Mers-el-Kebir

From the Washington Naval Treaty to the end of the Second World War.
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paulcadogan
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Mers-el-Kebir

Post by paulcadogan » Sat Aug 04, 2007 5:03 pm

Hi all,

I just mentioned Mers-el-Kebir in the "luck" thread and thought I'd bring to everyone's attention a French site that has a series of dramatic photos of the battle. Some of you may have seen them before. The captions are in French.

They show the line of French ships, the British salvos landing, the Bretagne's sinking (they show that the ship did not "blow up" as such, but the after magazines burned/exploded seriously holing her so she settled by the stern and capsized to starboard), the Strasbourg raising steam and pulling away from between the Provence and Bretagne, another showing four huge 15-inch shell splashes just astern of her.

A couple show Provence with her guns trained to starboard, suggesting that she, not Strasbourg, along with Dunkerque returned fire in the early stages. Strasbourg is shown firing to port after clearing the harbour. There are many more, plus photos of the attack on Dakar.

Though the title of the page suggests the pictures are in chronological order, that might not really be totally true - the picture showing Strasbourg stationary, under fire is placed somewhat after those showing her pulling away from between the Provence & the burning Bretagne. also the first two pictures are not from the time of the attack, as the ships are not in the same order.

It was clearly a horrifying experience for the French and so sad that it had to come to that.

Anyway, let me :silenced:

Go look at the pictures:

http://mers-el-kebir.net then click on "Chronologie" at the top.

Paul
Qui invidet minor est - He who envies is the lesser man

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Re: Mers-el-Kebir

Post by Tiornu » Sat Aug 04, 2007 8:44 pm

so sad that it had to come to that.
It didn't.

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paulcadogan
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Post by paulcadogan » Sun Aug 05, 2007 12:09 am

Ok, maybe I worded that badly - what I meant was "so sad that it CAME to that" as it really did not have to happen that way...
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Post by Tiornu » Sun Aug 05, 2007 2:57 am

I can agree with that. It really was a sad thing, and it just got worse as the French continued to be a punching bag for the next five years.

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Post by Karl Heidenreich » Tue Aug 07, 2007 1:46 am

Tiornu:
I can agree with that. It really was a sad thing, and it just got worse as the French continued to be a punching bag for the next five years.
:silenced:
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iankw
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Post by iankw » Tue Aug 07, 2007 9:30 am

I'm with Karl on this one :lol:

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Post by paul mercer » Tue Aug 07, 2007 11:37 am

They could have sailed and joined the British Fleet, if France was supposed to be an ally, why did'nt they?

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Post by Bgile » Tue Aug 07, 2007 2:40 pm

paul mercer wrote:They could have sailed and joined the British Fleet, if France was supposed to be an ally, why did'nt they?
Hadn't they signed an armistice with Germany? Wouldn't that be like the German fleet sailing into Scapa Flow after WWI and then opening fire? Joining the British would have been considered in violation of the treaty, and they might fear that the French people would suffer as a result. This looks different from our point of view because we would have benefited. Jean Bart at DS, for example. Yes, I know she wasn't completed ... just making a point.

I think some French ships did go to England, didn't they? Just not major ships.

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Post by paulcadogan » Tue Aug 07, 2007 10:35 pm

I know this is a very touchy subject, even after 67 years, but I try to look at it from both sides.

You have to appreciate the grievous position the French were in - knowing their country had been subdued by the Germans and the threat posed to the Allied cause if the enemy got a hold of their ships. Having them at Mers-el-Kebir meant they were out of immediate reach. Immediately joining the British, as Bgile said, might have had repercussions back in France. Why not sail for Martinique where they would be well out of reach? That too may have had consequences.

Those French ships that were in British ports at the time could hardly have expected to be "allowed to get away".

From the British side, the thought of the Germans or Italians getting hold of Dunkerque and Strasbourg must have been more than disquieting. They could not allow that to happen and they cannot be faulted for taking action to try and prevent it. In any event the action taken resulted ultimately in both ships, plus the Provence and lighter vessels returning to Toulon, CLOSER to the grip of the Germans. In that light the Mers-el-Kebir attack was a failure, and was only saved by the honour of the French sailors who scuttled their ships when threatened by the enemy (c.f. the Germans in Scapa).

One might also postulate that the attack was not completely effective because Force H "didn't have their hearts in it" and ceased fire too quickly. (And were thus ordered to return a few days later, and that still wasn't enough.) Sure, Somerville was carrying out his orders, but I'd guess that for him it was the most painful episode in his career.

An intriguing thought is that had they been left alone, eventually the Dunkerque & Strasbourg might have, along with Richelieu, under the Free French joined the British Home Fleet and even the Pacific Fleet.

Question: At what point and how did Richelieu change sides? I can't recall.

No comments on the pictures?

Paul
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Post by Tiornu » Tue Aug 07, 2007 11:39 pm

The French position and French actions are hardly a puzzle when viewed from the French point of view. The fleet may have been France's biggest bargaining chip. Can you imagine an admiral disobeying orders and steaming away with the country's primary basis for negotiation? Can you imagine the Germans letting the French send those ships to North America?
Richelieu returned to Allied control after Operation Torch when the whole Vichy business was effectively canned.

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RF
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Post by RF » Fri Aug 10, 2007 12:41 pm

paulcadogan wrote:Question: At what point and how did Richelieu change sides? I can't recall.
I believe at about the time of the ''Torch'' landings in North Africa.

I do know that Richelieu was used in July 1945 in shelling operations on the Japanese coastline, this of course was after the war in Europe was all over.
''Give me a Ping and one Ping only'' - Sean Connery.

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Post by Tiornu » Fri Aug 10, 2007 11:17 pm

Richelieu performed several bombardment missions in SE Asia and the Indies, but not Japan.

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