USS Olympia



USS Olympia (C-6/CA-15/CL-15/IX-40) is a protected cruiser that saw service in the United States Navy from her commissioning in 1895 until 1922. This vessel became famous as the flagship of Commodore George Dewey at the Battle of Manila Bay during the Spanish-American War in 1898. The ship was decommissioned after returning to the U.S. in 1899, but was returned to active service in 1902.

She served until World War I as a training ship for naval cadets and as a floating barracks in Charleston, South Carolina. In 1917, she was mobilized again for war service, patrolling the American coast and escorting transport ships.

After World War I, Olympia participated in the 1919 Allied intervention in the Russian Civil War and conducted cruises in the Mediterranean and Adriatic Seas to promote peace in the unstable Balkan countries. In 1921, the ship carried the remains of World War I’s Unknown Soldier from France to Washington, D.C., where his body was interred in Arlington National Cemetery. Olympia was decommissioned for the last time in December 1922 and placed in reserve.

The newly formed Board on the Design of Ships began the design process for Cruiser Number 6 in 1889. For main armament, the board chose 8 inches (200 mm) guns, though the number and arrangement of these weapons, as well as the armor scheme, was heavily debated. On 8 April 1890, the navy solicited bids but found only one bidder, the Union Iron Works in San Francisco, California. The contract specified a cost of $1,796,000, completion by 1 April 1893, and offered a bonus for early completion.

During the contract negotiations, Union Iron Works was granted permission to lengthen the vessel by 10 ft (3.0 m), at no extra cost, to accommodate the propulsion system. The contract was signed on 10 July 1890, the keel laid on 17 June 1891, and the ship was launched on 5 November 1892. However, delays in the delivery of components including the new Harvey steel armor, slowed completion. The last 1-pounder gun wasn’t delivered until December 1894.

Union Iron Works conducted the first round of trials on 3 November 1893; on a 68 nmi (126 km; 78 mi) run, the ship achieved a speed of 21.26 kn (39.37 km/h; 24.47 mph). Upon return to harbor, however, it was discovered that the keel had been fouled by sea grass, which required dry-docking to fix.

By 11 December, the work had been completed and she was dispatched from San Francisco to Santa Barbara for an official speed trial. Once in the harbor, heavy fog delayed the ship for four days. On the 15th, Olympia sailed into the Santa Barbara Channel, the “chosen race-track for California-built cruisers,” and began a four-hour time trial. According to the navy, she had sustained an average speed of 21.67 kn (40.13 km/h; 24.94 mph), though she reached up to 22.2 kn (41.1 km/h; 25.5 mph)—both well above the contract requirement of 20 kn (37 km/h; 23 mph). While returning to San Francisco, Olympia participated in eight experiments that tested various combinations of steering a ship by rudder and propellers. The new cruiser was ultimately commissioned on 5 February 1895. For several months afterwards, she was the largest ship ever built on the western coast of the US, until surpassed by the battleship Oregon.

Scientific American compared Olympia to the similar British Eclipse-class cruisers and the Chilean Blanco Encalada and found that the American ship held a “great superiority” over the British ships. While the Eclipse’s had 550 short tons (500 t) of coal, compared to Olympia’s 400 short tons (360 t), the latter had nearly double the horsepower (making the ship faster), more armor, and a heavier armament on a displacement that was only 200 short tons (180 t) greater than the other.

Upon commissioning in February 1895 Olympia departed the Union Iron Works yard in San Francisco and steamed inland to the U.S. Navy’s Mare Island Naval Shipyard at Vallejo, where outfitting was completed and Captain John J. Read was placed in command. In April, the ship steamed south to Santa Barbara to participate in a festival. The ship’s crew also conducted landing drills in Sausalito and Santa Cruz that month. On 20 April, the ship conducted its first gunnery practice, during which one of the ship’s gunners, Coxswain John Johnson, was killed in an accident with one of the 5-inch guns. The ship’s last shakedown cruise took place on 27 July. After returning to Mare Island, the ship was assigned to replace Baltimore as the flagship of the Asiatic Squadron.

On 25 August, the ship departed the United States for Chinese waters. A week later, the ship arrived in Hawaii, where she remained until 23 October due to an outbreak of cholera. The ship then sailed for Yokohama, Japan, where she arrived on 9 November. On 15 November, Baltimore arrived in Yokohama from Shanghai, China, to transfer command of the Asiatic Squadron to Olympia. Baltimore departed on 3 December; Rear Admiral F.V. McNair arrived fifteen days later to take command of the squadron. The following two years were filled with training exercises with the other members of the Asiatic Squadron, and goodwill visits to various ports in Asia. On 3 January 1898, Commodore George Dewey raised his flag on Olympia and assumed command of the squadron.

As tensions increased and war with Spain became more probable, Olympia remained at Hong Kong and was prepared for action. When war was declared on 25 April 1898, Dewey moved his ships to Mirs Bay, China. Two days later, the Navy Department ordered the Squadron to Manila in the Philippines, where a significant Spanish naval force protected the harbor. Dewey was ordered to sink or capture the Spanish warships, opening the way for a subsequent conquest by US forces.

On the morning of 1 May 1898, Commodore Dewey—with his flag aboard Olympia—steamed his ships into Manila Bay to confront the Spanish flotilla commanded by Rear Admiral Patricio Montojo y Pasarón. The Spanish ships were anchored close to shore, under the protection of coastal artillery, but both the ships and shore batteries were outdated. At approximately 05:40, Dewey instructed Olympia’s captain, “You may fire when you are ready, Gridley”. Gridley ordered the forward 8-inch gun turret, commanded by Gunners Mate Adolph Nilsson, to open fire, which opened the battle and prompted the other American warships to begin firing.

Though shooting was poor from both sides, the Spanish gunners were even less prepared than the Americans. As a result, the battle quickly became one-sided. After initial success, Dewey briefly broke off the engagement at around 07:30 when his flagship was reported to be low on 5-inch ammunition. This turned out to be an erroneous report—the 5-inch magazines were still mostly full. He ordered the battle resumed shortly after 11:15. By early afternoon, Dewey had completed the destruction of Montojo’s squadron and the shore batteries, while his own ships were largely undamaged. Dewey anchored his ships off Manila and accepted the surrender of the city.

Word of Dewey’s victory quickly reached the US; both he and Olympia became famous as the first victors of the war. An expeditionary force was assembled and sent to complete the conquest of the Philippines. Olympia remained in the area and supported the Army by shelling Spanish forces on land. She returned to the Chinese coast on 20 May 1899. She remained there until the following month, when she departed for the US, via the Suez Canal and the Mediterranean Sea. The ship arrived in Boston on 10 October. Following Olympia’s return to the US, her officers and crew were feted and she was herself repainted and adorned with a gilded bow ornament. On 9 November, Olympia was decommissioned and placed in reserve.


The submarine was a subversive force. Its ability to hide within the element on which the battlefleet held sway threatened the great ships, the theory and practice of their employment, above all the admirals who had risen in their service; during the 1920s and 1930s these held power and patronage, not simply in the Royal Navy where, for reasons of proud historic supremacy and incipient decline, it might have been expected, but also in those younger, thrusting navies of the United States, Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan who looked to seize the trident. All these in the years leading to the Second World War cleaved to orthodoxy.

The articles of faith had been set down from 1890 by an American naval officer, Alfred Thayer Mahan, in a series of works extracting the principles of sea power from history – actually a period of history practically confined to the centuries of British naval ascendancy. Mahan placed the battlefleet at the core of naval strategy. By defeating the enemy battlefleet or bottling it up in port, the dominant fleet established ‘command’ of the oceans; and by blockading, that is throwing a cordon around the enemy’s coast, strangled his trade and brought him low. At the opposite pole to this strategy, and generally practised by the weaker naval power, was commerce-raiding, known after its French exponents as guerre de course. According to the doctrine this would never prevail over the superior battlefleet power.

The experience of the First World War appeared to confirm the theory. The British Grand Fleet had met the German High Seas Fleet off Jutland and driven it home, whence it had seldom ventured again, while the Royal Naval blockade had reduced the German population to near-starvation, anarchy and revolution. In the meantime, the German submarine or U-boat guerre de course had been contained.

Yet it had been a close-run thing. In April 1917 the British government had looked at defeat. That month, in which the United States entered the war against Germany, the Anglophile Admiral William Sims, despatched to liaise with the Admiralty in London, was horrified when shown the figures of merchant shipping losses: 536,000 tons sunk in February, 603,000 tons in March, 900,000 tons predicted for the current month. His dismay was heightened by a talk with the First Sea Lord, Sir John Jellicoe.

‘It is impossible for us to go on with the war if losses like this continue,’ Jellicoe told him.

‘It looks as though the Germans are winning the war,’ Sims replied.

‘They will win unless we can stop these losses – and stop them soon.’

When Sims questioned him about a solution, he said that at present they could see absolutely none.

Towards the end of the month Jellicoe, believing the government had not grasped the full gravity of the situation, wrote a memo to his civilian chief, the First Lord of the Admiralty, suggesting that it was necessary to bring home to the War Cabinet ‘the very serious nature of the naval position’:

We are carrying on the war … as if we had the absolute command of the sea, whereas we have not such command or anything approaching it. It is quite true that we are masters of the situation so far as surface ships are concerned, but it must be realised – and realised at once – that this will be quite useless if the enemy’s submarines paralyse, as they do now, our lines of communication.

He went on to suggest saving shipping space for the import of foodstuffs by withdrawing entirely from the Salonika campaign, and cutting down ruthlessly on all imports not essential to the life of the country,

but even with all this we shall be very hard put to it unless the United States help to the utmost of their ability … Without some such relief as I have indicated – and that given immediately – the Navy will fail in its responsibilities to the country and the country itself will suffer starvation.

This crisis in the naval war did not disprove the doctrine of battlefleet command since the Admiralty had brought it on itself by misunderstanding and thus disregarding the simplest, time-honoured response to guerre de course: convoying merchant ships instead of allowing them to sail independently while attempting to hunt the raiders. Mahan himself had written:

the result of the convoy system … warrants the inference that, when properly systematised and applied, it will have more success as a defensive measure than hunting for individual marauders – a process which, even when most thoroughly planned, still resembles looking for a needle in a haystack.

