04 July 2016

History for the day: 3 July 1940: the British sink the French fleet

War History Online has an article about the Brits taking out the French fleet:

The attack on Mers-el-Kébir was a British naval bombardment of the French Navy at its base on the coast of what was then French Algeria on 3 July 1940. The raid resulted in the deaths of thirteen hundred French servicemen, the sinking of a battleship, and the damaging of five other ships.
The combined air-and-sea attack was conducted by the Royal Navy as a direct response to the Franco-German armistice of 22 June 1940, which had seen Britain’s sole continental ally replaced by a collaborationist, pro-Nazi government.
The new Vichy-based government had also inherited the considerable French naval force of the Marine Nationale; of particular significance were the seven battleships of the Bretagne, Dunkerque (photo), and Richelieu classes, which collectively represented the second largest force of capital ships in Europe behind the British.
Since Vichy was seen by the British (with a good deal of justification) as a mere puppet state of the Nazi regime, there was serious fear that they would surrender or loan the ships to the Kriegsmarine. This outcome would largely undo Britain’s tenuous grasp on European naval superiority and confer a major Axis advantage in the ongoing Battle of the Atlantic.
Despite promises from Admiral Darlan, commander of the French Navy, that the fleet would remain under French control and out of the hands of the Germans, Winston Churchill, still reeling from the retreat from Dunkirk and stung by the Vichy French collaboration, determined that the fleet was simply too dangerous to remain intact, French sovereignty notwithstanding.
The British force consisted of the battlecruiser HMS Hood, the battleships HMS Valiant and HMS Resolution, and the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal, plus an escort of cruisers and destroyers. Despite the approximate equivalence of force, the British had several decisive advantages. The French fleet was anchored in a narrow harbor and, despite the unequivocal terms of the ultimatum, did not expect an attack and was not fully prepared for battle.
The main armament of Dunkerque and Strasbourg was grouped on their bows and could not immediately be brought to bear. The British capital ships, with their fifteen-inch guns, also fired a heavier broadside than the French.
Before negotiations were formally terminated, British Fairey Swordfish, escorted by obsolete Blackburn Skuas, were dispatched from the Ark Royal to drop magnetic mines in the route of the French ships to the sea. This force was intercepted by French Curtiss H-75 fighters. One of the Skuas was shot down by French fighters and crashed into the sea, killing its two-man crew, the only British fatalities in the action.
A short while later, on Churchill’s instructions, the British ships opened fire on the French at extreme range at 1754 on 3 July 1940. The French eventually replied, ineffectively. The third salvo from the British force and the first to hit resulted in a magazine explosion aboard Bretagne, which sank, with a thousand of her crew dead, at 1809.
After some thirty salvos, the French ships stopped firing. Meanwhile, the British force altered their course to avoid fire from the French coastal forts. Provence, Dunkerque, and the destroyer Mogador were damaged and run aground by their crews. Strasbourg and four destroyers managed to avoid the mines and escape to the open sea. As they did so they came under attack from a flight of bomb-armed Swordfish from the Ark Royal. The French ships responded with anti-aircraft fire and shot down two of them; their crews were rescued by the destroyer HMS Wrestler.
The bombing attack had little effect and Somerville ordered his forces to begin pursuing at 1843. The light cruisers HMS Arethusa and HMS Enterprise reported engaging a French destroyer. At 2020, Somerville called off the pursuit, feeling that his ships were ill-deployed for a night engagement. After weathering another Swordfish attack at 2055 without damage, the Strasbourg reached the French port of Toulon on 4 July. Subsequently, the British submarine HMS Pandora sank the French gunboat Rigault de Genouilly sailing from Oran.
Since the British believed that damage to Dunkerque and Provence was not very serious, Fairey Swordfish aircraft from the Ark Royal raided Mers-el-Kébir on the morning of 6 July. One torpedo hit the patrol boat Terre-Neuve, moored alongside Dunkerque and carrying a supply of depth charges. Terre-Neuve quickly sank and her charges triggered a large explosion, causing serious damage to Dunkerque.
The last phase of Operation Catapult was an attack on 8 July by aircraft from the carrier HMS Hermes against the French battleship Richelieu at Dakar.
In response to the actions at Mers-el-Kébir and Dakar, the French launched retaliatory bombing raids on Gibraltar, including a half-hearted attack on 14 July, when many bombs landed in the sea, and heavier raids on 24 and 25 September.
At Mers-el-Kébir, thirteen hundred French sailors were killed, and nearly four hundred were wounded. Two British aircrews were also killed. Relations between Britain and France were severely strained for some time, and the Germans enjoyed a propaganda coup.
The attack remains controversial. It created much rancor between Vichy France and Britain, but it also demonstrated to the world, and to the United States in particular, Britain’s commitment to continue the war with Germany at all costs, and without allies if need be.
Rico says the French are still pissed...

No comments:


Casino Deposit Bonus