Warship Wednesday, May 17, 2017: De Gaulle’s lightning bolt

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, May 17, 2017: De Gaulle’s lightning bolt

Office of Naval Intelligence. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 86560

Here we see the very speedy Le Fantasque/Malin class contre-torpilleur (torpedo boat destroyer) Le Triomphant (X83) of the French Navy underway during exercises in the Atlantic, June 1939, as photographed from an observation plane likely from the carrier Bearn. The outsized craft would manage to escape the Germans, snatch hundreds of civilians from the New Hebrides just before a Japanese occupation, battle a Pacific cyclone and secure the surrender of a corps-sized force in Indochina– all before her 10th birthday. That’s living in the fast lane!

Built to keep up with new classes of fast French cruisers and battleships capable of chasing down the Italians, the 3,500-ton/434-foot Le Fantasque-class were supersized when it came to destroyers of the time– for the purpose of fitting four oil-fired boilers and two huge 37,000shp geared turbines (giving them 74,000 shp– roughly comparable to a Spruance-class destroyer of the 1970s which weighed about twice as much) in their hulls. This allowed the class to hit 45.03-knots on trials, a still very respectable speed for any warship today, especially one that is non-nuclear. If they lit half their boilers and poked around at 14 knots, they could still cover 3,000 nm, which was deemed sufficient for ops in the Mediterranean, their most likely theater of employment.

Armament was decent, with five 138.6 mm/50 (5.46″) Model 1929 singles mounted two forward and three aft, capable of a theoretical rate of fire of 12 rounds per minute per tube. Their side salvo weighed about 200kg, twice that of British destroyers of the time.

As noted by Navweaps:

As completed the outfit for the Le Fantasque class was 500 rounds of HE and SAP plus 75 starshell. 525 charges were carried of which 25% were flashless. There were also 80 charges for the starshells. When the war started, the magazines were altered to hold 200 rounds per gun and ready racks were installed at each gun which held 24 rounds.

Model 1929 Single Mountings on Le Triomphant in 1940, note Brodie helmets on some of the crew, likely British RN signalers. Note the twin 13.2 mm Hotchkiss MG on the bridge. via Navweaps

The ships also mounted a smattering of 37mm and 13mm AAA guns and 9 21.7″ torpedo tubes in three triple braces, as well as the ability to sow mines.

Laid down at Ateliers et Chantiers de France, Dunkerque in 1931, Le Triomphant was the 7th French naval vessel since 1667 to carry the name.

When war came in 1939, the six fast destroyers of the class were joined by France’s only carrier Bearn the three newest French cruisers Montcalm, Georges Leygues, and Gloire, and the fast battleships Dunkerque and Strasbourg, to form the “Force de Raid” to go and hunt down German surface raiders, a job which turned out to be uneventful.

In April 1940, while detached with the other destroyers, Le Triomphant wound up in a surface action with a group of armed German trawlers and patrol boats in the Skagerrak that left her slightly damaged and, as the fall of France loomed, she was in Lorient for repairs. As the Germans advanced, she skipped out and headed across the Channel to Plymouth in June, where the British took her over on 3 July to keep her out of Vichy hands.

She promptly became one of the more important vessels of the fledging Forces Navales Françaises Libres (FNFL), or Free French Navy. Within days, Vice Admiral Muselier, who had only arrived in London by flying boat from Gibraltar on 30 June 30, along with some French tank general by the name of de Gaulle, were walking her decks in a much-needed PR coup for the Free French forces.

VISIT OF GENERAL DE GAULLE AND ADMIRAL MUSELIER TO A NAVAL PORT. 1940, THE HEAD OF THE FREE FRENCH FORCES, GENERAL DE GAULLE, ACCOMPANIED BY ADMIRAL MUSELIER, VISITED FRENCH SHIPS MANNED BY MEMBERS OF THE FREE FRENCH NAVAL FORCES AT A BRITISH PORT. (A 2177) On board the French destroyer LE TRIOMPHANT. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205136575

VISIT OF GENERAL DE GAULLE AND ADMIRAL MUSELIER TO A NAVAL PORT. 1940, THE HEAD OF THE FREE FRENCH FORCES, GENERAL DE GAULLE, ACCOMPANIED BY ADMIRAL MUSELIER, VISITED FRENCH SHIPS MANNED BY MEMBERS OF THE FREE FRENCH NAVAL FORCES AT A BRITISH PORT. (A 2176) On board the French destroyer LE TRIOMPHANT. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205136574

VISIT OF GENERAL DE GAULLE AND ADMIRAL MUSELIER TO A NAVAL PORT. 1940, THE HEAD OF THE FREE FRENCH FORCES, GENERAL DE GAULLE, ACCOMPANIED BY ADMIRAL MUSELIER, VISITED FRENCH SHIPS MANNED BY MEMBERS OF THE FREE FRENCH NAVAL FORCES AT A BRITISH PORT. (A 2178) Leaving the French destroyer LE TRIOMPHANT. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205136576

She was subsequently modified for operations alongside the RN and her No. 4 gun was removed during a 1940 refit in Britain and a 4″/45 (10.2 cm) QF Mark V fitted in its place. British light AA guns were also fitted. Her speed dropped to 37 knots as she had added weight of guns, sonar, radar, and fuel stowage was increased from 580t to 730t, which after this time the French classified her as a light cruiser.

