Jeanne d’Arc (1930)

French Navy – Light cruiser

The fourth namesake School cruiser

Second generation of warship bearing this name, the “Jeanne” as she was nicknamed was a new light cruiser specifically designed for this purpose, with sufficient accommodations in its layout for many cadets: 156 student-sailors and 20 officer-instructors. Started at Saint Nazaire in 1928, launched in 1930 and completed in 1931, this cruisers was derived from the design of Duguay Trouin, but with a lower top speed of 25 knots, compensated with a much larger autonomy at sea, as she was to cruiser regularly around the world, as as such became one of the most common French cruiser in harbours around the world during the interwar. Her role in WW2 was complicated by the uneasy neutrality position of the Vichy regime. In May 1940, she in Brest and rushed for Martinique, Caribbean (West Indies) to avoid capture. She remained immobilized until June 1943 when the US command accepted its transfer to the FNFL (Free French Navy). After a major modernization in the USA, loosing her catapult and torpedo tubes and fitted with modern AA and radar she started her campaign in Italy, protecting convoys and supporting troops inland. Her career went on long after the war, replaced by the helicopter carrier bearing the same name, also the last of the kind and perhaps better known.

Stern view of the Jeanne in the port of Varna, Bulgaria, on the black sea.

Design development

The 1899 cruiser of the same name designed by the famous naval engineer Emile Bertin, as a large protected cruiser for overseas service and converted as a 11,500 tonnes armoured cruiser, but not tailored as as schoolship. She was converted as a training ship for naval cadets in 1908, and apart the interruption of WWI, resumed this service until August 1919, this tie refitted for the purpose. She was retired 15 February 1933, her last commander in 1927-28 being no other than François Darlan, the future head of the French Navy in WW2. Meanwhile, a new, tailored cruiser for the task was planned FY1928. Specifications were prepared by the naval staff and transmitted to naval Genie engineer Antoine. His school cruiser design was accepted and the ship is authorized that year, the keel laid down at St Nazaire (Normandy) in September 1928. As a cruiser, she as then designed to be both a training ship and fully operational warship and procure Naval Academy’s “midships” decent and modern housing and accommodations for long cruises at sea. This however imposed some compromises. If the armament was sufficient for a 6,500 tonnes ship, AA and ASW equipments were limited, as the top speed. Her main advantage resided in her long range patrol and escort capability rather than taking part with the fleet in a naval action.
Jeanne d’Arc or “Joan of Arc”, was the Maiden of Orleans during the Lancastrian phase of the 100 years war that helped turn the tide and was later sanctified by the Church.

Design of the Jeanne d’Arc

The cruiser was undisputedly “light” by all measures, with a standard displacement noted at 6,500 tonnes, and in regards to the Washington treaty, with just eight 6-in guns. Her general configuration was the same as previous light cruisers such as the Primauguet class (1923), with the same armament configuration, hull shape with a forecastle and tripod mainmast supporting the main fire control telemeter. There were differences like the clipper stern, and the powerplant management, with truncated funnels far apart. But the most obvious difference was the long central section dedicated to cadets housing, with galleries, stretching the cruiser amidship. This looked almost if a standard light cruiser has been cut in half and the whole central section of a liner has been fitted. The final cruiser was 170 m long for 17,70 m wide, so a 1/10 ratio for speed, and a 6,30 m draft. As described by one officer on board, “with her slender lines, oval section funnels slightly raked and well balanced, her stepped superstructures and very rounded stern, the “Joan of Arc” already appeared to be as successful as the other light cruisers to which she was similar by her displacement as well as by her armament”.

