French navy in general and BB richelieu in particular

From the Washington Naval Treaty to the end of the Second World War.
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French navy in general and BB richelieu in particular

Post by RAYONX » Sun Jul 21, 2013 2:45 am

I am new to this forum so i'm sorry if any of this has already been said in an other topic.

I feel that what is generaly know of the french navy in WWII is at the best very little and at wrost way wrong.
All of what i wrote is documented in french articles, first witness account or books.

The sailors (or the rest of the armed forces for that matter) were not defeatist nor inclined to lower their arms.
The higher ranks having more of a politic mind than what they should have to perform their duty, they let their "historic" anglophobia take over what they should have done.
Actually the junior grade officers were at the time of the armistice to take the fleet to the british or the west indies. At the time of the scuttling of the fleet they were for a sortie of the FHM (force de haute mer, high sea force) to Alger to rejoin the allies. The high ranks had them disembark to avoid any mutiny. Such an event might have (in their mind) force the nazis to take over control of the fleet (in 1942).

The attack of Mers el kébir.
Given the british ultimatum the french admiral fail (on purpose?) to report one option: the transfer of the fleet to the french west indies. On the account of hat the government could only give back one answer: NO!
The stand of took many hours. During that time the crews made preparations for a hastly cast off (rigging the mooring lines to break away easy (but securing them as in a peace time manner) and readiing the anchor to be left there with a buoy). They had to make brand new percussion pieces for the guns because they had to surrender them to the italian armistice commission. They did it in the machine shop during the afternoon and the guns were ready at the tim of the first british salvo.
The british open fire at 17:10 for only ten minutes and fire 101 shells scoring 10 hits.
The french open fire at the report of the first salvo but fail to score any hit. This was due to the fact the british were to the west of the harbour behind a high hill that overlook the harbour. The british could eseally range on the mountain but the french had to cope with the heat distortion that originate from the hill.
Instead of casting off in a closest to the entrance first the admiral decided the Strasbourg (3rd closest) should be first then Dunkerque (5th), provence (2nd), bretagne (4th) and finally Commandant Teste (1st). This explain that only Strasbourg made it to Toulon.
The ten hits (all 15inches):
1 on the STRG funnel that jammed the ventialtion of 2nd boiler room (the crew stay and suffer from heat)
4 on DUNK:
1 bounced off one of the main turret roof killing the crew of one half turret and incapaciting the crew of the other half turret (the gun hous is divided by a splinter/fire wall)
1 penetrate the aviation hangar aft starting a fire from the aviation gazoline.
1 penetrate the barbette of the starboard IIx130mm turret killing the crew.
1 penetrate like the starboard side like the precedent one above the main belt and finish its course on one of the boiler rupturing it and killing the crew of this compartement. This last hit result in the lost of propulsion, electrical power and power steering. The ship that had started its move had to be beached at the ohter side of the harbour.
1 on a destroyer that destroy a third of its stern
2 on Bretagne. one at the stern and one on the starboard side that was sufficient to capsize her.
2 on Provence stern. Ship lost steering and had to be beached like DUNK.

To finish off those ship the british used aerial torpedoes (unmodified) 3 days later and score one hit on a subchaser that was alongside DUNK to take off its crew. The explosion from that ship's depth charges open a big ole ont the DUNK starboard bow and deform is deck (many DINK sailors were send sky high, their bodies landing on the DUNK deck!)
This torpedoe like others before ran between the DUNK hull and the bottom (1m of space) and the harbour was as shallow as was Pearl harbour!

Dakar attack:
Richelieu used powder bags from dunk class guns. 380mm shells had a cavity at the base for chemicals (dye markers or more offensive) that was closed by a too brittle substance. This is the causse of the lost of 3 of its B turret guns. She did manage to score one hit on Barham. After that he british send, at dawn, swordfish TB that scored one hit just like they did on bismarck. Richelieu took on water, had one screw out of commission had to be towed along the breakwater wall.

