THE FRENCH CONTRE-TORPILLEUR
A PHOTO ESSAY
by Paul Jacobs
The invention of the automotive or self-propelled torpedo in the late 1800's provided lesser navies with the power to challenge stronger navies like the Royal Navy. The French quickly and enthusiastically welcomed the torpedo as a means of leveling the playing field against the British battle fleet. But when the French built large numbers of small torpedo boats, the British countered first with torpedo catchers, then with the torpedo boat destroyer. By 1914, the destroyer had become not just the prime means of defending the fleet against torpedo attack, but also the primary method of delivering it. 
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The typical destroyer of World War I was generally smaller than 1000 tons, and mounted guns ranging from 75 mm (3 inch) to 105 mm (4 inch), and French vessels were no exception. But during the war larger destroyers were introduced, especially by the Germans and Italians, carrying weapons ranging from 125 mm (4.7 inch) up to 150 mm (5.9 inch). By the end of the war the typical British destroyer, the V&W classes, was about 1,100 tons with 125 mm guns.

After the war ended, the French received several German destroyers as reparations, including the 2,000 ton S-113, which was armed with 150 mm guns. This vessel, renamed AMIRAL SENES, gave the French valuable experience with larger ships.  

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With the end of the war, the French saw the Italians as their main rival, and saw the need to build ships to counter the new large Italian destroyers. In 1923 they launched the first of a new class of ships, the six contre-torpilleurs of the CHACAL Class. These ships were of 2,100 tons and mounted five 130 mm (5.1") guns. The naval limitation treaties now imposed limits upon cruisers and the French, short on modern cruisers saw that larger destroyers could help to fill that gap. They followed in 1928-1931 with the 18 ships of the GUEPARD, AIGLE and CASSARD Classes of 2,400 tons with five 138 mm (5.5") guns. These were distinctive for their four funnels, a unique feature among post-war built destroyers. The first ten ships mounted six torpedo tubes in two mounts, while the last eight mounted seven tubes in two twin and one triple mounts.  

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The six FANTASQUE Class ships were a two-funneled improvement of their predecessors, and were followed in the late 1930's by the last class, the six MOGADOR Class, of which only MOGADOR and VOLTA were completed. These last two contre-torpilleurs reverted to130 mm guns, of which eight were mounted in twin turrets. Both these classes mounted very heavy torpedo armaments.

All of the contre-torpilleurs were attractive ships with fine lines and were among the largest, fastest, and heaviest armed destroyers in the world prior to WW II.

Four of these ships were lost prior to the armistice of June 1940, and LEOPARD and LE TRIOMPHANT came under the Free French, but the remainder survived to serve in the post armistice Vichy Navy. MOGADOR was seriously damaged in the British bombardment at Mers El Kebir in July 1940, and L’AUDACIEUX at Dakar in September, and neither saw service again. CHEVALIER PAUL was sunk off Syria in 1941 during the British-Free French invasion, and in the Allied invasion of North Africa in November 1942, ALBATROS was seriously damaged, and EPERVIER and MILAN were sunk. LEOPARD was lost in 1943 while serving with the Free French. Seventeen were scuttled at Toulon on November 27, 1942, a sad ending for so many fine ships. Of these TIGRE was taken over by the Italians, managed to survive, and was returned to the French in 1943. She served with the Allies thereafter. In the end, only four of the FANTASQUE Class, one of the CHACAL (TIGRE) and one of the eighteen four-funneled ships, (ALBATROS), survived the war. 

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The FANTASQUE’s were active with the Allies from 1943 through the end of the war, and continued in first line service until the mid-1950's. Because of their size and armament, the Allies re-designated these ships as light cruisers. The FANTASQUE’s were probably the most successful of the contre-torpilleurs and their design certainly influenced the SURCOUF Class escorteurs d’escadre which replaced them in the mid- 1950's.

THE MODELS

All of the models depicted here except for two are by Neptun. They have been painted and the masts enhanced with added details, and in some instances more substantial modifications made. 

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During their careers, all the contre-torpilleurs had modifications made, generally in the form of additional AA enhancements. The most substantial modifications prior to 1943 were done to the Vichy ships during the period from mid-1940 to mid-1942. These ships generally had large platforms constructed on the after superstructure where 12.7 mm and 37 mm weapons were mounted. Several of the four-funneled ships shown here have these added structures. TRIOMPHANT, which served with the Free French mounts a 4" gun in place of its number 4 gun, and is camouflaged circa 1943. 

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The FANTASQUE’s had a number of modifications made upon joining the Allies including the addition of U.S. made 20 mm and 40 mm guns, and one of the models depicts this, and is painted in Ms.22 camouflage.

REFERENCES

There are a great many English language books which include materials on these ships. The reader, however is directed in particular to the following:

"The 2,400 Tonners of the French Navy" by Jean Guiglini. WARSHIP INTERNATIONAL, Vol. XVIII, No.2, 1981, published by INRO, U.S.A. This is an excellent article with many useful drawings and photographs.

LES C.T. DE 2400 TONNES DU TYPE JAGUAR by Jean Lassaque, Marines Editions, France, n d, 143 pages.

LES CONTRE-TORPILLEURS EPERVIER ET MILAN, 1931-1946, by Jean Lassaque, Marines Editions, France, n d, 95 pages.

LES CT DE 2700 TONNES DU TYPE VAUQUELIN, by Jean Lassaque, Marines Editions, France, 2000, 143 pages.

LES CT DE 2800 TONNES DU TYPE LE FANTASQUE, by Jean Lassaque, Marines Editions, France, 1998, 151 pages.

LES C.T. DE 2880 TONNES DU TYPE MOGADOR (1936-1945), by Jean Lassaque, Marines Editions, France, 1996, 95 pages.

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