French vs Italian navies World War 2, who would win?

I think one has to keep in mind that the French and Italians were really not gearing their navies up for a 'Jutland' style battle, and didn't give a whole lot of though to having proper battle lines. Italy, when creating its force structure in the 1920s, pretty much left behind the concept, which figured heavily in procurement and battleship design. Though they paid lip service to the idea of using their battleships as an 'armored core' for the fleet to fall back upon, they more or less considered the ships useless (far too slow, especially because of their horrific vulnerability to bombs and torpedoes). The fleet was to be based on their cruiser forces - this was much of the reason behind why the Italians deliberately cheated the WNT when it came to the Zara-class - they wanted an armored core to their cruiser fleet, which would give them a decisive advantage over their French counterparts. The French had a similar, though not so radical view - they still considered their battleships viable for use as a fallback point for their cruisers, which is partly why the spent so much effort upgrading them compared to the Italians (this was also partly due to the fact that, by 1920, their battleships were starting to become out-classes as they fell behind in adopting technology such as directors, or taking steps to increase the elevation of their guns. Thus, the 340mm Bretagne-class only became able to rival the ranges of the Italian 305mm dreadnoughts after their refits from 1924 to 1927).

The Dunkerque-class spawned out of the line of development of fast 305mm battleships intended to deal with these Italian heavy cruisers, and the Italian rebuilding of the Cavour-class was largely in response to that. The second Dunkerque prompted the Littorio-class (which spawned out of the designs of treaty battleships that had to be able to reach 30 knots so they could support the cruisers), which prompted the Richelieu-class in response, and things evolved in a tit-for-tat manner from there - but once again, neither party was looking at things from the point of view of having a proper fleet (both navies were building themselves wildly heterogeneous battle lines).

If it came to a confrontation between the two of them, the most likely course of action would be cruiser-based warfare to strike at each other's lines of communication to Africa, with the battleships acting in support of such a method of conflict. I highly doubt either would seek a 'Jutland'-style action, unless one sought to lay a trap for another. Things would settle into a war of attrition, at least until the battleships made their debuts - which becomes a major turning point for the war.

Assuming we're looking at a conflict starting in 1940, the Italians are initially at a disadvantage. The French have the trio of Bretagne-class battleships available, and the two Dunkerque-class battleships. The former are not a huge threat - unable to catch any major Italian warships, and wholly inferior to the Cavour-class in firepower, fire control, protection, and of course, speed. Any action between them would be horrifically one-sided. However, the Dunkerque-class is faster and better protected than the Cavour's, likewise have a modern fire control system, and have comparable firepower - overall, more than a match for the Italian battleships, especially Strasbourg.

Such a balance of power would not shift until the end of the summer of 1940, as Littorio, Vittorio Veneto, and Caio Duilio are mostly worked up and operational as of September 1940 (Andrea Doria, completed later, would not become fully operational until about February 1941). The addition of another 'rebuild' to the Italian fleet is significant, especially since the Caio Duilio-class were significantly better than the Cavour-class (superior secondary & AA battery, superior fire control for all batteries), but the addition of the two Littorio's gives the Italians a decisive advantage, since it allows them to send out their cruiser forces with battleship support, and without slowing down the operation of the fleet as the rebuilds would.

The French could not match this until Richelieu entered service, and that wasn't going to be for a while - her 'completed' state in June of 1940 was very much incomplete and she still needed more work before she could be considered finished. Tack on time to work up and become fully operational, plus fixing all her issues... she may not enter service until 1941, and Jean Bart in 1942, which point the Italians, if Impero is not moved as was done historically, will have her in service (mid-1941), with Roma following in mid 1942. Clemenceau may have only just launched by then...

Shifting down a peg, the Italian heavy cruiser force likewise greatly outmatches the French force - the Trento-class (2) and Bolzano are capable of resisting up to 155mm fire at combat ranges (14,000 meters+), and the Zara-class (4) will be able to resist 203mm shellfire to such ranges too. In contrast, the only French cruiser that isn't cripplingly vulnerable to Italian 152mm fire (nevermind 203mm) is the excellent Algérie (which is also the only French heavy cruiser protected by armor steel, not construction steel...). It is only with the light cruisers that things become more comparable, since the French have access to the six excellent La Galissonnière-class - the only light cruisers the Italians have that are better are the Abruzzi twins. Though faster, the Montecuccoli (2) and Duca d'Aosta-class (2) would be fighting at a disadvantage due to having lesser firepower and armor protection (while the Abruzzi-class are resistant to 152mm fire at any combat range, the other two are only resistant at around 13,000 to 13,500 meters). The six modern French light cruisers, however, could have shrugged off the APC from the 152/53 M1929 at 11,000 meters (and probably the 152/55 at 1-2 km further). That being said, the Émile Bertin (1) and Duguay-Truoin (3) classes are essentially unarmored.

It's a bit hard to speculate on aerial and submersible warfare - so much of how the RM's (and RA's) capabilities developed depended on their environment during the war. One of the reasons Italian submarines were as successful in the Atlantic as they were was the help of training with the German U-boat arm, and likewise many tactics were revised based on the initial lethality of RN ASW capabilities. While I suspect Mediterranean subs would have more success given there'd be French traffic around, Italian submarines might not be pressed enough to evolve as much as they did. British ASW capabilities were very good. French ASW capabilities were negligible. Likewise, British submarines helped push the Italian ASW effort. French submarines in action... had their moments, but were arguably in a worse place than their Italian counterparts;

The performance of France’s large submarine force was disappointing. The coastal submarines deployed to patrol areas in the North Sea during the early months of the war achieved nothing. In the 1,500-tonne fleet boats, there was still inadequate attention to habitability, and they never attained their designed patrol endurance of thirty days. There was insufficient ventilation in the early boats, supplies of bottled oxygen were inadequate, and fresh stores were provided for the equivalent of two and a half days (a defect corrected by the installation of additional refrigeration during later refits). Wartime experience was to reveal that insufficient attention had been given to protecting the submarines against the shocks likely to be experienced during depth charging. There were problems with watertight hatches and battery integrity; electrically operated systems such as lighting circuits and the external torpedo mountings frequently failed because switchboards and control systems were not seated on flexible mountings.
(From On Seas Contested, a book mentioned earlier in this thread. The relevant chapter is written by John Jordan).

Likewise, I don't think the French would have been nearly the air threat the British were, or the AA threat. French aerial torpedoes had sold performance, but were weaker than their British or Italian counterparts (40cm 26DA had a warhead of 144 kg TNT, versus 176 kg TNT from the 18" Mk.XII or 200 kg TNT of the F/Si 200/450).], and afaik only had a contact warhead - making any sort of Taranto-style action impossible. That's an important thing to note, because the Italian ships tended to be very difficult to torpedo at sea - even if the RM could not secure air cover for themselves, they did take the torpedo-bomber threat very seriously (and had since 1918), and methods of dodging aerial torpedoes was practiced extensively in the interwar period. The first real luck the British had at sea was during the Gavdos action (Vittorio Veneto and Pola), and even then that mostly came as a result of repetitive waves of attack in combination with conventional bombers, something I'm not sure the French could pull off.

A final note - the French were far more vulnerable to Italian aircraft attack than their British counterparts. British formations at sea were often protected by the aegis of radar-vectored fighters operating from carriers, and even when that wasn't the case, generally had a fair amount of AA on them, with major warships having various numbers of 4"/45's and 40mm pom-poms. French AA and AA fire control were not really up to part - the best heavy AA guns available (100mm/45 Mle 1930 and 90mm/50) were available on few ships (the 100mm only on Richelieu and Algérie, the 90mm on three heavy cruisers and the seven most modern light cruisers), with everything else relying on the borderline useless 75mm/50 Mle 1924. Fire control systems were generally not that good (Mle 1934 system for the 152mm guns had a better maximum target speed of 576 kph, but like earlier systems could not handle targets unless they were in level flight. The Mle 1934 doesn't seem to have much testing in action, but the Mle 1930 that equipped most ships was considered unreliable, to the point where local control was preferred by crew in action), and for closer-ranged defense the ships had very limited firepower - the only available medium-range cannon was the 37mm/50 Mle 1925, which was an abysmal 'semi-automatic' weapon with a service rate of fire of just 15-21 rpm.

I wouldn't expect such shortcomings to be a huge issue in, say, mid-1940 (since the RA was still practicing high-alt, level bombing with 50 kg, 100 kg, and 250 kg bombs), but once torpedo-bombers are introduced I'd expect the losses to start rising. Historically, the first torpedo-bomber unit (Reparto Sperimentale Aerosiluranti, or Experimental Torpedo-Bomber Unit) was formed on 25 July 1940 and became operational on 5 August. Despite there only being four of them (originally five, but one was lost on their first mission), over a four-month period the four torpedo-bombers were able to score blows on three British cruisers. With much less effective AA fire from French ships and less effective fighter screens, one can only imagine how much more successful they might have been.

