REFERENCE DOCUMENTS & RESOURCES - OFFICIAL ADMIRALTY DOCUMENTS
ADM 199/391: FORCE "H" WAR DIARIES
Updated 17-Oct-2007

This document is a modern transcription of Admiralty record ADM 199/391. This document concerns the actions of Force "H", the task force that attacked and severely damaged the French Fleet based at Mers el-Kebir in July 1940. The original file is held at the The National Archives at Kew, London. This Crown Copyrighted material is reproduced here by kind permission of The National Archives.

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ENCLOSURE NO. 3 TO FLAG OFFICER COMMANDING FORCE”H” No. 9/2
dated 26 June 1940

MOST SECRET

Office of Vice Admiral
Force H.

1st July, 1940

No. V.A.B. 1

OPERATION ORDERS FOR OPERATION “CATAPULT”

(Short Title “CAT”)

All Times are zone –1

INFORMATION.

French.

The main French fleet is at present in ORAN, with cruisers in ALGIERS and SFAX and small units at BIZERTA. The latest information of the positions of French ships at ORAN is given in Appendix 1.

2. Under the terms of the recently concluded Armistice it is understood that the French Fleet is to be delivered to French metropolitan ports for de-militarisation under enemy control. The French, however, appear to be hoping to be allowed to retain and de-militarise their ships in French colonial ports.

3. A summary of the defences of ORAN is contained in Appendix II.

Italian.

4. The main Italian fleet is believed to be in the TARANTO area, with light forces on the East coasts of Italy and Sicily. Submarines and aircraft are available to operate in the Western basin of the Mediterranean, the nearest Italian aerodrome being about 500 miles from ORAN.

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Spanish.

5. Spanish attitude is uncertain and is liable to turn against us, in which case, the use of Gibraltar as a base would probably be denied us.

British.

6. Force “H”, for this operation consists of:-

3 Capital ships
1 Aircraft Carrier
2 Cruisers
11 Destroyers

Detailed composition is shown in Appendix III.

7. The Mediterranean Fleet, working from Alexandria, may synchronise operations in the Central Mediterranean with those undertaken by Force “H” in the Western basin.

8. Submarines PROTEUS and PANDORA from the Mediterranean Fleet are patrolling off ORAN and ALGIERS respectively. Further information will be signalled.

9. Flying boats are co-operating from Gibraltar.

INTENTION

10. My intention is to prevent the French warships at ORAN, from falling into the hands of the enemy.

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11. To carry out this intention, the following procedure will be adopted:-

(a) Phase 1.

Using persuasion and threats as may be found expedient, to inform the French that they must either: -

(i)Bring their ships to British harbours and fight with us, or

(ii) Steam their ships with reduced crews to a British port or to the West Indies from which their crews would be repatriated if desired.

Or (iii) De-militarise their ships immediately to our satisfaction

Or (iv) Sink their ships.

(b) Should the French be unwilling to adopt any of the above measures, it will then be necessary to proceed to: -

Phase II

(i)Show that we are in earnest by offensive action without endangering French ships.

(ii)Destroy the French ships by our own action.

EXECUTION.

12. orders for the passage of Force “H” from Gibraltar to ORAN will be issued separately.

Phase I.

13. “FOXHOUND”, with a delegate (Captain C.S. Holland, Royal Navy) on board, is to arrive off ORAN about 0700 on Wednesday 3rd July, subsequently acting under the orders of Captain Holland.

14. Captain Holland will then act in accordance with the special instructions issued to him, a summary of which is as follows:-

(a) French must carry out one of the measures referred to in paragraph 11 above. Scuttling may be undertaken either inside or outside the harbour.

(b) If necessary action to comply with (a) is not in progress by about 1400 Wednesday, 3rd July, we will proceed to destroy their ships ourselves.

(c) If (b) becomes necessary, we cannot hold ourselves responsible for any loss of life in ships in the harbours of ORAN and MERS EL KEBIR, or ashore in close proximity to the harbours.

15. During these negotiations “FOXHOUND” is to endeavour to report progress and French reactions to Vice Admiral, Force “H”. In the interests of her own securing she may, however, withdraw, leaving the delegates behind if necessary.

16. The remainder of Force “H” will arrive off ORAN at 0900 on Wednesday, 3 rd July. ARK ROYAL is to provide air reconnaissance at dawn to report the situation in the harbours of ORAN and MERS EL KEBIR. She is also to provide reconnaissance to seaward, fighter patrols for her own protection and A/S patrols for herself and the battle squadron as arranged by V.A.A.

17. In the event of information being received that French surface units have left harbour during the night, aircraft from ARK ROYAL are also to endeavour to locate and shadow them.

PHASE II.

Stage I.

18. Is that in which we show the French that we are in earnest by the firing of a few rounds or by the dropping of bombs close to, but not actually hitting, French ships.

