French Firepower Forward: The unrealized potential of the Dunkerque and Richelieu Class Battleships

Padre Steve's World...Musings of a Progressive Realist in Wonderland

Richelieu in the 1950s

This is the second in a series of five articles on the battleships built under the provision of the Washington and London Naval Treaty limitations in the 1930s. I am not including the ships which were completed in the immediate aftermath of the Washington Treaty limitations. This series looks at the modern battleships that the World War II combatants would produce in the 1930s which saw service in the war. Part one covered the Italian Vittorio Veneto class entitled The Pride of the Regina Marina: The Vittorio Veneto Class Battleships. This article covers the French Dunkerque class and Richelieu class Battleships. Part Three will deal with the British King George V Class and Part Four the American North Carolina and South Dakota Classes. I have already published the final part which covers the German Scharnhorst Class entitled Power and Beauty the Battle Cruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau .

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5 thoughts on “French Firepower Forward: The unrealized potential of the Dunkerque and Richelieu Class Battleships

  1. It is a reminder of how messy the war turned out on the French side. Although the French Republic had willingly, deliberately, opposed strenuously and declared war to Hitler, thus starting World War Two, France was later attacked several times her belated allies. For example, the massacre of the French fleet at Mers El Khebir was completely avoidable. It adversely impacted not just the French military, and French public opinion, but also the Allied military capability. Somehow the proposal of letting the ships sail to the Caribbean, was not transmitted to the French commanders. The British admirals did not want to fire on the French colleagues they worked with, days before, and long refused Churchill’s order to fire.

    • Problem was that, basically, diplomacy and communications there got messed up. People conducting the negotiations had little or no authority to actually discuss the terms, then I believe there were language barriers…

  2. I wrote this in the original post, but it’s interesting to consider the possibility of all guns forward.

    In theory, a battleship could have a full 270 degrees coverage with all guns, instead of just broadsides, allowing it to attack head on or to attack an enemy behind by angling at 45 degrees.

    On the downside, the large turrets weaken the hull (larger holes), it leaves the turrets vulnerable to having half the guns down (especially if a vital spot is hit), and I think that the structure has to be carefully thought out (guns near to be closer to the middle or the defenses will be weakened).

    It’s an interesting tradeoff compared to the 3×3 gun configuration.

  3. I love the Richelieu, the Strv-103, the Foxbat, the Alfa. All these designs had a certain courage, elegance and efficiency to them. In the case of the Richelieu, its very design is one that implies courage; by having all its guns forward, the ship implies that “we don’t run from trouble, we turn towards it.” Of the ship designs that actually tried to stay under 35000 tons the Richelieu is the best IMO and even a modern “guided missile battleship” design could gain a lot from the layout. Rear deck for vertical launch weapons, front two turrets provide at least 800 rounds of good old high-caliber gunfire.

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