Here a short article i've written about this fact of war.
Sorry for the poor translation...
The drama of Mers-el-Kébir finds its origin at the time of the disaster of Dunkirk where English had to mitigate the absence of the French fleet to evacuate the troops taken with the trap. Darlan, anxious to reassure Churchill will ensure to him thereafter that it "will never make it possible German to seize the fleet". Despite everything, the British Admiralty asks that the French ships join English ports, not holding obviously account of the declarations of Darlan and blaming the French honor.
Whereas the negotiations of armistice are in hand, the fleet based in Toulon installs towards the African ports north and in particular Mers-el-Kébir while the too decayed buildings to take the sea are scuttled in the various naval bases :
2 battleships and 8 destroyers are then in Plymouth
4 battleships and 1 seaplane tender are in Mers El Kébir
1 battleship, 4 cruisers and 3 destroyers in Alexandria
Battleship Richelieu installs for Dakar whereas the Jean Bart unfinished takes the sea for Casablanca.
France thus proves its will to save its fleet of the German seizure. It also tries to obtain its disarmament in the wearing of North Africa: Germany accepts on June 30!!
At the time of the signature of the armistice, the German and Italian admirals ask that the French fleet go without condition but Hitler, to the general surprise, is opposed to it. It asks that it be demilitarized.
Conscious of the climate which is established, Darlan wants to still reassure English and leaves the choice with each commander of warship:
* not to fall to the hands from German or Italian
* to rejoin the English ports or the Antilles
* to scuttle itself
In any event, never not to allow that a building falls intact to the hands from the enemy.
Churchill remains despite everything being wary and programs the Catapult operation:
July 1, the admiral Somerville, named on June 28 with the head of the Force "H", receives the order to be ensured of the transfer or the destruction of the French naval units of Mers-el-Kébir.
The English squadron which installs of Gibraltar on July 2 at 4 p.m. has proud pace:
* the aircraft carrier Ark Royal (carrying 65 planes)
* 1 battlecruiser : prestigious Hood (45.000 tons and 8 guns of 380mm) flagship of the admiral Somerville and pride of Royal Navy
* 2 battleships : Resolution and Valiant (32.000 tons and 8 gunsof 380mm)
* 2 cruisers and ten destroyers.Battlecruiser HOOD Battleship RESOLUTION Battleship VALIANT
French ships at Mers-el-kébir, although fewer, also form part of the top of the navy:
* the 2 battleships Strasbourg and Dunkirk (flagship de Gensoul) of 35.500 tons and armed with 8 guns of 340 mm
* the 2 old battleships Provence and Bretagne of 23.500 tons also armed with 8 guns of 340 mm
* the seaplane-tender Commanadant Teste.
* a flotilla of 6 destroyers among which Mogador and Volta, steaming by more than 40 knots and, which by their armament, is connected more with light cruisers.French fleet at Mers-el-Kebir Plan of the harbor Battlsehip STRASBOURG Battleship PROVENCE
The harbor is protected by 4 coastal batteries:
Fort Santon (3 tubes of 194mm)
Battery Gambetta (4 tubes of 120mm)
Spanish Battery (2 tubes of 75mm)
Battery Canastel (3 tubes of 240mm)
It should finally be known that if the order emanates from Churchill and the British Admiralty, the principal English admirals are far from being unanimous as for the approval of such a step. All their contacts with their French counterparts stipulated well that to in no case the French fleet does not have to pass in enemy hands. The Catapult operation thus seems particularly useless, especially when it is a question of opening fire on the allies of the day before!
Since the armistice, disarmament is in hand:
The coastal batteries which protect the harbor see their guns without cylinder heads.
With regard to the warships, they are not on the foot of war but with damping, stopped machines, and the poop directed towards the sea thus depriving them of their principal artillery.
Around 6h of the morning, the destroyer Foxhound is detached from the horizon and takes the direction of the French base, asking for the authorization of come into contact with the admiral Gensoul by the means of the commander Holland, current ordering of Ark Royal and former naval attache in Paris.
7h15: Gensoul sends its aide-de-camp, the lieutenant Dufay to the meeting of English. This one usually speaks English and knows Holland well.
7h45: Holland, although disappointed not to have dealt with Gensoul in person, in did not transmit the message of admiralty: that the French ships join to Royal Navy, a squadron awaits them broad to welcome to them.
Indeed, the watchers of the flagship announce the appearance of the force "H" of Somerville.
A complement of message arrives by the projectors of Hood:
"We hope that our proposals will be acceptable and that we will find you at our side".
Gensoul understands the hardly buckled threat and recalls to the stations of combat
8h30: Gensoul, which continues to refuse to receive Holland in person, takes note of the English proposals:
1 to install and fight at the sides of the English fleet
2 to install under crew reduced to join an English port
3 to join the Antilles under crew reduced for demilitarization
4 to scuttle itself
If all its proposals had been suddenly disallowed, English would use of the force to prevent that the French ships do not fall to the hands from German or Italian.
Gensoul is cut down! The situation is disastrous. It is a true setting remains about it which the British forwarded to him. He analyzes the proposals then:
* The two first can only be rejected because would be to betray the armistice
* It is not also possible to scuttle ships which are already out of reach troops of the Axis.
* As for installing for the Antilles, it feels well that the English message would not allow it.
He prevents at once French admiralty BUT
without evoking proposal 3: "English Force in front of Oran. Ultimatum: sink your ships time six hours or we will force you there by the force." Answer: "French ships will answer the force by the force "
In same time, one rearms the coastal batteries quickly and drives out is put in alarm. Gensoul makes light fires of the boilers and convenes the chiefs of squadron.
