Brooklyn Eagle (November 27, 1942)
63 warships blown up as Hitler seizes Toulon
The French battleship Strasbourg – Blown up
The French battleship Dunkerque – Destroyed
London, England (UP) –
The pride of the French battlefleet, headed by the 26,500-ton Strasbourg, was blown up and scuttled in Toulon Harbor today, according to French reports, to prevent it falling into the hands of Adolf Hitler.
Havas dispatches broadcast by the Vichy radio revealed that the Strasbourg was blown up with a mighty explosion when Nazi forces, acting on Hitler’s orders, scrapped the last vestige of the Franco-German armistice and raced into Toulon today.
The example set by the Strasbourg crew – presumably at the cost of many of their own lives – was followed quickly by the other ships of the French armada which lay in Toulon Harbor.
Earlier reports had it that part of the French fleet had been seized by the Nazis after they occupied the city of Toulon.
It appeared that while Hitler’s sudden maneuver had kept the French fleet out of Allied hands, it had also denied him any hope of using the ships himself.
The Havas dispatches reported the ships now lie sunken at their anchorages in the debris-filled Toulon Harbor.
The action of the French crews apparently sent to the bottom the greatest naval tonnage which had been scuttled since the day that the German crews of the Imperial Navy sank their ships at Scapa Flow rather than allow them to be turned over to the Allies at the end of World War I.
In Toulon, at last reports, were the battleships Strasbourg, Dunkerque and Provence, seven cruisers, a seaplane carrier, 25 destroyers and 27 submarines.
Ship and shore guns open up
All of these ships, according to the Havas reports, were sunk by their crews while Nazi bombers roared over the harbor dropping magnetic mines, flares and bombing the harbor fortifications.
German panzer columns at that moment were racing into the town, smashing resistance wherever it was encountered. Havas reported that many casualties were caused as real fighting developed.
French gun crews both ashore and afloat opened up with their anti-aircraft guns against the Nazi bombers.
Some of the ships attempted to make a gateway to sea but it was not believed any succeeded.
Captains go down with their ships
Havas reported that “most of the French captains” and many crew members went down with their ships to their deaths.
At the end of the day – a terrible and sad day – there was the spectacle of all these beautiful warships, the pride of France, lying on their sides with thick clouds of smoke rising from them.
The courage of the sailors of the French fleet was emulated by their comrades ashore manning the coastal defense batteries. When they saw that resistance would not hold off the German attack, they spiked their guns and blew up the magazines.
Turn guns on own vessels
Some of the French crews – finding that their ships could not be scuttled due to repairs in progress – turned their own guns on each other, smashing and damaging the warships so they would be useless to the Germans.
At nightfall tonight, the French reports said, the ships still lay blazing and the dull boom of intermittent explosions echoed over the harbor as flames gradually ate their way into sunken magazines.
The naval arsenal, said these reports, was blown up and destroyed by the French before Nazi troops could enter it.
The self-destruction of the French fleet was accomplished within a few hours of a decision by Hitler to toss into the discard all previous commitments to France and to place the nation under a military regime that appeared to differ little, if at all, from that imposed on all the other conquered nations of Europe.
Hitler orders seizure of Toulon
Charging that the French Armed Forces were riddled with pro-Allied supporters and that the French fleet was preparing a dash to sea to join the Allies, Hitler ordered Toulon taken over and the remainder of the French Army demobilized.
He gave Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt, the Nazi commander in France, carte blanche instructions to take any and all measures necessary for total control of France.
The reaction, if any, of the Vichy regime to these developments was not obvious. A cabinet meeting was called, but its only decision was to deprive of French citizenship Gen. Henri Giraud and Adm. Jean François Darlan.
Others may join Allies
It seemed possible tonight that Hitler’s action and the courageous stand of the French seamen might bring over to the Allies the long-demobilized portions of the French fleet in British harbors and at Alexandria.
German and Italian troops marched on Toulon during the night, German announcements revealed.
There was a hint in the German communiqué that fighting might still be in progress in the Toulon area, but the Nazis insisted that the town and harbor were now “firmly in the hands of our troops.”
First news of the Nazi action was given to the French public in a broadcast by Radio Vichy, in which a letter by Adolf Hitler to Marshal Henri Philippe Pétain explaining the Axis action was read.
Radio Vichy called on the public to remain calm.
Hitler issues order
The Germans ordered the immediate demobilization of the French fleet and, simultaneously, Hitler ordered Pétain to demobilize the remaining units of the French Army.
Hitler declared in his letter to Pétain that he had ordered the occupation of Toulon to prevent the ships from leaving and said he had ordered his troops to destroy the craft, if necessary, and “to break every resistance with the greatest force.”
Denies designs on fleet
In his letter to Pétain, Hitler denied that Germany had any designs on the French fleet or that he had asked France to hand it over.
These assertions are pure inventions and continuous lies by British or American quarters.
The French people could live in peace except for sacrifices inflicted by their allies in raids by sea and air.
He asserted the Germans had released 700,000 French war prisoners and insisted that if the release of prisoners had been halted:
…it was only because in your country, insurgent elements always managed to sabotage real cooperation.
Holds Pétain blameless
He insisted that he had never made any demands impinging on French national honor and again rehearsed his familiar theories for the origin of the war.
I know that you, Herr Marshal, had no part in this instigating of the war.
Italian troops as well as Germans marched into the French naval base city, the communiqué said, asserting that the taking over of the fleet had been agreed upon by both Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini.
The Germans said that French commanders had completed plans to take their ships into the Mediterranean to join the Allies.
The French fleet is now being demobilized, the Nazi High Command said.
The High Command said:
The demobilization of unstable French formations is going on and will be finished in a short time.