Operation Catapult was launched on July 3, 1940. Recalled to service at the outbreak of war in September 1939, he helped Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay organize Operation Dynamo, the epic evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force from Dunkirk in June 1940. Dead Battleships: In 1940, the British Preemptively Sunk the French Navy nationalinterest.org - Warfare History Network Most of the remaining French Fleet had been scuttled at Toulon on November 27, 1942, following the Allied invasion of North Africa, to prevent its … “There was in fact no security for us at all,” he said. So, Force H was formed at Gibraltar on June 28, 1940. She was subsequently attacked and sunk by the British Royal Navy in Algeria who feared her - and the French Fleet - falling into German hands. However, there were scuffles during the transfer of the destroyer Mistral and the 3,250-ton submarine Surcouf. The crew opened the holes caused by British torpedo attacks to sink the ship, and demolition charges destroyed her vital machinery. Why the French Fleet Was Sunk in 1940 Feb. 18, 2003 1:02 am ET In regard to David J. Ritchie's Feb. 11 Letter to the Editor " France's Courage in World War I ": Thirty-nine small ships were captured, most of them sabotaged and disarmed. While the German Naval War Staff were disappointed, Adolf Hitler considered that the elimination of the French fleet sealed the success of Case Anton.[2]. This was true.”, Churchill noted, “The genius of France enabled her people to comprehend the whole significance of Oran, and in her agony to draw new hope and strength from this additional bitter pang.”, He was touched by a story about the aftermath of the July 3 destruction of the French squadron. In the annals of military history magazines, this is one of those moments. When the smoke cleared, Bretagne was no longer visible to the Swordfish crew, but they observed a fire aft on the seaplane carrier. But the Royal Navy’s actions had made clear to the world—and in particular to America, which recognized the Vichy regime—that Britain, on the apparent brink of defeat, was determined to win the battle of the Mediterranean and secure eventual victory. Onslow, a small force comprising the 10,850-ton carrier HMS Hermes and the cruisers Australia and Dorsetshire stood off the harbor. Here was this Britain which so many had counted down and out, which strangers had supposed to be quivering on the brink of surrender to the mighty power arrayed against her, striking ruthlessly at her dearest friends of yesterday and securing for a while to herself the undisputed command of the sea. The Germans eventually seized three disarmed destroyers, four badly damaged submarines, three civilian ships, and the remains of two battleships of no value, the semi-dreadnought Condorcet and the disarmed former Jean Bart, renamed Océan in 1936. One auxiliary surface ship, Leonor Fresnel, managed to escape and reach Algiers. La Marine Française (French Navy) is still called “La Royale” to this day (“Royal” (navy)) according to its pre-revolutionary traditions. 413 pp, photos, maps, bound in blue cloth. Captain Holland was met at 8:10 am by Gensoul’s barge bearing his flag lieutenant, “an old friend of mine,” the British officer reported. The charges failed to detonate, but three hours later six Swordfish from the British flattop pounced on the battleship. Britain’s fleet was scattered throughout the world, and its supply ships were being sunk by German U-boats. The attack came as a complete surprise to the Vichy officers, but Dornon transmitted the order to scuttle the fleet to Admiral Laborde aboard the flagship Strasbourg. Britain’s fleet was scattered throughout the world, and its supply ships were being sunk by German U-boats. It was learned later that the badly damaged Provence also had beached herself. The squadron comprised the 22,000-ton carrier HMS Ark Royal; the 42,100-ton battlecruiser Hood; two battleships, 29,150-ton Resolution and 30,600-ton Valiant; the cruisers, 5,220-ton Arethusa and 7,550-ton Enterprise; and the screening destroyers Faulknor, Foxhound, Fearless, Forester, Foresight, Escort, Keppel, Active, Wrestler, Vidette, and Vortigern. Officers of the battleship Provence and the seaplane carrier Commandant Teste managed to delay German officers with small talk until their ships were completely sunk. “Many hundreds volunteered to join us. Four combat groups including two armoured groups and a motorcycle