Half-staff for Mers El-Kebir

Discussion in 'Other Flags' started by Peter Ansoff, Jul 3, 2007.

  1. Peter Ansoff

    Peter Ansoff USA Flag Site Admin

    We are flying the French flag at half-staff today to remember more than 1200 French sailors who died for their country in the battle of Mers El-Kebir on July 3, 1940, during World War II. Almost 1000 of them died aboard the battleship Bretagne when she capsized and sank during the battle. One writer has compared the sinking of the Bretagne to the loss of the USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor the following year.

    The shells that sank the Bretagne were not German or Japanese, but British. The French Army had just surrendered to the Germans, and the British government faced the possibility that the French fleet might be taken over by the Axis and used against them. The surrender terms had explicitly stated that France would *not* hand the ships over to Germany, but the British were not about to rely on Hitler's willingness to adhere to the agreement.

    The battle itself was completely one-sided. The British attacked the French fleet at anchor, and only one major ship, the Strasbourg, was able to get underway and escape. Several of the other French ships suffered major damage. There were no British casualties.

    There has been a lot of "what if" speculation about what either side might have done to avoid the battle, but the bottom line is that both did what they felt they had to do. The French Navy firmly believed that its role should be non-political, and that it should follow the orders of its civilian superiors in the government. The British felt that they had no choice but to eliminate a mortal threat to their country's existence.

    At a memorial service for the French dead, Admiral Marcel-Bruno Gensoul said to his men, "If there is a stain on a flag today, it is certainly not on yours." Prime Minister Churchill expressed his horror at having had to fire on a former ally. However, as he stated in his memoirs, the attack "made plain that the British . . . feared nothing and would stop at nothing" to defeat the Nazis. While the story had a happy ending in a sense -- Britain and France ended the war as allies against the Axis -- it was far too late for the men of Mers El-Kebir. May the memory of their sacrifice promote greater international trust and understanding in the future.

    Peter Ansoff
     
    Last edited: Mar 16, 2008
  2. Peter Ansoff

    Peter Ansoff USA Flag Site Admin

    As we do every year on July 3rd, we are flying the French flag at half-staff in memory of the 1200 French sailors who died for their country in the "battle between friends" at Mers El-Kebir. Both sides in the battle did what they felt they had to do, and one can debate endlessly about who was right. We can only hope that today's leaders will have the wisdom and courage to avoid such incidents.

    Peter Ansoff
     
  3. Robin Hickman

    Robin Hickman Well-Known Member

    .
    I wonder what role, if any, the "breaking" of the NAZI's "Enigma" cypher machine (by the British codebreakers) might have had to do with "necessity" or the outcome of the so-called "Battle of Mers El-Kebir". :rolleyes:

    Robin Hickman
    .
     
  4. Peter Ansoff

    Peter Ansoff USA Flag Site Admin

    I doubt that Enigma intercepts played any part. There were no German forces involved, and it's hard to imagine what information the British could have gained from Enigma.

    The Armistice terms specified that the French ships would not be turned over to Germany. I don't know offhand if the British knew this, but I don't think it would have mattered -- they would not have trusted Hitler to keep his word anyway.

    Peter Ansoff
     
  5. Robin Hickman

    Robin Hickman Well-Known Member

    .
    I am in total agreement about Hitler NOT keeping his "word" (ask the Russians!).

    However, we must acknowledge the impact, sometimes subtle and sometimes not, that "cracking" the ENIGMA machine had. I know that sometimes, in order to "protect" the secret of breaking ENIGMA, the British and their Allies had to go through the gut-wrenching & heart-breaking decision-making process to "stand by and do nothing" while allowing the Nazis to do "bad things" to "good people". :(

    I do NOT know one way or the other if any of the Nazi's intentions regarding the "Vichy" French Fleet were part of the "traffic" that was decoded. I guess I was just going through a "what if" exercise 69 years after the fact.


    Robin Hickman
    .
     