In desperation, and in response to more thoughtful officers in the fleet, at the eleventh hour the Admiralty introduced convoys for oceanic trade. Almost at once the shipping haemorrhage eased. It should have been a lesson: at the height of the campaign that April there were on average less than 50 of Germany’s 128 operational U-boats at sea at any time. It was this handful of comparatively inexpensive war machines which had come within an ace of sinking the most powerful naval and trading empire, aided not simply by her maritime allies, France, Italy, Japan and finally the United States, but also by the shipping and shipyards of neutrals. After the convoy system was instituted it was American yards building ships faster than the U-boats could sink them that allowed the Allies to transport sufficient materials and troops to win the Continental war.

In November 1918, as Germany’s acceptance of the armistice conditions became known, one of the U-boat COs, OLt. Karl Dönitz, who had been captured after his boat surfaced out of control while he was attacking a convoy, was held aboard a British cruiser off Gibraltar. He was watching scenes of jubilation in nearby ships with a bitter heart, when he found the cruiser’s captain approaching. Dönitz gestured at the ensigns flying from the armada of ships in the roads, British, American, French and Japanese, and asked the Britisher if he could take any pleasure from a victory attained with the whole world as allies.

‘Yes, it’s very curious,’ the Captain replied thoughtfully.’

A submarine was a thick-skinned steel cylinder tapering at both ends, designed to withstand enormous pressure at depth Buoyancy chambers termed main ballast tanks, fitted in most cases as lozenge-shaped bulges outside this pressure hull on either side, kept the cylinder just afloat. An outer steel ‘casing’ liberally pierced with openings to let the sea flood in and out provided a sharp bow, a faired stern and a narrow deck atop the cylinder; only a few feet above the sea, this was washed in any weather like a half-tide rock. About midway along its length rose a low structure enclosing another small pressure chamber called the conning tower, accessible from the pressure hull via a circular hatch and allowing access to the bridge above it by another small, pressure-tight hatch.

To submerge, the diesel engines which drove the craft on the surface, sucking air in through ducts from the tower structure, were shut down, and electric motors which took their power from massed batteries and consequently used no air were coupled to the propeller shafts. Buoyancy was destroyed by opening valves in the main ballast tanks, allowing the trapped air to be forced out by sea water rushing in; and horizontal fins, termed hydroplanes or just planes, projecting either side at bow and stern were angled against the water flow caused by the boat’s progress to impel the bows down. Approaching the required depth as shown on a gauge in the control room below the conning tower, the diving officer attempted to balance the boat in a state of neutral buoyancy, ‘catching a trim’ in which they neither descended further nor rose. He did this by adjusting the volume of water in auxiliary tanks at bow and stern, and either side at mid-length, flooding or pumping out, aiming to poise the submarine so perfectly that she swam on an even keel weighing precisely the same as the space of sea she occupied, completely at one with her element and floating firm and free as an airship in the air. It was an art attained by minute attention to the detail of prior consumption of stores and fuel, and by much experience. Sea water is seldom homogenous; a boat passing into a layer of different temperature or salinity, and hence density, becomes suddenly less or more buoyant, dropping fast or refusing to descend through the layer until more tank spaces have been flooded; when going deep the pressure hull would be so squeezed between the ribs by the weight above that it occupied less space and the boat had to be lightened by pumping out tanks to compensate. Most vigilance was required at the extremes: going very deep the boat might plunge below the point at which the hull could withstand the pressure; near the surface at periscope depth she might porpoise up to break surface in sight of the enemy.

Submerged, a submarine stole along at walking pace or less, either to conserve her batteries which could not be recharged by diesels until she surfaced again or, when hunted, to make as little engine and propeller noise as possible. With both sets of batteries ‘grouped up’ in parallel she might make twice a fast walking speed, 8 or 9 knots, but only for some two hours at most before the batteries ran dangerously low. This was her shortcoming: while she had great range and speed on the surface, once submerged she lost mobility by comparison even with the slowest tramp steamer. Against a battle squadron she could not hope to get within range for attack unless already lying in ambush very close to its track. For this reason the submarine was held to be ‘a weapon of position and surprise’.

Once her presence was detected and she became the hunted her submerged endurance was limited by the amount of air within the pressure hull, which of course was all the crew had to breathe; as they exhaled it became progressively degraded with carbon dioxide, after twenty-four hours or so reaching dangerous and finally fatal levels. Headaches and dizziness were common in operational submarines, but they were accepted among the other discomforts of an exacting life; remarkably little was known of the speed of deterioration of air. It was, for example, not appreciated that when the carbon dioxide content reaches 4 per cent thinking becomes difficult and decisions increasingly irrational; by 10 per cent extreme distress is felt, followed soon after by unconsciousness; at over 20 per cent the mixture is lethal.[7] No doubt this was not realized, and air purifiers were not installed – although in the German service individual carbon dioxide filter masks with neck-straps were provided – since before the advent of radar a submarine could usually surface at night to renew her air while remaining invisible. That indeed was the usual operational routine: to lurk submerged on the lookout for targets by day, coming up after nightfall to recharge the batteries, refresh the air and perhaps cruise to another position.

The submarine’s main armament was provided by torpedoes, each a miniature submarine in itself with a fuel tank and motor driving contrarotating propellers, a depth mechanism actuating hydroplanes to maintain a set depth, and a gyro compass linked to a rudder to maintain a set course. At the forward end a warhead of high explosive was detonated by a mechanism firing on contact or when disturbed by the magnetic field of the target ship. These auto-piloted cylinders, known as fish or in the German service as eels, were housed in tubes projecting forward from the fore end of the pressure hull and often aft from the after end as well. In some classes two or more tubes were housed externally beneath the casing, but unlike the internal tubes from the pressure hull whose reloads were stowed in the fore and after compartments, external tubes could not be reloaded until return to base.

While devastating when they hit the soft underpart of a ship or exploded beneath her, torpedoes were neither as accurate as shells from guns, nor for several reasons could they be ‘spotted’ on to the target. They were launched from their tubes – after these had been opened to the sea – set to steer a collision course to a point ahead of the target ship, ideally at or near a right angle to her track. Whether they hit depended largely on whether the relative motion problem had been solved correctly, which before radar meant how accurately the target’s course and speed had been estimated. The most certain data available was the target’s bearing read from a graduated ring around the periscope. Range was obtained by reading the angle between the waterline and the masthead or bridge of the target, either from simple graduations of minutes of arc or by a split-image rangefinder built into the periscope optics. Using the height of the mast or whatever feature had been taken, the angle was converted into range by a sliding scale. Since in most cases the masthead heights had to be estimated from the assumed size or class of the target ship, usually a difficult judgement to make from quick periscope observations, and since there was a tendency to overestimate size, ranges were often exaggerated. In addition the observer made an estimate of the angle between the target ship’s heading and his own line of sight, known as ‘the angle on the bow’; this too was often overestimated. Speed was deduced from a count of the propeller revolutions audible through the submarine’s listening apparatus, the distance of the second bow wave from the stem, or simply from the type of vessel and experience. With this data a plot was started incorporating both the target’s and the submarine’s own movements; updated by subsequent observations as the attack developed, the plot provided increasingly refined estimates which were fed into computing devices of greater or less mechanical ingenuity according to the nationality of the submarine. In British and Japanese navies the firing solution was expressed as an aim-off or director angle (DA) ahead of the target, in the US and German navies as a torpedo-course setting. Finally, a salvo of two or usually more torpedoes was fired with an interval of several seconds between each; this was to avoid upsetting the trim with such a sudden release of weight as would result from the simultaneous discharge of all tubes, and to allow for errors in the estimated data or the steering of the torpedoes themselves. In the British service, where it was assumed that at least three hits would be required to sink a modern capital ship, COs were trained to fire a ‘massed salvo’ of all torpedoes – usually six – at 5-second intervals, so spreading the salvo along the target and its track. In the American and German services particularly, where the torpedoes themselves could be set to run the desired course, ‘spread’ was often achieved by firing a ‘fan’ with a small angle between each torpedo.

Few attacks were as straightforward as this description might imply: the target was generally steering a zigzag pattern; surface and air escorts were often present to force the submarine into evasive alterations during the approach. The periscope could be used only sparingly, the more so the calmer the sea, lest the feather of its wake were spotted by lookouts; and between observations the submarine CO had to retain a mental picture of the developing situation, continuously updating calculations of time, speed and distance in his head as he attempted to manoeuvre into position to catch the DA at the optimum time when the torpedoes would run in on a broad angle to the enemy’s track. There were other situations when snap judgements had to be made on a single observation or while the submarine was turning with nothing but the CO’s experience and and eye to guide him. It was sometimes said that a successful CO needed a sportsman’s eye. Like most generalizations about submarine COs, this can be disproved by individual example: David Wanklyn, for instance, the highest-scoring British ace, did not shine at ball games.

Some British COs appear to have dispensed with overmuch calculation: John Stevens, the very successful CO of Unruffled in the Mediterranean, remarked, ‘I say if the target’s worth firing at, give him the lot [a full salvo] and, anyway, the DA is always ten degrees.’[8] It is not possible to compare the results of this cavalier approach statistically with those of American or German COs who relied on fire-control computers generating continuous solutions since the three services operated in very different conditions and, particularly with the Americans, the percentage of hits was depressed by torpedo failures. All that can be deduced from the figures is that all navies had a few COs who consistently outhit the average, and at the other end of the scale a few who seldom hit anything. The qualities the aces showed were aggression, determination, imperturbability in attack, and painstaking attention to training. To a greater extent than in any other type of warship, officers and crew were simple extensions of the CO’s will. When he attacked submerged, he alone saw the enemy – apart from some US submarines where the executive officer took the periscope – and it was the CO’s coolness, resolve and daring, or his timidity, exhaustion and nervous fatigue, that decided the course of the action.

