Talk:Attack on Mers-el-Kébir

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
WikiProject Military history (Rated C-Class)
MILHIST This article is within the scope of the Military history WikiProject. If you would like to participate, please visit the project page, where you can join the project and see a list of open tasks. To use this banner, please see the full instructions.
C This article has been rated as C-Class on the quality assessment scale.


Were there any British casualties? I think the article should say either way. -- dandelions, not logged in

re: British Casualties

From all accounts I have read, it appears there were no British casualties.

At least two sailors on HMS Hood were injured by French shell fragments, so there were casualties on the RN side, but only minor ones.

How many planes did the British lose in the action? At least one Skua was claimed by GC II/5 on the 3rd PpPachy 10:34, 19 January 2007 (UTC)
British Air Losses.
Total losses from the Ark Royal over the period are 6. I understand that on the 3rd, 2 Skuas and 3 Swordfish were lost. One Skua was lost on the 3rd while defending mine laying Swordfish in an engagement reported by fellow RN pilots to be with with both D520s and Curtiss Hawks - I note GC II/5 (flying Hawks) have claimed a Skua on that date. 2 Swordfish were lost to AA during bombing attacks on the Strasbourg, one Swordfish was lost while shadowing the Strasbourg, presumably also to AA, and one Skua was lost on making a forced landing beside the Ark Royal. The crew of the first Skua was killed, all other airmen were rescued - interestingly that first Skua seems to have been shot down prior to the naval bombardment.
On the 6th a Skua ditched alongside a British ship, both crew being rescued, after being damaged by Curtiss Hawks of GC II/5 while protecting Swordfish attacking the Dunkerque. The Skua crews felt the French pilots were half hearted in their attacks on the 6th, putting this down to reluctance to fire on their recent allies.,
Practically I think this means the British casulty list is incorrect, as the Skua crew lost on the 3rd should be counted. I will amend the article accordingly
Winstonwolfe 06:47, 1 April 2007 (UTC)
Thanks PpPachy 09:28, 2 April 2007 (UTC)

Update on the air combat that occurred on the 3rd: French reports state that two Skuas went down in the action, the first after apparent accidental loss of control while trying to follow sous-lieutenant Boudier's H-75. Then, sergent-chef Legrand claimed one Skua shot down. According to Ehrengardt & Shores' book, the first Skua is the real British loss (Petty Officer Riddler / Naval Airman Chatterley), while Legrand's claim (identified as crewed by Sub-Lieutenant Brokensha / Leading Airman Costan) is simply erroneous. So, we cannot write as a fact that "one H-75 shot down one Skua". PpPachy 19:59, 28 August 2007 (UTC)

No Vichy yet?[edit]

Quoting the article on Vichy France: The Third Republic was voted out of existence by a majority of the French National Assembly on 10 July 1940 by 468 votes to 80 and 20 abstentions. (...) The Vichy regime was established the following day, with Pétain as head of state, with the whole powers (Constitutive, Legislative, Executive and Judicial) in his hand. Yes, Pétain was already in office on July 3rd, but he was - theoretically - still accountable. I think the article should therefore not mention the Vichy regime except in a paragraph describing the distant consequences of the attack. PpPachy 14:14, 5 December 2006 (UTC)

it's obvious though that this action was due to the political influence of the vichy, not that of the third republic or the french resistence fighters. Therefore, this military action was taken against the vichy french, and thus should be noted as a combatant.

You can't take action against something that doesn't exist yet. Name anything bad Vichy did, it happened after MeK. Churchill didn't have a crystal ball in June 1940 that gave him Precognition about future Vichy crimes and compromissions with Axis powers. One could argue that, with Pétain in power, it could not have turned out different, but this isn't what history is about. PpPachy 15:45, 14 December 2006 (UTC)
PpPachy is correct about Vichy France. At the time, France and Britain were still considered allies. This attack started an undeclared war between the two countries. Scottmanning13

France and Britain were still allies at the time. (talk) 21:04, 14 January 2008 (UTC)

France and Britain had previously agreed and signed a treaty whereby both promised that neither side would make a separate peace with Nazi Germany, and the French Armistice broke this treaty, which lead the British to regard any 'promises' made by the-then French Government (and its subordinates) as worthless. Mers-el-Kebir was the result of this. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 23:00, 22 February 2010 (UTC)
The French Government and it's subordinates....There was a colaborating regime of France in all but name and paper. Only in that sence will it be correct to say that the Vichy regime did not exist. As I have written: the name was not there. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 21:43, 3 May 2010 (UTC)
It shouldn't matter whether Britain and France were still allies at this point, the French Third Republic had already fallen and Vichy France established. — Preceding unsigned comment added by Omnisome (talkcontribs) 02:51, 4 February 2015 (UTC)


I dispute the comment in the battlebox that "Vichy France is driven into the Axis camp". Vichy forces stayed neutral unless attacked. Axis forces did not get to use Vichy territory, indeed, they resisted Japanese occupation of Indochina and considered German occupation of Vichy territory as an abrogation of the armistice: Vichy forces then rejoined the Allies. The French Fleet stayed out of action and took decisive action to avoid use by Germany. All-in-all, they stayed aloof, despite Mers-el-Kebir and the resultant ill-feeling. Folks at 137 13:57, 24 December 2006 (UTC)

Excuse me for my English, but I'm french! It's so complicated. The french navy in 1940 has not decided between Vichy ou Royal Navy. So we can say French navy is the same thing that Vichy . Ludo29 14:20, 7 January 2007 (UTC)
Well they got their ultimatum, and they decided. They followed their course of action and they got the consequences. So the French Navy had decided.Eregli bob (talk) 13:31, 19 August 2012 (UTC)

Ship capture[edit]

All the same, the relative ease of capture of the French ships at port reinforced Churchill's fear that the Nazis could do the same. This is not factual, unless there is a written account of Churchill saying so, and is highly disputable: the decision to attack Mers el-Kébir was taken long before the ships in England were captured. And of course there were no Germans in Mers el-Kébir, or elsewhere in North Africa for that matter, to capture the ships! PpPachy 13:47, 19 January 2007 (UTC)

This comment is not correct. The decision to 'attack' Mers el-Kebir was not taken until the ultimatum had expired, which of course was after the French ships in British ports had been seized. As for the statement that there were no Germans in North Africa, the provisional treaty between France and Germany provided for French ships to be placed under German supervision. (talk) 10:43, 27 May 2009 (UTC)

Parallels with Denmark?[edit]

I would be interested to know if the British approach was influenced by their history with regard to Denmark and the Danish Fleet in the Napoleonic wars. There we took rather extreme action to prevent a fleet falling into the hands of Napoleon... given that this would have been extremely well known to the Admirals in charge it must have had some infulence in their thinking. Duncan 11:43, 15 April 2007 (UTC)

The Danes were building one of the worlds greatest Navy fleets. Even so, no one in Denmark knew were the King was on the issue of Napoleon. How do you prove that a such fleet actually belonged to Napoleon? In Norway, that King may be better known for that one German doctor he chose to decapitate. He was even more known for his mental capacities, so how do you prove that he was not on about joining forces with Napoleon?

