Tag Archive | cuirasse Lorraine

Warship Wednesday, June 12, 2019: The End of l’Ancien Régime, Beginning of Another

Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1946 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, June 12, 2019: The End of l’Ancien Régime, Beginning of Another

NH 110742 French Warships in port, circa 1939 Mediterranean palm trees and old fort 2400-tonne type destroyer battleship Courbet, while a Duguay Trouin class light cruiser is to the right

Naval History and Heritage Command Photo NH 93575

Here we see the first French dreadnought, Courbet, class leader of a four-ship group of mighty warships built for the French Third Republic. She is the largest ship to the far left, seen at Villefranche during late 1938 or early 1939. She gave her last full measure some 75 years ago this week but left an interesting legacy.

When built, Courbet and her sisters were the Republic’s answer to the growing trend of all-big-gun battleships started with the launch of the Royal Navy’s HMS Dreadnought in 1906.

French Battleship COURBET as Build 1911

French Battleship COURBET as Build 1911

Part of the 1909 Naval Plan, these big French battlewagons went nearly 26,000-tons (FL) and carried an impressive main battery of a dozen new design 12-inch (305mm) 45 Modèle 1906 guns. These big boys, in six twin turrets, were comparable to the U.S. Navy’s 12″/45 caliber Mark 5 gun on five classes of American battleships (Connecticut, Mississippi, South Carolina, Delaware, and Florida) as well as the British BL 12-inch Mk X naval guns which were mounted on not only  Dreadnought herself but also a dozen other RN battleships and battlecruisers of the day.

Courbet, forward turrets photographed by Robert W. Neeser, probably at Toulon, France, circa 1919. Note the triplex rangefinder on the conning tower. She carried 100 rounds per gun in her magazines, which interestingly were refrigerated to 77-degrees, a bonus on a steel ship designed to operate in the Med. NH 42849

Courbet, forward turrets photographed by Robert W. Neeser, probably at Toulon, France, circa 1919. Note the triplex rangefinder on the conning tower. She carried 100 rounds per gun in her magazines, which interestingly were refrigerated to 77-degrees, a bonus on a steel ship designed to operate in the Med. NH 42849

Courbet 12-inch and 5.5-inch (138mm) guns photographed by Robert W. Neeser. These ships carried an impressive 22 of the latter, each with 225 shells. NH 42848

Laid down at Arsenal de Brest, our 21-knot beastie, named after famed French Admiral Amédée Courbet of Indochina fame, was soon followed by sister ship Jean Bart, constructed at the same time by the same yard. Two other sisters, France and Paris, were built by A C de la Loire, St-Nazaire and F C de la Méditerranée, La Seyne, respectively.

French battleship Paris, trial at full steam from the 1 August 1914 issue of L'Illustration

French battleship Paris, the trial at full steam from the 1 August 1914 issue of L’Illustration

Courbet commissioned in November 1913 and the entire class were all at sea by the time the lamps went out across Europe in August 1914. Their design was essentially recycled to create the follow-on Bretagne (Brittany)-class dreadnoughts who were up-armed with 13.5-inch guns.

Courbet entered the Great War monitoring of the Otranto canal, a vital sea route connecting the Adriatic with the Ionian while keeping an eye peeled for the German battlecruiser SMS Goeben. She served at the time as flagship for Vice Admiral Boue de Lapeyrère, who led a force that comprise most of France’s battlefleet along with two British cruisers.

Courbet

Courbet

On 16 August 1914, the fresh new battleship and her task force came across the small (2,500-ton) Austro-Hungarian protected cruiser SMS Zenta and a companion destroyer, SMS Ulan, off the coast of Bar, Montenegro. The ensuing action, remembered today as the Battle of Antivari, was brief, with Ulan escaping destruction and Zenta, her guns far outranged by the French, destroyed, taking 173 of the Austrian Kaiser’s men to the bottom of the Adriatic with her. The war was just two weeks old.

Painting showing SMS Zenta and SMS Ulan in action on 16 August 1914, by Harry Heusser via Illustrirte Zeitung 1915, wiki

Painting showing SMS Zenta and SMS Ulan in action on 16 August 1914, with Courbet and company in the distance, by Harry Heusser via Illustrirte Zeitung 1915, wiki

When the Italians entered the conflict on the Allied side in May 1915, the Austrian fleet was bottled up for the rest of the war and Courbet, along with most of the French capital ships, were likewise sidelined, waiting the next four years just in case for a fleet action that would never come. After 1916, most of her crew was pulled and detailed to submarines and small craft, a common occurrence with the French navy at the time.

Remaining rusting in Corfu until April 1919, Courbet returned to Toulon where she became the nominal flagship of the West Mediterranean Fleet while she conducted extensive repairs through 1923.

Put back into service, she suffered a major electrical fire at the French North African port of Mers El Kebir which required further extensive repairs at FCM in La Seyne Sur Mer through 1924. Courbet was a member of an unlucky class perhaps, as sister ship France foundered at sea and was lost at about the same time.

