Feel the Bearn - A Timeline of France's Only Carrier in WWII and Beyond

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FEEL THE BEARN
A Timeline of France's Only Carrier in World War II and Beyond

July 15, 1943 1:17PM EST

Admiral Georges Robert stood in the sweltering humidity, looking at the deteriorated hulks of Brewster Buffalo fighter planes before them. They had stood in the very field before him for three years, the effects of the tropics doing the same work to this instruments of war as to the vessel that had transported them to the Vichy Island territory of Martinique long ago. Their ship, the aircraft carrier Bearn had been and remained the nation of France's only aircraft carrier. As with other nations who were experimenting with a new class of vessel, she had proven woefully inadequate for the rapidly changing technological advances that had proceeded in the decades since her construction.

In the height of a new war, she had been acknowledged as a complete design flop by the French Navy. An unusual engine layout, casemate guns, and battleship armor conspired to limit France's first carrier to just 21 knots. A complicated elevator design made the ship prone to being unable to conduct flight operations. Indeed, a year prior to the start of the latest conflict she was to have been replaced. Two Joffre-class carriers were ordered that would help renew a naval arm for the French Navy that had grown obsolescent. The ship was to be replaced, but it not quickly enough. As the new war had broken out in September 1939 these new units were years away from completion, and the Bearn remained the only operational carrier for France.

Her inadequacies had been further exposed during an effort to locate the German Panzerschiffe. Robert shook his head as he tried to recall the details as he began to walk around the rusting planes, the tall grass occasionally ensnaring his pants. No, he thought, it was like trying to use a sailing frigate against a battleship. Instead, Bearn had been given the mission of transporting gold bullion to the United States. The Arsenal of Democracy had provided aircraft in return, and the ponderous carrier had become the world's largest aircraft ferry as it brought them back to France to bolster its war effort. In 1940 she had been dispatched against to the United States with another load of bullion. It was after receiving her load of fighters in Nova Scotia they had docked in Martinique, and while they were anchored there Captain Aubert had been notified of France's surrender.

And there she had stayed. And slowly rotted, just like the long abandoned aircraft before him. Oh, how they thought she was a threat, observed Robert. The island was Vichy, and there had been grave concerns by the British that their former allies would hand the aircraft carrier over to the British. Eventually a quiet agreement had been made that the Bearn would remain immobilized, and in exchange their former allies would not seek to sink her. And so that remained her state. The war had raged on in first the Atlantic, and then the Pacific as the Japanese Empire went to war with the Americans and the British. The years had passed, with no change on the tropical island until finally, earlier in the month, Governor Nicol had switched sides. Martinique would now be a Free French Territory and had joined the cause of the Allies.

Now it was the Vichy goverment's turn to be concerned about the old aircraft carrier. He had been ordered to sink her, but Robert had hesitated. Ultimately he had ordered her engine room partially flooded. Really, what did it matter, he questioned. The ship was covered in grime and filth, the elements and lack of care over the last three years having done the job that first the British and now the Vichy government wanted performed upon her. No, the French admiral thought, let her remain as she is. Her part in the war, if there ever was one, was over.

July 15, 1943 2:15 EST

Admiral Edward Cochrane allowed himself a grin as he read the paper in his hands again. It was a list of requests from Vice Admiral Fennard, the head of the Free French Naval Mission. And to call it a list was to do the word an injustice, he thought. He was rather a manifesto, a detailed series of requests for refurbishment and modernization of French naval equipment and vessels. At the top of the list was their aircraft carrier. As Chief of Buships he had humored the French admiral by detailing just what it would take to make the aged Bearn a vessel capable of bringing the fight back to Germany. The exercise by Buships was purely theoretical, if not fantastical. The ship would require not only new elevators and catapults to be fitted, but would need totally new engines. And bulges. And if they were going to make her form adequate to serve in anything resembling a modern navy, a hull plug would also need to added that would be at least one hundred feet in length. To call it impractical was an understatement. It would be almost as difficult to make the USS Oregon a front-line unit once more.

The phone on his desk suddenly rang. Cochrane picked it up. A familiar voice was on the other end. Instantly, although he was in his office alone he straightened his spine.

"Mr. President," he said. After a few seconds he responded to his caller. "Yes sir, we have the plans. But we feel that the most practical use for her would be as an transport. We can have her reconditioned and delivered --"

Cochrane's eyes widened. "Are you sure, sir? As head of Buships I must inform you that there are other priorities --"

The answer he received indicated the certainty.

"Yes, Mr. President. It will be done."


March 1944 - The Bearn re-enters service. Her casemate guns are gone, as is her 3inch armor belt. Two elevators of American design have been fitted, as have two H 2-1 catapults. The SNFCM reciprocating steam engines and the two original Parsons geared steam turbines have been removed with great effort and have been replaced with 4 Parsons single reduction geared steam turbines that are powered by hine Babcock & Wilcox 400 psi boilers. Speed has been improved to 29 knots. Aircraft capacity has been bolstered to 50 planes.

