French navy taken over by the kreigsmarine

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paul.mercer
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French navy taken over by the kreigsmarine

Post by paul.mercer » Wed Feb 26, 2020 10:35 am

Gentlemen,
what would have been the outcome if the French navy had joined or been taken over by the German navy -would the Royal navy have been able to cope with it?

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Re: French navy taken over by the kreigsmarine

Post by Dave Saxton » Wed Feb 26, 2020 3:58 pm

In my opinion, it would have allowed the Germans to take a more direct hand on the course of the naval situations in the Med. This by extension may have changed the dynamics of the N. African theater. If the Afrika Korps and the Italians succeeds in N. Africa, and the Germans neutralize Malta, then the Axis control access to the Middle East, which gives them a secure source for resources and secures their southern flank. More importantly it changes the strategic situation concerning the USSR and its southern flank. Additionally, how the Western Allies approach to the war changes as well, making Operation Torch a completely different dynamic. How does this affect the perspective of Franco? Churchill was wise to take the unpleasant course he was forced to take regarding the French Fleet.
Entering a night sea battle is an awesome business.The enveloping darkness, hiding the enemy's.. seems a living thing, malignant and oppressive.Swishing water at the bow and stern mark an inexorable advance toward an unknown destiny.

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Re: French navy taken over by the kreigsmarine

Post by wadinga » Wed Feb 26, 2020 8:14 pm

Fellow Contributors,

Whilst I agree pretty much 100% with Dave, there remains the knotty problem of fuel supplies, even assuming the Germans could either man the ships themselves or find enough Fascist-leaning French sailors to do their bidding. Perhaps sticking the relatives of less-enthusiastic potential collaborators as hostages in a concentration camp and shooting a few would work. These were the grim considerations Winston had to ponder. He also had to wonder why Richelieu and Jean Bart were put out of British reach, whilst the new French government came to a settlement with the Nazis.

Whatever your opinions of the Italian Fleet's innate level of aggression, it was always undoubtedly strapped by lack of fuel, and when Adolf cut off the useful supplies from Russia, things got even worse. Hitler has to win the fight for Suez and the Canal and then he can consider Iranian and Iraqi oil to feed his enhanced naval war machine. Since his other early-war allies, the USSR, also fancy at the least Iran, he may have to do a deal, and thus put Barbarossa on ice (joke) until after he has beaten the UK or at least forced peace through enhanced naval blockade.

Hitler was disappointed that Franco was greedy, ungrateful and uncooperative after the German Condor Legion put him in power.
He said of his meeting with Franco in Hendaye that “rather than go through that again, I would prefer to have three or four teeth taken out.”
Spain was in a parlous state after its destructive civil war, invading it and replacing a faulty Fascist puppet with a better one, should have been an attractive and relatively cheap option. With the Atlantic seaboard from the Canaries to North Cape, (Gibraltar having fallen) in his hands, the Battle of the Atlantic has a very different complexion.

Operation Torch? What Operation Torch? American public opinion had let France go under with minimal assistance, despite Reynaud's desperate personal appeals, and Lend-Lease only made sense if the UK had a chance of winning. Roosevelt had no chance of entangling the USA in "European matters" otherwise. Even his toehold in occupying Iceland might look like a bad idea and be withdrawn. With the above scenario, the Axis can strangle the UK into submission, cutting off the resources of the Empire, despite any heroic defence by the RN and dissuading US business from exporting goods to the Atlantic seabed. Admiral King would have been even less enthusiastic about helping with convoy escort "short of war".

Adolf doesn't control the Japanese actions, or the Soviets, and they might get twitchy about all the above coming to pass. The "Day of Infamy" might still occur, especially with the British Empire weakened or dissolved by defeat by Germany. If the Japanese attack, Adolf might take his time about coming to their aid against the USA. What's in it for him? Very different situation to our world on Pearl Harbor day.

Does Stalin still sit in his dacha and wait for the hammer to fall? Does Adolf even hate communism that much? If he gets the energy resources he wants for a thousand-year Reich from the Middle East, he could even consider Glasnost for a bit, and see how he feels later.

Thank goodness all we have to worry about is Coronavirus.