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Long story short - if a war erupted in 1940, I'd expect it not to see a Jutland-style clash. More likely, it would be an escalating game of fast surface strike groups as they attempt to raid, counter-raid, or defend against enemy traffic and raiders (the target for the Italians being the Toulon-Tunis route, the target for the French being the Taranto-Tripoli or Naples-Tripoli route. The Italians would play conservatively against the French battleships until Littorio and Vittorio Veneto enter service, then become aggressive in an attempt to take advantage of their superiority in firepower. In the meantime they'd be relying on submarines and aircraft for offensives, which I suspect the French would become more reliant on until/if they can balance out the battleship question.
 
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I think one has to keep in mind that the French and Italians were really not gearing their navies up for a 'Jutland' style battle, and didn't give a whole lot of though to having proper battle lines. Italy, when creating its force structure in the 1920s, pretty much left behind the concept, which figured heavily in procurement and battleship design. Though they paid lip service to the idea of using their battleships as an 'armored core' for the fleet to fall back upon, they more or less considered the ships useless (far too slow, especially because of their horrific vulnerability to bombs and torpedoes). The fleet was to be based on their cruiser forces - this was much of the reason behind why the Italians deliberately cheated the WNT when it came to the Zara-class - they wanted an armored core to their cruiser fleet, which would give them a decisive advantage over their French counterparts. The French had a similar, though not so radical view - they still considered their battleships viable for use as a fallback point for their cruisers, which is partly why the spent so much effort upgrading them compared to the Italians (this was also partly due to the fact that, by 1920, their battleships were starting to become out-classes as they fell behind in adopting technology such as directors, or taking steps to increase the elevation of their guns. Thus, the 340mm Bretagne-class only became able to rival the ranges of the Italian 305mm dreadnoughts after their refits from 1924 to 1927).

The Dunkerque-class spawned out of the line of development of fast 305mm battleships intended to deal with these Italian heavy cruisers, and the Italian rebuilding of the Cavour-class was largely in response to that. The second Dunkerque prompted the Littorio-class (which spawned out of the designs of treaty battleships that had to be able to reach 30 knots so they could support the cruisers), which prompted the Richelieu-class in response, and things evolved in a tit-for-tat manner from there - but once again, neither party was looking at things from the point of view of having a proper fleet (both navies were building themselves wildly heterogeneous battle lines).

If it came to a confrontation between the two of them, the most likely course of action would be cruiser-based warfare to strike at each other's lines of communication to Africa, with the battleships acting in support of such a method of conflict. I highly doubt either would seek a 'Jutland'-style action, unless one sought to lay a trap for another. Things would settle into a war of attrition, at least until the battleships made their debuts - which becomes a major turning point for the war.

Assuming we're looking at a conflict starting in 1940, the Italians are initially at a disadvantage. The French have the trio of Bretagne-class battleships available, and the two Dunkerque-class battleships. The former are not a huge threat - unable to catch any major Italian warships, and wholly inferior to the Cavour-class in firepower, fire control, protection, and of course, speed. Any action between them would be horrifically one-sided. However, the Dunkerque-class is faster and better protected than the Cavour's, likewise have a modern fire control system, and have comparable firepower - overall, more than a match for the Italian battleships, especially Strasbourg.

Such a balance of power would not shift until the end of the summer of 1940, as Littorio, Vittorio Veneto, and Caio Duilio are mostly worked up and operational as of September 1940 (Andrea Doria, completed later, would not become fully operational until about February 1941). The addition of another 'rebuild' to the Italian fleet is significant, especially since the Caio Duilio-class were significantly better than the Cavour-class (superior secondary & AA battery, superior fire control for all batteries), but the addition of the two Littorio's gives the Italians a decisive advantage, since it allows them to send out their cruiser forces with battleship support, and without slowing down the operation of the fleet as the rebuilds would.

The French could not match this until Richelieu entered service, and that wasn't going to be for a while - her 'completed' state in June of 1940 was very much incomplete and she still needed more work before she could be considered finished. Tack on time to work up and become fully operational, plus fixing all her issues... she may not enter service until 1941, and Jean Bart in 1942, which point the Italians, if Impero is not moved as was done historically, will have her in service (mid-1941), with Roma following in mid 1942. Clemenceau may have only just launched by then...

Shifting down a peg, the Italian heavy cruiser force likewise greatly outmatches the French force - the Trento-class (2) and Bolzano are capable of resisting up to 155mm fire at combat ranges (14,000 meters+), and the Zara-class (4) will be able to resist 203mm shellfire to such ranges too. In contrast, the only French cruiser that isn't cripplingly vulnerable to Italian 152mm fire (nevermind 203mm) is the excellent Algérie (which is also the only French heavy cruiser protected by armor steel, not construction steel...). It is only with the light cruisers that things become more comparable, since the French have access to the six excellent La Galissonnière-class - the only light cruisers the Italians have that are better are the Abruzzi twins. Though faster, the Montecuccoli (2) and Duca d'Aosta-class (2) would be fighting at a disadvantage due to having lesser firepower and armor protection (while the Abruzzi-class are resistant to 152mm fire at any combat range, the other two are only resistant at around 13,000 to 13,500 meters). The six modern French light cruisers, however, could have shrugged off the APC from the 152/53 M1929 at 11,000 meters (and probably the 152/55 at 1-2 km further). That being said, the Émile Bertin (1) and Duguay-Truoin (3) classes are essentially unarmored.

It's a bit hard to speculate on aerial and submersible warfare - so much of how the RM's (and RA's) capabilities developed depended on their environment during the war. One of the reasons Italian submarines were as successful in the Atlantic as they were was the help of training with the German U-boat arm, and likewise many tactics were revised based on the initial lethality of RN ASW capabilities. While I suspect Mediterranean subs would have more success given there'd be French traffic around, Italian submarines might not be pressed enough to evolve as much as they did. British ASW capabilities were very good. French ASW capabilities were negligible. Likewise, British submarines helped push the Italian ASW effort. French submarines in action... had their moments, but were arguably in a worse place than their Italian counterparts;



(From On Seas Contested, a book mentioned earlier in this thread. The relevant chapter is written by John Jordan).

Likewise, I don't think the French would have been nearly the air threat the British were, or the AA threat. French aerial torpedoes had sold performance, but were weaker than their British or Italian counterparts (40cm 26DA had a warhead of 144 kg TNT, versus 176 kg TNT from the 18" Mk.XII or 200 kg TNT of the F/Si 200/450).], and afaik only had a contact warhead - making any sort of Taranto-style action impossible. That's an important thing to note, because the Italian ships tended to be very difficult to torpedo at sea - even if the RM could not secure air cover for themselves, they did take the torpedo-bomber threat very seriously (and had since 1918), and methods of dodging aerial torpedoes was practiced extensively in the interwar period. The first real luck the British had at sea was during the Gavdos action (Vittorio Veneto and Pola), and even then that mostly came as a result of repetitive waves of attack in combination with conventional bombers, something I'm not sure the French could pull off.

A final note - the French were far more vulnerable to Italian aircraft attack than their British counterparts. British formations at sea were often protected by the aegis of radar-vectored fighters operating from carriers, and even when that wasn't the case, generally had a fair amount of AA on them, with major warships having various numbers of 4"/45's and 40mm pom-poms. French AA and AA fire control were not really up to part - the best heavy AA guns available (100mm/45 Mle 1930 and 90mm/50) were available on few ships (the 100mm only on Richelieu and Algérie, the 90mm on three heavy cruisers and the seven most modern light cruisers), with everything else relying on the borderline useless 75mm/50 Mle 1924. Fire control systems were generally not that good (Mle 1934 system for the 152mm guns had a better maximum target speed of 576 kph, but like earlier systems could not handle targets unless they were in level flight. The Mle 1934 doesn't seem to have much testing in action, but the Mle 1930 that equipped most ships was considered unreliable, to the point where local control was preferred by crew in action), and for closer-ranged defense the ships had very limited firepower - the only available medium-range cannon was the 37mm/50 Mle 1925, which was an abysmal 'semi-automatic' weapon with a service rate of fire of just 15-21 rpm.

I wouldn't expect such shortcomings to be a huge issue in, say, mid-1940 (since the RA was still practicing high-alt, level bombing with 50 kg, 100 kg, and 250 kg bombs), but once torpedo-bombers are introduced I'd expect the losses to start rising. Historically, the first torpedo-bomber unit (Reparto Sperimentale Aerosiluranti, or Experimental Torpedo-Bomber Unit) was formed on 25 July 1940 and became operational on 5 August. Despite there only being four of them (originally five, but one was lost on their first mission), over a four-month period the four torpedo-bombers were able to score blows on three British cruisers. With much less effective AA fire from French ships and less effective fighter screens, one can only imagine how much more successful they might have been.

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Long story short - if a war erupted in 1940, I'd expect it not to see a Jutland-style clash. More likely, it would be an escalating game of fast surface strike groups as they attempt to raid, counter-raid, or defend against enemy traffic and raiders (the target for the Italians being the Toulon-Tunis route, the target for the French being the Taranto-Tripoli or Naples-Tripoli route. The Italians would play conservatively against the French battleships until Littorio and Vittorio Veneto enter service, then become aggressive in an attempt to take advantage of their superiority in firepower. In the meantime they'd be relying on submarines and aircraft for offensives, which I suspect the French would become more reliant on until/if they can balance out the battleship question.
Fair to good analysis.

