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Richelieu in September 1943, after refit. Aircraft equipment has been removed from the aft deck and replaced with anti-aircraft artillery.
|Namesake:||Cardinal de Richelieu|
|Builder:||Brest Navy Yard|
|Laid down:||22 October 1935|
|Launched:||17 January 1939|
|Commissioned:||June 1940 / October 1943|
|Class and type:||Richelieu-class battleship|
|Length:||247.9 m (813 ft)|
|Beam:||33 m (108 ft)|
|Draught:||9.7 m (32 ft)|
|Speed:||30 knots (56 km/h)|
|Range:||8,500 nautical miles (15,740 km)|
|Complement:||70 officers, 1,550 men|
|metre wavelength radar from February 1941|
|Aircraft carried:||Three flying boats (Loire 130)|
|Aviation facilities:||two catapults, crane, four-aircraft hangar (before refit)|
Ordered in 1935, and designed to counter the Italian Littorio-class battleships, Richelieu was the first French 35,000-ton battleship. She was also the first modern battleship built after the 1922 Treaty of Washington. She featured a main armament of eight 380 mm (15 inch) guns in two quadruple turrets in forward superfiring positions. Her armour and underwater protection were equal to most contemporary craft. In trial runs, her speed was a little higher than her European contemporaries, and only surpassed by the U.S. Navy's modern, fast battleships.
In June 1940 she was nearing completion in a shipyard in Brest in northwest France. To avoid capture she left the yard for Dakar in French West Africa (modern-day Senegal). She served during World War II, first on the Vichy Regime side, notably fending off a 1940 Allied attack on Dakar. In 1943 she switched to the Allied side. After refitting in New York Navy Yard, she operated with Royal Navy forces in the Indian Ocean in 1944 and 1945. She took part in the return of French forces to Indochina in 1945, and continued to serve into the 1960s.
The first post-World War I battleship of the French Navy, Dunkerque, was ordered in 1932. She was designed to outclass the German "pocket battleship" Deutschland, which had been laid down in 1929. The German Reichsmarine had ordered two units similar to Deutschland, namely Admiral Scheer and Admiral Graf Spee, which outgunned all existing heavy cruisers. Only HMS Hood, and the two Renown-class battlecruisers could catch Deutschland and her sister ships.
Dunkerque had a displacement of 26,500 tons and was armed with eight 330 mm guns. She had a speed of 29.5 knots (54.6 km/h; 33.9 mph) and protection able to resist Deutschland's 280 mm shells. The French stayed well within the 1922 Washington Naval Treaty limits of 35,000 tons and 406 mm. Their intention was to avoid jeopardizing efforts to get more drastic naval armament limitations. The United Kingdom led these efforts in negotiations, conducted by the League of Nations, from 1926 to 1932. The result was Dunkerque, smaller and more lightly armed than battleships built circa 1920.
Germany then ordered two units in February 1934, first announced as part of the Deutschland class. These were laid down in May–June 1935, just after Adolf Hitler announced German rearmament in violation of the Versailles Treaty, and just before the Anglo-German Naval Agreement. Scharnhorst and Gneisenau emerged as fast battleships, heavier (31,800 tons) than Dunkerque and much better armoured, with nine improved guns, still of 280 mm caliber. Italy believed the Dunkerque class changed the balance between the battleship fleets in the Western Mediterranean, and in May 1934 announced the building of two 35,000-ton battleships, armed with nine 381 mm guns. The French reaction was, on 16 July 1934, to order a second Dunkerque-class ship, Strasbourg, and to plan the first French 35,000-ton battleship.
Eight days later, on 24 July 1934, the Conseil Superieur de la Marine, the French equivalent of the Board of Admiralty, released the specification of the new French battleships:
Thirteen months later, the Service Technique des Constructions Navales, (S.T.C.N.) (The French equivalent of the Royal Navy's Department of the Director of Naval Construction) established a definitive project. It was submitted to the Minister on 14 August, accepted on 31 August, and laid down 22 October 1935, to become Richelieu. France, in turn, abrogated naval limitation treaties, in that 88,000 tons of new battleships had been ordered between 1922 and 31 December 1936, against a limit of 70,000 tons allowed by the 1922 Treaty of Washington and the 1930 Treaty of London.
However, on 18 June 1935, the United Kingdom unilaterally signed the Anglo-German Naval Agreement with the Third Reich. This cancelled de facto the limitations of the Treaty of Versailles with respect to displacement of various types of warships and granted Germany a total tonnage for the Kriegsmarine equal to 35% of the total tonnage of the Royal Navy. France proved unable to counter both German and Italian navies, as the Versailles and Washington treaties allowed, but she believed the Dunkerque-class battleship was the answer to the Scharnhorst-class battleship, and the Richelieu-class battleships the answer to the Italian battleships Littorio and Vittorio Veneto.
Vice Admiral Georges Durand-Viel, the Chief of the Navy's General Staff, was very concerned about continuity between the Richelieu battleship class and the preceding Dunkerque battleship class (whose lead ship had been ordered only two years before). In order to reduce to a minimum planning and construction delays, and to create homogeneous combat groups, a similar main and secondary artillery disposition was envisaged.