All the best

wadinga
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Re: French navy taken over by the kreigsmarine

Post by hans zurbriggen » Thu Feb 27, 2020 9:10 am

Hello,
I agree with both Mr. Wadinga and Mr. Saxton analysis.
I think Hitler should have forced Franco to war before or instead of attacking USSR. He really did not understand sea power importance. Gibraltar and Malta should have been neutralized immediately. This would have made position of Alexandria and Suez almost untenable.
Oil from Middle East should have been Hitler's primary target.

hans
Last edited by hans zurbriggen on Thu Feb 27, 2020 10:24 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: French navy taken over by the kreigsmarine

Post by paul.mercer » Thu Feb 27, 2020 10:23 am

Gentlemen,
Thanks for your replies.
If Germany had taken over the French fleet itwould have been interesting to see how many of the Vichy French would have manned the ships or whether the Kreigsmarine would have had enough experienced crew to man them on their own.
I also wonder if Germany would have sent their fleet out into the Atlantic either to do direct battle with the RN or just to attack the convoys which would probably be the case so the RN would have to have a heavy (battleship or cruiser) support for every convoy which brings me back to my original question, would the RN been able to cope ?
What i have never quite understood is why the Vichy French decided to side with the Germans, I realise that Franck and England had been traditional enemies for centuries, but they did fight along side each other in several wars, including WW1; was it pride or just traditional hatred for the British?

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Re: French navy taken over by the kreigsmarine

Post by wadinga » Thu Feb 27, 2020 11:45 am

Fellow Contributors,

Hello Paul,

French politics before, during and after The Collapse were extremely complicated, and there was a tussle for power in Vichy administration. See book Reluctant Enemies by Warren Tute. One of the things affecting many countries in the 30s, UK included ,was an absolute terror of Communism and some thought anything, even fascist domination, was preferable. Pierre Laval, amongst others, was enthusiastic for France to join Germany against Britain and fought with Petain for control of Vichy.

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pierre_Laval

Britain attacked Vichy French possessions at Oran, Dakar and Syria in support of general De Gaulle who was considered a traitor and attempted usurper by Vichy. Gensoul's ships at Alexandria were menaced by the guns and torpedoes of the Mediterranean Fleet.

It is endlessly quoted that nice Admiral Darlan kept his promise not to let the Germans have his ships, but the scuttling happened only after Germany was fighting both the USA and USSR and was thus likely to lose. Hitler's lack of understanding of seapower made absorbing the French Navy of little real interest. If he had wanted to, he could have got some or all of their ships by one route or another. He held on to thousands of French POWs as hostages after the Armistice and also demanded forced labour to go to German factories.

Churchill's merciless actions came about because he could not be sure the French would be true to their word. Richelieu and Jean Bart were supposed to sail to Britain to be completed and fight on under the French Flag. Instead they sailed south to be used as bargaining pieces.

Fuel and crews remain the problem. In May 1941 the German army tried to invade Crete in sailing caiques with a couple of Italian destroyers because the Italian Navy would not/could not come out with full fleet support for an invasion. Would similar fuel shortages have hamstrung combined German/Italian/French operations?

All the best

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Re: French navy taken over by the kreigsmarine

Post by paul.mercer » Sat Feb 29, 2020 10:14 am

Thanks Wadinga,
it seems that the French and Admiral Darlan in particular were hedging their bets on who was going to win and it was only after the US joined in that they decided the UK was that best bet!

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Re: French navy taken over by the kreigsmarine

Post by Francis Marliere » Mon Mar 02, 2020 10:00 am

Gents,

I do not have time to elaborate, so I just make two quick comments.

1 - If French Navy is seized by force, neither Germany nor Italy have the trained crewsz to operate French ships. Even if French government decides to join the Axis, it is probable that French armed forces suffer from a lot of desertions.

2 - Not all French ships are usefull. The old battleships (Bretagne and Courbet class) are obsolet and of little use. Dunkerque & Strasbourg battlecruisers are fine ships but are a bit short on firepower and armor for fleet action, and lack range for commerce raiding. Richelieu is a nice design but suffers, at this time, from excessive dispersion. Bearn is not operationnal. Most heavy cruisers lack armor. Destroyers are very good for surface combat but poor for ASW. Most submarines are too big and dive too slowly. Moreover, all ships have weak AAA.
Some ships, such as Algérie or La Galissonnière CL are very fine, but would not change the face of war. In the Mediterranean, the Axis did not lack ships, but oil to operate the existing ships. In the Atlantic, French ships would be a welcome reinforcement but not a game changer. Commerce raiding, which anyway is not an effective strategy, requires a network of supply ships that the Brits destroy in May 41.