The French Navy of the 1930s was a different issue. Although they were indecisive, they were playing ball with the Germans. --Stat-ist-ikk (talk) 13:08, 19 October 2011 (UTC)

From "Churchill's Bodyguard", by Tom Hickman[edit]

The book, "Churchill's Bodyguard", by Tom Hickman, gives the refusal of the Vichy government to honour the armistice agreement by handing interned German airman shot down by the RAF to Britain as a reason why Churchill should be more worried about the possibility of French warships falling into German hands:

'A week later Churchill was back in the House of Commons to announce that British warships had shelled the main French fleet at Mers el Kebir near Oran in Algeria. As part of the armistice agreement, the French should have handed over to the British 400 interned German pilots shot down by the RAF; the Pétain government, however, had refused to honour this (wringing from Churchill the growled comment: "Then we will have to shoot them down again"). Dreading the French navy falling into German hands, Churchill had ordered the many French ships already in British ports (like Alexandria) to be seized, and sent Admiral Somerville's naval force, which was in the Mediterranean, to offer Vice-Admiral Gensoul in Algeria four options: sail to Britain and fight; hand over to the British navy; sail to a French West Indies port and accept demilitarisation; or scuttle his vessels in Mers el Kebir harbour. Loyal to Pétain's Vichy government, Gensoul refused all options. Somerville launched an attack; two cruisers were sunk, two badly damaged and 1,300 sailors killed.' -- ZScarpia 21:16, 24 July 2007 (UTC)

Really ? So in the French-German Armistice, the terms of which were dictated by the victorious Germans, the French supposedly agreed to turn over German pilot POW's who had been shot down over France and were in French custody, to the British ? Why would the Germans possibly have agreed to have their German prisoners in France, handed over to the British ? This is so implausible, it must be wrong.Eregli bob (talk) 13:35, 19 August 2012 (UTC)


According to what I have read elsewhere, one of the options was that the French sink their ships there and then. This does not appear in the ultimatum as given in the article. Has this 4th option been omitted in error? Did the ultimatum really include this 4th option? Mikeo1938

It is indeed mentioned, yet not as a separate option: If you refuse these fair offers, I must with profound regret, require you to sink your ships within 6 hours. PpPachy 12:08, 2 August 2007 (UTC)

OK all noted. Couldn't see for looking! VMT. Mikeo38

"British Aggression"[edit]

The following passage does not maintain a NPOV: "As negotiations dragged on, it became clear that both sides were unlikely to give way, with the French commander being loath to agree to demands made under the threat of British aggression". Is it the case that the French commander perceived the ultimatum as aggression? If so, the article should say so. However, if it were simply the case that the French did not wish to jeopardise the Armistice by complying with any part of the ultimatum, and there exists no evidence that the French felt loath to agree to British demands, then this passage should be removed or edited. Richardhearnden (talk) 18:15, 14 March 2009 (UTC)

I fully agree, as per wp:bold and edit away.--Rockybiggs (talk) 11:14, 16 March 2009 (UTC)

Done. Richardhearnden (talk) 20:04, 28 March 2009 (UTC)


This obviously reflects the population of the English language wikipedia, but the article had a flagrant pro-British bias. It had effectively forgotten to mention that the British Navy sank an unsuspecting ally fleet. I have attempted to make it more neutral, but would welcome some assistance. (talk) 21:06, 14 January 2008 (UTC)

Hardly unsuspecting: the French commander had been warned that unless he accepted one of the four options (hand over to the British navy, sail to a French West Indies port and accept demilitarisation, or scuttle his vessels in Mers el Kebir harbour) his ships would be attacked. -- ZScarpia (talk) 12:31, 18 January 2008 (UTC)
The British had some, if not full knowledge of the Armistice terms and knew all of their offers were in violation of the Armistice. In other words, there were no negotiations - which should have taken place with the French government, not a mere admiral anyway. This was clear for everybody involved, including Admiral Sommerville, as he admitted later. PpPachy (talk) 13:03, 18 January 2008 (UTC)
The British were not a party to the armistice between France and Germany, and therefore could not be "violating its terms".Eregli bob (talk) 13:37, 19 August 2012 (UTC)
Perhaps it was in breach of the Armistice terms, but then, wasn't the action carried out, at least in part, because the French government refused to honour the term stating that captured German airmen should be handed over to the British and this gave rise to fears that French naval ships would fall into German hands, compromising the strategic naval size advantage the British had over the Germans. Also:

French Marine Minister Admiral Darlan never received the full text of the British ultimatum from Admiral Gensoul, most significantly with regards to the option of removing the fleet to American waters, an option which formed part of the orders, given to Gensoul by Darlan, to be followed should a foreign power attempt to seize the ships under his command.

If Admiral Gensoul had followed his orders by sailing to American waters, one of the options given to him by the British, the attack on the French ships could have been avoided. It begs the question of why he didn't tell Darlan why he'd been given that option. You say that the British should have been negotiating with the French Government rather than a mere Admiral. Isn't that a rather bogus point because obviously Gensoul was in contact with Darlan, the French Marine Minister? By the way, I tend to follow the normal Scottish habit of sympathising with the French, but in this case I think that the real villain of the peace is Gensoul. -- ZScarpia (talk) 16:06, 18 January 2008 (UTC)
Gensoul knew of this order from Darlan and he even mentioned to Holland that he was willing to execute it, should circumstances require it. As of July 3rd, they did not, since the Germans were nowhere near Algeria. Gensoul's current orders were to stay in Mers el-Kebir until further notice, period. Second, on July 3rd the French government was on the move from Bordeaux to Vichy and communications were very much limited. Regarding your last sentence, I don't think it is the purpose of an encyclopaedia to decide whom are the good or the bad guys. It's not that the article is that much biased, but it is very much lacking and clearly written after outdated sources IMHO. PpPachy (talk) 18:57, 18 January 2008 (UTC)
Hello PpPachy. I added the last sentence because I thought that you might suspect that I hold the views I do through anti-French chauvinism. Of course, the purpose of an encyclopaedia isn't to 'decide' anything. I look forward to the article being updated using less outdated sources. You'll notice that I haven't edited the article itself. I haven't done that because I don't personally feel knowledgeable enough to do it.
Surely, the British ultimatum was a 'circumstance' that might have made it wise to to follow the order to remove the fleet to American waters should a foreign power (not specifically Germany) try to seize the ships? Is it correct to say that Gensoul's orders were to stay in Mers el-Kebir until further notice, period, when there was also an order telling him to leave if there was an attempted seizure of the ships? Also, the question about why Gensould didn't tell Darlan that one of the alternatives that he'd been offered was to sail for American waters still requires an answer. -- ZScarpia (talk) 01:21, 20 January 2008 (UTC)
The idea of sailing to American waters was (1) not compliant with Darlan's orders to Gensoul and (2) a clear violation of the armistice that would certainly have triggered German retaliation against the French people or interests. It is therefore safe to assume that Gensoul did not mention it because he was convinced this option was pointless. PpPachy (talk) 21:29, 21 February 2008 (UTC)
But, Gensoul did mention the options to join in the fight against Germany or to sail the ships to Britain, from where the crews would be repatriated, which, had they been taken up, would undoubtedly have been a greater breach of the armistice terms than sailing the ships to the West Indies, so that can't have been why he didn't mention that option, which, far from being pointless, would have meant the survival of the ships and their crews. Something that I was very probably wrong about was that the order from Darlan to sail to the West Indies in the event that an attempt to seize the ships was made did relate specifically to an attempt by the Germans rather than an attempt by anyone. Darlan, though, issued the order without knowing about the West Indies option given by the British. If he had been informed, perhaps his orders would have been different. -- ZScarpia (talk) 15:08, 27 February 2008 (UTC)
Further, in the final days of Reynaud's government, Churchill made multiple trips to France to confer with the French, the last time setting off without knowing where the government would be found. He was on the point of setting off again, by submarine, when news came through that Reynaud had resigned and Petain had decided to capitulate, breaking the promise that France wouldn't independently seek an armistice with Germany. Why would Churchill regard the terms of the Armistice as a sufficient guarantee that the French ships wouldn't fall into German hands when Petain had already broken a French promise not to unilaterally capitulate, when Petain had broken the term of the Armistice which required captured German airmen to be handed to the British, when the new French government was pro-fascist in inclination and when, given his track record, Hitler could hardly be expected to reside by his side of the Armistice agreement? -- ZScarpia (talk) 01:16, 20 January 2008 (UTC)
It would probably be more accurate to say that in June 1940, both French and British governments felt betrayed by each other. There are multiple sources quoting that in mid-June 1940, Weygand was outraged that the British made demands and claims regarding the French situation, when they had committed only such a small force in the war. I do not understand how Churchill could have judged the new French government as "pro-facist" - remember the Vichy regime did not even exist yet. The article should put more emphasis on the progressive degradation of the French-British relationships in May-June, but I'm sorry I don't have much time to write this right now. PpPachy (talk) 21:29, 21 February 2008 (UTC)
By the time of the attack, isn't it true that Reynaud had resigned and that Petain had replaced him as decision maker? Isn't it also true that the people coming into power had a tendency to favour a form of government for France similar to the regimes in power in Spain, Italy and Germany, making them pro-fascist (or just fascist) in inclination? -- ZScarpia (talk) 15:08, 27 February 2008 (UTC)
Yes, by the time of the attack, Pétain was the Président du conseil, head of government of the 3rd Republic. PpPachy (talk) 20:34, 27 February 2008 (UTC)
I have edited down the bias slightly and read through the rest of the article. I am not so sure this is an issue anymore. --Npovshark (talk) 16:00, 1 May 2009 (UTC)