The ship is scheduled to take six months to train up its new crew, but the Free French insist that it be part of the D-Day landings.

June 1944 - Aircraft from the Bearn are deployed and bomb German gun emplacements on the Atlantic Wall. The sight of a French ship flying an over-sized French flag serves as an inspiration for Free French soldiers

August 1944 - The Bearn is deployed with the British carriers HMS Indefatigable and Formidable as part of Operation Goodwood. Aircraft from the three Allied carriers launch multiple attacks on the German battleship Tirpitz. On August 29th, a bomb from a plane from the Bearn penetrates the deck next to the second forward turret, causing a massive detonation that blows the dreadnought in half.
 
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Two months earlier sinking of the Tirpitz and by the navy instead of 617 squadron has some interesting butterflies for arctic convoys and freeing up British naval power that existed to stop the Tirpitz reaching the Atlantic.
 
the problem with teh Bearn's speed is limited by her hull form, without stretching her to reduce her beam relative to her length you're not going to get much more speed out of her, but otherwise, off to a great start :)
 
May 1945 – Docked in Toulon, the Bearn is ringed in lights as gathered crowds cheer Charles De Gaulle’s radio announcement from Paris. Simultaneously there is a riot in French Tunisia as the Levant Crisis begins. As the nationalist uprising spreads, De Gaulle orders the Bearn immediately dispatched to the region to provide military assistance. With casualties mounting the Syrians appeal to Winston Churchill to intervene. On May 31st, Churchill instructs De Gaulle to stand down French forces, reminding him that the French soldiers in the region remain under the command of British General Bernard Paget for the duration of the war in the Pacific. De Gaulle demures, then finally says no. The Bearn has arrived and will defend France's interests.
 
I've always wanted to see a good Bearn-wank but she needs to do better in WWII. Have Martinique declare for Free France as soon as TORCH happens or better yet right after Pearl Harbor (you know, the US is involved now, they see the writing on the wall).
 
I've always wanted to see a good Bearn-wank but she needs to do better in WWII. Have Martinique declare for Free France as soon as TORCH happens or better yet right after Pearl Harbor (you know, the US is involved now, they see the writing on the wall).

She already sank the Tirpitz. And we're probably not done yet.
 
the problem with teh Bearn's speed is limited by her hull form, without stretching her to reduce her beam relative to her length you're not going to get much more speed out of her, but otherwise, off to a great start :)

I figure they did close to one of the 19th Century USNs 'Great Rebuilds' where they lifted up the Ships Bell, and built a brand new vessel underneath it. No-one in Congress knew about the Ship of Theseus, it seems, or turned a blind eye for the right palms being greased.
 
I figure they did close to one of the 19th Century USNs 'Great Rebuilds' where they lifted up the Ships Bell, and built a brand new vessel underneath it. No-one in Congress knew about the Ship of Theseus, it seems, or turned a blind eye for the right palms being greased.

Let's just say that Roosevelt's instructions to BuShip and Free French requests were...generous.
 
I had a story line where her aircraft cripple the Graf Spee off Brazil after the German ship gets spooked in the South Atlantic and heads north

Quite fond of the old girl and her 'design faults' should be seen as features - but them lifts though

;)

813817Bearn_ascenseur_median.jpg
 
June 1, 1945 (9:00 AM EST)
Harry Truman shook his head in disbelief. "He did what?", asking with incredulity.

"President Roosevelt authorized a full rebuild of the Bearn," replied Henry Stimpson. The Secretary War smiled, dourly. "He said that it would improve French morale. We spent over fifty million dollars stripping out all of that obsolete technology and turning her into something of a semblance of a modern carrier. Even added a 148 foot hull plug to increase aircraft capacity and improve her speed."

Truman sat back in his chair. The Bearn was indeed famous for having participated in the D-Day landings, as well as sinking the battleship Tirpitz. But he had considered the latter a lucky shot, and Truman had not known the details of the modernization that his predecessor had authorized two years earlier. So this was what De Gaulle was bringing to the Levant region to maintain France's presence - a relatively capable fighting unit.

"The rebuild was given prioritization over other projects at the Brooklyn Naval Yard," continued Stimpson. "If President Roosevelt had simply said no, we might have had the battleship Missouri in the war at least a year ago."

At the mention of the battleship named after his home state, Truman's face turned red. The construction had been suspended by Roosevelt in March at a 90% state of completion, with the Missouri considered surplus to the needs of a war that was now nearing completion. He recalled the pride he had when his daughter Mary had christened the warship at her launching in January 1945. The suspension of construction had been an afternote to him when it was announced, a brief curiosity in an endless series of hectic days and nights. Now he knew why Missouri sat in a shipyard, draped in scaffolding.