The designs for the two front turrets used on Dunkerque-class battleships were scaled up for Richelieu. The resulting 2,476-tonne (2,437-long-ton) 1936-model quadruple turrets built by Saint-Chamond, were nearly 1,000 tonnes (984 long tons) more than the quadruple turrets of Dunkerque or the triple turrets of Littorio.[a]
The 380 mm (15 in) shell was an armour-piercing capped (APC) shell, registered in the French Navy as Obus de Perforation (OPf), a further development of the 330 mm (13 in) OPf Model 1935, in use on Dunkerque. The 380 mm (15 in) shell was 1.905 meters (6.25 ft) long and weighed 884 kilograms (1,949 lb), less than the 406 mm (16.0 in) Massachusetts' shell (1,224 kilograms (2,698 lb)), that had a glancing hit on Jean Bart at the Battle of Casablanca (1942), and some kilos more than the weight of the 381 mm (15.0 in) shells of HMS Barham or HMS Resolution (875 kilograms (1,929 lb)), that lightly damaged Richelieu at the Battle of Dakar (1940).
The OPfK Model 1935 incorporated a dye bag and fuze (dispositif K) to color[c] her splashes and the hits she inflicted. No high explosive (HE) variant of the 380 mm (15 in) shell was originally provided.)
The French Navy had pioneered a dual-purpose (DP) battery on a battleship, in the early 1930s. Seven years later, after shortcomings were seen with the 130 mm (5.1 in) and 152 mm (6.0 in) DP turrets and 37 mm (1.5 in) twin automatic AA mountings, a low-angle secondary battery and a high-angle tertiary battery became features of the new battleships in construction, as in the Italian and German navies.
Early designs for the secondary armament retained the 130 mm (5.1 in) guns in five quadruple dual-purpose turrets, as per the Dunkerque-class battleships, but with quadruple turrets amidships, instead of double turrets. Since torpedo surface attacks were considered more dangerous than aircraft, a heavier gun was required for the anti-surface battery.
In April 1935, the French Naval Board decided to upgrade the 130 mm (5.1 in) turret design on Dunkerque with five 152 mm (6.0 in) turrets on Richelieu and to make them dual-purpose. The triple 152 mm (6.0 in) Model 1936 Dual Purpose turret was a further development of the 152 mm (6.0 in) Model 1930 Low-Angle turret already proven on the French cruiser Émile Bertin and the La Galissonnière-class 7,600-ton cruisers, at least in comparison to the German 15 cm (5.9 in) SK C/36 gun turrets, or the Italian triple 152 mm (6.0 in) turrets Model 1934 or 1936. However, for anti-aircraft purposes, the 152 mm (6.0 in) Model 1936 turret was thought to be complex, fragile, and too heavy a turret. The loading mechanism was also prone to jamming at elevations above 45°.
For short range anti-aircraft defence for Dunkerque-class battleships, the French Navy envisaged an automatic version (37 mm (1.5 in) ACAD Model 1935) of the 37 mm (1.5 in) semi-automatic anti-aircraft turret with twin mountings (CAD Model 1933). The firing rate was expected to be 120 rpm or above. However, by November 1940, it became evident that this would not be provided in time for Richelieu's completion.
Thus, a drastic revision of the AA battery was needed. The midship 152 mm (6.0 in) turrets had to be canceled, and twelve 100 mm (3.9 in)/45 Model 1930 guns in six twin 100 mm (3.9 in) mountings, CAD Model 1931, would instead be fitted, as they had been on the last 10,000 tons heavy cruiser, Algérie. The 100 mm (3.9 in) CAD Model 1931 turrets were dual-purpose. These guns proved to be the only reliable arms of Richelieu until 1943, due to the obsolescent, optical-only fire control for the 380 mm battery and the 152 mm battery lacking anti-air fire control.
The defence against aircraft would have been complemented by six or eight 13.2 mm (0.52 in) Hotchkiss quadruple MG mountings (CAQ Model 1929) on the upper platforms of the forward and after towers.
The fire control system was very similar to Dunkerque's. The same noteworthy weight accumulation in the fore tower top as on Dunkerque proved to be a problem when Richelieu was torpedoed at Dakar, as a whiplash effect on the main mast around which they were mounted provoked more serious effects on the fore tower systems than on those on the after tower, despite the fact that the latter was nearer the torpedo explosion.
The most conspicuous difference between the Richelieu and Dunkerque profiles was the mounting of the fire control director system aft—not on a separate tower located behind the funnel, but on a kind of mack, so that the funnel opening came out obliquely aft underneath the control tower.
As on Dunkerque, aircraft installations (aircraft hangar, crane and two catapults, for four seaplanes) were fitted on Richelieu's stern. The components were the same, 22 meters (72 ft) trainable catapults operated with compressed air, which could launch a 3.5 tonnes (3.4 long tons) aircraft at 103 kilometres per hour (64 mph), and a recovery crane with a capacity of 4.5 tonnes (4.4 long tons). The aircraft were (flying boat) seaplanes of the Loire 130 type. There were, however, differences in Dunkerque's aircraft installations, with 36.50 meters (119.8 ft) on the quarterdeck between the aviation hangar and the stern on Richelieu, instead of the 30 meters (98 ft) on Dunkerque. This enabled a second catapult to be worked in, with the catapults offset to port and starboard en échelon[d] with an elevator between them. Two planes were to be stowed in the 25-meter (82 ft) hangar on the same level, wings folded and in line, instead of being placed on the two platforms of a two-tier hangar lift, and two on the catapults with wings deployed.
