Why the British attacked a French battleship in WWII

Here’s what you need to remember: Richelieu has the distinction of serving Axis and Allied forces during WWII, but has never sunk an enemy ship.

From the year 1066 with the Norman conquest of England to 1815 with the end of the Napoleonic Wars, the French and English / British literally fought dozens of wars. However, the last Anglo-French conflict took place during World War II, which began on September 23, 1940, when the British launched the Battle of Dakar as part of Operation Menace.

The plan was to capture the strategic port of Dakar in French West Africa, which was under the control of the pro-German French government in Vichy. The plan failed and Dakar remained under Vichy control, but one of the objectives was the rapid battleship Richelieu.

Battleship Richelieu, A brief history

Named in honor of Armand Jean du Plessis, Duke of Richelieu and commonly known as Cardinal Richelieu, the battleship was the lead ship of a new class built in response to Italy Littorio-to classify. The French warship was a modern but unique design that featured its main battery in a pair of large quadruple turrets with 15 inch guns that were mounted entirely forward of the superstructure. The placement was aimed at reducing the total length of the armored belt needed, which in theory saved weight, but because the designers lengthened the distance of the two turrets to reduce the likelihood that both could be damaged during one strike, the savings were essentially wiped out.

One concern was that if a single turret was deactivated the ship would lose fifty percent of its overall firepower, but each turret was also split in half by a 45mm bulkhead. Each half thus contained two 15-inch guns, which were fed from their own respective magazine below the bridges. Therefore, the only thing the two compartments actually shared was the barbette.

Richelieu was also armed with three sets of 6-inch triple guns mounted aft of the superstructure in smaller traversable turrets. It was also equipped with an airplane bridge with an integrated hanger, which allowed the battleship to carry up to four seaplanes for use in reconnaissance and spotting artillery sorties.

The Second World War

The warship was actually commissioned in April 1940 and completed just days before the German blitzkrieg resulted in an early victory after the Battle of France. Richelieu fled to Dakar keep the ship under French control. However, the British feared that the ship would still fall into German hands.

London hoped to force the crew to join the Free French Naval Forces or at worst scuttle them. When the crew chose to do neither, the British launched a series of attacks.

The Vichy-French warship was damaged but slowly repaired.

When American and British forces landed in French North Africa as part of Operation Torch in November 1942, the Germans invaded and occupied Vichy-France. Admiral François Darlan, the Chief of Staff of the French Navy, who had refused to hand over the ship to the Free French and ordered it to go to Dakar, ultimately decided to defect to the Allies along with the rest. of the French fleet.

Despite the fact that Germany and Italy still retained a number of battleships, the United States did not really need additional warships. He had built a number of fast battleships and had enough to serve both in the Pacific War and to aid the British in the Atlantic. However, it soon became apparent that while the French warship was not required for the war effort, it would be a major symbol of national prestige for France while also strengthening the British navy in the Mediterranean where Italy still had three battleships.

It was determined that Richelieu, being the only French battleship still in service, will be modernized in New York. During the upgrade she received the last air and surface radar and she received additional guns. She then participated in operations off the Norwegian coast.

Interestingly enough, the French battleship was not deployed for use in the Normandy landings, in part because it appeared to malfunction as an artillery platform. Instead, she was dispatched to the British Eastern Fleet and subsequently participated in a number of operations with the British Fleet in the Far East.

After undergoing another refit, she represented the French at the Japanese surrender in the port of Tokyo during the “Show of the Force” of the Allied warships. It then escorted a convoy of French troops to Indochina to restore French colonial rule and was used with mixed results to bomb coastal targets during the First Indochina War. She remained in service in the 1960s as a training ship and was scrapped in Genoa, Italy, in 1968.

Richelieu has the distinction of serving Axis and Allied forces during WWII, but has never sunk an enemy ship. Moreover, he also received the most damage not from Germany or Japan but from the British.

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to over four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites. He writes regularly on military small arms and is the author of several books on military hairstyles, including A gallery of military hairstyles, which is available on Amazon.com.

Picture: Reuters

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