battalion from 2nd SS Panzer Division Das Reich were entrusted with the mission. In private, Auphan tried to persuade Laborde to set sail and join with the Allies; Laborde refused to obey anything short of a formal order of the government and Auphan resigned shortly after. At 8:55 pm, they approached the French battleship at a height of 20 feet and loosed their torpedoes into a calm sea. The French fleet was in danger o falling to the Germans. After France signed an armistice in 1940, Darlan served under the Germans and became a deputy leader. An alternative view is that Darlan was an opportunist and switched sides for self-advancement, thus becoming titular controller of French North Africa. Several other vessels had been driven aground and required salvage. The objective of Operation Lila was to capture the units of the French fleet at Toulon intact, and was carried out by the 7th Panzer Division, augmented with units from other divisions. Article from militaryhistory.about.com. German troops forcibly boarded the cruiser Dupleix, put her crew out of the way, and closed her open sea valves. Set sail! Between the 11th and the 26th, numerous arrests and expulsions took place. Prime Minister Winston Churchill and his government dreaded the prospect of the French Fleet falling into enemy hands while Britain stood alone against the Axis powers. By June 10, 1940, the French Army was shattered, but the French Navy was amazingly intact. Under the armistice, French ships were supposed to have their fuel tanks almost empty; in fact, through falsification of reports and tampering with gauges, the crews had managed to store enough fuel to reach North Africa. Though sunk, On July 7, the British turned their attention to the French naval base at distant Dakar in West Africa, where the battleship Richelieu, cruiser Primauguet, a sloop, and destroyers were anchored. The terms of the infamous armistice at Compiegne stipulated that the French Fleet would not be used by Germany or Italy, but would be immobilized under their control. Somerville, who had decided against a night action, reported later that his Operation Catapult instructions “did not make sufficient provision for dealing with any French ships that might attempt to leave harbor.”. Some of the submarines set sail to scuttle in deeper water. Casabianca left her moorings, snuck out of the harbour and dove at 5:40 a.m., escaping to Algiers. But the British were not aware of the full text of Darlan’s directive and feared that France’s battleships, cruisers, destroyers, and submarines might soon be deployed against them. “A funeral service was arranged to which all their neighbors sought to go. “Those ministers who, the week before, had given their whole hearts to France and offered common nationhood, resolved that all necessary measures should be taken,” said the prime minister. Then the dreaded hour of reckoning came as the battlecruiser Hood steamed at 17 knots ahead of Admiral Somerville’s line. Four combat groups including two armoured groups and a motorcycle battalion from 2nd SS Panzer Division Das Reich were entrusted with the mission. Meanwhile, the captain of the cruiser Marseillaise ordered his ship capsized and demolition charges set. It changed the world more than any other single event in history. It may be that General Dwight Eisenhower, with the support of President of the United States Franklin D. Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, made a secret agreement with Admiral François Darlan, commander of Vichy Naval forces, that he would be given control of French North Africa if he defected to the Allies. The transfer was amicable, and the French crews came ashore willingly, Churchill reported. The cease-fire was welcomed in the British capital ships, where temperatures in the magazines and shell rooms had risen to more than 90 degrees, adversely affecting the crews. It marked the end of Vichy France as a credible naval power. Anton was judged a failure, with the capture of 39 small ships, while the French destroyed 77 vessels; several submarines escaped to French North Africa. Code-named Operation Catapult, its mission was a painful and distasteful one—to neutralize or destroy the French Fleet in the Mediterranean. Anchored at the Mers el Kebir base in Algeria were the modern 26,500-ton battleships Dunkerque and Strasbourg; two aging battleships, the 22,189-ton Bretagne and Provence; the 10,000-ton seaplane carrier Commandante Teste; and six large destroyers. On