I disagree on the airpower question and on the naval geography constraints (see previous remarks) and I think you missed just how poor Italian fire control was, but otherwise it is a fair treatment.
 
I think one has to keep in mind that the French and Italians were really not gearing their navies up for a 'Jutland' style battle, and didn't give a whole lot of though to having proper battle lines. Italy, when creating its force structure in the 1920s, pretty much left behind the concept, which figured heavily in procurement and battleship design. Though they paid lip service to the idea of using their battleships as an 'armored core' for the fleet to fall back upon, they more or less considered the ships useless (far too slow, especially because of their horrific vulnerability to bombs and torpedoes). The fleet was to be based on their cruiser forces - this was much of the reason behind why the Italians deliberately cheated the WNT when it came to the Zara-class - they wanted an armored core to their cruiser fleet, which would give them a decisive advantage over their French counterparts. The French had a similar, though not so radical view - they still considered their battleships viable for use as a fallback point for their cruisers, which is partly why the spent so much effort upgrading them compared to the Italians (this was also partly due to the fact that, by 1920, their battleships were starting to become out-classes as they fell behind in adopting technology such as directors, or taking steps to increase the elevation of their guns. Thus, the 340mm Bretagne-class only became able to rival the ranges of the Italian 305mm dreadnoughts after their refits from 1924 to 1927).

The Dunkerque-class spawned out of the line of development of fast 305mm battleships intended to deal with these Italian heavy cruisers, and the Italian rebuilding of the Cavour-class was largely in response to that. The second Dunkerque prompted the Littorio-class (which spawned out of the designs of treaty battleships that had to be able to reach 30 knots so they could support the cruisers), which prompted the Richelieu-class in response, and things evolved in a tit-for-tat manner from there - but once again, neither party was looking at things from the point of view of having a proper fleet (both navies were building themselves wildly heterogeneous battle lines).

If it came to a confrontation between the two of them, the most likely course of action would be cruiser-based warfare to strike at each other's lines of communication to Africa, with the battleships acting in support of such a method of conflict. I highly doubt either would seek a 'Jutland'-style action, unless one sought to lay a trap for another. Things would settle into a war of attrition, at least until the battleships made their debuts - which becomes a major turning point for the war.

Assuming we're looking at a conflict starting in 1940, the Italians are initially at a disadvantage. The French have the trio of Bretagne-class battleships available, and the two Dunkerque-class battleships. The former are not a huge threat - unable to catch any major Italian warships, and wholly inferior to the Cavour-class in firepower, fire control, protection, and of course, speed. Any action between them would be horrifically one-sided. However, the Dunkerque-class is faster and better protected than the Cavour's, likewise have a modern fire control system, and have comparable firepower - overall, more than a match for the Italian battleships, especially Strasbourg.

Such a balance of power would not shift until the end of the summer of 1940, as Littorio, Vittorio Veneto, and Caio Duilio are mostly worked up and operational as of September 1940 (Andrea Doria, completed later, would not become fully operational until about February 1941). The addition of another 'rebuild' to the Italian fleet is significant, especially since the Caio Duilio-class were significantly better than the Cavour-class (superior secondary & AA battery, superior fire control for all batteries), but the addition of the two Littorio's gives the Italians a decisive advantage, since it allows them to send out their cruiser forces with battleship support, and without slowing down the operation of the fleet as the rebuilds would.

The French could not match this until Richelieu entered service, and that wasn't going to be for a while - her 'completed' state in June of 1940 was very much incomplete and she still needed more work before she could be considered finished. Tack on time to work up and become fully operational, plus fixing all her issues... she may not enter service until 1941, and Jean Bart in 1942, which point the Italians, if Impero is not moved as was done historically, will have her in service (mid-1941), with Roma following in mid 1942. Clemenceau may have only just launched by then...

Shifting down a peg, the Italian heavy cruiser force likewise greatly outmatches the French force - the Trento-class (2) and Bolzano are capable of resisting up to 155mm fire at combat ranges (14,000 meters+), and the Zara-class (4) will be able to resist 203mm shellfire to such ranges too. In contrast, the only French cruiser that isn't cripplingly vulnerable to Italian 152mm fire (nevermind 203mm) is the excellent Algérie (which is also the only French heavy cruiser protected by armor steel, not construction steel...). It is only with the light cruisers that things become more comparable, since the French have access to the six excellent La Galissonnière-class - the only light cruisers the Italians have that are better are the Abruzzi twins. Though faster, the Montecuccoli (2) and Duca d'Aosta-class (2) would be fighting at a disadvantage due to having lesser firepower and armor protection (while the Abruzzi-class are resistant to 152mm fire at any combat range, the other two are only resistant at around 13,000 to 13,500 meters). The six modern French light cruisers, however, could have shrugged off the APC from the 152/53 M1929 at 11,000 meters (and probably the 152/55 at 1-2 km further). That being said, the Émile Bertin (1) and Duguay-Truoin (3) classes are essentially unarmored.

It's a bit hard to speculate on aerial and submersible warfare - so much of how the RM's (and RA's) capabilities developed depended on their environment during the war. One of the reasons Italian submarines were as successful in the Atlantic as they were was the help of training with the German U-boat arm, and likewise many tactics were revised based on the initial lethality of RN ASW capabilities. While I suspect Mediterranean subs would have more success given there'd be French traffic around, Italian submarines might not be pressed enough to evolve as much as they did. British ASW capabilities were very good. French ASW capabilities were negligible. Likewise, British submarines helped push the Italian ASW effort. French submarines in action... had their moments, but were arguably in a worse place than their Italian counterparts;



(From On Seas Contested, a book mentioned earlier in this thread. The relevant chapter is written by John Jordan).

Likewise, I don't think the French would have been nearly the air threat the British were, or the AA threat. French aerial torpedoes had sold performance, but were weaker than their British or Italian counterparts (40cm 26DA had a warhead of 144 kg TNT, versus 176 kg TNT from the 18" Mk.XII or 200 kg TNT of the F/Si 200/450).], and afaik only had a contact warhead - making any sort of Taranto-style action impossible. That's an important thing to note, because the Italian ships tended to be very difficult to torpedo at sea - even if the RM could not secure air cover for themselves, they did take the torpedo-bomber threat very seriously (and had since 1918), and methods of dodging aerial torpedoes was practiced extensively in the interwar period. The first real luck the British had at sea was during the Gavdos action (Vittorio Veneto and Pola), and even then that mostly came as a result of repetitive waves of attack in combination with conventional bombers, something I'm not sure the French could pull off.

A final note - the French were far more vulnerable to Italian aircraft attack than their British counterparts. British formations at sea were often protected by the aegis of radar-vectored fighters operating from carriers, and even when that wasn't the case, generally had a fair amount of AA on them, with major warships having various numbers of 4"/45's and 40mm pom-poms. French AA and AA fire control were not really up to part - the best heavy AA guns available (100mm/45 Mle 1930 and 90mm/50) were available on few ships (the 100mm only on Richelieu and Algérie, the 90mm on three heavy cruisers and the seven most modern light cruisers), with everything else relying on the borderline useless 75mm/50 Mle 1924. Fire control systems were generally not that good (Mle 1934 system for the 152mm guns had a better maximum target speed of 576 kph, but like earlier systems could not handle targets unless they were in level flight. The Mle 1934 doesn't seem to have much testing in action, but the Mle 1930 that equipped most ships was considered unreliable, to the point where local control was preferred by crew in action), and for closer-ranged defense the ships had very limited firepower - the only available medium-range cannon was the 37mm/50 Mle 1925, which was an abysmal 'semi-automatic' weapon with a service rate of fire of just 15-21 rpm.

I wouldn't expect such shortcomings to be a huge issue in, say, mid-1940 (since the RA was still practicing high-alt, level bombing with 50 kg, 100 kg, and 250 kg bombs), but once torpedo-bombers are introduced I'd expect the losses to start rising. Historically, the first torpedo-bomber unit (Reparto Sperimentale Aerosiluranti, or Experimental Torpedo-Bomber Unit) was formed on 25 July 1940 and became operational on 5 August. Despite there only being four of them (originally five, but one was lost on their first mission), over a four-month period the four torpedo-bombers were able to score blows on three British cruisers. With much less effective AA fire from French ships and less effective fighter screens, one can only imagine how much more successful they might have been.

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Long story short - if a war erupted in 1940, I'd expect it not to see a Jutland-style clash. More likely, it would be an escalating game of fast surface strike groups as they attempt to raid, counter-raid, or defend against enemy traffic and raiders (the target for the Italians being the Toulon-Tunis route, the target for the French being the Taranto-Tripoli or Naples-Tripoli route. The Italians would play conservatively against the French battleships until Littorio and Vittorio Veneto enter service, then become aggressive in an attempt to take advantage of their superiority in firepower. In the meantime they'd be relying on submarines and aircraft for offensives, which I suspect the French would become more reliant on until/if they can balance out the battleship question.
I know Italy has an advantage in battleships. The modern Italian and French battleships are pretty equal, but Italy has an advantage in dreadnoughts. The Italian dreadnoughts were entirely rebuilt. The French battleships were rebuilt, but not to the same extent as Italy’s. Also, the Courbets were BAD (equivalent to the Royal Navy’s Revenges)
 
Fair to good analysis.