The submarine, more than any other warship, was designed and operated as what would now be called a weapon system. Except in the US service, no concessions were made to the comfort or even the convenience of the crew. They were carried merely to serve the system, fitting in the spaces around the reload torpedoes and stores for the voyage, in most cases sharing bunks, ‘hot bunking’ with a shipmate from another watch and sleeping on unchanged sheets that became dirtier by the day. They were unable to bathe or shower, scarcely to wash hands and face, and frequently could not get dry after a wet spell on watch. There was often a queue for the fiendishly complex WC in the heads, and even that could not be used when submerged below about 70 feet because of the exterior pressure. Thereafter they were obliged to relieve themselves in buckets and empty bottles whose smell mixed with the confined, humid odour of diesel oil, past cooking, unwashed bodies, chlorine and stale bilges which permeated every area. They were forced to eat hashes of tinned food and dehydrated vegetables after the fresh provisions ran out, could not take proper exercise, could not even walk on the deck casing lest an enemy aircraft were sighted and the boat had to make an emergency dive; and when submerged for any length of time they were subject to nausea, splitting headaches and, if the mind were allowed to dwell on it, incipient claustrophobia. Paradoxically, the sheer frightfulness of conditions and the sense of vulnerability, and hence of mutual responsibility, engendered comradeship across barriers of rank which in turn ensured high morale, probably higher than in any other class of warship, irrespective of nationality. It depended, however, on a good CO; this meant above all an officer who, whatever his qualities or faults, the men felt they could trust.

It was a young man’s game. In the British service an officer was judged too old for operational command at 35. The US service began the war with COs for fleet submarines nearer 40 than 35 but many proved overcautious, which may have had more to do with unrealistic peacetime training than with age; they were soon replaced by younger officers whose aggression, helped by radar, was largely responsible for the devastating campaign which severed Japan from its external supplies. By the last year of the war most US submarine COs were in their early thirties, many not yet 30. In the German service a more dramatic decline in the age of COs was due to the loss of men in the Atlantic and the simultaneous expansion of the U-boat fleet; in the later years many German COs were under 25; youngest of all was Hans Hess, who was 21 when he took command of U995 in 1944.

Who in sound mind volunteered for the hazards of such an unnatural life? Before the war sufficient came forward in all navies, and it was only necessary to draft a few, mostly specialist ratings. Some would insist they joined for the extra allowance paid for service in submarines, or because they needed the extra money to get married. There were other powerful inducements: for officers, especially, responsibility and command came much earlier than in the surface fleet; for all hands there was the special camaraderie and informality of the close life aboard, and a different kind of discipline, maintained more by competence and self-respect than by mere rank. In a submarine more than in any other type of vessel each member of the crew was vital to the team; a mistake by any one person might lead to disaster. It was in every sense a close fraternity with all the certainties and reassurance of such, bonded by shared trials, miseries, unique hazards and proficiency in overcoming them. In every navy the submarine service was a club apart with a particular esprit de corps, attracting the bright and non-conformist seeking escape from the hierarchy and meaningless apple-polishing of a big-ship navy in peacetime. The future German aces, Prien, Schepke and Kretschmer, were of this type, as was the American submarine CO Ignatius Galantin, who wrote of his two years’ battleship service after graduating from the Naval Academy: ‘I became increasingly restive … I wanted to be free of the dull, repetitious, institutionalised life of the battleship navy, and to be part of a more personalised, more modern and flexible sea arm.’

As Galantin hints, the submarine was exciting as a new weapon at the forefront of naval technology and strategy. On the other hand it had retained from the first war the aura of clandestine, piratical operations by such COs as Martin Dunbar Nasmith, who had forced the nets, minefields and powerful currents of the Dardanelles to attack Turkish transports for Gallipoli in the Sea of Marmora; Max Horton, whose exploits in the Baltic had led the Germans to put a price on his head; and from the other camp Lothar von Arnauld de la Perière, ‘ace of aces’, whose record of ships and tonnage sunk remains unbeaten, and Dönitz’s first CO, Walter Forstmann, who stands only a little below Arnauld in the record book.

One of the distinguished band of British submariners (now Vice-Admiral Sir) Ian McGeoch has listed his reasons for volunteering:

I was a dedicated small boat sailor, and navigator in offshore racing yachts; I was keen to get the early command which submarine service offered; I was engaged to be married, so that the extra six shillings per diem was an attraction; and I had read most of the accounts of the operations of British submarines in WW1.

In both Germany and Japan, where youthful idealism was harnessed to a martial ethic, the submarine arms were deliberately raised to élites, their image enhanced by propaganda; in Germany posters depicted dashing U-boat heroes sailing under streaming pennants towards the enemy. Despite this, during the war both Germany and Japan, while attempting to maintain the fiction of an all-volunteer service, resorted increasingly to drafting suitable young men from the surface fleet, as indeed happened in Great Britain and America. But even when drafted, by no means all measured up to the physical and temperamental demands of submarine life. In all navies the submarine branch remained an élite of fit, stable young men from which temperamental misfits and those not prepared to pull their weight were very quickly weeded, or weeded themselves.

United States – Ticonderoga-class

During the 1980s, the United States and the Soviet Union continued production and ultimately produced some of the most powerful surface warships that have ever put to sea. In the United States, the penultimate cruiser resulted from a 1973 plan for a vessel known as a strike cruiser. American naval officials envisioned a nuclear-powered vessel that shipped the latest targeting systems, defensive missiles, antiship missiles, and cruise missiles that could deliver nuclear warheads as well as conventional explosives. The latter two systems were deemed important. An antiship capability was believed to be necessary given that the Standard missile, although it could be fired at a surface target, was too small to cause significant damage to a surface warship, and cruise missiles were needed to offset those of the Soviets. The cost of such a ship, however, was deemed too high by Congress, and the plan was consequently cancelled.

Even so, the idea of a vessel equipped with the newest missile control system did not die with the abandoned strike cruiser. The AEGIS Combat System was designed to not only control and coordinate the defense of a ship command the defense of entire task forces through the use of complex computers. First tested in 1973, AEGIS relies on a powerful radar, AN/SPY-1, that can simultaneously conduct searches and track more than 100 targets. This data is fed to the command center of a ship (CIC), where a computer evaluates which targets pose the greatest threat to the ship or task force and uses the vessel’s weapons accordingly to address the situation.

In order to make the best use of such a system, U. S. naval officials believed that a hull the size of a cruiser’s was necessary. The result was the completion of the 27 ships of the Ticonderoga-class between 1983 and 1994. The Ticonderoga cruisers measure 563 feet by 55 feet and displace 9,600 tons when fully loaded. In order to save money, these vessels are fitted with gas turbine engines that provide a maximum speed of 30 knots. The key feature is the AEGIS system, housed in the superstructure. Radar panels are mounted on the sides of the superstructure and provide a 360-degree arc of coverage; sonar systems provide underwater coverage. The data from these sensors are fed into the command center, which houses massive computer screens on the walls that reveal images of the space surrounding the ship and all ships, submarines, and aircraft within it. This system is directly linked to the weapons of the vessel. The first five ships are equipped with a primary armament of two twinarmed launchers, one each being located fore and aft. Both possess magazines that hold 88 missiles of varying types. Normally each magazine stores 68 Standard SAMs and 20 ASROC missiles. In ships constructed after the first five, the twin-armed missile launchers have been replaced by a vertical launch system (VLS) located in the forward section. This system is comprised of 144 canisters built into the hull.

Besides being able to launch SAMs and ASROC missiles, the Ticonderoga-class is also equipped with cruise missiles capable of being fired at naval and land targets. This addition greatly enhances the offensive capability of U. S. cruisers through the deployment of SSM systems that are far better than the limited surface ability afforded by the Standard system, originally intended as a surface-to-air defense. The smaller of these two weapons is the Harpoon missile.

The naval version of this missile was first deployed in the early 1980s and resembles the French Exocet antiship missile. It is still a primary weapon of the United States Navy and was first deployed on the Virginia-class cruisers when they were retrofitted. A Harpoon weighs 1,385 pounds and is 15 feet long. It carries a 488-pound warhead at a speed approaching Mach 1 and has a maximum range of almost 70 miles. Like Exocet, its guidance system allows it to home in on a target while skimming the ocean surface before striking the hull of an enemy vessel and exploding within. In the first five Ticonderoga-class cruisers, these missiles are mounted in box launchers that each contain four missiles. In later vessels, the Harpoon is shipped in the vertical launch system (VLS).

A larger and more powerful weapon, the Tomahawk cruise missile was deployed in 1986 and is among the most powerful offensive missiles in the arsenal of the United States Navy. This weapon weighs 2,900 pounds, but can weigh 3,500 pounds if it is equipped with a booster rocket for greater distance. It measures 18 feet, 3 inches, but length increases to 20 feet, 6 inches when the booster is included. The Tomahawk can carry a 1,000-pound conventional warhead or a nuclear payload out to 1,000 miles. The guidance system is extremely complex and allows for control that is largely independent of the ship that fires it. This guidance includes a targeting computer equipped with the Terrain Contour Mapping System (TERCOM). This system uses the missile’s radar to examine the topography ahead of it in order to match it to a three-dimensional map stored in the missile’s computer memory. The computer can correct the course of the weapon based on variations between the two maps. The Tomahawk is also equipped with Global Positioning System (GPS), which improves the reliability of the targeting data. Tomahawks also use Digital Scene Matching Area Correlation (DSMAC) during the final stages of flight. As the missile nears its target, DSMAC uses a camera to take a picture of the target, which the computer verifies. This equipment provides for great accuracy. The missile is extremely difficult to detect as it flies at a low altitude.

The Ticonderoga-class cruisers ship others weapons that augment missile capacity. Other than ASROC missiles, these ships carry two torpedo launchers that fire homing torpedoes, as well as two helicopters for use against submarines and surface vessels. They also carry two 5-inch fully automated guns in single mounts. One each is located in the forward and rear section of the ship. Finally, these vessels carry two Vulcan Phalanx Cannons for short-range defense. This technological innovation was ready for service in 1977 and is still in use in the United States Navy. This weapon is a 20mm Gatling gun that is fed by a magazine that holds 1,000 rounds. It was designed as a last measure of defense to destroy incoming missiles at close range, but it can also be used against aircraft. The gun can fire 100 rounds per second. It’s computer-controlled tracking system is built into the gun mount and can direct effective fire to a range of 500 to 1,500 yards.

The Vulcan Phalanx is viewed as a successful defense weapon, but the defensive measures on board the Ticonderoga-class vessels extend past the weapons systems to the inclusion of armor. This feature had been discarded in U. S. cruisers since the construction of Long Beach, but advances in technology have allowed its return as the lightweight, extremely strong material known as Kevlar. Although this armor, mounted primarily on the sides of the hull, cannot completely negate the destructive effects of larger missiles, it can localize the effects of a blast and thus decrease the damage caused by a hit.

