Did the British destroy the French fleet

The destruction of the French fleet in Mers-el-Kebir on July 3, 1940

Table of Contents

2 Introduction

3 The events of the summer of 1940 - a historical overview
3.1 Prehistory
3.1.1 The case of France
3.1.2 The armistice with Germany
3.1.3 The reaction of England
3.1.4 The preparation of the company "Catapult"
3.2 The drama in Mers-el-Kebir
3.2.1 Events in English ports, as well as in Alexandria and Dakar
3.2.2 The events in Mers-el-Kebir before the British attack
3.2.3 The attack on the French fleet
3.3 Reactions and Consequences

4 The events from the point of view of de Gaulle and Churchill
4.1 General de Gaulle
4.1.1 Excerpt from de Gaulle's memoirs
4.1.2 Content and interpretation
4.2 Winston S. Churchill
4.2.1 Excerpt from a speech by Churchill
4.2.2 Content and interpretation
4.3 Comparison of perspectives

5 Conclusion

6 Bibliography

7 Appendix

2 Introduction

The present text deals with the destruction of the French fleet by the English Kingdom on July 3, 1940. This operation is also known as "Operation Catapult" and was carried out simultaneously in different ports: in Alexandria, the English ports of Portsmouth and Plymouth, in Dakar and Mers-el-Kebir, on the Orange coast of Algeria. In my work I mainly concentrate on the events in Mers-el-Kebir, which triggered the most serious consequences and most reactions and are the best known in their course.

The first part deals with those events and the prehistory from a neutral point of view, the second part contains excerpts from a speech by Churchill on July 4, 1940, the day after the tragedy in Mers-el-Kebir, and from Charles de Gaulle's war memoirs who was in England at the time.

3 The events of the summer of 1940 - a historical overview

3.1 History

3.1.1 The case of France

After Nazi Germany invaded Paris on June 14, 1940 under Hitler and conquered the city, the seat of the French government was relocated to Bordeaux; Prime Minister at that time was Paul Reynaud. This had set itself the goal of continuing the war against Germans and Italians, since France also had “the second largest fleet in Europe after England, North Africa and extensive overseas possessions[1] “And if necessary to move to North Africa. At that time, English troops were still fighting together with the French against the common enemy and the French government had concluded an agreement with the British on March 28, “which obliged the two partners not to make peace with the enemy[2] ". His cabinet also included Marshal Pétain, the deputy minister, who belonged to the increasingly influential group of defeatists who wanted to negotiate an armistice with Germany. On his side was General Weygand, who was firmly convinced that any resistance would be in vain. General de Gaulle was Undersecretary of State in the Ministry of Defense[3] and negotiated most of the time for Reynaud with the English government.

At a meeting between Churchill and Reynaud on June 13, 1940, the French Prime Minister assured the English Prime Minister that four hundred captured German pilots, most of whose planes had been shot down by the Royal Air Force, would be brought to England so that they would not be freed by the Germans be used against England. De Gaulle travels to England on the same day to prepare with the British for the relocation of the French government to North Africa[4].

During this time the situation in the French government worsened and the defeatists under Marshal Pétain gained more and more power. Finally they succeed in getting the Germans to negotiate the terms of an armistice. Reynaud was able to get a consultation with the British and the French government made the following question to the British: “Despite the agreement of March 28, 1940, which forbids all arms laying down by a single partner, would England agree to France asking the enemy what its terms of armistice would it be? for France?[5] ". The British government surprisingly agrees, provided that the French fleet should be transferred to English ports to avoid falling into the hands of the enemy[6].

To support Reynaud and get the French government and defeatists to continue the struggle, de Gaulle had worked with British Government Secretaries and Prime Minister Churchill on a unique project which was endorsed by the British Government and which was a declaration of "an indissoluble union between England and France[7] “Included. This proclamation of the Union, communicated to Reynaud by General de Gaulle, provided for a merger of authorities and cooperation at all levels during the war (“the two governments declare that France and Great Britain should no longer be two nations, but together a Franco-British one Form union[8] “).

After Reynaud was informed about the Union by telephone from de Gaulle on May 16, he looks forward to the meeting of the Council of Ministers with confidence, believing that he can now convince the defeatists not to surrender.

But things turned out differently, as Marshal Pétain and his supporters refused to examine the document[9] ; the majority of the cabinet is in favor of a ceasefire. The result is Reynaud's resignation. Marshal Pétain is tasked with forming a new government. On June 17, he immediately asked the Germans for an armistice.

On the same day, the British government sent Pétain an offer to relocate the fleet to British waters, but Secretary of the Navy Admiral Darlan refused to allow the fleet to leave, fearing an occupation of all of France; but he gives his word that the fleet would remain French or sink itself[10]. Appeals by de Gaulle and British ministers to the new French government are also unsuccessful.

De Gaulle flees to London on the same evening and on June 18 sends his well-known appeal on the British radio BBC to the French people to keep fighting and not to give up: “Because France is not alone! It is not alone! It is not alone! A great world empire has behind it ... I, General de Gaulle, now in London, invite the French officers and soldiers, whether they are or will be on British soil with or without weapons, to contact me ... ". The foundation stone for the resistance movement, Free France, was laid[11].

General Weygand, Minister of National Defense under Pétain, refuses to cooperate.

In his speech the following day, the general went further and declared that he was speaking “in the name of France”[12].