  6. Peter Ansoff

    Peter Ansoff USA Flag Site Admin

    I do NOT know one way or the other if any of the Nazi's intentions regarding the "Vichy" French Fleet were part of the "traffic" that was decoded.

    The point is that it would not have mattered. The potential for German control of the French fleet was enough of a threat that the British felt they had to react, regardless of what the Germans' intentions really were.
     
  7. Peter Ansoff

    Peter Ansoff USA Flag Site Admin

    We are flying the French flag at half-staff today, as we do every year on this date, to remember the 1200 French sailors who died for their country in the naval battle of Mers El-Kebir on 3 July 1940. The details are summarized in my previous posts. Ironically, the basic reason for the tragedy was that both the British and French commanders took as a given that they must follow the orders of their civilian leadership. Once again, let's hope that the nations of the world can find the collective wisdom to avoid such incidents in the future.

    Peter Ansoff
     
  8. Peter Ansoff

    Peter Ansoff USA Flag Site Admin

    Our French flag is at half-staff today in memory of the men of Mers El Kebir.

    Bretagne at MEK.jpg

    The battleship Bretagne sinking under British fire at Mers El Kebir, 3 July 1940. This photo is from Le drame Mers-el-Kebir which is the official site of the MEK memorial association. There are seveal other interesting photos there of the battle and its context and aftermath.

    07-03-11.JPG

    Peter Ansoff
     
  9. wild-bill

    wild-bill Member

    That's a nice 3 pole setup you've got Peter. I ordered a French flag to fly for Bastille Day.
     
  10. Peter Ansoff

    Peter Ansoff USA Flag Site Admin

    Once again, we're flying our French flag at half staff today for the 1200 French sailors who died for their country at Mers El-Kebir on 3 June 1940. The details of this sad incident are up there in earlier posts.

    Peter Ansoff
     
  11. Union Jack

    Union Jack Member

    Dear Peter I was really interested that you commemorate Mers El-Kebir by flying the French flag at half-staff. As ex-Royal Navy myself I too fly the Royal Navy Ensign on certain days of the year to commemorate or celebrate anniversaries. October 21 Trafalgar Day where Matelots Up Spirits. June, Falklands victory and in May to remember my uncle who lost his life in HMS Hood during WWII. It's a strange irony that HMS Hood was head of the task force that shelled the French Fleet at Mers El-Kebir. I would know that none of those British sailors would have celebrated this action. Having served in HMS Plymouth during the Falklands conflict I celebrated the final victory but not the loss of the Argentinian soldiers, sailors and airmen. From now on I'll raise a glass of pastis and lower my French Tricolour to half-staff on July 3rd.
     
  12. Peter Ansoff

    Peter Ansoff USA Flag Site Admin

    Thanks, UJ! Mers El-Kebir has always struck me as a special sort of tragedy, because one has to sympathize with both sides -- they were each doing what they had to do.

    I served in the US Navy way back when, and I commemorate naval events when I can. Here is my Trafalgar tribute:

    01-24-08.jpg

    The signal flags are, of course, Nelson's "16". I was able to use the modern "X" flag for the "1", but I had to have my wife make me a custom flag for the "6". My wife also has promised to make me an "Equal Speed" pennant someday, so that I can fly Jellicoe's Jutland signal.

    This was for the sinking of the Russian submarine Kursk:

    08-12-11.jpg

    And this was for the Titanic:

    04-14-13-1sm.jpg

    The right-hand hoist is hard to read, but it's her call sign, HVMP. It was hard to get a good photo because the wind was flukey that day.

    And this was for Pearl Harbor:

    12-07-06.jpg

    The US flag has 48 stars, and the middle flag is the state of Arizona (commemorating the battleship).

    Best regards,

    Peter A.
     
  13. Union Jack

    Union Jack Member

    Dear Peter
    Fantastic photos.

    UJ
     
  14. postnew2559

    postnew2559 New Member

    Thanks to a very good form.
     

Share This Page