti-torpedo partitions, 115-137 bridge, 330-360 mm turrets, 330 mm bunker.
Armament: 8 pieces of 380 mm cal.45 (Model 1935), 9×135 mm DP (3×3), 8×100 mm AA (4×2), 12 pieces of 37 mm AA, 8 ML of 13.2 mm AA, 4 Loire 130 seaplanes.
Crew: 1380

Read More

More photos on maritime quest
More photos and timeline on museumconcept.com.hk

The Richelieu in Dakar in July 1940, with her weapons and equipment before refit. She will be completely refitted in 1943 and a quite unique camouflage pattern applied with blended waves of dark grey.

Jean Bart
Battleship Jean Bart, author’s vectorial illustration

WW2 French Submarines


WW2 French Submarines

France (1923-1940), about 80 subs

Post WW1 policy cleanup

After the great war, the move started in 1912 towards a more standardized navy ended the “prototype-mania” that plagued French submarine construction before and during WW1. By 1919, war reparations included German U-boats, which allowed French engineers a close look at that technology, rationalized and optimized to wage a total, unremitting and unforgiving submarine warfare.

There were lots of ideas in the air about submarines, with some ingenuity to match about supposed capabilities. Among these the cruiser submarine concept all but eclipsed former surface raiders. Cruisers submarines were very much the craze on top of all this.

French Submarine Daphne at anchor in the 1920s
French Submarine Daphne at anchor in the 1920s Src >

French submarine Types in use

In reality, the French only ventured once in this type, preferring building classes until 1936 of relatively small submarines fit for the Mediterranean, the exception being the oceanic types of Le Redoutable class, tailored for the Atlantic and threatening overseas trade throughout the French Empire. Incremental innovation was much more paced down compared to the pre-ww1 engineering fest, more rationale, leading to small classes with some gradual improvements over the years. Probably the most successful of all these were the Rubis minelayers types (see below).

French interwar submarine development started with the Maurice Caillot (1921), Pierre Chailley (1922), and Regnault (1924), late ww1 designs, discarded in 1936-37. (more on this on future dedicated posts).

Also the acquisition of German WW1 submarines helped keep the endge in technological developments, with the Roland Morillot (ex. UB26), Victor Reveillé (ex. U79), Jean Autric (ex. U105), 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), all discarded in 1935-37.

French submarine in wartime

When war broke out, the French had 78 submarines, most of the coastal type. Soon, defeat on land bring the navy in an untenable situation, still the impressive, force of a theoretical neutral power hostage of its occupant. The fleet became a lever for Vichy, but also a potential threat for both sides. As the war goes on after Mers-el-Kebir, some French subs joined the allies, while others took action against them, like the Bezevier torpedoing HMS Resolution off Dakar, or isolated actions attempts in November 1942 against the US Navy. A few submarines served with the Free French and one in particular rose to particular fame: Rubis of the Saphir class, laying mines that sunk or damaged twenty-four ships of the axis. The very last French submarines in construction were seized by the occupant, and completed, seeing service for some in Italian and German hands. After the war the French embraced nuclear power, joining the club under De Gaulle’s commitment, and French subs evolved accordingly. It’s no wonder SSBNs were named after the successful oceanic types, and SNA’s after the famous minelayer subs.

Requin class (1924)

Illustration of the Caiman in 1941

The treaty of Washington, concluded in 1923 between the great naval powers of the time, was interested in the ships of lines, in the cruisers, but rather little in the submersibles and other light ships. France had the free field, which she exploited with such concepts as the Surcouf. As for its oceanic Atlantic units, it relied on German wartime catches (7 ocean units obtained in repairs), and on 1922-23 series ships such as the Pierre Chailley, the O Byrne, Maurice Callot, and Regnault. A tonnage of 950 tons and an action radius (RA) of more than 7000 nautical miles was quickly established.

Souffleur 1926
Submarine Souffleur in Gdynia harbour, circa 1926 – By Roman Morawski – Narodowego Archiwum Cyfrowego PD in Poland & USA (cc)

Requin Design
The drawing was ready as early as 1923, and construction of the Shark began incontinent. Launched in 1924, it was the top-seeded of nine units, the last of which was launched in 1927 and completed in 1929. They were able to duel to 80 meters thanks to their double hull, and had ten torpedo tubes, including four in two surface-mounted mobile benches (one of them had commercially available 400mm tubes). The outer tubes, a specifically French configuration, were reloaded only surface and dock, 16 torpedoes were in reserve, which gave them a consistent cruising time. Their defects were partially corrected during a redesign in 1937-39.

Operational career:
Four units were captured at Bizerte, three of which were transferred and served a time under the Italian flag before being sunk, one of them scuttling. The Narwhal and the Morse were captured in a minefield in operation and jumped in 1940, the souffleur will be torpedoed by mistake by the HMS Parthian in 1941, the Caiman was scuttled in Toulon, and the Porpoise passed to the FNFL and served until 1945.

French Submarine Mores - Q117
French Submarine Morse – Q117 – USN Axis Submarine Manual, ONI 220-M (cc)

Displacement: 947 t. standard – 1440 t. Full Load
Dimensions: 78.25 m long, 6.84 m wide, 5.10 m draft.
Propulsion: 2 propellers, 2 Sulzer/Schneider diesels, 2 mot. electric, 2900/1800 hp. Surface speed/dive 14/9 knots.
Practical diving depht: 80 m – RA: 7,000 nautical miles surface (7 knots), 70 nautical dives (7 knots).
Armament: 10 TLT of 550 mm, 2 of 400 mm, 1×100 mm, 2×8 mm AA.
Crew: 51

Le Redoutable class (1928)

The class of oceanic submersibles The Redoutable was initiated in 1925. It came from the study of German submersibles kept in repair after the Treaty of Versailles, and especially the Requin class, the first serial French submarine of the interwar period. A large radius of action (to serve in the Atlantic) was the first goal. These units were also expected to service most of the colonies and were therefore equipped for service (with “tropical” livery).

The official call was “long patrol submarines”. It was also referred to as the class of 1500 tons. The series was important (thirty-one units) and lasted until 1937, in no less than three “subclasses”, those of L’Espoir and Agosta. The other two series, in 1928 and 1930, saw above all the improvement of their propulsive group. Another peculiarity of the French was the surface orientable bank of torpedo tubes which were only reloaded on the surface. The rear bank had four tubes, the two central ones were reserved for 400 mm torpedoes for merchant vessels.

Le Prometehee off Cherbourg circa 1932. Its wireless transmitter masts are hoisted. This was during trials before sinking in 1932. The 100 mm deck gun had not yet been installed. – Src. L’Illustration n°4663, 20 juillet 1932. Plans

Operational career:
It would take too long to detail units per unit, but it was quite rich, in general, and pretty much reflects the wobbly situation of the navy during the war. Some were captured (in England) and continued their career under FNFL banner, handicapped by the lack of spare parts (problem that was partially solved with modifications in US arsenals).

Others more classically turn of the service under the colors of Vichy, most mediterrannée. After the catapult operation, some were immobilized and partially disarmed, others sunk, others were later during Operation Torch by the US Air Force. Finally, many were to be scuttled in Toulon. One of them, Casabianca, escaped instead and went to North Africa. She then made a long career under the FNFL (Free French Navy). All thes submaines will be described more in detail in a future dedicated post.

Displacement: 1390 t. standard – 2085t. Full Load
Dimensions: 92.5 m long, 8.20 m wide, 4.70 m draft.
Propulsion: 2 propellers, 2 Sulzer diesels, 2 mot. electric, 6000/2000 hp. Surface speed / dive 17/10 knots.
Diving, endurance: 80 m – RA: 14,000 nautical miles (7 knots), 90 nautical dives (7 knots).
Armament: 9 TLT of 550 mm, 2 of 400 mm, 1×100 mm, 1×37 mm, 2×13.2 mm AA.
Crew: 61

Author’s Illustration of the Casabianca

Saphir class minelayers (1928)

This class of “diamonds” was known enough during the war to earn its “stripes” within the allied forces and then go on to posterity with a new class of nuclear attack submarines. Built between 1928 and 1935 in Toulon, this class especially designed to anchor mines, was derived from the German UC of the last war, with modern solutions. More on the Saphir Class.

In particular, they had high-capacity lateral mines wells, designed by Normand-Fenaux. The system, simple and effective, will prove very useful. 32 mines could be housed in these 16 wells. The torpedo weapon was reduced to two bow tubes and three (two 400 mm) in a mobile bench at the rear, and fewer refills than usual. In service in 1936, one of these units took on all its importance during the war: Not only did she escape the fate of the French navy by quickly joining the allies, but she was also the only submarine minelayer of the allies, and her career was meritorious.

Author’s rendition of the Saphir

Operational career:
Sapphire, Turquoise and Nautilus were all captured in Bizerte and transferred to the Italians in 1942, and two served for some time under the name of FR112 and 116, in Bizerte. One of these will be sunk on the spot, the others scuttled. The Diamond will be scuttled at Toulon in November 1942, while the Pearl, which like the Ruby had passed quite early on the allied side, will be sunk by mistake in 1944, a fate common to many French ships. The Rubis, captured at Portsmouth during Operation “Catapult”, was later returned to the FNFL. Her career was quite epic, with 22 missions resulting in the direct and indirect destruction of twenty-four ships of the axis (and 683 mines layed) in Norway, the Gulf of Gascoigne and the Atlantic.

Displacement: 617 t. standard – 924 t. Full Load
Dimensions: 65.90 m long, 7.20 m wide, 4.30 m draft.
Propulsion: 2 propellers, 2 Normand-Vickers diesels, 2 mot. electric, 1300/1000 cv. Surface speed/dive 12/9 knots. Practical depth of diving: 80 m – RA: 7,000 nautical miles surface (7 knots), 70 nautical dives (7 knots).
Armament: 3 TLT of 550 mm, 2 of 400 mm, 1×76 mm, 2×13.2 mm AA, 32 mines.
Crew: 42

Surcouf Cruiser (1929)

Author’s illustration of the Surcouf, to be redone soon as it seemed she never sported a green hull found in the Mediterranean theater.

Carrying the name of the most famous French corsair of the Napoleonic era, Robert Surcouf (1776-1827), the submersible of the same name is almost a legend. This great sub cruisers followed the projects envisaged in the 1920s, succeeding some experiments of the end of the great war (like the British M class).

Basically, the Surcouf was defined as a privateer, attacking enemy trade shipping and could remain three months at sea, with a large supply of torpedoes, including 400 mm models, specifically dedicated to merchant ships. Possessing two heavy cruiser guns (203 mm) and a reconnaissance seaplane, she had such a combat capability that it could also face surface cruisers and escorts.

She also had spacious holds to house the crew of the torpedoed ships. The specifically designed Besson Seaplane MB411 was tiny and had a limited range. It was originally launched from a catapult removed quickly, and his shed was located behind the massive kiosk. Her eight TLT of 550 mm were distributed in four at the bow, four in a movable bench in the back and fourteen refills, and four of 400 mm in a mobile bank in the front with 12 refills. Her other missions were to liaise with the colonies and to operate with surface squadrons with her artillery.

