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Richelieu-class battleship

Richelieu 1943.jpg
Richelieu in September 1943, after refit,
with the upper fire-control system on the fore tower removed, and many AA short-range guns added
Class overview
Name: Richelieu class
Builders: Brest Navy Yard (Richelieu and Clemenceau) and Penhoët shipbuilding yards (Jean Bart)
Operators:  French Navy
Preceded by: Dunkerque class
Succeeded by: Alsace class (planned)
Subclasses: Gascogne
Built: 1935–1955
In service: 1940–1967
Planned: 4
Completed: 2
Cancelled: 2
General characteristics
Type: Battleship
Length: 247.85 m (813.2 ft)
Beam: 33 m (108 ft)
Draft: 9.63 m (31.6 ft)
Installed power: 112 MW (150,000 hp) steam using fuel oil
Speed: 30 knots (56 km/h; 35 mph)
  • 6,950 nautical miles (12,870 km; 8,000 mi) at 16 knots (30 km/h; 18 mph)
  • 2,350 nautical miles (4,350 km; 2,700 mi) at 28 knots (52 km/h; 32 mph)
  • 1,464 + 86 as flagship (planned)
  • 911 men in 1950 (incomplete)
  • 1,280 men during the Suez affair.
  • 8 × 380 mm (15.0 in)/45 Modèle 1935 guns in quadruple turrets at the bow
  • 9 × 155 mm (6.1 in)/55 guns in 3 triple DP Modèle 1936 turrets
  • Richelieu in 1940–1942:
  • 12 × 100 mm (3.94 in) in 6 CAD Modèle 1931 mountings
  • 16 × 37 mm (1.5 in) in 8 CAD Modèle 1933 mountings
  • 28 × 13.2 mm (0.52 in) Hotchkiss (5 CAQ, 2 CAD, 4 CAS) Modèle 1929
  • Richelieu in 1943:
  • 12 × 100 mm (3.94 in) in 6 CAD Modèle 1931 mountings
  • 56 × 40 mm (1.6 in) in 14 CAQ Bofors mountings
  • 50 × 20 mm (0.79 in) CAS Oerlikon mountings
  • Jean Bart in 1955:
  • 24 × 100 mm (3.94 in) in 12 CAD Modèle 1946
  • 28 × 57 mm (2.2 in) in 14 ACAD Bofors Modèle 1948
  • Belt: 330 mm (13.0 in)
  • Upper armored deck: 150 mm (5.9 in)
  • Lower armored deck: 40 mm (1.6 in)
  • Main turrets: 140–430 mm (5.5–17 in)
  • Conning tower: 260 mm (10.2 in)
Aircraft carried:
  • 4/5 seaplanes planned
  • 3 installed on Richelieu in 1941-42
Aviation facilities: Aircraft hangar, crane, and 2 catapults before 1943

The Richelieu-class battleships were the last and largest battleships of the French Navy. They left service in the 1960s. They remain the largest French-built warships. They were designed in the 1930s to counter the threat of the Italian Vittorio Veneto-class battleships. Richelieu-class ships were essentially scaled-up versions of the preceding Dunkerque class. They featured a main battery of eight 380 mm (15.0 in) guns in two quadruple turrets in forward superfiring positions.

Four Richelieu-class ships, of three different subclasses, were designed over the course of three construction programs, in 1935, 1936, and 1938. Only three were laid down. Only the first two, Richelieu and Jean Bart, were completed. They saw service during World War II, first under Vichy control in Dakar (1940) and Casablanca (1942), then under Allied control. Richelieu participated in British Home Fleet and Eastern Fleet operations and supported French forces' return to Indochina in late 1945. Jean Bart was not completed until the 1950s and took part in the operations off Port Said (Egypt) during the Suez Crisis in 1956. Richelieu was scrapped in 1968 and Jean Bart in 1970.


Washington Naval Treaty

In 1922, the Washington Naval Conference, concluded by the Washington Naval Treaty, limited any battleship construction for the following ten years. It attempted to end a burgeoning naval arms race among the United States of America, the United Kingdom and Japan. The Treaty fixed limits for new battleships of 35,000-long-ton (35,562 t) standard displacement and 406 mm (16.0 in) for the main battery's artillery caliber. France and Italy each were allowed (after 1927) to replace two old battleships.[3]

Germany was instead subject to more stringent Treaty of Versailles restrictions. It was forbidden to build any warship with a displacement greater than 10,000 long tons (10,160 t).[4]

The practicality of building battleships came into question since during World War I, no decisive victory had resulted from a major clash between battleships, in contrast to the Japanese victory of Tsushima more than 17 years before.[5][6] However, the war experience had clearly shown the problem of ensuring the safety of maritime commercial routes against commerce raiders, for which cruisers appeared better suited than battleships. Thus, by the late 1920s all the countries that had signed the Washington Treaty were building new heavy cruiser classes.[7] For France, the priority was the safety of the waterborne connections between France and her African colonies/protectorates (via the Marseille-Algiers and Bordeaux-Casablanca-Dakar routes).[8]

In the late 1920s, the most powerful active battleships had been designed before the Treaty and were armed with four double turrets of 15-inch (381 mm)[b] or 16-inch (406 mm)[c] caliber guns. Nelson-class battleships, built between 1922–1927 with three triple 16-inch turrets forward, were based on the 1921 G3 battlecruiser concept.[14] For most battleships the top speed was 21–25 knots (39–46 km/h).[d] Nagato-class battleships could reach 26.5 knots (49.1 km/h; 30.5 mph).[16] The fastest Western battleships or battlecruisers could exceed 30 knots (56 km/h; 35 mph).[e]

Neither France nor Italy intended to match the most recent American, British, or Japanese designs: very heavily armed and armored. They only wished to modernize their aging fleet, refurbishing the propulsion machinery and upgrading the main artillery; the Treaty of Washington authorized them to undertake much more radical modernizations than the other treaty powers. In the same way, both powers reserved the right to employ their replacement capital ship tonnage allocation (70,000-long-ton (71,123 t)) as they saw fit, subject to Treaty limits: not only were two battleships of 35,000-long-ton (35,562 t) possible, but also three of 23,000-long-ton (23,369 t) or four of 17,500-long-ton (17,781 t).[18]

French battleship projects, 1926–1929

HMS Nelson, commissioned in 1927, which inspired the French battleship designers in the 1920s.

The core of France's Statut Naval warship building program, adopted in 1924 was to enable the French Navy to counter the navies of Italy and Germany, but it was discovered that hoping to counter both navies was too optimistic.[19] The Treaty of Washington allowed France to match Italy, who could also field (175,000-long-ton (177,810 t)), at a level one-third that of the US and UK and 5/9th of Japan. From 1924 to 1932, the annual Tranche Navale (literally, a "slice" of the Statut Naval) included only cruisers, destroyers, torpedo-boats and submarines.[20]

In 1926–1927 the French Admiralty, under Vice Admiral Salaün, considered ships designed as cruiser killers that would be able to outgun and outrun the Italian heavy cruisers, which were thought to be the main threat against the waterborne connections between France and North Africa.[21] The first Italian heavy cruiser, Trento, had been laid down in 1925 and launched in 1926. French designers considered a displacement of 17,500-long-ton (17,781 t) that would have allowed them to build four units under the maximum limit of 70,000-long-ton (71,123 t) (from the Treaty of Washington) for the authorized French replacements. An artillery arrangement of two 305-millimetre (12.0 in) 55-calibre quadruple turrets forward was examined, [22] combining the choice of quadruple turrets made by the French designers of the prewar Normandie class[23] and the all forward arrangement of Nelson-class battleships.[24] The top speed would have been 33–34 knots (61–63 km/h). The armor would have been able to resist 203-millimetre (8.0 in) shells. Ultimately, however, it was concluded that such warships would succumb to the Italian battleships, while not being fast enough to outrun Italian heavy cruiser.[25][26]

In 1927, studies were undertaken of 37,000-tonne (36,416-long-ton) battlecruisers. This trial displacement would have been the equivalent of a standard Washington-Treaty displacement of 32,000–33,000-long-ton (32,514–33,530 t), near the limit. However, building 35,000-long-ton (35,562 t) battleships outstripped the French Navy's technical and financial capacities at the time. The building costs of the required infrastructure[f] for hulls of about 230–250 metres (750–820 ft) length, allowing them to reach a speed of 27–29 knots (50–54 km/h), would have been enough to buy two more battleships, and would have jeopardized the building program for cruisers, destroyers, and submarines.[27]

Contemporaneous discussions at the Disarmament Subcommittee of the League of Nations had begun in Geneva, about the pursuit of naval armaments limitation. The UK was trying to further limit construction, with a displacement limit of 25,000-long-ton (25,401 t) and a maximum caliber of 305 mm (12.0 in). The French government chose not to jeopardize the negotiations.[28]

German pocket battleships

1936 picture of the Panzerschiff Deutschland, laid down in 1929, commonly designated as a pocket battleship.

