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Duguay-Trouin Class Light Cruiser

Duguay-Trouin - July 1943 in the Suez Canal
Duguay-Trouin - July 1943 in the Suez Canal
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Ship Builder Laid Down Launched Completed Fate
Duguay-Trouin Brest Navy Yard 4 Aug 22 14 Aug 23 2 Nov 26 Scrapped 29 Mar 52
Lamotte-Picquet Lorient Navy Yard 17 Jan 23 21 Mar 24 5 Mar 27 Bombed and sunk 12 Jan 45
Primaguet Brest Navy Yard 16 Aug 23 21 May 24 1 Apr 27 CTL 8 Nov 42

Displacement: 7,249 tons/7,365 tonnes (standard); 9,350 tons/9,499 tonnes (full load).
Length 595ft 9in/175.3m (oa); 575ft/175.3m (pp).
Beam 56ft 6in/17.2m; Draught: 17ft/5.2m (mean).
Machinery: 4-shaft Parsons SR geared turbines; 8 Guyot boilers.
Performance: 100,000shp=33kts; Bunkerage: 1,500 tons oil fuel.
Range: 3,000nm at 15kts.
Protection: 20mm deck; 20mm magazine box citadel; 30mm turrets; 30mm conning tower.
Guns: 8 6.1in (4x2); four 75mm (4xl).
Torpedoes: twelve 21.7in (4x3).
Aircraft 2, one catapult.
Complement: 578.

The first postwar building programme was drawn up in June 1919, with the Italians in mind but did not specify any number of light cruisers to be constructed. However, when the Normandie class battleships were cancelled, amongst the replacement ships envisaged were six 5,000-ton cruisers. By the end of 1919 the design of these cruisers had been thoroughly worked out. In broad terms, they were to carry eight 138.6mm (5.45in) guns in twin turrets at 30kts, were powered by a twin-shaft oil-fired installation, and had a displacement of 5,270 tons. Protection was minimal. This design was approved by the Finance Minister in 1920, although his implied criticism of it as 'dated' drew strenuous denials from the Navy, who pointed out that they used the 1912 Naval Bill only to support their case, and not that the design itself dated from that time. Nevertheless, doubts remained even within the Navy, and in February 1920 the Chief of the General Staff withdrew the design, whereupon discussions began all over again. Speed and size now began the inevitable upward spiral, while, in the meantime, several ex enemy cruisers were put into service, which allowed examination of contemporary modern foreign design practice. It became apparent that the design was indeed inferior, and in particular its main armament. After much discussion, a new calibre of 155mm was chosen, based on an army weapon.

By the end of 1920, having received copies of the plans of the US Omaha class, four layouts had been drafted with a hull based broadly on the US design, all armed with eight 155mm, four 75mm AA and twelve torpedo tubes, differing only in power and protection. Design 'C', with 34kts and no protection on a displacement of 7,890 tons, was selected in April 1921, and detailed design work began.

It was now referred to as the 8,000-ton cruiser. Protection was virtually nil, with only 30mm applied to the gunshields; barely splinter protection. It could be argued that this ship was merely an enlarged flotilla leader.

Internal subdivision was quite extensive, although the Engineer in Chief's objection to the lack of longitudinal subdivision in the boiler rooms was overruled. Full oil firing and single reduction turbine machinery was adopted.

The 155mm (6.1in) M1920 gun was a BL type, with a screw breech, firing a 56.5kg shell with a two-part charge. It had a range of 26,100m at an elevation of 40'. Both guns were in separate cradles, with electro-hydraulic elevation and training. RPC was later fitted for training. This gun was employed only in this class, Jean d'Arc, and in single mountings in Bearn. The 75mm were of the M1922 pattern, firing a 12kg fixed round. Twelve torpedo tubes in four triple mountings, with a complete reload outfit, were worked into the design.

The construction of three units was finally approved on 18 April 1922, but considerable effort had to be expended in defending the design against various detractors who wished to 'improve' it. Change was successfully resisted, and the first two were ordered from the Brest Naval Yard on 14 April 1922. The order for the third was placed with Lorient Dockyard on 18 April.

Modifications

All received a catapult on the quarterdeck after completion and carried two aircraft, initially the Gourdou-Leseurre GL-812 and then the GL-832. The latter was replaced by the Loire Nieuport 130 from the mid 1930s (except in Lamotte-Piquet), but only one could be accommodated. In 1942 Primaguet had the light AA increased by two 25mm and twenty 13.2mm MG, while Duguay-Trouin had her tubes removed on reactivation in 1943, receiving fifteen 20mm (15 x 1) and six 13.2mm (3 x 2). Her catapult and aircraft were also landed, whereas the other two retained theirs. In 1944 Duguay-Trouin was modified further, now having six 40mm (3 x 2) and twenty 20mm, all singles. Radar was also added. Postwar, the 155mm (6.1in) were replaced by guns from Beam, her own having been worn out by bombardments off Indo-China. LamottePiquet probably received little or no modification before her loss.