I disagree on the airpower question and on the naval geography constraints (see previous remarks) and I think you missed just how poor Italian fire control was, but otherwise it is a fair treatment.
The airpower question is hard to answer, unfortunately. We have examples of how Italy responded to the reality of the Mediterranean campaign and aero-naval warfare (arguably, doing so in spite of the air force...), but not so much with France, which makes it difficult to draw conclusions about them outside of what they had at the start. Of course, the track record of the Vichy State is available, but that's not exactly the most analogous to the MN's practices in a purely Franco-Italian conflict.

As for geographical constraints - which specifically? A lot has been said in this thread and I wasn't particularly trying to make any geographical arguments in my post save for where the main convoy routes for the two nations were. The French offensive actions against Italian shipping will be difficult with surface forces since Bizerte is the only major base optimally positioned for raids into the lower Tyrrhenian, and more importantly, to strike south past Pantelleria and interdict traffic to Tripoli. Toulon is too far removed, as is Mers-el-Kébir, which are the only major bases otherwise in the Mediterranean (and the latter is incomplete). In the reverse scenario, the Italians have more options. Both La Spezia and Naples are capable of hosting the battlefleet, and La Maddalena can do so briefly. Raids by cruisers open up even more options, since La Maddalena can base them long-term, and they can also sortie from Cagliari, Messina, Augusta, Trapani, and Palermo, which have varying levels of naval infrastructure.

In regards to Italian fire control - again, I didn't feel the need to question known factors, since we saw them in action. Ex, the general lack of proper DP systems for secondary batteries and the prevalence of the San Giorgio barrage systems on the older cruisers, all betray themselves, though the units with more modern DP systems, few as they are (Gorizia, Pola, Bolzano, Eugenio di Savoia, the Caio Duilio and Littorio-classes) are in a much better place. Those latter units are generally better off compared to the French, given they're flyplane systems and can actually handle aircraft that are climbing or diving (though with some limitations). Ex, I'd argue the 1940 Centrale AS-AA that controlled the 90mm batteries on board ships was better than the premier French heavy AA control system, the Mle 1934, given it could handle slightly higher target speeds (600 kph vs 576 kph), and could handle aircraft in climbs or dives of up to 45°, versus, again, the limit of 'only level flight' for the French system. Of course, the 90mm system was limited to literally five battleships in service, but the Mle 1934 ultimately was limited to barrage fire on one battleship, so its a bit of a moot point.

In regards to surface control, we have a similar issue of comparisons being difficult, since there isn't a lot of hard data on French systems, or examples of them working in action. I wouldn't consider RM fire control systems to be particularly poor - they had excellent performance compared to most contemporary systems, especially the RM Type 4 - the issues the RM had in regards to fire control are more related to poor weather due to the inadequate preparation for night combat aboard large warships, but the French don't really do much better there either. Even in the daylight conditions, I'd hardly knock the Italian systems compared to the French, given the greater age of the French systems (most ships were using a system developed directly after WWI, with the major departure being the aforementioned Mle 1934. The mainstay fire control system used by the Italians was developed over the course of the 1920s, and entered service in its most common form in 1931). There's a strong chance they'd generally have an edge over their French counterparts in regards to fire control, though that will probably be offset to a degree by the excessive dispersion of most Italian cruiser guns at long range, thanks to their common cradle mountings, something French cruisers didn't suffer from (only the modern battleships).

I know Italy has an advantage in battleships. The modern Italian and French battleships are pretty equal, but Italy has an advantage in dreadnoughts. The Italian dreadnoughts were entirely rebuilt. The French battleships were rebuilt, but not to the same extent as Italy’s. Also, the Courbets were BAD (equivalent to the Royal Navy’s Revenges)
I wouldn't even include the Courbet-class in comparing forces. The Revenge-class were quite poor, but not that poor, as their guns were still a threat against lesser-armored enemy battleships. Océan (ex-Jean Bart) was a disarmed training hulk, Courbet and Paris were still armed by 1940, but were training ships that couldn't make much more than 16 knots, a clear burden to the fleet even when fully 'reactivated' for use as bombardment platforms against the Germans. Their best use might be to bring them into a port like Bizerte and use them as floating batteries, to discourage Italian cruisers from launching rapid raids against the port.
 
Also, the Courbets were BAD (equivalent to the Royal Navy’s Revenges)
The Courbets were much worse than the Revenges. The Breatage was probably in line with the Revenges.

In general a winner between Italy and France will be Italy as they have the better ships and can more or less choose if they want to engage or not.

France's window to win is before the completion of the second pair of rebuilds and the first of the Littorio class. Even still they need a method to force an engagement. Once the rebuilds and littorios complete France will be in a position whereby their fast elements won't dare force an engagement and their slow elements would be slaughtered from outside their range.
 
The Courbets were much worse than the Revenges. The Breatage was probably in line with the Revenges.

In general a winner between Italy and France will be Italy as they have the better ships and can more or less choose if they want to engage or not.

France's window to win is before the completion of the second pair of rebuilds and the first of the Littorio class. Even still they need a method to force an engagement. Once the rebuilds and littorios complete France will be in a position whereby their fast elements won't dare force an engagement and their slow elements would be slaughtered from outside their range.
While Italy has better battleships (for now), French navy is bigger and destroyers and cruisers is where the Marine Nationale shines. Better naval architecture than the US during this era and that says A LOT. I think due to the sheer size of the French fleet, France will win.
 
The airpower question is hard to answer, unfortunately. We have examples of how Italy responded to the reality of the Mediterranean campaign and aero-naval warfare (arguably, doing so in spite of the air force...), but not so much with France, which makes it difficult to draw conclusions about them outside of what they had at the start. Of course, the track record of the Vichy State is available, but that's not exactly the most analogous to the MN's practices in a purely Franco-Italian conflict.

As for geographical constraints - which specifically? A lot has been said in this thread and I wasn't particularly trying to make any geographical arguments in my post save for where the main convoy routes for the two nations were. The French offensive actions against Italian shipping will be difficult with surface forces since Bizerte is the only major base optimally positioned for raids into the lower Tyrrhenian, and more importantly, to strike south past Pantelleria and interdict traffic to Tripoli. Toulon is too far removed, as is Mers-el-Kébir, which are the only major bases otherwise in the Mediterranean (and the latter is incomplete). In the reverse scenario, the Italians have more options. Both La Spezia and Naples are capable of hosting the battlefleet, and La Maddalena can do so briefly. Raids by cruisers open up even more options, since La Maddalena can base them long-term, and they can also sortie from Cagliari, Messina, Augusta, Trapani, and Palermo, which have varying levels of naval infrastructure.

In regards to Italian fire control - again, I didn't feel the need to question known factors, since we saw them in action. Ex, the general lack of proper DP systems for secondary batteries and the prevalence of the San Giorgio barrage systems on the older cruisers, all betray themselves, though the units with more modern DP systems, few as they are (Gorizia, Pola, Bolzano, Eugenio di Savoia, the Caio Duilio and Littorio-classes) are in a much better place. Those latter units are generally better off compared to the French, given they're flyplane systems and can actually handle aircraft that are climbing or diving (though with some limitations). Ex, I'd argue the 1940 Centrale AS-AA that controlled the 90mm batteries on board ships was better than the premier French heavy AA control system, the Mle 1934, given it could handle slightly higher target speeds (600 kph vs 576 kph), and could handle aircraft in climbs or dives of up to 45°, versus, again, the limit of 'only level flight' for the French system. Of course, the 90mm system was limited to literally five battleships in service, but the Mle 1934 ultimately was limited to barrage fire on one battleship, so its a bit of a moot point.

In regards to surface control, we have a similar issue of comparisons being difficult, since there isn't a lot of hard data on French systems, or examples of them working in action. I wouldn't consider RM fire control systems to be particularly poor - they had excellent performance compared to most contemporary systems, especially the RM Type 4 - the issues the RM had in regards to fire control are more related to poor weather due to the inadequate preparation for night combat aboard large warships, but the French don't really do much better there either. Even in the daylight conditions, I'd hardly knock the Italian systems compared to the French, given the greater age of the French systems (most ships were using a system developed directly after WWI, with the major departure being the aforementioned Mle 1934. The mainstay fire control system used by the Italians was developed over the course of the 1920s, and entered service in its most common form in 1931). There's a strong chance they'd generally have an edge over their French counterparts in regards to fire control, though that will probably be offset to a degree by the excessive dispersion of most Italian cruiser guns at long range, thanks to their common cradle mountings, something French cruisers didn't suffer from (only the modern battleships).



I wouldn't even include the Courbet-class in comparing forces. The Revenge-class were quite poor, but not that poor, as their guns were still a threat against lesser-armored enemy battleships. Océan (ex-Jean Bart) was a disarmed training hulk, Courbet and Paris were still armed by 1940, but were training ships that couldn't make much more than 16 knots, a clear burden to the fleet even when fully 'reactivated' for use as bombardment platforms against the Germans. Their best use might be to bring them into a port like Bizerte and use them as floating batteries, to discourage Italian cruisers from launching rapid raids against the port.

