FAN Champagne (BB-1937)
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My idea for these Special Project ships is to explore different countries
different ships within different parameters in the hull I have been using as a
'standard' unit. I did the French Aquitaine earlier in this series but that was
before I decided on the 'one hull' process. The Aquitaine was a straight swap
out of the Dunquerke, the quad 13" being replaced with triple turrets of 13".
Investigating the French armaments industry told me that the French had built,
12", 13", 13.4", and 15". If the French designed a 16" weapon at all it is not
written up in Navweaps.com. I have seen reports where the Alsace class was to be
armed with 16" but have never seen that from a source I trust. The Alsace was to
go from the eight gun quad turrets to three triple turrets. So where to next? A
750 foot hull, quad 13.4", dual purpose secondaries, etc etc. Sounds like I
might have to find some quad 13.4" from the Normandie and Bearn to provide the
armament for a new ship. That has a familiar ring to it.
The new ship was laid down in 1932 and christened Champagne on launching. The four quad turrets from the Normandie class were refurbished before fitting, mainly to increase the elevation and range of the guns. At 31,000 yards they were not overly long ranged but equivalent to refurbished weapons in other countries. What the Champagne did have over a lot of other ships was sheer firepower with sixteen 13.4" guns firing in a broadside. In the future for shore bombardment duties the ship would excel.
December 1939 and the Champagne is with the Joffre and three cruisers on raider patrol, following up on RRR reports from merchantmen just before they are sunk. The mid-Atlantic is a large area and the French Squadron know there is a raider about, but just who and where are still being determined. Another RRR report and it is only approximately 150 miles away, the hunt is on! The Joffre launches recon aircraft in the hope of finding the raider before dark. No such luck and the Squadron is left in the dark overnight. The ships continue toward the last known contact point, but by the following morning the search area the raider could have disappeared into is huge. It will require a stroke of luck to find the raider. Something was with them for barely had the recon aircraft been launched than the reports started coming in. The raider was barely 50 miles away and coming toward the squadron. With a closing speed of 40 knots the two forces would see each other in less than an hour. The French Admiral in command onboard the Champagne was an old school 'battleship' man. So rather than having the Joffre launch a strike against the raider, he wanted the glory for his battleship. Especially when the Raider was identified as a Hipper class battlecruiser. With recon aircraft in the air that could act as spotters for his guns the Admiral was in heaven. He could feel the medals being pinned on. Keeping one heavy cruiser with him the Admiral ordered the Joffre and two light cruisers to hold back 30 miles behind him and for the Joffre to prepare a strike force to finish off the German hulk if required.
The Von Arnim tried to launch a recon aircraft of its own but the French Lattecore aircraft shot it down before it could spot anything useful. The German Kapitan had no idea where the enemy was. All he could do was to go to battle stations and keep going. His nightmares became reality just 30 minutes later when his main gun director reported ships to the South. One capital ship, one cruiser. 5 minutes later the call is made, 'French battleship and cruiser'. Herr Kapitan is in trouble. He can't run, the battleship is as fast as he is. He can't wait for dark, that is 13 hours away. If he waits too long the aircraft carrier that is around somewhere will launch a strike that will damage the ship beyond escape anyway. The Kapitan decides his best bet is to get into the battleship in the hope his guns can damage and slow the battleship so that he may yet escape with only aircraft to worry about.
The von Arnim turns to try to cross the 'T' of the French ships, but the French counter with a turn of their own to bring their broadsides to bear. It is only now that the French battleship is correctly identified as the Champagne, as original calls had been as a Dunkerque type. The Kapitan now realises he is completely outclassed. A battleship with 8x13", he may have had a chance. What he now faced in the Champagne is beyond the Von Arnim.
The Admiral orders his ships to open fire. Both the cruiser and battleship have a recon aircraft to spot the fall of shot for them. Three salvoes later the first hits are obtained on the Arnim, within ten minutes from there the von Arnim is a crippled wreck. The Champagne has only received two hits which did little damage. The cruiser is ordered to close the wreck and finish it off with torpedoes. As a finale, rather than getting medals the Admiral is privately sanctioned for putting his ship at risk when he could have made sure of the battle by sending in an air strike first as laid down in the battle plans.
Mers-el Kebir, and units of the Vichy French fleet are at anchor and tied up to wharves. They have had a dialogue with the British fleet that is off the port trying to get the French ships to join the Allied Free French Forces and continue the battle against the Germans. Different options were given to the French Admiral who relayed only two to the French high command that the alternatives were internment or battle but omitted the option of sailing to the French West Indies. Removing the fleet to United States waters had formed part of the orders given by the French Admiralty that in the event that a foreign power should attempt to seize the ships. The due time expired and the British ships of Force H opened fire on the French ships that only weeks ago had been allies. Of the six battleships in port , two are sunk, two crippled and two escape. The two Dunkerque class ships were tied to the mole beside the port entrance and were able to raise steam and leave port under a smoke screen laid down by a destroyer. The Bretagne and Champagne are hit multiple times with 15" shell hits. The Provence and Commandante Teste are damaged and run aground to prevent sinking. The Bretagne is hit in the forward magazine which explodes and capsizes the ship with great loss of life. The Champagne receives multiple hits which completely wreck the boilers and engine rooms, with one hit exploding in a 5" magazine, splitting the hull below the waterline. The ship sinks on an even keel. Several surveys are carried out on the ship which is eventually written off as a constructive loss, beyond repair. The ship is raised post war, towed to Genoa and scrapped.
Anybody thinking "a battleship with sixteen guns, what rubbish!" well the French actually designed one in 1913 as the successor to the Normandie class, rather than increasing the gun size, add one more turret.
|Displacement||37,500 tons std 43,800 tons full load|
|Machinery||4 shaft steam turbines, 130,000shp|
|Range||9000 miles at 15 knots (2,000 nm at 28 knots)|
|Armour||13" side, 6.1" deck, 11" turrets|
|Armament||16 x 13.4" (4x4)
16 x 5.1 (8x2)
40 x 40mm (10x4)
20 x 25mm (10x2)
|Aircraft||4 (Loire 130)|
|Notes||FRN Champagne (1937)|
Dunkerque escaping the holocaust of Mers-el Kebir. 15" shells exploding to port and starboard.
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