One of the enduring misconceptions about the French Navy in World War II is that after the armistice in June 1940, the Navy retreated to port and stayed anchored there, rusting away until most of the fleet was scuttled in November 1942. In fact, the French Navy continued to be active, to the extent allowed by the Germans and the economic situation in France. French ships regularly were allowed to travel to and from the Metropole (Toulon) to French north and west African ports, and engaged in combat on a number of occasions in defense of French colonial interests in North and West Africa, Madagascar, Lebanon and Indochina. In addition, although limitations on fuel existed, French ships regularly exercised off the coast of southern France. Perhaps the misconception was reinforced by the fact that the French failed to repair the Dunkerque after her severe damage at Mers El Kebir in July 1940. Although the ship was returned to Toulon, she sat prominently in dry dock, until the November 1942 scuttling. Another very visible ship, the Jean Bart, sat incomplete at Casablanca, which added to this perception, as well as the French ships that were effectively captive at Alexandria and Martinique. While nothing was visibly done to most of these ships, the Vichy French did engage in substantial modifications and upgrades to their ships, especially in regard to enhancement of anti-aircraft defenses.

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The extent to which the French were able to accomplish this was severely restricted by economic and political factors. The Germans increasingly exercised control over French industrial output, most of which went to their own war effort. And the German Armistice Commission also had the power to restrict French re-armament. Nevertheless, substantial numbers of light anti-aircraft weapons were produced for the fleet during this period. These modifications did not merely involve the addition of weapons. In some cases, radar was added. Structural changes were made also to accommodate the guns. Many destroyers and contre-torpilleurs received these modifications, as did some cruisers. Of their heavy cruisers, only two received significant modifications, the Algerie and Colbert. The most visible changes were the removal of the main (tripod) mast, and replacement with a large box structure mounting anti-aircraft weapons. No doubt, given the time and materiel, the French would have also done these modification to the Foch and Dupleix as well.

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While Argonaut has produced a model of the Algerie with her modifications, no model of the Colbert in this condition has been made. Taking advantage of the acquisition of a slightly damaged Neptun Colbert, I decided to create one. Plans for such a model were not readily available until the publication of the Profile Morskie booklet #89 on the Colbert. The booklet has excellent plan drawings, sufficient to build a model in any scale. Modifying the Neptun model requires some serious effort. Removing the main mast is simple, but construction of the replacement structure can be a bit complicated. In addition the foremast and bridge require a lot of work. Not only are there structural additions, but the fore leg of the tripod requires changes, all of which I felt could not be done with the entire mast in place. Therefore, I carefully cut off the fore leg and created a new one, using newly made parts and one of the old search light platforms. Some new platforms must also be added to the after funnel, and a significant number of new AA weapons added. The Profile Morskie booklet made this conversion possible, but one must be alert for errors. While the plan appear to be solid, the color rendering, while useful has a couple of mistakes: the aircraft markings are not correct for the tail sections, and the number three turret stripes are contradictory. I would not recommend this job to an inexperienced modeler.

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Paul Jacobs

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