Warship Wednesday April 15, 2015: Big Jean and the Boston Brawler

Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1859-1946 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday April 15, 2015: Big Jean

click to big up

click to big up

Here we see the Richelieu-class battleship of the French Republic’s Marine Nationale Jean Bart racing forward on speed trials in 1949. Her distinctive all-forward main battery of eight 15-inch guns in twin quad turrets is very apparent.

France rather tried to distance themselves from the modern dreadnought game after the end of World War 1, figuring that with the destruction of the Austrian battleships in the Med, and the Kaiser’s battleships at Scapa Flow in 1920; all was well in the world. Then came Hitler and his rebuilding of the German Navy to include the Deutschland class pocket battleships while Mussolini came to power in Italy and the new fascist government there building their very modern 40,000-ton Littorio-class battleships. As an answer to the first, the Republic ordered two 25,000-ton Dunkerque-class battleships in the early 1930s and as an answer to the latter (as well as the pair of German 38,000-ton Scharnhorst-class battleships laid down in 1935), the French ordered a quartet of massive new warships– the Richelieu‘s.

Class leader Richelieu

Class leader Richelieu in a beautiful color portrait. Click to big up

With a standard displacement of 35,000-tons to comply with the Washington and London Naval treaties (although this would balloon to nearly 50,000 when fully loaded), these 813-foot long beasts were among the largest battleships ever built and remain the largest French warships ever to put to sea. Even today, the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle (R91), flagship of the French Navy and largest European warship afloat, only maxes out at 42,000-tons.

Unlike many battlewagons before them, these were fast battleships, capable of breaking 30-knots if needed due to a quartet of Parsons geared turbines that generated more than 150,000 shp. With long legs, these ships were capable of a 10,000-mile cruise at 16-knots, enabling them to travel to far off Pacific territories such as Indochina if needed (more on this later).

Designed to be able to take German 28 cm/54.5 (11 inch) SK C/34 fire as well as that from Italian 381 mm (15.0 in) L/50 guns, these leviathans were girded in as much as 17-inches of armor plate and mounted eight 15-inch 380mm/45 Modèle 1935 guns, the largest caliber naval gun ever fielded in French service. They could fire a 1950-pound diving shell to a range of 45,600 yds. A secondary armament of 9x152mm guns in three triple turrets over the stern could handle light work.

Those are pretty impressive turrets

Those are pretty impressive turrets

Laid down at Chantiers de Penhoët, Saint-Nazaire on 12 December 1936, the second ship of the Richelieu-class was named Jean Bart after a notorious pirate privateer and naval commander.

This Flemish swashbuckler from Dunkirk, who spelled his name “Jan Baert,” was much man, at over 6 ft. 8” and topping some 400-pounds. This size didn’t stop big Jan/Jean, who cut his teeth in the Dutch Navy, from capturing an amazing 386 ships as a privateer during the late 17th Century and rising to the rank of full Admiral in the French Navy. A rather incorrect svelte statue stands to him in Dunkirk today and no less than 27 ships of the French Navy have carried his moniker, including their last completed battleship.

The French corsair

The French corsair

When World War II came, class leader Richelieu was nearing completion at Brest while Jean Bart was still a bit further way. Only 75 percent complete and mounting just half of her big guns, she took to the sea on June 19, 1940 as Metropolitan France was surrendering to the Germans, and made a break for the French North African port of Casablanca.

The third and fourth members of the class, Clemenceau and Gascogne were not far enough along in their construction to even be considered ships (and were never completed).

How she looked in 1940 via http://www.shipbucket.com/images.php?dir=Real%20Designs/France/BB%20Jean%20Bart%201940-2.png click to very much big up

How she looked in 1940 via shipbucket click to very much big up

Jean sat at Casablanca during the awkward Vichy French years, spending the next 29 months of the war languishing as there were no construction facilities to complete her and most of her smaller caliber guns were landed ashore to set up coast defense and AAA batteries in the city and harbor.

The French battleship Jean Bart, photographed by USN Photographers Mate Third Class Bill Wade from an airplane of the USS Ranger, Nov 8 1942

The French battleship Jean Bart, photographed by USN Photographers Mate Third Class Bill Wade from an airplane of the USS Ranger, Nov 8 1942

Then, on Nov 8, 1942, the Allied Torch landings occurred and Jean Bart defended her colonial harbor from dockside from the 16-inch guns of the new SoDak-class battleship USS Massachusetts (BB-59) and the Dauntless dive bombers and Avenger torpedo planes of the carrier USS Ranger (CV-4) over the next three days she fired 25 shells from her one operational 15-inch turret which narrowly missed the Mass and the cruiser Augusta.

