French Battleships 1914 - 45

Published on
Review Author(s)
Book Author(s)
Ryan K. Noppen
Other Publication Information
Illustrated by Paul Wright, Paperback, 2019; 48 pages
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Company: Osprey Publishing - Website: Visit Site
Provided by: Osprey Publishing - Website: Visit Site
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Despite having produced the world’s first ocean-going ironclad warship in 1859, the Glorie, the French Navy (Marine Nationale Francaise) entered the twentieth century unsure of its direction and at the mercy of confusing political demands. It was left with a hodgepodge of capital ships at the end of the nineteenth century few in number and facing obsolescence. It took the emergence of Germany’s Imperial Navy, the Mediterranean threat from Italy and Austria-Hungary, as well as its traditional rivalry with Britain’s Royal Navy to shake the French Navy and the Marine Ministry from their stupor and confusion, and institute a program leading to the development of modern battleships.

Divided primarily into four sections, this edition of Osprey’s New Vanguard naval series describes:

  1. the development of France’s three pre-WWI classes of dreadnoughts and pre-dreadoughts;
  2. their use (or lack thereof) during the First World War and immediately after;
  3. the development of the French Navy’s first true modern battleships during the inter-war years, and;
  4. the operations of the French fleet during the Second World War.

Unfortunately for the French Navy, it never had a chance to prove itself in either conflict. It spent most of its time idle during the Great War, with the bulk of its assets stationed in the Mediterranean. There, the Italian and Austria-Hungarian fleets failed to show themselves for decisive action, and the major threat came from submarines. The only real action came immediately after the armistice, as the French fleet assisted its other wartime allies in support of the White Russian forces around Crimea, bombarding Bolshevik positions around Sevastopol, while mutinous feelings stirred within the ranks of its dispirited, homesick sailors.

During the interwar period, the Marine Nationaledesigned and built two elegant classes of modern battleships, though limited in number (only two of each) and tonnage, due to France’s limited shipbuilding infrastructure and the restrictions of the Washington and London naval treaties. Once again, however, the fleet’s wartime operations were frustratingly limited, and its fate followed a tortured path. Dunkerqueand Strasbourg, commissioned in the late ‘30s, conducted only minor escort operations in the Mediterranean, and short sweeps of the Atlantic in search of German battlecruisers before France capitulated to the German blitzkrieg. The incomplete Richelieuand Jean Bartwere, along with the rest of the French fleet, forced to fight or flee from their former allies, the British Navy, after Churchill ordered their destruction less they fall into German hands. Richelieuwas eventually repaired and modernized in the United States, and sailed with the British Far East Fleet in the final months of the war. Jean Bart, immobile at Casablanca and heavily damaged there by U.S. naval and air bombardment during the Torch landings, was eventually completed and commissioned in France in 1949.

This book provides a great deal of often overlooked information and stands as an interesting side bar to the operations of the more prominent navies during the two great conflicts of the 20th century.

Thanks to Osprey and IPMS for the opportunity to review this book.


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