On Richelieu, the armor weight was 16,045 tonnes (15,792 long tons) and corresponded to 39.2% of the total weight, for a 40,927 tonnes (40,281 long tons) normal displacement, with 2,905 tonnes (2,859 long tons) of fuel (half of full load). This figure may be compared to those for Dunkerque, 35.9%, or Strasbourg, 37.3%, with a 30,750 tonnes (30,260 long tons) or 31,570 tonnes (31,070 long tons) normal displacement. These figures were all comparable to those of the Iowa-class battleships (18,700 tons for the armor weight and 41.6% of 45,000 tons standard displacement), or for Bismarck, (17,540 tons for the armor weight, and 41.30% of the 41,781 tons standard displacement. They were all superior to those for earlier battleships (such as Dunkerque) or those given for the King George V-class battleships, (12,500 tons and 34.80%) or for the Littorio-class battleships (13,600 tonnes (13,400 long tons) weight of armor and 36% of 37,750 tonnes (37,150 long tons) standard displacement).
The armor thicknesses were:
The British King George V-class battleships and HMS Vanguard had a thicker armored belt than Richelieu (356 mm (14.0 in)), but their turrets were less protected (330 mm (13 in)), and although the horizontal armor (152 mm (6.0 in)) was equivalent, their command spaces were only protected against shrapnel. The U.S. Navy (North Carolina class, South Dakota class, and Iowa class) battleships had an equivalent protection.
The German Bismarck-class battleships, with 356 mm (14.0 in) on the main artillery turrets, 356 mm (14.0 in) on the conning tower, 320 mm (13 in) for the armored belt and 80 mm (3.1 in) to 115 mm (4.5 in) for the horizontal armor were also equivalent to Richelieu. The Italian Littorio had a thicker armored belt (350 mm (14 in)) than Richelieu, but otherwise they were less protected, with 350 mm (14 in) on the main artillery turrets, 260 mm (10 in) on the conning tower, 50 mm (2.0 in) on the upper armored deck and 100 mm (3.9 in) on the main deck.
As on Dunkerque, the underwater protection consisted of a sandwich of void spaces, light bulkheads, liquid loading compartments or compartments filled with a rubber-based water-excluding compound (ébonite-mousse), and a heavy internal holding bulkhead to absorb the explosion of a torpedo head. The maximum width was around 7 meters (23 ft). The reduction of 0.5 meters (1.6 ft) in comparison with Dunkerque was necessary to accommodate three boilers side by side in the boiler rooms.
This figure of 7 meters (23 ft) width was impressive, compared with the 4.10 meters (13.5 ft) on King George V, 5 meters (16 ft) on Scharnhorst, and 6 meters (20 ft) on Bismarck. The Italian Littorio-class battleships had a peculiar underwater protection system, designed by the Italian chief designer, Generale Ispettore del Genio Navale Umberto Pugliese, which incorporated a 3.8-meter (12 ft) diameter cylindrical expansion space.
The Achilles' heels of battleships facing torpedo attacks were their vitals that could not be protected, such as the shaft of Richelieu at Dakar, on 8 July 1940, or the rudder of Bismarck in May 1941.
The French designers of Richelieu had various constraints, including a 33 meters (108 ft) beam to accommodate the barbettes of four 380 mm (15 in) gun turrets, a 245 meters (804 ft) long hull, limited by the length of the Navy shipbuilding infrastructure, and thus a length/beam ratio of 7.3 to 1. All this required machinery generating 150,000 shaft horsepower (110,000 kW) to reach the 30 knots (56 km/h; 35 mph) requested by the French Navy Board. It was then the greatest mechanical power installed on a battleship, surpassed only on U.S. Navy Iowa-class battleships in 1943–1944. All British or U.S. battleships built in the late 1930s, having to respect the 35,000 tons displacement limit, had a speed of 29 knots (54 km/h; 33 mph) (the King George V class ) or 28 knots (52 km/h; 32 mph) (North Carolina or South Dakota classes). They were 225 meters (738 ft) or 215 meters (705 ft) long, with a propulsion plant developing respectively 110,000, 120,000, or 130,000 shp.
The Italian Littorio-class battleships reached 30 knots (56 km/h; 35 mph) with a 230 meters (750 ft) hull and 140,000 shp (100,000 kW). The German battleship Bismarck had a 29-knot (54 km/h; 33 mph) speed with 138,000 hp (103,000 kW), and reached 30.5 knots with forcing for 150,000 shp, with a length:beam ratio of only 6.9, as she had nearly the same hull length as Richelieu, but a wider beam (36 meters (118 ft)).