19. HOOD is to be prepared to fire a few salvoes just clear of MERS EL KEBIR harbour.

20. ARK ROYAL is to be prepared to carry out a bombing attack on MERS EL KEBIR harbour, Taking care to avoid hitting the ships.

Stage II.

21. Is that in which it becomes necessary to undertake the destruction or sinking of French ships.

22. The priority (in order of importance, though not necessarily in order of sequence) in regard to the destruction of the French Fleet is to be:-

(a) STRASBOURG and DUNKERQUE

(b) BRETAGNE and PROVENCE

(c) OTHER fighting units in order of size.

23. The methods of destruction to be employed in each harbour will largely depend on circumstances which cannot be foreseen, such as weather, smoke, French action etc.

24. If the French offer organised and spirited resistance it may be necessary to develop a full offensive with all the means at our disposal on French ships, shore batteries etc.

25. In this case the code word ANVIL will be signalled to all our forces. Senior Officers are then to take all necessary action to crush the resistance, ceasing fire as soon as it is apparent that the French have ceased to resist. Screening destroyers are not to leave the screen unless so directed.

26. If, on the other hand, no organised resistance is encountered, the destruction of the French ships will be undertaken with more deliberation and greater economy of ammunition and torpedoes, available reserves of which are at present very limited.

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27. The procedure adopted will depend largely on conditions, but general intention is as shown below. In this case Individual attack will be ordered by signal.

28. MERS EL KEBIR.

(a) Long range gunfire with main armament of Capital ships, with aircraft spotting, in order to destroy morale, damage A/A equipment and induce French crews to abandon their ships. (For instructions see Appendix IV)

(b) Bombing by aircraft from ARK ROYAL for the same purpose.

(c) T/B/ attack by T.S.R.’s (if necessary protected by fighters) from ARK ROYAL, in order to sink or cripple those ships exposed to torpedo fire.

(d) Sinking of those ships still afloat by special demolition parties from two destroyers of the 13 th D.F. Instructions to be issued by Captain D.13, and names of ships detailed reported.

(e) Cruisers are to be prepared to engage light craft or shore batteries as ordered.

29. ORAN HARBOUR .

(a) Bombing attacks from ARK ROYAL to destroy morale and induce French crews to abandon their ships.

(b) Sinking of those ships still afloat by special demolition parties from one destroyer of the 13 th D.F. Instructions to be issued by Captain D.13, and name of ship detailed reported.

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30. ALGIERS.

The final destruction of ships in this harbour will not be undertaken until after the situation at ORAN is well in hand. The general intention for the destruction will be:-

(a) Bombing by aircraft from ARK ROYAL

(b) T/B attack on any ships suitable placed for such attack.

34. In addition, magnetic mining of the entrance to the harbour by aircraft will be ordered.

ITALIAN FLEET.

35. Full A/S precautions are to be taken throughout the operation, and ships are to be prepared for air attack from Italian as well as French aircraft.

36. In the event of important surface units of the Italian Fleet being encountered, it is my intention to engage them, if necessary, deferring operations with the French Fleet.

VICE ADMIRAL.

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MOST SECRET

OPERATION ORDERS FOR OPERATION “CATAPULT”

APPENDIX 1 (Contd)

POSITIONS OF SHIPS IN ORAN HARBOUR

These are believed to be:-

1 Destroyer in POINCARE Basin
1 Destroyer in GUEYDON Basin, and possibly
5 more destroyers in MAROC Basin
4 Submarines in GUEYDON Basin.

2. There are also a large number of merchant ships in this harbour.

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MOST SECRET

OPERATION ORDERS FOR OPERATION “CATAPULT”

APPENDIX II

SUMMARY OF DEFENCES AT ORAN

GUNS.

These are believed to consist of:-

3 – 5” guns at POINT CAMASTEL
2 – 4” guns 2,700 yards East of ORAN Light
4 – 4.7” guns at Fort ST. GREGORIO, just to the West of ORAN harbour.
4 – 4.7” guns half way up the hill South of MERS EL KEBIR Harbour.
6 – 6” guns on top of the hill to the West of MERS EL KEBIR Harbour.

MINES.

A mine net stretches from CAP FALCON to a point one mile North of POINT CAMASTEL. Diagrams showing the entrance through this line of mines have been issued to Foxhound and the three destroyers of the 13 th D.F. detailed to carry out the demolition operations, if required.

BOOMS.

There are A/T and A/S Booms off MERS EL KEBIR harbour, as shown in Appendix I.

