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Mers-el-Kébir 3 July 1940

Discussion in 'Western Europe' started by roscoe, Oct 6, 2013.

  1. roscoe

    roscoe Member

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    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fX7JD9-Gk2Q

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qbzbW9pApbs

    Not a great day for the Royal Navy.

    Churchill - again

    The British knew that Darlan wasn't going to surrender to the Germans they were reading the French Naval code.

    Somerville was exemplary

    What do people think?
     
  2. TiredOldSoldier

    TiredOldSoldier Ace

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    Considering Churchill's mindset it would have taken a lot to convince him not to attack and the French couldn't provide that without angering the Germans that were in control of most of France and would probaly retaliate. Turning over large quantities of warships to an enemy is obviuosly incompatible with an armistice.
    The British had altready taken over by force the ships in Alexandria and in British ports (an explicit act of war everybody chose to ignore) so there was no reason to think they would not try again. Without the fleet the French colonies would be extremely vulnerable to a British expedition, a critical element of the armistice was that the French would resist British attacks..


    IMO attacking was the wrong choice, as long as the fleet was in NA it was out of reach of a German "coup de main", having it move to Tulon increased the chances of the Germans getting hold of it.
    Historically the Tuolon scuttle did happen but this is 20/20 hindsight.
     
  3. green slime

    green slime Member

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    It was a difficult choice. The issue is, that the naval assets were a strategic asset. The French navy was a huge threat to the RN. Should the Commonwealth have ignored their existence, and potential? What would happen in 12 months time? Remember, at this time, the UK was hard pressed to defend the Atlantic convoys.

    Basic risk management you have to look at both Probablity and Risk. If the potential for harm is too great, you have to mitigate.
     
  4. Kai-Petri

    Kai-Petri Kenraali

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    From a previous posting from " How could Germany have won" March 2013

    After the ops...

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1248615/Mass-murder-stroke-genius-saved-Britain-As-closer-ties-France-planned-betrayal-forgive.html

    For the first time since the war began, Churchill was cheered from all sides of the house. According to Harold Nicolson, who was present: 'The House is first saddened by this odious attack, but is fortified by Winston's speech. The grand finale ends in an ovation, with Winston sitting there with tears pouring down his cheeks.'
    In Europe there was outrage. The Vichy regime, which included Admiral Darlan, and the German government made much propaganda play of the British 'atrocity'. Posters showing drowning French sailors and proclaiming 'Remember Mers-el-Kebir' appeared all over France.
    But Washington was delighted. One major strategic worry (the fate of the French fleet) was removed. And another one (Britain's will and ability to fight) was much reduced. Roosevelt's attitude to naval aid for Britain quickly changed and soon Churchill had a deal on his 50 destroyers, the first important sign of American support for Britain and a huge boost to British morale.
    Historian Andrew Lambert believes that the attack had a profound impact. 'It impresses the hell out of the American political class. Churchill is showing the Americans that the British mean business.'

    -------------

    I am afraid it had to be done... :(
     
  5. TiredOldSoldier

    TiredOldSoldier Ace

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    The risk was actually pretty low, as subsequent events proved, the French warships would be a threat to the RN even if the Germans could lay hands on them.
    Assuming they fell in Axis hands and they somehow managed to find crews for them what could they do with them? There is no way they could have sailed past Gibraltar and the Italians (or the KM in the Med) wouldn't have much use for a couple if 20 knots French BBs with incompatible systems, Dunquerque and Strasbourg may have been a bit more useful but using the fuel to keep the Doria operational would still make more sense.

    The only real risk was if Vichy was to join on the axis side, with the original French crews the ships would present a real theat, but IMO attacking them was the one thing that might have brought that about, reducing the impact of your "risk" at the cost of greatly increasing the likelyhood is terrible risk management.

    Still I fully agree it wasn't an easy choice and Churchill won the critical propaganda battle that followed against Goebels that performed uncommonly poorly in that circumstance.
     
  6. steverodgers801

    steverodgers801 Member

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    They could have been of great use in the Med. The threat they could interdict convoys for Malta was real. Maybe Darlan would not today, but what assurance would there be if say when Tobruk fell and now it may be tempting to think the Germans will take Africa. Remember Italy was demanding more French territory and the French may think it was opportune to join the "winning" side
     
  7. TiredOldSoldier

    TiredOldSoldier Ace

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    If they didn't join the Axis after Mers El Kebir why would they join before? and BTW at the time Tobruk was very much in axis hands, the British position was never as weak in the Med as in June 1940 which is the reason for the attack.
    But knocking out the fleet actually weakened the French defences that could oppose axis claims.
     
  8. steverodgers801

    steverodgers801 Member

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    I meant after the British had taken Tobruk and Rommel was starting his drive east.
     
  9. Kai-Petri

    Kai-Petri Kenraali

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    Even if they could/would not sail it would pose a major local threat just like Tirpitz did. And could you be absolutely sure they would not sail...
     
