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Posts Tagged ‘Admiral Jean de Laborde’

The decision by Vichy French forces to lay down their arms in North Africa didn’t play well at the top of the German military.  The announcement, coming on November 11, 1942, was immediately followed by the German occupation of Vichy France.

Nazi forces rolled through Vichy (which comprised the southeast half of France) and arrived at Toulon, a major port that opened into the Mediterranean Sea.  It was also home (and still is, for that matter) to a large portion of the French fleet, which interested the Germans greatly.  Docked in Toulon were 3 modern battleships, 7 cruisers, 18 destroyers, nearly 2 dozen submarines, and dozens of smaller auxiliary boats, tenders, and tugs.

It presented a nice addition to the Germany Navy, and a huge boost to their presence in the Mediterranean.  At that point the Germans began negotiating with Admiral Jean de Laborde, trying to get him to surrender the fleet peacefully.

Simultaneously, French Admiral Darlan was trying to get Laborde to sail the fleet out of Toulon and to the North African coast (not all that long of a journey) and add its firepower to the Allied side of the ledger.  The French ships stationed at Casablanca had foolishly decided to fight the incoming Allied forces and were soundly defeated.  The addition of the ships from Toulon would be most welcome.

For two weeks the negotiations continued, with the Germans and Allies each trying to win the day.

In the early morning hours of November 27, 1942, German patience ran out and SS panzer troops stormed the gates of Toulon’s naval base.  Immediately, Laborde gave the “Scuttle, scuttle, scuttle!” order.  And in one of the greatest acts of self-sabotage ever, the French sailors complied.

The sea cocks were opened and the waters of the harbor poured into the ships.  The engines were destroyed, along with the instruments, and the base at Toulon became a giant junkyard.  One by one, the ships got lower in the water, the fires set in the engine rooms eventually succumbing to the incoming flood.

In all, more than 70 vessels were sunk.  The 3 battleships, the 7 cruisers, 15 of the 18 destroyers, a dozen submarines, most of the torpedo boats, and all the tugs.

The immense frustration felt by Darlan (and many others) was tempered by General Eisenhower who, always the diplomat, reminded everyone that keeping such a powerful force out of German hands was a victory of sorts.

I wonder if anyone was brave enough to tell the good General that it wouldn’t take many of these victories to cost the Allies the war.

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