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What-If Question: How would the French Navy performed if deployed against the Japanese Navy?

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I thought this would be an interesting what-if question.

While the French Navy was eliminated as a big force after their fall, they still had colonies all over the place, including in the Pacific.  They even fought a small war against Thailand during the war, but that was effectively a light cruiser against some coastal defense ships.

This is my what-if:

One (or both) of these fleets escaped to the Pacific:

The fleet stationed at Mers-el-Kebir:

The fleet stationed at Toulon:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scuttling_of_the_French_fleet_at_Toulon#Ships_sunk

Assume that the Free French fleet is helping out in the Atlantic.  I thought these two fleets would be the most substantial in regards to a force to serve in the Pacific.

The scenario can either have immediate American presence or heavier American presence later on.

XX

With these ships in mind, how would the French Navy have performed against Japanese forces in the area?  How could they have served effectively alongside Allied forces?  What could be their tasks in regards to securing French colonies and sinking Japanese targets?  Knowing French doctrine and the types of ships used, what real-life battles could they have been most useful in winning / preventing heavy casualties?

 

       
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The Free French sent a few naval units against Japan during the war. I believe the Richilliu was present at the surrender ceremony in Tokyo harbor.

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3 minutes ago, Starfleet1701 said:

The Free French sent a few naval units against Japan during the war. I believe the Richilliu was present at the surrender ceremony in Tokyo harbor.

True, though it was mostly the destroyer Le Triomphant running around with evacuation services.  It wasn't anything too much since America took the lion's share of the fighting from the Europeans while the latter dealt with the Nazis and Italians.

Of course, the French-Thai War was more of a Vichy French conflict against the Thai government - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Franco-Thai_War

This what-if is mostly looking at if the French Navy had a chance to field some heavier guns into the Pacific field, mostly from the ships that didn't see that much fighting in the real war.

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54 minutes ago, Battlecruiser_Yavuz said:

I thought this would be an interesting what-if question.

While the French Navy was eliminated as a big force after their fall, they still had colonies all over the place, including in the Pacific.  They even fought a small war against Thailand during the war, but that was effectively a light cruiser against some coastal defense ships.

This is my what-if:

One (or both) of these fleets escaped to the Pacific:

The fleet stationed at Mers-el-Kebir:

The fleet stationed at Toulon:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scuttling_of_the_French_fleet_at_Toulon#Ships_sunk

Assume that the Free French fleet is helping out in the Atlantic.  I thought these two fleets would be the most substantial in regards to a force to serve in the Pacific.

The scenario can either have immediate American presence or heavier American presence later on.

XX

With these ships in mind, how would the French Navy have performed against Japanese forces in the area?  How could they have served effectively alongside Allied forces?  What could be their tasks in regards to securing French colonies and sinking Japanese targets?  Knowing French doctrine and the types of ships used, what real-life battles could they have been most useful in winning / preventing heavy casualties?

 

       

Simply put, the Marine Nationale was not strong enough to confront the IJN in a decisive battle and thus would not be able to hold onto their ports in French IndoChina.  All French Operations in the Pacific would have to be tied together with Royal Navy operations or else the French fleet would stay out of the Pacific.  The main reasons for this is that France only had 1 CV, which was obsolete and unable to launch modern planes.

 

If serving with the Allied Forces the Free French Navy could shine.  British designs were rather average but they had the numbers, the Marine Nationale in contrast had many specialized ships that were either incredibly fast (Fantasque class Destroyer) or incredibly good at chasing down other ships (Dunkerque and Richelieu).  They could be great hunters in the Pacific but I have to stressed they'd be totally dependent on the Royal Navy CVs to counter IJN CVs which means not much is going to happen until the USN enters the war.

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1 hour ago, Royeaux said:

Simply put, the Marine Nationale was not strong enough to confront the IJN in a decisive battle and thus would not be able to hold onto their ports in French IndoChina.  All French Operations in the Pacific would have to be tied together with Royal Navy operations or else the French fleet would stay out of the Pacific.  The main reasons for this is that France only had 1 CV, which was obsolete and unable to launch modern planes.

 

If serving with the Allied Forces the Free French Navy could shine.  British designs were rather average but they had the numbers, the Marine Nationale in contrast had many specialized ships that were either incredibly fast (Fantasque class Destroyer) or incredibly good at chasing down other ships (Dunkerque and Richelieu).  They could be great hunters in the Pacific but I have to stressed they'd be totally dependent on the Royal Navy CVs to counter IJN CVs which means not much is going to happen until the USN enters the war. 

So the Marine Nationale probably would've had bigger success if they served alongside USN forces.

Do you think they might've been good in certain battles like the Guadalcanal campaign or would the Japanese kick their arses because of better training?

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I think a major French presence in the Far East could have made a significant difference to the early war with the Japanese and to the positive for the Allies.

Strategically one of the problems for the British and others in the theater was that after the fall of France the Japanese were able to roll into French Indochina (Vietnam) pretty much unopposed, that about halved he distance they had to go from their territory (closest in Hainan Island, China) to Singapore. It was from airbases near Saigon that the aircraft that sank Force Z flew from. If a French fleet had deterred an attack there it would have made a tremendous difference.

For the Allies in that region they were operating with very small resources, but so we're the Japanese, who were simultaneously hitting parts of China, Pearl and the Phillipines. Japanese naval strength for combatting Force Z was just 2 Kongo's, a gaggle of heavy cruisers and some lighter units, plus the torpedo bombers at Saigon. At the Battle of the Java Sea with the Japanese working to escort an invasion convoy the Allies could only scrape together a handful of destroyers, 3 light and 2 heavy cruisers to be opposed by 2 heavy, 2 light cruisers and destroyers. Throw in Dunkerque and the calculus changes entirely - likely to the point that the Japanese don't even try the same approach rather than that the same battles happen but with more French ships.