Casablanca attack:
Jean Bart straddled (or came close to) Massachusssett (sorry it i spell it wrong). She lacked proper fire control and was a sitting duck with her bow pointing to the coast. As far i know she received 10 hits all 16in. None of wich made it inside its armor citadel. One bounced of its armor belt and finished its course on the bottom of the harbour. One bounced of the main armor deck and ran the length of the deck leaving a big gash were it landed. One managed to land near the only main turret available and torn the non armored deck so much hat the turret could not be trained for the remaider of the first day.
On the second day the turret was freed and open fire. Dive bombers from WASP landed at least two bombs on the ship. One forward on the bow oustside the armored citadel and the second one near the aviation hangar. Both left big holes ont the starboard side and the ship settle on the bottom. She stop firing for fear of more damage. Her guns were send to Brooklynn to rearm Richelieu B turret.
She opened fire (like others during the torch landings) because the non occupied vichy french territories considered themselves "neutral" (you bet!!) and so had to defend agianst any agressor.

Toulon scuttling:
Because of what i've already wrote it was clear this was the only possibility left for the fleet. When the germans invaded the non occupied part of France they stop short of Toulon. The cityand its surroudings where the last "free" part of the country for some days. But it took more time to make ready to sail than for the germans to drive the last Kms. Even if they had managed to stop the scuttling they never had enough trained crew nor the willingness to use what big ships we had left. When the ships were raised they even gave them back to what was left of the vichy navy (to have them sunk by the allies when they landed in the south of France). Only mussolini had some interest for those ships to supplement its ambitions for or "mare nosstrum".

On the Richelieu:
This ship had two lives: before refitting in Brooklynn and after.
When she left Brest on june 1940 she was ffiting out. Her fire control had just been installed and one of her HA directors was not yet finished (the one left over in brooklyn). Her engines had had just one test and she left with cadets of the nearby officer school as part of her crew.
As design she could make 32knt.
Her main guns were 15/50 in two quadruple turrets. Each Turret (like on DUNK) were actually two halves joined together. As used both guns of the same half turret were elevated together, but could be elevated independentely trought a diffrential gear in the elevating mechanism (A photograph show only one gun out of the 4 at a high angle). This was necessary to zero the gun. For the same reason there is one gun on outside the gun house on each side (Canon pour tir reduit, reduce fire gun).
The gun were designed with a max range of 45km. As built with the last design sheel this was reduce to 41km max range. With the US supplied shell: 38km. Because the two guns of each half turret where too close the dispersion was large at those ranges (about 500m!!!). This was corrected by firing the outside guns with a 1/100 of a second delay (dispersion of 100-150m).
Her guns were not rebored to fit british shell. And they never were relined.
Her Dual purpose guns were too complex to effectivelly work as an AA weapons. They were to slow to train and to slow for an effective rate of fire (15rpm as designed, 8rpm actually)
That's why early in her building she received six 100mm AA guns instead of two more 6in triple turret amidship.
Her light AA guns were inadequate to say the least. The AA guns she was to received in her design were still in their infancy. They would armed Jean Bart when she was finish post war.

After she received a torpedoe at Dakar in Sept 1940 she was patched up and received one of the first french radar set (called "detection electromagnetique"). Dunkerque class BC had them already. It consisted of 4 antenna at the end of 4 horizontal masts one at each corner of the conning tower. Only one was retained after her refit. She sailed for NY in Feb 1943. As her unfinished HA director and foward mast were too high to pass under Brooklyn bridge they had to be cut.
After refit she lost her aviation hangar. She gained british and US radar sets including for her fire control.
She gained 14xIV 40mm bofors and as many as 52 (this figure is dependant of the time) oerlikons. She made fitting cruise in cheasepeake bay with New Jersey (well know potograph).
After that she was part of the british home fleet waiting for the Tirpitz to make a sortie. She raided alongside her british allies the coast of Norway.
Then she was send to the indian ocean.
Part of the british eastern fleet she took part in naval bombardement of Sumatra, Java, Andamans islands and Car Nikobar island to fix japanese troops and ships in this part of the world. During this part of her carreer she sailed as the battleship escort of the USS Saratoga during a cruise from Ceylan to Australia and Back, with a stop to shell sumatra. She was attacked by Kamikaze and depending on sources down one to three planes. She was hit by a mine in the Mallaca strait with only her wine hold beiing damaged (the damage was repair only in her 1946 visit to the drydock). She end her fghting career in Saigon where she delivered troops and left some of her Oerlikons to arm riverine boats.
When she first visit Toulon in 1944 she wore a flame of war (a type of flag) 52meters long (1m=1month abroad). She was officially admitted in french navy service (this is not like in other navies but the day the last penny is given to her builders) after the war in 1946. During her service in the indian ocean she fired about 200 15in shells with such precision that even the US navy and british officers considered her optical fire control superior to their own. (I dont know about her radar fire control but i myself doubt it could be superior opr equal to theirs).
All in all a good ship.