MOST SECRET

OPERATION ORDERS FOR OPERATION “CATAPULT”

APPENDIX III

COMPOSITION OF FORCE “H” FOR OPERATION “CATAPULT”

HOOD (V.A.H.)
VALIANT
RESOLUTION
ARK ROYAL (V.A.A.)
ARETHUSA (S.O. Cruisers)
ENTERPRISE

FAULKNOR (Capt> D.8.)
FOXHOUND
FEARLESS
FORRESTER
FORESIGHT
ESCORT

KEPPEL (Capt. D.13)
ACTIVE
WRESTLER
VIDETTE
VORTIGERN

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OPERATION ORDERS FOR OPERATION “CATAPULT”

APPENDIX IV

GUNFIRE BY MAIN ARMAMENT OF CAPITAL SHIPS

INFORMATION.

Four French heavy ships and one seaplane carrier are moored with their sterns to the breakwater at MERS EL KEBIR and their bows to the South Westwards. They are in the following order from North West to South East, approximately 150 yards apart – one DUNKERQUE class – one BRETAGNE class - one DUNKERQUE class - one BRETAGNE class – COMMANDANTE TESTE.

2. The breakwater is about 30 feet high and Fort MERS EL KEBIR on the North side of the harbour about 100 feet high. Side armour of ships will therefore be partially protected from gunfire at short range; it is unlikely that ships will be visible over the fort.

CASE I – INTENTION

3. In the event of the code word “ANVIL” being signalled (vide paragraph 25) the intention will be to develop maximum fire against the French heavy ships.

METHOD OF EXECUTION.

4. The Battle Squadron, screened by destroyers, will be manoeuvred into a suitable bombarding position to the North and North East of the harbour at a range of about 18000 yards, visibility permitting.

5. Fire will be opened in G.I.C. concentration using aircraft spotting. No particular attempt is to be made for the fire to be concentrated on one particular ship, but spotting aircraft are to correct the fall of shot to bring them into the area occupied by the Capital Ships.

CASE II – INTENTION

6. In the event of deliberate fire being required (vide paragraph 28 (a)) the intention will be to break the morale of the French crews by gunfire from heavy ships.

METHOD OF EXECUTION

7. The battle squadron will be manoeuvred as for Case I. One ship (probably “HOOD”) will be ordered to open fire, using aircraft spotting. The other ships may also be ordered to open fire using G.I.C. concentration.

SPOTTING AIRCRAFT (CASES I & II)

8. Spotting aircraft are to be provided by capital ships, “VALIANT” providing aircraft from “HOOD”. Relief spotting aircraft to be provided by “ARK ROYAL”.

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ENCLOSURE NO. 4 TO FLAG OFFICER COMMANDING, FORCE “H”
No. 9/2 dated 26th June 1940

From: THE COMMANDING OFFICER, H.M.S. “ ARK ROYAL”

Date: 11th July, 1940

No. 3/A.168.

To: THE VICE ADMIRAL, FORCE “H”
(Copy to:- The Vice Admiral, Aircraft Carriers).

NARRATIVE OF EVENTS AT ORAN ON 3RD JULY, 1940

I have the honour to forward herewith a report on the proceedings in connection with the presentation to Admiral Gensoul of H.M. Government’s proposals with regard to the French Naval Force at Oran.

The representation of the terms took place at Oran on 3rd July, 1940.

(Signed)
(Cedric Holland)
CAPTAIN

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Enclosure No. One to S/A 168
H.M.S. “Ark Royal”, date 11 th July 1940

SECRET

NARRATIVE OF EVENTS ON 3RD JULY, 1940

Attached:-

Appendix A – List of signals sent and received
Appendix B – Copy of Terms as sent to Admiral Gensoul
Appendix C – First written reply received from Admiral Gensoul
Appendix D – Copy of typescript for intended interview with Admiral Gensoul – as sent to Admiral Gensoul
Appendix E – Second written reply from Admiral Gensoul handed by Chief of Staff.
Appendix F – Copy of Secret and Personal orders from Admiral Darlan, handed to Captain Holland by Admiral Gensoul.
Appendix G – Final written statement from Admiral Gensoul written aboard ‘DUNKERQUE’ 1720/3/7/40

1. I embarked p.m. 2 nd July in H.M.S. “FOXHOUND” at Gibraltar with Lieutenant Commanders A.Y. Spearman (late R.N.L.O Sud at Bizerta) and G.P.S. Davies who had been attached as Liaison Officer with French submarines at Bizerta. At about 0400 3 rd July “FOXHOUND” proceeded ahead of Force “H” to close Cape Falcon.

2. The P.W.S.S. Cape Falcon was called up at 0545 and a request for permission to enter was passed at 0558. This request was also passed to the Admiral of the Port’s Signal Station at 0620, together with a signal addressed to Admiral Gensoul informing him that I was being sent to confer with him (Appendix A, Signal No. 1)

Permission to enter was received at 0724, informing “FOXHOUND” that a pilot was being sent to conduct her to Mers El Kebir.