Very large cutout model of the Surcouf
Very large cutout model of the Surcouf (long loading time) – Musée de la marine

Surcouf in action
The Surcouf was not without faults. The implementation of her floatplane proved very difficult and took long time, and in 1938 a gyroplane was tried, but without much success. The Besson was also quite small, so its speed, altitude and radius were limited. Diving time was also quite long for the time. The main artillery and associated turret caused significant stability problems, and the tightness of the whole kit left something to be desired, it also required dedicated work to remedy it in 1937.

In 1940, the Surcouf was in Brest, after a long mission in the West Indies. She sailed in emergency to take refuge in Plymouth, then was captured – not without making four victims – by fire exchange with British troops during operation “Catapult”. Complex and without spare parts, the Surcouf took a long time to put back into service. see a colorized photo by Paul Reynolds (Daily Mail)

In 1941, she was finally accepted into the FNFL which he was one of the jewels. He moved to the Portsmouth Dockyard for modernization, then departed for his first mission in December with corvettes of the Free French under Admiral Muselier. The latter rallied to free France Saint Pierre and Miquelon. She then worked in Bermuda and was lost in the night of February 18 to 19, 1942 in the Gulf of Mexico.

The cause of this loss, coincidentally related to the “Bermuda Triangle” was quite a start of many conspiracy therories and generated many extravagant rumors. The commission of investigation leads to two hypothesis: The mistake and bombing by a PBY Catalina of the US Navy which would have confused it with a Japanese equivalent. Or a collision at sea, on a moonless night, when the submersible al fires shut was charging her batteries on the surface, by the American freighter Thomson Lykes, the latter, possibly also would have made the mistake and rammed her. Be that as it may, the loss of the Surcouf caused 130 casualties, including four British liaison officers.

Bleuprint of the Surcouf
Blueprint of the Surcouf – Plans Musee de la Marine

Displacement: 2880 t. standard – 4304t. Full Load
Dimensions: 110 m long, 9 m wide, 7.25 m draft.
Propulsion: 2 propellers, 2 Sulzer diesels, 2 mot. electric, 7600/3400 hp. Surface speed / dive 18.5/10 knots.
Armament: 8 TLT of 533 mm, 4 of 400 mm, 2×203 mm, 4×13.2 mm AA (2×2), a Besson Mb411 seaplane.
Crew: 150
*Cover photo: Surcouf, circa 1935, painted in Prussian dark blue – Retreived by Morze, nr.6/1936, Public Domain in Poland & USA.

Sirène class (1925)

Illustration of the Naiade in 1942

This coastal submersible class of 600 tons, designed for the Mediterranean, was designed by Loire-Simonot, and the four units built at the shipyards of the Loire at Nantes. Their range was very limited and confined them to a few days patrols. Their torpedoes were launched from fixed and rotating outer tubes specific to France and removed from the Ariane and Circe, including two bow tubes, two other external front, one external fixed rear tube and two mobile bank to the back of the kiosk. Greece ordered 4 units of this type.

The Nymph did not participated in the war: She had been badly damaged in 1938 and was considered irretrievable. The other three, after some patrols between September 1939 and November 1942 were stationed in Toulon where they were scuttled. The Regia marina launched a salvage operation followed by repairs, but like the other units of Toulon, never succeeded. The submarines were sank during allied air raids preparing the landing in Provence.

Sirene at Oran
Sirene at Oran, by Manon, personal archives – Released in CC.

Displacement: 609 t. standard – 757 t. Full Load
Dimensions: 64 m long, 5.20 m wide, 4.30 m draft.
Propulsion: 2 propellers, 2 Sulzer diesels, 2 mot. electric, 1300/1000 cv. Surface speed/dive 14/7,5 knots. Practical depth of diving: 80 m – RA: 7,000 nautical miles surface (7 knots), 70 nautical dives (7 knots).
Armament: 7 TLT of 550 mm, 1 piece of 76 mm.
Crew: 42

Ariane class (1925)

Minerve class BP
Minerve class blueprints – Derived from Plans marine Nationale, unknown author.

Second series of coastal submersibles of 600 tons, always planned to operate in mediterranean, were built by Normand-Fenaux between 1924 and 1926, the last entering in service in 1927. They were notoriously more reliable and robust than the previous ones, wider of one meter, but repeated the unusual armament in front outer tubes, bank of surface tubes aft, and classic tubes in the bow and stern. Of the four launched, Ondine did not participated in the war, lost in 1928 following an accident.

The other three were lost during Operation Torch (Allied landing in North Africa), two will be sunk in Oran and the Eurydice scuttled in Toulon in November 1942 at the time of Operation “Lila” (Toulon’s capture by the Wehrmacht).

Displacement: 626 t. standard – 787 t. Full Load
Dimensions: 66 m long, 6.20 m wide, 4.20 m draft.
Propulsion: 2 propellers, 2 Normand-Vickers diesels, 2 mot. electric, 1250/1000 cv. Surface speed/dive 14/7,5 knots. Practical depth of diving: 80 m – RA: 7,000 nautical miles surface (7 knots), 70 nautical dives (7 knots).
Armament: 7 TLT of 550 mm, 1 piece of 76 mm, 2 machine gun of 8 mm AA.
Crew: 41

Circé class (1925)

Third series of coastal submersibles of 600 tons from the FY1925 program, they were this time built by Schneider-Laubeuf, the famous engineer that spawn an entire generation of submarine design. They were shorter than the Ariane, and in doing so a little more agile. Their armament remained unchanged in its typically French arrangement at the time. The class consisted of units with mythological names, like the other submersibles of the second class, Circe, Calypso, Thetis, and Doris.

Their fate was quickly sealed during the war: The Doris was torpedoed by the U9 in March 1940, while operating in Norway, the Circé and the Calypso were based in Bizerte, and there, were captured by the Italians, then integrated into the Regia Marina as FR117 and 118, and both were destroyed by the allied air force, the second then flying clors of the Kriegsmarine in 1944. The Thetis was scuttled at Toulon in November 1942.

deawing circe
Drawing of the Doris – By К.Е.Сергеев, released in CC, 2013.

Displacement: 615 t. standard – 776 t. Full Load
Dimensions: 62.5 m long, 6.20 m wide, 4 m draft.
Propulsion: 2 propellers, 2 Schneider-Laubeuf diesels, 2 mot. electric, 1250/1000 cv. Surface speed/dive 14/7,5 knots. Practical depth of diving: 80 m – RA: 7,000 nautical miles surface (7 knots), 70 nautical dives (7 knots).
Armament: 7 TLT of 550 mm, 1 piece of 76 mm, 2 machine gun of 8 mm AA.
Crew: 41

Argonaute class (1929)

Illustration of the Argonaute in 1942

This series of coastal submersibles of 630 tons constituted the 1929-1932 period. They were an improvement of the previous serie. More spacious, with more autonomy, faster and stable diving. Their armament was always divided into surface and hull tubes, the difference being that the mobile bank aft this time housed 400 mm tubes for merchant shipping.

Of the four units, only the Argonaut was lost, bombed by American escorts while on its way to oppose Allied landing of Operation Torch on November 8, 1942, off Oran. The other three went to the FNFL and survived the conflict. They will be demobilized in 1946 and broken up soon after.

Plan of the Circe
Sketch of the Argonaute – Author: К.Е.Сергеев 2013 Released in CC.

Displacement: 630 t. standard – 798 t. Full Load
Dimensions: 63.5 m long, 6.40 m wide, 4.20 m draft.
Propulsion: 2 propellers, 2 Schneider-Carel diesels, 2 mot. electric, 1300/1000 cv. Surface speed / dive 14/9 knots. Practical depth of diving: 90 m – RA: 10,000 nautical miles (7 knots), 100 nautical dives (7 knots).
Shielding: none
Armament: 6 TLT of 533 mm, 2 TLT of 400 mm, 1 piece of 76 mm, 1 machine gun of 13.2 mm AA.
Crew: 41

Diane class (1932)

Illustration of the Oréade 1942

This second series of “630 tons” was built by Normand-Fenaux, this time with nine units, the last of which entered service in 1935. They were a little larger and stronger than the Argonauts, also faster on the surface thanks to more powerful diesels. Their armament was the same as the Argonauts, except for the surface tubes englarged to 550 mm. All but three (who went to the FNFL after Nov. 1942) were sunk, scuttled or lost during the landing in North Africa.

Displacement: 671 t. standard – 810 t. Full Load
Dimensions: 64.4 m long, 6.20 m wide, 4.30 m draft.
Propulsion: 2 propellers, 2 Normand-Vickers diesels, 2 mot. electric, 1400/1000 cv. Surface speed/dive 14/9 knots.
Practical depth of diving: 90 m – RA: 9000 nautical miles (7 knots), 100 nautical dives (7 knots).
Armament: 6 TLT of 550 mm, 2 TLT 400 mm, 1 piece of 76 mm, 1 machine gun of 8 mm AA.
Crew: 41

Orion class (1932)

Illustration of the Orion in 1944.

This series of 630 tons was the last, two units by the Loire Dubigeon shipyards. They were a little lighter than the others, but resumed most of their characteristics. In 1940, they were based on the Atlantic. With the advance of the German troops, they joined Portsmouth. It was there that they were interned during Operation Catapult. A few months later, they resumed service under free French naval forces. They operated thus on the allid side until 1943, then were cannibalized, for lack of parts and remained in France to repair the Juno and the Minerve. What remains will be broken up soon after.

Displacement: 658 t. standard – 787 t. Full Load
Dimensions: 67.7 m long, 6.20 m wide, 4.40 m draft.
Propulsion: 2 propellers, 2 Sulzer diesels, 2 mot. electric, 1400/1000 cv. Surface speed / dive 14/9 knots. Practical depth of diving: 90 m – RA: 9000 nautical miles (7 knots), 100 nautical dives (7 knots).
Armament: 6 TLT of 550 mm, 2 TLT 400 mm, 1 piece of 76 mm, 1 machine gun of 8 mm AA.
Crew: 41

Minerve class (1934)

Blueprint of the Iris. Src. (presumably) К.Е.Сергеев 2013 Released in CC – Researched.

This official admiralty Design based on the 630 tonnes, represented a whole change of policy away from private designs and towards greater standardization. Authorized in 1930 except for the last two (FY 1936 program). They had a simplified TT armament, with four TT forward and two aft, and a triple 15.7 bank in mount abaft of the CT with no reloads. They also had two 13.2 mm heavy machine guns for AA defence, quite an improvement. Range and depht were the same as Aurgonaute. Iris was interned in Spain from 1942 to the end of the war. Junon and Minerve served with the FNFL from 1940, Vénus was scuttled in Toulon, and the remaining Pallas and Céres at Oran.

