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  1. #1
    Dylan2010 Dylan2010 is offline

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    Question: Why didn't the French fleet relocate to the UK in 1940 as France was falling?

    Its one of those small episodes in the war that never quite made sense to me, France was going to be occupied for the forseeable future and you cant run a rebel navy due to the resources required but the best the French were offering was to scuttle their ships if the Germans tried to capture them. The best way to fight back against the Nazis would have been for the fleet to to continue the war alongside Britain. What exactly was going on in the French leadership's heads that they didnt do this?




    Background here

    Operation Catapult: Naval Destruction at Mers-el-Kebir

    On July 3, 1940, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill had to make one of the most momentous decisions of his career. Early that morning, he ordered a British fleet to arrive off the naval base of Mers-el-Kebir in North Africa and demand the surrender of the French vessels there. The British were to offer the French admiral four alternatives intended to prevent the French fleet's falling into the hands of the Germans. If the French commander refused the terms, his ships would be sunk by the British force. If the British were compelled to open fire, it would be the first time in 125 years that the two navies were arrayed against one another in hostility......
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  2. #2
    potholedogger potholedogger is offline

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    Quote Originally Posted by Dylan2010 View Post
    Its one of those small episodes in the war that never quite made sense to me, France was going to be occupied for the forseeable future and you cant run a rebel navy due to the resources required but the best the French were offering was to scuttle their ships if the Germans tried to capture them. The best way to fight back against the Nazis would have been for the fleet to to continue the war alongside Britain. What exactly was going on in the French leadership's heads that they didnt do this?




    Background here

    Operation Catapult: Naval Destruction at Mers-el-Kebir
    Was the fleet not under the control of Vichy France?

    How could they send the fleet to England and seek peace with the Germans?
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  3. #3
    Mushroom Mushroom is offline
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dylan2010 View Post

    Its one of those small episodes in the war that never quite made sense to me, France was going to be occupied for the forseeable future and you cant run a rebel navy due to the resources required but the best the French were offering was to scuttle their ships if the Germans tried to capture them. The best way to fight back against the Nazis would have been for the fleet to to continue the war alongside Britain. What exactly was going on in the French leadership's heads that they didnt do this?
    Suspicion, pride and poor communications, mainly.

    There's a reasonably detailed explanation for the decision here.
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  4. #4
    Trainwreck Trainwreck is offline

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    It really was a strange episode.

    Consider that the French are the world champions at surrendering. Nobody knows more about surrender than the French.

    But strangely on this occasion they declined to surrender. You would have put you house on a rapid white flag up the mast.

    You're right, it is one of those conundrums of history.
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  5. #5
    Des Quirell Des Quirell is offline
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    Quote Originally Posted by Trainwreck View Post
    It really was a strange episode.

    Consider that the French are the world champions at surrendering. Nobody knows more about surrender than the French.

    But strangely on this occasion they declined to surrender. You would have put you house on a rapid white flag up the mast.

    You're right, it is one of those conundrums of history.
    Ah the usual surrender monkeys garbage. Check your history books, and mutter an appreciation to Charles Martel for the fact that you're not typing in Arabic.
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  6. #6
    toxic avenger toxic avenger is offline
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    The argument made was that they intended to scuttle the fleet or sail it away in the event of the Germans looking like they were coming close to taking it (and I think there was another occasion, I think at Marseilles, where they did that). The British, pretty understandably, said 'Sorry, but we're fighting for our life here - we can not take the chance of the Germans getting your fleet because if they do, we're finished'. The French were given every option - sail to a neutral port, sail it to Britain, scuttle it, anything except leaving it at risk of capture. Then on the very day of the attack the British told them what they were going to do and pleaded with them not to let it happen, to just sail away or do it themselves. The French still refused.

    Churchill apparently cried that day. But the one positive thing that came of it was that it convinced Roosevelt that the British were serious about fighting to the death. It convinced him to push lend-lease, now convinced that the British were not going to do deals or come to any arrangement with the Germans - he knew from that day on that they were going to fight on against the odds no matter what the consequences.
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  7. #7
    Trainwreck Trainwreck is offline

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    Quote Originally Posted by Des Quirell View Post
    Ah the usual surrender monkeys garbage. Check your history books, and mutter an appreciation to Charles Martel for the fact that you're not typing in Arabic.
    Are you referring to Tours and the battle fought by a core of soldiers from what would become Germany?


    But thank you. "Cheese Eating Surrender Monkey" was the term I was searching for.
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  8. #8
    Des Quirell Des Quirell is offline
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    Quote Originally Posted by toxic avenger View Post
    The argument made was that they intended to scuttle the fleet or sail it away in the event of the Germans looking like they were coming close to taking it (and I think there was another occasion, I think at Marseilles, where they did that). The British, pretty understandably, said 'Sorry, but we're fighting for our life here - we can not take the chance of the Germans getting your fleet because if they do, we're finished'. The French were given every option - sail to a neutral port, sail it to Britain, scuttle it, anything except leaving it at risk of capture. Then on the very day of the attack the British told them what they were going to do and pleaded with them not to let it happen, to just sail away or do it themselves. The French still refused.

    Churchill apparently cried that day. But the one positive thing that came of it was that it convinced Roosevelt that the British were serious about fighting to the death. It convinced him to push lend-lease, now convinced that the British were not going to do deals or come to any arrangement with the Germans - he knew from that day on that they were going to fight on against the odds no matter what the consequences.
    The corollary to this is that had the French Navy joined forces with the British Navy, then Hitler would have torn up the Armistice which had been signed with the French and would have crushed the French beyond the extent achieved already.
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  9. #9
    ergo2 ergo2 is offline

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    Thanks for that reference Mushroom.

    It was a tragic incident. However it did show both t he Germans and the Americans that Britain were serious about fighting on.
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  10. #10
    tonic tonic is offline

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    Quote Originally Posted by toxic avenger View Post
    The argument made was that they intended to scuttle the fleet or sail it away in the event of the Germans looking like they were coming close to taking it (and I think there was another occasion, I think at Marseilles, where they did that). The British, pretty understandably, said 'Sorry, but we're fighting for our life here - we can not take the chance of the Germans getting your fleet because if they do, we're finished'. The French were given every option - sail to a neutral port, sail it to Britain, scuttle it, anything except leaving it at risk of capture. Then on the very day of the attack the British told them what they were going to do and pleaded with them not to let it happen, to just sail away or do it themselves. The French still refused.

    Churchill apparently cried that day. But the one positive thing that came of it was that it convinced Roosevelt that the British were serious about fighting to the death. It convinced him to push lend-lease, now convinced that the British were not going to do deals or come to any arrangement with the Germans - he knew from that day on that they were going to fight on against the odds no matter what the consequences.
    Those who lived through that period in Britain say they were at their best then and that it was their finest hour. I'd have to agree with that.
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