Béarn (1920)

Béarn in the 1940s. Photo featured in the January, 1948 issue of All hands magazine

Laid Down

Originally laid down as a Normandie-class battleship in 1914, work on Béarn was suspended after the outbreak of World War I. Béarn was launched in 1920 to clear the slipway, even though no decision to her fate had been reached. She received a temporary flight deck after launching, with trials concluding that October. They were successful enough to convince the French to complete Béarn as an experimental carrier, with the idea of replacing her with a purpose-built ship shortly. Béarn was completed in 1928, and by 1939 she still hadn't been replaced. Béarn was assigned to hun the cruser Admiral Graf Spee in the fall of 1939, but saw no combat during the War. In May, 1940, she was loaded with French gold bullion, and sent to Halifax, Nova Scotia. She then headed for the US to pick up some new aircraft, but made for Martinique after the French surrendered, and spent the next four years at anchor there. In 1943, Martinique handed Béarn over to the Free French, and Béarn was sent to the US for a refit in 1944. Converted to an aircraft transport, Béarn spent the next decade in this role, far outliving any expectations from when she was first converted in the 1920s. After the French withdrew from Indochina, Béarn was used as a submarine barracks ship in Toulon until 1967, when the venerable ship was decommissioned, and sold for scrapping in Italy.