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NAME

RICHELIEU

CLASS

BATTLESHIP

ENT/SERVICE

JULY 15th 1940

BUILT

ARSENAL DE BREST / FRANCE

WEIGHT

38,500 TONS

LENGTH

813 FEET

WIDTH

108 FEET

SPEED

30 KNOTS

PROPELLERS

4

ENGINES

4 - GEARED STEAM TURBINES 150,000 HP

GUNS

8 - 15 INCH / 9 - 6 INCH / VARIOUS ANTI AIRCRAFT

ARMOR

13 INCH SIDE / 6 INCH DECK / 17 INCH TURRET FACES


Of the three battleships in this class built for the French Navy, Richelieu, Clemenceau and Jean Bart, only Richelieu was completed in time to see active service during the Second World War. The French relocated Richelieu to their naval base at Dakar (West Africa) after the German invasion of France in May 1940. At that time, the British began applying pressure on the French commanders at Dakar to use their ships in the war against Germany. After the French commanders at Dakar had been persuaded to join the Allies, by bombarding their ships in port, Richelieu set out for America to be repaired and to have additional anti aircraft guns fitted.

Richelieu

The French Navy’s flagship served for two years alongside British warships in European waters before being transferred to the British Eastern Fleet in 1944 to be used in the war against Japan. German forces took control of Clemenceau after they captured Brest in 1940. As this ship couldn’t be completed in time to be used in the war, she remained inactive at Brest until an Allied bombing raid sank her in 1944.

Richelieu from the air

On June 22nd 1940, France agreed surrender terms with Germany that allowed the new French administration ‘Vichy’ and their leader ‘Marshal Petain’ to keep 2/5ths of the land, continue to administer their overseas colonies and control the navy. Britain tried to persuade the Vichy fleet to join the Allies by sending 17 warships to the French Navy base at Mers el Kebir/Algeria. As the French commander at the base refused all terms offered, British warships were ordered to sink his ships in port. The following battle ended with four French warships either badly damaged or sunk with the loss of 1,147 men. Ships that managed to break out of port either returned to France or joined Britain in the war against Germany.

Jean Bart

During a similar operation at Casablanca August 8th 1942, Jean Bart was tied up in port with only one turret in working order. The US battleship Massachusetts hit Jean Bart with five 16-inch shells, two of which failed to explode. Even without exploding, one of the 2,700 lb shells hit with such a force it knocked out her only operational turret. The shells that did explode caused extensive damage to Jean Bart’s bow and stern. After the war came to an end, this ship had to undergo extensive repairs before finally entering service in 1955. The following year, she took part in the unsuccessful Anglo/French operations to regain control of the Suez Canal. Richelieu was decommissioned in 1956 and scrapped in 1964. That left Jean Bart as the only surviving European battleship until her scrapping in 1970.

The French also had two 26,000 ton 13 inch gun light battleships built in the 1930s the Dunkerque & Strasbourg. Also, the three WWI era 23,000 ton 13 inch gun battleships Bretagne, Provence & Lorraine. All but Lorraine were damged beyond repair, by the Allies ships and French resistance, in port, while inactive after France was in the control of Germany. Lorraine carried France's gold reserves to the United States in November 1939 and served in the Allies fleet untill the end of the war, she was scrapped in 1954.

France Battleship List.

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