Strictly my humble opinion of course.

Best regards,

Francis

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Re: French navy taken over by the kreigsmarine

Post by wadinga » Thu Jun 18, 2020 10:22 am

Fellow Contributors,

80 years ago this morning, the 95% complete battleship Richelieu slipped out of Brest, just leaving ahead of the German invader, and survived unscathed their subsequent bombing attack offshore. However instead of making the short, comparatively safe journey to ally Britain's harbours, she set off on the long journey south to Dakar, a port with no facilities to complete or support her.

Just a few days earlier, Churchill, during one of several risky visits to France, had extracted promises from the French Prime Minister Renaud, and Admiral Darlan that these new battleships and the rest of the French Navy, would not be handed over to the Germans as as part of a peace deal. Attached to a strange offer to combine Britain and France in a union, to somehow allow a French government to continue to resist even after French forces had surrendered, Churchill's telegram of the 16th intemperately demanded the French send their fleet to British ports as part of the deal. Polish and Norwegian ships had come to Britain when their countries were overrun and governments in exile were based in London.

But things changed on the 16th, 80 years ago, when the embattled Renaud lost control of his unruly government, set up in Bordeaux, and the French President, Lebrun called on Marshal Petain, who was determined on an armistice, to form a new government. On the 17th, Winston had a phone call with the leader of the new government, and which apparently, according to Noel Barber's excellent book, rapidly turned into a bad-tempered shouting match. Later, Petain addressed the nation as the new Prime Minister, and announced armistice terms were being sought from the Germans. Hitler's troops and the Luftwaffe were still attacking everywhere and French resistance was collapsing, and the terms would be what the Germans demanded, since Petain was in a weak bargaining position.

On the 19th, 80 years ago, Jean Bart, only 77% complete, left St Nazaire and moved to Casablanca. Also well out of reach of British interference and another signal of submissive intent to the Germans, from a beaten adversary, desperately petitioning for armistice terms. Astonishingly, when they became available, Hitler expressed little or no interest in the French ships. However possibly confusion over translation created a further dangerous signal for Churchill. The Armistice terms talked of German control over the French Fleet. In British and American English the term control implies that the subject's actions correspond with the requirements of the controller. However there is alternate european usage in which control merely means monitoring of the subject. ( Prinz Eugen conducted control of Bismarck's oil slick after Denmark Straits, ie monitored the initially incontrollable leakage.)

With a new political master, and required to be obedient to a new government apparently reflecting the will of the French people, Darlan's promise could be dismissed with a Gallic shrug. Richelieu's presence in Dakar also served to "shore up" obedience to Petain of the local government in the colony. An excellent description of a brief sortie is included in www.uboat.net/allies/warships/ship/5971.html. Captain Martin of the cruiser Dorsetshire (the one who torpedoed Bismarck) was instructed in a typical Winstonian silliness to "capture" Richelieu whilst she was at sea, presumably by coming alongside, throwing grappling irons, and sending boarders armed with a cutlass in their teeth, just like in the movie "Crimson Pirate". It didn't happen.

Raeder got bases in France for his U-boat campaign, but evidently decided that the chances of a successful maritime invasion of Britain were so slim even if he could get access to French warships to somewhat even up the odds, that they were not worth securing. By 1942 the whole scene had changed, and although Vichy fought against the Allies in Madagascar, Syria and North Africa, they were quickly overwhelmed and brought into the Allied fold. There they joined De Gaulle, who had made his speech from London 80 years ago today, which caused him to be sentenced to death by the Vichy government, encouraging French subjects everywhere to continue to resist under the Free French banner.

Whichever combatant got their hands on the French ships, they would have been upgraded rapidly. Enhanced AA and AS capabilities are easy. I think Francis dismisses the value of these ships too easily.