July 3, 1940, Force H was dispatched to Mers el Kebir. Force H was then the main Allied task force in the Atlantic and western Mediterranean. Prime Minister Winston Churchill and his government dreaded the prospect of the French Fleet falling into enemy hands while Britain stood alone against the Axis powers. The Vichy Secretary of the Navy, Admiral François Darlan, defected to the Allies, who were gaining increasing support from servicemen and civilians. His target was Portsmouth, Henry’s naval base. She sank, blocking the drydock. He was considered a traitor and was assassinated in 1942. Topics Tacoma Narrows Bridge, Galloping Gertie, Operation Catapult, Newsreel, suspension bridge, French Fleet, Oran, Royal Navy, Battleship Richelieu, Vichy, WWII, World War II, Tacoma, Washington. Following Italy's entry into the Second World War on 10 June 1940, and France's surrender on 22 June, British Admiral Sir Andrew Cunningham's Mediterranean Fleet at Alexandria in Egypt was outnumbered and surrounded by a largely hostile shore. Three days later, early on July 6, 1940, Swordfish planes from Ark Royal flew back to Mers el Kebir to finish off the grounded Dunkerque. On the afternoon of July 4, 1940, as his country braced for a possible invasion and imminent major aerial assaults, Prime Minister Churchill spoke for an hour in the House of Commons on “the measures we had taken” to remove “the French Navy from major German calculations.” The House was silent during his recital, but at the end he received a standing ovation. “At all costs, at all risks, in one way or another, we must make sure that the navy of France did not fall into wrong hands, and then perhaps bring us and others to ruin.”, The solution devised by Churchill and the Admiralty was the hasty creation of a powerful squadron to fill the vacuum left by the French Navy in the Mediterranean, and, if necessary, destroy it. The British battlewagon increased speed to 25 knots in an attempt to challenge Strasbourg, but then veered away to avoid a torpedo attack by the French destroyers. Vénus was scuttled in the entrance of Toulon harbour. Her eight 15-inch guns thundered at a range of 17,500 yards, closely followed by those of Resolution and Valiant. © The French destroyed 77 vessels, including 3 battleships, 7 cruisers, 15 destroyers, 13 torpedo boats, 6 sloops, 12 submarines, 9 patrol boats, 19 auxiliary ships, 1 school ship, 28 tugs, and 4 cranes. The Admiralty had drafted four options for the French admiral: (1) to put to sea and join forces with the Royal Navy; (2) to sail with reduced crews to British ports, where the vessels would be impounded and their complements repatriated; (3) to sail with reduced crews to the base at Dakar, where the ships would be immobilized; or (4) to scuttle his ships within six hours. Dead Battleships: In 1940, the British Preemptively Sunk the French Navy. The crews of Strasbourg, Colbert, Foch and Kersaint, notably, started chanting "Long live De Gaulle! Meanwhile, a direct hit blew off the stern of the large destroyer Mogador, killing 42 men. The British had largely eliminated the French Navy as a strategic factor in the war, and it was, said Prime Minister Churchill, “the turning point in our fortunes.” Inevitably, the clash at Mers el Kebir created lingering tension and bitterness between the two nations, even as Free French soldiers, sailors, and airmen were rallying to General Charles de Gaulle and the Allied cause. 810 Squadron aboard HMS Ark Royal reported from an altitude of 7,000 feet that Hood’s first salvo had exploded in a line across Commandante Teste, Bretagne, and the quarterdeck of Strasbourg. In May 1545, the French assembled a large fleet in the estuary of the River Seine and on 16th July the huge French force under the command of Admiral Claude d’Annebault set sail for England. These Are The Worst Admirals Of All-Time Who Sunk To Rock Bottom ... Francois Darlan is considered to be one of the most controversial Admiral during World War II as he controlled the fleet and the French Navy in 1939. After the remnants of the French Army were required by the Germans to disband, French sailors had to man coast defence artillery and anti-aircraft guns themselves, which made it impossible swiftly to gather the crews and have the ships quickly under way. The prime minister noted that the German government had “solemnly declared” that it had no intention of using the French vessels. Grand Admiral Erich Raeder, commander of the Kriegsmarine, believed that French Navy officers would fulfil their armistice duty not to let the ships fall in the hands of a foreign nation. He played for time; British decrypts of French cipher traffic that afternoon revealed that Gensoul could expect support from other naval units and was to “answer fire with fire.” Passing the intercept on to Admiral Somerville, the Admiralty added, “Settle this matter quickly, or you may have reinforcements to deal with.”