Nevertheless, with the Bart stationary, incomplete and by far outnumbered, the battle was a forgone conclusion. At least seven 16-inch shells (fired from Massachusetts from a range of over 24,000 yards) and a number of bombs hit her, sinking in with her decks awash.

A cartoon from the BB-59's cruise book recounting how close the Jean Bart's shells came to wrecking her day. USN photo courtesy of James E. Hesson, plank-owner of the Massachusetts (BB-59). Photo submitted in his memory by his son, Joe Hesson. Via Navsource

A cartoon from the BB-59’s cruise book recounting how close the Jean Bart’s shells came to wrecking her day. USN photo courtesy of James E. Hesson, plank-owner of the Massachusetts (BB-59). Photo submitted in his memory by his son, Joe Hesson. Via Navsource

It was the only time that U.S. and French battleships fought in the steel era and she gave a good account of herself for all of her handicaps.

bomba de 454Kg en el Jean Bart, en Casablanca

The affect of a 1,000lb bomb from Ranger’s SBDs

She spent the rest of the war as a hulk in Casablanca and her four 380 mm guns were salvaged and sent to New York where they were emplaced on Richelieu who had went over to the Free French Navy and was being refitted there.

re floated at Casablanca

re floated at Casablanca

That sistership put Bart’s guns to good use in both the European and Pacific Theaters of operation as well as in French Indochina.

Battleship Richelieu arriving in New York for refit. The fire control director on the fore tower had to be dismantled for her to pass under the Brooklyn Bridge. Note damaged turret

Battleship Richelieu arriving in New York for refit. The fire control director on the fore tower had to be dismantled for her to pass under the Brooklyn Bridge. Note damaged turret

French battleship Richelieu at sea, September 1943 after her refit in New York. Half her main guns in this image came from Jean Bart and had fired at Casablanca. Click to big up

French battleship Richelieu at sea, September 1943 after her refit in New York. Half her main guns in this image came from Jean Bart and had fired at Casablanca. Click to big up

Finally, four months after Hitler ate a bullet, big Jean was sent back to France and work began to complete her at Cherbourg.

Incomplete French battleship Jean Bart sailing from Casablanca to Cherbourg for repairs in 1945

Incomplete French battleship Jean Bart sailing from Casablanca to Cherbourg for repairs in 1945

How she looked in 1945 with wartime repairs and no armament fitted via Ship Bucket http://www.shipbucket.com/images.php?dir=Real%20Designs/France/BB%20Jean%20Bart%201945.png click to very much big up

How she looked in 1945 with wartime repairs and no armament fitted via Ship Bucket  click to very much big up

Commissioned on 16 January 1949, she made 32-knots on her speed trials and was finally ready for sea duty– and for the first time was fully armed.

Getting her new 380mm Model 35s installed, 1948. As far as I can tell, these were the last battleship guns ever installed in a new battleship (barring the 1950s re-barreling of the Iowa class in the U.S.)

Getting her new 380mm Model 35s installed, 1948. As far as I can tell, these were the last battleship guns ever installed in a new battleship (barring the 1950s re-barreling of the Iowa class in the U.S.)

1948 off St. Nazaire, France

In the early 1950s, she sailed on a number of good will trips around Europe and to New York but was never fully manned; only carrying half-crews due to postwar funding shortfalls. She was more of a heavily armed and armored cruise ship and flag-waver than an active ship of the line.

Jean Bart alongside cruisers Suffren and Montcalm, 1950s

Jean Bart alongside cruisers Suffren and Montcalm, 1950s

click to big up

click to big up

03

In the Suez Crisis of 1956, she sailed with the joint Anglo-French fleet with an augmented near-full sized crew and provided some brief naval gunfire support, firing her big 15-inchers in anger once more. As a sad note, on the afternoon of 30 January 1956, she was briefly reunited with her old classmate Richelieu while at sea, the one and only time the two French ships maneuvered together underway.

Click to big up

Click to big up

Battleship Jean Bart in Harbour of Toulon 1968

Battleship Jean Bart in Harbor of Toulon 1968

Placed in reserve in 1957 after just an eight-year career, she was decommissioned soon afterwards. Cantieri Navali Santa Maria of Genoa scrapped Richelieu in September 1968 while Jean Bart, the last European battleship afloat, was scrapped 24 June 1970 at Brégaillon near Toulon.

