French cruiser Colbert (C611)

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For other ships of the same name, see French ship Colbert.
Colbert
Croiseur Colbert dans le port de Bordeaux.jpg
Career (France)
Name: Colbert
Namesake: Jean-Baptiste Colbert
Ordered: 1953
Builder: Brest
Laid down: December 1953
Launched: 24 March 1956
Commissioned: 5 May 1959
Decommissioned: May 1991
Homeport: Brest
Fate: Awaiting disposal
General characteristics
Displacement: 11,093 t (10,918 long tons)
Length: 180.47 m (592 ft 1 in)
Beam: 20.31 m (66 ft 8 in)
Draft: 7.9 m (25 ft 11 in)
Propulsion: 2 × CEM-Parsons turbines, 2 shafts
Speed: 31 knots (36 mph; 57 km/h)
Range: 4,000 nmi (7,400 km) at 25 kn (29 mph; 46 km/h)
Complement: Originally :
70 officers
19 chief masters
52 masters
108 aid masters
748 quartermasters and sailors
2,400 men
After conversion to Missile cruiser :
25 officers
208 petty officers
329 quarter-masters and sailors
500 men
Armament: As built :
16 × 127 mm AA guns
20 × 57 mm mod 51 guns
As Missile cruiser :
4 × MM-38 Exocet systems
1 Masurca system
2 × 100 mm AA guns
12 × 57 mm mod 51 guns
2 × 12.7 mm AA
Aircraft carried: 1 helicopter

Colbert (C 611) was an anti-air cruiser, later transformed into a missile cruiser, of the French Navy. She was the sixth ship (and second cruiser) of the French Navy to be named after Jean-Baptiste Colbert (the previous one was scuttled at Toulon in 1942). She served in the Navy from 1956 to 1991, before being converted into a museum ship at Bordeaux from 1993. Since 2007 she has been anchored in the roadstead of Brest awaiting scrapping.

History[edit]

Early service[edit]

Colbert in 1959.

Her construction began in the Brest dockyards in 1953. She was designed as a powerful ship, the second of the De Grasse series, able to overcome all threats solely by her guns' weight of fire - she had 57mm and 127mm turrets for a firing rate of one shot per second. Launched on 24 March 1956 in Brest, France, starting her trials on 5 December 1957 and officially entering active service on 5 May 1959, she was made part of a 15-ship squadron, with the main aims of protecting aircraft carriers from air attack, shore bombardment for ground operations, command hub for naval operations and evacuating French expatriates from overseas. In 1964 a naval reorganisation made her the flagship of France's Mediterranean squadron (escadre de Méditerranée) at Toulon, which was mainly made up of complementary units such as aircraft-carriers and frigates.

Foreign representative[edit]

Her role as a foreign representative of France was important. In 1961 she repatriated the remains of marshal Hubert Lyautey and she ferried General De Gaulle both on his 1964 South American tour and on his June–July 1967 official visit to Canada (the latter trip was the occasion of his famous "Vive le Québec libre speech" - the diplomatic row which followed put an end to the trip). During the Atlantic crossing on board Colbert De Gaulle signed a number of decrees, such as n°67-611 (23 July 1967, on interpreters in the army reserve) and n°67-612 (on interpreters in the naval reserve). The Colbert also represented France at the bicentennial festivities in Australia in 1988.

Later life[edit]

Built too late, after the cruiser's time as the main arbiter of naval warfare had passed, the Colbert was superseded at the end of the 1960s by a new generation of ships better adapted to new threats. Her big-gun-based armament had become obsolete and inefficient against supersonic attack aircraft and thus between 1970 and 1972 she underwent extensive modifications in Brest to become a missile cruiser, with a double ramp of Masurca Surface-to-air missiles. She once again became flagship for the Mediterranean squadron from 1976, but her duties from then on were mainly humanitarian or representative - Agadir in 1960 and the evacuation of Bizerte in 1961. She gained a reputation within the French Navy as a ship that had never fired a single shot in anger, with her only ever active service being in the 1991 Gulf War (operation "Salamandre") a few months before she was decommissioned on 24 May that year.

Museum ship[edit]

Aerial view of Colbert as a museum ship

Between June 1993 and 2007, she was a museum and monument historique in the port of Bordeaux. During 2004 she was France's most-visited museum ship and the city's most-visited historic attraction. She was a private museum, belonging to the state but with the museum's running handed over to "The Friends of the Colbert" association. A visit lasted between 2 and 3 hours, with guided visits given access to parts of the ship closed off to the public, such as the engine rooms and cabins. The ship also housed several permanent exhibitions on the Navy, Météo-France and architectural models (in which one could see modellers at work). The ship's siren went off at midday every Wednesday and Sunday. A covered restaurant and dance-room was built on her foredeck, served by the ship's former kitchens. A "Colbert" stop on the quay by the ship was even planned on the city's tramway, allowing faster access to or from the city centre and thus increase visitor numbers, whilst the ship's presence led to the quays becoming highly developed.

The Colbert on the Garonne in Bordeaux.

However, the museum ship also had its critics in the city, such as those living by the quays (a "Let's Sink the Colbert" association even fielded a candidate in the municipal elections of 1995), and the ship also got into recurring financial problems - despite being the owner, the state did not pay its maintenance costs necessary to keep up the ship's security and image (to completely repaint the ship, for example, cost more than 500,000 €, too high a price for the museum's budget). Under pressure from the Mairie of the city and local associations, and without other funding forthcoming, the museum ship closed to the public on 2 October 2006.

Scrapping[edit]

She was towed on 31 May 2007 (the date that the concession to the "Friends" ran out) to join the mothball fleet in Landevennec. Due to major technological similarities, the Navy cannibalized parts from her from time to time (mainly from the boilers and turbines) to maintain the helicopter-carrier Jeanne d'Arc, with the decommissioning of the Jeanne d'Arc in September 2010 the Colbert was free to be dismantled.

External links[edit]