There might be questions of supply for the French, but even one set of magazines is quite significant and there were some resources in overseas bases.

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Bretagne and Provence are pretty slow making them time consuming to get them to and from operations and very vulnerable to airstrikes especially in a big place like the pacific theater best they act as coastal defense duties.

They have no proper CV, so I can see these guys hugging close allied control territory landmasses or joining up with a US and maybe British carrier fleets for air cover.

The modern french BBs could shine well in hunting down japanese cruisers that tend to work as scouts for IJN.

The mogador class has really bad issues with gun rof and tranverse and rudder shift time but are large, sea worthy and fast, I can only see them doing evacuations, late game land bombardment and scouting for the dunkerques as originally intended, through if her problems are fixed(like go to Australia like Le Triomphant did for refits)... her along with the Le fastanque class super destroyers could be a concerning threat to the IJN CLs and can run wild at night on enemy merchant shipping(Battle of Ist as a good example) 

 

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Practically, I would bet that any French commander would realize (if not immediately, then later) that aircraft were too decisive in the Pacific. Without a carrier force, the fleet would be vulnerable. In all likelihood, they would probably move to a US carrier fleet and essentially beef one up quickly.

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6 hours ago, Starfleet1701 said:

The Free French sent a few naval units against Japan during the war. I believe the Richilliu was present at the surrender ceremony in Tokyo harbor.

 

6 hours ago, Battlecruiser_Yavuz said:

True, though it was mostly the destroyer Le Triomphant running around with evacuation services.  It wasn't anything too much since America took the lion's share of the fighting from the Europeans while the latter dealt with the Nazis and Italians.

Of course, the French-Thai War was more of a Vichy French conflict against the Thai government - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Franco-Thai_War

This what-if is mostly looking at if the French Navy had a chance to field some heavier guns into the Pacific field, mostly from the ships that didn't see that much fighting in the real war.

Yeah I believe Richelieu was present at Tokyo Bay more for political reasons since that was the official end of the entire war.

As for the OP question, the ships listed were no match for the IJN which had well deserved title of 3rd best Navy in the world. IJN ships were typically well designed, built, and highly trained crews. Matter of fact despite taking on USN and RN ships that outnumbered IJN by mid to late war, it was often maintenance as in not always being able to put in for needed overhauls and not always the fuel that claimed fair number of the IJN ships. 

This was in contrast with French Naval vessels that had not been built to face off against the most powerful navies in the world in a war. The French training standards had slipped in their army at least thanks to economic issues mainly, so likely their Naval crews were affected as well. And those same economic problems could easily have made for weaker ships and fewer in number than they could have been. So In French Navy vs IJN without any other nations involved I would see the French losing. The French just simply were not as well equipped for WWII in Naval power as they were in past years through out history.

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Realistically, not well is the answer I come up with. While the addition of French Naval units would have helped to a small degree, they'd have had to deal with the air assault the rest of the Allies had to deal with, and then there's the inescapable thing: As a fleet, and as individual ships, the French navy was vastly outclassed by the IJN, in number of ships, in ship types, in training, in armaments, and in a total lack of air power. At the time ABDA existed, the French adding ships to it would have made virtually no difference at all, except to cost the Allies ships they later relied upon. In the end, it was actually better for the Allies that the French weren't really part of the Pacific war in WW2.

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If the French decided to deploy to the Far East...

There are a number of advantages they would bring to the table aside from just the sheer 'we have more hulls' factor. In this scenario, I'll assume it is the forces that were able to escape France (like those at Mers-el-Kébir) that join the Allies.

That should leave us with;

  • Battleships (5): 2x Dunkerque-class, 3x Bretagne-class
  • Heavy Cruisers (3): 1x Suffren-class, 2x Duquesene-class
  • Light Cruisers (10): 6x La Galissonnière-class, Émile Bertin, 3x Duguay-Trouin-class
  • Contre-Torpilluers (14): 2x Mogador-class, 6x Le Fantasque-class, 1x Vauquelin-class, 2x Aigle-class, 3x Jaguar-class
  • Torpilleurs d'Escadre (16): 6x L'Adroit-class, 7x Bourrasque-class

Not listed are the incomplete battleship Richelieu and the six Le Hardi-class destroyers, which would not be immediately ready for action and needed considerable work done to them.

With a force like this at their disposal, the French bring a number of advantages into ABDA (ABDFA?);

  • More Heavy Guns - While the three Bretagne-class are too slow to be useful, the two Dunkerque-class are invaluable additions. Easily superior to the Kongo-class, they are more than capable of operating next to Allied cruisers and have modern fire control. Although I wouldn't want to test it against a Long Lance, their torpedo defense is also exceptionally good (but being a single-rudder design, It is vulnerable to being crippled by a single hit a la Bismarck), so they'd potentially resist torpedo attacks, air, surface, or submerged, better than Prince of Wales and Repulse. They also had much greater operational range than the two British capital ships.
  • More Cruiser Guns - Especially in regards to the 203mm guns of the heavy cruisers. The three cruisers that would escape the fall of France, to be brutally honest, were the weakest of France's navy, and some of the weakest examples of any WNT cruiser - speed wasn't exceptional and yet they were unarmored. However, the French 203mm guns were solid weapons all-around, and the addition of 24 of these to the Allied cause would've been exceptionally useful (As opposed to the 15 amassed by Exeter and Houston). In the First Battle of the Java sea, due to the action being fought mostly beyond the range of the Allied 152mm guns, it effectively became a fight of 203mm guns - 12 allied guns versus the 20 of the IJN force. Even just one French CA being present would balance those numbers out. Furthermore, the French 152mm gun had a much greater ballistic range than Allied 152mm guns and overall better effective range. This combined with French fire control abilities meant that it's possible the French cruisers, which for the six La Galissonnière-class were quite solid designs able to stand in a line of battle, could've potentially added the weight of their fire to such an action.
  • Fire Control Abilities - The French focused on long-range combat more than the other Allied nations save for the Americans, and thus had a number of advantages. Their cruiser main batteries were all fitted with RPC for train, and they used dye shells like Houston, allowing for concentration fire against enemy targets. Their optical fire control was conducted primarily from large, very powerful stereoscopic rangefinders (8-meter base length for cruisers), which would've given them a rangefinding edge over all other combatants present.
  • DDs with Big Guns - Simplistic sounding... but the French had lots of well-armed destroyers. While they were rife with issues... to be fair, so were almost all the Japanese designs. Due to their greater size, modernity (most ABDA DDs were old throwaways - like the USN committing Clemson-class DDs from WWI to the fight), heavy firepower (4-5x 130 to 138.6mm guns), and also good torpedoes (while not quite Type 93's, they were more potent than what the other Allied DDs had), not to mention the fact the French focused quite heavily on their gunnery abilities - they would've been rather good counters to Japanese doctrine, which called for heavy use of destroyers to attack enemy lines. While they probably weren't as good at night combat as the Japanese, their destroyers did have flashless ammunition and were trained for night combat, and their designs were well suited to the sudden actions found at night. 