At 0709, a signal (Appendix A, Signal No. 2) was made both to “DUNKERQUE” and the Port Admiral’s Signal Station. This was for the purpose of disseminating the reason for our arrival, and giving some indication as to the proposals so that the Lower Deck should get to know of them since it was thought that Admiral Gensoul might otherwise keep the matter secret.

The pilot came aboard at about 0735 with instructions to take “FOXHOUND” inside Mers El Kebir and berth near “DUNKERQUE”. “FOXHOUND”, However, was anchored at 0800 outside the boom, as a precaution against being prevented from sailing, on the excuse that she might have to take messages to V.A. (H) during the course of the interview.

3. Shortly after anchoring, about 0810, the Admiral’s barge with the Flag Lieutenant onboard came alongside. He was an old friend of mine. He said the Admiral regretted that he was too busy to see me personally, but that he would send his Chief of Staff. I had rather expected this preliminary move, and I sent back a message by the Flag Lieutenant that I carried proposals which could only be put to the Admiral himself, personally, and that the matter was of vital importance.

At 0847, “FOXHOUND” received a message (Appendix A, Signal No. 3) requesting her to sail immediately. The reason for this sudden wish to cut her communications is not quite clear, but as the signal referred to a previous message from “FOXHOUND” it would

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seem that Admiral Gensoul took umbrage at my 0709 (Signal No. 2, Appendix A).

The reply was sent to the effect that Captain Holland was already on his way in in the motor boat. “FOXHOUND” weighed and gave the appearance of complying with this request to sail.

4. I embarked forthwith at 0905 in the motor boat, taking Lieutenant Commanders Spearman and Davies with me. We were met halfway between the inner boom and the breakwater by the Admiral’s barge with the Flag Lieutenant on board. I had thought at one moment of trying to force my way in, but came to the conclusion that it would do no good.

The Flag Lieutenant said he regretted that the Admiral would not see me. Whereupon I asked him to take our proposals and deliver them personally to the Admiral. I said I would wait for a reply. These (Copies of Admiralty message 0108/2) I had put into a sealed envelope addressed to the Admiral (Appendix B). The Flag Lieutenant proceeded to the “DUNKERQUE” at 0920, and I estimated that they were delivered to Admiral Gensoul not later than 0935.

At this point it was observed that the battleships were furling awnings and raising steam. After about forty minutes (1000) he returned with a written reply (Appendix C), the gist of which was that the assurances given by Admiral Gensoul to Admiral North some days ago still stood and that owing to the form of this ‘veritable ultimatum’, the French ships would defend themselves by force.

I then crossed over into the cabin of the barge and asked the Flag Lieutenant to sit down and discuss the matter as old friends. I said he must take back to the Admiral a copy of what I had proposed saying at my interview. He would then see that we were doing all we could to help him out of a difficult situation. I again harped on my very close associations with Admiral Darlan and all the French Naval Staff. I tackled him on the question of Admiral Darlan’s hands being tied. I quoted Darlan’s own signal as to the succession of command and ?General? Dillon’s information as to accommodation for Darlan and Melleman at Algiers. I then asked when they had last had a signal from Darlan. He said a couple of days ago. I asked if it had had the special code word on it. He seemed surprised at my knowing this and said Darlan had not used it for some days. I pointed out that the whole of the foregoing pointed to the C.N.S.’s hands being tied and begged him to stress this point of view, which was ours, to the Admiral. He was evidently impressed and returned to the “DUNKERQUE” at 1050 with my typescript (Appendix D). He came back at 1109 with the Chief of Staff whom I had met before, who handed me a written reply from the Admiral (See Appendix E) the gist of which was:-

(a) Admiral Gensoul can only confirm the reply already sent

(b) He had decided to defend himself by every means possible.

(c) He would draw Admiral Somerville’s attention to the fact that the first round fired will put the whole of the French Navy against the British, which is the opposite to which H.M. Government wishes.

As Admiral Gensoul seemed determined not to see me, since there appeared no point in going over the same ground with the Chief of Staff, and it was imperative that V.A. (H) should have the reply as soon as possible, I immediately returned to “FOXHOUND” arriving on board at about 1125.

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5. Before parting from the Chief of Staff, I agreed with him that should I have anything further to communicate, I would signal to “DUNKERQUE”, and send in the motor boat to meet him or his representative. On arrival in “FOXHOUND” I received V.A. (H)’s message 1046 (Appendix A, Signal No. 4) to inform French ships that they would not be allowed to leave harbour unless terms were accepted. This message I am immediately sending by Lieutenant Commander Spearman, who handed it to the Flag Lieutenant at approximately 1140. At the same time, I passed this message by light to Admiral Gensoul, informing him, also of the action being taken by Admiral Godfroy at Alexandria (Appendix A, Signal No. 6). At 1145, I informed you by signal of admiral Gensoul’s assurances re sinking of his ships and his determination to fight if force was used (Appendix A, Signal No. 6).