  10. merdiolu

    merdiolu Member

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    They were enough threat by "fleet in being" and would have diverted or immobilized large number of Royal Navy and RAF assets in Meditterranean just by their existence. You make your strategy and planning according to the assets enemy had or you know what they had. Just like capital ships of Royal Navy Home Fleet in Scapa Flow during both World Wars. Their constant presence in there was required in case German battleships sortied to North Sea and Atlantic to raid Allied merchant ship traffic. And prevented Home Fleet vessels to be used in other theaters. That's why Royal Navy and RAF constantly struggled to sink a few remaining German capital ships even during 1944. That's why I consider surrender and capture of almost Italian Navy and most of air force was a considerable sucess and relief for Allies in September 1943. It enabled assets of British Mediterranean Fleet to be used in other theaters.

    Hitler's promise in Compiegne Armistice about leaving French Fleet intact was pointless. You don't base your strategy according to what your enemy said and Hitler was notorious about breaking his commitments / promises anyway. Technical points about their unavailabilty for Axis usege is a moot point. It wouldn't be insurmountable to find crews for French capital vessels once they were captured and stretch British resources to the limit. British strategy was always about having superiorty at sea first and in 1940 it is reasonable that they would to anything to prevent more ships to Axis naval arsenal. (Mussolini actually demanded French fleet during armistace but he was rebuffed by Hitler who needed a peaceful submission from a passive France.) It might have been an odious affair but it had to be done.
     
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  11. urqh

    urqh Tea drinking surrender monkey

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    Don't think Darlan was ever the British'ssss man ....Humint had to be taken into account as much as monitoring...After Giraud had been helped to escape...The Allies had a quandry with who to deal with...3 of em...4 If you include Petain....We had our hoisted on favourite..but we had allies to deal with too...The politics behind anything Churchill did with the French was not cut and dry..black or white...and owed much to not his own thoughts or even intelligence provided..but to what the benefit to the allies as a whole vis a vis damaged relationships with USA for one..was always forefront in his mind. IMHO
     
  12. belasar

    belasar Court Jester Staff Member

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    Churchill's act was a prudent, if unsavory, necessity for Britain and I can not fault his logic. We tend to forget that commanders/leaders make decisions on the fly in real time and without the benefit of hindsight. We know now that when threatened French crews scuttled their own ships rather than have them fall into German hands, we know now that Hitler was unwilling to provide enough fuel for the Italian fleet, let alone any captured/allied French ships, but these facts were far from clear then.

    For America at this juncture the prospect that France's fleet (and possibly the Royal Navy) could fall into Axis hands and join up with German and Italian warships to shift the balance of power in the Atlantic was not considered unthinkable by any means. Certainly American fleet commanders could have advised the US political leadership just how difficult it would be to operate ships from three or four different nations together considering differing designs and languages, but politicians count noses (or in this case hulls) not maintenance and readiness reports. Yes America had authorized the "Two Ocean Fleet" but these ships were a couple of years away and a probable war in the Pacific was looking to flare up before these new ships touched water.

    FDR might have had faith that Britain would never yield her fleet and fight to the bitter end, but for FDR to provide the means to ensure it never came to that he needed key support within Congress and that required a demonstration of will on the part of Great Britain.

    It is perhaps a pity that Britain did not have the same means it did later to use Commando's or "X--Craft" to disable these French ships for the loss of life would have been much smaller and it would have had the appearance of a plucky raid, daringly executed, rather than a massive and overwhelming attack on prostrate former ally.
     
  13. urqh

    urqh Tea drinking surrender monkey

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    The cheers in the house of Commons were bethunderous....maybe that should tell the world something of Britain at the time...
     
  14. Markus Becker

    Markus Becker Member

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    Actually they were very clear at the time. Winston knew the French didn't want to hand over their ships and he also knew the Germans had no intention of taking them. He just did not tell his war cabinet that:

    Initially the ships were to be recalled to France and disarmed in ports under Axis supervision. The ports under Axis supervision was probably deliberately mistranslated into ports under Axis control.

    But that should have been a moot point. Darlan suggest the ships stay put, lest the RN incercepts them in transit. Hitler almost immediately agreed.

    However there was one ship Darlan wanted to return to unoccupied France, the half finished 'Jean Bart' but Hitler deneid that request. She was to stay in Algeria. On the other side of the Med, firmly out of Axis reach. And she was the second most powerful warship of France.

    edit: see J. Jordan 'French Battleships' and 'French Cruisers'

    He bullied and tricked the cabinet into attacking anyway. IMO the long term effects were very harmful to the Allied war effort. The French were deply devided over the decision to ask Germany for terms. Many wanted to continue the fight, even if that meant deserting. An entire fighter group was planning its defection to the British but Mers-el-Kebir ended all of that. If the attack had not happened the Vichy forces in NA would have probably fallen apart and into Britain's lap.