These cruisers, in light of the computer systems, weapons, and armor, are certainly among the most powerful warships ever built.

AEGIS ships have a more effective radar at their disposal, however: the AN/SPY-1B/D/E passive phased array S-band radar can be seen as the hexagonal plates mounted on the ship’s superstructure. SPY-1 has a slightly shorter horizon than the SPS-49, and can be susceptible to land and wave clutter, but is used to search and track over large areas. It can search for and track over 200 targets, providing mid-course guidance that can bring air defense missiles closer to their targets. Some versions can even provide ballistic missile defense tracking, after appropriate modifications to their back-end electronics and radar software.

The 3rd component is the AN/SPG-62 X-band radar “illuminators,” which designate targets for final intercept by air defense missiles; DDG-51 destroyers have 3, and CG-47 cruisers have 4. During saturation attacks, the AEGIS combat system must time-share the illuminators, engaging them only for final intercept and then switching to another target.

In an era of supersonic anti-ship missiles that use final-stage maneuvering to confuse defenses, and can be programmed to arrive simultaneously, this approach is not ideal.

The US Navy’s Dual-Band Radar relies on products from 2 different manufacturers, but they’re integrated in a different way. They also use a different base technology. The use of active-array, digital beamforming radar technology will help DBR-equipped ships survive saturation attacks. Their most salient feature is the ability to allocate groups of emitters within their thousands of individual modules to perform specific tasks, in order to track and guide against tens of incoming missiles simultaneously. Active array radars also feature better reliability than mechanically-scanned radars, and recent experiments suggest that they could have uses as very high-power electronic jammers, and/or high-bandwidth secure communications relays.

Many modern European air defense ships, from the British Type 45 destroyers, to the Franco-Italian Horizon destroyers and FREMM frigates, to Dutch/German F124 frigates, use active array search and targeting radars.

Raytheon’s X-band, active-array SPY-3 Multi-Function Radar (MFR) offers superior medium to high altitude performance over other radar bands, and its pencil beams give it an excellent ability to focus in on targets. SPY-3 will be the primary DBR radar used for missile engagements. Many anti-ballistic missile radars are X-band, and the SPY-3 could also be adapted for that role with the same kinds of software/hardware investments and upgrades that some of the fleet’s S-band, passive phased array SPY-1s have received.

On surface combatants, the AN/SPY-3 would also replace the X-band AN/SPQ-9 surface detection and tracking radar that is used to guide naval gunfire, and even track the periscopes of surfacing submarines. On carriers, it would take over functions formerly handled by AN/SPN-41 and AN/SPN-46 PALS air traffic radars, and would work in conjunction with the new GPS-derived Joint Precision Approach Landing System (JPALS).

Lockheed Martin’s Volume Search Radar (VSR) is an S-band active array antenna, rather than the SPY-1’s S-band passive phased array. The Navy was originally going to use the L-band/D-band for the DBR’s second radar, but Lockheed Martin had been doing research on an active array S-band Advanced Radar (SBAR) that could potentially replace SPY-1 radars on existing AEGIS ships. A demonstrator began operating in Moorestown, NJ in 2003. That same year, its performance convinced the Navy to switch to S-band, and to make Lockheed Martin the DBR subcontractor for the volume search radar (VSR) antenna. It also convinced Lockheed Martin to continue work on the project as a complete, integrated radar, now known as “S4R”.

S-band offers superior performance in high-moisture clutter conditions like rain or fog, and is excellent for scanning and tracking within a very large volume. While Lockheed Martin makes the VSR antenna, the dual-band approach means that Raytheon is responsible for the radars’ common back-end electronics and software.

The VSR/S4R’s nearest competitor would be Thales’ SMART-L, an active array L-band/D-band radar that equips a number of European air defense ships, and South Korea’s Dokdo Class LHDs. Unlike the DBR, however, the ships carrying it use the conventional approach of completely separate radar systems, integrated by the ship’s combat system.

Svetlana class cruiser

By August 1914, the naval powers had produced cruisers in such numbers that they formed the largest class of warship with the exception of destroyers. The fewest but most powerful and expensive were battle cruisers: Great Britain operated nine battle cruisers, Germany five, and Japan two. The numbers of older armored, protected, and light cruisers built in the pre-dreadnought era was staggering. Britain led the world with 94, Germany and France had 36 each, the United States 34, Japan 19, Russia 18, Italy 13, and the Austro-Hungarian Empire had 11 vessels. In terms of modern cruiser construction of all types, Great Britain operated 30, Germany 20, Japan six, Italy four, the United States and Austria-Hungary three each, and Russia one. 5 All told, the world’s navies operated 343 cruisers that would serve a vital role in World War I.

First turbine-driven cruisers of the Russian fleet, projected taking into account experience of the Russian-Japanese war. They were built by two little differing series: Svetlana, Admiral Butakov, Admiral Spiridov and Admiral Greig for Baltic, Admiral Nahimov, Admiral Lazarev, Admiral Istomin and Admiral Kornilov for Black sea. All 8 ships were laid down prior to the beginning of the First World War, but any of them before revolution of 1917 was completed. 24/12/1920 the program has been accepted, according to which Svetlana and Admiral Nakhimov it was supposed to complete under original project.

Black Sea cruisers, according to the project, differed by increased displacement (7600t against 6800), dimensions, and also type and structure of machinery (Parsons turbines and 14 Yarrow boilers instead of 4 Curtis-AEG-Vulkan and 13 Yarrow-Vulkan boilers), in remaining ships were practically identical. Rather low-freeboard hull with a forecastle and a three-funnel outline profile gave them a certain likeness with Novik class destroyers. On trials Profintern made 29.5kts at 6800t displacement and 59200hp power. Chervona Ukraina shown average speed of 29.82kts and maximum 30.9kts To the beginning of Great Patriotic war boilers were converted to pure oil-firing, but speed characteristics nevertheless have notably decreased: so, in 1941 speed did not exceed 27.5kts, and in 1944 Krasny Krym made no more than 22kts.

Protection ensured unvulnerability from gunfire of destroyers. The main 75mm belt reached full ship length and adjoined an upper edge a lower deck. Above it the upper 25mm belt placed. Upper and lower decks had 20mm thickness. The protection of the same thickness covered funnel uptakes below deck level.

Deck-casemates arrangement of artillery and insufficient to measures of the Second World War calibre were a serious lack of the project.

The 6,800-ton cruiser Svetlana, ordered in 1912 for the Baltic Fleet, was completed and commissioned in 1928 as Profintern. Transferred to the Black Sea in 1930, she was renamed once again in 1939 to become Krasnyi Krym. She is seen here exchanging fire with German shore artillery off Odessa in 1941. She was the most successful of the Russian cruisers, taking part in numerous actions but never suffering serious battle damage.

In 1944 she was armed with fifteen 130mm, three twin 100mm AA, four 45mm AA, ten 37mm AA, seven 12.7mm machine-guns and two triple 456mm torpedo tubes. She could also carry 90 mines. Worn turbines limited her speed to 22 knots.


CSS Milledgeville

This one-of-a-kind vessel was a late-war design intended to be an improvement over the earlier standard hull types such as the Richmond class. As such, the Milledgeville had a similar hull structure to that of earlier ironclads but incorporated significant design changes. Fortunately, these changes are shown in extant plans of the ironclad bearing Constructor Porter’s signature. The Milledgeville was a twin-screw standard hull ironclad laid down in February 1863 by Henry Willink, the constructor of CSS Savannah and a prominent and skilled local shipbuilder. The new ironclad was 175 feet in length between perpendiculars, 185 feet in overall length, 35 feet 2 inches in molded beam, and 48.5 feet in extreme beam. It featured the late-war improvement of the flush deck design of the Columbia, which continued to flare up to main deck level instead of turning back at the waterline. This allowed for a wider main deck and more room for multiple pivot guns in the shortened casemate, which was covered with 6 inches of armor. Most important, the ship had a reduced draft of 9 feet.

The Milledgeville plans also show the general machinery arrangement of the ship, although its final configuration may have differed slightly. Unfortunately, like those of most other Confederate ironclads, the plans show little actual detail of the engines and boilers. Two circles scaled to approximately 30 inches in diameter representing single-cylinder horizontal engines are shown in the starboard plan view along with a boiler 14 feet long and 6 feet in diameter. Dimensions taken off the plans show that the Milledgeville had two boilers. Twin propellers 7 feet in diameter are shown at the stern. All the machinery was built by Columbus Naval Iron Works and should have given good service.

The Milledgeville’s completion was severely delayed, like many other Confederate ironclads. Willink’s prior commitments and design changes to the ship while under construction were the biggest factors. The Milledgeville was launched in the early fall of 1864 and was nearly complete when it was burned to prevent capture as Union forces under General Sherman reached Savannah on December 21, 1864. The ship was anchored and ready for towing out of harm’s way, but there were no vessels available to help. After removing some stores and readying the hulk for maximum destructive effect, the Confederates set fire to the ironclad; it was soon sunk.

The Milledgeville’s engines and most of its armor were installed by that time but were salvaged by the US Army Corps of Engineers in the 1890s. The current condition of the wreck is unknown—future archaeological surveys of the site may uncover new details.

<object class="wp-block-file__embed" data="; type="application/pdf" style="width:100%;height:600px" aria-label="Embed of <br>A Comparative Analysis of Confederate Ironclad

A Comparative Analysis of Confederate Ironclad

Dunkerque and the Strasbourg Battleships

Dunkerque as built.


The design of Dunkerque and Strasbourg was heavily influenced by the latest British practice. The battleships Nelson and Rodney, scaled-down versions of the G3 battlecruiser design of 1922, entered service in August and November 1927 respectively and had a major impact on the thinking of other navies. They introduced a number of revolutionary design features: an all-forward main armament with the machinery aft, a secondary battery in trainable twin turrets above the weather deck, a tower structure to carry the main fire control directors, and an inclined 14/13in armour belt topped by an exceptionally heavy armoured deck. The all-forward main armament placed the turrets at the broadest part of the hull to maximise protection for the magazines from shells and torpedoes. Locating the machinery aft saved on shaft length and therefore on weight. The inclined armour belt was equivalent to a thicker vertical belt, and a shell striking at an oblique angle was more likely to be deflected or broken up. And the secondary turrets had better all-weather capability, superior firing arcs and greater range than casemate-mounted guns; they also benefited from replenishment systems similar to those of the main guns, which gave them a high sustained rate of fire.

