The bulk of the French fleet was stationed in the Mediterranean at ports in Southern France and at French territories in North Africa. There are moments in military history that forever alter the flow of human events. Firing on the French Fleet at Mers-el-Kebir was horrific but necessary for British security. Witness the evolving disaster that is Australia’s SEA 1000 Future Submarine program, won by France’s DCNS, now Naval Group, in 2016. Some of the major ships were ablaze for several days, and oil polluted the harbour so badly that it would not be possible to swim there for two years. Code-named Operation Catapult, its mission was a painful and distasteful one—to neutralize or destroy the French Fleet in the Mediterranean. Vénus was scuttled in the entrance of Toulon harbour. From here the French Navy evacuated the Serbs first to Corfu, then to Bizerta in northern Tunisia, and once reformed to Salonika in north east Greece. Britain’s fleet was scattered throughout the world, and its supply ships were being sunk by German U-boats. The ship sank and exploded, burning for seven days. Vichy resistance to the British and Free French in North Africa and Syria stiffened. So the three British capital ships had to use the nearby Mers el Kebir lighthouse as an aiming mark and make “a general shoot into the area of the anchorage.” It was difficult for the British crews to observe the results of their volleys, but a Fairey Swordfish torpedo bomber from No. 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. To prevent the French naval units scuttling themselves, Marinedetachment Gumprich was assigned to one of the groups.[2]. Then the dreaded hour of reckoning came as the battlecruiser Hood steamed at 17 knots ahead of Admiral Somerville’s line. 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. She sank, blocking the drydock. “At this point,” recorded Holland, “it was observed that the battleships were furling awnings and raising steam.”. 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. Following the Allied invasion of French North Africa, Adolf Hitler ordered Case Anton, the occupation of Vichy France and reinforced German forces in Africa. by radio, visual signals and dispatch boat. The attack was part of Operation Catapult, a British plan to neutralise or destroy French ships to prevent them falling into German hands in the aftermath of the Allied defeat in the Battle of France. Shortly after the Germans attacked France on May 10, 1940, most of the vessels in French ports sailed to other harbors. A few minutes later the cruiser Colbert exploded. But Force H had not finished with Strasbourg, and six lumbering Swordfish torpedo bombers from Ark Royal went after her. In the annals of military history magazines, this is one of those moments. The armistice stipulated that the French fleet would be largely disarmed and confined to its harbours, under French control. “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 Allied invasion of North Africa had provoked the Germans into invading the zone libre, neutral according to the Armistice of 1940. Its fuel and ammunition were surrendered to the Royal Navy. Operation Catapult was launched on July 3, 1940. Britain’s fleet was scattered throughout the world, and its supply ships were being sunk by German U-boats. Meanwhile, a direct hit blew off the stern of the large destroyer Mogador, killing 42 men. 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. On 15 November, Laborde met with Marshal Philippe Pétain and Auphan. Article from militaryhistory.about.com. “Many hundreds volunteered to join us. An alternative view is that Darlan was an opportunist and switched sides for self-advancement, thus becoming titular controller of French North Africa. The combat groups entered Toulon at 4 a.m. on 27 November and made for the harbour, meeting only weak and sporadic resistance. The navy had not let the ships fall into enemy hands." The crews were first kept aboard their ships, and when they were allowed ashore the Service d'ordre légionnaire monitored all places suspected to be targeted by the Resistance. A senior German officer declared at the time that this act had wiped away the "stain of surrender" from the German fleet. The French fleet was in danger o falling to the Germans. 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. La Marine Française (French Navy) is still called “La Royale” to this day (“Royal” (navy)) according to its pre-revolutionary traditions. Facing both the German and Italian navies, it was stretched thinly in the North Sea, the Atlantic Ocean, the Far East, and the Mediterranean Sea. “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. Laborde was taken aback by the German operation, but transmitted orders to prepare for scuttling, and to fire on any unauthorised personnel approaching the ships. The Vichy regime lost its last token of power, as well as its credibility with the Germans, with the fleet. German troops requested permission to come aboard; when this was denied, they did not attempt to board. At 5:25 a.m., German tanks finally rolled through, and Strasbourg immediately transmitted the order "Scuttle! During the night of July 7-8, a fast launch from Hermes sneaked through the harbor booms, dropped depth charges under the stern of Richelieu, and escaped. France 'Sunk' A U.S. Navy Aircraft Carrier: China Took Notice . 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. General Charles de Gaulle heavily criticised the Vichy admirals for not ordering the fleet to flee to Algiers. Another 150 French sailors were killed. © .. Because of haze and smoke billowing from the French ships raising steam, the targets of Force H were obscured. It was Greek tragedy. Meanwhile, the captain of the cruiser Marseillaise ordered his ship capsized and demolition charges set. When the smoke cleared, Bretagne was no longer visible to the Swordfish crew, but they observed a fire aft on the seaplane carrier. When the armistice between France and Germany was put into force on June 25, 1940, the fate of the powerful French Navy—the fourth largest in the world—was of critical importance to the British. 