[4895 Strasbourg - by Robert Jenkins]
.B Engine(s) output: 112,500 shp
.B Top Speed: 29.5 knots
.B Main armament: 8 x 13-inch (330mm), 16 x 5.1-inch (130mm) guns
.B Displacement (full load): 35,500 tons
.B Thickest armour: 9.75-inch (belt)
.P The Dunkerques were a class of two, fast, capital ships that were built
for the Marine Nationale (MN) between 1932 and 1938. They are generally classed
as fast battleships, although their design had much in common with the
battlecruiser concept, and indeed are considered as such by some.
.P Although the Italian Navy was the main focus of French naval concern between
the wars, the MN could not afford to ignore the re-arming of the Kriegsmarine,
and in particular, the three pocket-battleships of the Deutschland-class. The
first of this latter class had entered service in 1933, and it was in response to
the Deutschlands that the Dunkerques were built.
.P The German ships were built as commerce raiders that were "faster than any
more powerful ship, and more powerful than any faster ship". However, the
Dunkerques were designed to be faster, more powerful and better armoured than the
German ships, and they achieved all three targets.
.P Although the comparison with the Deutschlands was favourable, the Dunkerques
were, in all but speed, undoubtedly at a disadvantage when compared to the
contemporary battleship classes, and their speed would be beaten by the newer
battleships laid down during the late thirties.
.P The Dunkerques main armament was fitted in two quadruple turrets, both fitted
forward in a bid to save weight. The guns were sited slightly further apart than
was traditionally the case, in order to try and avoid one lucky hit disabling
both turrets. Sixteen 5.1-inch guns fitted in three quadruple and two twin turrets
provided their secondary armament. Close-range anti-aircraft (AA) weaponry came in
the form of eight 37mm and thirty-two 13.2mm guns. A catapult was fitted aft, and
these ships could operate up to two aircraft.
.P Armour protection was light; certainly if these ships are to be considered
battleships. Their armour belt, designed to withstand the 11-inch shells of the
Deutschlands, ranged from 9.75-inches at it thickest, reducing to 5.75-inches,
while horizontal armour was 5-inches at its thickest.
.P Their designed speed of 29.5 knots was comfortable exceeded in trials and they
remained amongst the fastest capital ships in the world at the outbreak of World
.P The two ships of the class were named after French cities, Dunkerque being a
port in northern France, and Strasbourg a city in eastern France. The choice of
these names is interesting and is likely to have been driven by anti-German
sentiment between the wars; Dunkerque was where the German offensive in 1914
stalled, and the province of Alsace (of which Strasbourg is the capital) was
handed back to France at the end of World War I, having been taken by the Germans
after the war of 1870.
.P Strasbourg was commissioned into the MN in September 1938. At the start of the
Second World War, she was based at the port of Brest, part of the 1st Division de
ligne along with her sister Dunkerque.
.P Shortly after the outbreak of war in September 1939, the British and French
put into operation their plan for the defence of the vital trade routes around
the globe. The MN would be responsible for the sea area between the Gulf of
Guinea, off West Africa, and the English Channel. In order to counter the threat
from German surface raiders, the MN formed the Force de Raid (for the make-up of
this force please see Dunkerque) under the command of amiral Marcel-Bruno
.P At the beginning of October, the British Royal Navy and the MN formed a number
of hunting groups in order to try and track down German surface raiders known to
be at large in the North and South Atlantic. Gensoul's fleet was split up and
Strasbourg was sent to Dakar as part of the newly formed Force X along with the
cruisers Algérie and Dupleix; the 10th Division of Contre-torpilleurs and the
British aircraft carrier HMS Hermes.
.P Strasbourg remained with Force X until the end of November, when she was
ordered back to France. From then until early 1940, Strasbourg had something of a
quiet life, but this was not to last for long. In the spring, the Allies were
faced with the potential threat of Italy joining the Axis and the actual German
invasion of Norway. In April, the Force de Raid was ordered to the Mediterranean,
then quickly ordered back to France to assist operations off Norway, but then
sent back to the Mediterranean again.
.P The threat from Italy duly materialised on the 10th June 1940 when Benito
Mussolini decided to declare war on the British and French. By this time the
French fleet, based at Mers-el-Kebir, Algeria, was brought up to full strength
and contained the following ships:
.P 1st Squadron - 1st Division de ligne: Dunkerque and Strasbourg; 3rd Division
de croiseurs (DC): Marseillaise, Jean de Vienne and La Galissonnière; 4th DC:
Georgues Leygues, Montcalm and Gloire; 6th Division de contre-torpilleurs (DCT):
Mogador and Volta; 8th DCT: L'Indomptable and Le Malin; 10th DCT: Le Fantasque,
L'Audacieux and Le Terrible.