In 1927, with Courbet‘s original design increasingly dated, she was hauled out of the water and given a three-year rebuild and modernization. This included retrunking into two funnels, down from three, updating her propulsion plant by taking her old coal boilers and direct drive turbines with oil-burning small-tube boilers and new geared turbines which provided 43,000 shp (up from 29,250). She lost her torpedo tubes (like battleships really used them) and reinforced her anti-air defenses in the form of 76mm high-angle pieces and a smattering of 13.2mm machine guns. Jean Bart and Paris were given similar overhauls.

She emerged looking very different:

Courbet original and post modernization

Courbet original, top, and postmodernization, bottom

In 1934, she was made a full-time gunnery school ship, her place in the French battle line going to the new 26,000-ton Dunkerque-class of fast (29.5-knot) battleships ordered for the French Navy the same year. Likewise, her sister Jean Bart, renamed Ocean, was made a training hulk at about the same time while Paris was used as a school ship for signals rates.

Courbet and Jean Bart in Algeria

Courbet and Jean Bart in Algeria

With World War II on the horizon, Courbet and Paris were taken from their taskings on the training roster in June 1939 and placed in the French Navy’s 3eme Division de Ligne, fleshing out their ranks, taking on power and shell, and installing more AAA guns.

Reportedly, the ships had troublesome engineering suites, only capable of making about 15 knots and even that speed could not be sustained.

Tasked with coastal defense, Courbet was moved to Cherbourg on the English Channel in May 1940. From there, she engaged  German aircraft poking their nose over the harbor and helped support the withdrawal from the beaches of Dunkirk. Later, as the German Army broke through and swept towards Paris, Courbet fired on advancing Boche columns of Rommel’s 7. Panzerdivision outside of Cherbourg before she raised steam and headed across the Channel to Portsmouth on June 19/20. Her sister Paris, damaged by German bombs, likewise left Brest for Plymouth, England at about the same time.

With France officially dropping out of WWII and the Third Republic voting to give full powers to Philippe Petain, the elderly battleships Paris and Courbet were seized and disarmed at their British moorings by Royal Marines on order of Churchill on 3 July as part of Operation Catapult.

On 18 July 1940, De Gaulle addressed France, and Frenchmen everywhere, with his famous “Report to me” speech in which he specifically mentioned French sailors. (“J’invite les chefs, les soldats, les marins, les aviateurs des forces françaises de terre, de mer, de l’air, où qu’ils se trouvent actuellement, à se mettre en rapport avec moi.”)

Courbet-class battleship Paris in British hands, 1940, note the Union Jack on her bow IWM

Courbet-class battleship Paris in British hands, 1940, note the Union Jack on her bow and false bow wave. IWM

Paris, in bad condition, had her crew totally removed– who largely decided to return to France. She would be turned over to the Free Polish Navy who would use her for a dockside trainer and clubhouse until 1945 when she was returned to French custody and scrapped.

As for Courbet, she was turned over to the brand-new Forces Navales Françaises Libres (Free French Naval Forces) forces under Admiral Emile Muselier, allied with then-renegade Maj Gen. Charles de Gaulle ,on 10 July, becoming the largest and arguably most effective French warship not under Vichy control. Meanwhile, hulked sister Jean Bart remained in Vichy hands in Toulon on the Med, along with the bulk of the French Navy that wasn’t hiding out in Africa or the Caribbean.

Cuirassé Courbet à Portsmouth 1940, note the false bow wave painted on her bow.

Rearmed in August 1940, Courbet‘s AAA gunners managed to splash five German bombers over Portsmouth during the Battle of Britain. She continued her role as a floating symbol for De Gaulle and receiving ship for the rapidly forming Free French Navy for the next four years but sadly never left port under her own steam again.

Enter Monsieur Philippe Kieffer, stage left.

Philippe Kieffer

This guy.

The day after World War II started with the German invasion of Poland, Kieffer, a 40-year-old Haitian-born Alsatian bank executive in New York City, presented himself at the French consulate in Manhattan and signed up for the Navy. Having been schooled as a reserve naval officer in university but graduating too late in 1918 to fight in the Great War, the skilled financial analyst was given a sub-lieutenant’s commission and assigned to help flesh out Courbet‘s ranks, where he was assigned as an interpreter and cipher officer. Still aboard her when she left for England, he volunteered for the Free French Forces on 1 July 1940 and remained on her during the Battle of Britain.

In Portsmouth in May 1941, he formed a group of 40 volunteers, largely drawn from Courbet and Paris’s remaining crew who chose to not be repatriated to Vichy France, dubbed the 1re Compagnie de Fusiliers Marins (1st Company of Naval Rifles). Soon, his handful of bluejackets were wearing British uniforms and learning from the likes of former Shanghai Police Inspectors William Fairbairn and Eric Sykes at the commando training center in Achnacarry, Scotland. There, they picked up the general tricks of the dirty deeds done dirt cheap trade.