All the best

wadinga
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Re: French navy taken over by the kreigsmarine

Post by Francis Marliere » Thu Jun 18, 2020 1:17 pm

wadinga wrote:
Thu Jun 18, 2020 10:22 am
Whichever combatant got their hands on the French ships, they would have been upgraded rapidly. Enhanced AA and AS capabilities are easy. I think Francis dismisses the value of these ships too easily.
Sean, thanks for your interesting post.
We do not agree on some points but it's normal. It's very difficult to know what have actually happened, so it's impossible to say what would have happened if ... We can just make educated guesses, from our knowledge of events that have happened, and I understand that my knowledge is limited, and that I probably have personnal (and perhaps national) biasis (as everyone).

Moreover, one big probem is that what we are talking about is not clear. Do you assume that Germany and / or Italy seize the French Fleet or that France goes to war against Britain ? These are two different situations. If France declares war to Britain (it's very unlikely IMHO, but let's assume it for the sake of discussion), then the problem largely bypasses the domain of naval warfare, and there IMHO are too may variables to continue the discussion.

If the Axis countries try to seize French fleet, either by force or negociation, they will have to overcome a number of problems before they can use French ships.
- Many ships would be scuttled or sabotaged, and many crews may join Free French Forces.
- The most valuable units, Richelieu and Jean-Bart, are outside German or Italian reach, and could be intercepted by British forces if they leave port.
- Neither Germany nor Italy have crew to man the ships.
- Maintaining the ships would be difficult.
- French AAA is indigent, even by German and Italian standard, and woul need a serious update. Unlike you,I believe that such an update would be almost impossible. I agree that putting some more AA guns aboard a ship is not a big technical issue. The USN refitted many ships with dozens of 20 mm and 40 mm guns (as well as severall radars), and my understanding is that there is enough room aboard most French ships to install some more flak. IMHO the problem lays in the availability of the guns. The AA update of USN ships was possible because the USA produced huge amount of guns and ammunitions. I am not inclined to think that Germany and Italy did produced enough guns to refit seized ships. The cold fact is that most Italian ships did not receive extra AA guns untill late in the war (most cruisers were armed with 8 20 mm or 37 mm guns untill 1943).

However, the main problem is the main mission of captured French ships. Imagine that Germany and Italy seize French ships. Both navies need some time to find and train crews, and repair / refit the ships, that become operational (if the RAF does not bomb them to death) in mid 1941. The role of German surface fleet is commerce raiding. However, in mid 1941, due to the loss of Bismarck, the Germans are now rather reticent to throw away heavy units in the Atlantic. Moreover, due to the destruction of most of their supply ships, they are unable to refuel the rather short-legged French ships. The purpose of the Italian fleet is to protect the sea lines of communications between mainland and Libya. The Italians do not lack ships but oil to operate the ships they already have. IMHO both fleets would have no real use of captured ships, that would be more liability (waste of assets and bomb magnets) than assets.

Having said that, I understand that it is a 'cold fact' analisys 80 years after the facts. I understand that the Brits would have been very worried of French ships being captured by the Axis.

Best regards,

Francis

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Re: French navy taken over by the kreigsmarine

Post by wadinga » Sat Jun 20, 2020 5:49 pm

Hello Francis,

I see your points and we agree completely about the Axis fuel crisis. Whether Hitler could have traded more from the Soviets is a debatable matter, but in the end he decided to attack and try and steal it instead. The extra oil resources proved hard to get back into production and the Axis were starved throughout the rest of the war. Maintaining access to overseas resources is what sea power is about. Despite the U-boat threat, British seapower enabled the fuel to get to the fighting forces.

However, when the Fuhrer was dictating Armistice terms to the French he could ask for what he liked. For instance I found:
About 550 Hotchkiss tanks were captured and used by the Germans as Panzerkampfwagen 35H 734(f) or Panzerkampfwagen 38H 735(
The new French government was giving the orders and if they were prepared to cede part or all of the French fleet to Germany, the crews would be required to comply by their oath of allegiance.
Many ships would be scuttled or sabotaged, and many crews may join Free French Forces.
Might not necessarily apply. Those who did respond to De Gaulle's appeal were guilty of treason according to the legal government of France. French servicemen had an appalling choice in 1940. Accept defeat and a new Fascist-dominated reality which might sweep away the corrupt government and Communist unrest which had damaged their country throughout the inter-war years or cut themselves off from their country, gambling on unlikely British victory.

Britain herself teetered on the edge of asking for peace terms from Germany after the fall of France, despite Churchill's bluster. He might have found himself replaced like Renaud by the Peace at any price Party. The possession of an additional "Fleet in Being" of French ships, no matter whether they were all ready for immediate fully efficient deployment, might have swung the balance.