.P 2nd Squadron - 2nd Division de ligne, containing the old battleships Bretagne
and Provence and the 4th DCT consisting of Tigre, Panthère and Lynx.
.P This French fleet made one sortie a couple of days later when an erroneous
report was received that German naval units were trying to force the Straits of
Gibraltar with a view to meeting up with their Italian allies.
.P Strasbourg returned to port with the rest of the fleet and awaited her next
operational order. Sadly, in the course of the next few weeks the German army
effectively destroyed the Allied armies in Belgium and northeast France the
collapse and surrender of France followed soon after.
.P An armistice was concluded with the Germans and France and her empire were
split into two; a German-occupied zone that covered northern and western France,
and a nominally independent country, known as Vichy France, that administered
itself and its large overseas empire. This arrangement caused consternation in
the United Kingdom, as it was feared that the French Fleet was vulnerable to
seizure by the Germans.
.P At the start of July the British therefore carried out their plan to seize the
French Fleet in order to ensure that its ships did not fall into German hands
(see Bretagne, Paris and Submarine Counter 4937). At Mers-El-Kebir a numbers of
options were delivered to amiral Gensoul. All options were ultimately rejected,
and a Royal Navy task force that was waiting outside the port, was ordered to
open fire. Strasbourg was able to escape the carnage that followed with fairly
minor damage and she was able to reach open water, hidden by the fire and smoke
of battle. By a seeming miracle she also survived the minefield laid by the
British outside the port.
.P Strasbourg, together with four contre-torpilleurs and three torpedo boats,
survived a further attack by Royal Navy Swordfish aircraft and were able to make
it safely to Toulon.
.P Back in France, Strasbourg was quickly repaired and became the flagship of
amiral Gensoul who, having also survived the attack on Mers-El-Kebir, was flown
back to France. With the Vichy French no longer having control of their Atlantic
and Channel coasts, on the 25th September 1940 the main French fleet was named
the Forces de Haute Mer (FHM) or the High Seas Force, and placed under the
control of amiral Jean de Laborde (see Algérie for the composition of this
.P From then until November 1942, when she met her end, Strasbourg led an
unremarkable existence, consisting of training sorties, refits and the odd
upgrade to her equipment.
.P Following the armistice with Germany, the French had always maintained that
the ships of the French navy would not be allowed to fall into the hands of the
Germans. That resolve was tested in the early hours of the 27th November 1942. As
a result of the Allied landings in North Africa at the beginning of November, the
Germans decided to occupy Vichy France. A subsidiary operation was also planned
in order to seize the French fleet in Toulon - Operation Lila.
.P Troops from the German 7th Panzer Division and supporting units, that had been
stationed outside the port, were given the order to seize as many vessels as
possible, but the French made good on their promise. At that time, the French
naval units in Toulon consisted of both ships of the FHM and those ships that
were manned by reduced crews, but all ships were rigged for scuttling in case the
Germans ever broke their word and tried to forcibly take control of the fleet.
.P Amiral de Laborde broadcast the order to scuttle as soon as it became clear
what was happening. There was little actual fighting as, in almost all cases, the
Germans were unable to reach the French ships before they begun sinking or became
engulfed in flame.
.P None of the major warships scuttled - Dunkerque, Strasbourg, Provence,
Dupleix, Foch, Colbert, Marseillaise or Algérie - put to sea again. The Italians with the
intention of incorporating them into the Regia Marina refloated the Light cruisers -
Jean de Vienne and La Galissonnière. But both were still at Toulon when Italy exited
the war in September 1943.
.P General Charles de Gaulle, leader of the Free French forces, was upset that
the ships had not sailed for North Africa to continue the fight against the Axis,
but at least they had not been allowed to fall into enemy hands.
.P As for Strasbourg, she was sunk at her moorings, her internal machinery and
weaponry destroyed by explosive charges. She was raised in July 1943 but was
beyond recovery. She was sunk in August 1944 during an Allied air raid, raised
again, and her hulk scrapped in 1956.
University of Science Music and Culture (USMC) class of 71 and 72 ~ Extraneous (AKA Mziln)