French Maritime aviation/Carrier Development?

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Carl Schwamberger
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French Maritime aviation/Carrier Development?

Post by Carl Schwamberger » 08 Jun 2018 03:48

Curious about French naval thinking about maritime aviation and aircraft carrier development. Obviously they were late to it, with only experiments in carrier aviation to the latter 1930s. I'm looking for a quick sketch of the proposals and thinking from the 1920s thru the 30s. Any sources would be greatly appreciated.

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Re: French Maritime aviation/Carrier Development?

Post by cyanrumblecord » 08 Jun 2018 12:47

On the 'Joffre' Class which were to supersede the Béarn had France not fallen.

"The French Navy considered the Béarn to be a semi-experimental vessel to be replaced by new construction as soon as was practicable. Between 1930 and 1932 seven design studies were prepared (PA1 through PA7) for carriers in the range 15,000 tons to 18,000 tons standard, armed with 6-inch guns. and capable of accommodating twenty to thirty aircraft. Four further designs (PA8 through PA11) were considered thereafter, between 1932 and 1935. They were of similar size but emphasized speed (the designers sought between 32 and 35 knots) in vessels of 14,000 tons to 19,000 tons standard, protected on a light cruiser scale, and armed with anti-aircraft weapons only. In 1936 the Conseil Supérieur again emphasized the need for carriers and put forward the idea of converting France's first Washington Treaty heavy cruisers the Duquesne and the Tourville, into carriers. Two studies retained one 8-inch gun turret and the other eliminated the main batter entirely. The displacement would rise to 12,000 tons standard and the ships could carry twelve to fourteen aircraft. This idea was dropped in favour of new construction. After the Conseil Supérieur completed yet another series of four studies (PA12 through PA15) an acceptable design (PA16) emerged and funding was authorized to construct two new carriers.

Displacement: 18,000 tons (standard), 20,000 tons (normal)
Dimensions: 774'0" (oa) x 80'6" x 21'6" (mean)
Flight Deck: 656'2" x 91'10"
Machinery: Parsons geared turbines, 8 Indret boilers, 2 shafts, 120,000 shp = 33knts
Bunkerage & Range: 7,000NM @ 20knts
Aircraft: 40
Armament: 4 x twin 5.1"AA, 4 x twin 37mm AA, 6x Quadruple 12.7mm AA
Complement: 1,250

The design incorporated a number of unusual features. There was a very long island starboard that incorporated not only the navigation and flying control spaces and the stack but also all the principal armament. To counterbalance it's weight the flight deck was offset to port, which served to eliminate the encroachment of the island on the flight deck and limited narrowing of the hangars. There were two hangars, one above the other. The upper hangar was 521 feet 7 inches long and 68 feet 3 inches wide, the lower was 259 feet 2 inches long and 51 feet 2 inches wide and they were connected to the flight deck by two large elevators. The flight deck carried transverse arresting wire gear but, unlike many of their foreign contemporaries, no catapults were fitted. The Joffre and the Painlevé were ordered from Chantiers de l'Atlantique (Penhoët -Loire) at St Nazaire in 1938. At the outbreak of war the Joffre was about 25 percent complete and the Painlevé only just started. Both hulls were dismantled on the slip after the Fall of France in June 1940.

P.31-32

"During the course of World War II designers in unoccupied France continued to work on aircraft carrier projects, though without any real hope of seeing them come to fruition. Their efforts however allowed the French government to approve the construction of a new carrier, to design PA28 in 1947. The ship was similar is size and design to the late-war British carriers but also incorporated the offset flight deck of the pre-war Joffre design and had an exceptionally heavy anti-aircraft battery. Budgetary constraints, however, led to the cancellation of this ship, by then named the Clémenceau, in 1950.