6. I had meant to keep “FOXHOUND” close in to the inner harbour boom, but Commander Peters pointed out that in this case we should have to run the gauntlet of the shore batteries should hostilities commence, so on the return of the motor boat at 1150, “FOXHOUND” took up a position outside the outer net boom and within easy V/S touch with “DUNKERQUE”.

At 1222 I made V.A.(H) a signal giving the latest confirmation received from the Chief of Staff with regard to the sinking of the ships (Appendix A, Signal No.7)

7. At 1236 I received V.A. (H)’s signal asking me if I thought there was any alternative now to Anvil. (Appendix A, Signal No. 8) My answer (Appendix A, Signal No. 9 and Signal No. 11) to ask for a final reply before fire was opened was based on my appreciation of the French character that an initial refusal will often gradually come round to an acquiescence.

I felt most strongly all along that the use of force, even as a last resort, was fatal to the attainment of our object, and I was thus using every endeavour to bring about a peaceful solution. I therefore take full responsibility for any delay action I may have tried to enforce.

8. At 1419, I received V.A. (H)’s 1338 (Appendix A, Signal No. 12) asking Admiral Gensoul to hoist a large square flag at the mast head if he accepted the terms, otherwise fire would be opened at 1500. This was translated into French and passed to “DUNKERQUE” at 1442. At 1450 I received V.A. (H)’s signal informing the French Admiral that unless terms were accepted or ships abandoned, they would be destroyed at 1530 (Appendix A, Signal No. 13). This signal was not passed to “DUNKERQUE” as at the same time, I received Admiral Gensoul’s message 1330 (G.M.T. Appendix A, Signal No. 14) stating that he was now ready to receive delegates for honourable discussion. I immediately passed this signal to V.A. (H) and made preparations to proceed inshore, receiving orders to do so at 1500 and to get an immediate answer. From that moment until I finally went over the “DUNKERQUE’s” side, I thought that there was a chance of winning through and that the French Admiral would accept one or other of the proposals.

9. INTERVIEW WITH ADMIRAL GENSOUL

I left “FOXHOUND” at 1510 in the motor boat for the “DUNKERQUE” accompanied by Lieutenant Commander G.P.S. Davies. “FOXHOUND” was in approximately position 055 ° Cape Falcon 5’ at that time and we had 7 ½ miles to go. We arrived onboard “DUNKERQUE” about 1615.

10. On passing the boom gate vessel, we were smartly saluted and the crew on deck were called to attention. The Admiral’s

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barge with the Flag Lieutenant onboard met us inside the net defences and we transferred to her for the remainder of the journey, leaving the motor boat to await us near the gate vessel. I did not insist on taking in our boat as evidently, from what the Flag Lieutenant said, his Admiral did not wish this.

Considerable interest was taken of our arrival by all ships in harbour, large numbers of the crew being out on the upper deck; in many cases they stood to attention as we passed. Two “Mogador” destroyers had shifted berth since our visit in the morning, one being anchored near the gate entrance, and the other under weigh but returning to her normal berth.

All ships were in an advanced state of readiness for sea. All directors and control positions visible were manned, and all director rangefinders in tops of battle ships with the exception of “ STRASBOURG” were trained in the direction of our fleet. Tugs were ready by the sterns of each battleship. Guns were trained fore and aft.

11. I was piped over the side on arrival and received by the Chief of Staff. Although large numbers of the crew were on the upper deck there was a marked lack of officers to be seen, both on our arrival and departure. Apart from the Chief of Staff, Flag Lieutenant and Officers of the Watch, I saw only three other officers.

We were shown into the Admiral’s cabin by the Chief of Staff where we were greeted very formally by Admiral Gensoul. The Chief of Staff remained with us during the discussion.

12. The Admiral was clearly extremely indignant and angry at the course of events. He commenced by stating that he had only consented to see me that this stage because should we open fire the first shot fired would not only alienate the whole French Navy but would be tantamount to a declaration of war between France and Great Britain. That if our aim was to ensure that the French Fleet was not used against Great Britain, the use of force would not achieve this aim. We might sink his ships at Oran but we should find the whole of the rest of the French Navy actively against us. He was angry at the sudden presentation of terms which he considered as an ultimatum, and also at the laying of mines at the entrances to the harbour which he pointed out prevented him in any case from being able to accent or carry out terms (a), (b) and (c), and he rejected out of hand the sinking of his ships forthwith, saying it was impossible to abandon his ships at a moment’s notice and he reiterated his former statement given to Admiral North that he should sink his ships to prevent them from falling into German or Italian hands.