Displacement: 662 t. standard – 856 t. Full Load
Dimensions: 68.10 m long, 5.62 m wide, 4 m draft.
Propulsion: 2 propellers, 2 Normand-Vickers diesels, 2 electric mot., 1800/1230 cv. Surface speed / dive 14/9 knots. Practical depth of diving: 90 m, Oil 60 tons
Armament: 6 x550 mm (21.7 in) TT, 3 x400 mm (15.7 in), 1 x 76 mm (3in/35), 2 x13.2 mm HMG AA.
Crew: 42

FFL Submarine Junon, in Plymouth Sound. Licence IWM (cc)

Aurore class (1939)

Illustration of the Aurore in July 1940

After a stop in all armament programs following the arrival of the Popular Front in 1936, the FY1938 program resulted in a new series of coastal submersibles of 630 tons. It was also the last. In reality they were clearly bigger and heavier, designed to face the Atlantic.

One of their oddities was a 100 mm gun installed behind a semi-turret extending the front of the kiosk, tailored for the rough seas of the Atlantic. Their radius of action was much superior to any of the “600 tons”, and their armament not counting anymore the outer tubes forward, kept a rotatable triple bank TT aft. All torpedo tubes were uniformly 550 mm. Since most of these subs were not yet operational by the time the German forces arrived in sight of the yards of the northern coast (except for the Aurora), their fate was sealed.

Aurora was in the south of France, and will be completed and scuttled at Toulon in November 1942. The Creole, built by Augustin Normand, was towed to England to avoid capture. She was completed according to British specifications and ultimately quite different from its original design. Thus modernized, this boat had a fairly long career after the war. All the others (6 units) were actually captured, but only one entered service (UF2 ex-La Favorite) under the German flag, and sunk in July 1944. Four others would be completed after the war with many modifications and had quite a long career (More on a dedicated post).

model lafricaine
A Model of L’Africaine – Musee de la Marine – CC

Displacement: 658 t. standard – 787 t. Full Load
Dimensions: 67.7 m long, 6.20 m wide, 4.40 m draft.
Propulsion: 2 propellers, 2 Sulzer diesels, 2 mot. electric, 1400/1000 cv. Surface speed / dive 14/9 knots. Practical depth of diving: 90 m – RA: 9000 nautical miles (7 knots), 100 nautical dives (7 knots).
Armament: 6 TLT of 550 mm, 2 TLT 400 mm, 1 piece of 76 mm, 1 machine gun of 8 mm AA.
Crew: 41


Submarines development went on with new designs, whuich were delayed because of a political decision and never completed: The Roland Morillot, Emeraude and Phénix classes.
Morillot profile - navypedia
Possible appearance of the Morillot (Cdts navypedia)

Roland Morillot

The first of these large oceanic types were ordered in 1934, and other orders followed in 1937, 1938 and eight more authorized in 1940. These were fundamentally larger and much improved versions of the 1500 tonnes, carrying 85 tons more of fuel, and had a 10,000 nautical miles radius at 10 knots. The three aforementioned above were the only one launched before the war started: Roland Morillot, La Praya, and Martinique at Cherbourg Nyd. They were all destroyed on slip on 18.6.1940 to avoid capture. Guadeloupe, Réunion and all the other unnamed eight were cancelled.


These were essentially enlarged and improved version of the Saphir class minelayer types. Eperaude was authorized in 1937, Agate, Corail, Escarbouche in 1938. The first was advanced and destroyed on slip in 23.6.1940, the other thre cancelled. Their range was 5600 nauticl miles at 12 knots and 90 at 4 knots. They could carry 40 mines.


These were coastal developments of the Aurore type, at 1056 tons (1252 submerged), with a lenghtened hull and tropical service equipments and fittings, but only one was ordered and started in 1939, Phénix. The other 12 named after revolutionary era monthes (Brumaire, etc.) were all cancelled.

Allied Transfers

The British leased some of their boats to the FNFL (Free French Navy). These were one “U” class (Vox, renamed Curie), and two “V” class, Vineyard (Doris) and Vortex (Morse). The first ytransfer occured in 1.5.1943 and the others on 3.6.1944 and 18.11.1944, returned after the war. The Royal Navy also captured the Italian Acciaio class Bronzo in 12.7.1943 and transferred her to the French in 29.1.1944, as Narval. She was used as an ASDIC training ship, and sold for scrap in 1949.

ex-German (postwar)

The French obtained precious units from the Kriegsmarine after the war: The U2518 (From the Royal navy), a type XXI transferred in 1946 and renamed Roland Morillot, broken up in 1968 after having being thoroughly studied and tested. Also one Type XXIII, the U2326 was transferred from the Royal Navy in 1946 but was lost when testing off Toulon in 6.12.1946. She was never renamed and kept her original denomination.

Roland Morillot
Morillot after postwar modifications of the Kiosk – src: u-boote.fr

Sources/Read More
Conway’s all the world fighting ships 1906-1921, 1922-1946.
https://French submarine Surcouf
French submarine Curie
u-boote.fr: roland Morillot
French submarines list
French 600 Series submarines
roland-morillot class 1st class subs

WW2 French Destroyers

Almost 20 years of development

France (1923-1939), about 90 ships

WW2 French Destroyers

French Destroyer Frondeur of the L’Adroit-class – Official U.S. Navy photo NH 55990 from the U.S. Navy Naval History and Heritage Command

Almost 20 years of development: From the 1920s mass-produced “three-pipers” to the 40 knots, super-destroyers of the Mogador class, destroyer development in France went a long way. The first were initiated in the 1922 programme, following the Washington treaty. In fact all limitations other than qualitative for cuisers were dropped, as well as any limitations for destroyers. Admiralties could start with a blank page, and not surprisingly choose to stick with the Royal Navy concept of standard models and destroyer leaders. This led to the late 1930s classes of “super-destroyers”, of the Mogador class, almost light cruisers size.

1911 Aventurier class
For reference, 1911 Aventurier class ex-Argentine DD design.

France was the only country to operate only interwar-built destroyers at the outbreak of war. All the prewar models has been discarded and since shipbuilding has been suspended during the war, models that were delivered late were of prewar initial design, and discarded too, bringing a few lessons. Italy and UK by comparison, still had dozens of ww1 and pre-ww1 era destroyers in service.

Blueprint of the Bisson class of 1912
Blueprint of the Bisson class of 1912 (HD), retreived from Marine Nationale plans archives

Blueprint of the 1924 Bourrasque
Blueprint of the 1924 Bourrasque, for comparison

Early references: WW1-era DDs
The first series were already much larger than WW1 models. For memory the last French DD was started prewar, but launched in 1921 and completed in 1923, named Enseigne Gabolde. She was experimental, 950 tons fully loaded, with four funnels, a raised forecastle, 26,000 hp for 33 knots with Parsons turbines. Also in 1911, were started four Argentinian DD at Chantiers de Bretagne Nyd, Nantes, requisitioned in August 1914 and completed in 1917-18. At 1250 tons this Aventurier class was much larger, and was fitted with a unusual fore and aft forecastle. They participated in the baltic sea campaign in support to the “white” Russians.

Two would receive new boilers and did serve for some time in the French Navy. Aventurier was broken up in 1940. Another reference was Japanese: The twelve Kaba type destroyers of the “colonial people” class, launched in 1917, built in a record 7 month. They all served in the Mediterranean. They had a small displacement at 682 tons but had a powerful armament, with a 4.7 in main gun (120 mm), the rest being anti-TB artillery of small caliber. They were not very fast (28 knots) but had a good range for their size.

War reparation destroyers
Another topic that was full of references for early interwar naval design, was to obtain many ex-German destroyers in 1920, following the Versailles treaty application. The only exception was the Dukla, of the excellent Austro-Hungarian Tatra class. These were the V67 and V125, S131 (4), H145 (2) and S113 renamed Matelot Leblanc, Pierre Durant, Buino, Chastang, Vesco, Mazaré, Deligny, Rageot de la Touche, Marcel delage and Amiral Senes. All were broken up in 1933-35.

Bourrasque class (1924)

Bourrasque class Simoun – USN Recoignition plates (ONI) 1942

Destroyers of the Bourrasque class succeeded to the 850 tons series of 1912-15, and were called and collectively known as the “1500 tons”. They corresponded to the new standards of the time, developed on the basis of the large German destroyers like the E101 or last British, American, Japanese and Russian ships.

They were equipped with the new 130 mm model 1919 mounts. 12 ships total (Typhoon, Simoun, Thunderstorm, Tramontane, Hurricane, Cyclone, Storm, Mistral, Tornado, Gale, Sirocco, Trombe), were started in 1923, launched in 1924- 25 and completed in 1925-26. Officially referred to as “fleet torpedo boats”, they retained this generic designation of “destroyers”, this time with real ocean-going capabilities (especially for the Atlantic and the North Sea).

Blueprint Bourrasque class
Blueprint of Bourrasque class – Unknown src – From Musee de la Marine original plans

In sea trials, their machines proved to be relatively unreliable, the best speeds reached with forced heat (34.5 knots) were never approached in service. Their main artillery, derived from an artillery model for the army, remained rather slow (four shots per minute). Their initial AA artillery was also weak, with a single 75mm AA gun and two 8mm machine guns. This AAA was reinforced in 1933-35. For submarine warfare and convoy escort, two ASW grenade launchers were also added with two stern racks of 10 grenade each. They had no Asdic in 1939. Their range was 2150 nautical miles at 14 knots.

Destroyer Ouragan in 1939
Destroyer Ouragan in 1939 – ONI203 booklet for identification of ships of the French Navy (cc)

These destroyers suffered a fate similar to that of the rest of the French fleet: Two were captured at Plymouth (Catapult operation) and later integrated into the Free French Navy, three were lost at Dunkirk in May 1940, another was scuttled on June 18 for avoid capture, three would be lost in November 1942 during Operation Torch (one scuttled, one sunk by US units). Units still in service rom 1942 had a 25mm gun and two additional 13.2mm AA machine guns in place of their TT rear bank, and some lost their third 130mm gun. The ships assigned to the FNFL in 1943 had in addition one 40mm gun and three 20mm AA of the American Oerlikon model and additional ASW launchers, as well as an ASDIC. The 5 survivors will be reformed and demolished in 1950.

Cyclone DD blueprint
Destroyer Cyclone DD blueprint – Musee de la Marine

Destroyer Mars
Destroyer Le Mars moored to a buoy circa 1939 – Official U.S. Navy photo NH 88975 from the U.S. Navy Naval History and Heritage Command (cc)

French Destroyer Sciroco – ONI203 booklet for identification of ships of the French Navy (cc)

L'Adroit stranded at Dunkirk
L’Adroit stranded at Dunkirk, Collection Wilfried Langry src


Displacement: 1298 t. standard – 1970 t. Full Load
Dimensions: 106 m long, 9.64 m wide, 4.30 m draft.
Propulsion: 2 propellers, 2 Parsons turbines, 3 loire boilers, 31,000 hp. Maximum operational speed 33 knots.
Armour: 20 mm pieces under masks
Armament: 4 pieces of 130 mm model 1919, 2×37 mm AA, 4×8 mm AA, 6 TLT 550 mm (2×3).
Crew: 145

Illustration of the Bourrasque (“Gale”) in May 1940 during Operation Dynamo – Dunkirk.