Service

These ships proved most satisfactory in service, at least in peacetime and during their limited, war service, when the thin skin was never called into account. On trials, all exceeded 33kts and were economical steamers as well as good seaboats. On the debit side, their high freeboard forward made them susceptible to winds and, as with all 'Mediterranean' designs, they were somewhat short-legged. Their armament proved satisfactory, except that the breech mechanism was slow in operation, leading to a reduction in the rate of fire.

Lamotte-Piquet served as a divisional flagship from completion until 1933, based initially at Brest with the 3rd Light division, part of the 2nd Squadron. In 1935 she was despatched to the Far East, where she was stationed at the outbreak of war. In the first instance her duties consisted mainly of patrols off the coast of Indo-China, in the China Sea and in the East Indies during 1939/40. However, increased tension along the borders with Siam, which began in November 1940, led to a naval force being despatched into the gulf of Siam the following year. Lamotte-Piquet, together with the sloops Amiral Charnier, Dumont d'Urville, Marne and Tahure, engaged a superior but anchored force of Siamese ships off the Koh Chang Archipelago on 17 January and sank the coast defence ship Dhonburi and two torpedoboats, severely damaging the remainder at no cost to the French forces. The French cruiser fired over 450 rounds and made two torpedo attacks during the engagement.

Thereafter, the activities of the Vichy French forces in the Far East were greatly curtailed, the cruiser making only a few local sorties, though these included a period in dock at Osaka, Japan, in September 1941. She was paid off to reserve at Saigon at the end of 1942, and then used as a training hulk, only to be sunk at her mooring by US carrier aircraft of TF38 on 12 January 1945.

At the end of 1936 Duguay-Trouin became a Gunnery Training ship, in which role she was still serving in June 1939, when she joined the 6th Cruiser Division. Early wartime service included Atlantic sweeps to intercept Axis merchantmen and raiders; the 5,889-ton Halle was one success, on 16 October 1939. At the beginning of May 1940 she was transferred to the Levant and based at Beiruit for operations in the Dodecanese and Adriatic, but as a result of the French collapse she joined Admiral Godfroy's Force X at Alexandria in July. She remained in a demilitarised state until she rejoined the Allied cause in July 1943, and was employed for the first six months of 1944 as a fast troop transport. Later, she participated in the landings in the south of France, and then undertook bombardment duties along the coast as far as Genoa until as late as April 1945. Postwar, Duguay-Trouin was transferred to Indo-China and served in that theatre, supporting the army operations against the VietMinh until 1952.

Primaguet began her service with a world cruise, leaving Brest on 20 April 1927 and returning on 20 December. For the next few years she spent several months each year on extended cruises. On 15 April 1932 she sailed for the Far East, where she remained until sailing for home for refit on 10 January 1936. After post-refit trials in September 1937, the ship returned once more to the Far East, arriving in Saigon on 21 November. Relieved by Suffren at the outbreak of war, Primaguet carried out a couple of Atlantic patrols in 1939 and also escorted convoys. In March 1940 she was based in Oran and carried out a number of missions, including surveillance of the Canary Islands for Axis shipping. On 1 April 1940 she sailed for Fort de France in the West Indies, to replace Jean d'Arc, carrying out mercantile warfare duties en route. Five merchantmen of various nationalities were intercepted. After reaching Fort de France she operated in Dutch East Indies waters, searching some twenty ships in April. On 6 May 1940 Primaguet relieved HMS Dundee off Aruba and, when the Dutch surrender became known, the French cruiser landed forces to secure the oil installations. She returned to Dakar on 12 June 1940, and was present during the attack by the Royal Navy on 7/8 July. After the Armistice she was part of the naval forces in Morocco and participated in operations in support of African Vichy French territories when they were threatened by Free French activities. On 4 September the cruiser was ordered to Dakar to reinforce the forces there, and was then sent to escort an oiler in support of cruisers of the 4th Squadron (see La Galissonniere class) engaged in an operation to Libreville. In the Bight of Benin the French force was intercepted by the British cruisers Cornwall and Dehli when, as a result of negotiations, and, no doubt, a desire to avoid further incidents like Dakar, Primaguet was ordered to turn back to Casablanca by Amiral Bourague, aboard Georges Leygues.

Primaguet remained at Casablanca, hampered by fuel Shortages, until the Allied attack in November 1942. At this time she was under refit and not fully operational, but returned the US gunfire, being hit herself three times by duds. The overwhelming superiority of US TF38 soon showed, and the French cruiser was heavily hit, suffering many casualties (45 dead and over 200 wounded). After burning throughout the night, the wreck was abandoned in the port and became a total loss.

Lamotte-Picquet off Shanghai, probably in late May or early June 1939. NH 81987
Lamotte-Picquet off Shanghai, probably in late May or early June 1939. NH 81987
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