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La Galissonniere Class Light Cruiser

Gloire - 1943 with unusual camouflage
Gloire - 1943 with unusual camouflage
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Ship Builder Laid Down Launched Completed Fate
La Galissonniere Brest Navy Yard 15 Dec 31 18 Nov 33 1 Apr 36 Scuttled at Toulon 27 Nov 42
Georges Leygues At & Ch St. Nazaire 21 Sept 33 24 Mar 36 15 Nov 37 Scrapped Nov 1959
Gloire F & Ch Gironde 13 Nov 33 28 Sep 35 15 Nov 37 Scrapped Jan 1958
Jean de Vienne Lorient Navy Yard 20 Dec 31 31 Jul 35 10 Feb 37 Scuttled at Toulon 27 Nov 42
Marseillaise At & Ch de Loire 23 Oct 33 17 Jul 35 10 Oct 37 Scuttled at Toulon 27 Nov 42
Montcalm F & Ch La Seyne 15 Nov 33 26 Oct 35 15 Nov 37 Hulked 1958

Displacement: 7,600 tons/7,721 tonnes (standard); 9,100 tons/9,245 tonnes (full load).
Length: 589ft/179.5m (Da); 564ft 3in/172.0m (pp).
Beam: 17ft 6in/17.48m; Draught: 17ft 6in/5.35m (mean).
Machinery: 2-shaft Parsons (*Rateau-Bretagne) SR geared turbines; 4 Indret boilers.
Performance: 84,000shp=311ds; Bunkerage:1,569 tons oil fuel.
Range: 7,000nm at 12kts.
Protection: 105mm main belt; 60mm end bulkheads; 38mm main deck; 100mm turrets; 95mm CT.
Guns: nine 6in (3x3); eight 3.5in (4x2); twelve 13.2mm MGs (4x3).
Torpedoes: four 21.7in (2x2).
Aircraft: four, one catapult.
Complement: 540.
The construction of two further light cruisers was authorised under the 1931 programme, an additional four being sanctioned the following year. The new design was considerably different to that of Duguay-Trouin, and in general appearance at least owed more to Emile Bertin. Even so, there were major differences between the two designs. In particular, the protective scheme was more extensive, and returned to the concept of an extemal armour belt (105mm), closed off at the ends by transverse armoured bulkheads. In comparison to the minelaying cruiser, the main deck armour was also increased, but there had to be a compromise somewhere, and in this case it was speed; 31kts instead of 34kts. Nevertheless, designed maximum speeds were more theoretical than real. What counted was performance at sea under service conditions, and in this respect the La Galissonniere design gave good results. Three ships, La Galissonniere, Georges Leygues and Montcalm, received Parsons geared turbines, the remainder having Rateau-Bretagne machinery. Trial results were very favourable, La Galissonniere reaching 35.42kts with 90,000shp for 8hr, while Marseillaise made 34.98kts.

The main armament of nine 152mm (6in) in triple turrets was retained to become the future standard for French light cruiser design, with a single turret aft, its positioning dictated by the aircraft installation. For the first time, considerable attention had been given to the accommodation and servicing of the aircraft carried, which were four in number, and a large hangar was incorporated into the after superstructure under the main mast. This had two roller shutter doors opening on to the quarterdeck to allow the manoeuvring of aircraft out and on to the catapult, which was situated on top of the after turret. In consequence, this turret was positioned quite far aft on the spacious quarterdeck, with a good field of fire. Aircraft recovery was by means of a Hein mat deployed from an opening in the transom stern. It appears that the complement of four aircraft was seldom embarked, except perhaps when the GL-832 was in service. When the Loire-Nieuport 130 was issued to ships the usual complement was two or three machines.

The secondary armament was doubled to eight 90mm M1926, all twin mountings on the main deck amidships, controlled by two directors on the bridge structure. However, the torpedo outfit was reduced to two twin mountings, sited between the 90mm guns. The usual complement of 37mm and 13.2mm light AA was included.

The contracts for the first two ships, named La Galissonniere and Jean de Vienne, were placed with the Naval yards at Brest and Lorient on October 1931 and 12 November 1931 respectively. Both had been laid down before the turn of the year. The four ships of the 1932 programme were ordered from private yards on 11 July 1933. Financial restraints and modifications seriously affected the progress of these ships during their construction, over five years elapsing before any entered service.


There were some detail differences between ships of the 1931 programme and those of the 1932 programme.