Today, at least six of Richelieu/Jean Bart‘s guns are maintained as museum pieces around France. However, you can visit the USS Massachusetts, the winner of the Great Casablanca Battlewagon Duel, at Falls River where she has been on display since the 1965.

Battleship_Massachusetts,_2012 (Photo via Wiki)

Battleship_Massachusetts,_2012 (Photo via Wiki)

Specs

Jean Bart in her final form 1955 via Shipbucket http://www.shipbucket.com/images.php?dir=Real%20Designs/France/BB%20Jean%20Bart%201955.png click to very much big up

Jean Bart in her final form 1955 via Shipbucket click to very much big up

Displacement: 35,000 tons standard as designed, 48,950 t at full load, in 1949
Length: 813 feet
Beam: 114 feet
Draught: 33 feet
Propulsion: four Parsons geared turbines, six Indret boilers. 150,000 hp (112 MW)
Speed: 32 knots at trials, 20 designed
Range: 9800 nautical miles at 16 knots, 7671 nautical miles at 20 knots; 3181 nautical miles at 30 knots
Complement: 1620 designed, 911 men in 1950 (incomplete), 1,280 men during the Suez affair
Armament:
As Designed:
8 × 380mm (15 inch)/45 Modèle 1935 guns in quadruple mounts at bow
9 × 152 mm (6 inch) secondary (3 × 3 mounted aft)
12 × 100 mm (3.9 inch) Anti-Aircraft guns (6 × 2)
As completed 1949
8 × 380mm/45 Modèle 1935 guns in quadruple mounts at bow
9 × 152 mm AA in 3 triple turrets at the aft till 1952–53
8 × 40 mm AA
20 × 20 mm AA
From 1953–54
Two 15-inch turrets fitted, only one operational
24 × 100 mm in 12 twin mountings CAD Model 1945
28 × 57 mm in 14 twin mountings ACAD Model 1950
Armor: Belt: 330 mm
Upper armored deck: 150–170 mm
Lower armored deck: 40 mm
Aircraft: Designed for four seaplanes, never fitted.

If you liked this column, please consider joining the International Naval Research Organization (INRO), Publishers of Warship International.

They are possibly one of the best sources of naval study, images, and fellowship you can find http://www.warship.org/

The International Naval Research Organization is a non-profit corporation dedicated to the encouragement of the study of naval vessels and their histories, principally in the era of iron and steel warships (about 1860 to date). Its purpose is to provide information and a means of contact for those interested in warships.

Nearing their 50th Anniversary, Warship International, the written tome of the INRO has published hundreds of articles, most of which are unique in their sweep and subject.

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About laststandonzombieisland

Let me introduce myself. I am a bit of a conflict junkie. I am fascinated by war and warfare, assassination, personal protection and weaponry ranging from spud guns and flame throwers to thermonuclear bombs and Soviet-trained Ebola monkeys. In short, if it’s violent or a tool to create violence it is kind of my thing. I have written a few thousand articles on the dry encyclopedia side for such websites as GUNS.com, Univesity of Guns, Outdoor Hub, History Times, Big Game Hunter, Glock Forum, Firearms Talk.com, and Combat Forums; as well as for print publications like England Expects, and Strike First Strike Fast. Several magazines such as Sea Classics, Military Historian and Collector, Mississippi Sportsman and Warship International have carried my pieces. Additionally I am on staff as a naval consultant and writer for Eye Spy Intelligence Magazine. Currently I am working on several book projects including an alternative history novel about the US-German War of 1916, and a biography of Southern gadfly and soldier of fortune Bennett Doty. My first novel, about the coming zombie apocalypse was released in 2012 by Necro Publications and can be found at Amazon.com as was the prequel, Chimera-44. I am currently working on book two of that series: "Pirates of the Zombie Coast." In my day job I am a contractor for the US federal government in what could best be described as the ‘Force Protection’ field. In this I am an NRA-certified firearms, and less-than-lethal combat instructor.

3 responses to “Warship Wednesday April 15, 2015: Big Jean and the Boston Brawler”

  1. Rogue Patriot says :

    Great article on the Jean Bart. I have an avid interest in this ship because my Grandfather flew one of the Avenger torpedo bombers off the USS Ranger during operation Torch. I have been unable to confirm whether he flew the actual mission against the Jean Bart, but would be interested in information as to whether or not he did so.

  2. Rogue Patriot says :

    Reblogged this on RoguePatriot Blog.

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