The 23,000-tonne battleship

In February 1929, everything changed when the German Reichsmarine laid down the keel of the first Deutschland-class cruiser, an armored ship (in German, Panzerschiff). They claimed it displaced 10,000 long tons (10,200 t), following the Treaty of Versailles restrictions; it was actually at least 25% bigger, initially known only to them. With two 280 mm (11 in) triple turrets and a top speed of 26 knots (48 km/h; 30 mph) could outrun every battleship except the three fastest British units (battlecruisers HMS Hood, HMS Renown, and HMS Repulse). The German ship outgunned all treaty-abiding cruisers with their 203-millimetre (8.0 in) guns.[29] Deutschland's type was commonly designated as a pocket battleship, although it was really (as her German denomination indicated) an armored cruiser.[30]

The French Admiralty's reaction was to draft a design for a ship that would outclass the German "pocket battleship" in armament, armor and speed. It appeared that the previous French proposals' armament might be retained and that the speed might be no more than 30 knots (56 km/h; 35 mph), but the most important feature was that the armor had to be thicker to resist 280-millimetre (11 in) shells. These considerations lead to a planned displacement of about 23,000–25,000-tonne (22,637–24,605-long-ton), which fit the maximum displacement that the United Kingdom proposed in the naval armament limitations negotiations.[31]

The 1930 London Naval Treaty established that the ten-year battleship-building holiday agreed at Washington would be extended for a further five years, until 31 December 1936. France and Italy were, however, authorized to build the replacement tonnage that the Washington Naval Treaty entitled them to lay down. Nevertheless, France and Italy refused to adhere to any qualitative limitations, which were mainly concerning the maximum displacement of cruisers,[32] as France argued that construction had just started in Germany of the armor-clad Deutschland, and following the new limits' rejection by France, Italy was no longer prepared to accept new restrictions concerning battleships.[33][34]

In order to establish a ceiling for new naval construction, bilateral talks took place between France and Italy, with significant encouragement from the United Kingdom; these talks began at the start of 1931, and a basis of agreement was concluded on 1 March 1931. Until 1936, both countries would be allowed to build only two battleships, each of 23,333-long-ton (23,707 t). But it was not possible to go further, as the Italian Navy was not satisfied with the 23,333-long-ton (23,707 t) battleship Italian project, with three twin 381-millimetre (15.0 in) turrets and a profile reminiscent of the heavy cruiser Pola (then in construction).[35][36] A complete artillery and power plant refit of the Conte di Cavour-class battleships would begin in 1933, and plans for a 35,000-long-ton (35,562 t) Standard displacement battleship would be going on.[37]


In 1931, the French Admiralty explicitly confirmed the choice of a 23,333-long-ton (23,707 t) battleship, since the 17,500-long-ton (17,800 t) battleship would have been too lightly armored and the 35,000-long-ton (35,562 t) battleship would had technical and financial requirements that outstripped France's capabilities. This 23,333-long-ton (23,707 t) battleship would have had a length of 213 metres (699 ft) and a 27.5-metre (90 ft) beam, two quad 305-millimetre (12.0 in)/55 turrets forward, three quad 130-millimetre (5.1 in) Dual Purpose (DP) turrets aft, a 30-knot (56 km/h; 35 mph) top speed, 230-millimetre (9.1 in) belt armor, and 150-millimetre (5.9 in) deck armor. However, when in May 1931 this proposal was submitted to the Parliament, discussions continued for two months. Critics wondered why it was necessary to have twice the displacement of the warship to be countered and why it was not preferable to build a 35,000-long-ton (35,562 t) battleship. Thus, in the July 1931 Estimates, funds were allocated only for further studies and the law required that the final characteristics be subject to a thorough review, to be reviewed by the Parliament before passing any building orders.[38]

At this point, Vice Admiral Durand-Viel, the new Chief of Staff of the French Navy from January 1931, requested further studies for upgrading the main artillery caliber – from 305 millimetres (12.0 in) to 330 millimetres (13 in) – to outgun the Italian battleships. This upgrade resulted in a displacement increase to 26,500-long-ton (26,925 t), a 2-metre (6.6 ft) length increase, a 2.5-metre (8.2 ft) beam increase, a slight maximum speed reduction to 29.5 knots (54.6 km/h; 33.9 mph), the substitution of 330-millimetre (13 in)/52 guns for 305-millimetre (12.0 in)/55 ones, two more double 130-millimetre (5.1 in) DP turrets, and a slight thickness increase in the armored belt and deck armor.[39][40] In early 1932, the project was approved by Parliamentary committees and the Minister of Defence (François Pietri) included it in the 1932 Estimates. This led to orders for Dunkerque on 26 October 1932, laid down on 24 December.[41]

After Deutschland, Admiral Scheer was laid down in June 1931 and Admiral Graf Spee was laid down in October 1932.[42] The French Navy asked for a second Dunkerque-class battleship that was included in the 1934 Estimates.[43]

Scharnhorst and Littorio

The battleship Scharnhorst, before she was fitted (in the early months of 1939) with a clipper bow and before her main mast was placed 27 metres (89 ft) astern.

Originally, the Deutschland class was intended to have six ships. On 14 February 1934, two more were ordered; officially the fourth and fifth Deutschland-class units, as the Third Reich had not yet renounced the Treaty of Versailles. However, discussions about their characteristics led to an upgraded design. The new ships emerged as the Scharnhorst class of small battleship (together with the Dunkerque class). These were to be faster than the 1920s battleships, with a displacement substantially under the Treaty of Washington limits.[44] Heavier than Dunkerque-class battleships, they were 31,800-long-ton (32,310 t) with the hull dimensions of the Ersatz Yorck-class battlecruiser (projected in 1915). They were armored with a 350 mm (14 in) belt and deck armor equivalent to the later King George V and Bismarck battleship classes. However, they were armed with only nine 280 mm (11 in) guns, the same caliber as the Deutschland class. Hitler preferred a heavier caliber for the main artillery. The Dunkerque-class battleships were armed with 330 mm (13 in) guns. When these ships' final design was about to be settled, Germany was negotiating the 1935 Anglo-German Naval Agreement, and the British government was pressing for limits on the battleship's main artillery caliber. Therefore, an improved gun (28 cm SK C/34), with a longer barrel and higher muzzle velocity but the same 280 mm (11 in) caliber, was reluctantly chosen.[44] Gneisenau was laid down on 6 May 1935 and Scharnhorst on 15 June 1935.[45]

Since French Navy ship designers thought that the Dunkerque-class battleships' armor was able to resist 280 mm (11 in) caliber shells, they should not have needed a heavier battleship class. Italy believed the new French battleships disrupted the balance between the French and Italian Mediterranean battleship fleets. Italy thus designed new battleships that were intended to counter Dunkerque-class battleships and the more heavily armed British Mediterranean Fleet battleships.[46] On 26 May 1934 Mussolini announced Italy's decision to use its right to build battleships granted in naval limitation treaties. Days later, the Stefani news agency announced the laying down of two 35,000-long-ton (35,562 t) battleships,[39] armed with nine 381 mm (15.0 in) guns;[47] in October 1935 these were named Littorio and Vittorio Veneto.[46]

The Italian battleship Littorio during speed trials in 1939, without AA battery, fire control directors, or aircraft installations

The first French 35,000-long-ton (35,562 t) battleship used the 1934 naval building plan unchanged. This led to a new Dunkerque-class battleship with improved vertical (belt) armor: Strasbourg's laying down was ordered on 16 July 1934.[48]

Eight days later (on 24 July 1934), the French Navy Board set the new French battleships' specifications:[49]

Thirteen months later, the Service Technique des Constructions navales (S.T.C.N.) established a definitive project that was submitted to the Minister on 14 August 1935 and adopted on 31 August. Richelieu was laid down on 22 October. France thus violated the Washington Treaty and the 1930 London Treaty, since 88,000 long tons (89,412 t) of new battleships (instead of 70,000 long tons (71,123 t)) had been ordered between 1922 and 31 December 1936. However, on 18 June 1935 the Anglo-German Naval Agreement had been signed between the United Kingdom – without consulting France – and the Third Reich, de facto canceling the Treaty of Versailles limitations concerning the displacements of the various types of warships and allowing Germany to build a war navy within the limit of 35% of the Royal Navy's total tonnage. Having lost the hope of being able to counter both the German and Italian navies, as was allowed by the Versailles and Washington Treaties, France concluded that the Dunkerque-class battleships were the answer to the Scharnhorst-class battleships and the Richelieu-class battleships the answer to the Littorio-class battleship.[50]

Germany went a step further, laying down two new battleships, Bismarck in November 1935 and Tirpitz in June 1936. These ships, strongly armored as their protection absorbed more than 40% of their standard displacement, with a very large beam of 36 metres (118 ft), got a very classic design, eight 380 mm (15 in) guns in double turrets (two forward and two aft) and the secondary anti-ship artillery as six double 150 mm (5.9 in) turrets on the sides. Their powerful anti-aircraft artillery in sixteen 105 mm (4.1 in) guns in eight double turrets, plus numerous 37 mm (1.5 in) and 20 mm (0.79 in) mountings, controlled by six high-angle directors was unmatched anywhere;[51] officially declared as 35,000 long tons (35,562 t), their displacement was actually more than 42,000 long tons (42,670 t) standard and even nearing 50,000 tonnes (49,210 long tons) full load.[52][53] The French answer was the laying down of the second Richelieu-class battleship, Jean Bart, in December 1936.[50]


Richelieu, as designed, before the 1943 refit in New York

The Richelieu class had a planned standard displacement of 35,000 tons, equal to the Washington Treaty limit, with a main armament of eight 380 mm (15 in) guns in two quadruple turrets. Three ships in two subclasses were laid down, all of these had the main turrets in forward superfiring positions, while a fourth unit was planned with one turret forward and the other aft. The subclasses differed in their secondary artillery and aircraft installations, as well as minor differences resulting from Jean Bart's completion, ten years after Richelieu.[54]

Richelieu and Jean Bart

Vice Admiral 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), to minimize planning and construction delays and to create homogeneous combat groups. They therefore envisaged a similar main and secondary artillery disposition.[49]


Main artillery

The French Navy Board had indicated in July 1934 a minimum caliber of 380 mm (15.0 in) to match the Italians – and a maximum caliber of 406 mm (16.0 in) – the Washington Treaty limit. Eight guns was the minimum for efficiently spotting salvos.[g] This was one reason the Italians had not been satisfied by a 23,300-long-ton (23,674 t) 1931 battleship project, which had only six 381 mm (15.0 in) guns. The maximum of nine guns corresponded to a battery of three triple turrets.[47]

