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What if the Germans had seized French Fleet?

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Recently I suddenly started speculating on what would have happened had the Germans been able to successfully sieze the French Naval forces in North African ports before the allies were able to destroy them?

These ships easy could have been put to use even if it was just commerce raiding, but if they wanted to they might have even been able to be tasked with engaging Allied Warships or any number of other missions.

Other question would be getting the Warships out of port under German control, even if it was only with skeleton crews. Getting fully trained crews would have taken some time as well before being able to be used in combat.

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The Germans captured a British submarine and Hitler made it a huge propaganda deal to sail it under the German flag in combat. The cost was ridiculous and time to get combat ready was long. Other than Sailing ships I can’t think of a single successful modern prize ship. (Cost +Time=results)

Churchill was wrong to attack the French Fleet.

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If the Germans operated the French ships, Ranger would have had a more interesting and illustrious history.

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2 minutes ago, crzyhawk said:

If the Germans operated the French ships, Ranger would have had a more interesting and illustrious history.

Perhaps.  Ranger nevertheless had a good career dealing with the Germans and Vichy French.  Of course, it isn't as flashy as dealing with the Imperial Japanese Navy and their tricked-out carriers...

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If the Germans were able to crew them , the British could have been in trouble . The Germans could also have turned them over to the Italians . If nothing else , the French ships could have been broken up for scrap , maybe taking the gun turrets for use in fixed fortifications ( this option would also prevent the Allies from somehow getting their hands on them again ) . 

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58 minutes ago, Admiral_Thrawn_1 said:

Recently I suddenly started speculating on what would have happened had the Germans been able to successfully sieze the French Naval forces in North African ports before the allies were able to destroy them?

These ships easy could have been put to use even if it was just commerce raiding, but if they wanted to they might have even been able to be tasked with engaging Allied Warships or any number of other missions.

Other question would be getting the Warships out of port under German control, even if it was only with skeleton crews. Getting fully trained crews would have taken some time as well before being able to be used in combat.

But then we couldn't  use our baguettes in Operation Hermes.

"Going to war without France is like going skydiving without your accordion".

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The French fleet was a huge bargaining chip for the establishment of Vichy France with some semi-autonomy as opposed to total German occupation. The fleet would not join the the English and later the Allies--in return the Germans got all of French territories in North Africa and the Levant as allies. The British and Americans took serious serious casualties attacking these territories. Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco as allied buffers allowed Rommel to do his thing. Etc etc.

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1 hour ago, Admiral_Thrawn_1 said:

what would have happened had the Germans been able to successfully sieze the French Naval forces

We'd all be eating sour-kraut flavored baguettes?

1 hour ago, Toxic_Potato said:

Churchill was wrong to attack the French Fleet.

In war you don't worry about what WILL happen; you worry about what COULD happen; Churchill was dead right to take the French fleet out of contention rather than face the possibility that the Vichy French might be able to put together a scratch crew, and sail the whole kit and caboodle right up the channel.

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1 hour ago, Admiral_Thrawn_1 said:

Recently I suddenly started speculating on what would have happened had the Germans been able to successfully sieze the French Naval forces in North African ports before the allies were able to destroy them?

These ships easy could have been put to use even if it was just commerce raiding, but if they wanted to they might have even been able to be tasked with engaging Allied Warships or any number of other missions.

Other question would be getting the Warships out of port under German control, even if it was only with skeleton crews. Getting fully trained crews would have taken some time as well before being able to be used in combat.

I imagine there wouldn't have been much impact, as long as we're assuming it's when Vichy France was invaded.  I remember the scene in that awful movie U-571 "EVERYTHINGS IN GERMAN!"  There would be tremendous confusion on how to operate the ships, and the maintenance of these ships would have been impossible if they used French parts and French munitions that were sabotaged by The Resistance.  Even outside The Resistance, French vehicles and parts were subtly sabotaged by the collaborators such as Louis Renault.  The Germans only discovered this in Russia. 

And as I see it, the Germans had a hard enough time with their resource shortage as it is, adopting this rather large fleet could have been crippling.  And the Italians didn't even have the oil to operate their own fleet, so they'd be no help.  If the Germans tried to get the French Fleet out of the Mediterranean, they would have been easily sunk by the Royal Navy from the disparity in crew quality.  I cite HMS Royal Sovereign as an example, given to the Soviets and turned into the Battleship Arkhangelsk.  The Soviets did not have the know how to use the ship and so it was utterly useless, and when the RN finally got it back, they discovered it was a complete junker, with the turrets jammed into place from lack of proper maintenance.

As I see it, the only use the French Fleet would have had in German hands was the utilization of the Fleet in Being concept.  This fleet, as poor a condition as it was, would have been a theoretical threat, and would pin down Royal Navy ships in the area that could have been used elsewhere, much like the Tirpitz.

Edited by Sventex

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Hitler and Mussolini accomplished little with their battleships.  Having a few more wouldn't have given them much of an edge.  What do you do with eight battleships that you wouldn't do with four?

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12 minutes ago, RipNuN2 said:

I imagine the Germans would have had trouble finding more resources to keep them supplied and refitted etc.

