Did the British Navy regularly attempt to capture/attack Vichy French ships

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Felix C
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Did the British Navy regularly attempt to capture/attack Vichy French ships

Post by Felix C » 25 Sep 2018 17:33

from the Armistice in 1940 to Nov. 1942?
I read now and then of French merchant ships being taken by the RN. Wonder if it was just opportunity or in a sensitive area as opposed to strangling French trade in general.

No other combats between Vichy French naval vessels and British ships after the initial 1940 ones? I mean in 1941 and 1942 prior to the actual Torch invasion. Well there was also the Madagascar invasion in 1942. For example Vichy French naval ships were used for the Laconia rescues. Apparently able to egress and return to harbours in NW Africa without being molested.

OHara
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Re: Did the British Navy regularly attempt to capture/attack Vichy French ships

Post by OHara » 10 Oct 2018 04:51

Generally the British left routine French traffic alone. There were convoys through the Straits of Gibraltar, for example, several times a week for most of the period. If, however, the British had intelligence (or suspected) that a French ship was carrying a cargo that might be valuable to the Axis, they might interfer. For example, on 30 March 1941 British Sheffield and four destroyers tried to seize the steamer Bangkok sailing in convoy from Casablanca for Marseilles. They thought, mistakenly, that the ship was loaded with rubber.

There were several naval actions between French and British warships:
23-25 September 1940 - Battle of Dakar
25 September 1940 - Destroyer action off Gibraltar
9 June 1940 - Action off Sidon, Syria. French contre-torpilleurs badly damaged HMS Janus.
16 and 22 June 1940. Actions off Beirut between Allied crusier/destroyer forces and French contre-torpilleurs.

You can read about all that stuff in O'Hara, Struggle for the Middle Sea pg 125-134. Warren Tute, The Reluctant Enemies (1989) is worth checking out for the British point of view, or The French Navy in World War II by Auphan and Mordal for the French pov. This was republished in paperback by Naval Institute so it's easy to find.

Vince

Felix C
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Re: Did the British Navy regularly attempt to capture/attack Vichy French ships

Post by Felix C » 10 Oct 2018 15:59

Well I wrote 1940-1942 for merchant and 1941-1942 for naval excepting known operations. Thanks all the same. Familiar with the 1940 Naval Actions.

Crass to plug your own work.

Sid Guttridge
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Re: Did the British Navy regularly attempt to capture/attack Vichy French ships

Post by Sid Guttridge » 11 Oct 2018 19:07

Hi Felix C.,

From memory, the Royal Navy took over four Vichy merchant ships trading with the French colonies in the Caribbean and I believe that on at least one occasion an entire Vichy convoy was picked up off South Africa. (Just checked - it was on 3 November, 1941. There is a Pathe newsreel film of it on the internet under the title "Vichy convoy captured".) The British also intercepted all the Vichy French trawlers sent to the Grand Banks in 1941. There were doubtless many more incidents. The British did not want such cargoes of sugar, rubber, or salted fish reaching Vichy in large enough amounts for any excess of it to breach their blockade of Germany.

The hope was also that most of the crews would come over to the Free French, but initially few did and most had to be repatriated.

Cheers,

Sid.

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Loïc
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Re: Did the British Navy regularly attempt to capture/attack Vichy French ships

Post by Loïc » 11 Oct 2018 21:42

hello

according to Paxton 33 merchants ships captured from june 1940 to may 1941 and 26 the following year

Sid Guttridge
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Re: Did the British Navy regularly attempt to capture/attack Vichy French ships

Post by Sid Guttridge » 12 Oct 2018 10:39

Hi Loic,

Do you know of any sources that deal with the seizure of French auxiliary sail trawlers sent to fish the Grand Banks off Newfoundland in 1941? I think there were six of them.

Many thanks,

Sid.

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Steve
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Re: Did the British Navy regularly attempt to capture/attack Vichy French ships

Post by Steve » 13 Oct 2018 12:08

Hi, Vichy France was the legally recognised government of France (in theory all of it) for much of the war. Among many countries that maintained diplomatic relations with them was the USA which had an ambassador to Vichy. As the UK was not (in theory) at war with Vichy were attacks on its shipping legally piracy?

Sid Guttridge
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Re: Did the British Navy regularly attempt to capture/attack Vichy French ships

Post by Sid Guttridge » 13 Oct 2018 21:20

Hi steve

I suppose it depends on whether one recognizes Vichy or the Free French.

London kept its options open by allowing Canada (which had a large and initially Vichy-leaning Francophone population) to retain a mission in Vichy and Vichy consulates in Canada, while cultivating the Free French itself. Its moves on Vichy shipping were in favour of the Free French, not itself. As French crews became available, the seized ships were turned over to the Free French merchant fleet.

Cheers,

sid

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Steve
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Re: Did the British Navy regularly attempt to capture/attack Vichy French ships

Post by Steve » 16 Oct 2018 01:45

Hi, first let me say I have no axe to grind on behalf of fascist Vichy I just think it is an interesting point.

On June 28 1940 De Gaulle was recognised as leader of the Free French forces which is not the same as a government in exile such as the Dutch or Belgian. I believe that only in September 1941 was a French provisional government in exile recognised by the allied powers. It seems that up to then even Britain was not disputing that Vichy was legitimate. Very likely in 1940 and for some time afterwards Vichy could have won an election against the Free French.

If you accept that Vichy was the legal government of France at least until September 1941 then the Free French were initially rebels operating with the support of a foreign power. As Britain was not officially at war with Vichy and the Free French were not at first an internationally recognised government surely seizing ships and handing them over to them was piracy. That the Free French even under British law had legal jurisdiction over French ships before perhaps September 1941 must be unlikely.

Perhaps a modern parallel with what the British were doing would be if the USA started seizing say Cuban ships on the high seas and handing them over to anti Cuban government groups in Florida.

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Re: Did the British Navy regularly attempt to capture/attack Vichy French ships

Post by Sid Guttridge » 19 Oct 2018 09:22

Hi Steve,

I guess the British initially seized Vichy French shipping on the grounds that France was in the process of concluding a separate peace, which it had previously guaranteed not to. This was certainly part of the rationale for attacking the French fleet at Mers el Kebir.

The Free French only merited recognition if they proved a viable alternative to Vichy, and this took some time to establish because Vichy's legitimacy was reasonably sound and the Free French had difficulty recruiting without a significant, French-populated, territorial base. One way to make sure that Free France was a viable ally was to strengthen the Free French merchant marine.

Once the Free French were recognized, then any ambiguity presumably disappeared.

Cheers,

Sid.

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