    That would have been a huge boost to the war effort.
     
  15. Okie55

    Okie55 New Member

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    As an earlier post mentioned, the Americans were "delighted." If Britain was to live to see Hitler defeated, it must have American help. Churchill would either secure the ships of the French Fleet peacefully, and gain America's respect; or, he would destroy them militarily, and evoke American "delight." It was all about America, and, particularly, about convincing FDR that aid to Britain would not be wasted. Pessimists in the USA were saying that weapons sent to England would only be claimed by the Germans after the British surrendered. Mers el Kebir convinced the USA that Britain - or at least Winston Churchill - would never surrender.
     
  16. merdiolu

    merdiolu Member

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    The moment France got out of Etante Cordielle and declared to follow its own national interests (which one sided Armistice was all about ) all French assets were fair game for British or remaining Allies. Darlan never instructed French Navy to sail away a far away neutral port like US or West Indies , he never demobilized or deconstructed the vessels , nor he gave orders to sail to Britain to join Allies with their own flag. He deliberately left these ships under easy German reach in Toulon as bargaining chips. Hitler could always change his mind and decide to capture those vessels. Or Darlan could always might make further concessions to offer French Fleet to Axis for better occupation peace conditions. Or French could fumble their sabotage attempts. ( certainly their handling of German invasion in May/June raised serious questions and doubts about their willingless to fight or their fighting capacity ) UK whose remaining aces all tied to naval superiorty simply couldn't take that chance. Words of a Anglophobe French Admiral and German dictator means very little when your national survival is at stake.
     
  17. Markus Becker

    Markus Becker Member

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    Positions of modern French warships at the time of the ceasefire/Operation Catapult


    Mers-el-Kebir(Algeria): BB Dunkerque and Strasbourg, seaplane tender Commandant Teste, several large DD

    Dakar(Senegal): BB Richelieu,CL Primauguet, Georges Leygues and Montcalm, several DD

    Casablanca(Morocco): BB Jean Bart, CL Gloire

    Alexandria(Egypt): CL Duguay-Trouin, CA Tourville, Duquesne, Suffren

    Martinique(America): CV Bearn, CL Jeanne d'Arc and Émile Bertin

    Algiers(Algeria): CL Jean de Vienne


    Toulon: CA Algerie, Colbert, Foch, Dupleix, CL Marseillaise and DD


    As you can see the overwhelming majority of the Marine Nationale's ships were anywhere but in France.
     
  18. steverodgers801

    steverodgers801 Member

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    We all know how wonderful Hitler was in keeping his agreements. The French navy was very anti British and even if Darlan was willing to stay neutral, what if other admirals would be willing to join the Axis. Churchill had to act according to British interests and he did give the French an option. He probably had to fear why would they choose to stay near where German control was possible.
    Also don't forget the American BB Massachusetts had to fire on the Jean Bart during the invasion. What if the other French ships had been available to oppose the landings.
     
  19. Markus Becker

    Markus Becker Member

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    The ships were out of reach of the Germans. The French put them there because they knew the Germans could not be trusted. AFAIK Darlan was the most anti-British admiral and even he was at first opposed to a ceasefire because he was worried the Germans wanted the French ships.

    Like I said, the facts -WSC knew all of them- did not support the idea of the MN ending up in German hands.

    All Catapult did was to turn a former ally, that could have been a friendly enough neutral into a de facto enemy. Well done!
     
  20. merdiolu

    merdiolu Member

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    Did know all of them ? How could he be sure that Hitler or Mussolini change their minds overnight and lay claim to those ships ? ( Mussolini ACTUALLY wanted French Navy ) How could he be sure that Darlan or French would not trade them in final peace conferance in exchange for say....Alsace Lorreine ? How could be sure that Hitler if his demands were not satisfied would not make retaliation to French populance under occupation and French would not cave in ?

    Darlan's first job (and quote as after appointed among leading Triumovate of Vichy Regime with Laval and Petain ) was saying that "I an the Navy Minister" when he was reminded to prevent German claims to his ships. He did not disarm or send French vessels away as Churchill wished him to do prior to Armistice. He DELIBERATELY left them intact in Mediterranean and North Africa shores as bargaining chips. For Britain whose existance depended on naval superiorty existence of these assets ready to fall into Axis hands were unacceptable. British Goverment and Admiralty gave French four options : Either join us and sail away to UK , disarm and disable your ships , sail away to a far away colony (French West Indies) or neutral zone (preferably US ) if none of these were accepted well destruction at the hands of Royal Navy rather than possibility of serving with Axis and tying down British naval assets. France made it clear by making seperate armistace and breaking Anglo-French Alliance it was pursuing its own national interest. No reason left for British to act like allies. French did not accept British conditions instead decided to fight. So neutralization of French Navy became necessarity. Ignoring co belligerent interests or former allies viewpoint is not an act of a friendly neutral...France was pursuing its own national interests so was Britain.
     
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