French marines of No. 1 Troop, No. 10 Commando. Note the British kit, to include No. 1 MK III Enfields. The officer at the left wears French naval insignia-- likely Keiffer -- and carries a Mle 1892 8mm revolver.

French marines of No. 1 Troop, No. 10 Commando. Note the British kit, to include No. 1 MK III Enfields. The officer at the left wears French sub-lieutenant naval insignia– likely Keiffer — and carries a Great War-era Mle 1892 8mm revolver.

His force became No. 1 Troop, No. 10 (Inter-Allied) Commando. Taking part in the Dieppe Raid in August 1942, his forces were expanded to include a second troop, No. 8, and his men were often used in small scale raids and intelligence ops along the coasts of occupied Holland and Belgium for the next two years.

In early 1944, Kieffer’s two troops, along with a smattering of new recruits (including a few Belgians and at least four Luxembourgers) were carved off from No. 10 Commando and formed the new 1re Compagnie du Bataillon de Fusiliers-Marins Commandos (1st Company of the Battalion of Marine Fusilier Commandos, or just BFMC). Geared up for Operation Overlord, they were part of British No 4 Commando of Lord Lovat’s 1st Special Service Brigade and landed on Sword Beach on D-Day, some 177-men strong, for their official return to France, Tommy guns in hand.

Philippe Kieffer, in commando garb meeting Monty, along with early BFMC legends Augustin Hubert (glasses) and Charles Trépel (pointy thing.) The dashing Trepel would be killed in a commando raid off the Dutch coast in 1944 while Hubert was killed on D-Day by a sniper near the Ouistreham casino.

Philippe Kieffer, in commando garb meeting Monty, along with early BFMC legends Augustin Hubert (glasses) and Charles Trépel (making friends with the pointy thing.) The dashing Trepel would be killed in a commando raid off the Dutch coast in 1944 while Hubert was fatally shot on D-Day by a German sniper near the Ouistreham casino.

Kieffer’s Bérets Verts (Green Berets) would soon push from the beach to link up with the 6th Parachute Division at Pegasus Bridge and go on to suffer 21 killed and 93 wounded in the days that was to follow, with the latter including Kieffer.

French villagers welcome French Naval Commandos who D-Day landings. thompson tommy gun Near Amfreville, Calvados, Lower Normandy, France. 17 June 1944.

French villagers welcome BFMC French Naval Commandos who D-Day landings. Near Amfreville, Calvados, Lower Normandy, France. 17 June 1944. Note the green beret’s M1928 Thompson and Fairbairn-Sykes Commando knife.

Before the war was out, his men were the first unformed members of the Free French to enter Paris, see the elephant again at Walcheren, liberate Flessinge, help capture the port of Antwerp, and carry out raids along the Dutch Coast. Not bad for a banker.

As for Courbet, she was at Sword Beach as well, just a few days behind Kieffer’s famed 177.

By 1944 she was old news. The Free French Navy, after the collapse of Vichy France in November 1942, had picked up the scratch and dent but much newer fast battleships Jean Bart and Richelieu, which were given extensive refits in America, as well as the still (somewhat) combat effective Bretagne-class dreadnought Lorraine, the latter of which was soon to see combat in the Operation Dragoon landings in the Med.

With her marginalization as De Gaulle’s unneeded 4th battleship, Courbet‘s bunker oil was pumped out and replaced with concrete as her crew removed their possessions. She was towed out of Portsmouth by HMRT Growler and HMRT Samsonia with her remaining French skeleton crew along for the ride on 9 June, bound for the invasion beaches of Normandy with TF 128.

Stopping some 3,360 meters in front of Hermanville near Ouistreham, her crew was evacuated at 13:15 and 10 minutes later her skipper, Capt. Wertzel, triggered the detonation of a series of installed scuttling charges that soon sent France’s first dreadnought 33 feet to the bottom, still flying her tricolor flag adorned with De Gaulle’s Cross of Lorraine, to give the impression that she was still in some form of service.

French Battleship Courbet was sunk as part of Gooseberry 5 on D+3. Note her decks almost awash, the benefit of having a 29-foot draft in 33 feet of water.

Courbet was part of a line of blockships laid off the beaches to form a reef before the rest of the Mulberry dock system was assembled to bring supplies to the beach.

There were to be five “Gooseberry” breakwaters, one for each beach:
No. 1 Utah Beach at Varreville
No. 2 Omaha Beach at St. Laurent (Part of MULBERRY A)
No. 3 Gold Beach at Arromanches (Part of MULBERRY B)
No. 4 Juno Beach at Courseulles
No. 5 Sword Beach at Oistreham

In all, the breakwaters were to be formed by about 60 blockships (approximately 12 in each Gooseberry) which were all merchant vessels except the disarmed King George V-class battleship HMS Centurion, Free Dutch Java-class light cruiser HNLMS Sumatra, Danae-class light cruiser HMS Durban and our Courbet.