13. I explained most carefully to him that the British Government were unable to accept this latter statement as a guarantee that the ships would not fall into enemy hands and so be used against us. Although we trusted his word and the similar promises given by Admiral Ollive de Laborde and Esteva that they would do everything possible to prevent their ships falling into enemy hands, we could not trust the Germans or the Italians who would by treachery do all they could to achieve this end. Admiral Gensoul, however, would not listen to this argument and said he was convinced that steps taken were adequate to sink his ships whatever happened. I pointed out that by sinking his ships, he would anyway be breaking the terms of the Armistice, and by his own action. Should he accept any one of the terms we had offered to him that morning, he would be acting under “Force majeur” and the blame for any action taken would rest on us. To this, he replied that, so long as Germany and Italy

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Abided by the Armistice terms, and allowed the French Fleet to remain with reduced crews, flying the French flag in a French Metropolitan or Colonial port, he should do the same, and not until Germany or Italy had broken their promises would he break the terms laid down, and that these were his orders signed by Admiral Darlan.

14. I then explained that the orders given by the British Government to Admiral Somerville were those contained in the terms he, Admiral Gensoul, had received that morning, and unless these were accepted or immediate preparations made to sink the ships, Admiral Somerville would act under these orders and use force. Already I said, Admiral Somerville had on his own responsibility disobeyed these orders by not taking the action within the time laid down, thus showing his desire to avoid the use of force if this were possible.

15. It was at this stage, I think, that Admiral Gensoul began to think that force might really be used and he produced a secret and personal copy of the orders received from and signed by Admiral Darlan dated 24 th June, timed 1255 (Appendix F). It was noted that the opening sentence read that this would be the last cipher message from him (Admiral Darlan) that they would receive. This would seem to be a further indication of the argument I put to Admiral Gensoul through the Flag Lieutenant that morning, that Admiral Darlan was now no longer in control.

I giving me these orders, he asked and received my assurances that the contents would not be allowed to be disseminated, as if the Italians or Germans knew of the existence of these orders they would take action immediately.

Apart from laying down clearly what steps were to be taken to prevent the French Fleet from falling into enemy hands, they mentioned also sailing the French Fleet to the U.S.A. and that ships were not again to operate actively against Germany or Italy.

16. This appeared to be so close to the term (c) laid down that there seemed to be a chance to persuade the Admiral to accept this latter one.

Time was getting very short. It was then 1700.

Admiral Gensoul however remained stubborn, and would not give way further, except to state that steps had been taken to commence the reduction of crews that morning by demobilising a certain number of reservists.

I again pointed out that Admiral Somerville must obey his orders and use force unless the terms were accepted to our satisfaction immediately, to which Admiral Gensoul reiterated that the first shot fired would alienate our two navies and do untold harm to us, and that he would reply to force by force.

Asked if he had received any answer from his Government to the message he had sent that morning, he rather unconvincingly replied that the answer was ‘resist by force’.

17. At this point, 1715, a message was received from Admiral Somerville informing Admiral Gensoul that unless the terms were accepted by 1730, he would sink his ships (Appendix A, Signal No. 15)

I drafted a brief signal in plain language (Appendix A, Signal No. 16) which was shown to the Admiral to be transmitted by projector, informing V.A. (H) on this discussion, and the Admiral wrote in pencil a short statement (Appendix G) giving me the orders which he intended to obey. As we could get no nearer than this in reaching a settlement, we then took our leave.

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18. Our leavetaking was friendly, and from the Admiral more friendly than our reception. Even at that stage I do not believe that he was certain that fire would be opened.

Before leaving, I informed the Chief of Staff that should he have anything to communicate he could signal our boat onboard of which was a signalman with a lamp. This was in case Admiral Gensoul finally gave way.

19. We left the “DUNKERQUE” at 1725, and at the same time ‘Action Stations’ was sounded off. Very little effort seemed to be being made to go to Action Stations, and as we passed, large numbers of the crew were still on the upper decks of the battleships. The Officer of the Watch on board “ BRETAGNE” saluted smartly as we passed. We transferred to our motor boat at 1735, and were clear of the net defences and about one mile to seaward when fire was opened. We sighted the battlefleet at approximately 1920, at which time we were some fifteen miles out from Oran, and were picked up by “FORRESTER” at 1935. The motor boat was abandoned.

20. SUMMARY.

The action of Admiral Gensoul in refusing to see me on arrival made the task of reaching a peaceful solution in the short time available extremely difficult since he received the terms by letter through the hands of an intermediary, this eliminating all possibility of a friendly interview and amicable discussion. Had I been able, as was my intention, to present the case verbally on the lines indicated in Appendix D, I feel a peaceful settlement might have been arrived at.