The Courbets and Bretagnes were basically 1st generation Design Dreadnoughts, with the armor all over the hull to combat enemies at short range. The Revenge Class was already 3rd generation design, (as was the preceding Queen Elizabeth class) with stronger protection around the citadel, compared to the softer ends of the hull, though not yet the US Model "All or nothing" protection, due to their design to combat enemies at medium to longer ranges (for the time of their construction, meaning not yet the absurd long ranges of WW2 period. The expected combatrange of the 1st generation Dreadnoughts was supposed to be around 4000 yards, or so, compared to the 10,000 yard+ battlerange for the 3rd generation). As such the Revenge class was far more potent than either Courbet, or Bretagne class even with these British BB's not fully refitted compared to their more valuable siblings of the Queen Elizabeth class.
 
While Italy has better battleships (for now), French navy is bigger and destroyers and cruisers is where the Marine Nationale shines. Better naval architecture than the US during this era and that says A LOT. I think due to the sheer size of the French fleet, France will win.
I wouldn't bet on France being able to match battleship production for a while. Richelieu may enter service in early 1941, but she'll be followed by Impero, and Jean Bart the next year will be followed by Roma not long after, at which point it's 4 vs. 2 for 380/381mm battleships, and it won't be another two years until the next French battleship, Clemenceau, is ready for service with, best-case scenario, Gascogne following a year later (at which point we're in 1945 and the war is probably already over). The first Alsace was scheduled to be laid down in 1941 (replacing the carrier Joffre's sister), and the second towards the end of 1942, and probably won't enter service until late 1946 and 1947-8, respectively. In theory Clemenceau and Gascogne should be able to match the latter Italian battleships, but that also depends on the Italians not laying down another two battleships in 1940, as was planned before the outbreak of war in September 1939.

That aside, the MN was not appreciably larger than the RM at the time. Taking both navies on 10 June 1940 and excluding French wartime losses;

Both have seven heavy cruisers, and both have 12 'light cruisers' (excluding Taranto and Bari). The French have 66 destroyers (32 fleet boats and 34 'large destroyers') to the 60 of the Italians, and have 12 torpedo boats to the 69 of the Italians. In regards to the submarines, excluding the tiny midget types and those about to be retired in the RM, you've got 80 French submarines to 109 Italian submarines. The Italians match them in larger ships, and actually outnumber the French greatly in lighter ships - and that's without accounting for the large number of MAS available to the Italians.

In terms of ship quality, the French are generally at a disadvantage in regards to cruisers (as I highlighted earlier, especially in terms of heavy cruisers), though have an advantage in destroyers as theirs are generally larger and more heavily armed. However, many of those classes also have serious issues affecting them due to mechanical faults, fragile machinery, vibrations, excessive hull pitting, etc. French metallurgy in this era lagged behind that of their contemporaries, affecting much about the designs of French ships, and the distribution of workload among yards also created major quality control issues. I'd be curious what your statement "Better naval architecture than the US during this era" is based on. I definitely don't slight the French for many of their ideas and designs in this era - they had many excellent designs, but their industry's shortcomings in this period let them down greatly.
 
I wouldn't bet on France being able to match battleship production for a while. Richelieu may enter service in early 1941, but she'll be followed by Impero, and Jean Bart the next year will be followed by Roma not long after, at which point it's 4 vs. 2 for 380/381mm battleships, and it won't be another two years until the next French battleship, Clemenceau, is ready for service with, best-case scenario, Gascogne following a year later (at which point we're in 1945 and the war is probably already over). The first Alsace was scheduled to be laid down in 1941 (replacing the carrier Joffre's sister), and the second towards the end of 1942, and probably won't enter service until late 1946 and 1947-8, respectively. In theory Clemenceau and Gascogne should be able to match the latter Italian battleships, but that also depends on the Italians not laying down another two battleships in 1940, as was planned before the outbreak of war in September 1939.

That aside, the MN was not appreciably larger than the RM at the time. Taking both navies on 10 June 1940 and excluding French wartime losses;

Both have seven heavy cruisers, and both have 12 'light cruisers' (excluding Taranto and Bari). The French have 66 destroyers (32 fleet boats and 34 'large destroyers') to the 60 of the Italians, and have 12 torpedo boats to the 69 of the Italians. In regards to the submarines, excluding the tiny midget types and those about to be retired in the RM, you've got 80 French submarines to 109 Italian submarines. The Italians match them in larger ships, and actually outnumber the French greatly in lighter ships - and that's without accounting for the large number of MAS available to the Italians.

In terms of ship quality, the French are generally at a disadvantage in regards to cruisers (as I highlighted earlier, especially in terms of heavy cruisers), though have an advantage in destroyers as theirs are generally larger and more heavily armed. However, many of those classes also have serious issues affecting them due to mechanical faults, fragile machinery, vibrations, excessive hull pitting, etc. French metallurgy in this era lagged behind that of their contemporaries, affecting much about the designs of French ships, and the distribution of workload among yards also created major quality control issues. I'd be curious what your statement "Better naval architecture than the US during this era" is based on. I definitely don't slight the French for many of their ideas and designs in this era - they had many excellent designs, but their industry's shortcomings in this period let them down greatly.
So we can both agree Italy has the upper hand in large ships and France for small ships.
 
So we can both agree Italy has the upper hand in large ships and France for small ships.
I'd say the French ought to have a general advantage in regards to destroyers, simply by having more and having much larger, even if problematic ships. However, I don't think that gives them the upper hand in small ships in general. They're going to have a big issue when it comes to the massive gap in torpedo boats, thanks to the Italians having built a ton of them in the 1930s, and their habit of de-rating old destroyers to torpedo-boats. The French were only just starting to build modern torpedo boats before WWII - aside from the 12 already completed from the mid-1930s, a new class (Le Fier-class) was ordered in the 1937, 1938, and 1938bis tranches, but of the fourteen only seven were actually laid down (three of which had been launched before the armistice), and that won't be enough to close the gap, especially if the Italians start more runs (ex, the wartime Ciclone and Ariete-classes, of which 16 and 42 were ordered).

Torpedo-boats may not seem like much compared to destroyers - and to be honest Italian torpedo boats weren't especially great when it came to attacking larger ships - but it's the other roles that make them really useful. The Italians got a lot of mileage out of their torpedo boats by using them as escorts, ASW vessels, patrol ships, etc - these modern Italian torpedo boats were responsible for 40% of all RN subs sunk by surface craft during the war, about 17% of RN submarine losses from all sources. Torpedo boats collected something like 3.4 million miles steamed in the convoy escort role, more than any other ship type in the RM.

The ability for such ships to operate protecting Italian traffic to locations like North Africa is a huge relief on the destroyer squadrons, and saves much wear and tear. This not only allows far more destroyers to be deployed either with the fleet or on general offensive duties, but also increases their availability rate, since, again, it is saving a lot of wear and tear on the propulsion plants of the ships. For a war that will center heavily on the ability of each side to defend their lines of communication from surface, submarine, and air attack, such ship types are very important.
 
I'd say the French ought to have a general advantage in regards to destroyers, simply by having more and having much larger, even if problematic ships. However, I don't think that gives them the upper hand in small ships in general. They're going to have a big issue when it comes to the massive gap in torpedo boats, thanks to the Italians having built a ton of them in the 1930s, and their habit of de-rating old destroyers to torpedo-boats. The French were only just starting to build modern torpedo boats before WWII - aside from the 12 already completed from the mid-1930s, a new class (Le Fier-class) was ordered in the 1937, 1938, and 1938bis tranches, but of the fourteen only seven were actually laid down (three of which had been launched before the armistice), and that won't be enough to close the gap, especially if the Italians start more runs (ex, the wartime Ciclone and Ariete-classes, of which 16 and 42 were ordered).

Torpedo-boats may not seem like much compared to destroyers - and to be honest Italian torpedo boats weren't especially great when it came to attacking larger ships - but it's the other roles that make them really useful. The Italians got a lot of mileage out of their torpedo boats by using them as escorts, ASW vessels, patrol ships, etc - these modern Italian torpedo boats were responsible for 40% of all RN subs sunk by surface craft during the war, about 17% of RN submarine losses from all sources. Torpedo boats collected something like 3.4 million miles steamed in the convoy escort role, more than any other ship type in the RM.

The ability for such ships to operate protecting Italian traffic to locations like North Africa is a huge relief on the destroyer squadrons, and saves much wear and tear. This not only allows far more destroyers to be deployed either with the fleet or on general offensive duties, but also increases their availability rate, since, again, it is saving a lot of wear and tear on the propulsion plants of the ships. For a war that will center heavily on the ability of each side to defend their lines of communication from surface, submarine, and air attack, such ship types are very important.
I think another important thing to note which supports my reason why the French will win is radar and sonar. France has radar and sonar which Italy doesn’t. That ultimately costed Italy the war OTL. France also has an aircraft carrier (even if they only have one) when Italy has none.
 