A typical Gooseberry breakwater

The sinking of blockships was to commence p.m. D+1 and the Gooseberries were to be completed by D+3, with Courbet being one of the final pieces of the puzzle at Sword Beach (Gooseberry 5), which was to include the merchant ships Becheville, Dover Hill, Empire Defiance, Empire Tamar, Empire Tana, and Forbin along with the old cruisers Durban and Sumatra.

Gooseberry 5 off the beaches at Ouistreham, showing Sumatra and Durban

Gooseberry 5 off the beaches at Ouistreham, showing Sumatra and Durban

Courbet, still with her war flag flying, was one of the few blockships to be “manned” with generators supplying power to her eight searchlights and a radio. A crew of 35 men from the Royal Artillery was left in charge of her AAA guns for the next several weeks with the intention of drawing away Luftwaffe and Kriegsmarine attacks on the vulnerable beachhead while at the same time possibly splashing a couple of raiders.

The concept worked, as reportedly the very grounded Courbet was hit by German Neger human torpedoes (Einmann-Torpedo) of K-Flottille 361 during the nights of both August 15/16 to 16/17, without effect.

As the breakout occurred and the fighting moved inland, her British gunners were withdrawn in September and Courbet‘s flag hauled down, presented to De Gaulle’s government with honors.

On 14 February 1951, the wrecks in Gooseberry 5 were auctioned by the French government to be salvaged and slowly scrapped, a process that took until 1970 to be completed. By coincidence, Jean Bart, the last French (or European for that matter) battleship afloat, was scrapped the same year at Brégaillon near Toulon, making Courbet and big Jean something of bookends on the tale of French dreadnoughts.

As for Kieffer, Courbet‘s star, he would die at age 63 in 1962, a Commandeur du Légion d’Honneur.

Of the current seven French Commando battalions today, three bear the name of officers of the WWII 1st BFMC: Augustin Hubert, Charles Trépel and Kieffer. Meanwhile, French marine commandos still wear the badge Kieffer designed and issue the Fairbairn-Sykes.

French Fusiliers marins et commandos marine fighting knife green beret via French marines

In the seven decades since the 1st BFMC, more than 8,300 French commandos have followed in their footsteps. To say they have been extremely busy in the past 70 years is an understatement.

French heartthrob Christian Marquand would portray Kieffer in 1962’s The Longest Day, correctly wearing BFMC-badged green berets during the seizure of the Ouistreham casino (which had actually been destroyed prior to the landing). If Marquand looks familiar, he also played the holdout French plantation owner in Apocalypse Now Redux. Notably, Kieffer served on the film as a technical adviser just before he died.

Last week, on the 75th Anniversary of D-Day, a monument to Kieffer and his 177 commandos was unveiled on Sword Beach, with Commando Kieffer frogmen and past veterans in attendance. A piece of salvaged steel plate from Courbet is incorporated into the display.

Specs:

Courbet class, 1914 Jane’s

Displacement:
23,475 t (23,104 long tons) (normal)
25,579 t (25,175 long tons) (full load)
Length: 544 ft 7 in (o/a)
Beam: 88 ft 7 in
Draught: 29 ft 8 in
Machinery (1913)
24 Niclausse coal-fired boilers with Bellville oil spray systems
4 shafts; 4 × Parsons direct drive steam turbine sets
28,000 PS (20,594 kW; 27,617 shp)
2,700 tons coal/1,000 tons oil.
Range of 8,400nm at 10 knots
Machinery (1934)
16 oil-fired boilers
4 shafts; 4 × Geared steam turbine sets
43,000 PS
Speed: 21 knots (designed) only 20.74 on trials in 1913. 16 knots by 1940
Complement: 1,115 (1,187 as flagship)
Armor:
Waterline belt: 140–250 mm (5.5–9.8 in)
Deck: 40–70 mm (1.6–2.8 in)
Turrets: 250 mm (9.8 in)
Conning tower: 266 mm (10.5 in)
Armament: (1913)
6 × twin 305 mm (12 in) 45 cal guns
22 × single 138 mm (5.4 in) 45 guns
4 × single 47 mm (1.9 in) M1902 3-pdr AAA guns
4 × 450 mm (17.7 in) Model 1909 submerged torpedo tubes with 12 torpedoes
30 Blockade mines
Armament: (1940)
6 × twin 305 mm (12 in) 45 cal guns
14 × single 138 mm (5.4 in) 45 guns
8 x 75mm/50cal M1922 AAA guns
14 x 13.2mm machine guns

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Warship Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2019: The avenger of Toulon

Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1946 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, Jan. 23, 2019: The avenger of Toulon

U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. 80-G-202752

Here we see the Marine Nationale’s Bretagne (Brittany)-class dreadnought (cuirasse d’ escadre) Lorraine in Casablanca Harbor on 13 November 1943, when she was the only afloat French battleship in the world capable of fighting—a sobering thought when you remember that the country counted over 20 battleships in their fleet in WWI. Laid down in 1912 to mix it up with the potential battleships of the Italian, Austrian and Imperial German fleets in the looming Great War, she ironically wound up facing her biggest challenges from fellow French guns three decades later.