Cutting off the supply of oil (and other supplies) to Britain's war machine should have been the Fuhrer's (and the Italian's) only strategic priority in June 1940. His own forces only had access to limited overland supplies, sea routes meant Britain's were potentially unlimited, constrained only by finance. The Kriegsmarine had been bullied into a Pyrrhic victory in Norway, enabling an "impossible" invasion of largely useless real estate, at the price of being decimated in combat. A 1940 Sealion without access to a reinforcement of French warships was a fantasy.

Keith Bird's biography of Raeder suggests he had an extensive wish list of French vessels paralleling the planned absorption of the High Seas Fleet by the victors in 1918. Apparently the details are in the SKL records. He says:
When Raeder met with Hitler on the 20th June, Hitler sharply rejected them, [the wish list] concerned that any draconian claims on the French Fleet or its colonies might result in the defection of the French navy to the British. Raeder had suffered a "lost opportunity" to gain any material advantage from the French defeat, but Hitler mollified him by giving him a free hand in making use of the newly won French Atlantic bases.
Not much of a deal. No free/instant warships but instead access to bases he was going to get anyway. With crews surviving from sunken and damaged warships from Norway, Raeder might have made start on replacing some of the plan Z fleet capability delayed by the war. He wasn't worried about crewing that fleet when it was planned. Some of the millions who died in the snows of Russia, pursuing an ideological war against Bolshevism, could have manned those ships.

Luckily, those French ships remained idle, and the world turned out as it has.

All the best

wadinga
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Re: French navy taken over by the kreigsmarine

Post by paul.mercer » Mon Jun 22, 2020 5:09 pm

Gentlemen'
had the french ships been completed and manned either by either French or German crews, would the RN be able to deal with them and if so what sort of gorces would they need besides the existing Mediterranean fleet?

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Re: French navy taken over by the kreigsmarine

Post by paul.mercer » Tue Jun 23, 2020 8:49 am

paul.mercer wrote:
Mon Jun 22, 2020 5:09 pm
Gentlemen'
Further to my question about the french fleet sailing into the Mediterranean, would the existing RN fleet be enough to deal with them
I'm assuming that all four QE's and an aircraft carrier are intact and ready for battle, but would they have been enough?

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Re: French navy taken over by the kreigsmarine

Post by Francis Marliere » Tue Jun 23, 2020 9:24 am

Paul,

there is no easy answer.
First, seizing the French ships can mean several different things. What is the repartition of ships betweeen Germany and Italy ? Are the ships modernized and how ?

Second, the 'existing Mediterranean Fleet' is not crystal clear. the composition of the mediterranean Fleet (and of Force Z) changed over time. In late 1940, after the Taranto raid, the RN was stronger than the Italian Navy, but in early 1942, the Mediterranean Fleet was reduced to a couple of cruisers and destroyers.

Third, one major question whether the capture of French ships changes the naval strategy of Italy. The role of Regia Marina was to protect the communications between mainland and Libya. And the Italians did not lack ships for the job (untill late in the war), but oil. If Italy, in your scenario, keeps the same naval strategy, it is probable that eventually the captured French ships are not a big help.

Anyway, if Italy has another, more agressive strategy, and oil (easier said than done), some of Frech ships can be very helpfull and change the balance of power in the Mediterranean. The old battleships of Bretagne and Courbet classes are of little use due to their age, but the newer units (Dunkerque class battlecruisers and Richelieu class battleships - if the Italian can solve the dispersion problem) are a welcome addition to the battle line. French CA lack armor (to the exception of Algerie) but are better than nothing. Light cruisers of the Galissonniere class are very good, and most destroyers would more than a match for their British counterparts. Moreover, the capture of French ships may help the Italians in taking more risks than historicaly (there was an aversion during the war of taking risks by fear of looses).

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Re: French navy taken over by the kreigsmarine

Post by paul.mercer » Thu Jun 25, 2020 9:04 am

Thanks for your reply Francis,
i realise that the RN Med fleet was shall we say severely inconvenienced, by the loss of Barham and the attack on QE and Valiant, but i wonder if this had not occurred whether they would have been enough to deal with the French battleships or would they have had to bring in a couple of KG's or perhaps a 'Nelson'?

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