Table of contents:
- No reason to believe
- British ultimatum
- "Catapult" without warning
- Disastrous results
- Researchers' estimates
France and Great Britain entered World War II in the same camp. These two ambitious powers were rallied by the threat of Nazi Germany. Therefore, few could even imagine that in the summer of 1940, yesterday's allies would find themselves in a state of real war with each other. Shooting collisions took place, it even came to aviation and the use of heavy battleships. A major naval battle between the British and French claimed the lives of more than 1,200 sailors and led to the severance of diplomatic relations.
No reason to believe
On June 22, 1940, the surrender of France was recorded, which became the outcome of the defeat of the Franco-British troops during the offensive operation of the German troops "Gelb". At that time, France could boast of the fourth most powerful navy in the world. The Franco-German peace treaty presupposed the arrival of French warships at Hitler's ports for subsequent disarmament. The naval commander guaranteed that the French ships would not serve Germany, guaranteeing neutrality towards the ex-allies. But the British refused to rely on trust.
The Soviet Union and the United States had not yet entered the war with the Nazis, France had just withdrawn from the alliance, and the Italians opposed the British. London did not strive to confront the Nazis alone, rightly not wanting to allow the enemy fleet to be strengthened at the expense of the French. For this reason, a strategic operation called "Catapult" was developed, designed to neutralize the Navy of the so-called "Republic of Vichy". The British were primarily interested in French ships in the harbors of Africa. Other ports were also important, for example, the main Mediterranean base of the French Navy in the azure Toulon.
On July 3, 1940, the British successfully captured all French ships in British ports. The crews were interned, and they could not do without armed clashes, which at the start entailed casualties. The ultimatum addressed to the side that capitulated to the Nazis clearly outlined the demands. France was asked to either join the British navy or flood. In case of disagreement, the British openly threatened to use any measures to prevent the ships from going into German hands. The French considered such an offer inappropriate, since their own fleet acted as a trump card for them in relations with Britain and Germany, giving them the opportunity to bargain. France simply found itself between two fires, but Hitler still saw it as a more dangerous enemy.
"Catapult" without warning
After the French rejected the ultimatum, the British unilaterally broke off the ongoing negotiations. To eliminate the threat of transferring the French fleet under German control, the British carried out a synchronous operation "Catapult" in the borders from Guadeloupe to Alexandria.
In the afternoon, a British squadron opened fire without warning. The British played on surprise, having entered the battle with the French for the first time since 1815 at Waterloo.Approaching from the sea, the British had an unambiguous strategic advantage - the French, although ready for a possible battle, were too crowded to the harbor. As a result, the British could only shoot the French when they tried to leave the raid.
Several battleships were blown up or seriously damaged, but one managed to escape into the open sea along with 5 destroyers. A little later, torpedo bombers struck, finishing off the battleships remaining in the harbor. The new powerful line Richelieu was also attacked. And only the power phase of "Catapult", supposed in Guadeloupe and Alexandria, was canceled after successful negotiations and US intervention. The sailors disarmed themselves voluntarily, promising neutrality.
Operation Catapult resulted in the death of nearly 1,300 French sailors. Immediately after the incident, the Petain government severed any ties with Great Britain. The navy and all other military forces that had sworn allegiance to the Vichy regime would henceforth regard the British as their enemies. This position subsequently resulted in a two-year chain of armed clashes in Indochina, Madagascar, and the Middle East. But militarily, the British achieved little - not a single modern French battleship or cruiser was sunk. Only obsolete dreadnoughts and destroyers were captured and destroyed. The rest of the combat-ready part of the Navy was able to leave the African harbors and concentrate in Toulon. The remnants of the fleet were there until the actual occupation of the remaining French territory by Hitler. However, faithful to the oath and promises of England in 1940, the French sailors destroyed their own fleet, preventing the capture by the Germans.
Strange as it may seem, Germany benefited most from the Catapult. The alliance between Great Britain and France was broken, the French naval department gave the go-ahead to attack any British ship, regardless of deployment. True, a few days later, the Petain collaborationist government edited the order, allowing attacks only in a 20-mile zone relative to the French coast. And even later, a transition was made to exclusively defensive actions.
The Catapult remained one of the most paradoxical operations of the Second World War. Finding itself in a difficult situation, Great Britain took too extreme measures, so a deep split occurred even among its political and military elites. Already in 1954, 9 years after the end of the war, a meeting dedicated to those events was held. The British admirals North and Somerville showed a negative attitude towards the orders of their own government in 1940. The military leaders agreed that it was possible to come to a peaceful outcome of the case, provided that the negotiators would have had a little more time.
By the way, Napoleon, who at one time actively fought with Britain, his most crushing defeat suffered not at Waterloo, as is commonly thought.
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