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Question: Why didn't the French fleet relocate to the UK in 1940 as France was falling?


D

Dylan2010

Its one of those small episodes in the war that never quite made sense to me, France was going to be occupied for the forseeable future and you cant run a rebel navy due to the resources required but the best the French were offering was to scuttle their ships if the Germans tried to capture them. The best way to fight back against the Nazis would have been for the fleet to to continue the war alongside Britain. What exactly was going on in the French leadership's heads that they didnt do this?




Background here

Operation Catapult: Naval Destruction at Mers-el-Kebir

On July 3, 1940, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill had to make one of the most momentous decisions of his career. Early that morning, he ordered a British fleet to arrive off the naval base of Mers-el-Kebir in North Africa and demand the surrender of the French vessels there. The British were to offer the French admiral four alternatives intended to prevent the French fleet's falling into the hands of the Germans. If the French commander refused the terms, his ships would be sunk by the British force. If the British were compelled to open fire, it would be the first time in 125 years that the two navies were arrayed against one another in hostility......
 

potholedogger

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Its one of those small episodes in the war that never quite made sense to me, France was going to be occupied for the forseeable future and you cant run a rebel navy due to the resources required but the best the French were offering was to scuttle their ships if the Germans tried to capture them. The best way to fight back against the Nazis would have been for the fleet to to continue the war alongside Britain. What exactly was going on in the French leadership's heads that they didnt do this?




Background here

Operation Catapult: Naval Destruction at Mers-el-Kebir
Was the fleet not under the control of Vichy France?

How could they send the fleet to England and seek peace with the Germans?
 

Mushroom

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Its one of those small episodes in the war that never quite made sense to me, France was going to be occupied for the forseeable future and you cant run a rebel navy due to the resources required but the best the French were offering was to scuttle their ships if the Germans tried to capture them. The best way to fight back against the Nazis would have been for the fleet to to continue the war alongside Britain. What exactly was going on in the French leadership's heads that they didnt do this?
Suspicion, pride and poor communications, mainly.

There's a reasonably detailed explanation for the decision here.
 

Trainwreck

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It really was a strange episode.

Consider that the French are the world champions at surrendering. Nobody knows more about surrender than the French.

But strangely on this occasion they declined to surrender. You would have put you house on a rapid white flag up the mast.

You're right, it is one of those conundrums of history.
 
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It really was a strange episode.

Consider that the French are the world champions at surrendering. Nobody knows more about surrender than the French.

But strangely on this occasion they declined to surrender. You would have put you house on a rapid white flag up the mast.

You're right, it is one of those conundrums of history.
Ah the usual surrender monkeys garbage. Check your history books, and mutter an appreciation to Charles Martel for the fact that you're not typing in Arabic.
 
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The argument made was that they intended to scuttle the fleet or sail it away in the event of the Germans looking like they were coming close to taking it (and I think there was another occasion, I think at Marseilles, where they did that). The British, pretty understandably, said 'Sorry, but we're fighting for our life here - we can not take the chance of the Germans getting your fleet because if they do, we're finished'. The French were given every option - sail to a neutral port, sail it to Britain, scuttle it, anything except leaving it at risk of capture. Then on the very day of the attack the British told them what they were going to do and pleaded with them not to let it happen, to just sail away or do it themselves. The French still refused.

Churchill apparently cried that day. But the one positive thing that came of it was that it convinced Roosevelt that the British were serious about fighting to the death. It convinced him to push lend-lease, now convinced that the British were not going to do deals or come to any arrangement with the Germans - he knew from that day on that they were going to fight on against the odds no matter what the consequences.
 

Trainwreck

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Ah the usual surrender monkeys garbage. Check your history books, and mutter an appreciation to Charles Martel for the fact that you're not typing in Arabic.
Are you referring to Tours and the battle fought by a core of soldiers from what would become Germany?


But thank you. "Cheese Eating Surrender Monkey" was the term I was searching for.
 
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The argument made was that they intended to scuttle the fleet or sail it away in the event of the Germans looking like they were coming close to taking it (and I think there was another occasion, I think at Marseilles, where they did that). The British, pretty understandably, said 'Sorry, but we're fighting for our life here - we can not take the chance of the Germans getting your fleet because if they do, we're finished'. The French were given every option - sail to a neutral port, sail it to Britain, scuttle it, anything except leaving it at risk of capture. Then on the very day of the attack the British told them what they were going to do and pleaded with them not to let it happen, to just sail away or do it themselves. The French still refused.

Churchill apparently cried that day. But the one positive thing that came of it was that it convinced Roosevelt that the British were serious about fighting to the death. It convinced him to push lend-lease, now convinced that the British were not going to do deals or come to any arrangement with the Germans - he knew from that day on that they were going to fight on against the odds no matter what the consequences.
The corollary to this is that had the French Navy joined forces with the British Navy, then Hitler would have torn up the Armistice which had been signed with the French and would have crushed the French beyond the extent achieved already.
 

ergo2

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Thanks for that reference Mushroom.

It was a tragic incident. However it did show both t he Germans and the Americans that Britain were serious about fighting on.
 

GDPR

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The argument made was that they intended to scuttle the fleet or sail it away in the event of the Germans looking like they were coming close to taking it (and I think there was another occasion, I think at Marseilles, where they did that). The British, pretty understandably, said 'Sorry, but we're fighting for our life here - we can not take the chance of the Germans getting your fleet because if they do, we're finished'. The French were given every option - sail to a neutral port, sail it to Britain, scuttle it, anything except leaving it at risk of capture. Then on the very day of the attack the British told them what they were going to do and pleaded with them not to let it happen, to just sail away or do it themselves. The French still refused.