That's very true too.

If anything, the Germans probably would've just wasted the French fleet by staffing the vessels with subpar crew, which would be fodder for the Allied fleet.

If anything, the Germans and Italians didn't use their fleets effectively.  At least the Japanese initially had some skill against the Americans...until those with skill passed on after the earliest battles.

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http://warfarehistorynetwork.com/daily/wwii/why-did-the-royal-navy-sink-the-french-fleet-in-world-war-ii/

 

Their effect in overall victory would have meant very little. Not saying that it would not have any effect, it just would have been a grievous mistake to ignore the possibilities.

But what it certainly could and would have resulted in, was far more loss of life for the Allies. Those French ships might have been easy picking from the air, they might not have been terribly impactful regarding sea engagements, but they were not declawed kittens. They had more than enough armaments on them to kill thousands and destroy Allied ships. They could bombard the English mainland, could have taken out cargo ships, patrolled the narrow straights into the Mediterranean, etc.

In addition, it would have required the Allies to invest more time and effort on their part to hunt them ships down and then destroy them.

Also, lets not forget the propaganda. "Germany just acquired a butt load of Dakka'" would have cause some serious morale issues. Especially if/when the entire nation starts asking "Why didn't we just sink them when we had the chance?!".

 

Churchill didn't want to take the risk and no one can blame him. The French Admiral was crazy to test the British on this matter. And considering the fact that France would indeed later fire shots at landing parties (unwillingly or not) is a good measure of just what Churchill was afraid of. Do I personally think that the French Admiral would have handed his ships to the Germans? No, I would ASSUME he wouldn't. But do I know for certain that he wouldn't? Of course not.

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Assuming that the ship commanders don't scuttle their vessels, and the Germans manage to get the ones in areas they control intact, it will take the Germans as much as a year or more to man these ships and train the crews while making conversions to much of the equipment to allow their operation.

For example, all the manuals, gages, instruments, etc., on these ships would have to be converted from French to German.  Things like radios would need replacing in many cases to be compatible with German equipment.  Then the crew would have to be raised and trained to operate the ship.  If the French don't cooperate with that process, it could be slow going.

Next, most of the major French fleet units were overseas, not in metropolitan France when the surrender came.  Without the Germans being willing to invade French colonies in North Africa, they don't have access to many of the French ships in any case.  And, there's no knowing but the likelihood is that these ships would have fled to neutral or Allied ports in the event of the Germans trying to take them.

Richelieu for example is at Dakar in Africa on the Atlantic coast.  Germany has zero means to get there and take the ship.  The battleship Paris was in London harbor and the British interned her there.  Bearn is in the Caribbean at Martinique, along with several other surface combatants, totally beyond the reach of Germany.

There's also every chance if the British were sufficiently concerned over Germany taking control of French ships, they'd probably still cripple or sink most of them like they did historically.  Of course, the French might scuttle them too to keep them out of German hands.

On the whole, it is highly unlikely the Germans would get most of the French fleet intact, and what they did get wouldn't be usable until well into 1941 or 42.

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The devil's in the details. Is there a simultaneous effort to capture the majority of France including the Naval Arsenals at Toulon etc.? How willing or unwilling are the French to participate? How does the capture occur - for a fleet overseas it would have to be ordered by the Vichy government to for instance 'Sail to Tarranto' which it may have refused to do, or which may have precipitated another British attack.

What portion of the French Fleet is bought in? At Mers-el-Kebir the high-value units are Strasbourg and Dunkerque, the Bretagne and Provence are obsolete and low value. At Dakar the Richelieu is effectively unfinished and has a combat ability lethal only to her own gun barrels. At various ports there are cruisers, destroyers and submarines of various utility.

As some more general observations -

  • Bismarck's crew first came aboard in April 1940 to assist with completing and get familiarized. The ship was then commissioned in August 1940, left port for trials and working up in September 1940. She wouldn't deploy on her first mission until May 1941, almost a year since the first crew had seen her and 8 months after commissioning. Tirpitz was commissioned in Feb 1941 but first sortied in late September. A captured French ship wouldn't need as long a period for equipment, but would need a significant period for crew working up ESPECIALLY as the German crew would be coming in fairly cold to her, at least you can train on equipment, guns and other machinery before you join your first ship normally.
  • The crew requirement for Strasbourg and Dunkerque alone would be pretty considerable compared to the size of the Kriegsmarine's surface arm, that goes both for personnel and for officers. The peak battleship branch manning of the Kriegsmarine was likely around 8,000 men, adding another 3,000 men would be a challenge. If you look at the commanders of Bismarck/Tirpitz/Scharnhorst/Gneisenau they were usually experienced in command of cruisers - a small branch which didn't develop many officers.
  • The German Navy did use and was able to maintain captured ships for prolonged periods. The ZH-1 remained in service for nearly 2 years. The ZG-3 for about a year before being damaged. Both those ships had foreign powerplants to support, and in the case of ZH-1 had a foreign gun system which was retained (presumably with sufficient captured Dutch stocks of ammunition to support). While UB-1 was abandoned as fairly useless (the Germans built >1,000 U-Boats so a one-off model was a pain in the neck, same for the British with the captured HMS Graph) destroyers were in sufficient demand to be worth the hassle.
  • At points in the Mediterranean in particular things were fairly close-run, and a relatively small swing in power might have been very damaging.
  • If Germany/Italy had occupied French Tunisia and Algeria in 1940 the position in the Mediterranean for the British would potentially have been untenable. Supplying Malta from Gibraltar when the strait between Spain and Algeria is only 80 miles wide is an impossible proposition.