L’Adroit class (1926)

This second series of standard destroyers called “1500 tons”, including 14 ships, started in 1925-28 and launched in 1926 to 1929, into service between 1928 and 1931. They took back the whole concept of high seas TBs of higher dimensions and tonnage, and more powerful machines improving their cruising speed, and improve reliability moreover. With a full load tonnage of 2000 tons, they were no longer really “1500 tons”… Nonetheless, they gave satisfaction, except for their limited range.

Their AAA was increased during the war: For the Vichy ships, a 75 mm gun and two 13.2 mm HMGs instead of the rear TT bank, then for the survivors serving under the FNFL, a 40 mm Bofors and three 20 mm Oerlikon, as well as ASW grenades in racks and launchers, and ASDIC.

Operational career:
Railleuse (“Scoundrel”) was the first French destroyer lost, March 24, 1940, destroyed by an accidental torpedo explosion in Casablanca. The Adroit was sunk by He-111 bombers May 21, 1940, off Dunkirk, but her crew managed to reach the beach, integrated 1st Division unit and continued fighting until the city fell. The Thunderer was sunk in similar circumstances, but with more casualties, on June 1, 1940. The Basque, Forbin and Fortuné were part of the French squadron of Alexandria, and were disarmed by the British on June 22, 1940 after the French capitulation.

They were later rearmed under the banner of the Free French Navy in December 1943, and received on this occasion an additional AAA. The Boulonnais, Brest, Brestois, Fougueux and frondeur were all sunk by Allied ships off Casablanca, as part of Operation Torch. Alcyon survived the attack and joined the Allies.

Illustration of the Brestois in nov. 1942 at Toulon.

Chacal class (1924)

Chacal class destroyers, also known as the Jaguar class, were the first “flotilla leaders” designed in France. They were much heavier than average. These “squadron leaders” had been designed to led squadrons of contemporary “Bourrasque” destroyers, but were armed with an longer range 130 mm guns and could sustain 35 knots, their range also being greater, as well as their AA artillery (at the time).

The Jaguar, Lynx, Jackal, Tiger, Leopard and Panther, were identified by their three raked funnels, and their stern was cut for launching ASW “Deep-charges” (16 in reserve), as well as 4 side ASW mortars launcher with 30 refills. Their 130 mm guns of the 1919 model had good range and precision but a low rate of fire with 5 bursts per minute. In September 1939, an ASDIC was added, their AA was revised, a platform added including 8 13.2 mm HMGs in two quadruple mounts in place of their central cannon.

Operational career:
During the conflict, Jaguar was torpedoed by two German S-Bootes in front of Dunkirk. Jackal was destroyed by Stukas in Boulogne the following day. Lynx was scuttled at Toulon in November 1942 and was deemed irretrievable. On the other hand, the Tiger and Panther, also scuttled, but in less serious state, were salvaged, upgraded and ceded by the Germans to the Italians, then briefly integrated into the Regia marina under the name of FR22 and FR23.

Chacal full speed ahead in hard turn -ONI203 booklet for identification of ships of the French Navy -PD (cc)

The FR23 returned to the French Navy and passed to the FNFL to the Italian capitulation in 1943. The FR22 was scuttled at La Spezia during the same Italian surrender. Rearmed, the FR23 participated in the rest of the conflict and was demolished in 1954. The Leopard went to the FNFL in 1942, and was reworked, with an additional fuel reserve added as well as additional AAA (American standards) for service in the Mediterranean. She was sunk off Tobruk in April 1943.

Displacement: 2126 t. standard – 3050 t. Full Load
Dimensions: 126.8 m long, 11.32 m wide, 4.10 m draft.
Propulsion: 2 propellers, 2 turbines, 5 Guyeau boilers, 50,000 hp. Maximum operational speed 35 knots.
Armour: 20 mm pieces under masks
Armament: 5 pieces of 130 mm model 1919, 2×75 mm AA, 2×37 mm AA, 2×13.2 mm AA, 6 TLT 550 mm (2×3).
Crew: 195

Author’s illustration of the Jackal operating in Dunkirk in June 1940 (Operation Dynamo).

Guepard class (1927)

These six ships, Guepard (Cheetah), Valmy, Verdun, Vauban, Lion and and Bison followed quite closely the Jackal of the first series (1923-24). But the latter, who had proceeded to their tests in 1924-25 had learned lessons from their defects, integrated in the plans of the serie. They were therefore launched in 1928-30 and completed in 1929-31.

Jaguar blueprints
Leopard blueprints
Blueprints of the Jaguar and Leopard classes – Archives Musee de la Marine

They took over most of the former superstructure and artillery arrangements, but with a longer and wider hull, a displacement raising from 2126 to 2436 tons as standard. Their guns were of a new model (140 mm against 130 mm), firing 40 kgs shells, But with a still rather slow rate of fire (four to five rounds/minutes). In addition, their telemetry stations were able to be effective in all weathers but had a greatly reduced practical range. Their 37 mm model 1925 guns had a firing rate of 30 rounds per minute, and their ASW defense consisted of four Thornycroft mortars and two 24-grenade racks at the stern, integrated into the hull on dedicated rails.

Good steamers, these ships reached 35.5 knots, a half knot more than the Jackal. They could even reach and sustain 40 knots at half load. They were easily distinguished by their four heavenly spaced funnels, classic profile of French destroyers leaders. In 1940, it was decided to add a 25 mm AA guns and height 13.2 mm heavy machine guns in twin mounts.

Destroyer Guepard -ONI203 booklet for identification of ships of the French Navy -PD (cc)

Operational career:
Their long operational career was not the most glorious: The Bison was sunk in operations in Norway on March 3, 1940 by the Luftwaffe, and the other five, having been based in Mediterranean were repatriated in Toulon and scuttled on November 27, 1942. The Guepard, Valmy and Lion were bailed out and only the last two were repaired in time to be incorporated into the Regia Marina as the Fr24 and 21. The first was sunk in 1945 at Genes, after being scuttled with armistice, recovered by the Germans and reused for some time, and the second at La Spezia in September 1943. The Guepard hull was sunk in the harbor of Toulon on March 11, 1944 by an allied raid.

Displacement: 2436 t. standard – 3200 t. Full Load
Dimensions: 130.2 m long, 11.70 m wide, 4.70 m draft.
propulsion: 2 propellers, 2 Parsons turbines, 4 Yarrow boilers, 64,000 hp. Maximum operating speed 35.5 knots.
Armour: 20 mm pieces under masks
Armament: 5 pieces of 138 mm model 1924, 4×37 mm AA, 4×13.2 mm AA, 6 TLT 550 mm (2×3).
Crew: 230

Illustration of the Guepard in 1940
Plans: http://dreadnoughtproject.org/French%20Warship%20Plans/Jaguar_EtAl_1923/

Aigle class (1930)

Built between 1927-28 and 1929-30, these 6 squadrons of squadrons were named birds of prey (Aigle, Gerfaut, Albatros, Vautour, Epervier and Milan) succeeding the Guepard. Very close, they still have new model 1927 semi-automatic guns, and implemented the first stereo rangefinders. In addition, they are able to reach 42 knots through improved booster boilers, deserving their names as “sea raptors”. The Sparrowhawk and the Milan also had a modified propulsion system displaying 68,000 hp, with 7 torpedo tubes in two double flank banks and one triple axial. They all received in 1940 a 25 mm AA gun and four 13.2 mm machine guns (one 37 mm gun and six double carriage guns for the Gerfaud).

Destroyer Milan in 1936 -ONI203 booklet for identification of ships of the French Navy -PD (cc)

Operational career:
The Aigle, Vautour and Gerfaut were scuttled in Toulon in November 1942 during German operation “Lila” (they were subsequently salvaged by the Axis, but an allied raid in 1943 destroyed them for good), the other three were in Casablanca during Operation Torch, and were ordered to sail and attack the Allied landing fleet. They were intercepted en route: Milan was sunk on November 8, and the Sparrowhawk on the 9th. The Albatross, badly damaged in the harbor, was judged recoverable, salvaged and repaired, and later integrated to the FNFL as a training ship until 1950. She ended his career as a pontoon in 1959.

Displacement: 2440 t. standard – 3410 t. Full Load
Dimensions: 128.5 m long, 11.80 m wide, 5 m draft.
Propulsion: 2 propellers, 2 Rake turbines, 4 Yarrow / Penhöet boilers, 64,000 hp. Maximum operational speed 36 knots.
Armour: 20 mm pieces under masks
Armament: 5 pieces of 138 mm model 1927, 4×37 mm AA (2×2), 4×13.2 mm AA (2×2), 6 TLT 550 mm (2×3).
Crew: 230

Illustration of the Milan, 1940

Vauquelin class (1931)

These six ships, Vauquelin, Cassard, Maillé-Brezé, Kersaint, Tartu and and Chevalier Paul succeeded the Aigle serie. They were virtually copies, except for the adoption of a bow with a slightly different design. Their stern was adapted to minelaying. They were fast and good steamers, the Cassard managing to sustain 43 knots in trials. Operational in 1932-34, they were the best and last of the “2400 tons”, also called “four pipers”. The Cassard received a supplement of AA artillery in 1940, with four 37 mm guns in twin mounts, 1 of 25 mm and four 13.2 mm MG mounts. The other ships received 8 machine guns and a 25 mm gun.

Destroyer Kersaint in 1937 – ONI203 booklet for identification of ships of the French Navy -PD (cc)

Operational career:
They had a relatively short career: The Maille-Breze, used as a minelayer depot ship at anchor in Greenock, exploded in the harbor, March 30, 1940 following a torpedo loading improperly handled which broke off and struck the bridge. The Chevalier Paul, after some service in the Atlantic, was like the others transferred to the Mediterranean. She defended Rayak naval base (Syria), and was sunk by a British raid on June 16, 1941. The four others were scuttled at Toulon on November 27, 1942. Their condition was such that the axis did not even considered salvaging them. They were scrapped after the war.

Displacement: 2441 t. standard – 3410 t. Full Load
Dimensions: 129 m long, 11.84 m wide, 4.97 m draft.
Propulsion: 2 propellers, 2 Rake turbines, 6 Yarrow / Penhöet boilers, 64,000 hp. Maximum operational speed 36 knots.
Armour: 20 mm pieces under masks
Armament: 5 pieces of 138 mm model 1927, 4×37 mm AA (2×2), 4×13.2 mm AA (2×2), 7 TLT 550 mm (1×3, 2×2).
Crew: 230

Illustration of the Chevalier Paul in 1941

Le Fantasque class (1933)

These six destroyers, succeeding the long series of “four pipes”, were heavy squadron leaders planned for the new generation of 1935 to 1945, significantly larger, roomier, more powerful and faster, with new 140 mm cal. 45 (1929) semi-auto guns, this time capable of an impressive rate of 12 rounds per minute with a useful range of 20 kilometers. The Fantasque, sometimes also called “class Malin” resumed the previous configuration of torpedo tubes in lateral and axial banks, this time, all triples. Their new turbines and boiler boosters gave them 74,000 hp with an operational cruising speed of 37 knots, easily exceeded in sea trials: The absolute world record, reached by the Terrible, was 45 knots.

