Operation Catapult: Britain's only option or a bloody betrayal?

#1
3 July 1940, Operation Catapult: Churchill orders the neutralization of the French Fleet following the French armistice with Nazi Germany. After negotiations to accept the British ultimatum failed with Admiral Gensoul at Mers el Kabir, Algeria, the French warships are fired upon by their allies the Royal Navy with devastating affect and many casualties. The French admiral Darlan, who had promised to scuttle their warships before allowing them to fall into the hands of the Germans, felt betrayed and in fact did scuttle the French Fleet at Toulon in November 1942 when the Germans invaded Vichy France after the Allied invasion of North Africa.

Was Churchill correct in attacking and neutralizing the French Fleet in 1940? Did the action become a propaganda coup for the Nazis?

Here's an interesting link to an American PBS program on the subject:
Churchill's Deadly Decision ~ Full Episode | Secrets of the Dead | PBS



 
Last edited:
May 2011
13,650
Navan, Ireland
#5
I never knew this happened.

It made my mouth fall wide open.

Betrayal, inexcusable.

Another stain on UK's already shoddy additions to the Allies' effort during WWII.
Really? perhaps Britain should have left countries like Netherlands occupied.

Whether Britain had any other choice is debateable other French warships such as in Alexandria and British ports were interned or taken over without such loss of life (not always bloodlessly) so there may have been alternatives if calmer attitudes were taken by both sides.

However the British were between 'a rock and a hard pace' the French Fleet could totally change the balance of power, they had no surefire way to know that the French Navy wouldn't allow it to fall into Axis hands. The behaviour and collapse of France in 1940 had shocked the British.

It can be argued that France had betrayed Britain making peace with Germany and a pro-Axis right-wing government taking power, so a horrible decision but not necessarily the wrong one and certainly not a simplistic betrayal as the post above claims.
 

pugsville

Ad Honorem
Oct 2010
8,074
#6
Winston Churchill believing the safety of Britain took ruthless action.

The French were presenting with a number of options that would have preserved both their ships and their crews lives. (though most major Nations navies would have not accepted such a ultimatum )

The Vichy French government was a puppet collaborationist government that was helping the German war effort, and would at times help the Axis war effort. Was the Vichy Government trustworthy?

Did the French abandonment of war by the term of the armistice a Betrayal of Britain? The French could have fought on in the colonies, as they had substantial forces in colonies and could have been pretty effective. Churchill would have fought on in such circumstances. Conquest of France and occupation of mainland France did not mean France had to abandon the fight.




Churchill did a number of dubious and morally commendable actions, he was an old fashioned Imperialist, and ruthless in respect to British interests and sold other nations and peoples down the river.

This one is more Borderline for me. The Vichy Government was hardly inspiring of confidence. The French fleet would later scuttle ships rather than let them fall into German hands.
 
Likes: Futurist
May 2011
13,650
Navan, Ireland
#7
............
...................................The French fleet would later scuttle ships rather than let them fall into German hands.
Which shows that the French sailors were true to their word and the RN officers on the spot were wrong (and Churchill).

However we only know that with 20:20 hindsight they didn't know that; a decision had to be made.

The later actions make the issue even more tragic but not wrong in itself.
 
Last edited:
Sep 2014
234
FR
#8
In France it is know as "Pearl Harbour" or the stab in the back from an old ally. It was murder: an unprovoked attack on the forces of an ally without a declaration of war. The French told them that they would never hand over their warships to the Germans. And the British have no right to tell them what to do. The champagne flowed in a victory party at number 10 Downing Street when France held a massive funeral for 1090 sailors of the Bretagne and 210 crew of the Dunkerque who had been killed in the massacre.
The same arrogance. The British abject retreat to Dunkirk, when you all expeditiously evacuated the place as soon as you started to get a glimpse of the German mechanical superiority, abandoning all military equipment behind you, and without any consultation with your “ally”, while the French army lost 110,000 men (3000 per day!), because it was protecting your retreat to your precious island.
 
Likes: dukeofjive
May 2011
13,650
Navan, Ireland
#9
In France it is know as "Pearl Harbour" or the stab in the back from an old ally. It was murder: an unprovoked attack on the forces of an ally without a declaration of war. The French told them that they would never hand over their warships to the Germans. And the British have no right to tell them what to do. The champagne flowed in a victory party at number 10 Downing Street when France held a massive funeral for 1090 sailors of the Bretagne and 210 crew of the Dunkerque who had been killed in the massacre.
The same arrogance. The British abject retreat to Dunkirk, when you all expeditiously evacuated the place as soon as you started to get a glimpse of the German mechanical superiority, abandoning all military equipment behind you, and without any consultation with your “ally”, while the French army lost 110,000 men (3000 per day!), because it was protecting your retreat to your precious island.
Well that's your interpretation of events needless to say the British have a different one.
 
Mar 2010
9,842
#10
The same arrogance. The British abject retreat to Dunkirk, when you all expeditiously evacuated the place as soon as you started to get a glimpse of the German mechanical superiority, abandoning all military equipment behind you, and without any consultation with your “ally”, while the French army lost 110,000 men (3000 per day!), because it was protecting your retreat to your precious island.
You'd rather the British all died with the Frenchmen and not come back and liberate you all 4 years later.
 

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