French revenge attack on Gibraltar[edit]

The article should include detail about the French revenge bombing of Gibraltar which is touched on in the article Military history of Gibraltar during World War II. -- ZScarpia (talk) 12:31, 18 January 2008 (UTC)

I've just spotted that the attack on Gibraltar is mentioned, but only in one very brief sentence. -- ZScarpia (talk) 16:06, 18 January 2008 (UTC)

French reinforcements[edit]

This time I've spotted something which definitely isn't touched on in the article. Site mentions that Churchill gave the order to attack the French fleet when orders to send reinforcements to Oran were intercepted:

'Meanwhile, the British intercepted a message from the Vichy Government ordering French reinforcements to move urgently to Oran. Churchill was done playing games and ordered the attack to his commanders, "Settle everything before dark or you will have reinforcements to deal with." An hour and a half later, the British Fleet attacked.'

-- ZScarpia (talk) 15:08, 27 February 2008 (UTC)

Shouldn't this be categorized as a war crime?[edit]

It was an unprovoked attack on non-belligerent ships (talk) 00:04, 17 May 2008 (UTC)

Its somewhat well acknowledged that what the victors did in WW2 was rarely if ever considered a war crime including, but not exclusive to the carpet bombing of civilian centers. I'm not saying I agree or disagree with this but from a Machiavellian stand-point the post war trials were there to justify the war for the Allies and not just to punish 'bad behaviour'. That said, this is nothing in the scope of the war and not the only ally the British betrayed to win.--Senor Freebie (talk) 01:29, 14 October 2009 (UTC)

If this was a war crime then Nuremburg would still be going on today as most of the things that happened in WW2 would have been classed a crime. If Britain was so anti France why allow the Free French into Britain and aid De Gaulle who was less than pro British. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 10:37, 30 March 2010 (UTC)

It was classified as an act of war but the resentment, especially in the French navy, is still very strong. In my mind it is obvious that the French sailors would never accept to see their ships fly the British flag, unless of course it had been captured, as Duguay-Trouin was. I believe this was a blunder by the British command, who should have at least mobilized someone like De Gaulle to Parley with the French commander. --Nikoniste (talk) 05:46, 28 June 2010 (UTC)

At least seems not to be the issue. If you had a way to parlay with the French Commander, it is because someone has given in to demands as to transport 200 Coldrstream Guardist to Austerlitz. I will just go to an ATM and cash out 200 soldiers. Anyone else who are of to do the same thing? --Stat-ist-ikk (talk) 18:42, 2 August 2011 (UTC)

Psychologic impact[edit]

There's a great quote in Ciano's diaries about how "the fighting spirit of british piracy is alive and well" and which made the Axis powers realise the english were not about just to give up and roll over. Psychologically significant, I think. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 14:46, 18 June 2008 (UTC)

Phrase `` despite reassurances from France that it would not let it fall into German hands``[edit]

The source given for this comment seems unrealiable as opposed to this source [1], ive therefore added citation with a view to removal of this phrase and a ``assurance`` whether or not even true was worthless in any case and should be reflected as .--Rockybiggs (talk) 14:06, 5 November 2008 (UTC)

"Reassurances from France" is meaningless. France who ? The French Government had collapsed.Eregli bob (talk) 13:42, 19 August 2012 (UTC)
I agree this deserves more detail, names and dates as to who said what to whom. Disagree on "collapse" though - the local civilian administration was in pieces due to the occupation, but the chain of command was intact up to a legally appointed new premier.PpPachy (talk) 13:20, 21 August 2012 (UTC)
Your sources does not say that there were no assurances, merely that the British were not satisfied. There is a more detailed explanation in E.H. Jenkin's History of the French Navy, I'll fetch a more precise references in due time. Rama (talk) 14:19, 5 November 2008 (UTC)
PS: that the assurance was "worthless" is your personal opinion and nothing more. The fact is that the French fleet in Toulon scuttled itself on these very assurances rather than fall in German hands. People gave their lives for this, so "worthless" is uncalled for. Rama (talk) 14:22, 5 November 2008 (UTC)
I don`t say `worthless` lightly, we are looking at history from 70 years on, this page must reflect events of the time. The French fleet events in Toulon 2 years or so later are purely after events and the old phrase `hindsight`. --Rockybiggs (talk) 14:47, 5 November 2008 (UTC)
On the contrary, the events of Toulon are an ironclad proof that the assurances given before Mers-el-Kébir were not worthless. The very same ships are involved. Toulon proves that the French fleet would not have fallen in German hands even if the British had not attempted to destroy it. Rama (talk) 15:30, 5 November 2008 (UTC)
This isn`t my personal opinion but fact as another source states here `feeble assurances`,i will find others. [2] p.s this source also states `former allies` again i will find others.--Rockybiggs (talk) 14:36, 5 November 2008 (UTC)
On a further note of `merely that the British were not satisfied`, this should be pointed out as a balanced view i.e The French gave them and the British were not satisfied with the feeble assurance etc.--Rockybiggs (talk) 14:40, 5 November 2008 (UTC)
How do you justify calling these assurances "feeble"? People died to keep the promise that the fleet would not fall to the Germans. These assurances were no more "feeble" than Iraqi chemical weapons were ready to launch within an hour in 2003.
As for the alliance, sourcing a false statement would not make it true (and it should be done at all, for a start; your URL with a page is useless). Seeing how you just attempted to deny that assurances were given at all, it possible that you did not quite understand the nuances of the text (to which page are you referring anyway?). Rama (talk) 15:30, 5 November 2008 (UTC)
  • Please please don`t take this personal ! I am only quoting what the source states. (Which i perfectly understand)
  • Please note this source does work, please allow time for Loading from google books [3] Page 26 mentions feeble & 27 mentions `only a few weeks earlier the French Were allies`
  • I have also 2 further source which quote France as no longer a British Ally [4][5]
  • I don`t think it helps comparing other world events to Justiy your points, i.e Iraq War and an event from WW2. P.s sorry for the Bullet points !