An arrangement of two quadruple turrets would save more than a quarter of the turret armor weight (as compared to four double turrets), while retaining the same firepower, but 380 mm (15.0 in) was the largest feasible for a quadruple turret. With a 106-foot (32.31 m) beam and 406 mm (16.0 in) guns, the Nelson-class battleships had accommodated only triple turrets. On Dunkerque, with a 31.10 m (102.0 ft) beam and 330 mm (13.0 in) guns, the four barrels of each turret were not mounted in separate cradles because this would have meant an unduly large barbette diameter. Instead, pairs of barrels were placed in common mounts.[41] However, the fore and aft main quadruple turrets of the British King George V-class battleships had independent mountings.[55] These ships had nearly the same beam, 103-foot (31.39 m) versus 102.25 ft (31.17 m), and 1-inch (25.4 mm) more for the main guns caliber, 14-inch (356 mm) versus 13 in (330 mm), than on Dunkerque.[56][57][1]

The quadruple turret's major drawback was that a single shot might destroy one turret and cripple half the main battery. To help prevent this, the Dunkerque-class battleships' quadruple turrets had been divided internally, with a 25–40 mm (0.98–1.6 in) bulkhead to localize damage.[58] This method proved effective at Mers-el-Kebir. The first British 381 mm (15.0 in) shell to strike Dunkerque hit the second 330 mm (13.0 in) turret; this killed the crew in the turret's right half, but the left half remained operational.[59]

The all-forward arrangement of two quadruple turrets, and more broadly the proximity between the two main artillery magazines (one for each turret), was the greatest risk: one hit could potentially neutralize the entire main battery, or even cause the ship's loss from an ammunition explosion. On Dunkerque, to avoid this risk the forward turrets had been positioned 27 meters (89 ft) apart from each other,[41] further apart than on the Nelson-class battleships.[60]

The French also studied three-turret designs, such as one quadruple and two double, two triple and one double, or three triple. In every case, three turrets would have increased weight vs two quadruple turrets, reduced propulsion to 100,000 horsepower (74.6 MW) and speed by 2.5 knots (4.6 km/h; 2.9 mph), for a small benefit of further dispersing the guns.[61] Therefore, following the proposal of STCN's head, the Chief of Navy General Staff chose as early as November 1934 the all-forward arrangement with two quadruple turrets.[62]

Richelieu's main battery turrets, with the 20 mm (0.79 in) AA Oerlikon guns fitted on the forecastle during the 1943 US refit

The solutions used on Dunkerque-class battleships were retained on Richelieu, in a scaled-up version: an all-forward arrangement, in two 2,476-tonne (2,437-long-ton) 1936-model quadruple turrets built by Saint-Chamond, weighing 3,096 tonnes (3,047 long tons) together with the barbette. It weighed nearly 1,000 tonnes (984 long tons) more than the roughly 1,500-tonne (1,480-long-ton) quadruple turrets of Dunkerque or the triple turrets of Littorio.[63][64][h]

Each Richelieu turret was divided in two half turrets by a 25 mm (0.98 in) to 45 mm (1.8 in) bulkhead. The guns, in the half turrets, were in pairs, and although each gun was in a separate cradle, the relative movement of the pair was limited. The guns were so close (1.95 meters (6.4 ft), only 0.30 meters (0.98 ft) more than on Dunkerque) that a wake effect between shells fired simultaneously by a half turret led to excessive dispersal, which was not corrected before 1948 on Richelieu.[68] The turrets were positioned 32.5 meters (107 ft) apart from each other, 3.70 meters (12.1 ft) more than on Dunkerque.[69][70]

The barrel weight was 110 tonnes (108 long tons).[63] This weight was: less than the 181 tonnes (178 long tons) barrel on Yamato,[65] or the 130 long tons (132 t) barrel on Nelson;[67] nearly the same weight as the 112 tonnes (110 long tons) barrel on Nagato,[65] the 109 tonnes (107 long tons) barrel on Bismarck,[71] the 107 long tons (109 t) barrel on the Iowa,[66] the 102 tonnes (100 long tons) barrel on Littorio,[64] or the 97-long-ton (99 t) Queen Elizabeth barrel; and more than the 80-long-ton (81 t) King George V barrel.[67]

The maximum angle of elevation of guns on the Model 1936 turret was 35°. Muzzle velocity was 830 meters per second (2,700 ft/s). The maximum range was theoretically 41,500 meters (45,400 yd), practically 37,800 meters (41,300 yd). The rate of fire was from 1.3 to 2 rounds per minute. The maximum horizontal turning speed was 5°/s, and the maximum elevating speed 5.5°/s.

The 380 mm (15 in) shell was an Armor Piercing Capped (APC) shell, registered in the French Navy as Obus de Perforation (OPf). The OPf Model 1935 was a further development of the 330 mm (13 in) OPf Model 1935, in use on Dunkerque, except that its molded base formed a "rudder" that assisted in keeping the shell stable in flight. 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) USS Massachusetts' shell (1,224 kilograms (2,698 lb)),[66] that glancingly hit 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)),[67] that lightly damaged Richelieu at the 1940 Battle of Dakar.[72]

The OPfK Model 1935 incorporated a dye bag and fuze (dispositif K) to color[i] hits and misses, thereby facilitating spotting for ships operating in formation while in combat. No High Explosive (HE) variant of the 380 mm (15 in) shell was originally provided. A total of 832 APC shells were intended to be provided, slightly fewer than for the Dunkerque-class battleships (896 rounds).[73]

Remote Power Control (RPC) was to be fitted for both horizontal turning and elevation; however, the failure of the Sautter-Harlé-Blondel system on Dunkerque-class battleships prevented its use.[74]

Secondary artillery
On the background, the quarter deck (August 14, 1943 picture),[75] with four quad 40 mm (1.6 in) Bofors mountings, and nine 20 mm (0.79 in) Oerlikon AA single mountings, on the former aircraft hangar; On the foreground, two single 20 mm (0.79 in) Oerlikon mountings on the roof of the axial 152 mm (6.0 in) turret

The French Navy had been first to fit a dual-purpose (DP) battery on a battleship,[76] in the early 1930s; shortcomings had been 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, the solution of having a low-angle secondary battery and a high-angle tertiary battery was a feature of the new battleships in construction, as in the Italian and German navies.[77][78][51]

For the secondary artillery, all early projects kept the 130 mm (5.1 in) caliber, in five quadruple Dual-Purpose turrets, at the same position as on the Dunkerque-class battleships, but with quadruple turrets amidships, instead of double turrets. A tertiary anti-aircraft 75 mm (3.0 in) zénithaux battery was considered, to complement the early design sketch's 130 mm (5.1 in) DP battery.[79]

At the time torpedo attacks were considered more damaging than bombing. Thus a heavier caliber was required for the anti-ship battery. Since the Nelson-class battleships, the Royal Navy had adopted a six 152 mm (6.0 in) double turret battery as the secondary artillery on battleships. The Kriegsmarine had chosen 150 mm (5.9 in) guns on Scharnhorst, and the Italian Navy was fitting its 35,000 long tons (35,562 t) battleships with 152 mm (6.0 in) caliber guns. It was decided to use triple 152 mm (6.0 in) turrets, as fitted on the most recent light cruisers, Émile Bertin and the La Galissonnière classs that were then being built. The STCN. proposed three solutions: five 152 mm (6.0 in) turrets and six 75 mm (3.0 in) single mountings; or four 152 mm (6.0 in) turrets, without the fifth turret (central axial); or with two center line aft turrets in a superfiring position, and eight 75 mm (3.0 in) single mountings, but it was difficult to site this AA battery while keeping it out of the blast effects of the main and secondary batteries.[77]

The French Naval Board in April 1935 resolved to fit Richelieu with five 152 mm (6.0 in) turrets in the same placement as for the 130 mm (5.1 in) battery on Dunkerque. It was decided that these 152 mm (6.0 in) turrets had to be dual-purpose, and that the tertiary 75 mm (3.0 in) AA battery had to be abandoned, as the substitution of 152 mm (6.0 in) DP turrets, weighing 306 tonnes (301 long tons) to the 130 mm (5.1 in) turrets, weighing 200 tonnes (197 long tons),[63] produced excess weight of about 530 tonnes (522 long tons). It was also decided to install a new lighter propulsion plant, generating the same 150,000 horsepower (110 MW), but using Sural boilers, which were more compact than Dunkerque's. It was therefore possible to reduce the number of boiler rooms from three to two, which allowed a reduction of the armored belt's length of nearly 5 meters (16 ft), and consequently of its weight. As another weight-reduction measure, the armored belt's thickness was reduced from 360 mm (14 in) to 330 mm (13 in) and its inclination increased from 11°30' to 15°24' to compensate for the thickness reduction. The armor thicknesses of longitudinal bulkheads, conning tower, and the turrets and barbettes of the 152 mm (6.0 in) guns were also reduced.[77]

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. Mounted on separate cradles, the guns were 1.85 meters (6.1 ft) apart. The horizontal turning speed was 12°/second, and the elevation speed was 8°/s. The guns' maximum elevation was 90°, with loading at every elevation theoretically possible. The muzzle velocity was 870 meters per second (2,900 ft/s). The shells to be used against sea targets were Semi Armored Piercing (SAP) shells with a dye bag, registered in the French Navy as OPfK Model 1931, weighing 56 kilograms (123 lb), or 57.1 kilograms (126 lb) for the OPfK Model 1937. Against aircraft, the 152 mm (6.0 in)/55 Model 1930 guns were to fire High Explosive (HE) shells, registered as OEA (Obus Explosif en Acier) Model 1936 and weighing 54.7 kilograms (121 lb), or 49.3 kilograms (109 lb) for the OEA Model 1937. Starshells, registered as OEcl (Obus Eclairant) Model 1936 and weighing 47 kilograms (104 lb), were to be provided for the amidships turrets. The rate of fire was 6.5 rounds per minute, against sea targets and 5 rpm against aircraft. The maximum range against sea targets, with a 45° elevation, was 24,500 meters (80,400 ft). Full RPC was fitted. On the Richelieu, the planned ammunition load was 2000 SAP shells, nearly 1000 HE shells, and 650 illuminating shells, for the three triple turrets fitted.[80]

