The Fall and Rise of French Seapower

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Book Review

This blog’s readership understands that seapower is one focus of Virtual Mirage, and that praise is dolled out along with criticism when it is due. The book being reviewed, “The Fall and Rise of French Seapower: France’s Quest for an Independent Naval Policy 1940-1963”, by Hugues Canuel, published by the US Naval Institute Press, begins with the Second World War and ends in the Fifth Republic.

The Fall and Rise of French Sea Power explores the renewal of French naval power from the fall of France in 1940 through the first two decades of the Cold War. The Marine national continued fighting after the Armistice, a service divided against itself. The destruction of French sea power at the hands of the Allies, the Axis, and fratricidal confrontations in the colonies continued unabated until the scuttling of the Vichy fleet in 1942.

Twenty years later, Charles de Gaulle announced a plan to complement the country’s nuclear deterrent with a force of nuclear-powered, ballistic missile-carrying submarines. Completing the rebuilding effort that followed the nadir in Toulon, this force provided the means to make the Marine national a fully-fledged blue-water navy again, ready to face the complex circumstances of the Cold War.

Hugues Canuel demonstrated that the renaissance of French sea power was shaped by a naval policy formulated within a strategy of alliance closely adapted to the needs of a continental state with worldwide interests. By doing so, the reader has cause for reflection on 2021, where the same thing is happening. It’s not in the book, but that’s one reason this book is important. History repeats and by understanding the situation in the Fifth Republic, we can better comprehend what we see today.


9 thoughts on “The Fall and Rise of French Seapower

  1. Nowadays the Marine Nationale has once again risen, and eclipsed the RN as the largest and most powerful European navy. They even operate their own carrier planes, with their own pilots, instead of relying mostly upon USMC air assets. Hell, Italy is close to becoming a stronger naval power than the Brits, although they obviously have no nuke attack boats, nor boomers.


    1. The Royal Navy is trying to make a come-back and they may pull it off with heavy US help. The French have been able to make it with a steady approach, and have a respectable fleet.

  2. Per Kle — what’s left of the RN is apparently having a face off with the French in the Channel. Maybe the UK will come to regret it got rid of its navy in favor of immigrant welfare checks. Just a thought.

    1. If it’s a contest between the present French fleet and the British (without US help) I would put my money on France.

  3. Have you read Neptune’s Inferno: The U.S. Navy at Guadalcanal by James D. Hornfischer?
    In my humble opinion, any confrontation in the South China Sea or Taiwan Straight will resemble those battles with the Chinese denying the battle zone to our carriers.

    1. The book is a classic. I’ve read all of Hornfischer’s books. They are must-read. As you’ve identified, history could very well repeat.

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