Churchill apparently cried that day. But the one positive thing that came of it was that it convinced Roosevelt that the British were serious about fighting to the death. It convinced him to push lend-lease, now convinced that the British were not going to do deals or come to any arrangement with the Germans - he knew from that day on that they were going to fight on against the odds no matter what the consequences.
Those who lived through that period in Britain say they were at their best then and that it was their finest hour. I'd have to agree with that.
 

Little_Korean

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Pride, and a lingering distrust of Perfidious Albion.

As far as many in France were concerned, Britain had fled to Dunkirk and back to their precious island, leaving them to carry the can.

Even De Gaulle spent most of his time in London convinced that the British and Americans were going to take the French colonies in Africa away from French control and doing his hardest to prevent it.
 
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Are you referring to Tours and the battle fought by a core of soldiers from what would become Germany?


But thank you. "Cheese Eating Surrender Monkey" was the term I was searching for.
It's properly known as the Battle of Poitiers, but in any event I think you're trying to mischaracterise the identity of the defenders and how they would have seen themselves. Poitiers as much as anything confirmed and cemented the identity which led to France.

I know that there are current efforts to rewrite the history of the battle. this may be justified, but the generl concensus at the moment is that it was a crucial and significant battle.

It is also one of many battles and wars won by the French over the centuries. Any serious historian will laugh at the "surrender monkeys" barb.
 

Trainwreck

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It's properly known as the Battle of Poitiers, but in any event I think you're trying to mischaracterise the identity of the defenders and how they would have seen themselves. Poitiers as much as anything confirmed and cemented the identity which led to France.

I know that there are current efforts to rewrite the history of the battle. this may be justified, but the generl concensus at the moment is that it was a crucial and significant battle.

It is also one of many battles and wars won by the French over the centuries. Any serious historian will laugh at the "surrender monkeys" barb.
Known as Tours as well to avoid confusion.


You need to relax it was a bit of sport only.
 
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As far as many in France were concerned, Britain had fled to Dunkirk and back to their precious island, leaving them to carry the can.
Which has always bemused me - considering the losses the British took trying to defend France, plus the utterly heroic, to the point of suicidal, rearguard action of the British troops who stayed behind to delay the Germans and help get both British AND French troops away to safety...
 
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The corollary to this is that had the French Navy joined forces with the British Navy, then Hitler would have torn up the Armistice which had been signed with the French and would have crushed the French beyond the extent achieved already.
To which two points might be made - the Free French existed throughout the war but Vichy still held. Plus, the French had the option to scuttle or sail to a neutral port - the British were prepared to let them.
 

Trainwreck

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Pride, and a lingering distrust of Perfidious Albion.

As far as many in France were concerned, Britain had fled to Dunkirk and back to their precious island, leaving them to carry the can.

Even De Gaulle spent most of his time in London convinced that the British and Americans were going to take the French colonies in Africa away from French control and doing his hardest to prevent it.
I think that says it all. The classic revisionist perspective of WWII is as a united global fight against evil.

At that time at the earliest part of the war it was more of a continuation of the European jostle for national interest among the traditional powers.
 
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Known as Tours as well to avoid confusion.


You need to relax it was a bit of sport only.
Arr, I know.

A place worth visiting in Paris is Invalides - the military museum. There is a continuum of French military activity going right through its history.
 

ivnryn

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The corollary to this is that had the French Navy joined forces with the British Navy, then Hitler would have torn up the Armistice which had been signed with the French and would have crushed the French beyond the extent achieved already.
Right, the fleet was a "chip" at the negotiation with the Germans. The purpose of the fleet was to benefit France, not Britain.

They decided to go for short term benefit over a (very potential) long term benefit.
 

statsman

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There's a bit of a mention of this in Clea, by Lawrence Durrell. The narrator has returned to Alexandria and is with his old friend in the Free French Chancery building:

But the situation of their new Chancery was a somewhat unhappy one. The broad windows looked out over the harbour, over the French Fleet which lay there at anchor like a symbol of all that was malefic in the stars which governed the destiny of France. I could see that the very sight of it lying there was a perpetual reproach to them. And there was no escaping it. At every turn taken between the high old-fashioned desks and the white wall their eyes fell upon this repellent array of ships. It was like a splinter lodged in the optic nerve. Pordre's eye kindled with self-reproach and the zealot's hot desire to reform these cowardly followers of the personage whom Pombal (in his less diplomatic moments) was henceforward to refer to as 'ce vieux Putain'. It was a relief to vent feelings so intense by the simple substitution of a letter. The three of us stood there, looking down into the harbour at this provoking sight, and suddenly the old man burst out: 'Why don't you British intern them? Send them to India with the Italians. I shall never understand it. Forgive me. But do you realize that they are allowed to keep their small arms, mount sentries, take shore leave, just as if they were a neutral fleet? The admirals wine and dine in the town, all intriguing for Vichy. There are endless bagarres in the cafés between our boys and the sailors.' I could see that it was a subject which was capable of making them quite beside themselves with fury. I tried to change it, since there was little consolation I could offer.
http://centretruths.co.uk/ldtaq/Clea_01.htm
 
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"ce vieux Putain", eh?

Say what you like, the French curse in style.
 
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