. The War Cabinet did not hesitate, Churchill reported later. Holland, a former naval attaché in Paris, had gone ahead aboard the destroyer HMS Foxhound to rendezvous with Admiral Gensoul’s flag lieutenant outside the Mers el Kebir defensive boom. Operation Lila was a failure. ), XHTML: You can use these tags:
. The fate of the fleet, in particular, was seen to be doubtful. The initial commander of Force H, Admiral Somerville, was knighted in 1941 and appointed commander in chief of the Royal Navy’s hastily created Eastern Fleet in the Indian Ocean in February 1942. At 4:15 pm, Holland was piped over the side of the French flagship and ushered into Gensoul’s cabin. [citation needed]. French forces were commanded by Admiral Jean de Laborde (chief of the "High Seas Fleet", composed of the 38 most modern and powerful warships) and Admiral André Marquis (préfet maritime, commanding a total of 135 ships, either in armistice custody or under repair). It was Greek tragedy. As Strasbourg settled on the bottom, her captain ordered the ignition of the demolition charges, which destroyed the armament and vital machinery, as well as igniting her fuel stores. Around 5:15 pm, as Gensoul was deciding to reject the British ultimatum, he received a signal from Admiral Somerville stating that Force H would sink his ships unless he accepted the terms by 5:30. Mounting four 340 mm (13 in) guns, in 1944 this fortification duelled with numerous Allied battleships for over a week before being silenced during Operation Dragoon. The settlement was that Toulon should remain a "stronghold" under Vichy control and defended against the Allies and "French enemies of the government of the Marechal". Its decrypt of the French Admiralty signal to Gensoul indicated that he believed he had only two options: to join the British squadron or scuttle his ships. A senior German officer declared at the time that this act had wiped away the "stain of surrender" from the German fleet. The Germans began Operation Anton but the French naval crews used deceit to delay them until the scuttling was complete. The Operation was initiated by the Germans on 19 November 1942, to be completed by 27 November. Sovereign Media, 6731 Whittier Avenue, Suite C-100 McLean, VA 22101, From Tolkien to Hitler: Famous Soldiers of World War I, The Battle for Omaha Beach: The Men of the D-Day Invasion, Napoleon Bonaparte’s Last Campaign: The Battle of Waterloo, Operation Barbarossa: World War II’s Eastern Front, The Battle of Gettysburg: Turning Point of the American Civil War, Mers el Kebir: Why the Royal Navy Sunk the French Fleet in WWII, What Made the German Luger the Most Famous Pistol in Modern Warfare, The Essential Role of Navy PBR Boats in the Vietnam War, The Real Story of General George Patton, Jr’s Death & Final Days, Donald Malarkey: The Story of Easy Company’s Brother from Astoria, Colonel William O. Darby and the U.S. Army Rangers, Operation Sea Lion: Hitler’s Cancelled Invasion of Britain. The French fleet was in danger o falling to the Germans. Scuttle! In the words of French survivors, some of whom still regard Churchill as a war criminal, and one of the British sailors who opened fire on his former allies, this is the forgotten story of Churchill’s deadliest decision – to sink the French Fleet. On 8 November 1942 the Allies invaded French North Africa in Operation Torch. There, Admiral Somerville was to open negotiations with Admiral Marcel Gensoul, commander of the French squadron. About this Item: United States Naval Institute, Annapolis, MD, USA, 1959. French losses totaled a light cruiser, four destroyers, and five submarines. 