Richelieu was propelled by six Indret boilers, and four Parsons turbines. The boilers were of a new type, so-called Suralimenté, meaning "pressure-fired" (and, thus, the abbreviation of Sural) boilers. These boilers were operated at a pressure of 27 kg/cm²(384 psi) at 350 °C (662 °F), as on Dunkerque, but forced circulation and pressure firing resulted in steam production per cubic meter well in excess of conventional boilers (14.4 kg/m³). They were 6.30 meters (20.7 ft) long, versus 5.33 m on Dunkerque, 4.65 meters (15.3 ft) height versus 5.34 meters (17.5 ft), and moreover 4.50 meters (14.8 ft) wide versus 6.50 meters (21.3 ft). Thus, due to the 2-meter greater beam of Richelieu, it was possible to install three boilers side by side in two boiler rooms, instead of three rooms as on Dunkerque.
The maximum fuel load for peace-time cruising was 5,866 tonnes (5,773 long tons) but, in wartime, this figure was reduced to 4,700 tonnes (4,600 long tons) to maximize the underwater protection system's effectiveness, since filling the liquid loading compartments to the brim created additional pressure on bulkheads instead of absorbing the pressure of explosion. The radius of possible travel was 9,850 nautical miles (18,240 km; 11,340 mi) at 16 knots (30 km/h; 18 mph), 8,250 nautical miles (15,280 km; 9,490 mi) at 20 knots (37 km/h; 23 mph), and 3,450 nautical miles (6,390 km; 3,970 mi) at 30 knots (56 km/h; 35 mph).
During speed trials in April 1940, developing 123,000 hp 30 knots (56 km/h; 35 mph) were maintained with near 42,000 tonnes (41,000 long tons) displacement and, in June, 32 knots (59 km/h; 37 mph) were maintained for 3 hours and 30 minutes, with 43,800 tonnes (43,100 long tons) displacement and 155,000 hp, and 32.68 knots (60.52 km/h; 37.61 mph) were reached with 179,000 hp forcing.[clarification needed]
Laid down in October 1935, Richelieu was floated out the Salou n°4 graving dock, on 17 January 1939, to be fitted out in the Laninon n°9 dock in the Brest Navy Yards. The 43 m bow section and the 8 m stern section, built separately, had to be assembled there, as the Salou building dock was only 200 m long. Thirty-nine months between laying down and launching was not an impressive performance, as two years only had been necessary for Strasbourg, or King George V and Prince of Wales, which were laid down on 1 January 1937, and launched in February and May 1939 respectively, or Vittorio Veneto and Littorio, which were laid down on 28 October 1934, and launched on 25 July and 22 August 1937.
This long delay was the consequence of the difficult social climate in France in 1936, as well as the British government representations, which urged a slowing down of construction, as following the 1922 Treaty of Washington and 1930 Treaty of London, France would have had to expect 1 January 1937, to outpass the 70,000 tons global tonnage limit for new battleships, including the Dunkerque class.
One year later, in January 1940, the last 380 mm barrel had been installed, as were, in April 1940, the first three 100 mm turrets, and the starboard catapult. In April 1940, the first speed trials were carried out and, during one hour, 30 knots were maintained developing 123,000 shp. In late April and early May, the three last 100 mm turrets were completed, the fire control directors for the main and secondary batteries fitted atop the towers, and the 152 mm guns installed in the after turrets.
On 13 June, during the full power speed trials, 32 knots were maintained during three-and-a-half hours, developing 155,000 shp, and 32.6 knots reached developing 175,000 shp. The next day, the gunnery trials were carried out, six shots being fired for each 380 mm and 100 mm guns, without major damage, but the main battery replenishment system gave concern, as a quarter of an hour was necessary to hoist one shell and its powder charges from the magazine to the barrel.
On 15 June, the French Admiralty placed Richelieu under Admiral de Laborde, Amiral Ouest, C. in-C. French Navy at Brest, with orders to prepare to send the battleship to the Clyde. In the early morning of 18 June, new orders were received to provide a colonial withdrawal. Due to the advance of German troops, the battleship left Brest bound for Dakar on 18 June, at 16.00, escorted by destroyers Fougueux and Frondeur. Richelieu had on board, for her main artillery, 250 shells, but powder charges for only 48 rounds, and no munition of 152 mm. On 20 June, the escort was replaced off Cape St. Vincent, Portugal, by the destroyer Fleuret, and Richelieu reached Dakar on 23 June.
In the late days of June 1940, at Dakar, the authorities, Léon Cayla, Gouverneur Général de l'A.O.F., the highest administrative authority in French West Africa, Rear Admiral Plançon, Flag Officer, French Navy West Africa, and the town authorities, were inclined to continue to fight against Germany, together with the British. The aircraft carrier HMS Hermes was moored in the inner harbour. Captain Marzin, aware of the signature of the Franco-German Armistice, and having received instructions from Admiral Darlan that his ship remain under the French flag, otherwise he had to scuttle her or flee to the U.S., determined to escape what he considered a British trap. Against the advice of Gouverneur Général Cayla, who considered this departure as a desertion, he decided to return to Casablanca, on 25 June, escorted by the destroyer Fleuret, which had accompanied Richelieu for five days, and Rear Amiral Plançon warned the Amiral Afrique, Flag Officer at Casablanca, that "Richelieu and Fleuret have left Dakar, steering probably towards you".