The trio of Bretagne-class warships, at about 26,000-tons, were built on the same hulls of the previous French battleship class, the Courbets, but mounted a heavier broadside in the form of 12 34 cm/45 (13.4″) Model 1912 guns in six twin turrets as opposed to the Courbets’ dozen 305mm/45 Modèle 1910s. However, due to space limitations, this was later adjusted to five turrets mounting 10 guns.

Note the five turrets of the Bretagne, vs the six of the Courbets in the same hull as compared in these plans from the 1914 ed. of Janes. The new ships were estimated at the time to cost of about £3 million per hull.

The guns could fire a 1,200-pound shell to 15,000 yards, limited due to the 12-degree elevation of their turret. This was later modified to 18 degrees in a 1920s refit, which produced a range of 20,000 yards.

In the 1930s, the Bretagne-class received the slightly more modern Model 1912M version of the guns originally intended for the scrapped Normandie-class battleships, and their elevation was increased again, to 23 degrees, allowing for 25,000-yard shots. Each tube could fire every 35 seconds and the magazine held 100 shells per gun

She also carried 22 5.5-inch guns, some 3-pdrs on her fighting tops and, like most battleships of the time, a quartet of torpedo tubes.

Laid down in April 1912 at At.&Ch de la Loire in St. Nazaire, Lorraine joined the French Navy 27 Jul 1916, which, as it turned out, was some two years into WWI.

Her sisters, Bretagne and Provence, were likewise tardy to the conflict. By the time they had become operational, Italy had switched her pre-war allegiance from Germany and Austria to the Allies, which effectively bottled up the Austro-Hungarians in the Adriatic. Likewise, the Germans were shut in the Baltic and were licking their wounds from Jutland and would never effectively sortie for a fleet action again.

THE FRENCH NAVY IN THE MEDITERRANEAN, 1914-1918 (Q 69694) The French battleship LORRAINE in dry dock at Toulon, 27 December 1916. The black on the turrets and guns is not paint but a substance known as bouchon gras (“fat cap”), a thick grease-and-ash mix that was supposed to prevent rust and corrosion while at sea which was common in French service from about 1908 to the 1930s. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205028711

With no one ready to fight the trio of powerful (for 1916) new French battleships, Provence was sidelined as a fleet flagship while Bretagne and Lorraine sailed for Corfu as part of the 1st Battle Squadron to lend their muscle to any Allied effort to smash the Austrians should they try to break out into the Med.

It was a low-morale job and the French fleet, who had lost almost a third of their personnel to shore up the Army’s losses on the Western front, were rife with discontent.

After the Austrian Kaiser left Vienna and turned over his vessels to the newly formed Yugoslav Navy in November 1918, Lorraine sailed for Cattaro to guard the former Austro-Hungarian fleet until it could be doled out as prize ships– of which the Yugoslavs received few. Lorraine was to sail for the Black Sea in March 1919 to take part in the Allied intervention in Russian during the Civil War there, but a series of paralyzing pro-Bolshevik (red flags and everything) mutinies in the French fleet (to include her sister Provence) forced a recall back home, where many of the rank-and-file were furloughed by the nearly bankrupt government.

Once peace broke out, the barely-used battleship spent the next 20 years in a series of reduced commissionings (she went through at least four extensive refit/modernization periods between 1921 and 1935 alone, chalking up over 68 months in the yard), reserve status, and training cruises. During this time, some of her casemate guns were removed to free up weight, as was her torpedoes and amidships 13.4-inch turret (replaced by aviation facilities for spotting planes). Further, her coal-burning boilers were replaced by oil-fired ones, which raised both her speed and range.

Seen in 1917 in her original scheme, note all five turrets are there. Also note the thick bouchon gras coating.

Modernized scheme, note large fire control tower on main mast, gunfire clock, new 75mm DP guns, and lack of amidships turret. Also, no fat cap!

All these improvements came as France was whittling their battleship force down considerably between the wars to meet the 175,000-ton mark (parable with Italy) set by the Washington Naval Treaty in 1922. The Republic started WWI with 16 pre-dreadnoughts and shed all of them in the 1920s. Of the four Courbet-class dreadnoughts, France was wrecked in 1922 and the other three relegated to hulks or training ships. The nine planned Normandie & Lyon class battleships were aborted with just one of the hulls, Bearn, converted to an aircraft carrier.

The result was that the Bretagne-class were the default heavy-hitters of the French Navy for the two solid decades from 1916 until 1936 when the new 35,000-ton Dunkerque and Strasbourg were completed.