But... they also bring a number of issues...

  • Communications - The French add yet another nation to ABDA that can't easily communicate. The French were behind most other navies in gaining an equal to things like the VHF communications for their ships similar to TBS/TBA, which meant they still relied heavily on flags and signal lamps going into WWII. This coupled with language barriers is going to cause a lot of issues and communications. 
  • AA Defense, or lack thereof - The French ships are going to be extremely vulnerable to air attack. While no one's AA was especially good at this point in the war... French AA weapons and fire control were among the worst in use by any significant navy. For this reason, the MN ships would've been extremely vulnerable to Japanese air attack.
  • Logistical Complications - With the fall of France, the MN has to find alternate sources of ammunition, especially as their guns use many types of ammunition not in use with Allied navies - 37mm, 25mm, 13.2mm, 130mm, 138.6mm, 155mm, 330mm, etc. This is going to be a major limitation on the endurance of French operations.
  • Maintenance & Operational Endurance - Many of the newest French ships, in order to attain high speeds, used powerful high pressure systems for their propulsions that were both unreliable and extremely wearing on their systems - while this was not obvious in peacetime or the low-intensity missions conducted early war, when many of the most modern French destroyers rejoined the war on the Allied side and embarked on a higher mission tempo, machinery failures became the ban of their existence, and overall their propulsion systems simply couldn't stand up to the operational abuse that became the norm for most Allied DDs. This would limit the operational endurance of many of the most powerful destroyers such as the Mogador and Le Fantasque-classes.

 

When actually fighting in the line of battle, it's hard to argue against the fact the French would've been an extremely potent and game-changing addition - in some regards they were actually better suited to battles against IJN ships than their American, British/Commonwealth, and Dutch comrades - but once you look at factors affecting performance outside of battle, things change a lot.

 

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6 hours ago, Battlecruiser_Yavuz said:

So the Marine Nationale probably would've had bigger success if they served alongside USN forces.

Do you think they might've been good in certain battles like the Guadalcanal campaign or would the Japanese kick their arses because of better training?

In the Guadalcanal campaigns, the Dunkerques and Richelieu would have been able to decisively face down the Kongos, their high speed and powerful guns would make sure that Hiei and Kirishima would not be able to escape.  The Richelieu really does appear to be a specialized Battlecruiser killer with her 32.68 knot top speed and all forward main battery.  However, I'm not that familiar with how good the French were trained for night battles.

Edited by Royeaux

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On 3/16/2019 at 4:10 AM, Royeaux said:

Simply put, the Marine Nationale was not strong enough to confront the IJN in a decisive battle and thus would not be able to hold onto their ports in French IndoChina.  All French Operations in the Pacific would have to be tied together with Royal Navy operations or else the French fleet would stay out of the Pacific.  The main reasons for this is that France only had 1 CV, which was obsolete and unable to launch modern planes.

 

If serving with the Allied Forces the Free French Navy could shine.  British designs were rather average but they had the numbers, the Marine Nationale in contrast had many specialized ships that were either incredibly fast (Fantasque class Destroyer) or incredibly good at chasing down other ships (Dunkerque and Richelieu).  They could be great hunters in the Pacific but I have to stressed they'd be totally dependent on the Royal Navy CVs to counter IJN CVs which means not much is going to happen until the USN enters the war.

The issues that come to mind are ones of supply (fuel and ammo), and air cover. France had no modern functional CV. Even operating with the Royal Navy, a French fleet might meet the same fate as Force Z

 

On 3/16/2019 at 5:29 AM, Battlecruiser_Yavuz said:

So the Marine Nationale probably would've had bigger success if they served alongside USN forces.

Do you think they might've been good in certain battles like the Guadalcanal campaign or would the Japanese kick their arses because of better training?

 

On 3/16/2019 at 11:48 AM, Royeaux said:

In the Guadalcanal campaigns, the Dunkerques and Richelieu would have been able to decisively face down the Kongos, their high speed and powerful guns would make sure that Hiei and Kirishima would not be able to escape.  The Richelieu really does appear to be a specialized Battlecruiser killer with her 32.68 knot top speed and all forward main battery.  However, I'm not that familiar with how good the French were trained for night battles.

Yes, The Dunks and Rich would have provided a powerful counter to the Kongos. But (at least in the instance of the Hiei), The French would have had the same fuel supply issue as the US Navy did. The tanker support wasn't there, BBs either stayed near base, or within the fleet. It wasn't until late '42 that 2 US BBs operated together in that theater.

Now Modern US BBs (North Cal, SoDak) were capable of some decent cruising ranges (15k-17k nm). The French BBs had about half the cruising distance (7k-8k nm), meaning they would have to refuel long before the US BBs would. Also in reading about the Dunk, she would not carry a max fuel load so to 'maximize the underwater protection'. A full fuel load would create additional pressure on the bulkheads instead of absorbing it.