Bow view of the cruiser anchored in Vancouver


The distribution of the premises reserved for the School, quite distinct from military installations were evident in this design, pupils being housed in twelve stations grouped in the two floors of the large central deckhouse. The central section comprised 12 stations where the cadets slept in hammocks. There was a middle passageway separating the two workstations from the upper deck. There was also a vast conference room aft, where the entire promotion could be gathered to listen director of studies and officer-instructors. These premises open onto side sheltered gangways, not unlike promenade decks of cruise ships. The captain’s apartment was large, installed aft of the deckhouse, and officers quarters were placed under the main-middle deck. The crew was housed in the bow. Nothing was forgotten for life on board with an small hospital, a cooperative, a master tailor’s workshops and shoemaker, a laundry room, a butcher, a 80m2 refrigerated room, a pantry, a wine stall, distributed in the front sections. This design dictated the middle section of the ship, which was a rectangle for 3/4 of the total length.

Above the boilers and forward engine room, posts of masters and second masters were placed as well as the administrative office and the military office, the printing house, the photographic laboratory, as well as various workshops and stores. Bakery and kitchens were spread over two level, forward of the superstructure. There was also a senior officer’s room close to the captain’s secretariat, a student disciplinary room, subaltern officers quarter and a saloon occupying an entire section in width. There was also an aft engine and boiler room section (in case one was flooded, the other could still prove the ship some mobility). Close to it was located the aft ammunition compartments and steering gear room. The navigation bridge was rather classic, resembling other French cruisers of the time, with good visibility and additional instrument and repeaters to be used to train future officers.


The powerplant was classic for cruisers at the time in order to train future chief-mechanics, with Parson geared turbines, fed by four Penhoët boilers, making for a total output of 32,500 shp, and a top speed, as designed, of 25 knots. This was eight knots below what were capable most French cruisers of the time, but in line with the requirement which did not planned the cruiser to be integrated in an active fleet division, but act independently. 25 knots was still sufficient to attack trade, misc. ships and evade submarines, and for convoy escort duties. But overall, a lesser speed favoured range, which was the main concern here. Oil tanks were larger, giving her a range of 5,000 miles at 14.5 knots, to compare with the Primauguet class, 3,000 nautical miles at 15 knots. The funnels were also thinner and placed far apart, due to the large section occupied by cadets amidships. The “Jeanne” powerplant performed well, as she reached on a 3 hours trials 27.03 knots at 39,000 hp.


It was similar to the Primauguet class and rather divers in order to give cadets an idea of the diversity of weaponry used on French cruisers, ans enough to make the Jeanne d’Arc a fully capable wartime cruiser. It comprised chiefly eight 155 mm (6.1 in)/50 guns in four twin turrets, 2 forward, B in superfiring position, and two aft, with X in superfiring position, a standard for Cruiser, light and heavy of the time, adopted for the Primauguet, Duquesne and Tourville classes. The 155 mm caliber was the largest authorized by the Washington treaty for light cruisers. British, German, US standards were rather 152 mm, still generally called “6-inches” for simplification in naval nomenclatures and literature of the time.
These guns were created for the Primauguet class, called modèle 1920. It had a Welin interrupted-screw breech, and can elevaten from -5° to +40° and a rate of fire of 3-5 rpm. HE and AP shelled exited the barrel (life expectancy circa 700 rds) at 850 meters per second (2,800 ft/s), at a maximum firing range of 26,100 meters (28,500 yd).

The armament was completed by four 75 mm (3 in) Canon de 75 mm modèle 1924 anti-aircraft guns. All in single mounts, they were located on the upper deck, two admiships between the funnels and two abaft the bridge. In addition, eleven 37 mm (1.5 in) Canon de 37 mm modèle 1925 anti-aircraft (AA) guns were installed in single and twin mounts, and twelve 13.2 mm (0.52 in) AA machine guns, also in single and twin mounts, plus two 550 mm (21.6 in) torpedo tubes on the sides, amidships, located abaft the fore funnel on the lower gangway. The choice of a single tube was self-evident giving the central section’s width. Traverse was limited. There was no room to carry mines, however ASW racks and grenade launchers could be fitted to the stern, although non was ever installed. For reconnaissance and spotting, the Jeanne d’Arc carried two 2 CAMS biplanes, installed on the aft section of the superstructure, behind the second funnel and served by a boom mated on the aft mast. There was a catapult as shown on the blueprints, apparently never installed. Other service boats were located behind the bridge, and a crane was installed between funnels to serve them.


