French destroyer Maillé Brézé (1931)

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Milan 1936-1937.jpg
A sister-ship of the Maillé Brézé
Name: Maillé Brézé
Namesake: Jean Armand de Maillé-Brézé, Duc of Fronsac
Ordered: 1928-29 Programme
Builder: Ateliers et Chantiers de St Nazaire-Penhoet
Laid down: October 1930
Launched: 9 November 1931
Commissioned: 6 April 1933
Fate: Lost by accidental explosion, 30 April 1940, Greenock, Scotland
Status: Scrapped, 1956
General characteristics
Class and type: Vauquelin-class destroyer
  • 2,441 t (2,402 long tons) (standard)
  • 3,120 t (3,070 long tons) (full load)
Length: 129.3 m (424 ft 2.6 in)
Beam: 11.8 m (38 ft 8.6 in)
Draft: 4.4 m (14 ft 5.2 in)
Installed power:
Speed: 36 knots (67 km/h; 41 mph)
Range: 3,000 nmi (5,600 km; 3,500 mi) at 14 knots (26 km/h; 16 mph)
Crew: 12 officers, 224 crewmen (wartime)

Maillé Brézé was a Vauquelin-class destroyer built for the French Navy during the 1930s. She was lost in an accidental explosion during World War II.

On 30 April 1940, at 14:15, as Maillé Brézé was anchored at the Tail of the Bank, Firth of Clyde off Greenock, a torpedo tube misfunctioned and launched an armed torpedo on the deck, setting fire to the fuel tanks and the forward magazine, which however did not explode.[1]

At 15:15, the crew abandoned ship due to the danger of explosion, except for numerous sailors trapped in the mess hall. Around 16:30, a few sailors returned to the ship to flood the aft magazine, and by 19:30 the fire was controlled by the Greenock firemen. By that time, Maillé Brézé was so low in the water that she began sinking before she could be towed, and she went down with those still trapped in the forward part. The accident killed 25 and wounded 48.[2]

She was raised in 1954 and broken up by 1956.[3] The wreck currently visible opposite Greenock (and thus not to be confused with the Maillé Brézé) is that of the MV Captayannis which sank in 1974.

Memories and memorials[edit]

The sinking is unofficially remembered in the Inverclyde area in relation to the Free French Memorial.

Greenockian May Watson recalled in an interview sixty years after the event that she clearly remembered being in an art class at school at the time, and "we just heard this tremendous bang and we all wondered what it was. It was a bang that we had never heard before, really dreadful. We were excited and afraid at the same time wondering what this big bang was". When she went home, she was told that "Some of the sailors were killed and managed to swim to safety but even those sailors were badly injured in the blast. The sailors were brought ashore and were taken to halls in Greenock. A lot of the ladies in the town went along to the halls and helped to bathe their wounds until they could be taken to hospital — the old Greenock Royal Infirmary in Duncan Street."[4]

She said that the "dead were buried in Greenock cemetery until 1946 when the bodies were returned to France. There was a service for those who had died in St. Mary’s church." Her recollection was that the Free French Memorial, Greenock, was erected on Lyle Hill in memory of the dead of the Maillé Brézé.[4] This remained a common belief in the Inverclyde area, but is incorrect as the sinking occurred a few months before the Free French Naval Forces came into being, and there is no mention of the ship or its sailors on the monument.[5]

There is a somewhat more modest memorial to the lost crew of the Maillé Brézé at Brookwood Cemetery, Surrey, England.[6]


  1. ^ "Maillé Brézé, Firth of Clyde". Retrieved 16 December 2016. 
  2. ^
  3. ^ Buxton, Ian (1992). "Question 6/89". Warship International. Toledo, OH: International Naval Research Organization. XXIX (1): 101. ISSN 0043-0374. 
  4. ^ a b Greenock War Detectives project (15 October 2014). "WW2 People's War - Free French Navy in Inverclyde". BBC Scotland. Retrieved 9 January 2017. 
  5. ^ Robert Jeffrey (November 6, 2014). Scotland's Cruel Sea: Heroism and Disaster off the Scottish Coast. Black & White Publishing. p. 21. ISBN 978-1-84502-887-9. 
  6. ^ French Destroyer Maille Breze - Memorial


  • Chesneau, Roger, ed. (1980). Conway's All the World's Fighting Ships 1922–1946. Greenwich, UK: Conway Maritime Press. ISBN 0-85177-146-7. 
  • Jordan, John & Moulin, Jean (2015). French Destroyers: Torpilleurs d'Escadre & Contre-Torpilleurs 1922–1956. Barnsley, UK: Seaforth Publishing. ISBN 978-1-84832-198-4. 
  • Whitley, M. J. (1988). Destroyers of World War Two. Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 0-87021-326-1. 

External links[edit]