"That sonofa-"
 
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June 1, 1945 (9:15 AM EST)

Under the instructions of Winston Churchill, General Bernard Paget orders the 31st Indian Armoured Division to invade Syria to prevent any further violence following the nationalist uprising. In addition, substantial forces within the French military in Syria defect to join the rebels. Remaining French military assets are employed. Casualties quickly escalated as land based aircraft were joined by bombers from the Bearn. Over 3,000 Syrians die.

June 1, 1945 (12:43 PM EST)
Transcript of conversation between Prime Minister Winston Churchill and General Charles De Gaulle, published in "Showdown 1945: The Levant Crisis" (2014) by Max Hastings

"General De Gaulle, your troops are still under the command of General Paget for the duration of the war. They have been ordered to stand down and allow Syria to be secured. And I am requesting that the Bearn be withdrawn."

"Nonsense. Our troops will stamp out this rebellion. The Bearn will remain on post until this uprising has been quelled."

"Charles, this is over. It is a humanitarian decision. We have concerns far larger than wasting precious resources to help you maintain your overseas holdings."

"I refuse. Any attempt to intervene in France's affairs will be met with force."

"Met with force? This is madness."

"This is France."

June 1, 1945 (12:53 PM EST)
Transcript of communication between Prime Minister Winston Churchill and First Lord Brendan Bracken:

"Lord Bracken, dispatch all available forces to the Levant region."

"Prime Minister, we have limited assets left in the Mediterranean. The only carrier I can send is the Battler."

"An escort carrier? It should suffice."

"What are your orders, sir."

"You are with haste to find, engage, and sink the Bearn."
 

Coulsdon Eagle

Monthly Donor
June 1, 1945 (9:15 AM EST)

Under the instructions of Winston Churchill, General Bernard Paget orders the 31st Indian Armoured Division to invade Syria to prevent any further violence following the nationalist uprising. In addition, substantial forces within the French military in Syria defect to join the rebels. Remaining French military assets are employed. Casualties quickly escalated as land based aircraft were joined by bombers from the Bearn. Over 3,000 Syrians die.

June 1, 1945 (12:43 PM EST)
Transcript of conversation between Prime Minister Winston Churchill and General Charles De Gaulle, published in "Showdown 1945: The Levant Crisis" (2014) by Max Hastings

"General De Gaulle, your troops are still under the command of General Paget for the duration of the war. They have been ordered to stand down and allow Syria to be secured. And I am requesting that the Bearn be withdrawn."

"Nonsense. Our troops will stamp out this rebellion. The Bearn will remain on post until this uprising has been quelled."

"Charles, this is over. It is a humanitarian decision. We have concerns far larger than wasting precious resources to help you maintain your overseas holdings."

"I refuse. Any attempt to intervene in France's affairs will be met with force."

"Met with force? This is madness."

"This is France."

June 1, 1945 (12:53 PM EST)
Transcript of communication between Prime Minister Winston Churchill and First Lord Brendan Bracken:

"Lord Bracken, dispatch all available forces to the Levant region."

"Prime Minister, we have limited assets left in the Mediterranean. The only carrier I can send is the Battler."

"An escort carrier? It should suffice."

"What are your orders, sir."

"You are with haste to find, engage, and sink the Bearn."


Hmm... a nasty little naval defeat for the RN should tip a few more votes Labour's way in next month's General Election.
 
I appreciate that its part of the story but surely the UK has lots of land based air that can quickly be sent to any of the many air bases in the region.

Cyprus, Egypt, Palestine?

Battler had in 1945 - 12 Avengers in an ASW setup and 6 Wildcats!
 
June 1, 1945 (5:40 PM EST)

A combined force of 24 Hurricane Hawker fighter-bombers (450 Squadron) are dispatched from the Royal Air Force Base in Haifa and are joined by fighters from the escort carrier HMS Battler.

June 1, 1945 (7:12 PM EST)
The combined British force attacks the Bearn. The French carrier is hit three times by bombs. One fails to detonate and the second explodes midship, damaging the distinctive island. The third impacts the stern, creating a sizeable hole in the flightdeck and starting a large fire in the hangar deck. Excellent French AA fire downs over half of the Hurricanes. The Bearn's own fighters engage and ultimately drive off the squadron of Wildcats from the Battler, downing two of them.

June 1, 1945 (7:31 PM EST)
Transcript of conversation between Captain Philippe Auboyneau and General Charles De Gaulle, published in "Showdown 1945: The Levant Crisis" (2014) by Max Hastings

"We have been attacked by the British. The Bearn has been damaged."

"Are you still capable of combat operations?"

"Indeed. We can still launch aircraft and will have the ability to land them within the hour."



June 1, 1945 (10:48 PM EST)
Aircraft from the Bearn attack the HMS Battler. The carrier is hit with three torpedoes and five bombs. She sinks within fourteen minutes. 514 British sailors are lost.
 
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