21. As can be seen, I had intended before putting forward any proposals, to outline the reasons for my visit, impressing on the Admiral the fact that, while we trusted him and all the French Admirals to endeavour by every means in their power to prevent any of their ships falling into enemy hands, since they had promised they would do so, this guarantee to us was insufficient in view of the treachery of the Germans and Italians who would be every means of trickery try to forestall their plans.

I would then have outlined the three proposals that I was instructed to make and discuss them in a friendly spirit.

If, after this, he had not accepted one of the three terms, I would have requested him to sink his ships within six hours.

Finally, should he have refused even to do this, but not until then, I would have informed him that H.M. Government would be obliged to use force if he did not comply with any of the terms proposed.

23. In this way, the proposal would have come to him gradually, and my considered opinion is that he might have accepted one of them.

24. As it was, he took the proposals in the form of an ultimatum and for this reason, together with the national dislike of the French for being rushed into negotiation, he became stubborn and would not listen to argument, though as the day wore on, he did gradually take up a less uncompromising attitude.

25. When I boarded the “DUNKERQUE”, I still had a faint hope that it was not too late for a peaceful settlement.

26. I believe Admiral Gensoul was doubtful up to the very last as to whether we should actually open fire or not, and it appeared that, with the exception of his Chief of Staff and Flag Lieutenant, neither officers nor crews seemed aware of the ?danger?

SECRET

APPENDIX A

Signal No.1

To: Gensoul

From: Foxhound

L’Amiraute Britanique envoie le commandant Holland conferer avec vous. Permission de entrer.

T.O.O. 0520

Signal No. 2

ADDRESSE A AMIRAL GENSOUL

L’Amiraute Britanique envoie le commandant Holland conferer avec vous. La Marine Royale espere que les propositions vont vous permetere, la Marine Nationale Francaise vallant et glorieuse, ?? se ranger a nos cotes. En ce cas vos batiments resterais et toujours les votres et personne n’aurait besoin d’auc?n anxiete dans l’avenir. La Flotte Britannique est au larg d’Oran pour votre aouellir.

T.O.O. 0709

Translation.

The British Admiralty has sent Captain Holland to confer with you. The British Navy hopes that their proposals will enable you and the valiant and glorious French Navy to be by our side. In these circumstances your ships should remain yours, and no one need have anxiety for the future. A British Fleet is at sea off Oran waiting to welcome you.

Signal No. 3

To: FOXHOUND

From: Amiral Atlantic

Re a votre message. Vous prie voulier bien appareiller plus tot que possible.

Sge. Amiral Gensoul

0745

Signal No. 4

To: FOXHOUND

From: VA (H)

Imperative French should know I will not repetition not allow them to leave harbour unless terms accepted.

T.O.O. 1046

T.O.R. 1105

Signal No. 5

To: Admiral Gensoul

From: Captain Holland

Du Commandant Holland,

Suis informe que l’Amiral Godfrey demilitarise sec batiments maintenant a Alexandria avec l’equipage reduit.

T.O.O. ?1053?

IMG_9630

Signal No. 6

MOST IMMEDIATE

To: V.A. (H)

From: FOXHOUND

(1) Admiral Gensoul confirms former assurances re sinking of ships.

(2) He is determined to fight if force is used.

(3) He draws your attention to the fact that first round fired will put whole French navy against us which is opposite of what we want.

Part 2 follows

1146

Part of my 1146

From activity in ships apparent intention is to put to sea and fight.

1201

Signal No. 7

MOST IMMEDIATE

To: V.A. (H)

From: FOXHOUND

C.O.S. pointed out preparations made to sink ships at any moment and anywhere and without further orders to sink from French Admiralty.

Have passed information re Godfrey to Gensoul.

T.O.O. 1222

T.O.D. 1223

Signal No. 8

To: FOXHOUND

From: V.A. (H)

Presume there is now no alternative to ANVIL.

1236

Signal No. 9

To: V.A. (H)

From: FOXHOUND

Your 1236 am afraid not. Am waiting in V/S touch in case acceptance before expiration of time. Proposals received 0935.

1242

Signal No. 10

To: FOXHOUND

From: V.A. (H)

Does anything you have said prevent me from opening fire?

1315

Signal No. 11

To: V.A. (H)

From: FOXHOUND

Your 1315. Nothing I have said, since terms were not discussed, only handed and reply received. But I would suggest there might be a chance of avoiding ANVIL if FOXHOUND went in to V/S touch and asked if there was further message before force employed.

133 .

Signal No. 12

To: FOXHOUND

From: V.A. (H)

Pass to Gensoul

If you accept the terms hoist a large square flag at masthead otherwise I must open fire at 1500. Your harbour is mined.

T.O.O. 1358

T.O.R. 1419

(Passed in French at 14?2).

