This book looks at the generation of modern French battleships that were built or designed between the two World Wars. Of the six ships covered only Dunkerque and Strasbourg were completed in time to take part in the Second World War, although Jean Bart was able to defend herself during the American landings at Casablanca, and Richelieuwas completed after the war, becoming the last battleship to enter service with any of the world's navies. The two ships that were completed played a dramatic role in relations between Britain and Vichy France, and were involved in one of the most controversial incidents of the war, when they came under attack from the Royal Navy in an attempt to make sure that they could never fall into German hands.
Jordan and Dumas begin with a look at the state of the French navy in 1918. Unsurprisingly, during four years of fierce fighting on French soil the navy had been a low priority, and the newest battleships, laid down in 1912-13, were not as powerful as their British contemporaries. The Washington and London Naval Conferences then set down limits on the size and number of new warships that could be constructed, and it was within this framework that work began on the designs that would lead to the new generation of battleships.
The authors start with a look at the long series of battleship designs of the 1920s and early 1930s that were produced in an attempt to find the best way to use the limited tonnage allowed for new battleships. This chapter introduces one of the books many strong points - its generous use of plans to illustrate the text. Here we are presented with side and top plans for four different proposals, and a selection of seven hull cross sections showing the internal layout of a proposed 37,000 ton design. This continues throughout the book, and helps build up a much clearer picture than normal of the internal layout and complexity of these massive ships.
The remaining eight chapters look at these ships in three pairs - Dunkerque and Strasbourg, Richelieu and Jean Bart and Clemenceau and Gascogne. Each pairing are given one chapter on their design and characteristics. Dunkerque and Strasbourg get a single chapter on their active careers, while Richelieu and Jean Bart are given two chapters each - one that takes them from completion through the Vichy period and into Allied hands, and a second that looks at their fate after falling into Allied hands.
This is a very impressive piece of work - detailed but still readable, well illustrated with a huge number of very clear custom-drawn plans, and an equally large number of high quality photographs. The authors are just as home discussing the overall design of these ships as they are examining some of the fine details - the sections looking at the gun turrets are particularly good, reminding the reader just how complex a piece of machinery the big-gun battleship was.
1 After Washington: 1922-1932
2 Dunkerque and Strasbourg: Design and Characteristics
3 Dunkerque and Strasbourg: 1932-1942
4 Richelieu and Jean Bart: Design and Characteristics
5 Richelieu: 1935-1943
6 Jean Bart: 1936-1943
7 Clemenceau and Gascogne: Design, Characteristics and Fate
8 Richelieu: 1943-1956
9 Jean Bart: 1945-1956
Author: John Jordan & Robert Dumas