Operation Catapult part1 by AliceFromLake ()
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After the Fall of France in 1940 and the armistice between France and Nazi Germany, the British War Cabinet was apprehensive about the Germans acquiring control of the French navy from the government of Vichy France. The French and German navies combined could alter the balance of power at sea, threatening British imports over the Atlantic and communications with the rest of the British Empire. Churchill ordered that a demand be made that the French Navy (Marine nationale) should either join with the Royal Navy or be neutralised in a manner guaranteed to prevent the ships falling into Axis hands.The British tried to persuade the French authorities in North Africa to continue the war, or alternatively to hand over the fleet to British control. A British admiral visited Oran on 24 June, and on 27 June Duff Cooper, Minister of Information, visited Casablanca. The French Atlantic ports were in German hands, while the British needed to keep the German surface fleet out of the Mediterranean, to confine the Italian fleet to the Mediterranean and to blockade the Vichy ports. The Admiralty was against an attack on the French fleet, since if not enough damage were done to the ships, Vichy France would be provoked into declaring war and the French colonial empire as a result become more hostile to the Free French Forces.
Operation Catapult was an attempt to take these ships under British control or destroy them, and the French ships in Plymouth and Portsmouth were boarded without warning on the night of 3 July 1940. The most powerful group of French warships was at Mers-el-Kébir in French Algeria, consisting of the old battleships Provence and Bretagne, the newer Force de Raid battleships Dunkerque and Strasbourg, the seaplane tender Commandant Teste and six destroyers under the command of Admiral Marcel-Bruno Gensoul. Admiral James Somerville of Force H, based in Gibraltar, was ordered to deliver an ultimatum to the French but the British terms were contrary to the German-French armistice terms.
The British force comprised the battlecruiser HMS Hood, the battleships HMS Valiant and Resolution, the aircraft carrier Ark Royal and an escort of cruisers and destroyers. The British had the advantage of being able to manoeuvre, while the French fleet was anchored in a narrow harbour and its crews did not expect an attack.
Now, in this part one, the Royal Navy Ships are on the way to Mers-el-Kébir. In the background you can see the battle ship HMS Valiant, with the cruiser HMS Enterprise next on the right and one of the destroyers in foreground.
...to be continued!