--Rockybiggs (talk) 15:48, 5 November 2008 (UTC)

Well please don't take it personally either, but you misread. The sources says "feeble guarantees", not "feeble assurances". It is a fact that the French had nothing to prove their determination but their word; and it is a fact that their word was not given lightly.
Sorry about Iraq, I am merely trying to convoy the notion of speculations upon which radical decisions are taken, and which later on turn out of be flat wrong.
As for the alliance, I am unaware that the French-British relations were altered in any way before Mers-el-Kébir; can you source that? Of course, Vichy France broke diplomatic relations with the UK, but that is hardly surprising. Again, an alliance is a legally binding document, not a feeling. Rama (talk) 16:06, 5 November 2008 (UTC)

The sources clearly state before Mers El Kebir, they were not allies, as from when France ceased fighting, and i think ive provided enough to amend this point. Assurances, Gurantees in my view mean the same thing in this context. But ill roll with your point, but i therefore still think the point should be made from Both sides. i.e The French gave assurances and the British could not believe/accept them etc...--Rockybiggs (talk) 16:21, 5 November 2008 (UTC)

I am sorry, but the point about the alliance has to be made seriously, in a legal way, based on formal documents. If we start considering the personal feelings of every writer, take ellipses as facts, we can be led anywhere. You provided sources which say that France stopped fighting, a point which is not at contention; but you provided no source for France denouncing her alliance with the UK.
About assurances and guarantees, there are more details in Jenkins. Basically, the British could not accept the French fleet left on parole only; and the French could not accept being under British control because of the terms of the armistice with the Germans. Jenkins conjectures that a middle ground might have been to have the French fleet sail to the USA without a British escort, but this option was never explored. I'll have to get my hands on the book for the exact reference. Rama (talk) 17:07, 5 November 2008 (UTC)
From the British side would you consider the British alone, yes. Without any allies, of coarse. I`m not sure whether France Denounced the alliance (but we are talking allies of ww2 not alliances), but did they really need to denounce an alliance anyway as the French Third Republic had collapsed. Therefore anyone can see the French state no longer exsisted as before.
As for Jenkins yes i read that before, that was an option floated, but not accepted by France. Either way a more balanced view is required on the wiki page, rather than just mentioning `The British wiped them out, despite French assurances`. A more balanced view of the details is required, im sure your agree.--Rockybiggs (talk) 17:26, 5 November 2008 (UTC)
A more balanced view like what? "The British wiped them out, despite French assurances" is exactly what happened. I am not putting any sort of judging, negative or otherwise, on whether it was justified or justifiable for the British to do it, but the fact is that they did.
As for the collapse of the Third Republic, it occurred on the 10 July 1940; the British attack was on the 3rd. Rama (talk) 20:06, 5 November 2008 (UTC)
If the Third Republic collapsed on july 10th, how do we know that this is just as much actual as it is official? It may have been considered as collapsed one month ahead. If it was not ready for collapse, why would it collapse before August of that year? We all know that Germany never invaded the Soviet, because I have been reassured of such. --Stat-ist-ikk (talk) 13:44, 17 September 2012 (UTC)

An idea about "alliance"[edit]

Rockybiggs, thinking back to the "assurance vs guarantees" point, we might have a similar problem about the notion of alliance. From what you write, I gather that you understand "ally" as "fighting together" (you would not say that the USA and UK were allies in 1940, am I correct?); on the other hand, I understand "ally" as "part of a legal contract between two nations" (and since nothing indicates that such a contract was broken before the 3rd of July 1940, I regard France and the UK as allies at this point even though France had signed armistices with Italy and Germany).

Maybe we could find a wording that would satisfy everybody by giving a few more details. I would suggest qualifying France of "defeated ally" or "powerless ally", but of course I am starting from the alliance-as-legal-contract point of view. Is there a formulation that springs to your mind? Rama (talk) 08:03, 6 November 2008 (UTC)

How about this `This event shocked the world, as Britain had attacked and destroyed the French fleet, made even more tragic as they had been fighting side by side as allies against Germany a few weeks before.`--Rockybiggs (talk) 09:53, 7 November 2008 (UTC)

The principle is fine with me. I see it as somewhat blurring the question of whether they were allied on the 3rd, which makes us safe from both points of view. I think that this is what is often done is other publications, like for instance The Second World War which you cited.
Now, could we make it more like "This event shocked the world, as Britain had attacked the French fleet with which she was fighting side by side as allies against Germany a few weeks before". The main casualty was an old battleship, but lots of modern destroyers and Strasbourg, notably, remained operational (Dunkerque was not quite destroyed, but put out of action for the remaining of the war).
Thank you for your understanding. This moment in history is complicated and easily charged with emotions, so an obtaining an accurate description can raise some slight difficulties sometimes
Incidentally, to clarify, now we can obviously settle the matter, I am not at all set to glorify Pétain's followers. I just find it interesting to illustrate the obstacles that people like Churchill found at the time, when the signification of the events in the grand scheme of History was not yet known as it can be known a posteriori. For instance, there was an actual risk of causing a complete reversal of alliance, if pro-German and anti-British elements sized the opportunity. With the distance, I rather share De Gaulle's appreciation of the event: regrettable and dangerous, but anything was better than risking a Mediterranean dominated by the Axis by leaving such a fleet uncontrolled, but of course there is not merit in this when you know how things turned out. Rama (talk) 12:07, 7 November 2008 (UTC)
A point often overlooked is that the 3rd Republic of France was still at war against Germany. An armistice, by definition, is only a ceasefire: it does not put an end to the state of war by itself, although peace negotiations generally ensue. In this specific case, such negotiations were not underway, and eventually did not take place at all IIRC. Of course, this armistice was extremely favourable to Germany as it effectively prevented France to resume the hostilities without massive foreign help. But it is a fact that on July 3rd France and Great Britain were both in state of war with Germany. Of course France was not actively fighting, but then again Great Britain did not have troops facing German troops at the time either. PpPachy (talk) 22:44, 7 November 2008 (UTC)
Rama, i agree with your wording and look forward to the addition. --Rockybiggs (talk) 21:46, 9 November 2008 (UTC)
We're all set. Thank you. Rama (talk) 09:12, 10 November 2008 (UTC)
despite reassurances from France that it would not let it fall into German hands - the fact is that the-then French Government was rapidly falling to pieces, and any 'reassurances' that it gave were highly suspect from the British point of view. The British had been left in an unenviable position where they couldn't afford to take anyone's word, their survival and ultimately, the survival of Western Civilisation, depended on them. THAT was the situation, and not one of the French commanders involved was a Big Enough Man to understand this. More was at stake than pride or a career, and almost none of the French political and military people involved seemed to grasp this fact. They all behaved like peevish schoolboys, sulking because to have taken one of the British options to avoid the subsequent attack would have hurt their pride or 'honour'. Such are the petty ways of 'small' people who manage to get made leaders. The best that can be said of the French leaderships of the time is that they weren't the Great Men that France and her British allies so desperately needed. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 17:31, 18 July 2010 (UTC)
" ... but then again Great Britain did not have troops facing German troops at the time either" - no, but the Battle of the Atlantic started on September the 3rd 1939 and it ended on 5th/6th May 1945, and Britain fought all of it. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 16:46, 14 April 2016 (UTC)

Edits to opening paragraph[edit]

Changes to opening paragraph which are mainly grammatical, gave context to "French assurances" ie those give by Admiral Darlan to Churchill. Removed "This event shocked the world" - as unencylopedic, vague, unsourced, origninal research - who is "the world" in this context? Was every human being on the face of the planet shocked? (talk) 23:07, 5 March 2009 (UTC)

Wrong Nicholson[edit]

The Harold Nicholson link goes to a gentleman born in 1950, after the attack occurred.

