With the Fall of France in June 1940, the French Navy ceased to operate against the Germans and Italians.
To prevent the enemy from obtaining the French ships, the British attacked Mers-el-Kébir in
July and fought the Battle of Dakar in September. In the wake of these engagements, the ships of
the French Navy were concentrated at Toulon where they remained under French control but were
either disarmed or deprived of fuel. At Toulon, command was divided between Admiral Jean de Laborde,
who led the Forces de Haute Mer (High Seas Fleet) and Admiral André Marquis, the Prefet Maritime who
oversaw the base.
The situation at Toulon remained quiet for over two years until Allied forces landed in French North Africa
as part of Operation Torch on November 8, 1942. Concerned about an Allied attack through the Mediterranean,
Adolf Hitler ordered the implementation of Case Anton which saw German troops under
General Johannes Blaskowitz occupy Vichy France beginning on November 10. Though many in
the French fleet initially resented the Allied invasion, a desire to join the fight against
the Germans soon swept through the fleet with chants in support of General Charles de Gaulle
erupting from different ships.
In the fighting of November 27, the French lost 12 killed and 26 wounded, while the Germans suffered one wounded. In scuttling the fleet, the French destroyed 77 vessels, including 3 battleships, 7 cruisers, 15 destroyers, and 13 torpedo boats. Five submarines managed to get underway, with three reaching North Africa, one Spain, and the last forced to scuttle at the mouth of the harbor. The surface ship Leonor Fresnel also escaped. While Charles de Gaulle and the Free French severely criticized the action, stating that the fleet should have tried to escape, the scuttling prevented the ships from falling into Axis hands. While salvage efforts began, none of the larger ships saw service again during the war. After the liberation of France, de Laborde was tried and convicted of treason for not trying to save the fleet. Found guilty, he was sentenced to death. This was soon commuted to life imprisonment before he was granted clemency in 1947.