2021 - 2020 Also, the Vichy French naval minister, Admiral Jean Darlan, though no friend of the British, instructed his captains that under no circumstances were their ships to be made available to the Germans. Dunkerque appeared to have hit a mine, with the loss of 210 dead, and grounded her bows on the shore opposite her berth. The cruiser Jean de Vienne, in drydock, was boarded by German troops, who disarmed the demolition charges, but the open sea valves flooded the ship. In 1940, the French fleet was the fourth largest naval force in the world after Britain, the United States and Japan. By this time, more than 1,250 seamen lay dead, 977 of them in Bretagne. It was a situation that Churchill and his ministers could not permit, so it was decided that the French Fleet must be put permanently out of Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler’s reach. The tension mounted as the situation came to a head. His replacement, Admiral Gabriel Auphan, guessed correctly that the Germans were aiming to seize the large fleet at Toulon, and ordered them to be scuttled. The Swordfish crews believed that they might have scored two or three hits, but Strasbourg was able to steam away in the darkness and eventually reach haven at the big Toulon naval base in southeastern France. Churchill reminded the French of their treaty – that neither could surrender without the other’s agreement. A decorated veteran of the ill-fated Dardanelles campaign in World War I, Somerville had been invalided out of the Royal Navy with tuberculosis in 1938. The second salvo, according to the Swordish crew, “hit the Bretagne, which blew up immediately and enveloped the harbor in smoke.” Hit in her after magazines, the French battleship died at 5:58 pm, with a thick mushroom cloud of smoke rising high behind the breakwater. Action stations was sounded, but there was little bustle among the crews, Holland noted. Because of haze and smoke billowing from the French ships raising steam, the targets of Force H were obscured. The French fleet had been in the XVIIth and even more at the time of the seven years war (under louis XV) arguably on par with the Royal Navy at least in terms of numbers. In the fighting at the Naval Battle of Casablanca, Hewitt lost four troopships and around 150 landing craft, as well as sustained damage to several ships in his fleet. Its fighting strength fluctuated, but the ships most associated with Force H were Ark Royal, the 32,000-ton battlecruiser Renown, and the 9,100-ton heavy cruiser Sheffield. (Read even more about these and other events that shaped the 20th century inside the pages of WWII History magazine. When naval guns started engaging the German tanks, the Germans attempted to negotiate; a German officer demanded that Laborde surrender his ship, to which the admiral answered that the ship was already sunk. But there’s NEVER been anything like THIS before. The odds were already heavy against the island nation’s main line of defense, the Royal Navy. Officially, both zones were administered by the Vichy regime. The main guns from the scuttled battleship Provence were later removed and used in a former French turret battery at Saint-Mandrier-sur-Mer, guarding the approaches to Toulon, to replace original fortress guns, sabotaged by their French crews. Witness the evolving disaster that is Australia’s SEA 1000 Future Submarine program, won by France’s DCNS, now Naval Group, in 2016. The Allies were concerned that the fleet, which included some of the most advanced warships of the time, might fall into enemy hands and so the British destroyed the French Fleet at Mers-el-Kebir on 3 July 1940 and at the B… Some French submarines took to the deep sea to the shuttle while some vessels escaped to North Africa. From 11 November 1942 negotiations took place between Germany and Vichy France. Marshal Henri Philippe Pétain’s Vichy government broke off diplomatic relations with Britain and moved closer to active collaboration with Germany, and French planes dropped a few retaliatory bombs on Gibraltar. At 9:10 am on July 3, the British squadron arrived off Oran and Mers el Kebir. There have been countless thousands of published works devoted to all or of it. On 11 November, as German and Italian troops encircled Toulon, the Vichy Secretary of the Navy, Admiral Gabriel Auphan, ordered Admirals Jean de Laborde and André Marquis to: Initial orders were to scuttle the ships by capsizing them but engineers, thinking of recovering the ships after the war, managed to have the orders changed to sinking on an even keel. The ships included the battleships Courbet and Paris, the supply ship Pollux, destroyers, minelayers, minesweepers, submarines, submarine chasers, motor torpedo boats, tugs, trawlers, sloops, and harbor craft. “In a village near Toulon dwelt two peasant families, each of whom had lost their sailor son by