In general terms naval warfare is not decided by who can put the largest number of larger warships at sea, but more who has the best overall mix of all types and supporting ships. In this case Italy has the better of the two having acces to a much more flexible ballanced fleet, compared to the somewhat inflexible French one, with a heavy accent on deep ocean warships and lesser to littoral types. As Italy can choose where to fight and the French cannot, due to geographical nature of the Mediterranean Sea, Italy has the upper hand in control of this sea, simply due to its geography and acces to a large airforce with longer ranged aircraft that was trained to operate in anti shipping to start with, where the french lack this strike capability, as its aircraft were shorter ranged and lesser in numbers, besides too spread out in both southern France and north Africa. Italy had a operational advantage in this having acces to a French blind zone, in the Adriatic and South of Italy, where no French aircraft could operate at all. The Regia Aeronautica could cover the entire Mediterranean Sea from its bases in Italy alone. France could not.

So in the most likely scenario we can see the Regia Marina just doing what it did in WW2: Waiting and sitting in the home waters for most of the time, conducting hit and run attacks every now and then. The French Navy most likely had the task to operate a lot more at sea to protect the supplylines to North Africa, making it vulnerable to attacks from air, submarines and occasional surfaceforces, most likely the faster smaller ones, opposed to the bigger and more cumbersome units of the Regia Marina. This would certainly lead to losses of French naval strength and not so much to the Italian Navy, maintaining its overall main strength as it was out of harms way.
 
I wouldn't bet on France being able to match battleship production for a while. Richelieu may enter service in early 1941, but she'll be followed by Impero, and Jean Bart the next year will be followed by Roma not long after, at which point it's 4 vs. 2 for 380/381mm battleships, and it won't be another two years until the next French battleship, Clemenceau, is ready for service with, best-case scenario, Gascogne following a year later (at which point we're in 1945 and the war is probably already over). The first Alsace was scheduled to be laid down in 1941 (replacing the carrier Joffre's sister), and the second towards the end of 1942, and probably won't enter service until late 1946 and 1947-8, respectively. In theory Clemenceau and Gascogne should be able to match the latter Italian battleships, but that also depends on the Italians not laying down another two battleships in 1940, as was planned before the outbreak of war in September 1939.

That aside, the MN was not appreciably larger than the RM at the time. Taking both navies on 10 June 1940 and excluding French wartime losses;

Both have seven heavy cruisers, and both have 12 'light cruisers' (excluding Taranto and Bari). The French have 66 destroyers (32 fleet boats and 34 'large destroyers') to the 60 of the Italians, and have 12 torpedo boats to the 69 of the Italians. In regards to the submarines, excluding the tiny midget types and those about to be retired in the RM, you've got 80 French submarines to 109 Italian submarines. The Italians match them in larger ships, and actually outnumber the French greatly in lighter ships - and that's without accounting for the large number of MAS available to the Italians.

In terms of ship quality, the French are generally at a disadvantage in regards to cruisers (as I highlighted earlier, especially in terms of heavy cruisers), though have an advantage in destroyers as theirs are generally larger and more heavily armed. However, many of those classes also have serious issues affecting them due to mechanical faults, fragile machinery, vibrations, excessive hull pitting, etc. French metallurgy in this era lagged behind that of their contemporaries, affecting much about the designs of French ships, and the distribution of workload among yards also created major quality control issues. I'd be curious what your statement "Better naval architecture than the US during this era" is based on. I definitely don't slight the French for many of their ideas and designs in this era - they had many excellent designs, but their industry's shortcomings in this period let them down greatly.
The problem with this production limit is why did it happen

Frances industry is and was then much better than Italy with regards to ship building etc

The reason that production was slow for those ships was the small niggling issue of France being a neighbor to Germany and having to stand up a rather large army and Airforce - which in recalling men to the colors robbed the ship yards of many experienced workers

Not to mention the resources it pumped into the Maginot line.

Secondly to this France had in the UK an ally whose navy was the biggest in the world and in any future conflict in Europe the UK would provide the bulk of the Naval power while they would provide the bulk of the land power.

So it did not need to build a superior navy to that of Italy and if Italy was the only opponent I would imagine that very quickly those Italian shipyards would find themselves within French artillery range

France had 117 Divisions in June 1940 - Italy about 65 odd (many of them under strength in both manpower and staff officers) - and French equipment - particularly tanks etc were a good generation ahead of what the Italians could provide which was mostly tankettes.

So had it just been a France verse Italy affair then I would expect the construction of the French BBs etc to be conducted at a faster rate than was the case in 1939 - June 1940 with the ship yards and supporting industry not 'robbed' of manpower to fill the ranks of Frances army.
 
The problem with this production limit is why did it happen

Frances industry is and was then much better than Italy with regards to ship building etc

The reason that production was slow for those ships was the small niggling issue of France being a neighbor to Germany and having to stand up a rather large army and Airforce - which in recalling men to the colors robbed the ship yards of many experienced workers

Not to mention the resources it pumped into the Maginot line.

Secondly to this France had in the UK an ally whose navy was the biggest in the world and in any future conflict in Europe the UK would provide the bulk of the Naval power while they would provide the bulk of the land power.

So it did not need to build a superior navy to that of Italy and if Italy was the only opponent I would imagine that very quickly those Italian shipyards would find themselves within French artillery range

France had 117 Divisions in June 1940 - Italy about 65 odd (many of them under strength in both manpower and staff officers) - and French equipment - particularly tanks etc were a good generation ahead of what the Italians could provide which was mostly tankettes.

So had it just been a France verse Italy affair then I would expect the construction of the French BBs etc to be conducted at a faster rate than was the case in 1939 - June 1940 with the ship yards and supporting industry not 'robbed' of manpower to fill the ranks of Frances army.
Well said. However I’m surprised at how nobody at this point mentioned RADAR AND SONAR.
 
I think another important thing to note which supports my reason why the French will win is radar and sonar. France has radar and sonar which Italy doesn’t. That ultimately costed Italy the war OTL. France also has an aircraft carrier (even if they only have one) when Italy has none.
Apologies, but I'm taking these in the reverse order;

1. Béarn is useless. Forgetting even her aircraft handling difficulties for a moment, she's too slow to operate with the fleet aside from the obsolete dreadnoughts, which is why the MN dropped her as an active carrier and began using her as an aircraft ferry. The Joffre-class was meant to replace her, but Joffre wasn't due to be launched until 1941 OTL and probably, assuming production was more rapid than OTL, would not have entered service until 1942. Béarn would have been used as a trial ship for squadrons working up in preparation of their deployment on Joffre, reducing the amount of work-up she'd need, but it would require a true emergency for the Marine Nationale to deploy her in the Mediterranean for active combat duties.

2. France doesn't have sonar, unless it buys it directly from the British. The sonar issue was a key problem leading up to WWII, as the MN could not develop a proper model. The last indigenous model, the SS-1, was ditched in March of 1940 as it was ineffectual. As part of their alliance with Britain, they were able to get access to ASDIC 123 and 128, the former starting in May of 1939. However, this doesn't happen without the technical exchange as a part of the alliance, so, being forced to rely only on indigenous tech the French are a little screwed in this timeline. In contrast, the Italians were able to develop a functional sonar set - the ECG. Production, however, was slow, since it did not enjoy a high fiscal priority compared to many other programs thanks to the constraints of the late 1930s (due to operations abroad and the investments elsewhere as war with Britain loomed). Both the French and Italian ASW efforts would be hindered by the lack of sonars actually in the fleet, but they key difference is that the Italians had working sonar sets to begin with, and the issue was more getting them produced rapidly under wartime constraints. The French will still need to develop a proper set before they can start producing and fielding them. In the meantime, the large numbers of hydrophones available to the Italians will give them an advantage in submarine detection, while French ships would have to rely on visual detection of enemy submarines, or the wakes of their torpedoes.

3. France doesn't have much of a radar edge either. The MN had set up a coastal monitoring chain iirc, which even managed to detect a pair of Italian BR.20 raids on Toulon (leading to two 32° Gruppo Br.20's being downed by D.520's), but these sets were generally not very powerful, and especially not the sets installed on warships. The system, known only as 'DEM' (an acronym similar to Radar, RDT, or RaRi), was a 2-meter air search radar, which first became available in early 1941, with the prototype being fitted on Richelieu in a refit from February to May 1941. It had decent performance against aircraft (80 km against targets over 1,500 meters altitude, dropping to 50 km for targets at 1,000 meters, then 10 km against low-flying aircraft), though range was limited against surface ships (10-20 km depending on size), but with a great deal of inaccuracy (±500 meters), far too much to be used for gunnery ranging. Scope was equivalent to an A-scope. In 1942 newer versions of the system were installed on several other warships (Jean bart, Strasbourg, Algérie and Colbert), which had a detection range of 37-50 km against aircraft and 10-25 km against surface ships, and was more accurate against aircraft (±50 meters in perfect conditions).

