The Habsburg Fleet:
The French Navy

By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
November 2014

In the world of the Second Great War, as seen in The Habsburg Fleet and The Kaiser’s Navy, the new conflict is sparked by French, Italian and Russian aggression against the Central Powers of Imperial Germany and Austria-Hungary, and later Ottoman Turkey. Britain joins the war later. Smaller nations are steadily drawn into the conflict as well: Belgium marches alongside the French, while Serbia, Montenegro and Romania all join the Russian efforts against Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria is pulled in as a result of a Russian attack, and Greece joins the Central Powers after a British attack on its small fleet. It’s all the result of Wilson’s Peace, the negotiated end to the First Great War that takes effect on Christmas Day, 1916.

In The Habsburg Fleet, most of the focus is on the Imperial and Royal Austro-Hungarian Navy of 1940. But we added additional ships for other nations, and we’ve looked at the Italians, British and Turks in previous installments. Today we’ll have a look at the French. The Habsburg Fleet is a supplement for Bomb Alley, which is now out of print but will be replaced in 2015 by a new game on the same topic. In Bomb Alley we didn’t give the French much of a fleet, just the ships specifically needed for scenarios and nothing more. That leaves the French fleet in Bomb Alley rather unbalanced, with some super-destroyers but no normal ones (and yes, the French built several classes of those, too).

As the god-like being overseeing the World of Wilson’s Peace, I was tempted to add some destroyers to the French order of battle. But I wanted to hold the number of new pieces to a reasonable amount and didn’t want to repeat pieces that will appear in the upcoming La Regia Marina. So instead, the French have some powerful new battleships, cruisers and super-destroyers – all of them planned in the reality we pretend to inhabit, but none actually completed. And fortunately, that fleet fit the story line I wanted to write for them.

French interest in the Mediterranean is limited; the Austrians and Germans can’t really get at any vital French strategic interests other than the convoy lanes between Algeria and the Metropole. And doing that takes them past a choke point (the Sicilian Channel) dominated by the French naval base at Bizerte. The French do have political/diplomatic interests in the eastern Mediterranean basin, hoping to seize territory from the Ottoman Turks in southern Anatolia, Syria, Lebanon or Palestine. That requires naval missions to show the flag of the coast, with the Turks eager to find and destroy these expeditions.

The Entente naval forces in the Mediterranean – British, French and Italian – have a crushing superiority over the Central Powers. But just as in the First Great War, these are uneasy allies who do not trust one another’s high commands, feeling them to be incompetent or self-interested or both. So the French rarely commit their forces to joint operations, preferring to send raiding forces on specific missions to establish a French claim to a share of potential victory.

Those raiding forces include two new fast battleships of the Gascoigne class, a development of Richelieu with their main armament distributed fore and after instead of concentrated forward. They are big and fast, but not as powerful as the fast battleships built by some other navies, with 15-inch guns rather than the standard 16-inch. They’re a very definite step up in fighting power from the Dunkerque class battle cruisers that often accompany them.

Note: These were indeed the battleships planned to follow Richelieu, but never actually begun. The names are accurate, though sources differ on whether the second ship would be named Alsace or France, with the other name going to the next class of battleship (which we’ll cover in Royal Netherlands Navy).

Also seeing action for the French are the four modern heavy cruisers of the Algérie class, often held to be the best-designed Treaty cruisers to actually conform to Treaty limitations. They are well-designed and a match for any other cruiser in the game – but not for a battleship or battle cruiser.

Note: Algérie actually existed, but we did not include her in Bomb Alley for some reason (probably limits on the counter mix). The French hoped to lay down three more sisters, so I wanted to include them in The Habsburg Fleet, but it seemed kind of silly to include the hypotheticals but not the name ship of the class. The names are hypothetical, but probably a good guess.

Finally, the French add four more contre-torpilleurs, or super-destroyers, twice the size of the standard destroyers built by most navies, with twice as many guns and extremely fast, too. Intended to serve as scouts for the fast battleships and battle cruisers, there are four Mogador-class ships added to the two already present in Bomb Alley and they see a great deal of action during the Second Great War. And calling them “ships” rather than “boats” seems more accurate here; at a hair under 3,000 tons standard displacement with eight 5.5-inch guns these are really more cruiser than destroyer despite their lack of armor protection.

Note: The French planned a whole series of follow-ons to their impressive Mogador. Three more were authorized in 1938, one in 1939 and two more in 1940. We’ve included the 1938 and 1939 ships in The Habsburg Fleet, with the names they would have borne had they been completed.

Click here to sail with The Habsburg Fleet.

Mike Bennighof is president of Avalanche Press and holds a doctorate in history from Emory University. A Fulbright Scholar and award-winning journalist, he has published over 100 books, games and articles on historical subjects. He lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife, three children and his dog, Leopold. Leopold loves to visit Dogpark.