Sunday, July 22, 2012

WWII Naval - Scenario Ideas

I managed to find a copy of Operation Menace by Arthur J. Marder at the University Library this week.  It's a very interesting and well written account of the failed British and Free French invasion of the Vichy French colony at Dakar, Senegal.  This was one of Mr. Churchill's pet projects and the theory was that the French would welcome De Gaulle with open arms (unfortunately no one seems to bother checking with the French on this one).

Churchill's productions like those of Shakespeare tend to be either tragedies or farces, and luckily for the Allies Dakar was much more of the farce variety being a comedies of errors and falls from Day 1.  It had many of the elements of the Shakespearean farce - assumed identities (at one point it was intended to dress the Royal Marines in french uniforms), mistaken identities, wild goose chases and mislaid messages (costing a British Admiral to be sacked as a scapegoat).  Unfortunately it didn't have the denouement of having the entire cast meet up by accident in the town square and working out all their difficulties!

The main event was a shore bombardment resisted by naval forces, shore batteries and land based air.  Unlike the attack at Mers-El-Klebir the Vichy (which is rather like shooting fish in a barrel), the Vichy were ready and gave a good account of themselves.  After several days the affair was called off when it became clear that it was going to take a full scale invasion which De Gaulle didn't want.  The most serious damage were likely the bruised egos, reputations and prestige of the British and De Gaulle.  However, HMS Resolution was damaged by a Vichy submarine and about half the air fleet was lost.

Here's a quick run down of the forces available

Royal Navy

  • 2 battleships HMS Barham and HMS Resolution
  • 1 carrier HMS Ark Royal
  • 4 county class cruisers
  • 2 WWI vintage D-class light cruisers
  • 9+ destroyers

  • 1 battleship Richelieu incomplete, damaged and immobile
  • 3 modern 6" gunned cruisers
  • 3 super-destroyers plus one regular destroyer
  • 3 submarines
  • coast defence batteries

In the air the Ark flew 30 Swordfish and (wait for it) 21 Skuas the goofiest airplanes flown by the FAA during WW2.  Opposing them were about 20 P-40 Warhawks and the same number of Marylands.
I'm sure that Tim Gow can supply the air power in correct markings, and the naval toys are readily available from GQ.

Land forces were Royal Marines and Foreign Legionnaires vs Senegalese troops.  The allies had no artillery other than naval support, but apparently had French tanks on the transports.  As an aside I've always been amused by the term Free French.  Given that most of their soldiers were either FFL or colonial units, it seems to be that they were neither particularly free nor French!


  1. "As an aside I've always been amused by the term Free French. Given that most of their soldiers were either FFL or colonial units, it seems to be that they were neither particularly free nor French!"

    Aha, bit of a misconception here I'm afraid. Unlike every other colonial power, the French have always considered their colonial possessions to be part of their country and the people living there to be French. They actively encouraged them to consider themselves to be part of la patrie. Colonies returned deputies to government (the UK equivalent would have been, say, India returning MPs to the House of Commons!)

    So, De Gaulle and Co. would have thought of his varied forces as all being 'French'.

    Very good article about the abortive attack. I think you're spot on about Churchill. An excellent political leader in WW" but a disaster as a military one (and not only in WW2 - poor Admiral Craddock and Coronel springs to mind).

  2. Red Cardinal

    Point taken on the French overseas departments. I had forgotten that particular political structure, which still sees deputies elected from St. Pierre and Guadaloupe for instance. However, post-WW2 history would indicate that many colonies would be rather be done with being french and that the Metropolitan citizens weren't to keen on thinking of the overseas citizens as French.

    By definition the FFL should be composed of non-Frenchmen but my understanding is that there have been a suspiciously hight proportion of Quebecois in its ranks.



  3. Yes - I think I can rustle up the required ships. I'll look out for the book .