We are currently running an early Med campaign between the Brits and the Italians with the French as an on again, off again side show. This is a turn in which the Vichy were on again.
3 July 1940
Vice Admiral Somerville (Jim O’Neil) having delivered Churchill’s ultimatum to Vice Admiral Gensoul (Ken Winn) received the French reply of “Merde” with trepidation. Somerville had already given the French more leeway then Churchill wanted and reluctantly opened fire at 1730 hours.
Somerville’s plan of action was as follows; HMS Enterprise along with destroyer divisions 15 (DD Faulknor, Foxhound & Fearless) and 16 (DD Forester, Foresight & Escort) would act as an anti-sub screen proceeding the battle line.
The battle line under Somerville’s flag would comprise in order, HMS Hood, Valiant and Resolution. The battle line expected to find the French battle line moored stern to quay and fire disposition was Hood vs Strasbourg; Valiant vs Dunkerque and Resolution vs Bretagne. They would open fire at 18,000 yards and the first ship to disable its target would then shift fire to Provence. After that it would be targets of opportunity. The last destroyer division present was comprised of the old destroyers Wrestler, Vidette and Vortigern and was tasked with screening the flanks of the battle line.
HMS Ark Royal remained some five nautical miles further out to sea guarded by HMS Arethusa and the destroyers Active and Keppel. Ark Royal’s first mission was to launch five flights of Swordfish with an escort of three flights of Fulmars to mine the harbor entrance. She then launched seven flights of Skuas; three to target the Commandante Teste and three to target destroyers. Her final effort was to launch her last three available Swordfish loaded with torpedoes to target any ships escaping the harbor.
Vice Admiral Gensoul’s command was in a bad spot indeed. His ships were moored stern into the quay. He had ordered steam raised, but his ships would take time to get under way. Of course they would also have to avoid collision with all the ships trying to escape the harbor as quickly as they could. As soon as the British opened fire, he order the fleet to sea.
The French Fleet under Vice Admiral Gensoul consisted of the battle cruisers Strasbourg and Dunkerque; the battleships Bretagne and Provence; the scout divisions 6 (Mogador & Volta), 4 (Tigre & Lynx), 9 (Kersaint) and 10 (Le Terrible). There were also the destroyer divisions; 7 (Tramontane, Tornade & Typhon), 8 (Bordelais & Trombe), 5 (Brestois & Boulonnais) and 13 (La Bayonnaise & La Poursuivante). There was also the sea plane carrier Commandante Teste.
Gensoul’s plan was to form line of battle in the order of Strasbourg, Dunkerque, Provence and Bretagne with the destroyers in the van. His battle cruisers would not be able to return fire until they had opened their broadside arcs to the British, but Provence and Bretagne returned fire immediately with their stern turrets.
Hood’s initial broadside scored 2 hits on Strassbourg destroying her rear quad secondary and her second main battery turret. Valiant scored 3 hits on Dunkerque, setting a float plane afire and damaging her hull. Resolution hit Bretagne once damaging her hull. Provence’s return fire hit Hood once, slowing her to 19 knots. Bretagne’s return fire missed.
Hood failed to repair her engineering problems, but Dunkerque put her fire out. Hood’s second broadside at Strasbourg hit her twice again causing damage to her hull and knocking out her port side secondary quad. Valiant missed Dunkerque as did Resolution firing on Bretagne. The French BCs still had not turned to port enough to get the Brits in their broadside arcs. Provence also still firing with her rear turrets hit Hood once causing small damage to her hull. Bretagne at the tail of the line could now fire with all her turrets and hit Valiant twice. One hit bounced off a turret and the other caused some hull damage.
Hood’s black gang balls it up and broke an engine permanently. This apparently affected the ginnery also as Hood missed Strasbourg altogether. Dunkerque was not so lucky as Valiant hit her 4 times knocking out her rear secondary quad and her rear main turret. Resolution also missed Bretagne. The French were now turned broadside on and redistributed their fire. Strasbourg with her first shot hit Hood once damaging her hull. Dunkerque fired on Valiant hitting her once and damaging her hull. Provence and Bretagne both fired on Resolution missing her outright.
Hood now hit Strasbourg again, knocking out her forward secondary mount. Valiant hit Dunerque 5 times, knocking out her entire port side secondary and her remaining main turret as well as damaging her hull. Resolution missed Bretagne. Strasbourg hit Hood once damaging her hull. Dunkerque Missed Valiant. Provence and Bretagne both fired on Resolution and Bretagne hit her once, knocking out a starboard 4 inch mount.
Hood hit Strasbourg twice knocking out her forward dual secondary mount and damaging her hull. Valiant shifted fire to Provence and knocked out her fore turret. Resolution hit Bretagne four times, knocking out her fore turret and the rest went into her hull, slowing her to just 4 knots.
Hood now hit Strasbourg 5 times, setting a float plane on fire, knocking out her remaining secondary and her remaining main turret. Valiant missed Provence. Resolution hit Bretagne once, damaging her hull. Strasbourg, Provence and Bretagne all missed.
Strasbourg failed to put her fire out. Hood missed Strasbourg. Valiant hit Provence once, knocking out a portside secondary. Resolution hit Bretagne twice, knocking her remaining fore turret and her fire control. Provence now fired on Hood missing her. Bretagne fired on Valiant and hit her knocking out a 4 inch mount.
Strasbourg put her fire out. Hood failed to cause significant damage to Strasbourg. Valiant also missed. Resolution hit Provence three times, knocking out her amidships turret, damaging her hull and then knocking out her forward rear turret. Provence missed Hood and Bretagne bounced a shot off a turret of Resolution.
Hood hit Strasbourg in her hull. Valiant hit Bretagne twice, knocking out anther turret and causing hull damage that sank her. Resolution hit Provence three times, knocking out her remaining turret, damaging her hull and damaging her engineering reducing her to 13 knots.
Provence missed Hood.
Provence fixed her engineering hit. Hood missed Strasbourg, but Valiant hit Dunkerque twice in her hull. Resolution hit Provence twice, knocking out another secondary and hitting her in her engineering again, reducing her back to 13 knots.
Provence broke her engineering this time permanently. Hood hit Strasbourg in her hull as did Valiant with Dunkerque. Resolution hit Provence in her secondary.
Resolution hit Provence in her hull twice sinking her. All other fire missed. Hood hit Strasbourg in her hull. Valiaqnt and Resolution now both firing on Dunkerque hit her 5 times, setting a float plane on fire, knocking out her remaining secondary and damaging her hull, thus sinking her.
It took another 18 minutes to sink Strasbourg. I’d go into what happened to the French destroyers, but once you’ve detailed slaughter, it gets boring and I’ll let it go at that.