To conclude, it would probably have been possible to take over the ships but critically it would have likely taken some time depending on how much utility you wanted and how cooperative the French were. Utility for a 'Sealion' in 1940 is unlikely.

2 hours ago, Sventex said:

And as I see it, the Germans had a hard enough time with their resource shortage as it is, adopting this rather large fleet could have been crippling.  And the Italians didn't even have the oil to operate their own fleet, so they'd be no help.

There's a big difference in fuel between June 1940 and November 1942 when the French fleet was scuttled. In 1940 the Germans hadn't declared war with the USSR and were still merrily importing a wide range of resources from them, while having deeper reserves.

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39 minutes ago, mofton said:

There's a big difference in fuel between June 1940 and November 1942 when the French fleet was scuttled. In 1940 the Germans hadn't declared war with the USSR and were still merrily importing a wide range of resources from them, while having deeper reserves.

As I prefenced in my post, I was operated on the assumption of the time of the invasion of Vichy France.  Operation Lila happened way back in 19 November 1942 and from that point on, the fleet would have made next to no difference.  If the Fleet had been captured way back in 1940, it's questionable if The Resistance would have been widespread enough to sabotage the ships.  But Germany would need a hundreds of thousands of french parts to keep the ships running, along with local expertise.  All it would take would be a disgruntled dockworker to set a fire in a magazine, much like Mutsu's cover story to knock out a capital ship.

Maybe the Germans could make use of the less resource intensive French submarines and added their number to the Atlantic War, but I don't see the larger ships going anywhere soon.

Edited by Sventex

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57 minutes ago, Toxic_Potato said:

Mofton has this nailed.

Yeah he does! (Again!)

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12 minutes ago, Sventex said:

As I prefenced in my post, I was operated on the assumption of the time of the invasion of Vichy France.  

Ah, sorry I did miss that and referred more to the opening post with the North-Africa timeline. You're definitely right in a 1942 scenario.

The resistance was pretty ineffective and sabotage pretty infrequent until later. On the plus side for Germany 1940's ship technology is simple in some ways, with drawings and a fabrication shop a lot is possible.

In some ways submarines are more problematic to operate, they're far more complex and liable to failure than surface ships, dealing with all the ballasting, valves, etc. with a small crew is technically challenging. The Germans would also have a problem of having to use captured torpedoes as the tubes on French boats were 550mm rather than the 533mm of their own weapons. Kriegsmarine submarine training was far longer and more rigorous than surface ships and involved specific training submarines, as well as requiring the best graduates from basic.

 

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1 hour ago, mofton said:

There's a big difference in fuel between June 1940 and November 1942 when the French fleet was scuttled. In 1940 the Germans hadn't declared war with the USSR and were still merrily importing a wide range of resources from them, while having deeper reserves.

@mofton, do you see the Germans in 1940 being able to crew any of these French ships with Vichy French crews? Or would that just be asking for trouble?

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6 minutes ago, Umikami said:

@mofton, do you see the Germans in 1940 being able to crew any of these French ships with Vichy French crews? Or would that just be asking for trouble?

Difficult question, I'm not sure. The SS did recruit French Nationals but more with a 'we hate Communism' manifesto. Recruiting sailors to serve against the British would be rather different.

However, the thing that most caused anti-British sentiment in the French Navy (though some were Anglophobic well before that) was Mers-el-Kebir.

Either there's Mers and the fleet is largely neutralized, or there's no Mers and there's far less cause to work with the Germans.

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It would have been great for the Germans... up until they had to find trained personnel to crew them.

If somehow that limitation was magically overcome then I think the Axis would have all they needed to make the Mediterranean an Axis lake if the Italians are remotely competent.

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I mean, anything is possible, but I think that if the Germans had tried to seize these ships then the crews would've scuttled them before that could've happened. Just as the Kaiserliche Marine did to the majority of their ships in Scapa Flow near the end of WWI, they weren't going to let the British Have them.

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9 minutes ago, kilroy115_1 said:

I mean, anything is possible, but I think that if the Germans had tried to seize these ships then the crews would've scuttled them before that could've happened. Just as the Kaiserliche Marine did to the majority of their ships in Scapa Flow near the end of WWI, they weren't going to let the British Have them.

You just described the actual historical event.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scuttling_of_the_French_fleet_in_Toulon

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1 minute ago, Sventex said:

You just described the actual historical event.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scuttling_of_the_French_fleet_in_Toulon

 

Huh, didn't realize that. I'm still new to a lot of the Naval history of WWII, and most of what I know involves the Pacific Theater, most of my European knowledge is in land battles. Doesn't surprise me though that they chose to.

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