||24 December 1932
||2 October 1935
||1 May 1937
||Arsenal de Brest
|Scuttled at Toulon, 27 November 1942.
Dunkerque French super-dreadnought fast battleship
Lead ship of the Dunkerque class. Dunkerque was launched on 2 October 1935 and was commissioned on 1 May 1937.
World War II
On 5th October 1939 Dunkerque was assigned to Force L, which one of a number of French and British forces intended hunt down German commerce raiders. Force L was based at Brest and also consisted of the aircraft carrier Béarn, light cruisers Georges Leygues, Gloire and Montcalm.
Dunkerque, Georges Leygues, Montcalm and destroyers L'Indomptable, Le Malin and Le Triomphant departed Brest on 22nd October to help escort Convoy KJ.3 and joined the convoy on the 24th. Dunkerque and the destoryers returned to Brest on the 25th (the cruisers had been reassigned on the 24th to convoy HX.5 and returned home seperately on the 28th). They then patrolled the Antilles-English Channel route to cover convoy KJ.4 and again returned to Brest on the 30th.
Hunt for the Deutschland
In the winter of 1939 German battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau set sail to attack allied merchant shipping. It was the afternoon of Thursday 23 November, southeast of Iceland that Scharnhorst sighted the armed merchant cruiser Rawalpindi, which attempted to outrun the German ship. At 15:51 Rawalpindi sent a radio message that an enemy battlecruiser had been sighted and a few minutes later messaged that it was the Deutschland (a 'pocket battleship', which the allies believed was still at sea at that time). The German ships closed the range, with Scharnhorst opening fire at 16:03, followed by Gneisenau at 16:11. Rawalpindi returned fire scoring one hit on Scharnhorst, but was sunk, with 27 survivours being picked up by the Germans.
Over the next few days Britain and France deployed a large number of ships to search for what was believed to be the Deutschland. Dunkerque, with Montcalm, Georges Leygues and large destroyers Mogador and Volta departed Brest on the 25th to relieve British aircraft carrier H.M.S. Furious and battle-cruiser H.M.S. Repulse. They rendezvoused with another British force consisting of the battle-cruiser H.M.S. Hood and destroyers Exmouth, Echo and Eclipse, which left Plymouth on the same day. Together Dunkerque and H.M.S. HOOD searched for the German ships for the rest of the month, on Thursday 30th being 100 miles west of the Faroe islands, now with British destroyers Somali, Punjabi and Mashona. For all their efforts the force failed to sight the enemy.
On Friday 1 December Dunkerque was re-joined by Mogador and Volta (which had left the main force to re-fuel at Belfast on the 29th) and headed around the Irish West coast. The destroyers Guépard, Valmy, Verdun and Le Triomphant left Brest to escort the force home, meeting up on the 2nd. Le Triomphant escorted Montcalm to Cherbourg for repairs, while the rest of the ships proceeded to Brest, all arriving at their destinations the following day.[4a]
To ensure the safety of French gold reserves and to facilitate war purchases from the U.S.A., France began shipping gold to Canada in April of 1939 (with an initial consignment of 403,516 'fine ounces'). On the 1 May governor of the Bank of Canada, Graham Towers formerly confirmed the opening of the Banque de France's gold account and France increased the size of the account throughout 1939 so that by the end of the year it contained 17,531 bars (7,088,094 'fine ounces' worth approximately $250,000,000).