When you compare her to other battleship of the same era she was equal to superior to many.
Taking into account that you can only compare her with other treaty battleships:
She is at 32knt the fastest of them all. Only IOWA is fastest but not a treaty battleship.
So she could choose the rangeof a fight or when to start of finish it.
Her armor proved adequate as design. (KGV received additionnal armor when the treaty ended). It whistand 16in shell pretty good.
As design her AA suite was not good at all. As reffited it was as good as any US battleship (the same guns). Before they received Bofors and Oerlikons the same could be said of US battleships.
Her dual purpose guns where a disspointment. The best beiing the US 5/38 double turret!
Her range was not as limited as told. The cruise from Ceylan to Australia should proove that!
Her main armament arrangement was questionnable. But she could close on an ennemy (in a reverse T manoeuver) while firing a full broadside. Only when she decided to flee would she be in no capability to fire her main guns, but in such a case she would sail at 32knt!
On a side note i had a simulation run on her against Bismarck in the same configuration as the battle of the Danemark strait and while she suffered a 50% lost of main armament most of the time she sunk the Bismarck 90% of the time if she close to correct her dispersion problem.

In conclusion on her. She had beautyfull lines especially with her angled funnel/director and long bow.
As completed she rank low in the top ten powerfull battleships.
After refit she is in a tie with North Carolina/South Dakota as the most powerfull treaty battleship. (because of her speed and max range of her main guns. Because of their (NC SD) accuracy and better radar and DP guns)
She is in the same tie with the same ships as most powerfull "non limited" battleship.
She is one of the least knowed battleship of WWII and underratted.

Because of some "historical" beliefs the French navy of WWII is too underrated.
One last note: The french navy is the only navy of WWII which lost a least one ship due to hostile act by every other navy (allied or axis) in WWII even her own (free french against vichy french!).

For your appreciation and comments.

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Re: French navy in general and BB richelieu in particular

Post by alecsandros » Wed Jul 24, 2013 7:37 am

RAYONX wrote:
Because of some "historical" beliefs the French navy of WWII is too underrated.
BE more specific,

when and where do you consider the French navy to have aquitted herself properly of her tasks ?

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Re: French navy in general and BB richelieu in particular

Post by paul.mercer » Fri Jul 26, 2013 10:20 pm

Thabks for an interesting post Rayonx.
One part of it intrigues me it was "1 bounced off one of the main turret roof killing the crew of one half turret and incapaciting the crew of the other half turret (the gun hous is divided by a splinter/fire wall)"
I have often wondered about the effects of a heavy shell hitting a turret - would the concussion kill or injure the crew whether it exploded or not?

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Re: French navy in general and BB richelieu in particular

Post by alecsandros » Sun Jul 28, 2013 10:43 am

In the case of Dunkerque,
the 15" shell fired by HMS Hood hit the sloped forward section of the turret, with 50% of the projectile being deflected off. However, the hit ripped chunks of steel which were thrown into the turret , killing everyone in one half of the turret. The remaining 50% of the projectile probably got through, and/or some sort of low order detonation of the projectile filler occured, as there was more than shock damage and spalling inside the turret.

So, the answer would be "yes" - a projectile does not need to perforate fully; if the velocity and obliquity are proper, the turret can be destroyed or heavily damaged even without full perforation.

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Re: French navy in general and BB richelieu in particular

Post by Ersatz Yorck » Mon Jul 29, 2013 12:36 pm

Thanks for the post Rayonx!

I think most people on this forum are well aware of the performance of the MN in WW2, and that the French navy was far from inactive. It is for example interesting to note that the French Navy fought as many battleship vs battleship actions against the allies as the German Navy did.

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