The Italians had a similarly slow radar program. As of October 1939, two prototype versions were available to the Regia Marina. RDT 3 was a land-based air search set, a 1.5-meter set with an output power of 15 kW and a range of 200 km against aircraft . EC-3/bis was available for use at sea, a sea-and-air search 72-cm set operating at 1 kW. Surface detection ranges were 10-12 km, and air detection was 30 km. Not accurate for gunlaying, but a centimetric radar, something DEM was very much not. The land-based set was later put intto production as the RDT 4 'Folaga', but this was not until 1942. EC-3/bis was installed on Littorio in August of 1941, and was later replaced in September 1942 by the EC-3/ter 'Gufo', a more powerful 10 kW set with greater detection ability (30 km against surface targets, 80-120 km against aircraft. it was also paired with a J-scope). Though it was very much not a gunnery set, it could supply accurate ranging information when focused on a target, and was installed on most major ships from late 1942 into 1943. It was followed by the 65cm Gufo G.III, completed in July of 1943, which was accurate enough for fire control, but was never installed on any RM ships.

Ultimately, both progressed at similar rates, although wartime fortunes also strongly influenced priority and production. The MN was certainly much more intent on radar before the war than the RM - the MN valued it for early warning capabilities, the RM was more interested in gunlaying, and this strongly influenced how they viewed radar. Both had their production limited by the war, and could certainly have produced sets more rapidly if only at war with each other - though the French would be hindered by not having access to British sets, which helped developments before the fall of France. In the inverse, the Italians would not be hindered much by not having access to German technology, because despite pre-war agreements and frequent requests for aid, the Germans never actually gave any aid to Italian radar programs, only finally delivering their own sets in 1942.

Not knowing how French radar would have developed without any British influence, on their own, in the long term (from 1939 to, say, 1944) sort of hinders how much we can judge what their radar performance would be like. Their chain of defensive radars intending to protect Toulon from Regia Aeronautica air attacks would be an initial advantage, if they can still have them set up without the mission to British laboratories in April 1939. The Italians, infamously, did not give a high priority to radar despite having much of the technology available (though nowhere near the capabilities of the British radars), but much of that was down to not being sure if the British were pursuing it, and the initial lack of will to pursue what were considered questions for 'after the war' (as it was not yet believed in late 1940 that the war would be particularly long, with Britain alone). In a war against France, with more resources available and a clearer idea of the future conflict, the radar program may have been accelerated, especially after the TPA project wrapped up (which had specifically been given priority over the development of radar). Likewise, without the fall of France, the French obviously have more resources to dedicate to radar development than the Vichy regime did historically.

TL;DR - there's no real advantage to be found for the French in radar and sonar, as they were either behind or abreast of the Italians in these areas.

The problem with this production limit is why did it happen

Frances industry is and was then much better than Italy with regards to ship building etc

The reason that production was slow for those ships was the small niggling issue of France being a neighbor to Germany and having to stand up a rather large army and Airforce - which in recalling men to the colors robbed the ship yards of many experienced workers

Not to mention the resources it pumped into the Maginot line.

Secondly to this France had in the UK an ally whose navy was the biggest in the world and in any future conflict in Europe the UK would provide the bulk of the Naval power while they would provide the bulk of the land power.

So it did not need to build a superior navy to that of Italy and if Italy was the only opponent I would imagine that very quickly those Italian shipyards would find themselves within French artillery range

France had 117 Divisions in June 1940 - Italy about 65 odd (many of them under strength in both manpower and staff officers) - and French equipment - particularly tanks etc were a good generation ahead of what the Italians could provide which was mostly tankettes.

So had it just been a France verse Italy affair then I would expect the construction of the French BBs etc to be conducted at a faster rate than was the case in 1939 - June 1940 with the ship yards and supporting industry not 'robbed' of manpower to fill the ranks of Frances army.

The problem is that French shipbuilding was very much not 'much better' than anyone else's. In fact, it was playing a serious 'catch-up' game through the 1920s and 1930s in order to reach capabilities of other naval industries. One of the reasons early French cruisers entirely lacked armor plating was because the available steel for shipbuilding was greatly inferior to those used by the British and Italians, which meant plates had to be thicker in order to give the same strength. As a result, the basic hull structure of ships was much heavier than their contemporaries, which reduced the tonnage available for investment in armor plate. When they finally did catch up, this allowed their ships to become much lighter in hull structure - this is why Algérie has so much better armor than Duquesne, despite both being the exact same tonnage (10,000 long tons). Duquesne's empy hull was an incredible 4,783 tonnes. Algérie's was a literal thousand tonnes lighter, at 3,800 tonnes. Thus, she was able to afford 2,035 tonnes to armor protection, versus the 459 tonnes of Duquesne and Tourville. In fact, it wasn't until the ships laid down in 1931 that the steel used for armor plating actually was of 'armor' quality. Before then, they had been using a steel that had less resistance than high-strength construction steels used by foreign navies (including the RM).

France's naval production issues had less to do with funding and available manpower, and more to do with technological issues, and socio-economic issues. The issue of long build times had little to do with the war - they were endemic in French construction throughout the interwar period, with construction times on cruisers and destroyers often exceeding those of cruisers and destroyers abroad. This lead to cost-overruns, which absorbed large chunks of funds meant for future procurement. These delays were caused by a variety of issues - labor debates, for example, on workdays and conditions, for example, but also general limits of French naval infrastructure. The economic crash finally hitting France in 1933 didn't help either. There were only so many yards and firms available for shipbuilding and fitting, especially once a certain size was hit. This is why, for example, Dunkerque was only laid down only in 1932, as there were no available slips before then. Even then, she still had to be launched in two portions, and the Richelieu-class in three. The MN was forced to sub-contract to a variety of private firms and yards for production of destroyer classes, which were responsible for many of the quality control issues that dogged the classes (ex, the Le Fantasque-class suffered defects in the steel used for the deck seatings of their main gun mounts, which delayed construction for 5-6 months until they could be replaced. The destroyers of this class ultimately surpassed almost all foreign cruisers of that era in construction time). To cut a long story short, although the Italian industry had its own issues, it was not hindered by anywhere close to as many issues as the French naval industry, and its problems were more related to resource scarcity than production limits, thanks to the need to import most of its steel and fuel, and was severely hurt by economic sanctions in the latter half of the 1930s (ex, only laying down around 45% of tonnage capacity in 1939).

Likewise, the question of army funding is largely irrelevant, since the Italian army tended to eat a greater % of Italian military spending than the French army did French military spending, and French services generally enjoyed greater funding than their Italian counterparts, in nominal amounts. The effort to build the Maginot was largely irrelevant to the MN's procurement effots - though it's worth noting many in France felt the navy was being overspent on compared to the air force and army. The major difference, however, was the actual purchasing power of that spending, due to massive havoc caused within France by their mid-1930s economic crash. The crash was bad enough, in fact, to the point where Italy's GDP (PPP) actually surpassed that of France in 1935, so even if they were not spending as much in nominal amounts, they were effectively spending more because their purchasing power was greater.

It's also worth noting that construction on ships such as Richelieu was not exacerbated by the war, but other concerns. Construction was slowed starting in 1936 primarily due to industrial issues and actions by workers (the aforementioned in favor of greater pay and working conditions. These conditions were ultimately met, though the same conditions hampered production starting in 1937). When war broke out, work did the opposite of slow down - in fact, construction on Richelieu and Jean Bart was accelerated in an effort to complete the ships earlier than planned. Workers were pulling 84-hour weeks, and this was the main reason why, though still far from complete, Richelieu was at least the minimum of operational when France fell, allowing her to escape to Dakar and remain a threat there. The same was true for Jean Bart, though she was far less complete when she fled France, and this was the only reason she was able to escape at all.

As far as threats went - the issue for France was that Britain was not that apparent of an ally in the interwar era. Design parameters around many of their early cruisers were even directly meant to counter those of the British, and for the ability to run from the British battlecruisers. While many still eyed Germany with caution, Italy seemed the most apparent threat to France, especially at sea. The Alps were not a feasible theater to fight in (and neither France nor Italy seriously considered cross-Alps invasions, one of the reasons there was so little preparation in the Italian army to do so in 1940), which left the primary theater of engagement North Africa (Libya/Tunisia front) and the Mediterranean, which would be vital in securing the lines of supply to Africa. The British Royal Navy could have easily secured this for the French against the Italians, but the French had no reason to believe the British would intervene in a Franco-Italian war outside of ensuring their own traffic went by unmolested, and thus they planned without the benefit of the British being involved, and built accordingly, to about the maximum the state of their naval industry would allow. This became doubling a concern in the 1930s when the renewal of German armaments meant the French had to consider the threat of Germany in addition to Italy at sea.

As far as wartime construction - I'm considering the industries operating as per normal. Due to the collapse in June of 1940, and the earlier suspension of construction on many ships in late 1939, we don't have any examples of what kind of delays the mobilization would have caused to ship construction. Hence, I've not considered any production slowdowns for loss of workers for any of the service dates I've quoted above. Rather, I've assumed there would be no pause, thereby decreasing construction time for the aforementioned major ships like Clemenceau and Gascogne...

As for the questions about the armies, I've no disagreement there. The French army was generally in a far better state the Italian army by 1940 - but I was only considering the naval war, not the ground war. Due to the impasse created by the natural barrier of the Alps, there's not likely to be much more than probing attacks in Europe. The primary front will be in North Africa, and Corsica (since the Italians were planning to invade there), hence why the war at sea is so important - the supply of, or denial of supply to, of these bases will be vital for either country's war effort as a whole.
 