British fire at Oran,” related the prime minister. The Allied invasion of North Africa had provoked the Germans into invading the zone libre, neutral according to the Armistice of 1940. But Force H had not finished with Strasbourg, and six lumbering Swordfish torpedo bombers from Ark Royal went after her. Tacoma Narrows Bridge Collapse & French Fleet Sunk at Oran Newsreel 70680. On July 18, all French merchant ships in the Suez Canal were seized. It was made plain that the British War Cabinet feared nothing and would stop at nothing. Crews were initially hostile to the Allied invasion but out of the general anti-German sentiment and as rumours about Darlan's defection circulated, this stance evolved towards backing De Gaulle. It changed the world more than any other single event in history. He was promoted to admiral of the fleet in May 1945 and died in 1949. 1st American Edition. At 5:55 pm, HMS Foxhound got clear after laying magnetic mines across the entrance to Mers el Kebir harbor. Jan 18, 2016 - HMS Hood was a noted battlescruiser that entered service with the Royal Navy in 1920 and was later sunk by the German battleship Bismarck in May 1941. In the nearby port of Oran were seven destroyers and four submarines. On the French side, as a token of goodwill towards the Germans, coastal defences were strengthened to safeguard Toulon from an attack from the sea by the Allies. The German main force got lost in the arsenal and was behind schedule by one hour; when they reached the main gates of the base, the sentries pretended to need paperwork so as to delay the Germans without engaging in an open fight. However, the demolition charges were detonated, and the ship burned for twenty days. Despite the morning haze, “the upper works of the French heavy ships were clearly visible over the breakwater,” reported Somerville, “although only the actual tops and masts could be seen from a position northwest of the fort (guarding the entrance to the base).” His French-speaking emissary, Captain C.S. It was a tense, impotent time, particularly for the Force H commander. In December 1916 the French played the major role in resolving the confused Greek situation. The scuttling of the French fleet at Toulon was orchestrated by Vichy France on 27 November 1942 to prevent Nazi German forces from taking it over. Raeder was led to believe that the German aim was to use anti-British sentiment amongst the French sailors to have them side with the Italians, while Hitler was really preparing to seize the fleet. To prevent the French naval units scuttling themselves, Marinedetachment Gumprich was assigned to one of the groups.[2]. Another 150 French sailors were killed. The supply ship’s cargo of depth charges exploded, ripping open the side of Dunkerque. All members, Churchill reported, “joined in solemn stentorian accord.”, He declared later, “The elimination of the French Navy as an important factor almost at a single stroke by violent action produced a profound impression in every country. French crews evacuated, and scuttling parties started preparing demolition charges and opening sea valves on the ships. Scuttle!" At Alexandria, meanwhile, Admiral Cunningham was able to persuade the French squadron there to disarm, avoiding more bloodshed. Somerville then headed the Admiralty mission in Washington. At 4 a.m. the Germans entered Fort Lamalgue and arrested Marquis, but failed to prevent his chief-of-staff, Contre-Admiral Robin, from calling the chief of the arsenal, Contre-Admiral Dornon. Now, as the day grew hotter, Admiral Somerville could only steam back and forth outside Mers el Kebir and Oran, waiting anxiously for Captain Holland to signal back reports on the progress of his negotiations with the French. Both families requested that the Union Jack should lie upon the coffins side by side with the Tricolor, and their wishes were respectfully observed. German forces were to enter Toulon from the east, capturing Fort Lamalgue, headquarters of Admiral Marquis and Mourillon arsenal; and from the west, capturing the main arsenal and the coastal defenses. No Jacket. The bulk of the French fleet was stationed in the Mediterranean at ports in Southern France and at French territories in North Africa. The population of Toulon was in the main favourable to the Allies; the soldiers and officers were hostile to the Italians, seen as "illegitimate victors" and duplicitous, and defiant of the Germans. 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