The 152 mm (6.0 in) Model 1930 Low-Angle turret proved to be at least comparable to the German single or twin 150 mm (5.9 in) gun turrets, or the Italian triple 152 mm (6.0 in) turrets Model 1934 or 1936. For anti-aircraft purposes, the 152 mm (6.0 in) Model 1936 turret was thought to be complex and fragile, with a too-slow rate of fire against fast-moving aerial targets, with a deficient RPC and with loading jams at angles greater than 45°. These problems were probably due to the too-great weight, 228 tonnes (224 long tons) without the barbette, of the 152 mm (6.0 in) DP Model 1936 turret; this was nearly 56 tonnes (55 long tons) heavier than the 172-tonne (169-long-ton) 152 mm (6.0 in) Model 1931. During World War II, no other 152 mm (6.0 in) guns were used as an anti-aircraft battery; however, they were successfully used post-war in two Worcester-class U.S. Navy cruisers and three Tiger-class cruisers of the Royal Navy, albeit with much better RPC and fire-control devices than the pre-World War II French ones.[81]

As war began in November 1939, it became evident that the projected 37 mm (1.5 in) ACAD Model 1935 (automatic anti-aircraft twin) mountings 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, were instead fitted, as they had been on the last 10,000 long tons (10,160 t) Treaty cruiser (Algérie). To speed the completion of the Richelieu, four mountings had to be removed from the reconstructed battleship Lorraine,[82] and two from a battery near Marseilles.[83] The 152 mm (6.0 in) amidships turrets were not even mounted on Jean Bart; nor were barbettes installed. The 100 mm (3.9 in) mountings were fitted on Richelieu in April–May 1940.[84]

The 100 mm (3.9 in) CAD Model 1930 turrets were dual-purpose. SAP shells (100 mm (3.9 in) OPf Model 1928, weighing 15 kilograms (33 lb)) would be used for sea targets, with a muzzle velocity of 765 meters per second (2,510 ft/s) and a 15,800 meters (51,800 ft) maximum range, but only 10 rounds per gun were intended, due to the belief that anti-ship fire would mainly come from the stronger 152 mm (6.0 in) guns. HE shells (100 mm (3.9 in) OEA Model 1928, weighing 135 kilograms (298 lb)) would be used on aerial targets, with a muzzle velocity of 780 meters per second (2,600 ft/s) and a 10,000 meters (33,000 ft) ceiling (at the 80° maximum elevation). The rate of fire was 10rpm. Illuminating shells (100 mm (3.9 in) OEcl Model 1928) were provided to replace the 152 mm (6.0 in) OEcl Model 1936.[80] The 100 mm (3.9 in) guns proved to be the only reliable arms of Richelieu until 1942, due to the uncompleted or obsolescent fire control of the 380 mm and 152 mm batteries.

Anti-aircraft light artillery

For short range anti-aircraft defense, the French Navy had planned to develop for the Dunkerque-class battleships an automatic version (37 mm (1.5 in) ACAD Model 1935) of the 37 mm (1.5 in) semi-automatic anti-aircraft with twin mountings (CAD Model 1933); the latter had a theoretical firing rate of 30 to 40 rpm. Hand loaded using a six-round box magazine, the actual firing rate was 15 to 20 rpm; in the same time period, the British Pom Pom gun and the Swedish designed Bofors 40 mm/L60 gun had a 120 to 200 rpm firing rate. Therefore, the 37 mm (1.5 in) ACAD Model 1935 was expected to have a firing rate of 120 rpm or above. However, in 1940 only a prototype ACAD mounting (designated Model 1936) was tested (aboard the old patrol sloop Amiens; it was apparently successfully used during the Dunkirk evacuation).[85]

Six 37 mm (1.5 in) ACAD Model 1935 mountings would have been fitted, four abeam[clarification needed] the after funnel superstructure, and two abeam turret II. Four fire control systems, equipped with a 2-meter (6.6 ft) rangefinder and linked to the mountings by an RPC system driven by Sautter-Hallé electric servomotors, were intended to be installed: two for the forward mountings, abaft turret II, one deck higher, and two for the after mountings, abeam the mountings, one deck higher. This 37 mm (1.5 in) battery 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 aft towers.[86]

Fire control systems

The most conspicuous difference in the Richelieu and Dunkerque profiles was the mounting of the fire control director system aft, on a kind of mack, so that the funnel opening came out obliquely aft underneath the control tower.[87] Otherwise, Richelieu's fire control system was very similar to Dunkerque's. All the fire control systems were airtight and fitted with light steel plating against the machine gun attacks of strafing aircraft.[88]

Three fire control systems were mounted one over the other atop the fore tower. The lowest was the A system, for the main artillery, with a 14-meter (46 ft) triple stereoscopic OPL (Optique de Précision de Levallois-Perret) rangefinder. The 152 mm (6.0 in) artillery used two fire control systems. System 1, in the upper position, was for anti-aircraft gunnery and had a 6-meter (20 ft) double stereoscopic OPL rangefinder (DSR). System 2, in the central position, was for anti-ship gunnery and had a 8-meter (26 ft) double stereoscopic OPL rangefinder.[89]

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 aft tower, even though the latter was nearer the explosion.[90]

The aft tower carried only the auxiliary system for the 152 mm (6.0 in) artillery (system 3) with a 6-meter (20 ft) DSR. The auxiliary (B) system for the main artillery was between the funnel and the axial aft 152 mm (6.0 in) turret and had an 8-meter (26 ft) DSR. Each main artillery turret was fitted with a 14-meter (46 ft) DSR and each 152 mm (6.0 in) turret with a 8-meter (26 ft) DSR. Two systems with 3-meter (9.8 ft) OPL rangefinders (OR) provided for the flag staff were installed on the wings of the admiral’s bridge. When the 100 mm (3.9 in) AA battery was fitted, they were replaced by systems fitted with 4-meter (13 ft) OR's for this battery's fire control. Two systems also fitted with 4-meter (13 ft) rangefinders were then mounted on the navigation bridge, one deck lower. There was also a 3-meter (9.8 ft) SOM (Société d'Optique et de Mécanique de haute précision) stereoscopic tactical rangefinder atop the admiral's bridge. As on the Dunkerque-class battleships, the systems provided raw target data to the transmitting station located beneath the armored decks, with continuous transmission to the director and the guns.[88]

The lookout and target designation facilities were similar in principle to Dunkerque's. The lower lookout station for close-range contacts was on platform 3 of the fore tower. The middle level, for both surface and aerial contacts, was on platform 6 and the upper lookout station, primarily for spotting torpedoes and mines, was on platform 9.[91] Night firing was aided by five 1.20-meter (3.9 ft) searchlights, one atop the admiral's bridge and two on either side of the funnel structure.[92]

Aircraft installations

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 – single-engined (720 hp Hispano-Suiza 12-cylinder liquid cooled) with a 3,500 kilograms (7,700 lb) weight, a 210 kilometres per hour (130 mph) maximum speed, a 165 kilometres per hour (103 mph) cruise speed at 1,500 meters (4,900 ft), two 7.5 mm (0.30 in) machine guns and two 75 kilograms (165 lb) bombs.[93]

Richelieu's extra boiler in each boiler room left one boiler room under the funnel instead of two. Consequently, the aft 152 mm (6.0 in) turret on the center line, turret VII, was on frame 68.85[j] on Richelieu, versus on frame 44.30 on Dunkerque, as the aft lateral secondary turrets were respectively on frame 54.45, versus 53.30.[69][70][k] The 36.50 meters (119.8 ft) space on the quarterdeck between the aviation hangar and the stern was 6 meters greater than that on Dunkerque. This made room for a second catapult. The catapults were offset to port and starboard en échelon[l] with an elevator between them. The planes were moved on rails from the hangar to the elevator where they were placed on the two catapults. Two planes could be stowed in the 25-meter (82 ft) hangar on the same level, wings folded and in line, instead of sitting on the two platforms of a two-tier hangar lift, and two more on the catapults with wings deployed.[94]


Ship Protection
With fuel
Richelieu 16,045
(normal) 40,927
(standard) 37,832
Dunkerque 11,040 35.9 (normal) 30,750 2,860 3/4
Strasbourg 11,785 37.3 (normal) 31,570 2,860 3/4
Iowa 18,700 41.6 (standard) 45,000
Bismarck 17,540
(light) 39,931
(standard) 41,781
King George V 12,500 34.8 (standard) 35,000
Littorio 13,600 36.03 (standard) 37,750

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).[95] Dunkerque had 35.9%, Strasbourg, 37.3%, with a 30,750 tonnes (30,260 long tons) or 31,570 tonnes (31,070 long tons) normal displacement, with 2,860 tonnes (2,815 long tons) of fuel (¾ of full load).[96]

Comparison with other battleships is more intricate. The figures given for Iowa-class battleships are 18,700 tons for armor weight or 41.6% of 45,000 tons standard displacement,[97] which corresponds for Richelieu to more than 42% of standard displacement. For Bismarck, the figures are 17,258 tons or 17,540 tons of armor, and from 43.92% to 41.30%, depending on whether the percentage is calculated with 39,931 tons light displacement or 41,781 tons standard displacement.[53][98] All are higher than for earlier battleships (such as Dunkerque) or those for the King George V-class battleships, 12,500 tons and 34.80%[99] or for the Littorio-class battleships with 13,600 tonnes (13,400 long tons) weight of armor and 36% of 37,750 tonnes (37,150 long tons) standard displacement.[100]


