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

Jan 2015
3,191
Rupert's Land ;)
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And, unlike the perfidious, lying Japanese, the British Navy, gave the French the opportunity to get out of Dodge City and they chose not to. I understand that there were probably ancient rivalries and jealousies between the French and the British that probably played a part here, but the moment for these was well past and the French needed to “belly up to the bar” and play their part in history.

I know DeGaulle was a very difficult and prickly individual that other members of the French officer class may have reviled, but he, and not Vichy was sill in the fight and he saved French honor.
The other difference would be that Japan had no obligation to the USA, while France had already violated an agreement with the British, not to seek a separate peace with Hitler.
 
Nov 2010
7,415
Cornwall
I know DeGaulle was a very difficult and prickly individual that other members of the French officer class may have reviled, but he, and not Vichy was sill in the fight and he saved French honor.
I believe there was some heavy fighting with the Vichy french army early in the Operation Torch landings, so they were still in one fight or another. I think people forget that 'France' was at the time on the German side, however tortuous it may have been
 
Sep 2016
29
France
The other difference would be that Japan had no obligation to the USA, while France had already violated an agreement with the British, not to seek a separate peace with Hitler.
France did seek a separate peace and abandoned its ally. Something completely unheard of in British history. The British themselves had already betrayed the French by appeasing Germany with the naval treaty of 1935, done against the Versailles treaty, without the French being informed and the anniversary day of the battle of Waterloo.
 

Larrey

Ad Honorem
Sep 2011
5,006
I believe there was some heavy fighting with the Vichy french army early in the Operation Torch landings, so they were still in one fight or another. I think people forget that 'France' was at the time on the German side, however tortuous it may have been
Well, in a couple of places. The Americans labeled it heavy fighting, the French considered it a token show of resistance to the landings.

Let's say the Americans might have been taken by surprise by what amount of fighting the French considered mostly symbolic and for show.
 
Jan 2015
3,191
Rupert's Land ;)
France did seek a separate peace and abandoned its ally. Something completely unheard of in British history. The British themselves had already betrayed the French by appeasing Germany with the naval treaty of 1935, done against the Versailles treaty, without the French being informed and the anniversary day of the battle of Waterloo.
The Anglo-German naval treaty technically doesn't cancel the Versailles treaty, in 1937 Germany would still be bound by both.
To be fair though, maybe it wasn't a good idea to go ahead without the French, and was likely the result of a Frankenstein coalition government in 1935.

The difference obviously was that the 1940 events occurred in wartime, when the Royal Navy was in jeapordy.
 
Nov 2010
7,415
Cornwall
Well, in a couple of places. The Americans labeled it heavy fighting, the French considered it a token show of resistance to the landings.

Let's say the Americans might have been taken by surprise by what amount of fighting the French considered mostly symbolic and for show.
The difference obviously was that the 1940 events occurred in wartime, when the Royal Navy was in jeapordy.
I appreciate what you are saying - I just think we tend to look on the whole Mers-el-Kebir thing (and other fighting) from our post-war point of view and we know the result. Results may well have turned out quite differently - in fact you would have bet on it in 1940. In which case this sort of work-to-rule resistance could only go on for so long. Hitler destroyed himself in Russia, ultimately. If.........
 

Bart Dale

Ad Honorem
Dec 2009
7,095
Well, in a couple of places. The Americans labeled it heavy fighting, the French considered it a token show of resistance to the landings.

Let's say the Americans might have been taken by surprise by what amount of fighting the French considered mostly symbolic and for show.
The fact there was any fighting at all surprised the Americans. While perhaps not as heavy as it could have been, it seems a little bit more than just "token", and the French could have just looked the other way. Wikipedia says there were 526 Americans killed and 574 British killed, which to me is more than mere "token" resistance. The French killed were comparable 1,346. In the D-Day landings, which were much bigger and which the Germans had been preparing for quite some time, the Allied losses were still placed at 4,900 killed, missing and wounded, so 1000 killed in an operation where the French had not been preparing for years as in Normandy seems more than just token.

Allied figures for D-Day casualties are contradictory, and German figures will necessarily remain inexact. Historian Stephen Ambrose cites 4,900 Allied troops killed, missing, and wounded. D-Day Casualties: Total Axis and Allied Numbers - History
It had to be done. The French Fleet was too great a danger to the Allied War effort when it was in control of a government officially allied or friendly to Germany. While the Vichy government would not have ever used the fleet on behalf of the Germans, Germany might have been tempted to find some excuse to sieze the fleet themselves, giving Germany the surface fighting capacity it solely lacked. Perhaps the Germans could of coerced the French to transfer the ships to Germany under some pretext, or even "bought" a number of ships off the French. It was a risk the Allies could not afford to take.
 

Larrey

Ad Honorem
Sep 2011
5,006
The fact there was any fighting at all surprised the Americans. While perhaps not as heavy as it could have been, it seems a little bit more than just "token", and the French could have just looked the other way.
A 35 000 man task force landing on a contested beach defended by an almost equal force of some 31 000 troops at Casablanca, i.e. roughly 1:1. The D-Day landings had 3:1 in favour of the troops hitting the shores.