The correct Nicolson is Harold Nicolson (no H in the last name) who indeed in his diary for July 4, 1940 wrote "The House is ... fortified by Winston's speech." (HN, The War Years: Diaries and Letters 1939-1945, Atheneum, 1967, p. 100) —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 00:13, 2 April 2009 (UTC)

Channel 4 TV programme[edit]

There was a programme on this subject on Channel 4 (UK TV) this week (25 May 2009). It left little doubt that the decision to destroy the French fleet was inevitable. The French commander was given ample opportunity to avoid the British attack, but defied the British ultimatum by calling his men to action stations and calling for reinforcements. Of course, he was quite entitled to do so, but equally the British were entitled to take his actions as a sign that the French intended to fight. And in fact the French response to the ultimatum was explicitly that they would respond to force with force. Incidentally, many of the French sailors were on shore when the British fleet arrived, but were called back on board to prepare for action. This must have increased the casualties greatly. The programme also said a lot about Admiral Darlan, and left the impression that he was a proud and honourable man who would have stuck by his personal assurance that French ships would not fall into German hands. And we know what happened at Toulon. But of course it would be puerile to expect the British to rely on the word of one French officer in taking a decision which might mean the difference between survival and defeat. There was no guarantee that Darlan would stay in control. The new (collaborationist) French Government might replace him, or he might be killed. Even if he stayed in command, there was no guarantee that his orders would be obeyed, or that the Germans would not seize the French ships by force. The Germans themselves still had a powerful navy (Bismarck, etc) which sank the British battleship Hood not long afterwards. (talk) 11:07, 27 May 2009 (UTC)

That doesn't strike me as particularly even-handed. The attack was no more inevitable than that at Alexandria, that was averted; the French commander at Alexandria was more flexible, but at Mers-el-Kébir, the French would have accepted sending their ships of the United States if the British had not insisted to "escorting" them there.
You discourse features the notion that one's willingless to defend himself is attacked justifies agression against him, which just plain baffles me. That sounds like the anti-Iraqi propaganda of 2003 when it was pushed in its very last arguments.
At the time of the attack on Mers-el-Kébir, the "new collaborationist French Government" did not yet exist. That happened a few days later, and the British attack at Mers-el-Kébir was no small contribution to anglophobia in France that allowed the Vichy regime to rise.
How Bismarck has anything to do with anything here is beyond me. The French ships were in the Mediterranean, could never have crossed Gibraltar, and thus would have been unable to join with the large German units. And the German navy was never a match for the Royal Navy anyway, at least certainly no surface units. Rama (talk) 12:36, 27 May 2009 (UTC)
The programme, actually didn`t say anything about the French accepting going to the USA or Caribbean (with or without escort), just stated that Marcel-Bruno Gensoul reacted badly to the ultimatum and got his back up, while also hinting that it was arrogance on his part and that the French would only take orders from France. The programme also basically stated the affair would have turned out differently with another French commander. Hey it`s a British programme , im sure it would have been slighty the French view with the subject shown on TF1.--Rockybiggs (talk) 14:40, 27 May 2009 (UTC)

(1) "The attack was no more inevitable than that at Alexandria, that was averted; the French commander at Alexandria was more flexible," This comment seems to overlook the fact that Alexandria was under British control, and the British knew the French fleet could not escape. At Mers-el-Kebir this was not the case, and one major French ship did manage to slip away despite the British blockade. (2) "You discourse features the notion that one's willingless to defend himself is attacked justifies agression against him, which just plain baffles me." For the British, the question was whether they could be sure the French would not let the Germans take control of their fleet. Since the Germans (obviously) could not be trusted to adhere to the terms of any peace treaty with France, the only way the British could be assured of this was for the French to take the fleet immediately out of any danger of falling to the Germans, either by scuttling it or in some other way. France had already broken the terms of its alliance with Britain, by entering unilateral negotiations with Germany, and the French response to the ultimatum at Mers-el-Kebir gave no grounds for confidence about French intentions. I didn't actually say the British action was 'justified', but I don't see what alternative they had. Simply trusting the French not to give in to the Germans was not a realistic option. Letting the fleet sail to US waters under British escort would have been more reasonable, but apparently the French would not accept this, and letting them leave without escort would just be another form of trusting the French, which I have already pointed out was not an option. What part of 'not trusting the French' is difficult to understand? I am not suggesting that the British are any more trustworthy, just that when national survival is at stake no country can afford to trust any other. (3) "How Bismarck has anything to do with anything here is beyond me. The French ships were in the Mediterranean, could never have crossed Gibraltar, and thus would have been unable to join with the large German units. " This seems to assume that German naval forces could not have entered the Mediterranean. Why not? They managed to slip through the English Channel at least once, so why not the Straits of Gibraltar? And it could not be assumed that Britain would keep control of Gibraltar itself. Franco might well have joined the Axis if he had been sure that Britain was on the verge of defeat. And if a powerful German force had entered the Mediterranean, a combined German-Italian-French fleet would probably have obtained complete control. (talk) 19:48, 27 May 2009 (UTC)

Very well said, agree with every point you have made. Just a friendly piece of advice, to reflect this or make changes upon this wikipedia page or any others, its best that you add citations to back up your arguments.--Rockybiggs (talk) 20:36, 27 May 2009 (UTC)
"The French commander was given ample opportunity to avoid the British attack" I don't see what he could have done, really, without (1) being in defiance of orders given to him (stay in port until further notice) and (2) without being in defiance of the Armistice's terms. Any of the options given by the British would probably have caused German retaliation against the French people. Such decisions cannot be taken by a mere admiral. IMHO, the real purpose of the negotiations held on the 3rd of July 1940 was to make the whole plan acceptable to Admiral Sommerville. PpPachy (talk) 12:51, 28 May 2009 (UTC)

Interesting points raised above, regarding this regrettable incident. Re the question of German heavy units in the Med: would the KM have had a need to consider so deploying if they could have added the French units to the Italian force there? I think not. Indeed, the presence (real or potential) of German capital ships in the Atlantic prevented the RN from diverting more forces to either the Med or Pacific. (talk) 03:05, 21 September 2009 (UTC) Alister

We can't know, but that was of course the dilema facing Britian. Not what the French would do. But what they had to consider what might happen, In a sence in was a gamble they could not afford to take.Slatersteven (talk) 12:36, 21 September 2009 (UTC)

Sorry, I perhaps didn't express myself very well: I was stating, in response to a post above, that the addition of the French forces alone to the Italian fleet would have been sufficient to severly stretch the RN, ie the KM question is a moot point. (I have never seen it stated that the KM did consider sending heavy units to the Med, as one of the advantages of Italy entering the war was that they should shoulder that responsibility.) As such, the action taken by the RN may be seen as a prudent, although very unfortunate, precaution. (talk) 13:49, 21 September 2009 (UTC) Alister

