At the start of World War Two, Dunkerque and Strasbourg were tasked to hunt German Panzershiffes. By October Strasbourg had split off to form the core of another taskforce. In November Dunkerque, Georges Leygues (whom British sailors called Gorgeous Legs), Montcalm and eight destroyers joined a British force, which included HMS Hood, to hunt what they thought was the Deutschland. In reality the ships they sought were Scharnhorst and Gneisenau. The book, Flagship Hood, has a picture of Dunkerque’s tower bridge, taken from the Hood during this joint search. This photo is ironic, considering the next meeting between Dunkerque and Hood. In early 1940 Dunkerque was transferred to Mers-el-Kebir to counter any Italian threat in the Mediterranean. On July 3, 1940 Dunkerque again met Hood, which was accompanied by Resolution, Valiant, and Ark Royal, at the Battle of Mers-el-Kebir.
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To avoid capture of the French Fleet by Germans or Italians, Churchill ordered the French forces neutralized. The French were given an ultimatum with several options. They refused to act and British Force H opened fire on the French Fleet. Dunkerque was the target of Hood. Four 15-inch shells hit Dunkerque from Hood. The first hit went through the seaplane hanger and exited below the waterline, without exploding. The light plating encountered by this shell was insufficient to detonate the fuze. The second hit was on the starboard front corner of B turret. Most of the shell ricocheted away but the turret armor was penetrated and the entire gun crew of the starboard half of the turret was killed. The French had built a 40 mm armored bulkhead separating the port and starboard halves of each turret. The port half of the turret continued in action as the armored partition isolated the damage, smoke and fire to the starboard side. The third hit was at the top of the main armored belt near the starboard twin secondary mount. It exploded inside the Dunkerque and caused disruption of electrical power. This hit effectively hamstrung Dunkerque. The fourth hit was close to the second and went under the belt and exploded against the torpedo bulkhead. This explosion shut down a fireroom and limited the maximum speed of Dunkerque.

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No longer capable of putting out to sea, it was ordered that Dunkerque be grounded. The British ceased fire and steamed away. The next day Admiral Esteva, commander of French North African naval forces, rather unwisely issued a press release stating that Dunkerque had only received minor damage. Because of this statement Force H returned to visit Dunkerque on July 6. This time the Swordfish and Skuas of Ark Royal were used against Dunkerque. The patrol vessel Terre Neuve was along the port side of Dunkerque, embarking coffins of those that died on July 3 from the fire of Hood. One torpedo cut this patrol vessel in two. On a following attack wave, another torpedo hit the wreckage of the stern of Terre Neuve and detonated 42 depth charges located there. This massive explosion next to Dunkerque, tore a hole 40 meters long below the waterline of the starboard side of Dunkerque. Dunkerque settled by the bow and for a second time, the British sailed away.

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Refloated in August, Dunkerque was unable to sail until February 1941, when she reached Toulon with repair scaffolding still in place. She was still undergoing repairs, when she was scuttled on November 27, 1942 to avoid capture by the German Army. The wreck of the Dunkerque was not salvaged until 1958.

Alain Moitrot used plans available from the Musee de la Marine in Paris to build a 1:200 scale model of this elegant warship. The hull is made out of wood and all superstructure from Evergreen plastic. Everything is scratch-built except the railing, which is from Verlinden.

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