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Duquesne class heavy cruisers

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Alpha Tester
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Probably one of the best pictures of the Duquesne




France only developed four classes of heavy cruisers, all defined by the Washington Naval treaty of 1922.  Under paragraph XII of that treaty, cruisers were limited to 10,000t of displacement, and an armament that couldn’t have a larger calibre than 203mm.


The first two classes were the Duquesne class (Duquesne and Tourville) of 1924, and the Suffren class (Suffren, Colbert, Foch, and Dupleix); although it is a stretch to call the latter one a “class”, as each of these four ships was fundamentally different from each other one.  


Ultimately, France would come up with the Algérie class (only one ship).  The Saint Louis class, which would have been formidable, was never launched.



The Duquesne were the first heavy cruisers to be built after the Washington Naval treaty.  Both were very similar and were built with the purpose to offer France fast ships that could be deployed to defend her colonies’ trade routes.  This resulted in fast but poorly armored ships.


Duquesne (1939)

Posted Image

Displacement: 10,000 tons/10,160 tonnes (standard); 12,200 tons/12,395 tonnes (full load).

Length: 626ft 9in/191m (oa); 607ft/185m (pp).

Beam: 62ft 3in/19m; Draught: 20ft 9in/6.32m (mean).

Machinery: 4-shaft Rateau-Bretagne SR geared turbines; 9 Guyot boilers.

Performance: 120,000shp=333/4kts; Bunkerage: 1,820tons oil fuel.

Range: 4,500nm at 15kts.

Protection: 30mm box citadel for magazines; 30mm deck, turrets & conning tower.

Guns: eight 203mm (4x2); eight 75mm (8x1); eight 37mm (4x2); twelve 13.2mm MGs.

Torpedoes: twelve 21.7in (4x3).

Aircraft: two, one catapult.

Complement: 605.

  • Duquesne was the first of the two ships to be launched.   She was laid down on October 30th, 1924 in Brest, launched on December 17th, 1925, and she was completed on December 6th, 1928.

  • Tourville was laid down on March 4th, 1925 in Lorient, launched August 24, 1926, and she was completed on December 1st, 1928.

Tourville (1945, after refitting)

Posted Image

Speed is of the essence:

The Duquesne class was nothing more than a heavier version of the Lamotte-Piquet (light cruiser) design, fitted with larger guns.  Because of the treaty and its displacement limitations, the ships had little to no armor, and relied on speed for survival.

On February 25th, 1928, Duquesne reached a speed of 34.12 knots for 4 hours, and on March 31st, 1928, Tourville reached a speed of 36.18 knots, which she sustained for 3 hours.

1931-1940 operations:

The two Duquesne spent their early years in the Mediterranean Sea.  Their first operational deployment was during the Spanish Civil War, and the stayed alongside the Spanish coast to rescue and evacuate French citizens stranded in Spain.  On April 24th, 1940, they were integrated into “Force X”, under command from Admiral Godfroy, which operated in conjunction with the Royal Navy from Alexandria, Egypt.

Force X:

Force X was composed of BB Lorraine (Provence class), 3 CA (Duquesne, Tourville, and Suffren), CL Duguay-Trouin (Duguay-Trouin class), 3 DD (Fortuné, Basque and Forbin), and SS Protée.

Family ties:

Admiral Godfroy’s brother-in-law was Admiral Cunnigham, Commander-in-Chief, Mediterranean fleet (Royal Navy), who later on led the attack on Taranto and the Battle of Cape Matapan against the Italian navy.  These family ties would prove determinant for the survival of Force X.

Operation Catapult in Alexandria:

Royal and French navies in Alexandria.  Duquesne or Tourville in background


The very same day Mers-el-Kebir was attacked by the Royal Navy, Force X was anchored in Alexandria.  Were also present in the same harbor several Royal Navy ships including CV Eagle, BB Warspite, Malaya, Barham, Ramilliers, and Royal Sovereign, as well as several destroyers.

At 09:00, Admiral Godfroy went onboard HMS Warspite to meet with Admiral Cunningham.  He was then given a letter that gave him three options.

1) Join the Royal Navy and continue the fight against Germany,

2) Surrender the ships to the Royal Navy,

3) Be destroyed.

Godfroy’s answer was that he couldn’t accept the first one, would like to have the opportunity to discuss the second one with his hierarchy, and if this was refused, he’d fight.