Armor thicknesses were:[101]

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 the horizontal armor (152 mm (6.0 in)) was equivalent,[102] but their command spaces were only protected against shrapnel.[103]

The U.S. Navy battleships had an equivalent armored belt (about 335 mm (13.2 in)) to Richelieu, on the North Carolina and South Dakota classes, and a little less thick (310 mm (12 in)) on the Iowa class. The main artillery turret protection was less thick (406 mm (16.0 in)) on the North Carolina class, thicker (500 mm (20 in)) on the Iowa class, and thicker (457 mm (18.0 in)) on the South Dakota class. The horizontal armor was a little less thick (104 mm (4.1 in)) on the North Carolina class and equivalent (127 mm (5.0 in) to 165 mm (6.5 in)) on the South Dakota and Iowa classes. The conning tower was better protected, with 406 mm (16.0 in) on the North Carolina and South Dakota classes and with 445 mm (17.5 in) on the Iowa class.[104]

The Italian Littorio had a thicker armored belt (350 mm (14 in)) than Richelieu, was less protected on the turrets, with 350 mm (14 in), and on the conning tower, with 260 mm (10 in), but had a slightly better horizontal protection with 50 mm (2.0 in) on the upper armored deck and 162 mm (6.4 in) on the main deck.[105] The German Bismarck-class battleships had a thinner armor than Richelieu on the main artillery turrets (356 mm (14.0 in)), but thicker on the conning tower (356 mm (14.0 in)), equivalent for the armored belt (320 mm (13 in)) and weaker horizontal armor (80 mm (3.1 in) to 115 mm (4.5 in)).[51]

Underwater protection

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.[106]

The compartment outward of the inclined armor belt had a maximum depth of 1.5 meters (4.9 ft), and had a filling of ébonite mousse. Inward of this compartment, there was a 18 mm (0.71 in) bulkhead, enclosing a void compartment 0.9 meters (3.0 ft) deep, then an oil fuel bunker 3.4 meters (11 ft) deep (0.5 meters (1.6 ft) less than on Dunkerque), then a 10 mm (0.39 in) bulkhead, containing a void compartment 0.67 meters (2.2 ft) deep, backed by a 30 mm (1.2 in) torpedo bulkhead of special steel. The maximum width was around 7 meters (23 ft). The reduction of 0.5 meters (1.6 ft) comparing with Dunkerque was necessary to accommodate the boiler room design.[100]

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, or 6 meters (20 ft) on Bismarck.[107] The Italian Littorio-class battleships had a peculiar underwater protection system, designed by chief designer, Generale Ispettore del Genio Navale Pugliese that incorporated a 3.8-meter (12 ft) diameter cylindrical expansion space. But 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.[108]


The faced constraints such as a 33.5 meters (110 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. The target speed was 30 knots (56 km/h; 35 mph).[109] Reaching the target required 150,000 hp, then the greatest mechanical power ever installed on a battleship. It would be surpassed on American Iowa-class battleships in 1943–1944. An equivalent speed had been reached with less power (144,000 hp) on HMS Hood,[110] but with a 262 meters (860 ft) hull, a 42,000 tonnes (41,000 long tons) displacement, and a length/beam ratio of 8. This was achieved absent any shipbuilding restraint or Treaty limit. All British and US battleships built in the late 1930s respected the Treaty's 35,000 ton displacement limit. The King George V class could reach 29 knots (54 km/h; 33 mph), while North Carolina or South Dakota classes reached 28 knots (52 km/h; 32 mph). 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 hp.[56][111] The Italian Littorio-class battleships exceeded 30 knots (56 km/h; 35 mph) with a 230 meters (750 ft) hull and 140,000 hp.[112] The German battleship Bismarck had a 29-knot (54 km/h; 33 mph) speed with 138,000 hp, and reached 31 knots with forcing for 150,000 hp,[98] 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)).[51]

Richelieu employed six Indret boilers and four Parsons turbines. The boilers were of a new type, the so-called suralimenté, meaning pressure-fired (and thus the abbreviation of Sural). These boilers operated at 27 kg/cm² (384 lb/in²) pressure at 350 °C (662 °F) ,[109] as on Dunkerque, but forced circulation and pressure firing produced 14.4 kg/m³) of steam per cubic meter well in excess of conventional boilers.[113] They were 6.30 meters (20.7 ft) long versus 5.33 m in 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).

Richelieu's 2-meter greater beam made it possible to install three boilers side by side in two boiler rooms, instead of three rooms as on Dunkerque. Boiler room 1 was underneath the fore tower, with, from starboard to port, boilers #10, #11, and #12, followed by the forward engine room housing the geared turbines for the wing shafts. Boiler room 2 (directly underneath the funnel), contained boilers #20, #21, and #22 and powered the center shaft turbines in the aft engine room. The reduction in number of boiler rooms caused a significant reduction in survivability, meaning that a single penetrating hit could deprive the ship of half (if not all) speed [114]

Each Engine Room held two sets of turbines, each driving a 4.88 meters (16.0 ft) diameter four-bladed propeller . Each set comprised a single high pressure (27 kg/cm²) turbine, a medium pressure (10 kg/cm²) turbine, and two low pressure two-flow rotor turbines (4 kg/cm² and 1.25 kg/cm²). Four turbo generators, each of 1,500 kilowatts (2,000 hp), were used; two in the forward engine room, and the rest in a separate compartment directly abaft the main machinery spaces, adjacent to the magazines for the aft 152 mm (6.0 in) turrets.[115]

The maximum fuel load for peace-time cruising was 5,866 tonnes (5,773 long tons), but in wartime fuel was limited to 4,700 tonnes (4,600 long tons) to maximize the underwater protection system's effectiveness. When full, the liquid loading compartments created additional pressure on bulkheads instead of absorbing explosive pressures. The ships' travel radius 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).[116]

During speed trials, in April 1940 30.2 knots (56 km/h; 35 mph) was achieved using 123,000 hp with near 42,000 tonnes (41,000 long tons) displacement, and in June 31 knots (57 km/h; 36 mph) were maintained for 3 hours and 30 minutes, with 41,800 tonnes (41,100 long tons) displacement and 155,000 hp, and 31.38 knots (58.12 km/h; 36.11 mph) were reached with 179,000 hp forcing[clarification needed].[117]

1938 Supplementary Program Battleships

In 1937, Italy ordered two more Vittorio Veneto-class battleships to be laid down in 1938. The French reaction was to order two more Richelieu-class battleships, with an improved design, since France's limited building capacity required delays before laying these units down.[118]

The second London naval disarmament conference's failure marked the end of international naval armament limitation activity. Japan had withdrawn from the conference on 15 January 1936; Italy also declined to sign the Second London Naval Treaty. A so-called "escalator clause" had been included at the American negotiators' urging, allowing the signatory countries of the Second London Treaty (France, the UK and the US) to raise the battleship main battery caliber limit from 14 inches (356 mm) to 16 inches (406 mm), and the limit for battleship displacement from 35,000 tons to 45,000 tons, if Japan or Italy still refused to sign after April 1, 1937.[119] Ultimately the US adopted 16-inch (406 mm) guns for their new fast battleship classes,[120] whereas the UK chose to respect the Second London Naval Treaty limitations for the King George V-class battleships. Germany was not concerned, as she had not been invited to the second London conference, but officially the battleships Bismarck and Tirpitz had 380 mm (15 in) guns and 35,000 tons displacements. France decided to respect the limitations of 35,000 tons and 380 mm (15 in) as long as no continental European power broke them.[119][121] In December 1937 Chief of the Navy General Staff (Chef d'Etat-major Général de la Marine), Admiral Darlan ordered a study of new designs for two battleships,[122] driven by the problems revealed by Dunkerque's trials, especially her main and secondary artillery.[123]

Three projects were studied, the first (project A) with the same quadruple arrangement forward as Richelieu, but different secondary artillery arrangements, the second (project B) with one quadruple turret forward and one quadruple turret aft, the third (project C) with two fore triple turrets and one triple turret aft, in every case with a 380 mm (15 in) caliber. Project C led to an excess displacement of 5,000 tons over the limit of 35,000 tons, so it was discarded.[124]

In June 1938, the French Admiralty's choice was conditioned by France's limited shipyard space that could accommodate very large ship construction. The Salou #4 graving dock in the Brest Navy Yards was intended to be ready for building a new battleship in January 1939, when the Richelieu would have floated out, as all other large shipyards were in use. On the new Caquot dock, in the Penhoët Shipbuilding Yards in Saint-Nazaire, Jean Bart was under construction and expected to be floated out in late 1939-early 1940. In the same yard, on the #1 slipway where SS Normandie and Strasbourg had been laid down, Joffre was to be built from November 1938 till 1941. Consequently, it was not reasonable to keep the Salou dock empty for six or more months, waiting to start building a Project B design that needed at least a year to prepare definitive drawings after it had been ordered. Therefore, the Project A design was chosen for the Salou building dock. The Caquot dock could then be used for the second.[121]

Admiral Darlan chose Project A variant 2 for the third Richelieu-class ship to be laid down, named Clemenceau. He chose project B variant 3 for the second ship – a design in which he was much involved – and named her Gascogne after Gascony where he was born,[125] marking a transition to adopting province names for battleships.[126]

In summer 1939 the French intelligence service warned the Admiralty that the keels of two German battleships had been laid down, allegedly of 40,000 tonnes (39,000 long tons) and with 406 mm (16.0 in) guns. They were actually Plan Z H-39-class battleships. It was decided to breach the Treaty limits. Based on the studies of 1938's Project C, new designs led to the so-called Province or later Alsace-class battleships that were never even ordered.[127]