Many of the key features of the Nelson design were focused on securing complete protection for the magazines and machinery. In particular, the length of the armoured citadel was reduced to a minimum in order to maximise armour thickness; this ran counter to accepted practice in other navies, notably the US Navy, which saw the armoured belt as a protector not only of the ship’s vitals but also of its buoyancy and stability.

The French ships were by no means slavish copies of Nelson and Rodney, but the influence of the British ships on Dunkerque and Strasbourg and on their successors is readily apparent, particularly if the latter ships are compared with earlier French capital ship designs such as the 37,000-tonne battlecruisers. The all-forward main armament with the secondary guns in trainable turrets aft, the single funnel and heavy tower structure amidships, the inclined armour belt topped by a heavy armoured deck over the magazines and machinery, and the relatively short length of the armoured citadel (equivalent to approximately 58 per cent of length between perpendiculars); all these features were characteristic of the latest British capital ship designs, and distinguish Dunkerque and Strasbourg from the ‘paper’ designs of the 1920s. In her general configuration and layout Dunkerque is as different from the 37,000-tonne battlecruiser as the last French treaty cruiser Algérie from the Suffren class.

However, there were also many important design differences between the British and the French ships, some of which relate to the relatively high speed of the French ships and others which result from Dunkerque being designed almost ten years later, when naval technology had moved on. The Nelsons had a two-shaft propulsion system with eight boilers and two sets of turbines delivering 45,000shp for their designed speed of 23 knots; Dunkerque and her sister had four shafts, six boilers and four sets of turbines delivering 107,000shp for 29.5 knots. Although the Indret boilers developed for Dunkerque were large high-pressure models and were housed side by side in pairs, the three boiler rooms were necessarily longer than those of the Nelsons. Moreover, the four-shaft propulsion system required two separate engine rooms, so the machinery spaces occupied a length of 53.5 metres as compared with 41.5 metres in the British ships. The French vessels, however, had only two main gun turrets because of the adoption of quadruple mountings, so the machinery spaces could be moved farther forward and occupied a more central position, with the forward engine room (housing the turbines for the wing shafts) in the broadest part of the hull amidships. As a result, the secondary quad turrets could be located abaft the superstructures – in the Nelsons these were abeam the superstructures – enjoying excellent arcs on after bearings.

The layout adopted for Dunkerque freed up the stern for comprehensive aviation facilities which included a trainable 22-metre catapult and a two-tier hangar on the centreline served by a lift. Three long-range reconnaissance aircraft could be carried, which was a particularly valuable resource when the ships were hunting down enemy commerce raiders. By locating the big guns forward and the aircraft facilities on the quarterdeck, the risk of blast damage was eliminated, and the arrangement also had the advantage of placing the aircraft and the hangar close to the volatile aviation fuel, which in accordance with customary French practice was stowed in tanks isolated from the hull structure in the upper part of the stern.

Other novel features of the design included the mounting of fire control directors one above the other atop the forward tower and around the heavy pole mainmast. This arrangement was to have an unforeseen drawback, but it was certainly an ingenious way of economising on centreline space, and it ensured clear, uninterrupted training arcs for the directors. Considerable attention was also given to ‘passive’ protection measures such as subdivision, the layout of the machinery spaces, and the design and location of the main gun turrets. Despite the single funnel a ‘unit’ machinery arrangement was adopted, with one boiler room forward and the other two between the two engine rooms. This had the disadvantage of extensive – and poorly protected – uptake trunking leading from the forward boiler room above the main armoured deck to the single funnel, but enabled the ship to continue to steam with two or even three adjacent machinery compartments flooded or otherwise out of action. The quadruple turrets were divided into two independent gunhouses by a central 40mm bulkhead which extended down into the working chamber beneath the turret at a reduced thickness of 25mm. In order to minimise the risk of both turrets being disabled by a single shell or torpedo hit, they were separated by a distance of 28.5 metres – significantly greater than in the British Nelsons.


During the first four months of the war forty per cent of Allied ship losses resulted from magnetic mines; after that, the percentage of losses dropped by half. On the whole, while magnetic mines constituted an added hazard to navigation and a source of mental anxiety to the High Command, they caused less actual losses than might have been expected. In fact they proved less deadly than the more conventional weapons, such as submarines or surface raiders.

At the very beginning, however, the situation was at times so alarming that Winston Churchill, accompanied by Admiral of the Fleet Sir Dudley Pound, made a special trip to Maintenon to ask the French Navy for assistance.

Admiral Darlan, who, like General Gamelin, had a special train at his personal disposal, sent it to Cherbourg to pick up the distinguished guests. The French naval stewards who manned the dining car were ordered to make certain that there would be no lack of champagne and other spirituous refreshments. Consequently the atmosphere of the meeting was particularly cordial. The conference took place under the trees of the Parc de Noailles, a setting which somewhat astonished the English. But the exchange of views which took place was straightforward and without ulterior motive, for both sides had in mind the one objective of winning the war. Curiously enough, when one reflects on events which were to follow, Mr. Churchill declared to Admiral Darlan that he had complete confidence in the Admiral and his officers—but he would prefer that the French Navy Minister and the French politicians not be kept too well informed on operating plans as he, Mr. Churchill, did not consider them capable of keeping a secret!

The British were particularly interested in the large new French battleships. To meet German battleship and cruiser raids they had only battleships that were too slow or battle cruisers that were too thinly armored. Until the time the new Prince of Wales would be ready in 1941, the British were counting a great deal on the Dunkerque and the Strasbourg, as well as on the Richelieu, then nearing completion, and on the Jean Bart, under construction, which they asked be completed at the earliest possible moment.

French industry was to perform miracles in this respect; the British were far ahead in submarine detection gear, and they promised to provide the French Navy with a class of trawlers equipped with asdic.

Returning to London after his conference with the French Admiralty, Mr. Churchill informed the House of Commons on November 8, “I wish to point out to you the remarkable contribution of the French Navy, which has never been, for many generations, as powerful and effective as it is now.” Later, he was to write in his memoirs that French assistance “exceeded by a great deal all the promises made or engagements entered into before the war.”

A few days after the conference, and in the same spirit of fellowship, the British Admiralty asked for the assistance of French submarines in escorting the transatlantic convoys being formed at Halifax. To defend against German surface ships that might possibly be encountered, the convoy escort generally included one British battleship or cruiser and one submarine steaming in the midst of the merchant ship group. From November, 1939, to May, 1940, except for the middle of the winter, French submarines of 1,500 tons alternated with British submarines in escorting eight Halifax convoys. On the African coast, likewise, the British often requested French assistance in escorting British convoys for Sierra Leone and Cape Town.

With their resources strained by the transatlantic convoys, the Royal Navy no longer had enough ships to escort their important shipping which traversed the Suez Canal and the Mediterranean unguarded, but which had to be convoyed from Gibraltar to England. The French Navy agreed to take turns with the British Navy in escort duty on that essential route, and from October, 1939, to May, 1940, French destroyers, torpedo boats, and sloops provided the escort for 29 convoys in one direction and 27 in the other. Ships thus escorted totalled 2,100, of which 89 per cent were British or British-chartered vessels. Out of the 56 convoys, only four ships were lost—three British and one Greek.

These large convoys, sometimes numbering as many as 60 ships, were too unwieldy to burden them further by adding French ships bound from the Mediterranean or Morocco to French Atlantic ports. Moreover many of the older French merchant ships could not make the minimum required speed of nine knots to keep up with the English convoys. Consequently the French Admiralty was forced to sail its ships in small groups from Oran and Casablanca, and then form them into one convoy off Gibraltar for the run north; on the return voyage, the procedure was reversed. From October, 1939, to May, 1940, the Navy thus escorted almost 200 small convoys between the Bay of Biscay and Gibraltar. These convoys totalled 1,532 French or French-chartered ships, of which only seven were sunk by the enemy.

The greatest deficiency of the French Navy in antisubmarine warfare was in submarine detection devices. Rarely was a U-boat found on the surface where well-aimed guns would quickly eradicate it, and the only way to reach it down below was by depth bombs. Differently from the gun crews, for whom target practice was frequently held, there had been no practice at depth bombing with live charges. Consequently the ships too often mistook the great surface upheaval resulting from the explosion of the depth bomb as sure evidence of a “kill.” To reduce such erroneous reports to a minimum, the French Admiralty distributed a film on depth charging which showed the true crescent-shaped eddies formed on the surface by a series of explosions. Still, in order not to discourage the attackers, the Admiralty was quite liberal in giving credits to those who had pressed home an attack vigorously.

Up to May, 1940, the French Navy had recorded more than fifty attacks on submarines in the western theater, not counting numerous ineffectual searches. In the eastern end of the Channel, German submarine activity was practically zero, thanks to the effective Allied Pas-de-Calais minefield barrier, in which three U-boats were sunk during the month of October. Most of the reports of submarines sunk, however, were found to be erroneous. Such was the case with the U-boat which the Lorientaise reported it had sunk in the Bay of Biscay on January 19, 1940, and which a diver even claimed he had actually seen lying on the bottom. German archives, examined after the war, proved however that no U-boat was lost in that vicinity. Similarly the U-41, attacked with gunfire and depth charges by the Siroco in the Bay of Biscay on November 20, 1939, and reported sunk, was able to return to port and report the attack. These same German archives, however, confirmed the victory of the Simoun, which rammed and sank the U-54 on February 23, 1940—a sinking which had not been officially recognized by the French Admiralty at the time.

As for other attacks carried out in conjunction with British forces, the degree of success attributable to either will never be known. Such was the case of the U-55, attacked simultaneously on January 30, 1940, by the French destroyer Valmy and two British destroyers and a British plane.

The really important thing was that the U-boat had been sunk!

In addition to convoy escort and antisubmarine warfare—routine tasks in any naval war—numerous other missions devolved upon the French Naval Forces.

First there was the protection of the heavy troop movements at the beginning of the war: seven convoys transporting two divisions from Africa to the Rhine front; eight troop convoys from Marseilles and Algiers to Beirut, to form the Army of the Levant; and two convoys of British troops from Gibraltar to Malta, which were escorted by the French. In addition a steady stream of native African troops—45,000 men in nine months—began to flow from Dakar and Casablanca to France.