Knowing this, the British Admiralty, fearing Richelieu returned to France, ordered HMS Hood and HMS Ark Royal to leave Gibraltar to intercept her off the Canary Islands, and the French Admiralty, fearing that the battleship would join the British, summoned Captain Marzin to return to Dakar, which he did, arriving on 27 June, shadowed by HMS Dorsetshire, as HMS Hermes had left. Richelieu was moored in the roadstead in order not to be blocked in the harbour, a correct decision as the British naval attack on Mers-el-Kébir, Algeria, showed. Moreover, some cargo ships under British flag having been seized, Captain Marzin arranged that they be moored on either sides of Richelieu, but primarily on port, to protect the battleship from an aircraft torpedo attack coming from the northeast.
On 7 July, six days after the attack on Mers-el-Kébir, Captain (provisional Rear Admiral) Richard Onslow of HMS Hermes sent an ultimatum to the French with the same terms as the one sent at Mers-el-Kébir. The ultimatum was sent by radio by the sloop HMS Milford. There was no answer from the French authorities, but, knowing since Mers-el-Kébir that such a British ultimatum was not a bluff, Captain Marzin decided to leave in the early morning to try to engage HMS Hermes or her escort cruisers. During the night, Lieutenant-Commander Bristowe, with a squad of Royal Marine Commandos in a fast motor boat, slipped into the harbor and dropped four depth charges under the stern of Richelieu, but the charges did not explode. Nevertheless, Lieutenant-Commander Bristowe received the DSO for the action.
At about 05.00 British Summer Times (GMT+1), six Fairey Swordfish torpedo bombers from HMS Hermes 814th Squadron FAA under Lieutenant-Commander Luard attacked Richelieu, coming under AA fire from Richelieu and the colonial sloop Bougainville. A torpedo exploded against the starboard aft quarter of Richelieu, though the British reported their planes attacked on the port side. A torpedo with a magnetic warhead may have passed under the keel before exploding, or one of the aircraft actually attacked on the starboard side. The explosion was extremely violent, and it was conjectured that the impact on the ship was magnified by the shallow water in which she was moored, with less than five metres of water under the keel. In addition, that torpedo may have set off the depth charges laid earlier in the night.
The main fire control directors atop the fore tower were lifted out of their tracks, damaging them with a whiplash effect on the mast around which they were placed. The main rudder servo motors were completely unserviceable, and the turbo-dynamos were severely shaken. The starboard shafts were badly damaged, the outer one being distorted, and the inner one blocked. There was a breach 9.3 metres (31 ft) long and 8.5 metres (28 ft) high in the hull, and compartments abaft the after armored bulkhead flooded rapidly, So did even the armored citadel, through the cable tunnels, which were no longer watertight.
On 9 July, Captain Onslow radioed to Rear Admiral Plançon, the French Naval Commander, that he sincerely hoped that the operation he had undertaken with much grief the day before had not killed or wounded any French personnel. In fact no French had been hurt.
Richelieu was quickly moved to the inner harbour, and pumping out began immediately with some difficulties. Pumps powerful enough for this operation were not easily available, and there was no graving dock at Dakar that could accommodate Richelieu.
Vichy authorities sent Admiral de Laborde to inspect the damage; he arrived on 14 July 1940. Within three days, Governor General Cayla and Naval Commander Plançon, suspected of pro-British sympathies, were removed from their posts. Cayla was sent to Madagascar. Pierre Boisson, Governor General of French Equatorial Africa, and former Governor General of West Africa (1938–1939), was transferred to Dakar in late July, in charge of both French West and French Equatorial Africa. Plançon was replaced temporarily by Rear Admiral Platon, then on 17 August by Rear Admiral Landriau.
Repair of Richelieu began during July and August. The objectives were to control the flooding, repair the hull, and to ensure that the main and second batteries were able to effectively fire as soon as possible. In order to patch the breach in the hull, a mattress 11.5 square metres (124 sq ft) reinforced with steel strands was fabricated to be put in place in early September, and the Dakar D.C.N. (Direction des Constructions Navales) dockyard began the construction of a steel cofferdam, to be placed in October so that the remaining water could be pumped out.
For the artillery, the crew of the #1 380 mm turret were sent to man the two 240 mm guns of the coast defence battery of Cape Manuel, the most southern promontory of Cap-Vert peninsula. Only the #2 (380 mm) and #7 (152 mm axial) turrets could be manned, and the latter for anti-ship fire only, as the #1 fire control director for 152 mm turrets in anti-aircraft purpose was never put into service. As only less than 200 SD21 powder charges had been embarked in Brest, the 800 powder charges with SD19 propellant for Strasbourg's 330 mm guns left stored at Dakar the previous year were reconditioned in 600 powder charges for 380 mm guns.
In late July, Free French forces took control of three (Middle Congo, Oubangui-Chari, and Chad) of the four colonies of French Equatorial Africa, as well as Cameroon. Subsequently, Winston Churchill and General Charles de Gaulle decided to organize an operation (Operation Menace) to similarly take control of French West Africa. The Force M (for Menace), British cruisers, and troopships carrying 8,000 men, escorted by small sloops flying the Free French ensign, left Liverpool on 26 August 1940, and joined a cover force of two battleships and the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal off Gibraltar, all steering then to Freetown, Sierra-Leone.