Designed at a time of “tin-clad” cruisers and being light was not going to help it. The Jeanne d’Arc was very lightly protected, even accorded to the standards of the time. It was “close to inexistent” as stated by one involved in the design process. By default of more precisions, we only know that the main belt was 20 mm thick, the turrets: 25 mm faces, and that the Conning Tower (CT) had 25 mm walls (0.8-1 inch). This indeed made her vulnerable pretty much to any weaponry at sea but heavy machine guns. This engineer’s idea was probably to avoid problems with the metacentric height, and he just followed the specifications.


Displacement: 6,500 t. standard -8,950 t. Full Load
Dimensions: 170 m long, 17.70 m wide, 6.4 m draft.
Propulsion: 2 shafts Parsons turbines, 4 penhöet boilers, 32,500 hp. Top speed 24 knots.
Armour: 20 mm belt, 15 mm anti-torpedo bulkheads, 20 bridge, 26 mm turrets, 25 mm CT.
Armament: 8 x 155 mm M1920 (6 in), 4×75 mm (3 in) AA, 4x37mm AA (2×2), 12×13.2 mm AA (6×2), 4×3 TLT 550 mm (21 in), 2 Cams seaplane
Crew: 500 + 176 cadets

The “Jeanne” in action

The cruiser had a rather long career, spanning to the 1960s and her replacement by a new helicopter cruiser. The school cruiser had a strange launch. Sponsored by the wife of the then Minister of the Navy, Georges Leygues, she did not wait for the release to slip into the water on her own a few minutes before the scheduled time, and incident due to the rupture of the retaining slipper, but this all went well.
She entered service on October 6, 1931. Four days later, she sets sail for her first round-the-world cruise, carrying a fresh promotion of 156 officer cadets on board. This first cruise was aimed primarily at Latin America but back in the Mediterranean she would complete the journey by visiting major ports of the Mediterranean, after the West Indies, Dakar in West Africa and Casablanca on the Moroccan coast. This first 1931-32 cruise totalled 25,000 miles in 267 days with forty stopovers, under command of captain René Marquis.

Interwar cruises

The cruiser would carry eight campaigns for aspirants, giving all satisfaction to her captains and the general staff. The 1932-33 campaign bring her on a globe circumnavigation, passing through the Panama canal, visiting US West coast cities, stopping at Honolulu and then visiting ports in Asia, from Osaka to Bali and Columbo, and back to Toulon via Suez. The 1933-34 cruise started via Suez, to South Africa, and the South and North American east coast and west indies, then back to Brest. The 1934-35 includes the Mediterranean and the Atlantic, a round trip to the west indies and American west coast via Panama and back. The 1935-36 cruise was via Suez the Indian Ocean, south Africa, then cape horn and west coast of south America. The 1936-37 one included northern Europe, and the American east coast on both continents, plus west africa. The 1937-38 one was another circumnavigation via the pacific and asia and the 1938-39 campaign mostly included south america.
During this time, the cruiser acted as a “floating embassy” as well, to show the flag and reinforce French influence overseas. “Midships” learned all this time about navigation, weaponry and activities to exercise in their future career as an officer.

World War Two

When the war broke out, Jeanne d’Arc was back at Brest on the Atlantic coast since March 1939. She was assigned to the West Atlantic Division, taking part in the blockade of German cargos in neutral ports and patrolling to spot raiders and merchant cruiser, through her planes. This was still a risky business as if caught by even one of the well-armed German armed merchant raiders she would have stood little chance or surviving a duel. She was sent in drydock for maintenance one year later in 1940. Like the rest of the French fleet, events were not tender for the country once its surrendered.
Out of drydock, the French cruiser was delivered in June a very special cargo, and sensitive mission: Carrying French gold reserves to Halifax in Canada after the armistice. She teamed with the cruiser Emile Bertin and aircraft carrier Béarn in order to protect the whole content of the Bank of France. She stopped at Halifax, and then headed south to the French west indies.