Other important convoys were those carrying the British Expeditionary Force to French soil—four modern divisions in 1939, and thirteen by the end of May, 1940. At first these landed at Brest and in the ports of the Loire, in order to be beyond range of German air raids. The escort was British, though French destroyers and fighter planes often participated in the protection of convoys carrying troops. Local patrols and the sweeping of harbors and harbor entrances for mines was the particular responsibility of the French.

The great minefield barrier which the Allied navies had laid across the Pas-de-Calais at the beginning of the war, had only two narrow passageways through it, each of which was guarded by microphones and other detection gear. One of these passageways was close to the English coast, and opened toward the Downs roadstead; the other was at the foot of Cape Gris-Nez, and opened toward Dunkirk. As its share in the barrier, the French Navy laid 1,000 mines, but within the next few weeks the swift Channel currents tore over 200 of them up and deposited them on the nearby beaches. But just as many British-laid mines washed up on these same beaches. With typical courtesy the French mine disposal officer disarmed these mines, disassembled them, greased them, and returned them to their British owners.

As soon as the Pas-de-Calais mine barrier was in place, the terminal ports for British military convoys were moved closer to the front. Saint-Malo replaced Brest, but the principal port of disembarkation was Cherbourg, where before April, 1940, over 300,000 men were landed without incident. On mail steamers from Boulogne, Calais, and Dunkirk a stream of sick or wounded men, of non-combatants from various organizations, and of men on leave crossed the Channel for England, sometimes as many as 2,000 or 3,000 within a day.

It was not only in the Channel that the French Navy cooperated in ensuring the safety of British troop convoys; in December, 1939, London requested the loan of the Dunkerque to escort a Halifax-to-England convoy of seven passenger liners carrying Canadian troops to join the British Expeditionary Corps in Europe.

Other crossings requiring special care were the convoys carrying gold. Not only was the United States of America not in the war at that time, but it was so fearful of being dragged in that a special neutrality law—the “cash and carry” law—governed all dealings with the belligerents. Under the law these latter were required to pay for all purchases in cash and then to transport the goods themselves, as American ships were forbidden to enter the war zone. The Allies had to transport the purchased goods either in their own ships or in neutral ships chartered by them. When the Allies ran out of U.S. dollars, the only currency the Americans would accept was gold.

In November, 1939, the battleship Lorraine, escorted by two cruisers, carried the first shipment of gold to the United States; on its return it escorted a convoy of merchant ships loaded with airplanes. When in December the Dunkerque went to Halifax to escort the Canadian troop convoy mentioned above, it deposited there, as at a teller’s window in a bank, 100 tons of gold. The aircraft carrier Béarn, going to pick up airplanes in the United States, took over 250 tons of gold, and the passenger liner Pasteur an additional 400 tons. The cruiser Emile Bertin started for America with 300 tons, but the armistice intervened and she was diverted to Fort-de-France, in the island of Martinique, instead.

In addition to safeguarding the transfer of all this gold without a penny’s loss, the French Navy also rescued, via Beirut, 78 tons of gold belonging to the Republic of Poland—gold which later figured in important diplomatic exchanges at the time of the evacuation of the reserves of the Bank of France when the country was invaded by the Germans.

Nor was the Navy’s part confined to the mere convoying of ships; it also mounted offensive operations against surface raiders which threatened them.

The operations of the German surface raiders are now well known, but in 1939 the Chiefs of Staff in London and Maintenon could not deduce the German plans from the maze of information, both true and false, which poured in from all over the world.

On September 30, for instance, news was received of the sinking of the English freighter Clement, sunk in the South Atlantic by a German pocket-battleship. The French battleship Strasbourg promptly sailed from Brest for Dakar on October 7, to join the British aircraft carrier Hermes in forming a “killer group.” The Strasbourg would be relieved later by two heavy cruisers from the French Mediterranean Squadron. These “killer groups” made periodic sweeps of the tropic seas, and eventually the raider, identified by then as the Admiral Graf Spee, was brought to action off the Río de la Plata on December 13, 1939, by a British force under Commodore Henry Harwood. Damaged, and driven into the neutral harbor of Montevideo, the Graf Spee scuttled herself. Perhaps her refusal to come out for a final fight was due in part to a rumor, carefully “leaked” by the French, that several large ships were cruising off the Río de la Plata.

A second German raider, the Deutschland, was reported loose in the North Atlantic on October 21. The Dunkerque and a division of cruisers promptly put to sea to safeguard to its destination an unescorted British convoy from the West Indies.

A month later a British auxiliary cruiser was sunk north of Scotland by the German battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau. Believing mistakenly that the blow had been struck by the Deutschland, which in reality had already returned to Germany undetected, the British sent out a search group built around the Dunkerque and the British battle cruiser Hood, which swept the northern seas unsuccessfully from November 25 to December 2.

In the Indian Ocean the French heavy cruiser Suffren was escorting Australian convoys, while in the Atlantic joint patrols searched for the Altmark, the Graf Spee’s supply ship. But the Altmark escaped all its hunters until two months later when it was intercepted in Norwegian waters, bare hours from the safety of its home port.

Also watched by the French Navy were certain areas suspected of running supplies to enemy ships at sea. One such area was the Iberian Peninsula. Spain was proclaimedly neutral, but her government was indebted to the Germans for help rendered during the Civil War. Also many German merchant ships, caught at sea by the war, had taken refuge in Spanish ports, especially Vigo. The British and French Admiralties suspected that some of these ships were secretly taking supplies out to enemy submarines or even enemy cruisers at sea. Therefore the French Navy had its light craft, during the entire war, patrolling the approaches to the Cantabrian coast and the principal ports from Bilbao to Vigo. French airplanes and even French submarines participated in these patrols at the beginning. Nevertheless, out of the score or more of German merchant ships that were reported to have slipped out of Spain’s northeast ports between September, 1939, and May, 1940, only two were intercepted. Of these one was captured, and the other was scuttled by its crew.

As for German submarines slipping in and obtaining supplies from German merchant ships anchored in Spanish harbors, even today little is really known.

The French naval attaché at Madrid sent in reports giving in detail the identifying numbers of German submarines supposed to have been supplied from merchant ships anchored in Spanish ports. German records examined after the war proved, however, that none of these particular submarines had been within hundreds of miles of Spain at the times cited. On the other hand a German submarine commander made an official report, as evidenced by the German archives, that he had had to forego seeking the shelter of the Spanish coast in order to recharge his batteries, because the sector was too closely patrolled by the French for safety.

In addition to all the areas mentioned thus far, the French Navy was also responsible for patrolling the regions of the Azores and of the Canary, Madeira, and Cape Verde Islands, where some German freighters and tankers had taken refuge. On several occasions our own submarines or auxiliary cruisers would investigate these suspected areas, and on September 23, 1939, the French submarine Poncelet captured the German freighter Chemnitz, which had slipped out of Las Palmas and was attempting to get back to Germany. In October a joint Franco-British “killer group” intercepted the German freighter Halle, which scuttled itself, and captured the German Santa Fe. In the middle of the following month the German freighter Trifels was captured by the French auxiliary cruiser Koutoubia, while trying to get away with 21,000 cases of gasoline. On February 14, 1940, a prize crew from the small sloop Elan sailed into Brest with the German Rostock, captured off the Spanish coast three days earlier.

But the most extraordinary episode was that of the German freighter Corrientes, which on the night of May 9 suddenly blew up with a mysterious explosion while trying to get under way in the Las Palmas roadstead. Now it can be revealed that the explosion was caused by two audacious officers from the French freighter, Rhin, cruising off the port, who swam in and placed limpet mines against the underwater hull of the German ship.

But convoy escorting, blockade duty, and vain “killer” patrols were not enough to fill a need for activity which the Italian status of nonbelligerency left unsatisfied in the Mediterranean. At the suggestion of the French Navy, the Royal Navy accepted the offer of a few French submarines to assist in keeping the watch in the North Sea against a possible sortie by the German forces.

The French submarine tender Jules Verne, with a division of 600-ton submarines, arrived at Harwich on March 23, 1940. A month later another division of 600-ton submarines as well as a division of 1,500-ton boats reported at Harwich, bringing the total to 12 submarines thus placed at the disposal of the British Command. The force was further increased by the submarine minelayer Rubis, since the services of such a vessel had also been requested by the British.

But the hazardous operations of this flotilla in German waters more properly belongs to the account of the Norwegian expedition and therefore will be told in that chapter, along with the equally fascinating story of the super-destroyers of our Fantasque-class in the grim battles of the North Sea.

Fifteen Days of War in the Mediterranean

It was a strange aberration that led Benito Mussolini to the balcony of the Palazzo di Venezia on June 10, 1940, to announce to the world the entry of Italy into the war. Strange, because he had made apparently sincere attempts to prevent the outbreak of war during that month of August, 1939. Upon the outbreak of hostilities he had immediately declared his country a nonbelligerent. Like the democracies, he had sided with Finland against the invading Russians. All along he had permitted Italian industry to fill French orders for war materials. In short, while remaining technically faithful to the Axis pact, he had given proof of intelligent moderation. Now he had suddenly given France the “stab in the back.” In actuality it was not France, but his own country, to which he was giving the coup de grâce.

There is no doubt that the Allies’ decision at London to blockade Germany by placing an embargo on her exports, even though these were carried in neutral ships, was a serious blunder. The Italians were exasperated by the stopping and boarding of their colliers bringing German coal to Italy, and still more exasperated when the embargo forced them to import this needed coal by rail over the Brenner Pass. Also there was undoubtedly a deep aversion between the Fascist leaders and many statesmen of the democracies. Nevertheless none of these reasons was sufficient to bring Italy into the war—which in the case of France could be considered almost fratricidal—and Italian opinion, including the military, was all against it.

The only explanation for Mussolini’s declaration of war is, perhaps, the slogan that circulated in Rome: “To participate in the peace, one must participate in the war.” Germany’s quick success in Norway had disturbed Mussolini. Now, with France apparently breaking up, he thought he had better get in a few quick shots if he wanted to sit down as a conqueror at the peace conference afterward—a conference where he could demand Nice, Corsica, Tunis, etc., as Italy’s legitimate compensation for participating in the victory.