In the meantime, the French government at Vichy obtained authorization from the German Armistice Commission to send, from Toulon, France, towards Libreville, Gabon, three 7,600-ton type light cruisers of the 4th Cruiser Division, and three large destroyers, grouped in Force Y, under Rear Admiral Bourragué on 9 September. Intercepted in the Gulf of Guinea by British cruisers which were intended to force him to turn back to Casablanca, Bourragué found refuge at Dakar with two cruisers, Georges Leygues (flagship), and Montcalm on 19 September. On 21 September, Vice Admiral Lacroix, formerly Flag Officer of the Force de Raid 1st Light Squadron, who had been on the destroyer Mogador when she was damaged at Mers-el-Kébir, was flown to Dakar to replace him.
On 23 September 1940, the Anglo-Free French force arrived off Dakar and were greeted with gunshots. The Free French forces attempted in vain to land near Rufisque, 25 kilometres (16 mi) southeast of Dakar. During the two following days, Richelieu, in the position of floating battery in the inner harbour of Dakar, was narrowly missed by some 250 British 381 mm (15.0 in) shells fired by HMS Barham and HMS Resolution, and bombs from HMS Ark Royal's aircraft, receiving only light damage.
On 24 September, when Richelieu opened fire against British battleships with her 380 mm (15.0 in) guns, she suffered severe damage to three barrels of her No. 2 turret, due to premature explosion of the shells. This was first traced to the use of the propellant (SD19 powder) from Strasbourg powder charges reconditioned at Dakar. However, during 1941, an inquiry commission, whose chairman was Admiral de Penfentenyo de Kervéréguen, concluded a misconception of the shell base. On 25 September, Captain Marzin having resolved to rearm the 380 mm No. 1 turret, Richelieu fired twenty 380 mm gun rounds against HMS Barham, without result, but without incident. Then, after the oceanic submarine Bévéziers damaged HMS Resolution, Force M withdrew.
In October, repair of the hull resumed, but the mattress failed to be effective, and the cofferdam, fitted with a kind of ballast tank, was not put in place before mid-December. The breach was sealed only on 28 February. The damaged barrels were not yet repaired because of the obstruction of the German Armistice Commission. The Dakar dockyard capacities were only able to remove the starboard central propeller with a floating crane, but not to repair the blocked shaft. The anti-aircraft battery was reinforced by some 13.2 mm Browning MG mountings and four twin 37 mm CAD Model 1933 mountings, some being removed from the damaged destroyer Audacieux, but the 152 mm turrets were not able yet to fire on aerial targets.
On 24 February 1941, Captain Deramond replaced Captain Marzin as commanding officer of Richelieu. On 24 April 1941, Richelieu could sail at 14 knots (26 km/h), on three engines.
In April 1941, Richelieu was the first French battleship to be fitted with French early radar, designated as "electro-magnetic detector," Détecteur Electro-Magnétique (D.E.M.), which had been shipped from France in November 1940 by the large destroyer Terrible. Operated on a 2-meter wavelength, with the two emission antennæ fitted on the fore tower yards and the two reception antennæ on the aft tower, its range was 80 kilometres (50 mi) against aircraft flying over 1,500 metres (4,900 ft), 50 km (31 mi) at 1,000 m (3,300 ft), and 10 to 20 km (6.2 to 12.4 mi) for ships. In July 1941, three Loire 130 seaplanes from Brest E4 squadron were shipped. They were registered as HDR (Hydravions Du Richelieu) 1, 2, and 3, so the catapults could be tested in October.
In November 1942, Allied forces successfully landed near Casablanca, Oran and Algiers, and the French forces in Morocco and Algeria, and those that escaped the German forces landing in Tunisia joined the Allies. In December, Governor General Boisson, who had a good relationship with the Consulate of the United States in Dakar, agreed that the French forces in West Africa would join the Allies under the authority of Admiral Darlan in Algiers.
The decision was soon taken to refit Richelieu with the help of the United States. The two aircraft catapults, the 37 mm AA mountings and the 13.2 mm MG, intended to be replaced during the refit, were removed. Richelieu left Dakar on 30 January 1943, together with the cruiser Montcalm, and reached New York on 11 February, to refit at the New York Navy Yard. But the crew retained a sharp memory of the 1940 conflict: during the celebration of the battleship's arrival in New York, Captain Deramont left the grandstand when General de Gaulle's representative, Adrien Tixier, reminded him that the Free French had not stopped fighting the enemy for three years.
In April 1943, Captain Lambert replaced Captain Deramont as commanding officer.
After two-and-a-half years in tropical waters without docking, a shipyard overhaul was badly needed. In the Brooklyn Navy Yard, the hull was scraped and repaired, the starboard outer shaft was straightened, and the inner shaft was replaced – ordered from Bethlehem Steel, delivered and fitted in June.
The three ruined barrels of Richelieu's upper main battery turret were replaced by barrels previously fitted on Jean Bart (the second ship of the Richelieu class, which was staying at Casablanca). The fourth barrel from Jean Bart was used for trials at the Dahlgren firing range in Dahlgren, Virginia. There was still serious concern about the main battery munitions, as Richelieu was provided in March 1943 with 407 APC shells, a little less than half her designed provision (832 APC shells), with no replenishment of shells possible from occupied France, nor from the U.S. Navy (which had no battleship armed with 380 mm guns).