The fact that some of this class served with Vichy forces and some with the Allies led to two distinct levels of modification being carried out. La Galissonniere, Jean de Vienne, Gloire and Georges Leygues were given an additional 37mm, plus two 25mm (1 x 2) and two twin 13.2mm in 1941. The last two, plus Montcalm, received further modification while serving with the Allies, but Marseillaise appears not to have been modified. Gloire was refitted at New York in 1943, and Montcalm and Georges Leygues received their refits at Philadelphia between January and August 1943 and July and October 1943 respectively. In the course of these overhauls the catapult, hangar and aircraft installations and mainmast were landed, as was the complete French light AA outfit, but the torpedo tubes were retained. All of the boilers were retubed and the machinery overhauled. Six US-pattern 40mm quadruple Mk 2 mountings were fitted, two each on the bridge, after superstructure (in lieu of the hangar) and on the quarterdeck. Sixteen single 20mm in groups of four were added, on the forecastle, abreast the bridge on the forecastle deck, between the funnels and on the quarterdeck. Surface and air warning radars were added, and RPC was fitted to the 90mm gun mountings and their directors. Postwar, further refits were carried out which saw the reappearance of a pole mainmast to carry extra radars and the removal of the tubes, except in Georges Leygues.


On the outbreak of war La Galissonniere was at sea in the vicinity of Bizerte, and carried out patrol duties off the Tunisian coast until 18 November, when she started a major refit at Brest which lasted until 1 March 1940. Apart from some patrol duties, however, the ship saw little action before the armistice intervened, and thereafter formed part of the Vichy High Seas Force at Toulon from January 1941, but remained in care and maintenance status until 15 April 1941. Between this date and 1 July she was disarmed, remaining in this state until her sabotage on 27 November 1942. The German forces allocated the ship to Italy after long and tedious negotiations, but did not allow the Italians to take title until December. Renamed FR 12, she was salvaged and refloated 0n 9 March 1943 with a view to being incorporated into the Royal Italian Navy, a rather short-sighted but probably politically inspired decision, given the chronic oil fuel shortage then being suffered by Italy. US bombers then damaged her in an air raid on 24 November 1943, but by this time Italy had also surrendered, although she did not restore the ship to France until May 1944. Unfortunately, during the attacks launched after the start of Operation Dragoon, La Galissonniere was bombed and sunk for a second time in a raid by B-25s of the 321st Bombardment Group, USAAF, on 18 August 1944. The hulk was raised and scrapped in 1952.

Jean de Vienne was a unit of the 3rd Cruiser Division, and had completed a major refit at Toulon when war was declared. She rejoined her Division at Bizerte, where the task of the 4th Squadron was to secure the North African coast in the event of Italy entering the war. In November the cruiser division was tasked with the transport of gold from France to Halifax, Nova Scotia, arriving back in Toulon on 27 December. Until the entry of Italy into the war on 10 June 1940, her activities were limited, but subsequent fears of German pocket battleships forcing the Straits of Gibraltar led to a major sortie to protect the eastern approaches to the Straits, for which task the Royal Navy was short of ships. However, the only contact with the enemy was an attack by the Italian submarine Dandolo on La Galissonniere, but the two torpedoes missed. Jean de Vienne was at Algiers at the time of the French armistice, and covered the escape of Strasbourg and contre-torpilleurs from Mers-el-Kebir in July and escorted them to Toulon, where she remained. Placed in disarmed care and maintenance state, the ship did not resume active service until joining the High Seas Force in March 1941. With this force she participated in a number of exercises until, on 27 November 1942, she was scuttled by her crew at Toulon. Handed over to Italy and renamed FR 11, she was raised on 18 February 1943 and a refit began. This was not finished at time of the Italian surrender, and the vessel fell into German hands once more, only to be hit by incendiary bombs on 24 November 1943 and set on fire, gradually listing until she rested against the quayside. She was found in this state at the end of the war, and although a refit was briefly considered, the idea was abandoned and the ship was scrapped.

Marseillaise was at Toulon on the declaration of war, wearing the flag of the Admiral Commanding 4th Squadron as part of Force Z. She participated in the transport of gold to Canada and in April 1940. As a result of the doubtful Italian attitude, French naval forces were regrouped, the 3rd Cruiser Division being sent to Bizerte as part of the Force de Raid. On 4 July 1940 she returned to Toulon, where, because of the British attack on Mers-el-Kebir, the Germans suspended the disarming of the French fleet. As a result the High Seas force was formed, of which Marseillaise was part. On 27 November 1942 the ship was sabotaged by her crew and set on fire, burning for twenty days. The burnt-out hulk was scrapped in 1946/47.

Gloire was under refit between October and December 1939, then sailed for Canada with Dunkerque, carrying gold and escorting a Canadian troop convoy on the return. Atlantic patrols as part of Admiral Gensoul's Force de Raid followed, and at the time of the armistice the ship was at Algiers, but returned to Toulon on 4th July, where the 4th Cruiser division formed part of the Independent Naval Force. When the success of the Free French forces in Chad and Cameroon became politically embarrassing, the Axis Naval Commission allowed the despatch of the 4th Cruiser Division to Dakar as Force Y, where they arrived on 14 September 1940. On 18 September the 4th Cruiser Division (Gloire, Georges Leygues and Montcalm) sailed for Libreville, but Gloire suffered machinery problems and turned back, being 'escorted' into Casablanca by the British cruisers Australia and Cumberland. Because of the problems with the Primaguet group, the French squadron abandoned the task and returned to Dakar, but Gloire did not reach Dakar again until after the British attack. Between April and July she underwent a refit at Casablanca, and on 12 September participated in the rescue operations after Laconia had been sunk. After refit in the USA, Gloire operated from Dakar together with other French and Italian cruisers, searching for Axis blockade runners in the central and south Atlantic until 16 January 1944, when she moved into the Mediterranean. In February she supported the Allied landings at Anzio, bombarding enemy positions in the Bay of Gaete (firing 604 rounds) and transporting troops to Italy and Corsica. After refit at Algiers between 27 April and 17 June, she participated in the landing in the south of France in August, firing nearly 2,000 rounds in shore support between 15 and 28 August. This task continued along the French and Italian Rivieras until the end of the war, except for a special trip to the USA in December. Postwar, the cruiser made three deployments to Indo-China and was finally placed in reserve on 1 February 1955, being condemned for disposal on 2 January 1958.