French Warships at Brest, France, 1939. In the foreground are the large destroyers Le Terrible (12-), L’Audacieux (11-) and Le Fantasque (10-). Next are three La Galissonnière-class light cruisers. In the upper center are three battleships (Bretagne, Provence, and Lorraine). In the distance are the hulks of at least three old cruisers (upper left), and three Chacal class destroyers (upper right). U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. NH 90001

When France once again found itself at war with the Germans in 1939, Bretagne and Provence were in Toulon with the 2nd Squadron, while Lorraine was assigned to the Atlantic Squadron. Sailing from Casablanca in November 1939, she took on a load of 1,500 boxes of gold (some 100 tons!) at Brest from the national treasury and took it across the Atlantic to Halifax, from where it was sent by rail to New York and later lent legitimacy to the Free French government in exile once the country got knocked out of the war.

Dubbed Operation Macaroni, Lorraine‘s “Force Z” was joined by a number of escorts in case she ran into German surface raiders or U-boats while in the North Atlantic. These included the light cruisers Marseillaise and Jean de Vienne, alongside the destroyers Aigle, Fortuné, Railleuse, Lion and Simoun. On the way back across after making their deposit abroad, the task force escorted Allied merchantmen carrying war supplies to Europe.

Operating with the British from Alexandria in the Med after April 1940, she was in that port when the Blitzkrieg end-game was playing out at Dunkirk and the Third Republic was forced to negotiate their surrender to the Germans. Nonetheless, Lorraine was involved in one of the last French efforts of the period in support of the Allies when she sailed on 21 June along with the British light cruisers HMS Orion (VADM J.C. Tovey’s flagship), HMS Neptune, the Australian light cruiser HMAS Sydney, and the destroyers HMAS Stuart, HMS Decoy, HMS Dainty, and HMS Hasty to conduct a bombardment of Italian positions around Bardia, Libya.

Lorraine fired 53 rounds of 13.4-inch and another 37 of 5.5-inch, credited with silencing an anti-aircraft battery in the area. It was her first shots in anger but would not be her last.

Less than two weeks later, the British ordered her disarmed and defueled, interning the vessel along with others in Alexandria in early July, as France had signed the armistice with Hitler at Compiegne. She was joined by the rest of French Adm. René-Émile Godfroy’s Force X: three 10,000-ton heavy cruisers (Duquesne, Tourville, Suffern), the 7,500-ton light cruiser Duguay-Trouin, the three torpedo boats Basque, Forbin, and Fortuné; and the submarine Protée. This effectively took a large portion of the French fleet out of the possibility of falling into German hands.

Sadly, on July 3, the British attacked their former allies, striking the French anchorage at Mers-el-Kébir where they sank Lorraine‘s sisters Bretagne and Provence as well as the new battleship Dunkerque. Bretagne was hit by several British 15-inch shells and exploded, killing most of her crew. Provence, also hit several times, burned and settled on the harbor but did not explode. She would later be raised and patched up enough to sail for Toulon.

On the same day, the old French training battleships Paris and Courbet, then docked in Plymouth with evacuees aboard, were seized by the British as well and later used as barracks ships and targets. In effect, the only battleships left to the Republic on July 4, 1940, were the marginally functional Richelieu (which the British tried repeatedly to sink at Dakar) and the incomplete Jean Bart in Casablanca, as well as Strasbourg and the wrecked Provence at Toulon.

Meanwhile, back in Egypt, half of Godfroy’s 4,000 men chose to be repatriated to France after the indignation of Mers-el-Kébir and were in turn sent to nearby Beirut, then under Vichy control. The remainder of the Alexandria-interned vessels, Lorraine included, remained there under a British flag as impounded “Vichy” ships, while the Crown picked up their remaining crews’ pay– for three years!

VICHY NAVAL FORCE H UNDER ADMIRAL GODEFROY’S COMMAND, IN ALEXANDRIA HARBOUR. 22 AND 24 APRIL 1942, ALEXANDRIA. (A 9852) The Battleship LORRAINE in Alexandria Harbour. Note French markings on the turret Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205143635

VICHY NAVAL FORCE H UNDER ADMIRAL GODEFROY’S COMMAND, IN ALEXANDRIA HARBOUR. 22 AND 24 APRIL 1942, ALEXANDRIA. (A 9853) The Battleship LORRAINE in Alexandria Harbour. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205143636

Fast forward to to Torch Landings in French North Africa in November 1942, which triggered the Germans move into Vichy, France and “The Boche” occupied the French Mediterranean naval base at Toulon, but not before the French scuttled what was left of their fleet there, sending Strasbourg and the repaired Provence to the bottom:

Le Strasbourg sabordé, derrière lui le croiseur Colbert est en feu

On 30 May 1943, the three French dreadnoughts in Allied control– Lorraine in Alexandria, the battered Jean Bart in Casablanca, and Richelieu in Dakar– finally came over to De Gaulle’s Free French side and were rearmed. While JB and Richelieu were in no condition to fight and sailed for the U.S. to be repaired/completed, Lorraine was able to join the effort against the Axis more quickly and was, at the time, the only combat-capable French battleship anywhere in the world (although just four of her 13.4-inch guns could be made functional again.) Luckily, the long-ago hulked Paris and Courbet, in possession of the Brits since 1940, provided some spare parts as the three vessels shared much machinery.