 

As for training, if operating with the US fleet, there would likely be some fleet maneuvers or a training period to get the French sailors up to speed. Also if sailing with a CV force, they would likely have participated in  the Battle of Santa Cruz. That would get the French sailors some fighting experience, though only in an AA battle. The real test would be when they actually meet the enemy at sea, ship to ship. Its one thing to open fire on a target that just floats there, its completely different  when that target is shooting back.

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4 hours ago, Lord_Slayer said:

The issues that come to mind are ones of supply (fuel and ammo), and air cover. France had no modern functional CV. Even operating with the Royal Navy, a French fleet might meet the same fate as Force Z

There is one potential wildcard with the French Personal.  Because they have been operating the Bearn for at least a dozen years before WWII, they have trained crews on how to operate a CV and would potentially be years ahead in naval aviation they say Germany or Italy whom haven't even finished their first CV.  The Admiral whom gave the order to scuttle at Toulon was a pioneer of naval aviation and the former captain of the Bearn.  If he had escaped with the rest of the French Fleet, the skill set would already be there.  So it could be possible that the Free French Navy could have been given a modern CV, either by the Royal Navy or by the United States Navy.  I know that HMS Victorious was loaned to the USN at one point and HMS Colossus would eventually be given to French and turned into Arromanches.  There's also the US built HMS Biter that was eventually returned to the US and then given to the French in 1945 as Dixmude and there's the USS Belleau Wood that was given to the French as Bois Belleau.  If the entire French Fleet and it's personal were fighting for the Free French, these gifted CVs could have been given earlier to supplement their fleet.

J%C3%B3zef_Unrug,_Jean_de_Laborde,_Eugen

Admiral Jean de Laborde (Center).  Former Captain of the Bearn.

 

4 hours ago, Lord_Slayer said:

Yes, The Dunks and Rich would have provided a powerful counter to the Kongos. But (at least in the instance of the Hiei), The French would have had the same fuel supply issue as the US Navy did. The tanker support wasn't there, BBs either stayed near base, or within the fleet. It wasn't until late '42 that 2 US BBs operated together in that theater.

Now Modern US BBs (North Cal, SoDak) were capable of some decent cruising ranges (15k-17k nm). The French BBs had about half the cruising distance (7k-8k nm), meaning they would have to refuel long before the US BBs would. Also in reading about the Dunk, she would not carry a max fuel load so to 'maximize the underwater protection'. A full fuel load would create additional pressure on the bulkheads instead of absorbing it.

 

As for training, if operating with the US fleet, there would likely be some fleet maneuvers or a training period to get the French sailors up to speed. Also if sailing with a CV force, they would likely have participated in  the Battle of Santa Cruz. That would get the French sailors some fighting experience, though only in an AA battle. The real test would be when they actually meet the enemy at sea, ship to ship. Its one thing to open fire on a target that just floats there, its completely different  when that target is shooting back.

It's only 1,413.04 km from New Caledonia to Guadalcanal or 2,859.55 km from Sydney.  New Caledonia was a Free French colony and the main South Pacific Fleet base of the United States Navy.   South Pacific Fleet was the one that turned back the Japanese navy in the Battle of the Coral Sea in May 1942.

Edited by Royeaux

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49 minutes ago, Royeaux said:

There is one potential wildcard with the French Personal.  Because they have been operating the Bearn for at least a dozen years before WWII, they have trained crews on how to operate a CV and would potentially be years ahead in naval aviation they say Germany or Italy whom haven't even finished their first CV.  The Admiral whom gave the order to scuttle at Toulon was a pioneer of naval aviation and the former captain of the Bearn.  If he had escaped with the rest of the French Fleet, the skill set would already be there.  So it could be possible that the Free French Navy could have been given a modern CV, either by the Royal Navy or by the United States Navy.  I know that HMS Victorious was loaned to the USN at one point and HMS Colossus would eventually be given to French and turned into Arromanches.  There's also the US built HMS Biter that was eventually returned to the US and then given to the French in 1945 as Dixmude and there's the USS Belleau Wood that was given to the French as Bois Belleau.  If the entire French Fleet and it's personal were fighting for the Free French, these gifted CVs could have been given earlier to supplement their fleet.

HMS Victorious was loaned to the US Navy after Hornet was sunk and Enterprise was severely damaged, leaving the US with only Saratoga. Victorious was with the USN for about 11 months. During the time she was with the USN, her crew remained RN. Other then changes in squadrons (Victorious had issues with Avengers), and USN equipment added, she remained pretty much British.

The other CVs you listed were gifted to France post-war. I don't believe any major warships were 'gifted' during the war or even 'Lend-leased' to France. Much of what the Free French Navy operated were the few French Warships that made it to Allied ports after the fall of France, and several corvettes and a DD leased from the British.

I don't see the US or UK gifting a major CV to a country while a CV war was being fought in the Pacific.

Quote

It's only 1,413.04 km from New Caledonia to Guadalcanal or 2,859.55 km from Sydney.  New Caledonia was a Free French colony and the main South Pacific Fleet base of the United States Navy.   South Pacific Fleet was the one that turned back the Japanese navy in the Battle of the Coral Sea in May 1942.

But could it support a major warship such as Richelieu? Destroyers and submarines ok, but could they support a Battleship or a Cruiser?

The other issue is that by moving a major fleet element into that area, you are also making that area a target. The Japanese were willing and able to bomb Darwin. I don't think they would have had an issue going further and striking Caledonia as well.

The CVs that fought at Coral Sea came from Pearl. In this discussion, we stated that the French were operating with the USN. Wouldn't that mean they would use USN port facilities as well?