Godfroy is given a few hours to exchange messages with the French Admiralty.  Early afternoon, he accepts to empty his ships’fuel and remove warheads from their torpedoes, as a mark of good will.  It is while these operations happen that he is notified of what had happened in Mers-el-Kebir.   He informs Cunningham that under the new circumstances, he would not comply anymore.  

Cunningham is still hoping to avoid any fight and gives Godfroy until the next day to make up his mind.   These hours are spent by Godfroy to select his options.  Eventually, knowing that he has no chance to escape, he agrees to dismount all firing mechanisms from his guns, and empty the ships’ tanks.  A second Mers-el-Kebir is then avoided, to the irritation of Churchill who would have supposedly preferred to sink the French fleet.  But unlike Mers-el-Kebir, because French and British ships were all moored in the same harbor, both fleets would have potentially been severely damaged.

1940-1942 vacations:

Both the Duquesne and the Tourville spend some forced vacations in Egypt.  Godfroy refuses to join the Free French (Catapult didn’t help pro-British feelings), and has no option but to wait in Alexandria.

1943-1945 operations:

Duquesne after refit


Operation Torch will change things.  After French forces based in North Africa agree to continue the fight alongside the Allies, Godfroy rallies General Giraud.

This gesture will bring “Force X” to the Free French Naval Forces, but also condemns Godfroy to an early retirement, as the rallying to Giraud infuriates de Gaulle.

On July 3rd, 1943, Duquesne and Tourville leave Alexandria for Dakar.  They will arrive there on August 18th, 1943, where all repairs and necessary maintenance that couldn’t have been done in Alexandria will be performed.  The two ships also wait to be refitted by the US Navy, which will eventually happen in 1944.

This will result in the removal of all torpedo tubes as well as any aviation installation (both the Tourville and the Duquesne were equipped with a seaplane).  The room and weight gained will eventually be used in 1945 to give them a better anti-air suite, composed of 4x 40mm Bofors, and 8x 20mm Oerlikon.

Tourville will be placed in reserve until the end of the war.  Duquesne will serve within “Operation Venerable”, which means to attack any French port still occupied by the Germans in the Atlantic.

Post-1945 operations:

Both Duquesne and Tourville will go to French Indochina in 1946, where they will transport troops and support the French army.

Duquesne will eventually be sold for demolition in 1956, and her sister Tourville will know the same fate in 1943.


The "tin can" concept that was the Duquesne class didn't survive very long.  One year after it was launched, France came with the Suffren "class", which became a standard until Algérie was launched to counter the Italian ship Zara.  Both Duquesne and Tourville were offered to be refitted as light aircraft carriers, but because of a lack of means, this never happened.

  • Cool 4

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Alpha Tester
1,275 posts
241 battles

The French cruisers always looked good to me.


Talk about "tin clad" though.


And on 4,500 nm @ 15 knots, for a cruiser they  are critically short legged.


I think the rebuild to a light carrier would have been a great idea.


Very nice. Thanks for taking the time Ariecho.

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Alpha Tester
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View PostCapcon, on 05 October 2012 - 08:15 PM, said:

And on 4,500 nm @ 15 knots, for a cruiser they  are critically short legged.

You are correct!  They were designed to protect France's Empire against neighbors and would have been more than adequate for that, but definitely not against any German raiders.  They were not even designed to counter the Regia Marina, although the Italians didn't see it that way.  In (one of) my next articles, I'll talk a bit more about the Suffren class.

The Duquesne class generated a reaction from the Italians who countered them with the Trento and Trieste, which in turn also made for the reaction of the Suffren.  So much for a treaty that wanted to slow down any armament race...

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Alpha Tester
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12 battles

Very nice post Ariecho. I really like reading about the French Navy and the role they played in the early years of the war. The Free French Forces have always been of particular interest to me so I like reading about the ships that eventually joined them.

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Alpha Tester
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View PostWindhover118, on 06 October 2012 - 12:43 AM, said:

Very nice post Ariecho. I really like reading about the French Navy and the role they played in the early years of the war. The Free French Forces have always been of particular interest to me so I like reading about the ships that eventually joined them.
Thank you!  I think this forum is a great opportunity to write.  Most of the times, I pick up several sources, compare them, and write with my own words rather than just copying/pasting wikipedia (which is not always accurate anyway).  I stick to the French ships though.  Too many USN and IJN experts here :Smile_honoring: .  I won't get into that minefield. :Smile_glasses:

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