French aircraft carrier Béarn

Bearn is the only aircraft carrier in service with the French Navy until 1945 (date of entry into service Dixmude).

It was originally the fifth unit of the last class battleship Dreadnought, the Normandy class implementation before the First World War and never completed.  Only Béarn undergo an overhaul, after the war, before the dismantling of the unfinished hulls of four other units.


A late commissioning

Shortly before the First World War, the experiments on the building-based aviation Lightning are interrupted, the French Navy giving priority to the aircraft, although four small cargo are converted into transport seaplane in 1914 and 1915.  At the end of the war, maritime air reduces the wing: most airplanes are dismantled and land bases are reduced to 7.  However, the experiments continue.  In 1920, a platform is installed on the sloop Bapaume, from which is carried out a series of departures from biplanes HD.12 Hanriot, Nieuport 21 and Nieuport 32.  At the same time, the company Levasseur starts producing the first torpedo bombers could be navalisés as biplane Levasseur PL 2 (derived from terrestrial AT.1), the French Navy Command nine copies delivered from of 1925.

A new French delegation visits the United Kingdom where she visited including the HMS Argus, 1 aircraft carrier designed from the outset to get a flight deck continuous and operates 20 aircraft since September 6, 1918.  Impressed the members of the mission recommends that the hull unfinished because of the war in Normandy class battleship Béarn is made ​​available to the aviation squadron.  The naval program st January 1, 1920 provided for two aircraft Wing and transformation of two battleships of Normandy class aircraft carrier buildings.  Budgetary realities because of this ambitious project and it was decided to provide only a Béarn shed 100 × 30 meters and a flight deck 180 feet long.

The launch took place in the Béarn La Seyne-sur-Mer on 15 April 1920 and 20 October 1920 in spring 1921, is made ​​a series of take-offs, first that of Lieutenant Paul Teste flying a Hanriot, then Sopwith 1A2, Hanriot HD.2 and Hanriot HD.3.  The program law of 18 April 1922 decided its transformation into “building aircraft carrier fleet” under the Washington Naval Treaty, which limited the naval armaments of its five signatories: the United States, the United Kingdom, the Japan to France and Italy.  France is unhappy with the Treaty, stating that it is entitled to more than that of Italy fleet, as to maintain a fleet in both the Atlantic and the Mediterranean.

Unlike the U.S. Navy and the Royal Navy, the French Navy did not wait for all the changes Béarn contract, signed on August 4 1923 at commissioning on 1 May 1928, it takes five years, during which the Navy simply some seaplanes.  Finally, 3 May 1928, a few bombers light biplanes PL.4 Levasseur, the first French aircraft built in series to operate from an aircraft carrier, facing the Béarn before initiating joint maneuvers with the Army French.

Bearn choice between the embedded and overhauls aircraft

The “Flotilla Aviation Béarn” consists of three squadrons, one of hunting (the 7C1), the other bombing and sinking (the 7B1), the last of reconnaissance and surveillance (the 7S1).  Regarding the hunters, the unfortunate experience of Levy-Biche (Levasseur) LB.2 and aging Dewoitine D.1C1 forced the Navy to turn to the land monoplane Wibault 74, it controls 60 copies and remains in service in 1932 to 1938.  In terms of torpedo bombers, it remains attached to the formula biplane with PL.2 Levasseur (1926), the PL.4 (1930), the pl.7 (equivalent to Blackburn Ripon UK) then PL.10 and improved version PL.101 (1933).

Depending on the interest of the U.S. Navy and the Luftwaffe for the dive bombers, technical services aerospace demand in 1932 at Newport designing a single-engine attack for the Béarn.  Both prototypes Nieuport 140 wing “W” are lost in March 1935 and May 1936 and the manufacturer’s own study fund Loire-Nieuport LN 401 underpowered, but ordered 66 copies by the Navy to replace its PL.7.  The construction of a more powerful version (the Loire Nieuport LN-402) is no tomorrow.

In 1938, the Navy received 19 fighter monoplane Dewoitine D.373, already obsolete in their commissioning and deficient at the engine, resulting in two flight bans, the second is delayed pending delivery Potez 631 22 December 1939.  On the eve of the war, the design offices working in haste to Latécoère / Breguet Laté 299 and 675 Laté.  Finally, annoyed by these setbacks, the Navy turned to the U.S. monoplane Vought V-156F delivered to 51 copies from July 1939.

Moreover, repeated revisions of Béarn (the first in 1930 – 1933, a second in 1934 – 1935), does not help the permanence of the sea battle group, especially as the building is too slow (21.5 knots) to fulfill its role (as his British counterparts who are battle cruisers converted into an aircraft carrier, spin thirty knots) and its elevators are inadequate, relegating it to a platform of drive and carriage.

In May 1940, he served in the transport of gold (the gold of the Bank of France) to pay for the aircraft purchased in the United States and conveying the same equipment to France, but it is diverted to the Caribbean during of the armistice, and the United States suffers from profound changes.

He contributed to the start of the war in Indochina to transport aviation for the French Expeditionary Corps.

Finally, the Béarn served pontoon crews submarines at Toulon until 1965 and was dismantled in 1967 in Italy.



8 × 155 mm single casemates

6 × 75 mm AA

8 × 37 mm AA

4 spears torpedo tubes 550 mm

8 and 12 × 12.2 mm AA

in 1943:

4 × 127 mm AA

24 × 40 mm AA Bofors (6 quadruples)

26 × 20 mm Oerlikon AA simple

Aviation facilities

flight deck: 180 m × 27 m

2 sheds: 124 m × 19.5 m

3 axial lifts

5 strands stop

lifting system: crane 12 t

Aviation Fuel: 115,856 liters

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