It is interesting how many people (both at the time and today) seem unable to grasp a fundamental difference in the meaning of a Fleet to the two countries involved. For France, sea power was a luxury, France has long land borders with other countries through-which imports may be transported, and so France is in no way dependant on the maintenance of the sea lanes. Britain on the other hand, is an island, where almost everything, food, materials, munitions, etc., had to be brought in by ship. So to the British the possibility of the French Fleet being taken over by Germany had far more worrying implications than it would appear the French were able to comprehend. For the French a navy was, to some extent, a nice thing to have - not withstanding their overseas colonies, but it was not essential. To the British it was a necessity - if the shipping was prevented from getting through, they starved. Just see the Battle of the Atlantic for details of what lengths the British would go to to prevent this.
... and I have noticed that at no time has anyone mentioned the possible beneficial (to the Allies) effects that might have been incurred had the French Fleet simply gone over to the British side. With hindsight, it would appear that that would have been the right thing to have done, seeing as it was the British and their allies who eventually won.
... and as for the 'perfidious' British, well they did come back for France and the French: Normandy landings. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 20:47, 9 September 2011 (UTC)

Text of ultimatum[edit]

Does anyone know a reference for the actual text of the ultimatum? Most of it sounds authentic, but there is one phrase towards the end: 'I have the orders from His Majesty's Government' that doesn't read as if it was written by a natural English-speaker. Similarly, some of the punctuation seems a little odd.

Was the ultimatum delivered in French (unlikely, I suspect) or English?

Nsorelli (talk) 09:54, 17 October 2009 (UTC)

I know for sure that phrase 'I have the orders of His Majesty's Government' is used in Churchill's World War Two reprint of the ultimatum. Language and punctuation - I can look it up, but to be honest I doubt, if I'd be able to find out in what language the ultimatum was communicated. --ja_62 (talk) 10:10, 17 October 2009 (UTC)
IIRC, due to the time constraints (there was almost no warning that the necessity would arise) the ultimatum was hurriedly written in English-only simply because there was only one French-speaking relatively high-ranking British naval officer available that could be located in the limited time, and it was he who conveyed the ultimatum to the French reception committee, and it was his relatively junior rank that the French admirals took as an insult.
He was sent because he was the only one available who could converse with the French Admirals in their own language, and it was thought that this would lead to less room for misunderstanding in such an important matter. The French naturally misunderstood this, and thought they were being insulted. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 16:38, 14 April 2016 (UTC)

The ultimatum was sent by Churchill himself. As First Lord of the Admiralty (later Prime Minister) Churchill out ranked every French Admiral. They probably should have stood at attention and saluted the signal. The rank of the messenger boy is unimportant. Andrew Swallow (talk) 22:48, 14 April 2016 (UTC)

French casualties inconsistency[edit]

The opening paragraph says there were 1,297 French casualties, but the table at the end shows there were 1,300. Am I missing something, or is there an error here? - (talk) 03:16, 29 December 2009 (UTC)

Yes, it’s a strange anomaly. The plaque says 1297 dead (I took that picture, BTW), yet the table, which is also on the French Wiki, gives 1300. However, the first paragraph of the French article gives 1380. Perhaps the discrepancy has to do with men injured on the day but who died later from their wounds ... (?) Perhaps someone can check in one of the books ... I have nothing to hand here. Mikeo1938 (talk) 16:38, 29 December 2009 (UTC)

Citation required: Gensoul's failure to transmit all options[edit]

Currently there is a citation-required flag on the statement that Gensoul did not transmit the American waters option to Darlan. In fact, this statement is covered by the source given at the end of the section, Mers-el-Kebir: A Battle Between Friends by Irwin J. Kappes:

In the final and most critical failure of communication, Gensoul failed to send Admiral Darlan the full text of the British terms, which would have permitted the French fleet to sail to the United States. It is doubtful that it would have made a difference. Gallic pride prevented Gensoul from any willingness to negotiate while under threat of British fire. And to make matters even worse, while negotiations were still underway, British Swordfish planes from the carrier ARK ROYAL were already dropping magnetic mines in an attempt to prevent the French fleet from leaving port.

I suspect that, originally, the source given at the end of the section was supposed to cover the whole section, but, with the insertion of source 6, it now looks as though it only covers the last sentence. -- ZScarpia (talk) 13:29, 13 January 2010 (UTC)

Result = British victory, disabling of the French fleet[edit]

I wasn't responsible for the edit changing the Result from "British victory, disabling of the French fleet" to "Disabling of the French fleet", but I support it. Clearly, short of the ships falling into Axis hands or being used to support the Axis, the battle was not the desired outcome and so was a dubious kind of "victory". -- ZScarpia (talk) 14:32, 24 January 2010 (UTC)

The result was always only "Disabling of the French fleet", but someone changed it. Given the fact this was hardly a "battle", a more direct way to describe the result is better than a forcing a dubius "British victory".StoneProphet (talk) 20:00, 25 January 2010 (UTC)
I haven't noticed when the "British victory" was added and my revert was solely because hadn't explained his edit in edit summary. Nevertheless - e.g. Attack on Pearl Harbor was also hardly a battle too, and still it's described as a 'Major tactical victory'.--ja_62 (talk) 22:34, 25 January 2010 (UTC)


you can probably add the operation torch's operation reservist and operation terminal. there was a vichy propaganda poster depicting a sailor with "don't forget oran!" (mers el kebir is part of the oran province) Cliché Online (talk) 04:58, 26 January 2010 (UTC)


Did the british ever paid reparations to post-1945 France for the sunken ships and lost lives? (talk) 22:00, 29 March 2010 (UTC)