Montcalm was part of the Force de Raid at the start of the war, she carried out Atlantic patrol and convoy escort duties, as well as a sweep for Scharnhorst and Gneisenau after their sinking of Rawalpindi. She completed a major refit in April 1940, then sailed to relieve the damaged Emile Bertin as flagship of the French Scandinavian Force off Norway, where there were numerous engagements with the Luftwaffe. After her recall to the Force de Raid in May, Montcalm was based in North Africa until the events at Mers-el-Kebir, when she was ordered to Toulon. She sailed with her division on the sortie to Libreville described above, and, when it was aborted, put into Dakar, taking part in its defence on the occasion of the Anglo-Free French attack between 23 and 25 September 1940. The next couple of years saw only the occasional Atlantic patrol as part of Force Y, until she rejoined the Allied cause and sailed for the USA and refit on 30 January 1943, which lasted until August. Between September 1943 and March 1944 she was based at Dakar for anti-blockade-runner patrols, then sailed for the UK for Operation Neptune as part of Force C, off Omaha beach in June. After the Normandy landings she returned to the Mediterranean and covered the landings in Provence, Operation Anvil, and then the recapture of Toulon, Operation Dragoon, in August. Her final wartime duties were coastal bombardments along the Riviera coastline until March 1945. Under refit at Chantiers de la Seyne from May to the end of January 1946, the ship did not see service in Indo-China until she made one tour in 1955. She was placed in reserve on 1 May 1957 in Tunisia, but was towed to Toulon in 1959 to serve as an accommodation hulk for the submarine school, where she remained for ten years having been degraded to special reserve B on June 1961. Finally condemned on 31 Decemb 1969, she was renamed Q457 and turned over to the dockyard for disposal.

Georges Leygues, as a unit of the 4th Cruiser Division, formed part of the Force de Raid at the start of the war. Her first rounds fired in anger, however, were mistakenly targeted on the French submarine Casablanca during one of the early sorties. The Force de Raid sailed in response to several of the major German raiding cruises, but no contact was ever made with the enemy. When it was decided to reorganise the disposition French forces to intimidate Italy in April 1940, the Atlantic Fleet was ordered to Oran on 24 April. Although alerted on the occasion of the British attack on Mers-el-Kebir, the 3rd and 4th Cruiser Divisions did not encounter the Royal Navy, and eventually put into Toulon. The next operation by the cruiser was the sortie to Libreville in September, after which she returned to Dakar and was present at the time of the attack on the port, when both she and Montcalm opened fire upon the bombarding British ships, obtaining two hits on the cruiser Australia. They successfully avoided Fleet Air Arm torpedo attacks themselves. Georges Leygues remained based at Dakar until ordered to transport gold bullion to Casablanca at the end of August 1941, where she remained until the end of November. On her return to Dakar the cruiser rejoined her division but saw little active service. After the Allied landings in North Africa an armistice was signed between Admiral Darlan and the Allies, but it was some time before any change in the status of the ships at Dakar took place. In fact, relations between the Free French and the ex-Vichy navies remained correct but cool. Early in 1943 she began Atlantic patrols from Dakar, and on 13 April intercepted the blockade runner Portland, which scuttled herself. On 24 June 1943 the ship sailed from Dakar, bound for refit in Philadelphia, and did not return to Oran until 23 November, resuming Atlantic patrols from Dakar. These continued into 1944, until her return to the Mediterranean in February, where she worked up for her next task, invasion duties. Georges Leygues sailed from Mers-el-Kebir with Montcalm on 14 April 1944 to work up with Royal Navy units in Scapa Flow before the operation, but the French cruisers were allocated to the Western (US) task force. They arrived off the beachhead on 6 June and remained on bombardment duties until 14 June, when they were ordered to Milford Haven. From this port they sailed south on 8 July, arriving in Taranto on 28 July. Both ships then joined the bombardment groups for the invasion of the south of France and the recapture of Toulon. The last few months of hostilities were spent bombarding positions along the coast between the French border and Genoa, with various transport missions as required, until the vessel arrived in Casablanca for a major refit which lasted until the end of January 1946.

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