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I guess the answer might vary depending on what they decide to do. After Midway Japan really didn't operate surface warships during the daylight hours because of the massive beating they would receive from American Carrier Aircraft, and since France has no real CV to speak of, they are relegated to just surface engagements, which would have to be at night. I have no idea what kind of Radar the French Navy had, if they had any at all, so that's a big question mark. In a gunfight I imagine the French ships would have at least a solid shot, unless a bigger IJN BB was sent in, like Nagato or god forbid Yamato or Musashi. I would imagine they would operate close to or with an American Carrier Fleet until an invasion, in which they would probably join bombardment forces. If they were at Guadalcanal, they might do something, but I'm not sure to what extent. I'm not terribly familiar with the French Navy I'm afraid. 

 

3 minutes ago, Lord_Slayer said:

 

But could it support a major warship such as Richelieu? Destroyers and submarines ok, but could they support a Battleship or a Cruiser?

The other issue is that by moving a major fleet element into that area, you are also making that area a target. The Japanese were willing and able to bomb Darwin. I don't think they would have had an issue going further and striking Caledonia as well.

The CVs that fought at Coral Sea came from Pearl. In this discussion, we stated that the French were operating with the USN. Wouldn't that mean they would use USN port facilities as well?

I recall Enterprise making many trips to New Caledonia during Guadalcanal for minor repairs and rearmament, so I would think it would be capable of giving some sort of service to a Capital Ship like the Richelieu similar to how it serviced Enterprise. And I would imagine since they were in conjunction with the USN that they would share facilities.

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1 hour ago, Lord_Slayer said:

HMS Victorious was loaned to the US Navy after Hornet was sunk and Enterprise was severely damaged, leaving the US with only Saratoga. Victorious was with the USN for about 11 months. During the time she was with the USN, her crew remained RN. Other then changes in squadrons (Victorious had issues with Avengers), and USN equipment added, she remained pretty much British.

The other CVs you listed were gifted to France post-war. I don't believe any major warships were 'gifted' during the war or even 'Lend-leased' to France. Much of what the Free French Navy operated were the few French Warships that made it to Allied ports after the fall of France, and several corvettes and a DD leased from the British.

 

This is mainly because the French Navy went Vichy historically.  The Free French Navy had minimal forces even with Richelieu and the crew of the Bearn became neutral and Admiral Jean de Laborde scuttled the French Fleet at Toulon.  Even the Soviets got the Battleship HMS Royal Sovereign as a gift during the war so if the Free French Fleet was the entire French Fleet, they might have gotten some Allied ships to balance out their fleet.

1 hour ago, Lord_Slayer said:

But could it support a major warship such as Richelieu? Destroyers and submarines ok, but could they support a Battleship or a Cruiser?

The other issue is that by moving a major fleet element into that area, you are also making that area a target. The Japanese were willing and able to bomb Darwin. I don't think they would have had an issue going further and striking Caledonia as well.

The CVs that fought at Coral Sea came from Pearl. In this discussion, we stated that the French were operating with the USN. Wouldn't that mean they would use USN port facilities as well?

Could it support a major warships like Richelieu?  I don't know.  I would assume so because it was the base of the South Pacific Fleet.

HMS_VICTORIOUS_moored_in_noumea_new_cale

HMS VICTORIOUS moored in Noumea, New Caledonia, 1943.

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South Dakota, DD Mahan, DD Lamson repaired by USS Prometheus at Nouméa, New Caledonia, Nov 1942 ww2dbase

 

New Caledonia was certainly already a target, considered as one of the potential invasion targets of Japan.  The Battle of the Coral Sea put the kibosh on those plans.

1280px-Pacific_War_Japanese_Advances.jpg

Edited by Royeaux

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The French would have major problems right off.

1.  They have no carrier or naval air force to cover their operations.  Without that, they're doomed.  Even if the IJN didn't have carriers, their land based air arm has nearly a 1,000 mile range out to sea including fighter escort, and knows how to take down surface ships.  Even if we give them the never built Joffre, even both that were to be built, that's just 80 planes of which something like 20 would be fighters of dubious quality compared to the A6M.  The Joffre's as designed are more akin to US CVL's, and on the small side.  They aren't going to stand up to the Kido Butai.

2.  Their air defense capacity per ship is execrable.  French ships just don't have a lot of AA guns and those they do have are nothing to write home about.

3.  Some of the ships they'd be using are pretty iffy.  The three Bretagne class battleships might best be compared to pre-dreadnoughts in WW 1.  They are just awful battleships.  They were never really upgraded or rebuilt.  The armor is really poor for a WW 2 battleship, particularly the deck armor.  Their fire controls are rudimentary at best.  

4.  They'd have little or no service support available.  This means even routine things like refueling and replenishing would be difficult to accomplish

That's just for starters.

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14 minutes ago, Royeaux said:

This is mainly because the French Navy went Vichy historically.  The Free French Navy had minimal forces even with Richelieu and the crew of the Bearn became neutral and Admiral Jean de Laborde scuttled the French Fleet at Toulon.  Even the Soviets got the Battleship HMS Royal Sovereign as a gift during the war so if the Free French Fleet was the entire French Fleet, they might have gotten some Allied ships to balance out their fleet.

Could it support a major warships like Richelieu?  I don't know.  I would assume so because it was the base of the South Pacific Fleet.

HMS_VICTORIOUS_moored_in_noumea_new_cale

HMS VICTORIOUS moored in Noumea, New Caledonia, 1943.

 

New Caledonia was certainly already a target, considered as one of the potential invasion targets of Japan.  The Battle of the Coral Sea put the kibosh on those plans.

 

 

The Soviet's were loaned Royal Sovereign, not gifted, just like they were loaned Milwaukee. The Soviet surface fleet was in no condition to fight a war. Most of their major warships were relics from pre-WW1. Post war, both were returned, with Royal Sovereign in a really poor state.

