Les Torpilleurs d’Escadre du Type Hardi, 1938-1943
By Charles Salou
Reviewed by Steve Backer

Of all of the major navies of World War Two, the French Marine Nationale seems to have the least available documentation. The warships of the USN, RN, Kriegsmarine, IJN and Regia Marina can be seen in many different titles but titles on French warships are few and far between. Marines Editions will occasionally release a volume but there has been little else. Lela Press of France is changing that situation.

Les Torpilleurs d’Escadre du Type Hardi, 1938-1943 (Squadron Destroyers of Le Hardi Class), written by Charles Salou, is the first volume in the series Navires & Histoire World Navies. This class of destroyers was designed to accompany the Dunkerque, Strasbourg and the fast light cruisers of the Georges Leygues Class. Twelve in the class were laid down. Le Hardi being first in May 1936. When the war started in 1939, six had been launched but none were in commission. Eight were completed and were all scuttled at Toulon on November 27, 1942, two incomplete hulls were destroyed in bombing attacks, one hull was scrapped on the ways and one incomplete hull survived until 1960.

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Destroyers of Le Hardi Class is a rich source of photographs and drawings in the documentation of the history of this class. Although written in French, the extensive use of graphics in the title make this a valuable addition in anyone’s naval library. The 104 pages of this hardbound title are organized into 16 chapters.

Chapter One – This gives a brief look at the status of the French destroyer force of World War One and discusses how the designs evolved into the big destroyers of the 1930s. (5 pages, six photos)

Chapter Two – The design conception and construction of Le Hardi Class is covered in this chapter. Extensive use of drawings and cutaways are used to show the design and fittings of the class. These primarily deal with the propulsion and armament of the ships. Also found are hull section lines, ten cross section and four plans and profiles.(21 pages, 3 photos, 44 drawings, 5 tables)

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Chapter Three – European Navy destroyer designs in the 1,600 to 1,800 ton range. The very short chapter presents a quick comparison with contemporary British, German and Italian designs. (3 pages, 3 photos)

Chapter Four – Le Hardi is covered in this chapter. Starting with this chapter, each ship in the class has one chapter devoted to it. Each chapter starts with a listing and history of previous French warships that carried the name of the particular ship. Then there is coverage of the history by year of the destroyer. Le Hardi departed Brest with Richelieu on the voyage to Casablanca and then Dakar. With "Operation Menace" the Royal Navy thought that they could seize Richelieu and the other French warships at Dakar or neutralize them as they had done at Mers-El-Kebir that July. They were wrong and had a fiasco on their hands. The noted historian Arthur Marder in his title, Operation Menace, stated in the preface: "Menace’ exemplifies, in its genesis, planning and execution, all that can go wrong in warfare: an operation fouled up by unforeseen contingencies, the accidents of war, and human error, and against a background of undue political interference, inadequate planning, and half-baked co-operation between Allies." Le Hardi was an extremely active participant in defending against the British attack. She was very effective in laying a smoke screen that completely obscured the French warships from British fire. This chapter contains the detailed, minute by minute chronicle of the destroyer in this action. (11 pages, 11 photos, 3 maps)

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Chapter Five - Le Fleuret, rechritened Foudroyant A number of the class were renamed to commemorate destroyers that had been lost, Le Fleuret was one. (6 pages, 5 photos, 2 drawings)

Chapter Six – L’Epee, rechristened L’Adroit After Dakar had been attacked, L’Epee along with Le Fleuret and two other destroyers left Casablanca and attacked English shipping in the Straits of Gibraltar. (6 pages, 7 photos)

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Chapter Seven – Le Mameluk Left for Casablanca with Jean Bart in June 1940 and transferred to Toulon the following November. (4 pages, 6 photos, 2 drawings)

Chapter Eight – Le Casque She was present at Mers-El-Kebir when the French force was attacked by the Royal Navy, or as the author puts it, during "l’agression anglaise", later transferred to Toulon. (3 pages, 4 photos, 2 drawings)

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Chapter Nine – Le Lansquenet Detailed coverage of how she avoided being seized by the German Army in June 1940. She first went to Casablanca and in November escorted the damaged battleship, Provence, to Toulon. (9 pages, 6 photos)

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Chapter Ten – Le Corsaire, rechristened Le Siroco At Mers-El-Kebir and then Toulon. After being scuttled in November 1942, she was raised by the Regia Marina and renamed FR 32. Taken to Genoa in June 1943, she was seized by the Germans in September. Wrecked as a blockship in October. (7 pages, 10 photos)

Chapter Eleven – Le Flibustier, rechristened Bison Finished at Toulon after the French-German armistice. Scuttled and refloated by the Italians, who renamed her FR 35. Seized by the Germans September 1943, she was heavily damaged in an air attack in the Spring 1944. Torpedoed by a U-Boat June 1944.(3 pages, 2 photos, one color profile)

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Chapters Twelve - L’Intrepide, Thirteen - Le Temeraire, Fourteen - L’Opiniatre and Fifteen - L’Aventurier cover the brief histories of the uncompleted members of the class. (Total 4 pages, 4 photos)

Chapter Sixteen – Conclusion – This class of ships had a very brief life, too short to truly gage their capabilities. It is ironic that their brief combat careers were spent fighting the British Navy, rather than the Germans or Italians.

Color Plates – The title concludes with a beautiful section of colored plates. There is an overhead map of Toulon harbor on November 27, 1942, showing the locations of all of the French warships. This is followed by one page showing eleven ships crests, some of which are different versions from the same ship. Finally there are nine pages of color profiles, two profiles per page of the destroyers of Le Hardi class.

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Les Torpilleurs d’Escadre du Type Hardi, 1938-1943 is an excellent reference. It is a quality production, using heavy stock paper. With its multitude of photographs, drawings and color plates, it has a striking visual impact. This title should appeal to anyone interested in the Marine Nationale, destroyers, or photographic warship presentations. Priced at 36.58 Euros.

Two future volumes coming from Lela Press are The Italian Submarines in France 1940-1943 (124 pages, 156 photos, and numbers of maps and color profiles) and The Cruisers of 10,000 Tons Duquesne & Tourville (196 pages, 220 photos, numerous color schemes and color profiles and separate 1:500 scale plans)

Lela Press, Publishers of Navires & Histoire Magazine, 29 Rue Paul Bert / 62230 Outreau, France. Telephone – 03-21-33-88-96 Fax: 03-21-32-00-39 E-Mail: lela.presse@wanadoo.fr