FRENCH FLEET LEAVES ALEXANDRIA. 23 JUNE 1943, ALEXANDRIA. (A 18293) The French battleship LORRAINE, with her Tricolour flying before leaving Alexandria harbour. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205151055

The French battleship LORRAINE passing through the Suez Canal towards Suez Bay. June 23, 1943. As she was short on crew and lacked anti-air capabilities while the Germans were still very much capable of running air strikes in the Med, she would sail the long way around Africa to Dakar, where she would be used as a training ship for a few months, before heading to Casablanca. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205151044

Up-armed with 14 40mm Bofors and 25 20mm Oerlikons for AAA protection, her crew–most of which had left during her stint in Alexandria, to either return home or fight for De Gaulle– were reformed and retrained. She also ditched her aviation facility as, cut off from French suppliers, her seaplanes could no longer be supported.

80-G-202753: French battleship, SS Lorraine, in Casablanca Harbor. Note she still has her seaplanes in this photo. Photograph released November 13, 1943.

By August 1944, she was part of the Allied fleet aiming to liberate Southern France, Operation Dragoon. Largely due to the tough nut that was the Normandy invasion on D-Day, Dragoon gets lost in the history books, but have no mistake that it was no lay-up.

Importantly to the Free French, Lorraine was in the thick of the liberation of both Toulon and Marseilles. Of note, the Cross of Lorraine was the symbol of De Gaulle’s forces.

The powerful symbology of having a battleship named “Lorraine” in the Free French Navy, a movement that used the Cross of Lorraine as a symbol, was a no-brainer.

Operating in conjunction with Kingfisher floatplanes from the Baltimore-class heavy cruiser USS Quincy (CA-71) correcting her shot, Lorraine was part of TG 86.4, consisting of the fellow battlewagons USS Nevada and Texas, the cruisers Augusta, Cincinnati (CL-6), Marblehead (CL-12), Omaha (flagship), Philadelphia, Georges Leygues and Montcalm, and large French destroyers Le Fantasque, Le Malin, and Le Terrible. Starting on 18 August, Nevada, Lorraine, and Augusta shelled the harbor and batteries at Saint-Mandrier-sur-Mer and Cap Sicié. where they also engaged the floating wreck of the German-held battleship Strasbourg, hitting the ex-French battleship aft and causing her to list to starboard in the Bay of Lazaret.

Lorraine and Quincy in tandem fired at hard-to-kill Target J-15 (Y-856/973), a German railway battery, silencing it.

Then came a running fight with emplaced two 13.4-inch guns from the French battleship Provence, Lorraine‘s old sister, on the fortified crest of the headland on Cap Cépet, not far from the village and naval arsenal at Saint-Mandrier-sur-Mer, overlooking the approaches to Toulon.

Nevada, Ramillies, Lorraine, Augusta, Philadelphia, Aurora, Émile Bertin, Georges Leygues, Quincy and Montcalm all fought the well-defended 13.4-inch battery at times over the next week, 19–26 August 1944, with Lorraine taking a break on 21 August to fire the first shots in the actual attack on Toulon itself. The big 13.4-inch battery, which had one of its guns knocked out by the Allied ships, eventually surrendered at the orders of German Konteradmiral Heinrich Ruhfus, who commanded the garrison in the Toulon area, on 28 August.

The destroyed French 13.4-inch turret A at Cap Cépet, from Lorraine’s former sistership, Provence.

As noted by DANFS:

“Bombs and shells plowed the ground around the turret, and French ordnance specialists investigated the position after the Germans capitulated and noted that the larger craters carved out by the heavy naval gunfire stood out compared to the bombing impact holes. When Contre-Amiral André-Georges Lemonnier, the French Navy’s chief of staff, questioned one of the battery’s officers, the German told him that the shelling stunned many of his gunners and they refused to man the guns during the final stages of the battle.”

Lorraine was the first Allied ship into Toulon.

Lorraine and Gloire in Toulon Harbor, France, 15 September 1944. Taken by USS Philadelphia (CL 41). 80-G-248718

First major units of French, British, American warships entering Toulon, France. Shown FS Lorraine, FS Emile Bertin, FS Duguay, FS Montcalm, FS Gloire, HMS Sirius, 13 September 1944. Taken by USS Philadelphia (CL 41) 80-G-248719

An American soldier on the deck of the destroyed French battleship Strasbourg in Toulon, August 1944. Near the battleship on its side is the light cruiser La Gallissoniere.