An initial order for 930 rounds was placed on May 1943 with Crucible Steel, on the basis of OPf Model 1936 plans traced at Dakar. The OPfK Model 1943, with a simpler base plug, was 1.882 m long, and weighed 884 kg. Internally, it resembled contemporary U.S. Navy 14" (356 mm) shells. But during firing practice, the U.S.-manufactured MC420 powder charges gave some concern, as they frequently snagged, spilling powder into the firing chamber, thus putting the turret out of service during the time required to sweep it.
The 152 mm battery was completely overhauled, and shells used on USS Brooklyn and similar light cruiser classes were a fit because they were armed with 152 mm/47 calibres Mark 16 guns. The U.S. Navy 152 mm SAP shell weighed 58.8 kg, and 48 kg for the HE shell, registered in the French Navy as 152 mm OPf Mle 1943, for anti-ship fire, and OEA Mle 1943, for anti-aircraft fire.
The short range anti-aircraft artillery was massively reinforced, with 14 quad Bofors 40 mm mountings, and 48 Oerlikon 20 mm cannon guns in single mounts replacing the 37 mm semi-automatic guns and the 13.2 mm Hotchkiss machine guns. The quad Bofors 40 mm mountings were installed in three groups of four on the quarterdeck, and around the fore and aft towers, and two mountings abeam turret II. Two groups of nine Oerlikon 20 mm single mountings were installed, the first atop the former aviation hangar (nicknamed "The Cemetery"), the second abaft the wavebreaker on the forecastle (nicknamed "The Trench"). The remainder of the 20 mm battery was installed abeam the superstructures, on the towers, and atop the turrets No. 2 and No. 7. Adoption of U.S.-pattern anti-aircraft short ranged batteries made providing ammunition easier.
Richelieu remained with only two fire control directors on the fore tower – the upper director for anti-aircraft gunnery was suppressed – and the rear mast was shortened. She was fitted with air and surface warning radars, designed for small warships – one SF type for sea watch, on the mast of the aft tower, and one SA-2 type for air watch, with its radome atop the fire control directors on the fore tower. The U.S. Navy was opposed to providing radar for gunnery fire control purposes.
Richelieu sailed for Mers El-Kebir and Algiers on 14 October, to join the British Mediterranean Fleet. As the modern Italian battleships were then interned in the Great Bitter Lake after the armistice between Italy and the Allies, a modern battleship was no longer needed in the Mediterranean. Thence Richelieu steered to Scapa Flow, arriving on 20 November. She joined the British Home Fleet, which was monitoring the large German warships remaining in Norway. Because of her lack of gunnery radar, she did not participate in the Battle of the North Cape, during which the German battleship Scharnhorst was sunk on 26 December 1943. In the beginning of 1944, she received a British built 284 P4 type gunnery radar. She participated in an operation off the northern coast of Norway, covering the Home Fleet aircraft carriers sent to attack the maritime German traffic (Operation Posthorn, 10–12 February 1944). As three King George V-class battleships were then facing only one German battleship, Tirpitz, Richelieu was redirected to participate, along with HMS Nelson, in the battleship force supporting the Normandy landing. Due to her lack of high explosive shells for attacks against land targets, she was finally designated to join the British Eastern Fleet, in the Indian Ocean, to cover for British battleships undergoing refit.
Richlieu arrived at Trincomalee, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) on 10 April 1944, in time to join the attack by Task Force 65 on Sabang on 19 April (Operation Cockpit, 16–20 April), and Surabaya (Operation Transom, 6–27 May). During a call at Colombo, she was visited by Admiral Louis Mountbatten, Supreme Allied Commander of the South-East Asia Theatre. She then took part in the battleship force covering an aerial bombing of Port Blair, in the Andaman Islands (Operation Pedal, 19–29 June). On 22 July, she sailed to attack Sabang and Sumatra (Operation Crimson, 22–29 July).
During this operation, Captain Merveilleux du Vignaux, the new commanding officer since the beginning of May, decided that, due to the shortcomings of the U.S. manufactured powder charges, to use the remaining French SD21 powder charges with standard AP shells for combat actions. It also appeared that the APC shells were effective in penetrating concrete structures, but did not explode, and tended to bury themselves when they hit the ground. It was therefore resolved to order from British manufacturers specially designed 380 mm HE shells, which would be registered in the French post-war ammunition inventories as 380 mm OEA Model 1945.
Relieved by HMS Howe, Richelieu returned to Europe. From Algiers to Toulon, where she arrived on 1 October 1944, 52 months after having left France, she hosted Admiral Lemonnier, Chief of the Navy General Staff. Due to the ruined state of the French dockyards, she sailed for Casablanca, where she arrived on 10 October 1944, for careening. New British-built radars were set up, one Type 281 B for air warning on the fore tower mast, one Type 285 P fire control radar on the secondary directors, together with two auto barrage units (ABU). A new American SG-1 radar for surface surveillance was also installed on the fore tower mast, as the small SF Type radar, which had been installed at New York, was relocated to the roof of the conning tower. Then, the battleship was fitted with an FV1 jammer, to counter the German Fritz X and Henschel Hs 293 glide bombs, which had sunk the Italian battleship Roma and heavily damaged HMS Warspite, in September 1943.