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 seizure by Germany after the Nazi takeover of Vichy France. 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. At Alexandria, meanwhile, Admiral Cunningham was able to persuade the French squadron there to disarm, avoiding more bloodshed. Financial troubles, however, forced the navy back to port and allowed the English and the Dutch to regain the initiative. The supply ship’s cargo of depth charges exploded, ripping open the side of Dunkerque. 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. 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 … 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 cruiser Jean de Vienne, in drydock, was boarded by German troops, who disarmed the demolition charges, but the open sea valves flooded the ship. The odds were already heavy against the island nation’s main line of defense, the Royal Navy. Explosions from the ship's torpedo stores destroyed the vessel, which burned for ten days. 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… This set the stage for the attack on Mers el Kebir, which was deemed unfortunate but necessary for British security. 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. 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. The German party attempting to board the cruiser Algérie heard the explosions and tried to persuade her crew that scuttling was forbidden under the armistice provisions. 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. Holland told Admiral Somerville that his knowledge of the French character suggested “an initial refusal will often come around to an acquiescence.” Holland said he “felt most strongly that the use of force, even as a last resource, was fatal to our object.” So, he used “every endeavor to bring about a peaceful solution.”, At last, around 3 pm, Admiral Gensoul agreed to meet Holland on board Dunkerque, and this encouraged Somerville to again postpone action. In the nearby port of Oran were seven destroyers and four submarines. 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. 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. At noon, Somerville signaled the Admiralty that he would give Gensoul until 3 pm to reply to the British terms. The French sunk 164 ships in Toulon. 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. The ship's captain, Moreau, ordered the scuttling charges in the main turrets to be lit with shortened fuses and when they exploded and fires took hold, Moreau ordered the final evacuation. It changed the world more than any other single event in history. Two British officers were wounded, a leading seaman killed, an able seaman wounded, and a Frenchman killed. 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. At 6:20 pm, HMS Hood received a signal from the Ark Royal Swordfish crew saying that the battleship Strasbourg and five escorting destroyers had left the Mers el Kebir harbor and were heading along the coast. Somerville was regarded by Admiral Sir Andrew Cunningham, commander of the British Mediterranean Fleet, as “a great sailor and a great leader.”. [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). In 1940, the French fleet was the fourth largest naval force in the world after Britain, the United States and Japan. He took a “friendly” leave-taking from Dunkerque as he made his way back to HMS Foxhound. There have been countless thousands of published works devoted to all or of it. Similar scenes occurred with the destroyers and submarines. Led by Vice Admiral Sir Neville Syfret and then Vice Admiral Algernon U. Willis after Somerville departed early in 1942, the task force took part in the dramatic pursuit and destruction of the 42,000-ton German battleship Bismarck, the invasions of Madagascar, northwest Africa, and southern Europe, and provided the main escort for vital convoys to Malta. 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. Though sunk, With a crushing 10-minute bombardment, Force H had struck a grievous blow against Gensoul’s squadron. “I think they are weakening,” he signaled to the Admiralty. 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. 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. Several submarines ignored orders to scuttle and chose to defect to French North Africa: Casabianca and Marsouin reached Algiers, Glorieux reached Oran. [3], 1942 destruction of the French naval fleet by Vichy France, Scuttling of the Peruvian fleet at El Callao, Scuttling of the German fleet at Scapa Flow, "The other D-Day: The invasion of southern France", Adolf Hitler's Letter to Marshal Petain Announcing Decision to Occupy Toulon, Shipwrecks and maritime incidents in November 1942, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Scuttling_of_the_French_fleet_at_Toulon&oldid=999383091, World War II shipwrecks in the Mediterranean Sea, Articles with French-language sources (fr), Articles with unsourced statements from October 2020, Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License, Oppose, without spilling of blood, the entry of foreign troops in any of the establishments, airbases and buildings of the Navy, Similarly oppose entry of foreign troops aboard ships of the Fleet and find settlements by means of local negotiation, If the former proved impossible, to scuttle the ships, This page was last edited on 9 January 2021, at 22:10. The 15-inch guns of Hood, Resolution, and Valiant were trained fore and aft, and Admiral Somerville hoped that they would not have to be fired that day in the fulfillment of his task. Commanded by Captain R.F.J. 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 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. The Operation was initiated by the Germans on 19 November 1942, to be completed by 27 November. No Jacket. 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. 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. Between the 11th and the 26th, numerous arrests and expulsions took place. 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. Ship, Leonor Fresnel, managed to escape and reach Algiers at all, recorded! 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