THE ROYAL NAVY DURING THE SECOND WORLD WAR (A 1855) Members of the ship’s crew of FFS LE TRIOMPHANT in working rig, seated on gantries hanging over the ship’s side, painting the ship’s bow. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205185152

Under the command of Commandant Pierre Gilly, she was made the flagship of the Free French Pacific squadron and set off across the Atlantic to both visit the U.S. and, after transit through the Panama Canal, undertake numerous escort and convoy assignments.

Le Triomphant underway in San Diego harbor, California, circa 26 April 1941. Photographed from on board USS Saratoga (CV-3). Note the British type 4-inch anti-aircraft gun (at the rear of the after-deck house) and light anti-aircraft machine guns added while she was in British hands during 1940. Among the latter is a French Hotchkiss 13.2mm quad atop the after superstructure, just forward of the 4-inch gun. False bow wave camouflage is painted on Le Triomphant’s hull side, forward, to confuse estimates of the ship’s speed. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. #: NH 55853

Moored off San Diego, California, circa 26 April 1941. Photographed from a USS Saratoga (CV-3) airplane from an altitude of 700 feet, using an F-48 camera with a 6 3/8-inch focal length. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 55854

At San Diego, California on 26 April 1941. She is wearing false bow wave camouflage and carries a British type 4-inch anti-aircraft gun in place of the 5.5-inch low angle gun originally mounted in X position. There is a French Hotchkiss 13.2mm quad anti-aircraft machine gun mount atop the after superstructure, just forward of that 4-inch gun. Note the small civilian sailboat passing down Le Triomphant’ starboard side. The original print came from the Office of Naval Intelligence. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. #: NH 86557

Part of her Pacific war saw her evacuate a group of civilians from and the tiny British garrison Nauru and Christmas Island to safety during the Japanese advance soon after Pearl Harbor. The islands were leased by the British Phosphate Commission and, on 23 February 1942, Triomphant, unescorted, managed to pick up 61 Westerners, 391 Chinese, and the 49 members of the British garrison at Nauru, sadly leaving 191 Chinese and 7 westerners behind to be captured by the Japanese. At Christmas Island on 28 February, she picked up an amazing 823 Chinese and 232 other BPC employees.

On patrol, 7 March 1943, with a bone in her mouth

Sydney 1942 swinging her compasses

Then, while on an escort run, she ran right into a cyclone that left her sinking, and was only narrowly kept afloat by her crew, which included a five man RAN commo det, and had to be towed to safety some 1,200 miles by the British destroyer HMS Frobisher, a feat C in C Eastern Fleet Admiral Sir James Somerville, KCB, KBE, DSO, told the ship’s company of the British tin can would be “good for a pint of beer for many years to come.”

A massive wave washes over the deck of the Free French Force destroyer, Le Triomphant, during a cyclone. 2 December 1943. Australian War Memorial

The crew of the Free French Force destroyer, Le Triomphant, race to apply a collision mat to the damaged ship’s hull during a cyclone on 2 December 1943. The collision mat, a large piece of canvas, is passed under the ship and is held in place by the pressure of the water trying to enter the breach

As noted by the Australians:

Le Triomphant left Fremantle, Australia, with five Royal Australian Navy crew, a Liaison Officer, Lieutenant Derek Percival Scales; Signalman Myall; 25903 Signalman William Cutt Rendall; PA1104 Telegraphist Ashmead Bartlett Croft and Coder Underwood, on 26 November 1943. She was on convoy duty with the American oil tanker Cedar Mills and the Dutch cargo ship Java when the cyclone hit and received considerable damage. Without fuel, water and provisions and listing 45 degrees, she was towed by the Cedar Mills to Diego Suarez, Madagascar, for repairs arriving on 19 December 1943. Repairs were completed on 8 February 1944 and she performed light duties in the area until 12 March 1944, when she departed for Port Said stopping briefly at Algiers, where she and her crew, including the five Australians, were reviewed by the leader of the French Free Force, General Charles André Joseph Marie de Gaulle and the Minister for the Navy, Louis Jacquinot.

The five Royal Australian Navy crew on the Free French Force ship Le Triomphant, a large destroyer of Le Fantasque class, are presented to de Gaulle.