The Le Malin, le Terrible, l’Indomptable, l’Audacieux, le Fantasque, le Triomphant (names later used for the 1970s French SSBNs) were launched in 1933-34 and commissioned in 1935-36. The Parsons turbines of some of them had to deplore repeated failures during their career. These destroyers also had a new telemetry equipment, new superstructures, and two raked funnels. They announced the upcoming super-destroyers of the Mogador class. Recognized as the fastest military ships worldwide at their entry into service, being able to run at full load in all weather at 37 knots, they were among the jewels of the fleet.

Le Fantasque, US Navy aerial photo 1944 – PD (cc)

Operational career:
Interned in Britain during the “Catapult” operation, the Triomphant became the first destroyer operated by the FNFL in July 1940. She swapped her rear gun for a British model. The Bold was present in Dakar during the British & Free French attack, and retaliated, but was severely damaged by HMS Australia cruiser fire. Repaired, she then went to Bizerte, where she was sunk by an Allied raid in May 1943. The Indomitable had taken refuge in Toulon, only to sank by scuttling in November 1942.

The two others rallied the USA following the Allied landings in North Africa, and were modernized between February 1943 and April 1944. They returned with a powerful American AAA (8 x 40 mm, 20 x 20 mm), radars and various standard equipments of the US navy. Their career was long and active as they were retired from service between 1954 and 1964.

Displacement: 2570 t. standard – 3400 t. Full Load
Dimensions: 132.50 m long, 11.98 m wide, 4.30 m draft.
Propulsion: 2 propellers, 2 Parsons / Rateau-Bretagne turbines, 6 Yarrow / Penhöet boilers, 64,000 hp. Maximum operational speed 36 knots.
Armour: 20 mm gun masks
Armament: 5 pieces of 138 mm model 1932, 4×37 mm AA (2×2), 4×13.2 mm AA (2×2), 9 TLT 550 mm (1×3, 2×3).
Crew: 220

Author’s illustration of the Audacieux in June 1940.

Mogador class (1935)

Mogador, stern view – src ONI identification booklet, USN Intelligence.

The last great French squadron destroyers (with the unfinished T47 series), the Mogador and the Volta were in fact only two “prototypes” of a future serie of larger ships. They repeated many of the previous configurations while innovating with two “pseudo-turrets”, in fact paired artillery pieces protected under extended masks opened at the back, comparable to “semi-turrets”. The Mogador were even more powerful and larger than previous destroyers and were to serve as scouts for the Dunkirk and Strasbourg, rather than as squadron leader, which explains a production limited to two units, but also their stronger construction, adapted to the North Atlantic, and much their higher range.

The hull construction involved riveted joints, welds, with 60 kg/m2 enriched steel for the most stressed parts of the structure, and superstructures partly made of duralumin. The new Indret booster boilers claimed 3,500 kilopascals (510 psi), together with state-of-the art Rateau-Bretagne turbines giving a total of 46,000 hp each, allowing a top speed of over 43 knots (trials). Excellent steamers, they were able to easily sustain 34 knots by a gale ​​force 4.

They were also equipped with auxiliary cruise turbines that could be coupled to the central shaft, but this was a failure in practice. Similarly, the design of their propellers was not satisfactory and occasional problems of intense cavitation at high speed. Finally, their rudder was small and especially with a servomotor too low power. De facto, their maneuverability was bad, so much so that the Dunkirks had to restrict their evolutions so that the Mogador could follow them… Finally, the electrical installation inherited from the previous destroyers, and revealed clearly underpowered for the Mogador, whose needs were those of light cruisers…

The “pseudo-turrets” were part of a 1934 electrically powered, gun-mount set. The mounts had not been tested cleanly and were of poor quality. Firing tests proved disastrous. In addition, the turrets were heavy and caused stability issues detrimental as gun platforms. They rolled heavily. As a result of the reports, they were to be completely revised in January 1939, but the war did not allowed it. The 37 mm double AA mounts were of the 1933 model. The gun was a 1925 semi-automatic model using ammunition in racks of 6, giving them a firing ratio of 30 to 40 rounds per minute. A new 37 mm automatic, high range (48 caliber) gun capable of firing 165 rounds per minute was developed for them in 1939 but never installed.

The 13.2 mm Hotchkiss double mounts (450 strokes/min) were designed mainly against strafing low-altitude attacks. Their superior firing arc was mediocre, and their shields were later removed. The anti-surface capability of the Mogador was taken care of, given their use as Dunkirk-class escorts. They received no less than 12 torpedo tubes, all placed on the flanks. This posed stability problems. Torpedoes mod. 1923 DT with alcohol engine had a useful range of 9000 meters at 39 knots. Like previous ships, 16 Guirard ASW deep-charges were stored in stern tunnels, with 16 others in reserve.

They were launched in 1935-36 and accepted in service before the war, in March and April 1939. They were actually assigned to the “Raid Force”, based in Brest. They formed then the 6th division of destroyers. They operated against the German raiders and ensured the protection of the convoys. On 21 November in particular, with the Raid Force, they joined the Hood around Iceland to try to catch the Gneisenau and Scharnhorst.

French destroyer Volta underway off Portsmouth, England (UK), on 8 August 1939 – ONI identification of French ships PD (cc)

Both German ships retreated cautiously using heavy weather to their advantage. They then returned to Brest for a series of modifications, including the addition of a sonar. They were then sent in the Mediterranean before the Italian entered the war. They were based at Mers-el-Kebir during Operation Catapult. The Mogador was hit by a 381 mm projectile in the rear, which detonated her ASW grenades, destroyed the stern and set the decks on fire.

She was stranded and was later declared lost. The Volta had more chance and managed to leave the harbor with Strasbourg. Later the Mogador was salvaged and summarily repaired so as to join Toulon in turn. In November 1942 both ships were scuttled and sank. The Italians salvaged the ships, but repairs never materialized and both units ended broken up after the war.

Displacement: 3300 t. standard – 4300 t. Full Load
Dimensions: 137.50 m long, 12.57 m wide, 4.74 m draft.
Propulsion: 2 propellers, 2 Parsons / Rateau-Bretagne turbines, 4 Indret boilers, 92,000 hp. Maximum operational speed 39 knots.
Armour: 20 mm pieces under masks
Armament: 8 pieces of 138 mm model 1934 (4×2), 2×37 mm AA (2×1), 4×13.2 mm AA (2×2), 10 TLT 550 mm (2×3, 2×2).
Crew: 236

Author’s illustration of the Mogador in march 1938, in operation on Spanish coast.

Le Hardi class (1939)

The Hardi. As head of a class of 12 new units that were somehow “mogador in reduction”, only the Hardi was in service before the capitulation. The others knew only a brief career without glory. Src ONI203 booklet for identification of ships of the French Navy, PD (cc)

Last “standard” destroyers of the so-called 1500 tons type, the class T47 or “The Hardi” was planned to serve the Dunkirk class and be led by the Mogador type and those who would follow. One of the specifications included the need to sustain 40 knots for a certain time in calm sea and 35 in gale weather. They had been expanded both to accommodate new turbines and boilers and additional oil reserves. Their dimensions and displacement were a leap forward, and this “standard” passed the 1800 tons mark.

In addition to the reinforced hull designed for the North Atlantic, the great novelty was their artillery in double mounts inside “pseudo-turrets” quite similar to those of the Mogador, planned for the new 130 mm gun model. Their AA was also much improved, as well as their rangefinders. But authorization did not arrive until 1938 and in June 1939, they were still in completion. In fact, apart from the Hardi, 7 other units entered service with the French Vichy navy, all based in Toulon where they were scuttled in November 1942. Four others were never completed. In 1943, the Italians salvaged several ships, renamed the FR33 to 37, transferred to Genoa. Their completion to Italian standards was never really completed before the Italian surrender. They were subsequently sunk by the Germans or the allies.

Displacement: 1770 t. standard – 2577 t. Full Load
Dimensions: 117.20 m long, 11.10 m wide, 4.20 m draft.
Propulsion: 2 propellers, 2 Parsons/Rateau-Bretagne turbines, 4 Sural-Noguet boilers, 58,000 hp. Maximum operational speed 37 knots.
Armour: 20 mm pieces under masks
Armament: 3 pieces of 130 mm model 1936 (3×2), 2×37 mm AA (2×1), 4×13.2 mm AA (2×2), 7 TLT 550 mm (1×3, 2×2).
Crew: 187

La Melpomène class TBs (1935)

France and Italy thought that torpedo boats were still relevant in the Mediterranean, where sea conditions are often milder than in the Atlantic, and shorter ranges are common, allowing ships of smaller radius to operate effectively. Moreover, Washington’s treaty said nothing about these. Below 600 tons, there were less manpower constraints either. As a result, in the beginning of the 1930s the French Admiralty resumed a study of a modern torpedo boat for coastal defense operations and for the open sea. Twelve ships were built, launched in 1935-37 and completed in 1936-38. Their hull was very lightly built, and the heaviness of their armament caused stability problems. Their standard tonnage was 600 tons, but they reached nearly 900 at full load and in designed looked like destroyers in reduction. With a better ASW capability they could he been considered as destroyer escorts.

Branlebas, La Melpomène class. Private Coll. Alain V.
Branlebas, La Melpomène class. Private Coll. Alain V.

When the armistice came, they were paradoxically assigned to the Atlantic. Many sailed to British ports where they were interned. The Branlebas, for example, sailed again under British flag but capsized in December 1940. Bouclier was ceded to the Poles, before returning to the FNFL, while Melpomene served under the Free Duch Navy flag and was then donated to the FNFL. The three ships interned in Bizerte were finally captured in December 1942 (the only French ships in good condition to ever fall into axis hands). They passed and operated for a short time under the Italian flag (Fr41, 42 and 43) then Germans after their capitulation and capture (Ta9, 10 and 11).

They were all sunk in operations. The last three French units were in Toulon. They were scuttled in December 1942, then two were salvaged, repaired, and served under the Italian flag (Fr44 and Fr45) then also German (Ta12, Ta13). They were probably sunk by Allied Air raids in 1944. Five of these ships survived the war and were scrapped soon after.

Another class of torpedo boats was planned to succeed them, the “Le Fier”. They were considerably heavier and stronger and almost reached the tonnage of standard destroyers. Of the three series only the first was launched in time (of 8 units) started in 1939. The admiralty planned their completion for 1942, under Vichy control, but they were all captured after the invasion of the “free zone” by the Germans, renamed Ta1 to Ta6. However completion work dragged on for lack of time, equipment, personnel and sabotage. Instead, they ended broken up after the war.

Displacement: 685 t. standard – 985 t. Full Load
Dimensions: 80.70 m long, 7.96 m wide, 3 m draft.
Propulsion: 2 propellers, 2 Turbine turbines, 4 Indret boilers, 22,000 hp. Maximum operating speed 34.7 knots.
Armour: none
Armament: 2 pieces of 100 mm model 1932, 2×37 mm AA, 4×13.2 mm AA (2×2), 2 TLT 550 mm (1×2).
Crew: 92

Iphigénie in november 1942.