Why would they? They told the French exactly what to do to retain their ships and avoid combat (giving a whole series of alternative courses of actions to choose from, in fact), and the French decided not to do it. AnonMoos (talk) 22:44, 29 March 2010 (UTC)
They didn't need to - once France surrendered to Germany the ships became German property, whatever 'treaties' were signed. Britain didn't pay Germany post-war for losses to German ships and neither did Germany pay Britain for the (considerable) losses of British shipping.
The sad fact about Mers-el-Kebir is that it was almost all the fault of the French government and navy, as the French surrender (despite the French government previously signing a treaty with Britain guaranteeing that neither side would make an armistice with Germany independently - which the French then broke in 1940) put the British in a seriously dangerous strategic position*, and in the same circumstances it is inconceivable that a Royal Navy commander would have allowed the circumstances to arise that necessitated the attack at Oran. He would have disobeyed orders and removed his ships somewhere the Germans couldn't get at them - something that the French Admiral failed to do. The point is that once France surrendered they effectively ceased to have any say in what happened to their fleet, it was Germany's then. So the British decided they couldn't take the risk, and attacked it. The French complaint about the British lacking any 'honour' is trite - if the-then French government (which contained a number of pro-German Ministers who later collaborated enthusiastically with the Nazi occupiers) and naval high command had had any honour they wouldn't have allowed the Fleet to have been put in the position it was, liable to be taken over by an enemy and used against an ally. As regards the government in Vichy, it was effectively a puppet-government of Germany, and as-such was allied to Germany, as can be seen by the way in-which it enthusiastically deported jews to the death camps of the Reich. Anyone risking their future well-being to such people (as the French were, in-effect, asking the British to do) would have needed their head examined.
Part of the problem was that some of the French leadership seemed to be under the impression that in signing the Armistice treaty with Germany they were doing-so from a position of power - they weren't. They were surrendering to Germany (despite the term 'Armistice') and so were actually in a position of great weakness. This meant that any control that they were able to exert over the French forces (such as the Navy) was only possible while their new German masters approved of it. The French thought that the treaty allowed them power over the running of their own country. It did to some extent, but only when it suited Germany, and Germany had the whip hand. The French after surrendering had no real say in anything as far as the Germans were concerned, the Germans could have 'ordered' the French forces to do anything the Germans wished, and if that meant joining up as 'allies' with the Kriegsmarine to fight the British then that's what would have happened, whatever the French thought or wanted. If the French crews protested or otherwise gave trouble the Germans could have 'transferred' the French crews elsewhere (via the French military authorities) and then brought in Kriegsmarine crews to man the ships. The British understood this. With the best will in the world, the French COULDN'T guarantee that their ships wouldn't be used against the British.
The same 'illusion of power' also caused much trouble in the British wartime relationship with General de Gaulle, in that de Gaulle seemed unable to appreciated that he was being supported by the British under sufferance, as a leader who effectively had no country worth mentioning, and that it was only because of Churchill and the British government that he (de Gaulle) was where he was, de Gaulle being a relatively low-ranking military leader when he arrived in Britain in 1940 with no military forces or resources behind him.
In short, the British bent-over-backwards to give the French a less-painful way out of the situation at Mers-el-Kebir, and the French naval commanders and political leadership ignored this, preferring instead to sulk behind a sense of hurt pride, seeming to have almost no consideration of the implications that their actions were having on the British position as a country still at war with Germany, and their actions on a whole are perhaps an illustration of a particularly French conception of the term 'honour' that is hopefully long gone.
The 1940 Armistice with Germany hurt French pride dreadfully and is remembered by many French people as a shameful episode in France's history and, understandably, many French people then tried to blame others for their situation.
*Since the signing of the Entente cordiale in the early 1900s, the French and British had agreed on naval dispositions that allocated certain tasks and areas of responsibility to each respective navy, and each of the navies had planned their fleets in the inter-war years accordingly, the British Government and the Royal Navy planning its ship ordering process on the assumption that the French would patrol and defend certain areas, leaving the British to do others. With the unilateral Armistice with Germany in 1940 the French seriously disrupted the balance of power in that the absence of the French navy suddenly put much greater burdens on the British, leaving them with a serous shortage of ships for the tasks they needed to do. This was to have serious consequences for the British in the Battle of the Atlantic, as well as elswhere. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 12:04, 18 July 2010 (UTC)
OK I think we get the point.Slatersteven (talk) 16:47, 18 July 2010 (UTC)
Reparation payments? Germany should have paid Franco for the bombing of Guernica, which happens to be within Spain. Maybe Quisling should have sued someone for having lost his party leadership within Nasjonal Samling. Reparations indeed? --Stat-ist-ikk (talk) 18:56, 2 August 2011 (UTC)

From Naval warfare: an international encyclopedia[edit]

From Naval warfare: an international encyclopedia, editor Spencer C. Tucker , ISBN 1-57607-219-3 (hardcover), ABC-CLIO, Inc., Santa Barbara, California, 2002:

catapult, Operation (1940) - by D. R. Dorondo

British plan to immobilize or, if necessary, destroy French naval forces to prevent them from falling into the hands of the Germans. France’s armistice with Germany in June 1940 caused great concern in London. The armistice stipulated that the Vichy government would not surrender to Germany any naval units still in French-controlled ports. London feared precisely that eventuality. Consequently, Prime Minister Winston Churchill decided to seize or disable any units of the French navy within reach. The date chosen for Operation catapult was 3 July.

In 1940 France possessed a formidable navy, much of it deployed beyond the principal base of Toulon. At Portsmouth and Plymouth were two battleships, four light cruisers, eight destroyers, several submarines, and some 200 smaller vessels. At Alexandria was a battleship, three modern 8-inch gun cruisers, one older cruiser, and numerous smaller ships. In the West Indies the French had an aircraft carrier and two light cruisers. French naval units in North and West Africa, however, caused the greatest alarm. At Casablanca was the uncompleted battleship Jean Bart. The harbor at Algiers held seven cruisers, and sheltered at Oran and Mers-el-Kebir were the modern battle cruisers Strasbourg and Dunkerque, the older battleships Bretagne and Provence, the seaplane carrier Commandant Teste, and six large destroyers. Finally, at Dakar in West Africa the new battleship Richelieu had reached preliminary operational readiness. Churchill was determined that none of these ships would fall into German or Italian hands.

On 3 July French ships in Great Britain were seized, with two British and one French sailor killed. At Alexandria a negotiated settlement resulted in the internment of the French squadron and repatriation of some crews. In the West Indies protracted three-way talks among French, British, and American authorities led to the internment of the French vessels at Martinique.

In Algeria and at Dakar, however, serious fighting occurred. After the French commander at Mers-el-Kebir refused British terms, his ships were attacked by the battleships Valiant and Resolution and the battle cruiser Hood. Largely ineffective aerial torpedo attacks followed from the aircraft carrier Ark Royal. Taking several direct hits from 15-inch shells, the Bretagne blew up, capsized, and sank. She lost more than a thousand officers and men. The Provence, badly damaged, beached herself. Trying to escape, the Dunkerque ran aground. Of the major French ships, only the cruisers at Algiers broke out to Toulon, as did the battle cruiser Strasbourg and the Commandant Teste (on 5 July) from Mers-el-Kebir. The Strasbourg was, however, torpedoed and damaged by Royal Navy aircraft. On 8 July the Richelieu at Dakar was attacked and damaged by torpedo bombers flying off the Hermes as well as by a Royal Navy motorboat.

Through Operation catapult the Royal Navy largely accomplished its mission of eliminating French naval strength. Much bitterness resulted, however. The Vichy government broke diplomatic relations with Great Britain. Only the later German seizure of unoccupied France in November 1942 allowed for a formal reconciliation between the erstwhile (and subsequent) allies.

France, Navy - by Richard G. Stone

The role of the French Navy in World War II was a minor one in terms of combat but extremely significant in terms of diplomacy and balance-of-power considerations. The fleet represented a potential bargaining chip for the Vichy regime, which retained control of the unoccupied southeastern third of metropolitan France until November 1942. Had Germany secured control of the fleet after the defeat of France in June 1940, its surface strength, combined with that of Italy and covered by the German Air Force, might have rendered Britain vulnerable to invasion. Determined to remove this possibility, in July 1940 Winston Churchill ordered British naval commanders to seek out such units of the fleet that were readily accessible and demand that their commanders either join the British, be disarmed in neutral ports, or be destroyed. On 3 July 1940, British ships actually opened fire at Mers-el-Kebir in Algeria. The British sank the battleship Bretagne, new battle cruiser Dunkerque, and several destroyers. The Strasbourg got away. Some 1,300 French seamen died, and 350 were wounded. This led to much bitterness, which lingers today.

Darlan, Jean-Louis-Xavier-François (1881–1942) - by William Head

With the June 1940 defeat of France by Germany in World War II, Vichy leader Marshal Henri Philippe Pétain appointed Darlan to be his minister of the navy. Darlan assured British leaders that France would not allow Germany to acquire its fleet and issued secret orders for French ships to be scuttled should the Germans try to take them. Fearful that this promise would not be honored, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill ordered an effort to acquire the French fleet, which resulted in fighting and considerable loss of French life at Mers-el-Kebir in Algeria (3 July 1940). Already anti-British, Darlan believed Germany would win the war, and this event caused him to seek closer cooperation with Berlin.