The Allied Navies had been preparing against just such an action by Mussolini ever since the beginning of April. At that time responsibility for the Mediterranean was divided by agreement between the two Allies: the French Navy was to have responsibility for the western half, the Royal Navy for the eastern half. Although the British, strained by the demands of the Norwegian campaign, had given thought to asking the French Navy to take over the responsibility for the entire Mediterranean, it had been decided to adhere to the original agreement, with some slight modifications.

For instance, it was decided that as a precaution against Italy’s entry into the war, the French Raiding Force should be transferred immediately from Brest to the western Mediterranean, and that in addition another French squadron should be sent temporarily to the eastern Mediterranean where at the time the English had only some light forces.

In accordance with this plan, Admiral Gensoul’s squadron, consisting of the Dunkerque, Strasbourg, and several light groups, sailed for Mers-el-Kebir, French Algeria, arriving there on April 27. An improvised squadron called Force X, consisting of the old battleships Lorraine, Bretagne, and Provence, plus several heavy cruisers and some light craft, all commanded by Vice Admiral René Godfroy, were sent to Alexandria. They joined Admiral Sir Andrew Cunningham’s two old British battleships which had just arrived there. Three weeks later, when Admiral Cunningham’s squadron was reinforced from England, the Bretagne and the Provence returned to the western Mediterranean; the Lorraine remained, to form part of a British division.

Thus, in order to cope with the Italian Fleet, the Allies had made strategic dispositions as follows: at Toulon, the Third French Squadron, of 4 heavy cruisers and a dozen destroyers; at Mers-el-Kebir and Algiers, Admiral Gensoul’s fast battleships Dunkerque and Strasbourg, and two older and slower battleships under Rear Admiral Jacques Bouxin, plus two cruiser divisions and many destroyers; at Bizerte, six divisions of French submarines; at Malta, a number of British submarines; and finally, at Alexandria, a British squadron and Force X, under the over-all command of Admiral Cunningham.

In basing the large ships of the Allied navies at the ends of the Mediterranean, far from Italian airfields, the Allied leaders were perhaps according the Italian Air Force the same respect they gave the Luftwaffe—something which experience later proved was overrating it.

Admiral, South (Admiral Esteva), who had cordial personal relationships with Admiral Cunningham, set up his headquarters at Bizerte. In anticipation of hostilities with Italy, British maritime traffic between the eastern and the western Mediterranean had been suspended and the ships routed around Africa. But in the western waters, traffic between France and North Africa continued as usual, under protective cover of the air forces of the 3rd and 4th Naval Districts and of the escort and patrol divisions in that area.

On May 15 the strategic plan had been formed that, if Italy entered the war, the Allies should attack that very night, should bombard her bases and industrial centers, and should shoot up her coasts to try to provoke the Italian Navy into coming out to fight. For aerial bombing, some Royal Air Force squadrons had been based in Provence, where they were in striking distance of the Po valley factories. The French 3rd Cruiser Squadron was to bombard the petroleum tank farms and other military installations in the Gulf of Genoa. The code name for this operation was “Vado.”

Other operations were to follow without delay: the Toulon forces were to strike in the Tyrrhenian Sea; the forces at Bizerte and Algiers were to raid southern Italy and Sicily; and the Alexandria forces were to strike in the Dodecanese and along the coasts of Cyrenaica.

Hostilities began at midnight on June 10. At 0850 on the morning of June 11 the French Admiralty sent out the order to execute Vado that evening. The English were informed that the French would rely on the assistance of their aviation units as previously planned. Admiral Emile Duplat, of the 3rd Cruiser Squadron, received orders to go ahead even if the French Air Force could not provide him with air cover. When the order was confirmed at 1735 that afternoon, the cruiser force was assembled in the Salins d’Hyères roadstead, with turbines warmed up, waiting for night to fall so they could get under way and strike the target at daybreak.

Then, 22 minutes later, came the unexpected counterorder: “Cancel Vado. Cancel preceding dispatches. This is a Government order.”

Admiral Duplat sent a respectful but firm protest, but all in vain. Once more he was told that it was not the Admiralty but the Government which had given the counterorder.

Gloom settled over the ships. The crews had to be informed. The squadron made a crestfallen return to Toulon, since the Salins roadstead was poorly defended against air attacks.

What was going on?

The truth gradually came out. At Briare that day, during a Ministers’ conference one or them had remarked that, considering the position of France at the time, it seemed to him foolish to provoke the Italian Air Force unnecessarily by taking the offensive. This opinion had prevailed, and Admiral Darlan had had to abide by it. General Joseph Vuillemin, Chief of Staff of the French Air Force, received orders to stop the R.A.F. squadrons which were just getting ready to take off.

The decision thus made created considerable excitement. Churchill mentions it with decided acidity.

It is known that on June 10 the Italian Air Force was under very restrictive instructions: reconnaissance flights alone could be made, and these could not fly over the French coasts. It was really a most unusual war!

But the next day Mussolini lifted these restrictions. On June 12, some 21 Italian Savoia-79 bombers attacked Bizerte, damaging a few planes and setting fire to some gasoline drums on the Sidi Ahmed airfield.

Darlan thereupon managed to obtain a reversal1 of the counterorder. Vado would be carried out. Not that night, because there was not time enough, but on the night of June 13.

“Bizerte having been bombarded, the Government authorizes reprisals. The 3rd Squadron will carry out Vado the night of June 13. . . . Give British air squadrons freedom of action to attack.” Admiralty message, 2250, June 12.

As if to sweep away all French scruples, the Italians bombed Toulon that night, but so timidly that the French commander requested the antiaircraft batteries to save their ammunition.

The exact results of the shelling by the ships of Admiral Duplat at daybreak on June 14 have never been assessed. What counted were the exultant reports brought back by those who had participated in the action.

The squadron had approached the Italian coast in two groups, and despite enemy fire had carried out the bombardment exactly as planned. The Italian resistance had been feeble. Enemy aviation did not show up at all. Four or five motor torpedo boats attacked, but without success, and lost one ship for their temerity. Only one French ship was hit—the destroyer Albatros, which was struck in the fireroom by a 152-mm. shell, resulting in 10 men burned to death. She continued her firing, however, and returned with the rest of the squadron at 25 knots.

The first group consisted of Algérie and Foch; the second, of Dupleix and Colbert. Each group was escorted by two divisions of destroyers.

That same night the R.A.F. attacked the industrial centers of northern Italy, and the airplane Jules Verne,3 of Naval Air, gained laurels by bombing the gasoline storage tanks of Porto Maghere, at Venice.

The Jules Verne was a 4-engine commercial-type Farman plane with a 6,000-kilometer range of action. It had been requisitioned by the Navy to carry out scouting missions over the Atlantic. Though it had a negligible armament, it could carry over 4 tons of bombs. Manned by a crack crew under command of Lieutenant Commander Henri Daillière, the Jules Verne, during May and June of 1940, carried out a series of very risky operations over the enemy’s lines at Aachen, Flushing, and Rostock. It even ranged as far as Rome, where it flew several times to drop propaganda leaflets.

Its most famous operation was the bombing of Berlin—the first such action of the war—which it accomplished on June 8, despite violent antiaircraft fire. When the bombing officer had nothing left to drop on his objective, he took off his hobnailed boots and held them threateningly over the heads of the Berliners. The same petty officer, on a trip over Rome, became very worried because a bundle of leaflets he had dropped had failed to open. His comrades assured him that without a doubt he had made a direct bull’s-eye on the Vatican!

The following day Admiral Cunningham carried out a raid in the Dodecanese with two battleships, an aircraft carrier, and light forces. From Beirut, in Lebanon, Admiral Godfroy led the cruisers of Force X to the vicinity of the straits of Casso. The Bizerte submarines set up a barrier line in the central Mediterranean. Admiral Gensoul had sortied from Mers-el-Kebir on the false report4 that a German squadron was preparing to drive past the Straits of Gibraltar into the Mediterranean.

The origin of this false bit of intelligence lay in two suspected shadows—German supply ships, in fact—which had been detected in the Iceland-Faeroes channel several days earlier by the Northern Patrol, at the time of the sortie of the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, during the evacuation of Narvik.

Surprisingly, almost no enemy submarines were sighted during all these operations. One launched an unsuccessful torpedo attack against a cruiser of the Raiding Force; another sank a Swedish freighter and a British cargo ship; a third, damaged, had to intern itself at Spanish Ceuta. Not a single enemy surface ship had shown itself.

Despite the entry of Italy into the war, French morale was high, and neither they nor their English allies had any idea of giving up control of the Mediterranean.

Merchant shipping in the western Mediterranean, which had been suspended on June 10, was resumed on the 12th. The ships followed the French and North African coastal routes as far as Port Vendres and Oran, respectively; there they were formed into convoys and routed, under escort, well to the westward of the Balearic Islands, as far as possible from enemy bases. One of these escorts, the French sloop Curieuse, rammed and sank the Italian submarine Provana 30 miles south of Cape Palos, on June 16.

Meanwhile, back in France, General René Olry’s Army of the Alps, reduced to three divisions, was holding its own against Italian attacks on the frontier. But on June 18, the Germans, rushing down the valley of the Saône, entered Lyons; on the 21st they occupied Clermont-Ferrand. To prevent his flank being turned, General Olry had to pivot hurriedly along the line of the Isère River. Instinctively reacting in the same way it had done when Paris was threatened, the Toulon navy yard rushed twenty 47-mm. and 65-mm. guns to that front, where their sailor crews distinguished themselves against German tanks at Voreppe, near Grenoble.

Here was the enemy in the valley of the Rhône. The usual throng of fugitives was swarming on all roads leading south. On June 21 a German bombing attack on Marseilles sank the passenger liner Chella and killed or wounded hundreds of civilians.

The port of Marseilles was one of the principal evacuation ports of southern France. Through here were routed not only many civilians, but also large detachments of troops and enormous quantities of raw materials—copper, brass, zinc, tin, molybdenum, petroleum etc. These invaluable strategic materials were hustled out of France ahead of the invaders, and were hidden in North Africa on the chance that there would come a day when France would reenter the fight.

During the days preceding the armistice, the majority of merchant vessels in French harbors got under way as soon as loaded and proceeded without waiting for convoy protection. But contrary to what was happening on the Atlantic side, shipping in the Mediterranean did not sustain a single loss from enemy mine, plane, or submarine.

People have asked why at this time the Navy did not evacuate a large part of the French Army, in order to continue the war from Africa.