Sources/ read More

French naval blueprints database
Conways all the worlds fighting ships 1906-21 and 1922-46.

Saphir class submarines (1928)

Saphir class submersibles (1928)

France (1928-45), Minelayer Diesel Electric Submersibles.
Diamant, Nautilus, Perle, Rubis, Saphir, and Turquoise

WW2 French Submersibles:
Surcouf | Requin class | Saphir class | 600/630 Tonnes class | Redoutable class | Aurore class | Roland Morillot class | Emeraude class | Phénix class

France’s most successful ww2 subs

This class of “diamonds” became the best known during the war among french subs, the only ones to gain fame within the allied forces and pass to posterity with a new class of nuclear attack submarines named in homage. This fame also came partly because of their very nature: They were the only allied minelayer submarines available then.

⚠ Note: This post is in writing. Completion expected in late 2023.


Constructed between 1928 and 1935 in Toulon shipyard, this class, was designed to lay mines, and carefully derived from the German UCs of the last war, but with modern solutions and innovations. The class comprised the Diamant, Nautilus, Perle, Rubis, Saphir, and Turquoise. All named after precious gems.
In particular, they had lateral mine wells of large capacity, designed by Normand-Fenaux. The system, simple and effective, will prove very useful. 32 mines could be housed in these 16 wells. The torpedo armament was reduced to two bow tubes and three (including two 400 mm) in a movable bench at the rear and less refills than usual. These mines were of the Sautier-Harlé HS 4 type, with oar. They exploded on contact with a 220 kg tolite charge, and can be laid down 200 m deep. They were lodged by pairs in each of the sixteen vertical wells inside ballasts, slightly larger than usual.

Operational career:

In service in 1936, one of these units gained prominence during the war. Not only did it escape the fate of the French navy by crossing the channel and joining the allies, but it was also the only allied submarine capable to lay mines, and its Career was meritorious.

The Sapphire, Turquoise and Nautilus were all captured at Bizerte and transferred to the Italians in 1942, and two served for some time under the name of FR112 and 116, in Bizerte. One of them will be sunk on the spot, the others scuttled. The Diamond will sabotaged and scuttled in Toulon in November 1942, while the Perle, which like the Rubis passed early on the allied side, would be sunk by mistake in 1944, a lot common to many French ships.

1/400 HD NE illustration of the Rubis in the 1930s.

⚙ specifications

Dimensions 66 x 21,5 x 8,4 m
Displacement 761/925 t. FL
Crew 892
Propulsion 2 screws, 2 electric motors 550 hp each, 2 diesels, 650 hp each.
Speed 12/9 knots surf./sub. (22/17 km/h)
Range 7,000 NM (12 964 km) @7,5 knots, 80 NM sub.
Armament 1 x 65 mm, 2 bow, 4 TT sides 533 mm, 32 oarsmines Sautier-Harlé HS 4.

The blueprints – Rubis in wartime markings and FNFL service, 1942

Another profile of Rubis as found in Cape Camaret.


wikipedia.org Rubis_(1931)

French Navy Diamant

French Navy Nautilus

French Navy Perle

French Navy Rubis

wikimedia photo of Rubis in grave difficulties in a minefield off Norway, Coastal Command, Ministry of Information, 1942.
This most famous sub, laid down on 3 April 1929, launched 30 September 1931 and commissioned 4 April 1933, served in Toulon with the 7th, then 5th Submarine Squadrons. In 1937 she was transferred to Cherbourg on the Atlantic coast and by May 1940, she participated actively in the Norwegian campaign, laying mines off the Norwegian coast that allegedly sank four Norwegian vessels and later three merchantmen in July 1940.

The Rubis was captured in the port of Dundee, Scotland during Operation Catapult. However she turned to the Free French Forces quickly under Captain Georges Cabanier command. From there, Rubis career became quite epic, with 22 missions leading to the direct and indirect destruction of twenty-four ships of the axis (for 683 mines laid down) in addition to Norway, adding the Bay of Biscay and the Atlantic to its playgrounds. In fact she operated again in 1944 off Stavanger, claiming two auxiliary submarine chasers and two merchantmen and damaging later two others, and at the end of the year, three auxiliary submarine chasers, a German merchantman, and a minesweeper. In total she sank some 21,000 GRT by far the highest kill ratio of any French vessel.

She was visited by Royal Navy officials, and her crew was decorated notably with De Gaulle’s order of liberation in October 1941. After 1946, she was used as a training ship, retired from service in 1948 and used as a target sonar in the Mediterranean. Her wreck is still visible off Cavalaire, now a lush reef after 70 years.

French Navy Saphir

French Navy Turquoise

Cruiser Pluton/La Tour d’Auvergne (1933)

Minelayer Cruiser Pluton (1929)

French Navy – alo called “La Tour d’Auvergne”

The shortest lived French cruiser

The Pluton (formerly La Tour d’Auvergne) was the shortest-lived French cruiser of WW2: Commissioned in May 1931, she served eight years, until her accidental explosion in September 1939, just 12 days into the war. But Pluton was also an oddity, the first “special service” cruiser of the French navy, tailored as a fast minelaying cruiser, fast troop carrier and later converted as a gunnery training ship to second the cruiser Jeanne d’Arc.

In 1920, the naval staff was convinced the German fast minelayer cruisers were an interesting idea, and at the same time on the other side of the channel, the British HMS Adventure (started 1922) was built. Alongside the construction of minelayer submarines, they ordered studies of a cruiser able to perform minelaying as a primary task. The main requirement was speed, armament and protection were secondary, and she was to be light. Eventually an order was authorized under the 1925 programme, but development took some more years, and she was voted by the parliament FY1928.

Arsenal de Lorient on the West coast was awarded the contract. This shipyard was quite experienced in cruisers, despite having a single basin large enough, delivering to the French navy the Lamotte-Picquet in 1924, and Tourville in 1926. Therefore two years later, the keel was laid down in April 1928. She was built in just a year and a month, launched in April 1929, but fitting out and redesigns led to a late completion in January 1932, so more than two years after.

creative commons Illustration by rama, rather inaccurate, but showing the general outlines and armour/armament locations.

Her launch name was Pluton (‘pluto’) after hell/underworld’s god also called Hades. But when it was decided to convert her as a gunnery training ship she was to be given the unusual name “la Tour d’Auvergne”, unique to this cruiser and never used again in the Marine Nationale. It was related to Henri de La Tour d’Auvergne better known as Turenne (1611-1657), a famous Marshall of King Louis XIV. Two ships in the French navy were named Turenne, a 1854 100-gun ship of the line and a 1879 Bayard-class masted battleship.

Design of Pluton

Pluton was a tather small cruiser, 152.5 m (500 ft 4 in) long overall and 15.5 m (50 ft 10 in) at her largest beam, for a draft of 5.2 m (17 ft 1 in). For the first time in France, she used some aeronautical techniques, and her hull used extensively Duralumin, a metal composite used in aviation for the superstructure. This was to save weight and lower the metacentric height to make her more stable, but this resulted in corrosion, as well as strength issues. She was also unusual in that she had with a single counterbalanced rudder, powered by a (rather weak) electric motor. Her turning circle was of 875 m (957 yd) with 25° port/starboard hard over, and at 27 knots (50 km/h; 31 mph). This was not impressive, especially in comparison to the much larger cruiser Duguay-Trouin.

Original blueprints of the Pluton, as a minelayer. Her appearance changed when she was converted as a training ship. Her side gangways notably were plated over and the internal railings eliminated (see later), armaent was modified, fire direction also and the forward tripod expanded, the hull reinforced, etc. She spent years in drydock, further reducing her active service.


It was specified for this cruiser a top speed of 30 knots. To achieve this, Pluton was given a rather conventional cruiser propulsion, but with lighter than usual turbines: Bréguet (yet another aeronautical reference, this was a renown aircraft manufacturer) single-reduction impulse geared steam turbines. These turbines were fed by steam provided by four du Temple boilers working at a pressure of 20 kg/cm2 (2,000 kPa; 280 psi). This ensemble provided an output of 57,000 hp, enough to procure the 30 knots (56 km/h; 35 mph) as designed.

Each propeller shaft ended with a three-bladed 4.08 m (13 ft 5 in) bronze propeller and on trials, Pluton reached 31.4 knots (58.2 km/h; 36.1 mph). This powerplant was supplied with 1,150 t (1,130 long tons) of fuel oil. It was originally planned to provide her enough legs for 7,770 nautical miles (14,390 km; 8,940 mi) at 14 knots (26 km/h; 16 mph). However, this proved too optimistic and after many design revisions, it was downgraded to just 4,510 nmi (8,350 km; 5,190 mi) in service.

Indeed what was overlook, her auxiliary machinery proved thirstier as expected. For electric apparatus on board she also carried a pair of 200-kilowatt (270 hp) turbo generators, provided 235 volts and two 100-kilowatt (130 hp) diesel generators, mounted in the aft engine room to provide. This provided energy while anchored, machinery cold. A third diesel generator was also installed in first deck compartment, to be used if the former failed or were submerged, or tapped for other uses, although it was devised for emergency purpose only.


For a cruiser, the Pluton was rather lightly armed, much in line with the British HMS Adventure but better, with 5.5 in versus 4.7 in guns. The AA was rather generous and diverse, much like on the Jeanne d’Arc with three calibers ranging from 3-in to 0.5 in (13.2 mm). But of course the raison d’être of this cruiser were her mines: She carried 290 of them, of the classic contact type. This was the same as the Adventure, carrying 280 P Mk.III (large pattern) to 340 of the small pattern model.

Technical scheme of the 138.6 mm Model 1923 Mounting and Ammunition, from the collection of Robert Dumas

Main guns: Four 5.5 in/40 (140 mm) model 1927 main guns, in superfiring positions fore and aft. This was a heavy destroyer gun model, which carried quite a punch but had issues. Only the 2400 tonnes large destroyers of the Bison class had them. Exact caliber was 138 mm but they were referred as 14 cm in French ordnance. The gun used a Welin breech-block. This was a rather unsatisfactory design with a slow rate of fire. it was derived from the already unsatisfactory 130 mm Model 1919. Their mountings had raised trunnions, allowing better elevation but a difficult loading at lower elevations. This mount procured a -5° +28 ° elevation, 300° traverse. It used the standard SAP 40 kg modele 1924 QF ammunition. Theoretical rate of fire was 8-10 rpm, in service this was more 6 rpm. Maximum range was circa 16,600 m at a muzzle velocity of 700 m/s. 150 shells per gun were stored, in four separated magazines and hoist.

Quad Hotchkiss 13.2 mm with Le Prieur mounting

Quad Hotchkiss 13.2 mm with Le Prieur mounting.

Interestingly enough, the initial design studies showed two single 203 mm turrets (like contemporary Japanese and Russian cruisers) fore and aft, like on a monitor and the same AA (less 13.2 mm guns). However in the end it was found more judicious to have a quicker firing artillery to deal with destroyers, and four 138.6mm guns were adopted during construction which imposed modifications.