    ←   ZScarpia   18:25, 3 July 2010 (UTC)

You point is?Slatersteven (talk) 18:30, 3 July 2010 (UTC)
My point was to provide extracts about the events of Mers-el-Kebir from what looks like (to me at least) a reliable and neutral source. Does that answer your question?     ←   ZScarpia   18:50, 3 July 2010 (UTC)
Not really as I do not know what change to the article it is you think these support.Slatersteven (talk) 18:52, 3 July 2010 (UTC)
My purpose wasn't to change the article, but to provide an encyclopaedic source against which the content of the article can be compared.     ←   ZScarpia   19:28, 3 July 2010 (UTC)
There appear to be 10 sources already used. now u8nless you are saying that those sources are inacacurate or that these new sources add material that does not at this time exsist in the articel I fail to see what function this serves.Slatersteven (talk) 19:53, 3 July 2010 (UTC)
I added the material thinking that it might be useful to someone (and, at the same time, wouldn't do any harm). Obviously, all the references given, except the one from the Military History Online site, are not easy to look up (unless, that is, they are available in Google Books). Providing the extracts means that editors perhaps will now have an extra source besides what they have in their possession. Perhaps I should have written an extra, encyclopaedic, source against which the contents of the article can be compared?     ←   ZScarpia   20:25, 3 July 2010 (UTC)

Transfer or seizure[edit]

The article text has been changed so that it now reads that the British were concerned about the seizure of the French fleet by the Germans rather than the transfer of the French fleet to the Germans. My understanding is that the British were worried about both possibilities. The concern about a transfer stemmed from a belief that the French government might use its fleet as a bargaining chip in order to obtain better terms from the Germans.     ←   ZScarpia   17:43, 4 August 2010 (UTC)

But if the British were concearnd about both then transfer would be equaly misleading. pehpas aquisition might be better as it implies both possibilites.Slatersteven (talk) 12:49, 5 August 2010 (UTC)
Sounds good.     ←   ZScarpia   16:26, 5 August 2010 (UTC)

The "French" Commanders[edit]

If we know the names of Gensoul and Darlan, something seems strange to me. One was killed in his own office by a student running with a handgun of Spanish manufacture. How did that student get this far? Why would he even think he could get so far? Poor security standards? If so, why the lax security standards, 2.5 years after Operation Catapult? Gensoul lived to his early 90s, taking his opinions to his grave.

Can one judge the quality of the Vichy Navy of that day, by what the Commanders did later in life?-- (talk) 09:37, 9 November 2010 (UTC)

Timing of the Attack[edit]

The times of the opening and closing of the attack have just been shifted forward an hour. Does anyone know whether those times relate to UT (GMT) or something else?     ←   ZScarpia   19:23, 6 December 2010 (UTC)

I say shift them back untill some reason is given for the change.Slatersteven (talk) 11:29, 7 December 2010 (UTC)
The new times actually accord with what a few articles on the attack I looked at online say. So, I'd say that, unless someone can bring sources that say otherwise to bear, the change should stand (for the moment at least). It looks to me as though there's potential for lots of confusion over the timing - could be ship's time, local time, French standard time, GMT, BST etc - that it would be as well to try and pin down exactly which time system was being used.     ←   ZScarpia   14:36, 7 December 2010 (UTC)
The Road to Oran: Anglo-French naval relations, September 1939-July 1940 By David Brown Says 17:54 The Second World war Winston S Churchill also says 5:54. So that two sources so far. So changed to match sources.Slatersteven (talk) 15:36, 7 December 2010 (UTC)
Well done!     ←   ZScarpia   16:14, 7 December 2010 (UTC)


Something I think is worth investigating is the relative concern about the fleet at Mers-el-Kébir passing into Italian, rather than German, hands. The former is not currently mentioned in the article. It seems to me that the hostilities with Italy supply a possible reason why the French, in opposition to the British demands, would want their fleet to remain in the Mediterranean.     ←   ZScarpia   14:24, 15 July 2011 (UTC) (edited 20:14, 2 August 2011 (UTC))

Italy declared war on France and the UK on 10 June 1940, just over three weeks before the battle. France and Italy signed and armistice on 25 June 1940. See 1, 2 and 3.     ←   ZScarpia   17:01, 2 August 2011 (UTC)

Scheme from Russian FA[edit]

Hello. Translated from Russian FA. Maxrossomachin (talk) 19:33, 31 March 2014 (UTC)

Attack on Mers-el-Kébir harbor-EN.svg

Tendencious phrasing?[edit]

"The scuttling of the French Fleet at Toulon in November 1942 can be seen as the Vichy government's acceptance that the allies were now winning the war. This was not the case in June 1940"

Doesn't seem like a very neutral approach to me... The fact is that you can't know what would have happened. An article shouldn't take a quasi-affirmative position like this. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 10:20, 20 May 2014 (UTC)

I don't see how counterfactuals or alternative history are involved in the passage you quoted... AnonMoos (talk) 16:24, 22 May 2014 (UTC)
It basically says that Vichy France would not have scuttled its fleet if Germany had invaded its territory earlier. At least, that's how the phrasing can be read. I think that it promotes a view lacking neutrality. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 10:23, 8 May 2016 (UTC)
Seems to me that it says the allies were perceived to be winning the war in November 1942, but not in June 1940. AnonMoos (talk) 09:16, 9 May 2016 (UTC)

Warning to French fleet[edit]

A Royal Navy task force attacked the French fleet, after giving them a warning that they would do so. The French fleet was at anchor and had not been expecting an assault from the United Kingdom.
This sounds like a contradiction. Can you clarify? Valetude (talk) 11:15, 24 October 2014 (UTC)

It is misleading and could do with being rewritten.     ←   ZScarpia   19:13, 31 October 2015 (UTC)

Captured French tanks[edit]

Did the Germans use captured French tanks against the British, Russians or Americans? Possibly with German crews? This is the same strategy as using French war ships with German crews against the British.

Knowing how ruthless the Nazis were, obtaining the ships would not be a problem - although the admirals may have died saying "No". Andrew Swallow (talk) 16:28, 13 September 2015 (UTC)

I have found a reference showing that the Germans systematically used captured weapons on a large scale. Captured Foreign Equipment Registry part of the Achtung Panzer! website published by the Weider History Network. So the Germans reusing captured French ships in working order against the British and Americans is a near certainty. Andrew Swallow (talk) 17:28, 29 October 2015 (UTC)
Under the armistice agreement signed by the Germans and French, the Germans made committments allowing the ships to remain in Vichy French hands provided certain conditions were fulfilled. Just as the British were concerned about the possibility of the French ships falling into German or Italian hands, the Germans were concerned about the ships falling into the hands of the British or Free French. Darlan had given orders that the ships be scuttled if anyone tried to sieze them. According to at least some sources, the Germans intended to uphold their commitments and the Vichy French were determined to prevent the ships from being seized, but the problem for the British was the degree of risk involved and the resources that would have to be used in trying to neutralise that risk. The British were not prepared to trust promises made by either. In the case of the Vichy French it is true that some of them were certainly far more anti-British than they were anti-German (the assistance given to the Germans in using French Middle-Eastern mandate territories is used as an indicator of attitudes). There is in existence a document written by German general Heinz Guderian projecting how the war, then in progress, could, would or should develop. Guderian had the French navy acting alongside the Germans and Italians against the British navy. Obviously, that is not how things actually developed, and Guderian may have affected by a large dose of wishful thinking, but there always remains the question, "What if?"     ←   ZScarpia   19:51, 31 October 2015 (UTC)