As for New Caledonia, yes, based on the picture one CV could be moored there. But was it simply a place to rest for a bit before returning to the war? Was it a refueling point? What about docks? What about repair facilities? Yes a large ship could moor there but could it be maintained there? Would they have to go to Australia or to Pearl or even the US for major work?

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2 hours ago, Lord_Slayer said:

As for New Caledonia, yes, based on the picture one CV could be moored there. But was it simply a place to rest for a bit before returning to the war? Was it a refueling point? What about docks? What about repair facilities? Yes a large ship could moor there but could it be maintained there? Would they have to go to Australia or to Pearl or even the US for major work?

The USS South Dakota simply returned to New York City for her major repairs after her initial repairs at Noumea.  Richelieu was also refit and resupplied with munitions in New York City, then most likely New York would handle the major repairs.

But yes, Noumea could handle refueling and repairs but it's naval base was considerably built up during WWII.

indiana1.jpg

U.S.S. Indiana (BB 58) at Noumea, New Caledonia

"Noumea (166.44E 22.26S) is the capital of New Caledonia, with an excellent harbor at Moselle Bay.  It was the most important rear base during the Guadalcanal campaign, due to its location halfway between Guadalcanal and New Zealand. The population was about 11,000 and the city was supplied with hydroelectric power and had a natural gas works. The port had three berths at Grand Quay and a single berth at Nickel Dock for loading ore. The defense consisted of a single French destroyer (Le Triomphant) and a single battalion (800 men) when war came to the Pacific, and the nearest airfield was at Tontouta 33 miles (53 km) to the north.
American forces first arrived at Noumea on 12 March 1942, and included the first of the "Seabees." However, the base fell under the administrative command of the U.S. Army, and as a result the port facilities were underdeveloped and nearly overwhelmed in the first months of the Guadalcanal campaign. Estimated ship handling capacity was 24 ships per month, but by 23 September 1942 there were 86 ships at anchor. Many of these were effectively floating warehouses. The berths had no heavy cranes for large items like 20-ton radar sets. 
In October 1942 the U.S. Navy decided to relocate its principal South Pacific fleet base here, and rapid improvements began. This included a fuel tank farm and an auxiliary airfield at Magenta Bay three miles (5 km) northeast of the city."  -http://pwencycl.kgbudge.com/N/o/Noumea.htm

 

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Fuel Tanks at Noumea

"Noumea, at the southern end of the island of New Caledonia, was developed as the main fleet base in the South Pacific, assuming the extensive functions planned originally for Auckland, New Zealand. It served as a staging area for the development of other advance bases, such as Guadalcanal; and on November 8, 1942, became headquarters for the Allied Commander of the South Pacific.
The island of New Caledonia is one of the largest of the Pacific islands. About 250 miles long and 31 miles wide, it has two high parallel ranges of mountains, separated by a central valley, extending through the center of the island. There are numerous rivers, and fresh water is plentiful. The island is almost entirely surrounded by a barrier reef, with a spacious channel, varying in depth from 20 to 50 fathoms, between the shore and the reef.

New Caledonia is a French colony, which has also under its administration several outlying islands -- Isle of Pines, the Loyalty Islands, the Wallis archipelago, Futuna and Alofi, and the Huon Islands. The total population numbers about 55,000. Minerals are plentiful, nickel being of special value.

Noumea, with a population of about 11,000, is the chief French city in the Pacific and the seat of government for New Caledonia. It is the only port on the island, its harbor affording shelter to vessels of any size. Between Noumea and Ile Nou, and island in the harbor, there is a channel three miles long and about one mile wide, providing anchorage in any part, with the advantage of complete security and facility of defense.

New Caledonia joined the Free French organization in September 1940. Prior to the entry of the United States into the war, an Australian garrison was stationed on the island. In March 1942, by agreement with the French, U.S. Army forces under General Patch occupied the island, and most of the Australian garrison was withdrawn. On June 10, 1942, a naval officer took over duties as Captain of the Port. With him were 8 other officers and 143 men whose purpose, in addition to forming an administrative unit, was the installation of underwater defenses.

The development of Noumea proceeded slowly at first, for effort was being concentrated on the construction of facilities at Auckland, 1,000 miles south. However, in July and August 1942, two CUBs, originally intended for Auckland, were diverted en route, one to Espiritu Santo and the other to Noumea. The CUB unloaded at Noumea formed the nucleus of the subsequent base development. At that time, the only project scheduled for Noumea was a tank farm, providing 30,000 barrels of fuel oil and 20,000 barrels of diesel oil. Company B and one-fourth of the headquarters company of the 3rd Construction Battalion arrived at Noumea on June 26, 1942, to erect the tank farm, but shortly thereafter, the project was cancelled.

Plans for building up Noumea as a main air and naval base were soon put into execution, and the detachment of the 34d Battalion began construction of facilities on Ile Nou. With tents, mess gear, and canteens borrowed from the Army, the Seabees set up camp. No construction equipment or material was available until mid-August, however, so the early projects were accomplished with borrowed equipment. The Army loaned a tug and enough pipe for a 2-inch water line along a shoal from Noumea, and a distribution network on Ile Nou. Later, due to the increase in population, a 4-inch line was run from Noumea, and storage tanks were installed.

The French power cable to the island had been accidentally cut in March, so the Seabees erected a power plant on Ile Nou. A 225-kva generator with a 260-hp diesel engine taken from a Japanese mine at Goro, dismounted and stored in Noumea, was the only power equipment available. The detachment overhauled the machinery, built missing parts, and erected and operated the power plant.

