French Navy

After the First World War the French Navy concentrated on producing fast, well-armed but thinly armoured cruisers that could defend the coasts of France.

When Adolf Hitler came to power and began building up Germany's armed forces, the French government responded by investing larger sums of money in the navy. This included building large battleships such as the Dunkerque, Strasbourg, Richelieu and Jean Bart.

By the outbreak of the Second World War the French Navy was a strong force. Between 1926 and 1939 two battlecruisers, seven heavy cruisers and 12 light cruisers had been built. Their large battleships were either new or had recently been modernized. It also had 71 destroyers and 76 submarines. Its main weakness was a lack of aircraft carriers.

The French Navy saw little action during the war. However, in June 1940 it took part in the evacuation of Dunkirk. When it became clear that the Vichy government would not allow the French Navy to fight with the Allies, the Royal Air Force launched an attack on French ships at Mers-el-Kebir and Dakar. Those ships that survived were either kept in French North-West Africa and at Toulon.

When the Allies entered Toulon harbour on 27th November, 1942, three battleships, seven cruisers, 29 destroyers and two submarines were scuttled by French officers to stop them being used against Nazi Germany.

After the Vichy government surrendered what was left of the French Navy (4 battleships, 9 cruisers and 11 destroyers) saw action in the Mediterranean, Indochina and the Far East before the end of the Second World War.