Dunkerque was charged with the safe delivery of a substantial portion of this gold to Canada. At 17:00, Monday 11 December she left Brest loaded with 100 tons of gold (approximately 8,000 bars worth around $110,000,000) for deposit with the Bank of Canada. Dunkerque was escorted by Gloire and destroyers Le Terrible, Le Triomphant, Mogador, Valmy and Volta. Valmy left the group on the 12th, and the rest of the destroyers departed the following day. Dunkerque and Gloire arrived safely at Halifax with their valuable cargo on the 17th.[4b]
On the return journey Dunkerque helped in escorting a Canadian troop convoy (TC.2), leaving Halifax on Friday 22 December carrying 8,152 soldiers to Great Britain. With the convoy was also British Vice Admiral L.E. Holland, returning to Britain on board the battleship H.M.S. Revenge. Escorted by Royal Navy destroyers Fearless, Firedrake and Fury, the Dunkerque and Gloire left the convoy on the 29th and later that morning were met by French destroyers Le Fantasque, Le Terrible, Le Triomphant, Mogador and Volta which had left Brest on the 26th. The British destroyers departed before the French ships arrived back home at Brest on the 30th.
Redeployment to the Mediterranean
On Tuesday 2 April Dunkerque and sister ship Strasbourg departed Brest together with Gloire and Montcalm, escorted by destroyers Mogador, L'Indomptable, Le Triomphant, Le Malin, Le Terrible they arrived at Oran/Mers-el-Kebir, Algeria on the 5th.
On Tuesday 9th April the same battleship and cruiser force left Oran/Mers-el-Kebir to return to Brest, this time escorted by destroyers Mogador, L'Indomptable, Le Triomphant and Le Malin, arriving back on the 12th.
On Tuesday 23rd April the two battleships Dunkerque and Strasbourg, this time with light cruisers Gloire and Georges Leygues left Brest for the last time, again en-route for Mers-el-Kebir. Escorted by destroyers Mogador, Le Terrible, L'Audacieux, Tigre, Lynx, and Mars, on the 24 April, destroyers Tigre, Lynx, and Mars attacked a submarine contact. The force passed through the strait of Gibraltar on Saturday 27th, arriving at Mers-el-Kebir later that day.
Mers-el-Kebir was a fortress overshadowing the anchorage for the French battleships and a number of destroyers at one end of the Oran bay. Across the bay was the town of Oran where more French ships and submarines where docked. Oran became the base of the 1st Line Division, commanded by Vice-Amiral Marcel B. Gensoul, consisting of Dunkerque (Captain H.J.M. Seguin and Vice-Amiral Gensoul's flagship) and Strasbourg. It was also home of the 2nd Line Division, commanded by Contre Amiral J.F.E. Bouxin, consisting of battleships Bretagne and Provence. Vice-Amiral Gensoul had overall command of the French fleet at Oran.
Battle at Mers-el-Kebir
After the fall of France, Britain did not wish for the ships there to fall into German hands and so on 3 July 1940 Churchill ordered Admiral James Somerville of Force H to deliver an ultimatum to the French fleet at Mers-el-Kebir to sail with the British in continuing the war against Germany, hand over their ships or scuttle them in six hours. The negotiations did not go well as the French refused to be bullied into being told what to do with their ships.
HMS Ark Royal launched Fairey Swordfish aircraft to drop magnetic mines outside the port to try and prevent the French fleet from escaping back to France. Following the failure to get the French to agree to the ultimatum, Churchill ordered Force H's battleships HMS Valiant, HMS Resolution and battle-cruiser HMS Hood to open fire, which they did at 16:56. The French fleet was not prepared as they were not expecting the British force to fire on them. Dunkerque and Strasbourg were both moored with their main armament facing inland, but eventually the French fleet managed to return fire. Dunkerque was damaged by the British shellfire and Strasbourg and four destroyers sailed for France without her.
To finish the job on the morning of 6 July HMS Ark Royal again launched her Fairey Swordfish, this time armed with torpedoes. The patrol boat Terre-Neuve, moored alongside Dunkerque was hit, detonating the depth charges it was carrying. The resulting explosion seriously damaged Dunkerque
Temporary repairs were made and Dunkerque then sailed for Toulon.
When on 27 November 1942 it looked as though Germany was about to seize the French ships at Toulon, the French scuttled their fleet. Including Dunkerque, which was destroyed while in dry dock.
Dunkerque was sold for scrap in 1956.