The RAAF had a modest seaplane base at Ile Nou which was taken over by the U.S. Navy to provide fueling and re-arming services for patrol planes and quarters for their personnel. The U.S. Army undertook the construction of a seaplane ramp and apron capable of taking three patrol aircraft. Army personnel completed the excavation and grading, and the paving was laid by the Seabees. By early 1943, the Seabees had constructed 71 pre-fabricated New Zealand-type huts, 180 Dallas huts, seven 40-by-100-foot warehouses, seven quonset hut hangars, and a floating pontoon pier.

bases2-p225.jpg

Ship Repair Unit, Ile Nou, Noumea

In August, the detachment began assembly of pontoon barges, both with and without propulsion units. Most of them were turned over to the Army transportation pool for use in ship unloading.

On December 1, the detachment assumed the operation of a 75-ton crane and its pontoon barge, which they had assembled. It was used to unload PT boats, landing barges, tank lighters, LCT-5's, and P-38's.

Noumea had a large harbor, but servicing facilities were meager. Nickel Dock, 800 feet long with a 24-foot water depth, could take one large vessel. The wharf was equipped with three 7-ton cranes, but it had little storage area. Le Grand Quai, 1400 feet long, with water depth of from 20 to 26 feet, had some 68,500 square feet of space in transshipment sheds, but had no crane.

A shortage of stevedore personnel impeded the unloading of ships during the summer months. All Navy personnel available were used for unloading, and the construction battalions, as they arrived, handled most of their own unloading. When 600 men of the 20th Construction Battalion arrived in Noumea on October 21, 1942, they concentrated their attention on stevedoring activities. Unloading at Noumea in the first half of December 1942 averaged 5,000 tons per day, but was still not sufficient to keep up with the rate at which cargo was arriving, and a serious congestion of merchant shipping in the harbor resulted.

The 19th Battalion, which reported at Noumea on November 11, 1942, started building an advance base construction depot, the first in the forward area, comprising eleven quonset huts, one steel and two timber warehouses, an electric system, and an area for receiving, sorting, and shipping construction equipment and material. The battalion also operated the depot until the arrival late in the year of the base construction depot detachment, which then assumed responsibility for receiving, inventorying, storing, issuing, and transshipping construction material and equipment, maintaining and operating the detachment camp, and operating the Seabee receiving station.

For the 1st Marine base depot, the 19th Battalion constructed two large piers, one 300 feet and one 200 feet long, and twenty frame warehouses having concrete decks. A vehicular bridge, 20 feet wide, was built at the depot to unload vehicles from barges. The battalion also built warehouses for various naval activities, and operated a rock quarry and crushing plant, a silica pit, and a gravel pit, until transferred to Melbourne in March 1943.

On January 1, 1943, the 24th Construction Battalion, which had arrived in December, undertook the construction of a 600-by-72-foot timber pier at the northern end of the Nickel Dock. The Army Engineers had been working on the pier for several weeks, but due to inadequate equipment, lack of materials, and a shortage of skilled personnel, they had completed only a small portion of the approach. To the newly arrived battalion was assigned the completion of the project. The Seabees developed a pile driver by altering a floating crane. About three-fourths of the bolts and drift pins for the pier had to be made by hand, in a small French forge shop. Holes for bolts and drift pins were bored by hand, and most of the piles, of hard native wood, were also cut by hand. In spite of these difficult conditions, the pier was finished and placed in service within the month (January 28). Its completion increased by more than half the berthing capacity of the port.

The detachment of the 3rd Construction Battalion, assisted by a company from the 24th and some fifty men from the 955th Army Engineers, extended the waterfront facilities by means of pontoon assemblies. A Navy landing pier was constructed of two 3-by-12 bridge sections for the wharf and two 2-by-12 bridge sections for the approach. Two 5-by-12 wharf units were installed at Point Chalix for use as a barge landing for the aviation supply depot. Approaches consisted of a landing ramp at each end, hinged to a concrete abutment.

The same personnel handled pontoon erection and assembly until the arrival of PAD 1 on January 18, 1943.

In the fall of 1942, the decision had been made to ship the 15,000 pontoons needed in the Pacific area for 1943 in the form of flat plates and rolled shapes and to assemble them into pontoons at a mobile plant to be located in the South Pacific, because units shipped in knockdown form would conserve much valuable cargo space. On the basis of this decision, a pontoon assembly depot was established at Ile Nou. By March 1943, Seabees had completed the erection of buildings needed to house operations and had installed a narrow-gauge railway in the plant and storage area. The PAD was charged not only with the manufacture of the pontoons, but also with their assembly into barges, wharves, and other units as required.

During the first half of 1943, the construction at Noumea grew rapidly. Facilities at Ile Nou were increased to include an amphibious boat pool, a ship repair unit, NATS facilities, a pontoon assembly depot, an aircraft engine overhaul base, a tank farm for aviation gasoline storage, a section base, and an anti-aircraft school.
In March 1943, the 2nd (Special) Construction Battalion arrived to handle stevedoring.

The construction at the amphibious boat pool was accomplished jointly by Company B of the 3rd Battalion and Company C of the 37th which had arrived at Noumea on January 18, 1943. A marine railway was completely rebuilt, and two houses were erected for LCI storage, and a pontoon pier was increased in size, and relocated.

At the repair base, facilities were provided for the repair and servicing of vessels as large as destroyers, and the base was also equipped to go into the stream and make repairs and alterations to vessels of the transport type. Sixteen 40-by-10-foot steel-arch buildings, 40 quonset huts, five frame storage buildings, and five stone buildings for shops, were erected, together with camp facilities for personnel. A 300-by-70-foot pontoon pier and a 30-by-141-foot small-boat pontoon pier were provided, as well as ARD-2 and AFD-9.

The 3rd Battalion also established facilities for NATS at Ile Nou. This project included the erection of quonset huts for housing and all camp facilities, warehouses, two double nose hangars, and the extension of the existing seaplane ramp. By October 1943, the Seabees had also completed a tank farm for aviation gasoline, consisting of six 1,000-barrel tanks.

