Beginning to feel threatened before World War 2 by such developments as the German Kriegsmarine's pocket battleships, French naval designers came up with the revolutionary concept of putting all a capital ship's main armament in quadruple gun turrets in the bow - in this case eight 13" guns in two quadruple turrets. Near sisterships, Dunkerque and Strasbourg were relatively well armored and at 29 knots, reasonably fast.
The Fall of France in summer 1940 found both ships at Mers el Kebir, the French naval base east of Oran in North Africa. Desperate that the French fleet not fall into German hands for an invasion of Britain, Churchill ordered the Royal Navy to neutralize the French fleet, by internment, persuasion to join the Allied cause, or destruction.
The French admiral at Mers el Kebir, Gensoul, was flustered when confronted with a British squadron consisting of battle cruiser Hood, battleships Valiant and Resolution, carrier Ark Royal, and various lighter units ... and the accompanying ultimatum.
His indecision became interpreted by Churchill as stalling, and the British opened fire, blowing up old battleship Bretagne and damaging Dunkerque and old battleship Provence, as well as some destroyers.
Dunkerque and Provence would later be withdrawn to the French Navy's homeport of Toulon, where they would be scuttled on 27Nov42.
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