AA armament: It was split between four rather classic 3-in/60 AA guns (75 mm) after reconstruction. using proximity fuse shells, installed under enveloping shields along the sides amidships, and two remaining single 37 mm guns in the superstructure, and six 8 mm Hotchkiss Mle 1914 twin machine guns. They were already obsolete in 1928, and mounted above the gangway (2) and above the machinery cooling chamber (2) the last two in front of the mainmast. 48,000 cartridges were stored. They were eliminated in 1932 and 13.2 mm models were installed instead.

These were three quadruple “chicago piano” 13.2 mm heavy machine guns. The 75 guns had a maximum depression of -10° to 90° elevation, fire 5.93 kg shells at 850 m/s, at 6-18 rpm at a maximum ceiling of 8,000 m. The Hotchkiss quad 13.2 mm had a planned cyclic rate of 450 rounds per minute, 200/250 rpm in reality because of reloads. Max ceiling was 4,200 m, but closer to 2000 m in reality. Also during the 1932 reconstruction, a simplified fire control system was added for the 138 mm guns, and 15 additional sights.

Six (or ten for another source) semi-automatic 37 mm were part of the final design and no 75 mm guns, all with protective shields. Two were mounted on the superstructure, six between the funnels on the main deck, two on the aft quarter deckhouse. 10,000 shells were carried, 144 ready-round in ammunition boxes close to the guns on the deck. The mount elevation was −15°-80° and they fired 725g AP shells at 810 m/s. They were effective against planes below 5,000 m, but this was all planned, but not realized: Only the two aft guns were preserved in 1932.

There never was a torpedo tube armament planned.

Mines: Here are following naval mine models used in the interwar, potentially used by the Pluton.

-Bréguet mines, B2 (1916) still in storage but mostly B3 models (1922). The latter were Lever-fired and 0.865 m (34 in) in diameter, 670 kg (1,477 lbs.) with a 110 kg (243 lbs.) Mélinite charge.

-Sautter-Harlé modele H3 (1922) switch horn type, diameter 0.75 m (34 in), 670 kg (1,477 lbs.), 110 kg (243 lbs.) Mélinite charge.

-Sautter-Harlé modele H4/H4AR (1924) 1.04 m 1.13 ton coastal mines, but more likely

-Sautter-Harlé modele H5/H5AR (1928) Five switch horn type 1.04 m (41 in) 1,160 kg (2,557 lbs.) 220 kg (485 lbs.) TNT charge

-Sautter-Harlé modele H5UM1 and H5UM2 (1935) Four switch horn type, same but 500 m (1,640)-180 m (590 feet) mooring cable.

-Sautter-Harlé modele H6 (1939) larger four switch horn type, 1.15 m (45 in) 330 kg (661 lbs.) TNT.

Pluto was designed to carry 220 to 250 Sautter-Harlé mines initially, stored on the first deck called “mine deck” occupying 3/4 of the total length of the ship. The sides were open, but could be closed by panels. The same space was used for troops in that configuration. These mines were placed on chain hoists, using a system of four rails. Each rail pair converged on a turntable forward, with a gear connecting the two plates. The latter allowed to load mines more easily from one side and also to move them from rail to rail. The tracks ended aft at the poop, with the four ramps sloped down to 30°, in order to minimize the risk of an impact and quick laying when released. In alternative, up to 270 smaller Breguet mines could be loaded on the same system.


Assuredly this was the weak point of the design. She was largely unprotected, relying upon watertight subdivision to survive a torpedo hit or shell hit punching below the waterline. For this, she had was given a longitudinally framed hull subdivided by 15 transverse watertight bulkheads. This ASW passive protection was seriously tested when the ship exploded and her weak construction did not survived the blast. For extra flood protection, her two-shaft machinery layout used the alternating boiler and engine rooms scheme. That way if one section was flooded, the ship still had a workable turbine and boilers to move out of harm. Also in case magazines were heated by fire, there was an additional auxiliary boiler fitted specifically to cool the ship’s magazines (or heat them in winter), as well as providing tap water.


Displacement: 5,300 t. standard -6,200 t. Full Load

Dimensions: 152.5 m long, 15.5 m wide, 5.2 m draft.

Propulsion: 2 shafts Parsons turbines, 4 Du Temple boilers, 57,000 hp. Top speed 30 knots.

Armour: 15-20 mm max.

Armament: 4 x 138 mm, 10 x 37mm AA (2×2), 220-270 mines, see notes

Crew: 513 (+1000 troops)

The very short career of Pluton

Pluton was completed at Lorient for the cost of 102,671,658 francs, on 25 January 1932. She entered service in the Mediterranean squadron but encountered a serie of issues with her machinery, in particular excessive vibrations, a classic problem identified on powerful ships with a frail construction. After some strengthening, Pluton was given the role of artillery instruction and was to be modified to be a gunnery schoolship. The naval staff indeed considered destroyers and smaller dedicated ships were more efficient at minelaying and the cruiser Jeanne d’Arc needed some reinforcement for training cadets.

So Pluton was to be scheduled to replace the elderly armoured cruiser Gueydon (1903) and was reconverted accordingly. This was not planned initially. She was sent in drydock in on October 24, 1932. For this, new accommodations for 40 cadets is constructed in the mine deck, most 37 mm anti-aircraft guns and all the obsolete 8 mm Hotchkiss machine guns were deposed, and four 75mm guns AA are installed instead. In all, this represents 24 anti-aircraft guns plus six twin 13.2 mm Hotchkiss machine guns in quad mounts, two in place of the 37 mm guns, and four between the funnels.

Pluto’s modernization and reconstruction dragged on until 1935. She was upgraded four times during this period, with superstructure reinforcement, protection against damaged by the muzzle flame of the 138 mm guns (the duralumin catch fire quite easily), and replacement of corroded aluminium ladders and booms by steel. Also wide-angle fire direction systems are mounted to direct fire of their new 75 mm guns, of which two are converted to remotely controlled guns, the rest having masks to protect the gunners from their muzzle blast. Later, the mine deck was modified again to receive accommodations and facilities for 40 more men, so 80 total.

In 1936, she was returned to active service, and during a maintenance stop, she receive an experimental 13.2 mm twin mount, placed between the 75 mm starboard guns. The machines were overhauled in turn, starting in November 25, 1936 and completed on 13 March 1937. The turbines were overhauled and fire direction systems for the main artillery was upgraded to the ones used on the light cruisers of the Duguay-Trouin class. 13.2 mm machine guns were relocated in the superstructure. On November 15, 1938-February 15, 1939, more modifications were made to the machinery and artillery.

Orders, counter-orders, disorder

Shortly before the start of WW2, there was an urgent need for more offensive vessels, and Pluton she was taken in hands to be reverted back to her original role (and renamed La tour d’Auvergne in the process). For this, most of the gunnery training equipment was removed. Now a minelayer again, she was mobilized in the summer of 1939, to be integrated into the Brest squadron, after her service in Lorient in May to replace the cruiser Jeanne d’Arc as training ship.

After a report, not confirmed by British intelligence, the French Admiralty believed German battleships just sailed out to operate in the Atlantic, and that an attack on the Moroccan coast was a real possibility. Pluto was ordered to establish a defensive minefield against submarines notably at some strategic locations off the coast of Morocco. Pluton left Brest, with the Raid force on September 2, loaded with 125 Bréguet mines. She arrived in Casablanca on September 5 and moored at the Delure jetty, made ready to lay mines during the night of September 11-12. Later it appear the German battleships were spotted still at their anchorage and the threat now gone. The admiralty decided to repatriate the Atlantic squadron and Pluto to disembarked her mines at Casablanca and depart to join it. The Commander at Casablanca, Rear Admiral Sable, gave order on the morning of September 13 to start the mines unloading process.

The Pluto accident

Operations started at 10:30 am under direction of Captain Dubois of the Pluto. It was under supervision of Lieutenant Le Cloirec, the onboard head of underwater weapons department. Ten minutes later, a long flame burst suddenly from the rear deck with a loud bang. Pluto is enveloped in a huge cloud of dust and smoke, while suddenly she is rocked by a second explosion which rips apart the bridge and a ball of flames immediately engulfs the aft part of the ships. This terrible explosion not only destroyed most of Pluto, killing dozens instantly, but the blast wave and falling debris also killed many sailors on neighbouring ships and on land. Fuel oil spilled and ignited, and further expanded the catastrophe. The detonation was loud enough to be not only heard throughout Casablanca but well beyond. Many windows were smashed in town and nearby ships at 1,000 meters of distance.

Order is given to the twelve French submarines in Casablanca to set sail at 10:53 am to avoid more destruction in case other mines explodes. Two minutes later, Pluto started to lost to port and sinks slowly. At 11:07 am, port authorities are denying entry by signal and at 11:15 am, Pluton had now sank to the bottom, her superstructure still emerging but both decks completely underwater, including the mine deck.

Needless, there was an enquiry to determine the nature of the explosion the following days.

Sailors onboard the Polish ship Iskra and cadets on a dinghy rowing about 150 m abeam of Pluto, observed a first explosion between the aft funnel and mast, ignition of a boat docked at the stern, followed by a loud bang blasting the stern, up to the aft gangway and upper deck. The dinghy would saved 3 injured men, and picked up 19 other wounded men, disembarked on the jetty, giving first aid, soon joined by 3 French Navy doctors.

Lt. Le Cloirec’s reported also that at the time of the explosion, he was with the quartermaster electrician preparing crane B for picking up the mines, and he had time to see before falling the fall of the aft mast. He was caught between between the front funnel and the front superstructure, and channelled men to evacuated the mine deck with the master gunner. He would later phoned near hangar 10 for more help and met the Chief of Staff in Morocco relating the arrival of ambulances and medical personnel. Soon after as he was returning back from the ship again, he saw one of the munitions stores blow up. In addition to the circumstances he mentioned significant losses in the machinery personal but also the heroism and dedication of certain sailors.

The causes of the accident as determined by the Commission of Inquiry, ruled out underwater attack or criminal act and found the most likely cause was the accidental explosion of a mine, during the dangerous defusing operation. According to Naval Headquarters and Technical Department “whenever possible, embarkation and disembarkation of mines is done directly, without going through the intermediary of barge. This jumped step minimized the dangers of mishandling but also that mines must be defused on board. It was established the second explosion was likely been caused “by influence” after the first mine exploding.

The responsibility of the personnel of the cruiser Pluton and its Commander was not put into question, as the Navy commander in Morocco, when it was shown all the security arrangements has bee made. Police was present on the landing quay, and handling of landed mines carefully monitored. It was established mine security was an issue in itself, such devices remaining by their very nature, extremely delicate to handle. Therefore it was attributed to a probable human error, with all the immediate personal and proofs been literally anihilated, not firm conclusion about the precise, exact cause of the mishandling would be put forward.