In September 1944, the 87th Battalion arrived and had as its major project the completion of an Army staging area at Neponi in the northern part of the island. The movement of the battalion and its equipment to that location over 150 miles of narrow, winding mountain road presented a formidable problem, and an LST was brought from another island base to take most of the equipment by water, camp equipment being sent by truck convoy. Work began on the staging area on October 12. Some 350 Seabees were used on the project; the Army supplied the materials. The Seabees also built a pier, consisting of one 4-by-12 pontoon floating barge secured to a bulkhead with access to shore by a standard 30-ton ramp.

While at Neponi for rehabilitation from September 1944 to May 1945, the 82nd Battalion constructed a pier having capacity for berthing two Liberty ships, and reconstructed some 20 miles of highway.

" - https://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/USN/Building_Bases/bases-24.html

 

bases2-p208.jpg

Ship Repair Unit Shop Area, Noumea

Edited by Royeaux

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I'd assume as a rule of thumb the Bretagne's would be left behind. Far to slow to operate with the rest of the French fleet, and their operational range is pathetic compared to the rest of the French fleet. They have a combat radius is 4700 nm at 10 knots as built and 3200 nm at 13 knots, and at 20 knots a mere 600 nm. Unfortunately, I don't have post-refit numbers, but I doubt they're much better.

Comparatively, at a speed of 15 knots (50% greater), the ranges modern French warships could (with full bunkers, which was not always the case for the sake of optimal TDS performance) steam were...

Richelieu-class: 9500 nm
Dunkerque-class: 7850 nm
Algérie: 8000 nm
Suffren-class (2nd Group): 5300 nm
Suffren-class (1st Group): 4600 nm
Duquesne-class: 5000 nm
La Galissonnière-class: 7000 nm (12 knots)
Mogador-class: 3350 nm
Le Fantasque-class: 2900 nm
L'Adroit-class: 3000 nm
Bourrasque-class: 3000 nm

So, as you can see - there's a considerable increase in operational range among the major French warships, and at a higher speed, to boot, that largely makes operating the Bretagne-class with literally any modern French warships a waste of effort - at the 15 knot cruising speed her range is likely to fall below 3000 nm, aka, similar to that of some destroyers, and the fall of her combat range is likely to occur at a much faster rate than that of other French ships. 

If that's not enough reason, there's also the fact that her;

A) Firepower is anemic due to the lack of modern shells
B) Armor is WWI quality and fairly limited in thickness, not to mention in a layout that was obsolete even when the ships were built

I don't see it as likely that the French would bring the Bretagne-class along with them. I'd rather have another Algérie with me than one of them.

 

 

As far as night battle training goes - their situation was much the same as the Regia Marina. At the start of the war, flashless propellant and starshells were only available to gun calibers of 138.6mm and lesser (unlike the RM, there was never time to develop flashless propellant for larger calibers). As far as I'm aware, cruisers and battleships would have to mostly rely on their secondary batteries for night combat, and it's not clear if there was any provision at all to open fire with their main batteries at night. 
On the other hand - as mentioned, the lower calibers relevant to destroyers had the necessary equipment, and they were practiced at night combat. Illumination of the enemy was to be done via starshells and searchlights ('enemy' destroyers had been lit up in pre-war exercises at ranges of up to 7000 meters by 75cm BBT searchlights). The heavy main batteries and torpedoes (not as heavy as Type 93's, but the 550mm 23DT was heavier than most Allied models) of the contre-torpilluers favored sharp, close-range night actions.

They would not have been as well-drilled as their Japanese counterparts in night combat, and the potential of their torpedoes would be lesser, but at the very least gunpower would typically be more than that of many IJN ships. As a whole, French destroyers would probably pose a very serious threat to Japanese destroyers at night, although Japanese cruisers would be wholly superior to their French counterparts at night.

 

As far as the training of French sailors - well, it's a very difficult area to pin down anything hard and useful on beyond vague statements, and France creates an odd case. Generally, for most of the interwar period French sailors were very well trained, and traditionally came from maritime regions. However, the Marine Nationale became its own worst enemy, as the large construction programs it ordered promoted a boom in opportunity to be found in working for naval construction companies - draining from the traditional pool of MN recruits. Thus, in 1939, the MN had to make wide use of reservists when it mobilized for war, and tended to account for a third to a quarter of the crews of French ships. These reservists were of lower quality than their normal counterparts, and also cared much less for their service, leading to mutinous situations after the armistice just from sitting in port. Being carted across the planet to fight a totally different foe for the sake of nations that they felt had just failed and abandoned them (such as the British) would've been disastrous to morale among that group, to say the least.

 

Air Cover, or lack thereof, is someone pointless for a Free French fleet because this is the South and Southwest Pacific - that's primarily going to be handled by the Americans, and any Free French pilots flying are likely to be flying in American aircraft, due to a lack of their own, and spare parts for their own. What will be a bigger issue is communicating with those aircraft.

As for AA - yeah... it would probably be best to run the numbers specifically for a early 1942 scenario (A scenario where the FNFL joins ABDA to defend the Java Sea), but I'll definitely say as a whole the AA is going to be inferior to that of their Japanese counterparts.

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The Free French ships may have been screwed if it was around for the Allied sh*t-show from Pearl Harbor and the early months of the Pacific War.  Specifically December 1941 until second half 1942.  The IJN CVs running rampant and Allies in total disarray.

 

Would Australia be able to host them?  It'd be a bit hard at the earlier stages of the war with the Kido Butai roaming around with those Carriers striking freely.  They did conduct CV airstrikes into Darwin, I think.  The Japanese tried hard in the northeast of Australia, i.e. trying to secure Guadalcanal, the Battle of Coral Sea, etc. all before Midway in June 1942.  But those French ships would be nice to bolster the Allied push for Guadalcanal in the latter half of 1942 after Midway. 

 

Australia historically was hosted the US military quite a bit for WWII.  Would those French ships stretch things out too much?

Edited by HazeGrayUnderway

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