Gensoul, Admiral Marcel, 1880-1974

With the fall of France DARLAN ordered what was left of the French Navy to assemble at Mers-el-Kebir. CHURCHILL decided that the French Fleet must not fall into the hands of the Germans and the Royal Navy seized all French shipping in British harbors. Admiral SOMERVILLE was sent on Operation Catapult to make sure the fleet at Mers-el-Kebir would not fall into German hands. On 3 July 1940 Gensoul, who was in command of the fleet at Mers-el-Kebir, was presented with an almost impossible deadline by Somerville. He was given three alternative ways of demilitarizing his ships before 1800 hours on that day. Gensoul tried to extend the deadline by negotiation but when Somerville demanded an immediate reply, an incensed Gensoul replied that his ships would fight. At 1800 Somerville’s ships opened up and the battleship Bretagne blew up immediately. The Dunkerque and Provence were seriously damaged but the Strasbourg, a seaplane carrier and five destroyers were able to escape to Toulon. Nearly 1300 Frenchmen died and the incident produced animosity between France and Britain.

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