In a letter dated September 19, 1939, Frigate Captain Benac, Second in Command onboard Pluton, sends his own report to the Rear Admiral in Morocco, where he cannot give an exact number of those on board during the explosion. The crew listed 17 officers, 494 crew and one hospitalized ashore, and for a total of 512, he certifies the crew present was no greater than 497. On 8 December 1939, the Directorate of Military Personnel of the Fleet sent a report to the General controller and head of the administrative section of the office of the Minister of the Navy, a name listing the missing officers and gratings present during the explosion, which included 9 officers including the captain, 162 petty officers, quartermasters and sailors, all “presumed missing”.

Captain Rostand, head of the historical service established a more precise list in 1956, establishing 10 officers killed or missing and 2 wounded, 186 KiA or missing in sailors, and 73 wounded, for 497 men. On land, the marine personal suffered also, with 1 officer killed, 1 wounded, 19 men killed or missing and 29 injured and a wounded officer on the Polish TB Wilja nearby.

The final list for the families, included 9 officers including the Commander, and 173 crew members.


The tragedy of Pluton, barely a few days into the war, and quick enquiry due to more urgent matters at hand, was never balanced by a new enquiry afterwards. It simply indicated there was no great mystery about the main reason of the tragedy. Manipulating mines, whether on a ship, at sea, or on land has always been a risky operation. But the real environment leading to the catastrophe could have been the hesitations of the naval staff preceding this order. Incorrect reports were to blame, as German ships to reach north Africa would have been a very long and risky route through get there in the first place.

It would have been safer to simply lay a minefield on a strategic spot, but it’s symptomatic of the frenetic micromanagement of the French high command at that time, which only be more acute in May 1940 and rapidly showed its limits. It is certain there was some urgency to unload mines in order to join the Force de Raid as soon as possible, and this potentially caused some pressure in the crew to perform the operation quickly. Was the crew trained to perform this operation also ?

There will be some gaps in the enquiry as the exact composition of the handling crew inside the mine deck would forever stays unknown. In peacetime indeed, unloading mines was a much longer process, using for added safety a barge alongside the ship, which was anchored at a safe distance of the quay just in case of an explosion. This two-step process was lengthy, as barges needed newt to unload their mines on land. But by wartime, there was just no time for such procedures, and in addition, the mines were not diffused in case order was given to lay them at any moment. They had been previous prepared for such occurrence. The defusing was of course a precaution to ensure during the handling by a crane, any shock of the mine with its surrounding would have no consequence.

Note: Apart the single private coll. photo released in CC of the wreck after the explosion, all official, existing photos of the Pluton are property of Marius Bar coll. Toulon. I can’t show them on this website, but you can see them here on the publisher’s catalogue. All existing photos on wikimedia commons had been retired, about 90% photos of French ships of the interwar.

Plutons wreck along the berth in Casablanca, September 1939
Pluton’s wreck along the berth in Casablanca, September 1939.

Author’s Illustration profile of the Pluton in 1939, showing her after transformations as a training ship, and reverted back to a minelayer

Src/Read Me on Pluton/La Tour D’Auvergne

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.
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.
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


Notes: Vincent-Bréchignac 1930, p. 30, Guiglini et Moreau 1992

J. Guiglini, A. Moreau “Les croiseurs Jeanne d’Arc et Pluton” (Marine éditions).
The model’s corner:
Plans Of the ship, original blueprints

Bretagne class Dreadnought Battleships (1914)

Bretagne class Dreadnought Battleships (1914)

France (1914) – Bretagne, Provence, Lorraine

France’s wartime dreadnoughts

Before the war, France’s first dreadnoughts, the Courbet class, just entered service in 1911-1912. In the meantime, dreadnought design was still improving on the other side of the Channel, both in terms of artillery caliber and configuration but also speed, already peaking into the “super-dreadnoughts” genre. According to the ambitious French 1912 naval construction programme, a new battleship class was scheduled for 1913. It was to be like the British Queen Elisabeth and Revenge class, the first French “super-dreadnoughts”.

Bretagne in Toulon, 1915 – src history.navy.mil (cc)

Albeit excessive as legitimate battleships worthy of the name were built in the interwar and became the standard for ww2, the Bretagne were nevertheless a leap forward in terms of Battleship design as far as France was concerned, although still 2-3 years late. All three were started in may-july-november 1913 at Lorient, Brest and Loire shipyards (St Nazaire), and commissioned in 1916.

Nominally they were replacements for the Carnot, Charles Martel and Liberté. They had long careers after modernization, well until 1945. Following Normandie and ever more Lyons were to be really amazing designs and we’ll try to have a quick overview of these in another article.

Bretagne aft turrets
Battleship Bretagne’s aft turrets circa 1919 – Toulon. Photo by Robert Wilden Neeser for the Naval History & Heritage Command


Both ships classes shared similar hulls and armour arrangements (because of shipyards limitations, as ordered by the Conseil supérieur de la Marine (CSM)), but of course the real change was artillery with 10x 340mm (13.4 in) main guns, arranged in five double turrets all in the centerline. These were the AB, XY front and rear, plus another in the center, located just between the two funnels and superstructures.

Bretagne design – Brassey’s naval annual (cc)

This made for a reduction in firepower strength both in chase and retreat, but a bigger broadside.
The secondary battery comprised 22x 138.6 mm Mle 1910 guns in barbettes. Although inferior to the 152mm of the British and German types, they had toughly the same range but were much faster to reload, enabling true defensive advantages against fast ships like destroyers and torpedo-boats. There were also 7× 47 mm QF (1.9 in) guns also used for saluting, and 4× 450 mm (18 in) torpedo tubes.

THE FRENCH NAVY IN THE MEDITERRANEAN, 1914-1918 (Q 58294) The French battleship Bretagne at Toulon, 23 October 1916. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205307537

On the armour side however, using the same hull imposed a sacrifice, as the width of the armored belt was reduced by 20 mm (0.79 in) to compensate for the increased weight of the main battery. Like the previous class, armour was in general a bit “light” according to contemporary standards, with only 270 mm for the belt, 314mm for the conning tower but 340mm for the turrets whereas the decks were 40mm thick. For propulsion, all three relied on four Parsons steam turbines, fed by 18 to 24 Niclausse boilers (Lorraine) generating a total output of 29,000 shp (22,000 kW). Speed was reduced at 19 knots but overall range slightly better at 4,600 nautic miles (8,500 km or 5,300 miles).

Battleship provence after refit
Battleship provence after refit, 1935. Src ONI identification booklet, USN

Active service

The Bretagne and Lorraine were assigned to the 1st Division of the 1st Battle Squadron and quickly posted in the Adriatic while the Provence was made fleet flagship for the Mediterranean at large. It was also sent in the southern sector of the Adriatic, based at Argostoli and Corfu. Provence did some appearance off Greece, trying to intimidate the government of Greece not to join the central powers. in January 1919 Lorraine was sent to Cattaro to guard the Austro-Hungarian fleet.

Lorraine and Provence were placed into reserve in 1922 due to budget cuts. Lorraine was active by 1923 after an overhaul. All three ships were taken in hands for a full modernization by 1935 (see 1939 file).


Bretagne class BB on wikipedia
Individual: The Provence
Specs Conway’s all the world fighting ships 1906-1921.

Provence class specifications

Dimensions 166 x 26,9 x 9,8 m
Displacement 24,000t; 26 000 FL
Crew 1193
Propulsion 4 hélices, 4 Parsons Turbines, 18-24 Belleville/Niclausse boilers, 29,000 hp
Speed 19-20 knots (39 km/h; 24 mph)
Range 4,600 nmi (8,500 km; 5,300 mi) at 10 knots (19 km/h; 12 mph)
Armament 10 x 340 mm, 22 x 138 mm, 7 x 47 mm et 4 TT sides 450 mm
Armor Belt 270, turrets 340, blockhaus 314, barbettes 170 mm, Decks 40 mm

The Bretagne class in the interwar

The three battleships of the Bretagne class (Bretagne, Provence, Lorraine) Bretagne meaning “Britanny”, launched in 1913 and completed during 1915-16 were the second series of French Dreadnoughts to see the day. More massive and bearing 340 mm main guns centered in the axis, they corresponded to the contemporary battleships of the Royal Navy at the time, the Iron Duke class.

Bretagne class battleships
Wow’s rendition of the Battleship Provence in 1940

Their powerplant had been improved, though still walking on charcoal. The 340mm model 1912 guns proved to be one of the best designed by French arsenals. Many of these were used on the front on railways batteries with success. They were reliable, sturdy and accurate. The last captured ended during the occupation in casemates of the infamous Atlantic wall. Their initial range was 21,000 meters. An additional sistership was commissioned in 1914 by the Greek Navy, but construction was suspended in August due to the war.

The French dreadnoughts in the interwar

Their career was active and continued in 1918, especially in the Mediterranean. They had been conceived as spearheads for the Toulon squadron. After 1918, they underwent a number of modifications, including the modification of their main gun mounts and cradles, in order to increase their range in 1921-23. Then their coal boilers were partially swapped for fuel boilers in 1927-30 and finally all in 1932.

Provence Battleship, rear view in 1937 or 1939, US Navy recoignition archives.

1935 modernization

In 1935 they received new superstructures, fire direction positions (including a tripod mast), rangefinders, and secondary anti-aircraft artillery. They also received new 340 mm guns, with a new modified mount increasing their range to 30,000 meters. Their casemate and central battery saw their protection greatly improved. Lorraine also received a seaplane, hangar, cranes and catapult instead of its central turret of 340 mm. In 1939, however, this modernization still did not have the scope of a real overhaul, but no project in this direction had been planned so far. 1929 crisis and financing the Maginot line also dried budgets in this direction.

WW2 career

During the conflict, Bretagne and Provence were part of the squadron of Mers-el-Kebir when came Admiral Sommerville’s ultimatum to Admiral French Gensoul. Bretagne, hit in an ammunition bunker, exploded, causing the most casualties of the whole squadron. Provence nearly suffered the same fate and was badly damaged. Abandoned by her crew, she sank slowly into the harbor. She will be refloated and later towed to Toulon for repairs. Provence resumed service in 1942 in Toulon, but would be scuttled like the rest of the fleet in November.

Battleship Lorraine was in Alexandria during Operation Catapult, and thanks to the diligence of the admirals present, was partially disarmed and interned until 1943. Then she joined the FNFL, after modifications in the United States, including new AA artillery. This ship served in the Mediterranean, participating in the Provence landings (Operation Anvil Dragoon). From 1945 to 1953, the battleship Lorraine served as a training ship and was disarmed and converted into a depot before being broken up.

Characteristics, as rebuilt:
-Displacement: 23,230 t. standard -25 200 t. Full Load
-Dimensions: 166 m long, 28 m wide, 9.8 m draft.
-Machines: 4 propellers, 4 Parsons turbines, 12-24 Guyot Du Temple boilers, 29,000 hp. Maximum speed 20 knots.
-Armour: belt 270 mm, barbettes 170 mm, bridge 40, turrets 340 mm, blockhaus 314 mm.
-Armament: 10 x 340 mm, 8 x 100 mm AA, 8 x 37 mm AA, 12 x 13.2 mm AA MGs, 2 underwater TTs.
-Crew: 1130

The Bretagne at Mers el Kebir, August 1940 – author’s illustration

The Bretagne (“Britanny”) in 1916.