P.130

Aircraft Carriers: An Illustrated History of Their Impact
By Paul E. Fontenoy

Martlet Mk1

"At the end of 1939, Grumman received an order for 81 aircraft of model G-36A to equip their two new aircraft carrier: Joffre and Painlevé. The main difference of the basic model G-36 was the unavailability for export of the two-staged supercharged engine of the F4F-3 ..."

(so on and so forth. 9 cylinder R-1820 radial instead. 1,200hp, single stage two speed supercharger. French instruments in Metric, radio, gunsights, backwards throttle lever. Six 'Darne' 7.5mm MG's. First example flies on 11th May 1940 ( :roll: "a day late and a dollar short") . France falls, Britain takes over the contract. British equipment + 4x .50 cals replaces French equipment.)

World War 2 In Review No. 30: Grumman's Wildcat
By Merriam Press (2018)

(cost of) "a Joffre class aircraft carrier (about ₣500 million)"

Case Red: The Collapse of France
By Robert Forczyk

(describing the Maritime Arms race between Germany and France, Chapter 7)

"Infrastructure remained a major issue. The Salou No.4 building dock at Brest and the new Forme Caquot at St Nazaire were the only facilities available. The Penhoët slipway at St Nazaire, from which Strasbourg had been launched in December 1936 would be required for France's first modern aircraft carrier Joffre , to be laid down on 26 November 1938. The Salou No.4 dock at Brest would only be vacated when the hull of Richelieu was floated out -scheduled for late 1938 but in the event delayed until January 1939."

(so on and so forth, trouble with the twin and quad 5.1" DP mountings)

French Battleships 1922-1956
By John Jordan, Robert Dumas

(discussing interwar warship development, specifically in the 1920's. Navy wants a second carrier, a proper fleet carrier. Too much money of course. A seaplane carrier then? Desired is a ship with two catapults for 2,500kg aircraft - the sort of thing they're developing for the 10,000 ton cruiser rebuilds they're considering. Nine scout planes, six fighters, 17kts, 4 x high angle 75mm guns. Suggestion to convert an ocean liner but it's too much tonnage for the Washington Treaty.
Suggestion to convert a freighter, judged too slow.
Suggestion to convert an elderly armoured cruiser.
Suggestion to purpose built something.

Purpose built is chosen. They liked how it was cheap. They liked how it could field larger torpedo bombers than regular carriers. It couldn't handle the open ocean.)

P.185-186

Warships after Washington: The Development of Five Major Fleers 1922-1930
By John Jordan

Is that the sort of thing you were looking for?

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Re: French Maritime aviation/Carrier Development?

Post by Carl Schwamberger » 08 Jun 2018 13:18

Thank you & Merci for all that. More than I hoped for.

It appears there was little effort in the 1920s.

The sizes contemplated suggest they saw these ships strictly as a auxilliary, or support ship. Nothing like the Lexington or other 'fleet' carriers.

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Re: French Maritime aviation/Carrier Development?

Post by cyanrumblecord » 08 Jun 2018 13:33

I think the idea might have been to search out and destroy German raiders attacking French Merchant shipping in the Atlantic rather than go mano a mano with the Kido Butai. There's a book with a decent section on it that I can't get an electronic copy of but which I might be able to access a physical copy of on the weekend, might have something else to post then.

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Re: French Maritime aviation/Carrier Development?

Post by Carl Schwamberger » 08 Jun 2018 13:41

That would be useful here.

Not yet found any other threads with this subject.

The question about experimentation in the 1920 still stands.

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Re: French Maritime aviation/Carrier Development?

Post by cyanrumblecord » 21 Jul 2018 16:19

I did some more reading & wrote a really long reply here but the page asked me to log in again just as I hit submit & wiped it all so here's a condensed version.

Washington Naval Treaty: France asks for a better Carrier ratio than it gets for Battleships for different reasons than their arguments around Auxiliaries. They want the Carriers to operate with the Battleships, 20,000tns is supposedly the minimum practical for the Ocean & they want 3. One for the Atlantic, one for the Med & one in refit/reserve. Soon as the treaties over they start planning for 2 x 30,000tn carriers (one for the Med, one for the Atlantic).

