The Marine Nationale between 1945 and 1990 is the object of a new dedicated portal page. Arguably today the European’s second largest navy behind the Royal Navy, it was rebuilt from the 1960s, despite slowdown in growth provoked by budgetary redirections (towards the nuclear deterrence program). Today it is strong and coherent, and despite a looser association with NATO from 1960 to 2008, always stayed in close partnership, ready to fulfil her role in case of a Soviet aggression. This page will cover these historical developments, with at the end an overview of the post cold-war naval plans and contemporary French Navy, and some prospective with plans until 2030. The page also succinctly covers the French fleet air arm, and will cover French Naval weaponry in due time.
Also a work in progress, the page will try to cover all the ships in service until 1990, including those in construction at that time. Of course on the long run, comprehensive articles will cover all these ships and classes separately, each with its own article. Meaning, if no catastrophe occurs, completion of the whole French cold war topic will be completed around 2021-22. The article is coming also with a wide array of photos and illustrations, profiles originally made for Conway’s editions and rendered in 3D and with more details.
Different kind of 3D rendered illustrations already done. More to come.
A bit of History:
The Marine Nationale (French Navy) in 1945, September, V-Day, was in a sorry state, between a cohort of ships dating back from the late 1920s and 1930s, many of which has been already hard-pressed in the Free French Navy. The rest was on the bottom of Mers-El-Kebir and Toulon and elsewhere. Little less than half of the original tonnage has been preserved. The immediate postwar situation stalled any prospects of having an operational fleet again.
If war reparations (good quality ships and submarines which compensated a bit) and recent allied transfers, there will be ten years of difficult maintenance of the most basic level while several ships in construction were postponed for a completion in a modernized formed (like the battleship Jean Bart and Cruiser De Grasse). This is a very disparate fleet which took on the task of winning the conflict in Indochina, with no less than four aircraft carriers.
From this, and before retiring from NATO, France launched an ambitious program and took advantage of this interim fleet to start a modern serie of warships, the new T47 and T53 destroyers and cruisers De Grasse and Colbert. The genesis of French aircraft carrier was a long and protracted affair, going through the PA28, 58 and 75 projects and at last in 1960, the Clemenceau class. After De Gaulle return to power, situation changed dramatically in two ways:
1-France leaved NATO
2-As a consequence France launched its own nuclear deterrence program.
The immediate consequence for the navy was a redirection of budget, at some point reaching 50%, away from the conventional “blue water navy”. Therefore many projects were starved of budget or delayed for years. In 1971 France inaugurated a serie of SSBNs, and developed a family of SNA for close protection later, the smallest of the type in any Navy. The 1969 “Plan Bleu” main goal was to reinforce the conventional navy. The objectives were only partially filled. The helicopter carriers/ LHD (nuclear-powered) were dropped as well as the new attack submarines and frigates.
This was a limited navy for taking care of a wide area, which in fact is still today the world’s largest Exclusive Economic Zone Area, with 11,691,000 km2, before the United States, Russia and Australia. Indeed, metropolitan France EEZ is only 4,514,000 square miles, so only 3% of the total French EEZ !
Unbuilt PA-58 project, studied alongside the Clemenceau class, but much larger as she was supposed to operate the 20-tonnes nuclear carrier Dassault Mirage IVP (Marine).
This explain perhaps in the 1950-70s the large number of “patrol submarines” built, and patrol ships in general. The conventional Navy related to its destroyers, frigates and carriers was well below UK in tonnage and capabilities. In 1985, the FOST (Nuclear deterrence component) only made for 28% of total naval expenditures.
These ten years saw a whole new array of ships and submarines enter service, which mostly stayed in service until years after the cold war. In fact some of these ships, like the Dupetit-Thouars and Cassard destroyers are still in service today.
The next transformation started in the 1990s, in the post cold war period, with the stealthy, modern Lafayette class Frigates entering service, the Charles de Gaulle nuclear carrier as a cornerstone replacing the Clemenceau class (but without a second carrier). At last from 1995 and up to 2009, France returned into NATO, but her own policy of national nuclear deterrence was not questioned. The 1979 crisis however still impacted the French economy and both The Floréal Frigates and the BPC (Assault helicopter carriers) of the Mistral class of the late 1990s were mad by civilian contractors to lower the costs.
Charles de Gaulle nuclear aircraft carrier, the cornerstone of the modern French Navy. Although she is a post-cold war vessel, she was laid down on 14 April 1989 (stacking of elements in prefabrication since 24 November 1987), with previous drafts going as far as 1982.
The next ten years of the new 2000s saw no less than three new classes of ships entering service: The new FREMM (Horizon) frigates, Forbin and Aquitaine class and the new SSBNs of the Triomphant class. Completions of the Aquitaine and Suffren class SNAs are scheduled until 2020, under a healthy export program and solid industrial consortiums (like Naval group), the French Naval program is maintained strong and capable for the next future French international policy.