On Clemenceau, the main artillery arrangement was as on Richelieu and Jean Bart. But the 152 mm (6.0 in) battery would have consisted of four triple turrets of 152 mm (6.0 in) caliber, two amidships (one on each side), and two aft in superfiring positions. Darlan thought that the three 152 mm (6.0 in) turrets aft on Richelieu were a mistake, since two turrets in centerline positions would provide the same broadside of six guns and save nearly 300 tonnes (300 long tons), allowing six more 100 mm (3.9 in) AA mountings. Two of these mountings would have been positioned in front of the fore tower in superfiring position abaft the fore 380 mm (15 in) turrets, and four others, abeam the funnel and the axial aft 152 mm (6.0 in) turrets, and abaft the 152 mm (6.0 in) amidships turrets.[128] As the firing arcs of the 152 mm (6.0 in) turrets amidships were intended to be mainly directed forwards, the 100 mm (3.9 in) AA battery would have been shielded enough from their blast effects. Moreover, these 100 mm (3.9 in) turrets would have been fully enclosed, with a 30 mm (1.2 in) plating against shrapnel. This new model of turrets was known as the 100 mm (3.9 in) CAD Model 1937, and also as the mine sweeper sloop type, since it was intended to be installed on the Elan and Chamois minesweeper sloop classes; it was also intended for the Le Fier destroyer class and as a secondary battery on the De Grasse cruiser class, to be commissioned in the late 1930s or early 1940s.[129]

But this new arrangement involved some difficulties. The second aft turret in superfiring position had a greater part of its barbette above the main armored deck, and thus needed more 100 mm (3.9 in) plating. The 152 mm (6.0 in) turret faces' armor thickness had to be reduced to 116 mm (4.6 in)– instead of 130 mm (5.1 in) – the armored belt's to 320 mm (13 in), and the main turrets' rear plates' to 250 mm (9.8 in). The auxiliary fire control system abaft the funnel, for the 380 mm (15 in) battery, was to be mounted about 2.5 meters (8.2 ft) higher than in Richelieu, requiring a greater funnel height.[130] Two more fire control systems with 5-meter (16 ft) stereoscopic ORs, for the 100 mm (3.9 in) AA battery, would have been installed on the sides of the fore tower. To save weight, particularly in the heights, the anti-ship fire control system for the 152 mm (6.0 in) battery would have not been installed, but the two remaining fire control directors for the 152 mm (6.0 in) battery, on the aft tower and on the fore tower in the upper position, would have been fitted with a stereoscopic 8-meter (26 ft) OR.[131] With these arrangements, the anti-ship and anti-aircraft artillery on Clemenceau would be better than that originally intended for Richelieu and Jean Bart.[132]

As a last consequence, the center line arrangement of the 152 mm (6.0 in) turrets aft placed the extreme aft turret (turret VI) in frame 54.45,[128] while on Richelieu the extreme aft turret (turret VII; in the center line position) was on the 68.85 frame. Thus, the aviation hangar would have been shortened by nearly 15 meters (49 ft). The aft lateral turrets' removal, which were on Richelieu precisely on frame 54.45,[69] would allow a broader hangar. The two seaplanes in the hangar would have been accommodated side by side, wings folded, instead of in line. Otherwise, the aviation facilities would have been the same as on Richelieu.[133]

The short-range anti-aircraft battery would have been six twin ACAD Mode 1935 mountings, installed with their fire control systems on nearly the same positions as on Richelieu, but the two forward mountings were slightly abaft the turret II barbette, and for the four after mountings one deck higher. New quadruple 37 mm (1.5 in) zénithaux[m] mountings, intended to be used against dive-bombing aircraft, would have been installed on each side of the quarterdeck near the aviation hangar.[134]


The most conspicuous change with Gascogne would have been the return to a main artillery arrangement with a quadruple 380 mm (15 in) gun turret aft. This rearrangement also would shift superstructures forward so that these were now mounted almost exactly midships and no longer at a considerable distance aft of the midship position.[130]

Gascogne's secondary artillery would have been three triple turrets of 152 mm (6.0 in) caliber, all on one axial line, two in a superfiring position forward and one between the funnel and the aft 380 mm (15 in) turret, which freed up the sides of the ship for eight anti-aircraft dual mountings of 100 mm (3.9 in) caliber.[135] As the 152 mm (6.0 in) guns' magazines would have been near the main artillery turrets' magazines, which would increase risks, the 152 mm (6.0 in) turrets' armor had to be improved. In July 1938 it was proposed to increase the turret armor thickness to 190 mm (7.5 in) on the faces (instead of 130 mm (5.1 in)), 120 mm (4.7 in) on the roofs and 100 mm (3.9 in) on the sides (instead of 70 mm (2.8 in)); the barbettes would have remained at 100 mm (3.9 in). In February 1939, a rebalancing was proposed with a thickness of 150 mm (5.9 in) for the barbette, 155 mm (6.1 in) for the turret faces, and from 135 mm (5.3 in) to 85 mm (3.3 in) for the turret sides. A thinner upper armored deck had been considered, reducing its thickness to around 145 mm (5.7 in), instead of around 160 mm (6.3 in),[136] but there is no proof that such a decision was actually taken, beyond a STCN recommendation dated 5 March 1938.[137]

In the December 1938 designs, aircraft installations were intended to be fitted at the ship's center, with trainable catapults between the fore tower and the funnel, with a hangar at the aft tower's base. Problems with positioning the 100 mm (3.9 in) AA battery too near the main and secondary batteries resulted, in February 1939, in repositioning the aircraft installations at the ship's stern. A single axial catapult would have had its pedestal countersunk in the quarterdeck, with an internal hangar in a recess under the first deck and a lift to hoist the seaplanes to the first deck level to avoid the blast effects of the rear 380 mm (15 in) turret firing, which also would have required raising the aft 381 mm (15.0 in) turret up one deck, on the Vittorio Veneto-class battleships.[138] The hull seaplanes would have been of a new twin-motored type, the Farman/NCAC NC 420, with an increased endurance (1,350 km at 240 km/h, versus 1,125 km at 150 km/h for the Loire 130). Its prototype was almost complete in June 1940 but never flew.[126] Two seaplanes would have been stowed in the hangar in line, and a third one would have been parked on rails on the quarterdeck, to the aviation hangar's starboard.[126]

Thus, the eight 100 mm (3.9 in) CAD Model 1937 turrets would have been positioned in four groups of two, amidships, in the four corners of the superstructure. Each group of two turrets would have had a fire control system, with a 5-meter (16 ft) OR; for the forward groups this would be on each side of the fore tower, and for the aft turret groups it would be atop the aft tower. Thus, the backup system for the 152 mm (6.0 in) battery would have been eliminated, and the secondary battery's fire control direction insured by the upper system in the fore tower for anti-ship gunnery and by the 100 mm (3.9 in) battery's systems for anti-aircraft gunnery.[137]

The six 37 mm (1.5 in) AA Model 1935 guns would have been installed with four mountings abeam the forward turret (two on the forecastle and two a little abaft, one deck higher), with their fire control systems amidships between the fore and the aft tower, and the two would have been positioned abeam the aft superstructure with their fire control systems a little forward and one deck higher. The 37 mm (1.5 in) zénithaux quadruple mountings were repositioned amidships between the fore and aft towers, because on the quarterdeck – as on Clemenceau – they would have been excessively exposed to the blast from the aft main turret.[139]


Ship Namesake Builder Laid down Launched Commissioned Fate
Richelieu Armand-Jean Cardinal du Plessis de Richelieu Arsenal de Brest 22 October 1935 17 January 1939 15 July 1940 (l'État français)
10 October 1943 (la France libre)
Broken up at Genoa, 1968
Jean Bart Jean Bart Chantiers de Penhoët, Saint-Nazaire 12 December 1936 6 March 1940 1 May 1955 Broken up at Toulon, 1970
Clemenceau Georges Clemenceau Arsenal de Brest 17 January 1939 N/A Hulk sunk in air attack, 27 August 1944
Gascogne Gascony Chantiers de Penhoët, Saint-Nazaire N/A Cancelled due to German Invasion


Richelieu at Dakar, in 1941; there were three fire control systems atop the fore tower and neutrality tricolor bands on turret II

The keel was laid down on 22 October 1935 in Brest.[140][141] The hull was floated out on 17 January 1939.[142][143] Richelieu then left the Salou graving dock, to be armed in one of the Laninon docks at the Brest Navy Yards. The bow and the stern, built separately, were attached there since the Salou graving dock was only 200 meters (660 ft) long.[144][145] Mechanical trials began at the end of March 1940.[146][147]

In April 1940, Richelieu went to sea for the first time. In late May and mid-June, the Commanding Officer, Captain Marzin carried out speed and gunnery trials, reaching 32 knots, and firing a few shots from her main and secondary batteries. Due to the advance of German troops, Richelieu hastily left Brest bound for Dakar on 18 June 1940, having on board 250 shells but only 48 powder charges for her main battery.[148] Escorted by the Adroit-class destroyers Fougueux and Frondeur, she reached Dakar on 23 June 1940.[149][150]

Dakar, under Vichy's orders

HMS Hermes, whose aircraft torpedoed Richelieu at Dakar on 7 July 1940; in the background is HMS Dorsetshire

As the local political conditions seemed very dubious regarding the acceptance of the armistice between France and Germany, Captain Marzin decided to proceed to Casablanca two days later, shadowed by a powerful British battle group. Richelieu was sent back to Dakar by the French Admiralty on 28 June where she moored in the outer roadstead, east of Dakar harbour and north of the island of Gorée, protected only, on the high sea side, by a line of five seized British flagged freighters.[151] Her anti-aircraft artillery was very weak. The 152 mm (6.0 in) turrets could not fire on aerial targets, as the corresponding uppermost rangefinder on the fore tower had not been put in service; moreover, shells and powder charges were lacking. Only the six 100 mm (3.9 in) turrets were usable. The short range anti-aircraft artillery had only four double 37 mm (1.5 in) semi-automatic mountings, four quadruple 13.2 mm (0.52 in) Hotchkiss machine guns, and two twin 13.2 mm machine guns.[69]