Doctrine grows out of British doctrine. They get the idea of metal flame curtains in the hangars from them. They aren't disinterested in Naval Aviation. They're proponents & have ambition & there's innovations (they didn't use crash barriers, they had their own system they worked out), just not enough money.

Unique naval theory (most of what I wrote tied into this and how they saw Aircraft Carriers). See Raoul Castex's "Strategic Theories" (Juene Ecole left the Navy sit in port while the Army got all the Glory in WW1. The Naval environment lets us use Maneuver rather than Mass to conduct offensives, we can be aggressive & win. "Hybrid" powers like France that aren't quite Naval or Land powers have geographic Naval focuses. The Bay of Biscay: Bordeaux-Casablanca-Dakar & the Western Mediterranean: Toulon-Oran-Bizerte matters, other stuff doesn't. Hybrid powers naval combat involves amphibious operations to influence & pivot the Land battle).

Alchuemas landing (first Amphibious op using massed seaborne airpower) 1925.

"Warship 2010" by John Jordan, good article on the Joffre Class (37mm AAA guns had a Rate of Fire per barrel of 135rpm, good deal of investment in rangefinders, directors).

They don't want to operate more than 400NM offshore in the 1920's. It's all about operating with a battleship, hunting down a Carrier or Battlecruiser that's cutting off either of those two essential supply lines & getting torpedoes in it.

There's a sort of Ministry of the Air that stuffs everything up in 1928, neglects naval aviation through 1931-36. The proponents know what they want throughout it all. They really, really like torpedo bombers (dive bombers?.. meh). We want big, capable torpedo bombers launching high tech fast torpedoes. Seaplane carrier or a cruiser conversion instead of a flatop in the 20's because it can carry aircraft that can carry torpedoes. Lower total complement of aircraft on a Joffre class carrier in the 1930's is fine so long as it can operate some of those twin engined Br.693 Navalized monoplanes that can fit these torpedoes.

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Re: French Maritime aviation/Carrier Development?

Post by pikeshot1600 » 26 Jul 2019 21:06

Sorry to be late to this thread (been away for awhile). There appear to be several issues here, all having to do with funding.

Something that came out of World War I was the concept of the air force. That seemed reasonable enough, but in the cases of France, Italy and Britain a separate air force resulted in military politics concerning who was going to be in charge of military aviation, and who was going to control the funding.

So, first, the inevitable bureaucratic/military turf issues hamstrung the Aeronavale as well as the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm until well into the 1930s. Just to comment, in Italy's case, the air force was a hotbed of Fascist politics and nationalist machismo rather than an armed service that would cooperate with the (mostly) royalist navy.

Second, as France has always been primarily a continental power, the army came first on the list of expenditures. An army with a mobilized strength of about 5,000,000, and a defensive mentality that resulted in the enormously expensive Maginot Line left much less for the navy

Third, France, as a maritime power had colonial responsibilities from the Caribbean and North Africa to Indochina and the Pacific islands. The French navy had one old, slow essentially auxiliary aircraft carrier, Bearn, that was not of much use to the fleet. It wasn't that the navy did not build modern, impressive warships in the 1920s and 30s, but the funding was used on destroyers and submarines above all else.

As a result of the 1922 Washington Naval Limitation Treaty, and before tonnage limitations in the 1930 London Naval Treaty, the French navy used its funding to build 10,000 ton warships (too small for an aircraft carrier) and as many torpedo and gun-armed ships under 10,000 tons as they could afford. These were policy decisions rather than technological or strategic decisions.

Lack of control and lack of funding caused the navy to prioritize ships over aircraft, which left them with very few naval aircraft (and of a jumbled variety) that they could operate even from land. Another issue that arose was that there was little career prospect for naval aviators, so their numbers were both few and not influential.

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