Signal No. 13

To: FOXHOUND

From: V.A. (H)

Pass to Gensoul

Accept our terms or abandon your ships, as I must destroy them at 1530.

(Received 1450? – Not (R) not passed to “DUNKERQUE”

Signal No. 14

To: Somerville

From: Gensoul

Am ready to receive personally you delegate for honourable discussion.

T.O.O. 1330

T.O.R. 1440 (Approx)

(Passed to V.A. (H) T.O.O. 1447 T.O.I. 1450)

Signal No. 15

To: French W/T Station

From: V.A. (H)

Si un des propositions Britanniques ne sont pas accepte par 1730 B.S.T. je dis 1730 B.S.T., it faut que je coule vos batiments.

T.O.O. 1635

(Passed to “DUNKERQUE” 1712.)

(Received by Admiral Gensoul 1715)

Signal No. 16

To: V.A. (H)

From: Captain Holland via FOXHOUND

Admiral Gensoul says crews being reduced and if threatened by enemy would go to Martinique of U.S.A. but this is not quite our proposition. Can get no nearer.

Signed: Holland

1726

T.O.R. 1729

——page break——

- 52 -

Copy of Terms sent to Admiral Gensoul

To: Monsieur L’Amiral Gensoul from Admiral Somerville

His Majesty’s Government have commanded me to inform you as follows:-

They agreed to French Government approaching the German Government only on conditions that if an armistice was concluded, the French Fleet should be sent to British ports to prevent it falling into the hands of the enemy. The Council of Ministers declared on 18 th June that before capitulating on land, the French Fleet would join up with the British Force or sink itself.

Whilst the present French Government may consider that terms of their armistice with Germany and Italy are reconcilable with these undertakings, H.M. Government finds it impossible from their previous experience to believe Germany and Italy will not at any moment which suits them seize French warships and use them against Britain and her Allies. Italian armistice prescribes that French ships should return to Metropolitan ports and under armistice France is required to yield up units for coast defence and minesweeping.

It is impossible for us, your comrades up till now, to allow your fine ships to fall into power of German or Italian enemy. We are determined to fight on until the end, and if we win, as we think we shall, we shall never forget that France was our ally, that our interests are the same as hers, and that our common enemy is Germany. Should we conquer, we solemnly declare we shall restore the greatness and territory of France. For this purpose we must be sure that the best ships of the French Navy will also not be used against us by the common foe.

In these circumstances, H.M. Government have instructed me to demand the French Fleet now at Mers el Kebir and Oran shall act in accordance with one of the following alternatives:-

(a) Sail with us and continue the fight for victory against the Germans and Italians.

(b) Sail with reduced crews under our control to a British Port. The reduced crew will be repatriated at the earliest moment. If either of these courses is adopted by you we will restore your ships to France at the conclusion of the war, or pay full compensation in (sic) they are damaged meanwhile.

(c) Alternatively, if you feel bound to stipulate that your ships should not be used against Germans or Italians, since this would break the armistice, then sail them with us with reduced crews to some French port in the West Indies – Martinique, for instance – where they can be demilitarised to our satisfaction, or perhaps be entrusted to the United States of America, and remain safely until the end of the war, crews being repatriated.

If you refuse these fair offers, I must with profound regret require you to sink your ships within six hours. Finally, failing the above, I have the orders of His Majesty’s Government to use whatever force may be necessary to prevent your ships from falling into German or Italian hands.

 

APPENDIX ‘C’

FIRST WRITTEN REPLY RECEIVED FROM ADMIRAL GENSOUL IN REPLY
TO PROPOSALS SENT

(Original attached)

(As copied by Flag Lieutenant)

1. Les assurances donees par l’Amiral Gensoul a l’Amiral Sir Dudley North demeurent entieres. En aucun cas les batiments francais ne tomberont intacts aux mains des Allemends ni des Italiens.

2. Etant donne le fond et la forme du veritable ultimatum qui a ete remis a l’Amiral Gensoul, les batiments francais se defendront par la force.

TRANSLATION

1. The assurances given by Admiral Gensoul to Admiral Sir Dudley North remain the same. In any case, at any given moment, and anywhere, and without orders from the French Admiralty, French warships will not be allowed to fall intact into the hands of the Germans or Italians.

2. In view of the meaning and form of expression, the veritable ultimatum which has been sent to Admiral Gensoul, French warships will meet force by force.

——page break——

- 53 (Original handwritten message) -

NAVAL MESSAGE

SECRET

(C)

1. Les assurances donees par l’Amiral Gensoul a l’Amiral Sir Dudley NORTH demeurent entieres. En aucun cas les batiments francais ne tomberont intacts aux mains des Allemends ni des Italiens.

2. Etant donne le fond et la forme du veritable ultimatum qui a ete remis a l’Amiral GENSOUL, les batiments francais se defendront par la force.