The Squadron arrived at the island of Martinique, and according to international law and neutrality treaty, the cruiser was to be disarmed and remaining anchored at Fort de France from June 25, 1940. The disarmament was a simple operation, consisting at removing the breech block mechanism. A similar fate awaited ships in Alexandria. In any case, the US Fleet was not far away, and after December 1941, stationed ships to watch for any breech of neutrality. The squadron indeed could have rallied the fleet at Toulon. During this period it is noted she received in January 1942 six 12.7mm/90 heavy machine guns, Browning M2HB.

On June 3, 1943, discussions between De Gaulle and the allies led to an agreement. Like the squadron at Alexandria and ships detained in UK since Operation Catapult, the Martinique squadron was allowed to joined the Allied forces. Jeanne d’Arc was rearmed and prepared, and following month, she left Fort-de-France and headed for Puerto Rico. She was not by then taken in hands in US arsenals for modernization, which was refused. She sailed to the Mediterranean, stopping at Casablanca, and arrived in Algiers on September 17, 1943.

There, negotiations between the French Naval staff and Navy led to the permission of modernizing the AA of the ship by using storage and equipments from the repair ship and floating workshop USS Vulcan.
She notably received six Bofors and twenty Oerlikon, the modern anti-aircraft artillery she deserved, while older 75 mm and 13.2 mm partly dismounted. Her armament now comprised two single 37mm/50, four twin 13.2/76, six single 12.7mm/90 M2HB, siw 40mm/56 Mk 1/2 in single mounts and twenty 20mm/70 Mk 4 also in single mounts plus a surface search radar and an ASDIC sonar. On the 19, she set sail for Ajaccio. In October and December 1943 she took part in the reconquest of Corsica from axis troops. She stayed there until the summer of 1944, events for these months are foggy, but the crew trained and prepared for the landings in Provence. In May her AA armament was reinforced: She received two additional 20 mm/70 Oerlikon guns and four additional single 40 mm/56 Mk 1/2 Bofors.
Before August 1944, she received and armoured belt in Malta and was kept there for reinforcements. Rear Admiral Lemonnier appointed her to ensure the transport to Normandy of a part of the Provisional Government which would later rally Paris. The cruiser headed for this purpose on August 28 from Algiers to Cherbourg.

She was back in North Africa in September 24, she remained unavailable until her incorporation into Task Force 86, later renamed Flank Force, from October 25, 1944 until March 1945, carrying out several artillery rounds on various objectives in Italy. She went back to Toulon and drydock for maintenance and stayed mostly inactive until the war ended. She will be cited to the order of the Nation for the services rendered during the war.

Postwar service

After the war, she resumed her training function, making twenty-seven cruises. She left Toulon on September 29, 1946, for her first cold war campaign, between the Mediterranean, West Africa, West Indies and Central America. In the 1952-1953 training cruise, the naval staff planned to include more cadets but this reached the capabilities of the cruiser. A specific unit offering this capacity was searched for, and found, the Colonial sloop La Grandière, an escort vessels which carried French support during the Korean war in 1950, the first French U.N. operation. She was deployed ther with the Jeanne d’Arc. By June 1952, La Grandière was assigned to the Second Maritime Region, and versed to the School of Application of the cruiser Jeanne d’Arc. The cruiser and aviso were back to Brest on April 2, 1953 after making 28,500 nautical miles in 120 days at sea. In 1956, both schoolships formed a group under command of the captain of the Joan of Arc, from July. In addition to general maritime training, La Grandière formed aspirants to anti-submarine warfare, the cruiser could not due to her equipment, and aeronautics.
In 1953, the movie “Le Grand Pavois” by Jack Pinoteau was shot on her decks.
The 1958-59 the cruise was last with the old colonial ship La Grandière. A brand new escort, the Commandant Rivière was chosen to replace her for campaign of 1960-61, and later Victor Schoelcher for the campaigns of 1961-62, 1962-63, 1963-64. But it was obvious at that point that a larger, dedicated ship was needed and in fact, studies had been started to build a new cruiser since 1955.

