Tag Archives: Navio Aeródromo São Paulo (A12)

Belle fin, Foch! Adeus, São Paulo!

The only sistership of the fleet carrier Clemenceau, the 32,000-ton flattop Foch (R99) was commissioned into the French Navy on Bastille Day 1963, carrying the name of the great mustachioed Marshal Ferdinand Foch of the Great War. Fast forward 60 years and her final chapter was written this past weekend. 

She would serve the Republic well for 37 years through the Cold War and see the elephant off Djibouti in 1977 (Crusaders vs Yemeni MiG-21s), against Libya in 1984, and during the NATO Yugoslav intervention in the 1990s with her Etendards flying strikes against Serbian ground targets.

A port quarter view of Clemenceau-class carrier Foch (R-99) underway during exercise Dragon Hammer ’92, May 5, 1992. Note her airwing of six Bréguet 1050 Alizé ASW aircraft on her bow, four 1960s-vintage F-8E(FN) Crusaders in her stern, a Super Frelon helicopter by her bow, an AS365 Dauphin on her short deck, and 13 Super Etendard strike aircraft along her starboard rail. the USN DN-ST-92-08605 by PHC Jack C. Bahm now in the National Archives. https://catalog.archives.gov/id/6480281

A starboard bow view of the French Clemenceau class aircraft carrier FOCH (R-99) as the vessel executes a high-speed turn during exercise Distant Drum. May 19, 1983. Again, you see the wing of Alizé and Etendards, while the Crusaders are absent, as well as a great view of her 100mm Modèle 64 gun mounts, of which she was finished with eight turrets that were later removed in the 1990s. The latter fact made her the last heavily armed carrier in terms of surface guns completed. DN-SC-92-01093 NARA https://catalog.archives.gov/id/6474632

Decommissioned in 2000, she was sold for not much more than scrap value ($12 million) to Brazil and was commissioned as Navio Aeródromo (NAeL) São Paulo (A12), replacing the even older NAeL Minas Gerais (A11) which had been constructed as HMS Vengeance (R71) during WWII.

São Paulo, ex-Foch, underway off Brazil. Note her ex-Kuwaiti A-4KU Skyhawks aboard, around 2003. Notably, the Brazilians shared a lot of their knowledge about the ship and how to operate carriers with the Chinese around this time, helping to jump-start that country’s flattop program.

However, the cranky old French carrier never got out much, and as the Argentines had already disposed of their flattop– ARA Veinticinco de Mayo (V-2), a sister of Minas Gerais originally built as HMS Venerable (R63) — in 2000, it never made sense for the Brazilians to spend a ton of money refitting her for further service after a major fire in 2012.

Laid up for six years, she was decommissioned and was sold to a Turkish firm for scrap in 2022, after museum ship plans repeatedly fell through.

With the revelation that she likely had 600 tons of asbestos aboard, demonstrations in Turkey organized by leftist parties meant the old carrier was persona no grata for environmental reasons there.

Sent back to Brazil after mysterious offers from Middle Eastern buyers that probably would have seen her either show up in Iran or China, she was denied entry to port there as she was taking on water and the last thing desired was to have her on the bottom of the harbor in Rio.

In the end, the Brazilians seized her while still at sea and she was scuttled on 3 February 2023, some 220 miles offshore, in 15,000 feet of water.

Not since the ex-USS Oriskany (CV/CVA-34) was deep-sixed off Pensacola in 2006 to serve as a reef (after being cleaned of much of her PCBs and contaminants) has a carrier been disposed of in such a manner.

Coming to you live from the French aircraft carrier Foch, where I am 3 under par…

A Vought F-8 Crusader lines up for landing on the French aircraft carrier Foch (R99). Date and location unknown

The German daily Bild recently reported that entrepreneur Udo Stern, a former member of the Lufthansa board, is passing around the idea that the retired French aircraft carrier Foch be brought back to Europe and turned into a luxury hotel resort.

Some details provided would be to turn the hangar deck into a series of concert halls, cinemas, a casino, and restaurants. Meanwhile, the 55 former staterooms in officer country would be remodeled into themed hotel rooms. On her flight deck, a golf course in summer and a ski slope in winter are also on the program.

It is not so far-fetched as several Russian carriers were bought for such a purpose in China, and at least one is still there as such.

Completed in the 1960s as the second of the Clemenceau-class light carriers by the French, the 869-foot/32,000-ton Foch remained in nominal NATO service until 2000, with an airwing of F8 Crusaders, Super Étendard, pregnant-looking Br.1050 Alizé sub-busters, and Dauphin Pedro/ Super Frelon helicopters. Her combat record included the Bosnian conflict and mixing it up with Yemeni MiGs off Djibouti in 1977. 

Sold to Brazil for $12 million to replace their aging British light carrier Minas Gerais (ex-HMS Vengence), she served there as NAe São Paulo with an airwing of A-4 Skyhawks until a fire sidelined her in 2017. At the time, she was the last CATOBAR carrier operated by a country other than France or the U.S. 

Navio Aeródromo São Paulo (A12) carrier, ex-Foch via Marinha do Brasil

Put up for sale since 2019, she was finally sold for scrap earlier this year at a $1.2 million price tag, but the breaker has apparently not come through with a check yet.

Of course, to U.S. readers, Foch is probably remembered most from its brief mention in Tom Clancy’s Red Storm Rising— where she was sunk by Soviet Backfires– and the two-minute opening scene of the 1995 submarine film Crimson Tide where veteran newsman Richard Valeriani portrayed himself as a reporter for CNN from the deck of the French carrier, complete with Super Etendards catapulting from her deck.

Ironically, should Foch somehow make it Hamburg, she’ll finally be Germany’s first aircraft carrier, of sorts, as KMS Graf Zeppelin never got operational.