9h: Message with all the ships: "English Fleet arrival to pose an unacceptable ultimatum to us, be ready to answer the force by the force" Holland, which always awaits the answer of French, notices their preparations and receives finally the response of Gensoul:
1 the insurances given remain whole. In no case the French ships will not fall to the hands from the enemy.
2 being given the form of the ultimatum, the French buildings will answer the force by the force.
Holland manages to obtain to negotiate with Dufay on board cabin of the high-speed motorboat of Dunkirk. It recalls that nobody questions the will of French but how to be sure that French, encircled, would have time to scuttle itself? Dufay makes him then share of creation of teams of scuttling and that nothing is opposed so that the ships are demilitarized on the spot, with Seas-el-Kébir, far from the metropolis.
Holland regains Foxhound then, not without to have pointed out to Dufay which its decision would have been the same one in similar circumstances.
9h50: The English answer arrives: It is out of question that the French fleet leaves the port without to have accepted the English conditions.
The drama seems tied but the admiral Somerville, who saw the French preparations, still hesitates.
He gives the order to mine the master key and the planes of Ark Royal release about midday of the magnetic mines aiming at avoiding very left. On board English ships, waiting continues, each one being repugnant to have to open fire on French.
12h30: Somerville warns London which it is ready to open fire but, on proposal of Holland, a last message sends to Gensoul.
"If you accept the proposals, hoist a square house if not I make open fire with 13h. Your harbor is mined "
13h15: Gensoul accepts a maintenance of principle with Holland and stipulates that he awaits the response of his government and thus the intention does not have to install. The reasons which pushed Gensoul to change opinion and to accept this meeting are double: not to have to open fire and to save time to allow its ships to finish their preparations.
15h15: Holland arrives on board Dunkirk and is not without noticing that French does not remain inactive. Gensoul shows him the message which Darlan concerning the instructions had forwarded to him to follow in the event of threat. Having thus proven its good faith, Gensoul plans to install for the Antilles but with its crews, data which is not considered in the English proposals. An agreement seems however to be able to be considered.
But the fate of the French fleet decides well far from there. An emanating message of French Admiralty is transmitted to Gensoul: all the French forces of the Mediterranean rejoin Mers-el-Kkebir at full steam.
The response of Somerville is unambiguous: either the conditions are accepted with 16h30, or its buildings open fire.
The fate is thrown by it, the negotiations failed.
Holland leaves the edge with 16h25 and Somerville is obliged to wait before starting the combat.
16h53: The signal is hoisted with the mast of Hood First salvo falls near the french fleet
16h56: The Resolution opens fire the first. The too short salvo explodes on the pier whereas Dunkirk installs. Hardly it left its damping which a shell of Hood touches it with the back. The French battleship made despite everything fire of all its parts and frames the British cruiser of battle but the chance is side of the attackers: 3 shells of 380mm reach the ship which, in one moment, loses half of its principal pieces of artillery like any energy, its power supply having been crossed. It any more but does not remain to him to go to fail itself on the bottom in front of Ste André.
At the same time, Provence is badly in point: a shell having started a water way to the back it is necessary to drown the compartments; the turrets postpone are out of use and the turret of directing of gunfire was divided. Although disabled, the old battleship echoue by 10 m basic.
Bretagne as for him did not have the advisability of carrying out least the move: a whole salvo reaches the ship which burns right through. The evacuation is ordered but with 17h09 a last explosion makes capsize the building which involves in death 977 men. It will be necessary to await the attack of Pearl Harbor to see a fate even crueler falling down on a crew. movements of french ships Battle plan
17h10: At this moment, only of all the heavy units, Strasbourg succeeded in avoiding the English salvos: having broken its mooring ropes, the battleship splits water at a vertiginous speed. It crosses the door of the stopping at 28 knots without the mines not coming to explode against the hull.
It is not the only one to have been able to leave the roads: the destroyers, much manoeuvrable, could be extracted from the trap. Volta and the Terrible one will launch two attacks to the torpedo at the time of their escape but without any result.
Only Mogador, reached of a shell of 380mm which pulverized the back, had to be abandoned.
17h15: The French ships are either out of combat, or took the sea.
Gensoul requires one then cease the fire which Somerville will answer that as long as the French ships will be with flood, it will again make open the shooting.
17h20: Swordfish of Ark Royal announces that a battleship travelled towards the East at high speed: Strasbourg, whose exit had passed unperceived at the time of engagement, was located. Only Hood, faster than the English battleships, is able to start hunting with the cruisers and destroyers. Battlship STRASBOURG opens fire http://img131.images...efeu2yp8.th.jpg
In spite of two air raids with 17h45 and 19h55, Strasbourg manages to avoid the British torpedes and strongly counteracts Hood which will end up giving up the continuation with 19h20. The floret of the French navy will reach without encumbers Toulon the following day.
At Mers-el-Kébir, the assessment is heavy: the headlight was volitilized by a shell of 380mm, the failed ships are the prey of the flames, the survivors are for the majority atrociously wounded or burned and struggle in the medium of the remains.
And it is alas not finished: the British Admiralty, conscious that Dunkirk could easily be given in state orders in Somerville to carry out a new bombardment.
The planes of Ark Royal are received by a violent one shooting of DCA and must face some Dewoitine fighters. The torpedo which is intended for Dunkirk is boxed by a tug boat which was literally pulverized. If the battleship did not record the least blow with the goal, the explosion of the grenades of Terre-Neuve, opened a 40m hole in the hull. Despite everything, the ship will also join Toulon at at the beginning of 1942, before another sad episode of the history of the French navy.
Stupor and the pain invaded France in front of such an attack and the loss of 1297 lives. The responsibility falls on Churchill, the admirals being satisfied with executing the orders or, having expressed their dissension, being found with the retirement of office. English and French had just written one of the blackest pages of the relations between the two countries.....