In November 1962, the cruiser started a new cruise with Victor Schœlcher. This tour was a circumnavigation covering the Atlantic, Panama, the Pacific, the Indian Ocean, Suez Canal, Mediterranean and back to Brest. On December 8,however, the ship suffered the loss of her starboard shaft line. She was found stranded in the middle of the Pacific. At least a solution was found to have her able to sail to Tokyo for repairs, when she encountered an especially rare phenomenon: A triple rogue wave. The even was later called the “Three Glorious”.

It happened on February 4, shortly before 10 a.m. between Tokyo and Pearl Harbor. The walls of water were spotted, spaced by a hundred meters apart. They hit the ship, tilting her to 35°, but she did not capsize thanks to the manoeuvers, especially when the new two waves came rapidly, topping 15 to 20 m high. Victor Schœlcher at that time was just 2 nautical miles behind, and witnessed this without feeling anything, as they bulged where the cruiser was. The event lasted for about thirty seconds, and shook the crew, recalled ironically by the second in command that to avoid these freak events at sea the only solution was for them to not leave the mainland. Actually, cadets generally lived half the year on solid ground, at the Marine Academy in Britanny, the “Ecole Navale” at Lanvéoc-Poulmic.

In 1964, the old school cruiser was definitively worn out and maintenance now too costly, whereas an new cruiser scheduled to replace her entered service already. Her name was La Résolue, and she was an helicopter carrier. Of course when the first of the name was stricken, the new cruiser was renamed, to ensure a new “Joan of Arc” would ream the waves for 50 years, training the future French Navy elites. About 4,000 tonnes more, larger and longer, she was large enough to accomodate all the cadets needed and served until 2010, placed in reserve before she can be scrapped from then. The French Navy nowadays shrinked in size, and with new modular ships, renounced to built a new dedicated vessel. Instead, a roomy Mistral class BPC is used for the task, tasked for six months of training at sea (the rest is done on land) called “mission Jeanne d’Arc”. Nobody knows if this name will be used again in the French Navy.

Illustration profile of the Jeanne d’Arc in 1940

Src/Read Me
Gardiner, Robert (toim.): Conway’s All the World’s Fighting Ships 1922–1946.
Whitley, M. J.: Cruisers of World War Two – an international encyclopedia.
Campbell J.. Naval weapons of World War Two. Annapolis, Maryland, 1985.
Draper, Alfred (1979). Operation Fish The Race to Save Europe’s Wealth 1939-1945.
Jordan, John & Moulin, Jean (2013). French Cruisers 1922–1956. Barnsley, UK: Seaforth Publishing.
Osborne E. W.. Cruisers and Battle cruisers. An illustrated history of their impact.
Jordan J., Moulin J.. French Cruisers. 1922 – 1956. London, 2013.
Smith P. C., Dominy J. R.. Cruisers in Action 1939 – 1945. London, 1981
Whitley M. J.. Cruisers of World War Two. An international encyclopedia. London, 1995

The model’s corner:
Plans Of the ship, original blueprints
The 1902 and 1960 cruisers are covered, but not the 1930 model. Additional photos
The original Marine Nationale official model, 70 cm is sold on auctions

Note about pictures:
There are only a few creative commons, opens source material about this ship, which are all exposed there. Namely those taken out of France, like here, in Canada, or possible personal possessions not yet released under CC licence. However there at least a dozen official photos which are all copyrighted property of Marius bar Editions and collection, the first, second and third cruiser of the name.

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