The crew of the Free French Force ship Le Triomphant, a large destroyer of Le Fantasque class, are presented to the leader of the Free French Force, General Charles André Joseph Marie de Gaulle (saluting on right) while in port at Algiers. Saluting General de Gaulle is Lieutenant de Vaisseau Léon Méquin (later Commanding Officer of the Free French Force corvette Lobelia). General de Gaulle is attended by the Minister for the Navy, Louis Jacquinot and Commandant Pierre Gilly. The bugler is Poupon.

Inclination tests in Boston, via Navweaps

On 10 April 1944, Le Triomphant arrived in Boston, for an extensive refit where she remained until the end of the Second World War.

While in U.S. waters, the Navy put her through some paces though officially was neutral at that stage in the war, noting Le Triomphant “has since run some interesting trials on the Rockland course,” the measured mile-long speed trials course off Rockland, Maine– though do not disclose what speeds the fast Frenchman was able to achieve.

In October 1945, along with the semi-complete battleship Richelieu, Le Triomphant escorted troopships bound for French Indochina loaded with 20,000 fresh troops of the African 9ème D.I.C of the First French Army of General de Lattre de Tassigny, Leclerc’s own famous Groupement mobile de la 2ème DB (2nd Armored Div), and the Brigade Légère Marine d’Extrême-Orient marine commando unit, the latter which had trained alongside British commando and landed at Normandy.

General Jacques-Philippe Leclerc on board the French light cruiser (ex-destroyer) Le Triomphant in October 1945. General Leclerc commanded the French forces that re-occupied French Indo-China and Le Triomphant was one of the warships that escorted his troops. Photograph from the New York Times Paris Bureau collection in the U.S. National Archives. Catalog #: 306-NT-3277-V

On 6 March 1946, under Captain Jubelin, as Le Triomphant was approaching near Haiphong, she sustained 20mm fire from KMT Chinese occupation troops, killing 8 sailors and wounding 20 as part of a “misunderstanding.” Le Triomphant retaliated by firing her 138 mm guns, which ignited ammunition stores and resulted in the surrender of the 28,000-strong Chinese forces from the 53rd Army under Gen. Ma Ying. This was, ironically, the same day Jean Sainteny, French Commissioner for Northern Indochina met with Ho Chi Minh in Hanoi and signed the Ho–Sainteny agreement which would transfer Vietnam to Minh in five years and the departure of the nationalist Chinese forces.

After the battle of Dien Bien Phu in May 1954 and eventual withdrawal from Indochina resulting in a French Naval drawdown, Le Triomphant was decommissioned on 19 December 1954 and scrapped in Bizerte in 1960.

She is remembered by the Association Aux Marins and in scale models, while her name has since been reused for the lead ship of a quartet of strategic nuclear missile submarine, Triomphant (S616), commissioned in 1997.

Oh, and the island nation of Nauru remembers her as well.


Of her sisters, L’Audacieux was lost on 7 May 1943 at Bizerte due to Allied bombing, L’Indomptable was lost on 27 Nov 1942 when she was scuttled Toulon by her crew to avoid capture by the Germans, Le Malin joined the Allies when captured from the Vichy in 1943 and supported the Dragoon Landings before being scrapped in 1964, Le Terrible likewise joined the FNFL in 1943 and served until 1962, and class leader Le Fantasque had similar service lasting until 1957.

Specs:


Displacement: 2570 tons
Length:     132.40 m (434.4 ft.)
Beam:     11.98 m (39.3 ft.)
Draught:     4.30 m (14.1 ft.)
Propulsion:
4 Penhoët boilers
2 Parsons geared steam turbines
74,000 HP
2 propellers
Speed:
45 knots (83 km/h; 52 mph) (40 nominal)
37 knots after WWII refit due to weight increase
Range:
1,200 km (650 nmi; 750 mi) at 34 knots (63 km/h; 39 mph)
3,000 nm at 14kts.
Complement:     10 officers, 210 sailors
Armament:
(1931)
5 × 138 mm (5.4-inch) guns (2 forward, 3 aft)
4 × 37 mm AA guns
4 × 13 mm Hotchkiss machine guns
9 × 550 mm torpedo tubes in three triple mounts
40 mines
(1940)
4 × 138 mm (5.4-inch) guns (2 forward, 2 aft)
1 x 102/45 QF Mk V aft
2 x 1 – 40/39 QF Mk VIII 2-pounder pom-pom
4 × 37 mm AA guns
4 × 13 mm Hotchkiss machine guns
8 x  Vickers .50 cal guns
9 × 550 mm torpedo tubes in three triple mounts
(1944)
4 × 138 mm (5.4-inch) guns (2 forward, 2 aft)
8 × 40 mm Bofors AA guns
10 × 20 mm Oerlikon AA guns
6 × 550 mm torpedo tubes in two triple mounts

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/membership.htm

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.

With more than 50 years of scholarship, 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, University of Guns, Outdoor Hub, Tac-44, 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 U.S. 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.

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