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Joffre Class


Line drawing of Painleve

Displacement 19,000 tons
Armament 4 x 2   6"
Some Light AA
Speed 33 knots
VTS Rating   1   2   7 2

These were the first ships of French design to be built as aircraft carriers from the keel up. Their flight decks were offset to port, but still "axial" and not "angled". Joffre was about 25% built when the war started, and Painleve was laid down but not even that far along. They were both dismantled on the slipways. They would have been similar to the British Ark Royal , but with a much longer island, fewer aircraft, and one less elevator. A unique feature for these ships was that their bomber aircraft were to be twin-engined, and some designs were put forth but development was stifled by the French collapse.

In "Grand Fleet" the fully operational Joffre had been sent out to the Arabian sea to help search for German surface raiders while Painleve worked up off Toulon in the Mediterranean. The new twin-engined Dewoitine-Petlyakov DP-750 torpedo bombers ( a joint venture with the Soviet Union, and looking like a Pe-2 with butterfly tails) worked fine aboard the carriers, and were almost as fast as the navalized Bloch MB-157 fighters she carried. When France fell and all French ships' crews had to choose their allegiance, Joffre's captain received the news in Diego Suarez harbor and was wavering with indecision. British Swordfish bombers from Catapult Armed Merchantmen offshore attacked and sunk the Joffre upright in harbor. This and other British "outrages" against French pride led Painleve's captain to vow to fight the British. Since the Italian fleet was so battered and of little help, Painleve boldly sailed past Malta and Gibraltar into the Atlantic and sought French West African ports. Reports reached Admiral Darlan aboard Painleve that the British had air-raided Haiphong (actually a staged Japanese raid using captured aircraft) so the Admiral vowed to sink any British ship encountered on her way to Indochina. Picking up the heavy cruiser Algerie, some destroyers, and planes from the foundered Joffre, Painleve started off for Indochina but was intercepted by a British hunting group consisting of Light Fleet Carrier Vengeance and two battleships. Painleve's DP-750 "Papillion" torpedo bombers sunk the Vengeance before she launched more than a few planes, and put a torpedo in a battleship, turning her away from the battle. Those few planes, however, torpedoed Painleve, and she put into Haiphong for repairs. After repairing, the Japanese had planned a sortie to the Bay of Bengal with her European "allies" including the German CV Graf Zeppelin and Vichy French Painleve. In a skirmish with a large Anglo-American carrier fleet, Painleve suffered a massive attack of Firefly glide bombers from the British CVs Malta and Indomitable which started fatal fires in the hangars.

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