Osprey's French Battleships 1914-1945
|Ryan K. Noppen, illustrated by Paul Wright|
48 pages, 7¼ x 9¼
This next title in Osprey's New Vanguard series covers French battleships of WWI and WWII. It was the French who built the first ironclad ocean going warship and it is fairly amazing that they were not in the forefront of battleship development. Indeed, they seemed to have rested on their laurels and during the naval build-up prior to WWI, they had very little to offer in the way of heavy ships.
The French decided they really did not need much of an ocean-going navy and concentrated on littoral vessels to take care of their naval needs. While battleships were built, they were generally a generation behind. They did not fall in line with the dreadnaught class of ships with single large calibre armament, and so entered WWI with a fairly second-rate navy compared to the British and Germans. The French battle fleet was geared during the war, to facing the Austro-Hungarian fleet. However, the AH fleet never sortied so the French simply kept up a frustrating blockade on the Adriatic; years of inaction, basically.
After the war, the various treaties reduced the available tonnage of naval vessels built by those who signed the treaty. Even though they were allowed larger ships, the French did not have the dry docks capable of ships the same size as others. This resulted in the construction of ships where all the main armament was in the front of the ship. It was felt that their battleships would be mainly used for chasing the German panzershiffs like the Graf Spee so rear main guns weren't needed.
When WWII broke out, the French were more concerned with Italy as their naval construction had lagged seriously behind plans and their newest ships were not fully constructed. One, the Dunkerque, wasn't commissioned until after the war while the Jean Bart was never fully completed. Some French ships did do battle with Allied navies, but all were done when the ships were in port at Caseblanca and Dakar, so were effectively floating gun emplacements. After 1943, the Richelieu was the most active of their battlehips, performing shore bombardment in the Far East with the Royal Navy.
I have to say this is one of the better books in the series (and they are all good), as it provides information to me on a subject of which I had very little actual information. French military equipment is not well written about outside the country and this one does a superlative job of covering the design and deployment of some fairly interesting ship types. Thanks to the great illustrations and the well-chosen period photos, we get a good look at some pretty neat ships and a fairly frustrating war record to boot. Pick it up. You'll not be disappointed.
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