General de Gaulle was due to receive a summons on June 30th to present himself in prison in Toulouse; the council of war sentenced him to death[13].

3.1.2 The armistice with Germany

The armistice negotiations that the French government had already initiated in Madrid on June 17th were tough: German troops were to occupy over half of France, the entire north and the Atlantic coast as far as the Spanish border, including Paris. The occupation costs should be borne by France and a German-friendly government should be installed in the unoccupied zone[14]. Most crucial here is Article 8 of the Armistice Conditions, which affects the French fleet. It reads:

“The French fleet will assemble in ports to be named later. She is demobilized and disarmed there under German or Italian control. The German Reich government solemnly declares to the French government that it has no intention of using these naval units for its own war missions - except for those ships that are necessary to protect the coast and to clear mines[15] “.

The armistice with Germany was signed on June 22, 1940, and one day later with Italy, and came into force on June 25[16].

On June 23, De Gaulle announced the creation of a French national committee (Comité national franais) to represent free France and was recognized by the British government as representative of free France on June 28[17].

3.1.3 The reaction of England

Even when the French government entered into armistice representations with Germany and the fleet had not moved to English ports, the English were extremely concerned that the fleet might fall into the hands of the Germans. Article 8 of the Armistice increased their concern that the French fleet, fully armored, would come under the control of the enemy. In addition, they did not believe that Hitler would abide by Article 8.

Admiral Darlan assured the British that the fleet would sink itself before it fell into enemy hands and on June 24th issued an order to all French naval units that the French ships would remain French and would have to sink themselves in an emergency, but the British gave up The government did not believe this order and was not very convinced that the French could prevent the fleet from falling into German hands[18]. Churchill knew of Darlan's encrypted order and even cites the entire message in his biography[19].

He describes the situation in which it is on the one hand not to attack an ally and on the other hand to protect one's own country as a “Greek tragedy[20] “.

3.1.4 The preparation of the company "Catapult"

Fearing that the French fleet might fall into the hands of the Germans and be used against the British, the "Operation Katapult" was planned. General de Gaulle was not inaugurated[21].

This is a code word for the attempt by the British to seize all available fleet units and to pull them out of circulation, i.e. either to seize them, bring them under British control or to put them out of action and destroy them. They tried to put pressure on the French government and to find a peaceful solution through negotiations. Should this not succeed, British troops were obliged to use force.

The British government had doubts about the loyalty of the French[22]which adhered to Article 8 and, in Churchill's view, were only a "puppet government of the Germans". They were convinced that the fleet would fall into German or Italian hands, especially after the Germans gave the green light for disarming the North African and French ports on June 29.

The Katapult operation is scheduled for October 3rd under the leadership of Vice Admiral Sir James Sommerville and the specially trained "Force H".

3.2 The drama in Mers-el-Kebir

3.2.1 Events in English ports, as well as in Alexandria and Dakar

In the English ports of Portsmouth and Plymouth on the English south coast, the occupation of the French fleet proceeded without major incidents, it was on the morning of July 3 at 4.45 a.m.[23] stormed and the crew was so surprised by the attack that they offered almost no resistance and fled.

There was no bloodshed in Alexandria either. Admiral Godefroy ignored Darlan's orders and subordinated himself to Admiral Cunningham[24].

In Dakar, the battleship "Richelieu" is attacked and destroyed by English torpedo pilots on July 8th.

The greatest tragedy, however, takes place in Mers-el-Kebir, in the naval port bordering Oran (Algeria).

[...]



[1] Egbert Kieser, “Operation Sea Lion” - the planned invasion of England in 1940. Page 113

[2] Winston S. Churchill, World War II (Volume Two, Book One). Page 240.

[3] Charles de Gaulle, the reputation. Page 49

[4] Egbert Kieser, “Operation Sea Lion” - the planned invasion of England in 1940. Page 115

[5] Charles de Gaulle, the reputation. Page 62

[6] History of Europe 1815-1980. Page 528.

[7] Winston S. Churchill, World War II (II, 1). Page 246.

[8] Winston S. Churchill, World War II (II, 1). Page 251.

[9] Egbert Kieser, “Operation Sea Lion” - the planned invasion of England in 1940. Page 116.

[10] Egbert Kieser, “Operation Sea Lion” - the planned invasion of England in 1940. Page 117.

[11] Geoffrey Best, Churchill- A study in Greatness. Page 245.

[12] Peter Schunk, Charles de Gaulle- A life for France's greatness. Page 163.

[13] Charles de Gaulle, the reputation. Page 77.

[14] History of Europe 1815-1980. Page 529.

[15] Winston S. Churchill, World War II (II, 1). Page 117.

[16] Peter Schunk, Charles de Gaulle- A life for France's greatness. Page 164.

[17] Bernard Ledwidge, de Gaulle. Page 70.

[18] Winston S. Churchill, World War II (II, 1). Page117ff.

[19] in Winston S. Churchill, World War II (II, 1). Page118

[20] Winston S. Churchill, World War II (II, 1). Page 282

[21] Bernard Ledwidge, de Gaulle. Page 72.

[22] Winston S. Churchill, World War II (II, 1). Page 120.

[23] Winston S. Churchill, World War II (II, 1). Page 120.

[24] Egbert Kieser, “Operation Sea Lion” - the planned invasion of England in 1940. Page 124.

End of the excerpt from 26 pages