Following the fall of Toulon, our aging French battlewagon went on to plaster the Germans at Sospel, Castillon, Carqueiranne, and Saint-Tropez for the first two weeks of September until the fighting moved into the interior. She then got to take a few months off and refit.

French Battleship LORRAINE in the English Channel in 1944, photo taken from HMCS MAYFLOWER via Royal Canadian Navy

In one of the last battles in Europe during WWII, Lorraine was made the biggest hitter in the 10-ship task force assigned to Operation Vénérable, a mission to rout the remaining German holdouts from the approaches of Brittany in April 1945, where they had been bypassed in 1944 and lingered on even after the Soviets were fighting in Berlin.

It was largely a French naval operation, with our battleship joining the heavy cruiser Duquesne, destroyers Alcyon, Basque and Fortuné, destroyer escort Hova, frigates Aventure, Decouverteand Surprise, and sloop Amiral Mouchez, in support of the “Black Panthers” of the U.S. 66th INF Div. and the French 2ème Division Blindé.

Opération “Vénérable” à bord du croiseur Le Duquesne: Passage à proximité du cuirassé La Lorraine

Festung Girondemündung Nord, on the north bank of the Gironde estuary on the Bay of Biscay, which had four 240mm/50 Modèle 1902 guns taken off the old Danton class semi-dreadnought Condorcet following the scuttling of the French fleet at Toulon in late November 1942. Commanded by Konteradmiral Hans Michahelles, the position was held largely by Kriegsmarine sailors acting as infantry, namely the unit formed by the destroyermen of the 8. Zerstörer-Flottille sunk in the 1940 Norway campaign, Marine-Bataillon Narvik. Starting her bombardment on 14 April, in conjunction with massive airstrikes, Lorraine and company reduced the fortress by 20 April, when Michahelles threw in the towel.

The war in Europe only had 18 more days.

During Venerable, Lorraine fired 236 13.4-inch shells, 192 5.5-inch shells, and 538 75-mm shells

ADMIRAL BOROUGH INSPECTS FRENCH BATTLESHIP. 1945, ON BOARD FS LORRAINE. THE VISIT OF INSPECTION TO THE BATTLESHIP OF ADMIRAL SIR HAROLD MARTIN BORROUGH, KCB, KBE, DSO, WHO SUCCEEDED THE LATE ADMIRAL RAMSAY AS ALLIED NAVAL COMMANDER EXPEDITIONARY FORCE. (A 28383) Admiral Borrough inspecting divisions on board the FS LORRAINE. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205159741

One of only three French battleships to make it through the war, Lorraine served as gunnery training vessel from June 1945, then as an accommodation hulk, and was only finally stricken in February 1953 after giving 37 hard years to both the Third and Fourth Republics, while politely refusing to take part in that whole Vichy thing.

An English patriotic postcard from 1917 depicting the then-new Lorraine. She is in her original scheme, note amidships turret

She was sold before the end of the year and towed to Brégaillon outside Toulon in January 1954 where she was broken up for scrap.

Today, Toulon is still the main home of the French Navy, including the flagship carrier, Charles de Gaulle (R91).

Specs:


Displacement:
Normal: 23,230 metric tons (22,860 long tons), 25,000 fl
Length: 544 ft 7 in
Beam: 88 ft 3 in
Draft: 32 ft 2 in
Machinery:
(As built)
4 shafts, Parsons steam turbines, 29,000 shp (22,000 kW)
24 Bellville coal-fired water-tube boilers with oil spray
(After 1931)
4, shafts, steam turbines, 43,000 shp
16 Indret high-pressure oil-fired boilers
Speed: 20 knots as built, 21.4kts after 1931
Range: 4,700 nmi at 10 knots on 2,700 tons coal +300t oil (as designed)
Crew: 1124–1133
Armament:
(As built)
5 × 2 – 340mm, 13.4″/45cal Modèle 1912 guns, 100 rds. per gun
22 × 1 – 138.6 mm, 5.5″/ 55cal Mle 1910 guns, 275 rounds per gun
7 × 1 – 47-millimetre (1.9 in) guns
4 × 450 mm (18 in) torpedo tubes
(1945)
4 × 2 – 340mm/45 Modèle 1912M guns (only four working after 1940)
12 × 1 – 138.6 mm, 5.5″/ 55cal Mle 1910 guns, 275 rounds per gun
4 x 2 – 100/45
4 x 1 – 75/63 M1908 AA
14 x 1 40mm/56cal Bofors singles
25 x 20mm/70cal Oerlikon singles
Armor:
Belt: 270 mm (11 in)
Decks: 40 mm (1.6 in)
Conning tower: 314 mm (12.4 in)
Turrets: 250–340 mm (9.8–13.4 in)
Casemates: 170 mm (6.7 in)

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