That could have ended rather a lot worse for the Americans, had the French been seriously trying to stop them.
 

Bart Dale

Ad Honorem
Dec 2009
7,095
A 35 000 man task force landing on a contested beach defended by an almost equal force of some 31 000 troops at Casablanca, i.e. roughly 1:1. The D-Day landings had 3:1 in favour of the troops hitting the shores.

That could have ended rather a lot worse for the Americans, had the French been seriously trying to stop them.
And the Germans had spent a lot more time and effort preparing for the Normandy Invasion than the French did for preparing for the North African landings. I would like to point out that the French did not do very well against the Germans when they invaded France, and on a relative scale, the German casualties were pretty light as well, and there the French were clearly trying.

At the risk of sounding cynical, the French claim that they weren't really trying in Operation Torch may have been to hide that fact that the French were really trying and just plain didn't perform well, just as they performed poorly in the Battle of France, and you can't claim they were not trying there. Wikipedia gives German total casualties as 164,000 versus French 2, 260,000.

With more than 500 dead for the Americans alone, not counting missing or wounded, the French were doing more than just going through the motions.
 
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Apr 2014
354
Istanbul Turkey
You have to consider the fact in 1940 summer. UK stood alone after France quit fighting and broke Anglo-French pledge of not to seek a seperate peace. British Army although saved main manpower reserves in Dunkirk evacuation and Operation Aeriel afterwards , was in shambles and needed at least six months to reorganise and re equipped. Only RAF and Royal Navy stood in way of a German invasion of Britain (or so it seemed at that time. Even Germans themselves to leading Nazis believed in 1940 summer that they were about to launch an invasion of Britain. They were so deluded themselves that no one asked if German Navy or merchant marine had any sea lift capability or landing craft to carry more than two division across the Channel. Especially after losses of German Navy in Norwegian Campaign) Churchill and British goverment deducted they had no choice. They could not leave any assets that could be utilised to rebalance Axis superiorty on seas (these assets were French Fleet ships)

"But French sunk their ships in Toulon in November 1942" is not a viable excuse for French. British couldn't know that in 1940. They had no psyhic powers to see the future and entire Metropolitan France and plus two million French POWs were hostages under the thumb of Hitler after French surrender in Compiegne. If German dictator had been serious about invading Britain or at east initiate a naval blockade around British isles and wished to acquire French fleet for that aim and decided to keep or execute French POWs or civilians until Vichy goverment gave up the Fleet , would Petain or Laval (both decided to remain as puppets of occupiers instead of fighting in French colonies) resist ? Would British assume so (did they have that luxary of assumption) while their home islands were under danger of invasion (or so it seemed) and they needed to take out every asset at enemy's (and theirs ) easy reach ? Mussolini and Italian delegation even demanded French Fleet turned over to them during Compiegne Armistice in June 1940 ! (Hitler refused them temporarily trying not to offend Vichy anymore) War is not about being nice. When your back is at wall (and it definetely seemed so in 1940 for UK. No one gave Britain holding out more than six weeks after Compiegne Armistice including their own statesmen except Churchill) you use everything and everyway to repel the enemy. I do not blame British for Mers el Kebir incident.

Besides , French Navy captains scuttled their ships at Toulon during November 1942 under very different circumstances. Operation Torch (Anglo-American invasion) had been in progress since 8th November 1942 , Admiral Darlan , commander of French Fleet (and third man in Vichy goverment) had been captured in Algiers by Americans due to a stroke of luck and he ordered to cease fire and surrender to all French forces under his command in North west Africa (so a vital link who could order definite commands to French Navy was out of picture) , Hitler in response violated Compiegne ceasefire agreement and German Army began invasion of Vichy France territory on 15th November 1942 -Operation Anton-. (without encountering any resistance from Vichy France Army. While they were resisting to British and Americans and fighting them in Dakar , Algeria , Morocco , Madagascar , Syria for two years , they were not thinking their honor anymore when facing German panzers in their homeland , were they ?) French Toulon naval base commander and ship captains decided to take matters to their own hands and when German panzer units appeared on gates of Toulon they scuttled their ships on their own (to the bitter disappointment of Eisenhower who logically assumed French Navy would sail out of Toulon and join Allies after blant agression of Germans occupying rest of France. Assumptions , Vichy promises ? They were empty concepts. In Total War you try to mitigate luck factor by capturing or eliminating any assets or resources in enemy reach)

Operation Catapult in July 1940 had been necessary. Odious , with some regrettable outcome (especially with so much loss of life. Six hours before opening fire , Admiral Sommerville gave an ultimatum to join , disarm , sail to neutral port under RN supervision or scuttle or evacuate those ships. French fleet commander Admiral Bruno Gensoul did not listen and assumed he was bluffing. 1.300 French sailors paid the price of Gensoul's miscalculation) but necessary. At the other hand French squadron in Alexandria disarmed under British supervision in July 1940 , kept their ships inoperable and crews were repadiated back to France. So much for British perfidry !
 
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