The great war Mediterranean veterans
The three battleships of the Courbet class had been the battleships dreadnoughts (or monocaliber) of the French navy. This class included at the time besides Courbet, Paris, Ocean, and France. They participated actively in the Great War and survived. In peacetime, in 1922, France sank off Quiberon bay on an unlisted reef. The other three were extensively modernized in 1926-29. However, no major changes subsequently took place and in September 1939 they were still “in their own juice”.
These modifications included three funnels passing to two (with new oil boilers), two new masts of which one forward tripod, much more sturdy will be installed, as well as new rangefinders. The order transmission systems will be modernized. Finally, the elevation of their main guns will be greatly improved, extending their range. They also received additional AAA in the form of seven 76 mm guns and two 45 mm guns.
Finally the Courbet, whose machinery was the oldest and obsolete, received new engines taken from the stock provided for cancelled battleships of the Normandy class, whose design was old (1913) but at least used oil-fired boilers. ASW protection was improved. With their outdated artillery disposition, low-caliber in 1940 (305 mm while the standard was now between 356 and 406 mm), and their obsolete AA firing system in 1939, these vessels could not be compared to the Italian or British modernized battleships in capabilities. Their role was therefore reduced in operations.
Battleship Courbet in 1935 (wikimedia CC).
The Ocean was renamed Jean Bart in 1936 and partially disarmed in 1938 to serve as a training ship in Toulon. She was not scuttled in November 1942, but was destroyed in an allied raid in 1944 (Operation Anvil), while the Germans completed the destruction by testing explosives.
Battleship Courbet & Paris
Courbet and Paris, because of their same obsolescence, had been provisionally paid as training ships in 1939, but were put back on active service in the Fifth Fleet (Admiral Mord) in May 1940. Their mission was to try to pound German forces approaching from Cherbourg. They covered the evacuation of the city, as well as that of Le Havre, but were criticized for their weak AA defense. They were able to take refuge in Portsmouth in June 1940.
During Operation Catapult in July both were successfully captured by Royal Navy troops and their crews were interned. Later, Courbet will be transferred to the Free French. She will be rearmed and will serve as a floating HQ, ship-barracks and floating anti-aircraft battery, with Paris becoming a floating depot. Courbet will be disarmed in 1941 and will serve as a depot at Portsmouth. In 1945, Paris returned to end her career in Brest as a depot ship and floating barrack, before being sold to a shipbreaker in 1947, as the Courbet.
The Paris in 1936, author’s illustration