The 22 June 1940 armistice prompted British anxiety that the French Navy would be taken over by the Axis Powers. This led to attacks from the Royal Navy against the French warships (Operation Catapult): to seize them (in British harbors), sink them (at Mers el-Kebir), or intern them (at Alexandria). During the night of July 7 to 8, five days after the attack on the French fleet at Mers-el-Kebir, a team from HMS Hermes attempted to damage Richelieu with depth charges moored under her stern, but they did not explode. In the morning, Swordfish bombers from Hermes torpedoed Richelieu below the armored deck. This caused a 40-foot (12 m) long hole, and disabled the starboard propeller shaft; flooding caused her stern to touch bottom. One torpedo is likely to have hit the depth charges moored during the night. The crippled battleship was pumped out after a few days and made seaworthy for emergencies, and moored inside the Dakar harbor.[152]

On 24 September, Richelieu took part in the defence of Dakar against British and Free French forces. There was a gunnery duel between Richelieu and the British battleships HMS Barham and HMS Resolution: Barham was hit twice by the shore batteries manned by ratings from Richelieu. In the engagement Richelieu was struck by two 15-inch (380 mm) shells causing no serious damage; there were 250 near misses.[145][153] Richelieu was damaged in the battle the first time her main battery fired: a 380 mm (15 in) shell blew back and disabled two guns in the #2 main turret; this was thought to be from the use of the wrong propellant type. There was no more firing during this day with the #2 main turret. On the day after, the #1 main turret was used instead. The propellant was changed to the SD19 propellant of the reconditioned Strasbourg powder charges; however, this caused serious problems regarding range-finding. In 1941, an inquiry commission under Admiral de Penfentenyo de Kervérégen concluded there had been a mistake in the shell base design.[154] During the two days, Richelieu fired a total of 24 rounds. No hits were recorded. The third day, as HMS Resolution had been struck by a torpedo from a French submarine, the British and Free French force retreated.[155]

Temporary repairs were completed in Dakar; some light anti-aircraft mountings were added, partly taken from the wreck of the destroyer Audacieux (severely damaged by a heavy cruiser during the battle).[69] During the first months of 1941, Richelieu was the first French battleship to be fitted with an early French radar (designated as "electro-magnetic detection"). On 24 April 1941, Richelieu could sail at 14 knots (26 km/h; 16 mph) on three engines, the fourth propeller having been removed. During July 1941, three Loire 130 seaplanes were shipped.[156]

On the Allies' side

Richelieu arrives in New York with her damaged turret II. The uppermost fire control system on the fore tower had to be dismantled for her to pass under the Brooklyn Bridge

After French forces in Africa joined the Allies after the Allied landings in North Africa in November 1942, the Richelieu sailed for refitting at the New York Navy Yard on 30 January 1943. The three ruined barrels of Richelieu's upper main battery turret were replaced by barrels previously fitted on Jean Bart, the second Richelieu-class unit, that was staying at Casablanca. The fourth barrel from Jean Bart was used for trials at the Dahlgren firing range and never made its way onto the battleship.[157]

The seaplane equipment (hangar, catapults, and crane) had been removed in Dakar. The space thus spared on the stern was used to mount 40 mm (1.6 in) anti-aircraft guns on the rear deck. The overall anti-aircraft armament was massively reinforced, with 48 20 mm (0.79 in) AA guns in single mounts replacing the original 13.2 mm (0.52 in) Hotchkiss machine guns, and 14 quad 40 mm (1.6 in) turrets replacing the original 37 mm (1.5 in) semi-automatic guns. Adoption of US-pattern secondary batteries made providing ammunition easier; a special factory had to be set up to produce ammunition for the main battery. She remained with only two rangefinders on the fore tower, and the rear mast was shortened. She was fitted with air and surface warning radar, but the U.S. Navy was reluctant to provide gunnery practice radars.[158] All these modifications increased her displacement by 3,000 tonnes (3,000 long tons). After sea trials – with a maximum speed of 30.2 knots (55.9 km/h; 34.8 mph) – the refit was declared complete on 10 October 1943.[159][160]

Richelieu sailed for Mers el-Kebir on 14 October and thence to Scapa Flow, arriving on 20 November. She served with the British Home Fleet from November 1943 to March 1944, participating in an operation off the Norwegian coast in January 1944. She was then transferred to the British Eastern Fleet to cover for British battleships undergoing refit; this was despite reportedly strong anti-Gaullist sympathies on board and limitations of her radar and ammunition (only available from US sources). She 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) and on Surabaya in May 1944 (Operation Transom); she also served in Operations Councillor and Pedal, in June. On 22 July, she sailed to attack Sabang and Sumatra (Operation Crimson) and returned to Trincomalee on 27 July.[161]

Relieved by HMS Howe, Richelieu returned to Europe. After about a week in Toulon, she sailed for Casablanca, where she arrived on 10 October 1944, for careening. She was refitted in Gibraltar in January 1945, and rejoined the Eastern Fleet until the end of the war against Japan, arriving back at Trincomalee on 20 March 1945.[159] Now with Task Force 63 of the British East Indies Fleet, she joined in more bombardments of Sabang in April and of the Nicobar Islands in late April to early May. The next operation, to intercept the cruiser Haguro, was abortive.[162]

Richelieu refitted at Durban from 18 July to 10 August,[163] and arrived via Diego Suarez at Trincomalee on 18 August, learning of the Japanese surrender on 15 August.[164] She left Trincomalee on 5 September to participate in the liberation of Singapore, Operation Tiderace.[165] While she was passing down the Straits of Malacca on 9 September, at 07:44 a magnetic mine detonated 17 meters (56 ft) to starboard. She eventually limped into Singapore at noon on 11 September.[166][167]

Post war

After V-J Day, during the last three 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, the French Commanding General in Indochina.[168][169] On 29 December, she sailed for France, and arrived in Toulon on 11 February 1946.

After 1946, she had the classic existence of a warship during peacetime, alternating between training times and such tasks as, maneuvering with the aircraft carrier Arromanches  – formerly HMS Colossus – when she joined the French Navy, taking the President of the French Republic for a visit to the French West Africa colonies in 1947 or officially visiting Portugal.[170] During a careening in Toulon in 1951, she was fitted with French-built radar devices, and received one new-built 380 mm (15 in) gun and three guns seized by the Germans, two having been installed during the war in shore batteries in Norway and in Normandy, the third having been used for trials at the Krupp proving grounds in Meppen (Germany).[171]

Once in her career (on 30 January 1956), she maneuvered with Jean Bart for a few hours, before being based in Brest as a gunnery training school. Placed in the reserve fleet in 1958, she was in 1968 decommissioned and sold to Italian ship scrappers.[172]

Jean Bart

From Saint-Nazaire to Casablanca

Jean Bart was laid down in December 1936; it was built in the large Caquot dock in Penhoët later named the "Jean Bart dock" and was expected to leave it in October 1940. In May 1940, it was decided that the uncompleted battleship had to be sent to a safer place in Britain or in French Africa, beyond the Luftwaffe's range. The ship was afloat in the fitting-out basin; however, this was separated from the navigational channel by an earth dam. When it appeared that the Battle of France was on its way to be won by the Wehrmacht by late May, work on dredging the earth dam was begun in order to be ready to leave at a high tide on 20 June. Half the propulsion machinery (boilers and turbines) was fitted to be worked when necessary. On 18 June, as the German Panzer divisions were approaching, the Commanding Officer was ordered to be ready to leave immediately for Casablanca or to scuttle the ship. It was not before the middle of the next night that the dredging work was finished with very narrow margins for the battleship to pass through, and in the early hours of 19 June, nearly in view of the German vanguard, Jean Bart – barely 75% completed, her steam engines never having been worked before, and under the threat of German bombers – was taken out of her St. Nazaire's dock by four tugs and reached Casablanca, Morocco, on 22 June under her own steam at an average speed on the journey's final leg of 22 knots (41 km/h; 25 mph).[173][144][174]

Only one of her two 380 mm (15 in) main turrets had been installed by then; the second turret's guns had to be left or were lost with the sinking of the vessel shipping them. Her 152 mm (6.0 in) secondary battery was also not yet installed, and was replaced by anti-aircraft machine guns. No rangefinder was fitted.[2] Jean Bart, moored in Casablanca harbor, stayed uncompleted, lacking facilities to complete her.[175]

On 8 November 1942, Allied landings in French North Africa (Operation Torch) began. Jean Bart, with her 380 mm (15 in) guns opened fire on the U.S. warships covering the landings, with range finding data sent by phone from the shore stations of Sidi Abderhamane and Dar Bou Azza.[176] She was silenced by the second hit from the 406 mm (16.0 in) guns of USS Massachusetts, which jammed her turret rotating mechanism. The sixth of the seven 406 mm (16.0 in) shells that hit her exploded in a magazine of 152 mm (6.0 in) turret, which was empty as these turrets had not been installed. Had they been, this event would have had catastrophic consequences.[177] These magazines' armor weakness was known and was intended to be corrected on Gascogne. On 10 November, after overhauling her 380 mm (15 in) turret, Jean Bart almost hit USS Augusta, the Task Force 34 flagship. Bombers from the aircraft carrier USS Ranger soon inflicted severe damage, with two heavy bombs hitting the bow and the stern. She settled into the harbor mud with decks awash.[178][179]