As a matter of fact, all military groups which arrived at the docks of the French Mediterranean ports were evacuated. Even the Polish troops, for whom the Navy had no transports available when they first arrived, were safely carried away by the English—especially since they wanted to go to England, and not North Africa.

After the evacuation of Dunkirk and the ports of the north, the Royal Navy extended its evacuation operations—“Operation Aerial”—to retrieve all British troops and supply services still in France. It succeeded in evacuating approximately 180,000 men—including Polish troops—through Atlantic ports as far south as Saint-Jean-de-Luz, and slightly more than 10,000 through French Mediterranean ports.

One of the most interesting of such operations was the evacuation to Algeria of the entire movable stock of the French Air Force—trucks, cranes, tank cars, repair shops, spare parts, bombs, etc. This important material arrived at Port Vendres in sufficient time because the Air Force General Staff issued the necessary orders far enough in advance. At the same time all operational planes were being flown to North Africa.

The only way more troops could have been evacuated would have been for half of them to dig in and hold the Germans off while the other half hurried to the seaports and embarked. Such an operation would have been possible only if the plans had been made three or four weeks earlier, when there was still something of a front on the Somme and on the Aisne. But it was impossible for a single force to hold a front on the north and simultaneously retreat toward the south.

Also, it would have been necessary to assemble the required number of transports well in advance. At Dunkirk all that had been required was to evacuate, across a narrow strait, troops who had abandoned all of their equipment. But in the Mediterranean, if the evacuated troops were to carry on the war, it would have been necessary to load aboard with them the material they would need overseas—arms, ammunition, food, vehicles, petroleum—everything.

And to transport a single division overseas, with its necessary supplies and equipment, it was estimated that 20 suitable ships would be required. By violating all rules, it could have been done with half that number—but this would mean carrying men and nothing else, for while men can be squeezed, equipment is incompressible.

Briefly, it would have required 100 ships if it had been desired to embark, for example, 100,000 to 120,000 troops. And because of the demands for vessels in the Norway operation and in the evacuation of the Atlantic ports, the bulk of French Mediterranean shipping had been rushed to the Atlantic side of France. The same was true of English shipping, as the Mediterranean in principle was closed to it and everything was being routed around the Cape of Good Hope. Lastly, up until June 15, there was still talk of establishing a Breton Redoubt, which would have required additional shipping.

It is true that around June 12 the French Government did ask the Navy to plan for the evacuation of several hundred thousand men, without being able to give the dates or even the embarkation ports, Atlantic or Mediterranean. In order to obtain the necessary tonnage, the President of the Council, Paul Reynaud, had decided to ask the British for assistance, and had sent General de Gaulle, Assistant Secretary of the Army, to London on that mission, as has been previously mentioned.

General de Gaulle’s trip was useless insofar as that mission was concerned. For the British had no time or ships to spare. Furthermore, there were no troops to embark. There were French ships in the Mediterranean sufficient to evacuate—as they did—all those who presented themselves at the evacuation ports during those days just before and after the armistice. These evacuations averaged several thousand troops each day, plus some civilians.

Since it was well known that armistice talks were in progress, there was not a person in the Navy who was not aching to fire a few last rounds or drop a few last bombs on the enemy before the end of the war—a day which they anticipated with great bitterness.

They just missed such an opportunity in the western Mediterranean on June 23. Some important French convoys were at sea that day between Marseilles and Oran. The 4th Cruiser Division, under Rear Admiral Jean Bourragué, with escorting destroyers, was convoying them. Coming out of their lethargy, the Italians had sent out a light task force, the Sansonetti squadron, the day before. After having steamed as far west as Minorca, these Italian ships were returning to their Sardinian bases when they were sighted by a French plane. The 3rd Cruiser Division, under Rear Admiral André Marquis, immediately got under way from Algiers to intercept them, but contact was lost and the enemy was not brought to battle.

In the eastern Mediterranean, the Lorraine sortied on June 20 with the British division to which she was attached. She bombarded Bardia, in Italian Cyrenaica, on June 21.

The French armistice delegation was meeting with the Italian delegates in Rome at that very time. When the news of the Bardia bombardment, as well as of the bombing of Trapani and Leghorn by French naval air squadrons, was given to the French delegates, a furtive smile lit up their faces. The Italians had the good taste to consider it all just a routine matter.

On the evening of June 22 the entire Franco-British squadron at Alexandria was scheduled to put to sea to bombard Augusta and to raid toward Messina, and to wipe out all Italian communications with Libya. The French cruisers were about to cast off from the buoys when suddenly the British battleships reversed course and Admiral Cunningham sent a signal cancelling the operation. The French were to learn later that the order to do so came from London direct.

The armistice with Germany had just been signed, and Churchill was taking no chances. In Churchill’s eyes it was imperative that French Force X be immobilized in the Alexandria roadstead, under control of the British, the moment the armistice became effective. It was the same pattern as was to be followed in the case of all French ships taking refuge in Great Britain; in fact the British admirals at Portsmouth and Plymouth were receiving orders to that effect at that very moment.

The French Navy had fired its last shots. But it was only now that its real trials and tribulations were to begin.

Higgins LCVP Wartime Service

LCVP No 22 from USS Dickman (APA-13) at Normandy. Note the safety lines hanging from the side in case someone falls overboard.

During the Second World War the LCVP was used in almost all theatres, including North Africa, Sicily, mainland Europe, the Pacific and the Far East. As a result, there are many veterans’ accounts of their experience of landing from an LCVP. Seasickness was rampant and oftentimes troops stepped off the ramp in deep water ‑ sometimes over their heads ‑ because obstructions and other debris prevented the LCVP from reaching the beach itself. Boarding an LCVP was difficult in heavy seas using the scrambling nets as ladders. One had to judge when to let go and jump into the boat at the highest point in the wave. The side armour was limited in extent so when during an opposed landing, troops had to hunker down to benefit from the armour protection. But once beached, the LCVP could be quickly unloaded, much faster than many of its competitors. When leaving the craft, troops in columns were told to jump out to one side or the other of the ramp since there was a possibility that the boat would move forward as it became lighter and the wave action pushed it in further, risking injury to any soldier directly in front of the ramp.

In preparation for an assault landing on a beachhead, a complete checkout of the boat, including installing drain plugs, was carried out, just before the LCVPs were off-loaded from the parent attack transport (APA; the largest of these carried over twenty LCVPs). Just before the LCVP was lowered into the sea, the engine was started to make sure it was running properly. Once on the water, the forward and aft falls (block and tackle) were released, and the LCVP then moved out to a holding pattern circle as shown below. The holding pattern to starboard circled clockwise; that to port, counter clockwise. Spacing between boats in a holding circle was approximately one and one half boat lengths, with speed kept to the minimum that allowed steerageway, which might vary depending on wind and sea conditions. As space became available alongside the APA, an LCVP was called in to load troops. The loading stations alongside the APA were marked with a colour code and number and had a net in position for the troops to use when climbing down into the boat. After loading, the LCVP then went back to the holding circle at the assembly area.

Assembly formation of LCVPs.

After all boats in the assembly area were loaded, the command was then given to move to the rendezvous area. The LCVPs peeled off, being led by a control boat that guided the flotilla to the rendezvous. The control boat was typically a Eureka boat modified with a cabin, communication and radar equipment. The single line ahead formation makes it easy to direct the LCVPs to the rendezvous area. However, if there were a threat of air attack, the LCVPs would scatter and follow in the general direction of the control boat. The flotilla was flanked by support boats, which might carry rockets for the assault, smoke screen equipment or heavy weapons to back-up the flotilla. The support craft might be modified Eureka boats or Patrol Torpedo (PT) boats. The two control boats that define the rendezvous area are shown at the top of the figure. The LCVPs line up in a flank or wave formation when reaching the rendezvous.

Plan of formation for moving to the rendezvous area.

Shown above is the assault wave at the line of departure, ready to hit the beach. The boats are sitting at idle and will proceed at the signal to attack. When the signal is given, the wave starts toward the beach at about 3/4 power keeping the wave lined up. After the support boats have delivered their ordinance, the command is given for full throttle and the LCVPs proceed to the beach at maximum speed.

M80 Stiletto

The M80 Stiletto is a recently built naval prototype manufactured by the M Ship Company as an operational experimental platform for the US Navy. It has an unusual catamaran (pentamaran) hull design which makes extensive use of carbon-fibre construction for both strength and stealth. The M80 Stiletto is an American vessel designed primarily for littoral combat and shallow water roles taking its name from the Italian Stiletto – a short dagger. This 27 m-long vessel has an M-shaped hull providing a stable and fast platform for surveillance, weapons and special operations (Figure 7.16). Its shallow draft means the M80 Stiletto can operate in littoral and river environments that other naval vessels cannot operate in (due to their draught) and can even allow for amphibious assault if needed. The Stiletto is equipped with four 1,232 kW engines, modest by comparison with the power levels of the Type 45 Destroyer, but has a top speed over 50 knots and has a range of some 500 NM when fully loaded! It uses jet drives for shallow water operations and beaching and a small flight deck for the launch and retrieval of several UAVs. The Stiletto can set up a communications network between special inserted forces teams by launching a UAV to relay information between the team and the boat, and can send real-time images to the team on shore. The ship is 88.6 ft long, with a width of 40 ft (12 m) and a height of 18.5 ft (5.6 m), and with a surprisingly small draft of just 2.5 ft (0.8 m).

The Stiletto is the largest US naval vessel yet built using carbon-fibre composite and advanced maritime epoxy building techniques, to yield a light but strong hull with a very low RCS to avoid radar detection. The M80’s hull is unusually wide to capture the vessel’s bow wave and redirect the wave energy under the hull. The Stiletto’s double-M hull enables the craft to achieve as smooth a ride as possible in rough seas at high speed, critical for Navy SEALS and Special Operations Forces.

In some ways, this is a practical small-scale supercessor to the US Sea Shadow, which after its Lockheed Martin test days of the 1980s was for a few years used by Northrop Grumman for initial research towards the recently abandoned Zumwalt programme. As a final note perhaps to the history of the Sea Shadow (developed at a cost of a little over £110 million), this stealthy platform was recently offered to be given away along with its barge for free to any museum that would take it. The barge itself was built over 35 years ago to raise a sunken Soviet submarine, but since 2005 both have been housed in San Diego, California.