So it did not need to build a superior navy to that of Italy and if Italy was the only opponent I would imagine that very quickly those Italian shipyards would find themselves within French artillery range

France had 117 Divisions in June 1940 - Italy about 65 odd (many of them under strength in both manpower and staff officers) - and French equipment
What about the size of the French and Italian air forces in 1940? Would Most of the Italian shipyards not be far closer to French bases than the Atlantic (or north) coast of France?
 
What about the size of the French and Italian air forces in 1940? Would Most of the Italian shipyards not be far closer to French bases than the Atlantic (or north) coast of France?
May take me a little while to find accurate figures for the latter - as was often the case with the fascist regime, looks could be deceiving, and when Gen, Pricolo took over from Gen Valle as CoS of the air force he found that many aircraft claimed on the books were simply not operational, or were too old to be of any value. French numbers are likewise a little skewed because of production priorities put in place in the very end of the 1930s because of the coming conflict with Germany and mass mobilization, changing priorities of what aircraft were produced when. Likewise, deployments were very different - in June of 1940 the bulk of French airpower was positioned to fight the Germans pushing through the lowlands and into France, and the bulk of Italian airpower was positioned to act against the British - Ex, Squadra 1, which was responsible for the northwest of the country and was responsible for the limited aerial offensive against France, was limited only having only BR.20's as bombers, not any SM.79 or Z.1007. That aside, either aircraft - the SM.79 or BR.20 - should have the range to reach Brest and back, the farthest French yard from Italian airbases, but likewise premier French medium bombers could hit most any Italian shipyard.

That being said, neither air force was really capable of producing the types of raids that, say, the British launched against French and Italian ports (against German and Italian ships), and those types of conventional bombing raids tended to be ineffective. Raids on Brest were only effective in regards to accumulated damage and the attention of the Luftwaffe being entirely elsewhere, and strategic bombing campaigns against Italian shipyards and naval bases only began being effective once American heavy bombers like the B-24 and B-17 began appearing in 1942. I really wouldn't expect either nation to have their production suffer much from strategic bombing efforts.
 
To complement my response above - from Greene & Massignani's The Naval War in the Mediterranean 1940-1943, has a table listing number of aircraft of the European air forces. Unfortunately, the authors do not specify a date, only '1939/1940', which makes things harder. To reproduce the numbers given for France and Italy;

NationFightersBombersReconTransportTrainingReserveTotal
Italy1,2131,510815169??3,707
France1,200800800120??2,920

However, this lists pretty much everything with wings, so is not representative of combat strength in the slightest. Ex, as mentioned before, Valle did not present high command with an accurate picture at all, an ironic twist given what Balbo had done to him six years early, to quote an excerpt from Jabes & Sappino's Aircraft Carrier Impero;

In 1933, when Balbo left the command of the aviation weapons to Valle, the number of aircraft in service was drastically reduced in a report by his successor (911 against the 3,154 declared aircraft); in fact, many of the aircraft were obsolete or not able to fly. Besides, Valle did worse than that when General Pricolo replaced him in 1939, the aircraft that were delivered were noted in two charts, one regarding the entire air forces and the other to aircraft and their efficiency for war purposes. The total number of the first chart came to 8,258 aeroplanes and the second, 5,939. Nothing could be falser and deceitfully inflated and altered, ‘after slimming down the list and subsequent check-ups, Pricolo can finally verify that the war efficient aircraft were 838 in total’.

Greene & Massignani give a breakdown of 'reasonably modern' Italian aircraft in service in 1939.
  • 624 Fighters - however only 81 are monoplanes (48 G.50, 29 C.200, plus others), and the rest biplanes - 116 CR.42, and 417 CR.32, which were practically obsolete (the one thing that may save them is the large number of practically obsolete aircraft in service with the French air force)
  • 1,100 Bombers - the bulk of which, unlike with the fighters, are solid aircraft for their era, over a third (413) being SM.79 (plus 144 BR.20, 33 Ca.135, 30 Z.1007, and a mix of many others).
  • 265 'Ground Support' - Not an encouraging category, as they're all fairly poor aircraft (though, granted, that was compared to British and German aircraft, not French. 168 Ba.65, 63 Ba.88, and 34 AP.1
  • 416 Army Recon - 67 were the Ca.309 and 4 the Ca.311, which were replacing the 172 Ro.37 and 173 Ro.37bis in service at the time
  • 203 Navy Recon - 24 of the excellent RS.14, but the bulk (179) were the older Z.501, but that was still a superior aircraft to the modern French equivalent, the Loire 130
  • 108 Navy Embarked Recon - not really relevant, but 101 Ro.43 and 17. Cant.25 aboard cruisers and battleships.
  • 93 'Maritime Bombers' - 80 Z.506, which were also used as recon aircraft and were excellent in that role, while the remaining 13 were SM.55's that were out of service before the war and can be forgotten.
  • 40 'Naval Fighters' - 32 Ro.44, and effort to make a float fighter from the Ro.43, a failure and only three more were ever built. The other 8 are out of service.
 
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624 Fighters - however only 81 are monoplanes (48 G.50, 29 C.200, plus others), and the rest biplanes - 116 CR.42, and 417 CR.32, which were practically obsolete (the one thing that may save them is the large number of practically obsolete aircraft in service with the French air force)
Is this not tiny compared to French fighters? Just looking at the two best?
M.S.406 535 M.S.406s had entered squadron service at start of the war out of the 1000 made pre FoF
MB.150 120 delivered by not ready at start of war?

Assuming D.520 and Hawk 75A are not also available later?
 
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Is this not tiny compared to French fighters? Just looking at the two best?
M.S.406 535 M.S.406s had entered squadron service at start of the war out of the 1000 made pre FoF
MB.150 120 delivered by not ready at start of war?

Assuming D.520 and Hawk 75A are not also available later?
I'm blanking on how many M.S. 406 were in service at the time, but by the end of 1939, 932 had been built (27 in 1938, plus 545 from January to the start of September 1939). 1,084 had been built as 31 May 1940. I don't recall how many were in active service - I'll need to review a bunch of chapters from The Rise and Fall of the French Air Force, but if you want total numbers of aircraft completed as of 31 May 1940;

  • 1,084 M.S.406
  • 169 MB.150 series aircraft (151 & 152)
  • 257 H75 'Hawk'
  • 228 D.520
  • 3 VG.33
  • 53 C.714
  • 1,057 Potez 63 series (630, 631, 633, 637, etc)
The Italians are definitely outnumbered in regards to modern fighters, which will be a serious issue. I don't have the same monthly production figures for Italian aircraft as I do for French aircraft, unfortunately, so I can't compare by date how many aircraft were actually completed, and at the moment don't have figures for in service - but either way, the French definitely had the more modern fighter force. Bear in mind, though, numbers do change significantly from what I reported to the start of the war, and the numbers there also disregarded many older aircraft still active at the time

My comment about having many obsolete aircraft was directed more at the large number of older aircraft still hanging around, especially in regards to older bombers, seaplanes, etc. Many of these aircraft intended for lonesome missions without escort will be highly vulnerable, all products of when the cult of the bomber was strong within the AdA.

Otherwise - the CR.32 was pretty heavily outclassed by any of the modern French fighter craft. The CR.42 was often out-gunned and generally not as fast as the M.S.406, though it was generally evenly matched because of pilot tactics at the time, greater climb rate, and greater maneuverability. D.520's, however, greatly outclassed it and isn't matched by an Italian aircraft until the C.200, which was generally superior save for the firepower question (Italian pilots were very appreciative of the 20mm cannon armament of the French aircraft), of which there were only 144 operational with the Regia Aeronautica on 10 June 1940 (I'm not sure how many had been built up to that date).

To compare air production overall - in the last four months of 1939 Italian industry averaged 196 combat aircraft a month, while in the same period French industry averaged 266. The Italians had increased this to 308 aircraft by the second half of 1940 - for obvious reasons this can't be compared to the French, but in the first half of 1940 they averaged 366 aircraft. For another set of figures - in the roughly 10 months from 10 June 1940 to the end of March 1941, 3,100 aircraft were produced by Italy. To compare based on mobilization (since the entry of France into WWII earlier than Italy meant they had more funds for procurement available faster, making dates hard to compared 1-to-1), in the 10 months period of September through June 1940, French industry produced 3,467 aircraft, and could have been some tens higher if not for the fall of France.

Though a war with a less resource-constrained Italy may change things compared to OTL - Britain could shut down almost all Italian imports simply by existing due to strategic locations and its navy, France simply did not have the same ability - if we stick to historical production figures, the French should enjoy a general advantage in construction rates - based off the numbers we could roughly estimate a ratio of 1.15 to 1 for French aircraft production to Italian. Given general limits on the Italian aviation industry I expect that even with access to more imports the French should still maintain at least a 5% advantage in production, though imports could change things greatly for either side. In general, neither power had particularly efficient aircraft production, and are incapable of matching the rates of German or British production.
 
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