After French North Africa forces joined the Allies, Jean Bart was made seaworthy to be refitted with American help, as with Richelieu. The French Admiralty's wish – presented by Vice Admiral Fenard, Chief of the French Naval Mission – to complete Jean Bart in U.S. shipyards was discussed during 1943. But U.S. Navy authorities concluded the task exceeded their capacities, for the ship was too different from the equivalent U.S. warships, and the correct parts were lacking.[180] Instead of completing her as designed, it was proposed in May 1943 to complete only one main artillery turret, using 340 mm (13 in) guns taken on the French battleship Lorraine that had joined the Allied forces (after she had stayed from 1940 to 1943 in Alexandria). Fifteen U.S.-built dual-purpose 127 mm (5.0 in) double turrets, sixteen Bofors 40 mm (1.6 in) quad mountings, numerous Oerlikon 20 mm (0.79 in) mountings, and aircraft installations for six planes (Grumman Avenger or Fairey Barracuda bombers and Hellcat or Seafire fighters), would have transformed Jean Bart into a kind of hybrid battleship-aircraft carrier. A second proposal, less expensive but always with the same main artillery turret, had seventeen 127 mm (5.0 in) double turrets and twenty Bofors quad 40 mm (1.6 in) mountings and would have yielded a kind of AA battleship.[181] Admiral King, Commander in Chief, United States Fleet and Chief of Naval Operations, decided finally in March 1944 not to agree to any French proposals, and she stayed in Casablanca.[180][182]

The question of Jean Bart was once more discussed by the French Admiralty in 1945. Was she to be scrapped? Completed as a classic battleship as designed? Transformed into an aircraft carrier? On 21 September 1945, the Higher Council of the French Navy agreed not to scrap her. Louis Kahn, Chief Naval Constructor, French Navy, who had designed the Joffre-class aircraft carrier in the late 1930s,[183] presented a project for a transformation into an aircraft carrier operating forty/fifty-four planes, for a cost of 5 billion Francs, in five years or less. Some admirals, namely Admiral Fenard, formerly chief of the French Naval Mission to the United States, and Admiral Nomy, who had been a Naval aviator and would be later Chef d'Etat-major Général de la Marine (1951–1953), found it surprising that so few planes could be accommodated on a ship with a displacement of 40,000 tonnes (39,000 long tons), as equivalent ships in other navies were operating twice as many planes. In the minutes of the 21 September 1945 meeting of the Navy Higher Council, Rear Admiral Barjot wrote: "The design of aircraft carrier presented to the Council is called, by a member, "caricature" in regard to a project which would be established with the wish to create an efficient aircraft carrier...Despite the war learnings, the outdated myth of big gun goes on dominating our naval doctrine...It was surprising enough to see in 1945 the Navy General Staff supporting, doctrinally, against the aircraft carrier solution, the battleship solution".[184][185]

British aircraft carrier HMS Eagle, laid down in 1942 and launched in 1946, with a displacement of 38,600 long tons (39,200 t) (46,000 long tons (47,000 t) full load), was by then designed to accommodate 80 planes.[186] However, the French experience of a battleship converted into an aircraft carrier, Béarn, was rather unsuccessful, her slow speed having led to her use only as an aircraft transport ship.[187]

It was decided finally to complete Jean Bart as an integral battleship, with the aim to get, with a delay of five years, a command ship, heavily anti-aircraft armed, with a capacity of naval bombing for attack against land.[188] She sailed from Casablanca in August 1945 to Cherbourg, the only usable French graving dock on the French Atlantic coast. She entered in one of the Brest Laninon docks in March 1946. Work progressed slowly as the Brest Navy Yards had to be rebuilt in the meantime after severe wartime destruction. The battleship emerged with a much more compact fore control tower, topped by only one rangefinder (Richelieu had two after her refit). In 1948, she received an additional bulge to limit the increase of her draught, due to the planned fitting of stronger anti-aircraft artillery; her beam reached 35.5 meters (116 ft).[2] Gunnery and speed sea trials showed a top speed of more than 32 knots (59 km/h; 37 mph).[189]


Jean Bart was officially commissioned on 16 January 1949, but the anti-aircraft short range artillery, twelve 100 mm (3.9 in) dual mountings and fourteen Bofors licensed 57 mm (2.2 in) dual mountings, was not fitted before 1952–1953.[190]

She was admitted to active service on 1 May 1955. She soon took the President of the French Republic on an official visit to Copenhagen, and went on to Oslo. In July, she took part (in New York) in ceremonies celebrating the 175th anniversary of the Newport landing of French troops led by the Comte de Rochambeau, during the American War of Independence.[170] On 21 October, in Toulon, Jean Bart succeeded Richelieu as the flagship of the South Group of Schools.[191]

During her active career, Jean Bart had a complement of 750 to 900 men, fewer than the planned 1500. She reached more than 1200 men when she was about to be sent due to the Suez Canal crisis, but even then, only one 380 mm (15 in) turret and the axial 152 mm (6.0 in) turret could be manned.[192][193]

In 1956, she took part in the operations off Port-Said during the Suez Crisis, but French support of land operations was not primarily the four shots fired by her 380 mm (15 in) guns against the land, but by the French Aeronavale Corsairs. Jean Bart's main operational contribution was to ship the 1st Foreign Parachute Regiment from Algiers to Cyprus.[192][194]

After having fired the last French Navy 380 mm (15 in) gunshots in July 1957, she was placed in reserve, on August 1, 1957, and served as a school ship for the gunnery training schools in Toulon. Proposals in 1957–1958 to modernize her anti-aircraft artillery with new 100 mm (3.9 in) turrets (Model 53 in place of Model 45), or later to transform her into a guided missile battleship similar to USS Mississippi (but no French-built missile existed at that time, so it was proposed to use the U.S. Terrier missile) were not accepted.[195] In 1964, when a command ship was looked for by the Pacific Center for Nuclear Experiments, the cruiser De Grasse was preferred to Jean Bart, which would have been more expensive to transform.[196]

Decommissioned in 1968, she was scrapped in 1970 near Toulon,[197] leaving the Turkish Yavûz, formerly SMS Goeben, the only survivor afloat in European waters of the battleship era.[198]

Jean Bart was overall an experimental battleship, never fully operational, mainly because of budget cuts but also because, when she was completed, the battleship was no longer the capital ship for the French Navy, since instead three aircraft carriers – Arromanches, La Fayette, and Bois Belleau – operated during the 1950s in support in Indochina, in Algeria and during the Suez Crisis. However, she was useful post-war as a testbed for new French-built naval AA guns and radars.[197]

Clemenceau and Gascogne

The third unit, Clemenceau, was laid down in the Salou graving dock as soon as Richelieu had left it. Work progressed slowly, as Clemenceau did not have priority. Thus, in mid-1940 – nearly eighteen months later – she was only 10% completed as a hull section of 130 meters (430 ft). Taken by the Germans as a war prize, she was registered by the Kriegsmarine as Battleship R, but the Germans never seriously considered continuation of construction work. Made buoyant, presumably in 1941, to vacate the building basin, moored near the submarine base,[199] or towed to Landevenec,[200] and intended for use by the Germans as a blocking ship to seal off the harbour entrance, her hull was sunk during a U.S. air raid at the beginning of the offensive to free Brest (on 27 August 1944) and scrapped post-war.[201] In the late 1950s, the name of Clemenceau was given to the first modern post-war French-built aircraft carrier, French aircraft carrier Clemenceau.[202]

The fourth unit, the planned Gascogne, was intended to be laid down in the "Jean Bart dock". When the ship building yard was occupied by the Germans, in June 1940, the battleship had not been yet formally ordered. No work was ever begun. Some stored parts and material were declared war booty and registered by the Germans as Battleship S.[203]


  1. ^ After the Washington Naval Conference, standard displacement in the French Navy was generally given in long tons, the other displacements were given in metric tonnes.[1]
  2. ^ Examples include the Queen Elizabeth-class battleship,[9] Revenge-class battleship,[10] and Admiral-class battlecruiser.[11]
  3. ^ Examples include the Colorado-class battleship and Nagato-class battleship.[12][13]
  4. ^ These were the Revenge-class battleships, Colorado-class battleships, Nelson-class battleships, and Queen Elizabeth-class battleships.[15]
  5. ^ These were the Admiral-class battlecruiser HMS Hood and the two Renown-class battlecruisers.[17]
  6. ^ This infrastructure would have been new building docks or slipways, since the longest one the Navy Yards then had was only 200 meters (660 ft) long, and graving docks.
  7. ^ It was thought, then, that in the early phase of a gun engagement, it was necessary to have quickly straddling salvos, and this was supposed easier with four-shell salvos, than with three-shell ones, as a salvo was generally fired, at this moment of the battle, with half the guns of the broadside
  8. ^ The world's heaviest turrets would be: the three 460 mm (18.1 in) gun turrets on Yamato with 2,774 tonnes (2,730 long tons);[65] the U.S. Navy's heaviest built turrets, the 1,704-tonne (1,677-long-ton) turrets of the Iowa-class battleships;[66] and the heaviest Royal Navy turrets ever built, the three 406 mm (16.0 in) gun turrets of the Nelson-class battleships – weighing 1,568 tonnes (1,543 long tons) – and the four 356 mm (14.0 in) gun turrets of King George V – weighing 1,550 tonnes (1,526 long tons).[67]
  9. ^ The color was yellow for Richelieu and orange for Jean Bart.
  10. ^ The frames, in the French Navy, are numbered, by the distance in meters from the ship's stern
  11. ^ Turret VII was abaft turrets V and VI on Dunkerque, which corresponded to the traditional French method of turret numbering (from bow to stern), but turrets V and VI were abaft turret VII on Richelieu.
  12. ^ The port catapult was on frame 9, and the starboard catapult on frame 24
  13. ^ The Hotchkiss zénithaux mounting guns were normally pointed skywards and could be angled in both the horizontal and vertical planes to a maximum of 45 degrees.


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