Scuttling at Toulon, 1942

Aerial photo of Toulon, after the French scuttled their ships to prevent the Germans taking them. Left to right, the major ships in this photo are Strasbourg, Colbert, Algérie, and Marseillaise. Royal Air Force photo, in the collection of the US Library of Congress.

Location Toulon, France

After the French surrendered in June, 1940, part of the conditions was that their Navy had to be interned. The British were worried that the Germans might seize the ships to bolster their own fleet, but this did not transpire at the time. However, after the Allies landed in French North Africa, and the Vichy French there switched back to the Allied side, the Germans decided to occupy Vichy France, which would result in the takeover of the remaining French ships. As a result, the sailors at Toulon, where the majority of the ships were located, took a page out of the Germans 1919 play book and scuttled their ships, on 27 November, 1942. Three battleships, a seaplane tender, seven cruisers, seventeen destroyers, twelve torpedo boats, fifteen submarines, and eight sloops were successfully sunk. The Germans still managed to capture a few ships, but they were mostly previously disarmed or hopelessly obsolete. The whole affair had the main effect of eliminating the Vichy government as a political force, due to loss of credibility with anybody, and ensuring that neither side would have access to the ships. However it is unlikely that, had the Axis managed to seize the ships intact, they would have seen much use, due to chronic fuel shortages.