She was refitted in Gibraltar in January 1945, and rejoined the Eastern Indies Fleet until the end of the war against Japan, arriving back at Trincomalee on 20 March 1945. Now with Task Force 63 of the East Indies Fleet, she joined in more bombardments of Sabang in April, and covering diversionary aerial attacks on Padang, on the southern coast of Sumatra—in reality covering aerial reconnaissance of the south Malayan coast as a preparatory step to landings scheduled for the autumn (Operation Sunfish, 9–20 April 1945). As the airfields of Car Nicobar and of the Andaman Islands in Japanese hands represented a threat on the western flank of the Allied operations in Burma, they were bombed from late April to early May (Operation Bishop, 27 April – 7 May 1945 ). The next operation (Operation Dukedom), in mid-May, to intercept the Japanese cruiser Haguro, was concluded by the sinking of the heavy cruiser by the 26th Division destroyers, before Richelieu and HMS Cumberland could intervene.
Richelieu refitted at Durban from 18 July to 10 August, where the boilers, which had been often emitting black smoke during her Indian Ocean campaigns, were overhauled. She returned via Diego Suarez to Trincomalee, where she arrived on 18 August, learning of the Japanese surrender on 15 August. She left Trincomalee on 5 September to participate in the liberation of Singapore, Operation Tiderace. While she was passing down the Straits of Malacca on 9 September, at 07:44 a magnetic mine detonated 17 metres (19 yd) to starboard. She eventually limped into Singapore at noon on 11 September.
After V-J Day, during the last four months of 1945, Richelieu took part in the return of French forces to Indochina, particularly at Nha Trang, with her Fusiliers Marins landing party, and delivering gun support. When Richelieu left for France, the crew received congratulations from General Leclerc, French Commanding General in Indochina. On 29 December, she sailed for France, and arrived in Toulon on 11 February 1946.
She had the classic existence of a warship during peacetime. She alternated between training times, maneuvering with the aircraft carrier Arromanches, when she joined the French Navy, officially visiting Portugal, in 1946, and transporting the president of the French Republic for a visit in French West Africa colonies in 1947.
In 1947–1948, Richelieu was the flagship of a so-called Force d'Intervention, assembling to the "Groupe Richelieu," a cruiser group, and the aircraft carrier group, centred on Arromanches. Vice Admiral Jaujard, who was the Flag Officer, found that the antiquated command spaces of Richelieu were in no way up to the task. She was fitted with a new transmission center and combat information center.
Gunnery practices, at the end of the campaign with the East Indies Fleet, had clearly shown the origin of the dispersal of Richelieu's main battery firings in the wake effect between shells fired simultaneously by the guns of the same half turrets. Retarding devices were installed on the outer guns at Cherbourg in March 1948, a delay of 60 milliseconds, corresponding to a distance of 50 m (160 ft) between shells, which reduced the dispersal by two-thirds, as observed during gunnery trials at Mers-el-Kebir, in May 1948.
The rate of fire and the fire control system of the 100 mm AA battery needed, in the last days of the 1940s, to be upgraded to counter the new fast-moving aircraft. In 1949, there were proposals to replace the CAD Model 1931 mountings, by the German twin 10.5 cm SKC 33 or the 100 mm CAD Model 1945 intended to be fitted on Jean Bart. But all these mountings had twice the weight of those installed on Richelieu (27 or 26.6 tons versus 13 tons), so it would have been required to fit the battleship with a bulge, as on her sister-ship, to maintain buoyancy. Due to the current financial climate, the decision was postponed.
During a careening in Toulon, in 1951, the guns from the 380 mm No. 2 turret, were discarded and replaced by those of No. 1 turret, after they had been relined, and she received, in the No. 1 turret, one new-built 380 mm gun and three guns, constructed before 1940, intended for Jean Bart, which had been seized by the Germans during the war; two of these had been installed in shore batteries in Norway and in Normandy, and the third had been used for trials at the Krupp proving ground in Meppen, Germany. The 152 mm guns of the axial turret were replaced by Canadian-built ones.
After having fired her last 380 mm rounds, during trials after refit in 1952, Richelieu was assigned as a gunnery training ship in Toulon, wearing the ensign of the Group of School of the Mediterranean Flag Officer. In 1954, the British-built fire control radar for the 380 mm battery was replaced, for training purpose, by a French-built DBRC[e] 10A radar, yet installed on Jean Bart from 1951.
In October 1955, Jean Bart replaced Richelieu as flagship of the South Group of Schools. On 30 January 1956, for the only time in her career, Richelieu maneuvered with Jean Bart for a few hours. Soon after, she was based in Brest. From 25 May 1956, she was used as an accommodation ship in Brest, and was placed in reserve in 1958. Richelieu was condemned on 16 January 1968 and renamed Q432. She was scrapped by Cantieri Navali Santa Maria of Genoa in September 1968. One of her guns is on display in the harbor of Brest.
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