Sometimes for FbF, I like to find the obscure and forgotten. This will do. It does answer the question though; if the French battle the French and the French lose, does anyone win? Well, it can be argued that the French won and the British/Free French lost, maybe that is why the Battle of Dakar is one of the least known Battleship duels. Let's set the scene.
The strategic importance of Dakar (Senegal) in the British eyes can not be underestimated. It would be a base much more useful than Freetown to protect the convoys circumnavigating Africa from England to the Middle-East. At that time, the Free French were successful rallying parts of the French colonial empire, like in Nouméa and New Caledonia or Camerun.You can quickly see why you don't hear much from it. Anglo-Saxons can't call it a victory, and the Francophones, well, outside the French Navy - in polite company ....
In Dakar though, Governor Boisson refused flatly any rallying offer by the De Gaulle and did not shy away from a confrontation with the Royal Navy. The fightings lasted for three days and the losses were high on both sides. De Gaulle's failure was not only military, but above all political. The British doubted that he was the right card to be played to rally the French on their side. It is the lowest point of his career as liberator of France.
The British fleet, consisting of the battleships HMS Resolution and Barham, the carrier Ark Royal, three county class cruisers – the HMAS Australia, HMS Cumberland, and HMS Devonshire – and one light cruiser, the HMS Delhi, as well as ten destroyers and eight thousand soldiers in troop transports began the attack. Defending were the Vichy France forces, including the Richelieu, two cruisers, four destroyers, and three submarines. However the damage from the previous battle with the HMS Hermes had left the Richelieu little more than a floating weapons platform. The Vichy France cruiser Gloire was en route to the battle, but intercepted by the HMAS Australia.Now, I want to fall down a rabbit hole. The RICHELIEU has an interesting history that takes her all the way to the Vietnam Conflict - but I want to spend some time now with the HMS BARHAM. She was sunk 25 NOV 41 by U-331 Skippered by Kapitänleutnant Hans-Diedr Freiherr von Tiesenhausen. He eventually became a citizen of Canada and passed away in 2000 (story here).
In the ensuing battle the Allied forces were driven off, with the Richelieu scoring a hit on the HMS Barham, and the Resolution torpedoes by a sub. Two of the cruisers also received some damage. In return the Vichy France forces lost only one destroyer and two of their subs. Two of the Richelieu’s guns were damaged and wouldn’t set out again until April 1941.
An artist, here is what he saw out of his periscope - and here is his tale of that day,
The U-331, commanded by von Tiesenhausen was one of the Type VIIs who made its harrowing entry into the Mediterranean. Having dropped off a German commando party at Libya on November 17 (which was to blow up a British military train), the U-331 was patrolling submerged on the morning of November 25 near the British base at Alexandria, Egypt. Having been alerted by the sounds of heavy screws, the U-331 chased down on its bearing. Soon, the U-331 surfaced to periscope depth and spotted a procession of three British battleships flanked by eight destroyers. The battleships were the Queen Elizabeth, Barham and Valiant.That is why von Tiesenhausen didn't like talking about his war. All in all though - what a cruise.
A heart stopping sight, von Tiesenhausen carefully threaded between two destroyers and eased his boat to the first battleship in line, the Queen Elizabeth. But she had just passed by and he was forced to target the second battleship in line, the HMS Barham. At 410 yards, the behemoth size of the battleship had completely filled his periscope lens. He could not identify what ship it was, just that it was a British battleship. He fired all four torpedoes, and immediately the U-331 popped to the surface, having just released four tons of weight from the boat. The third battleship in line, the HMS Valiant was just 150 yards away, spotted the boat and immediately signaled the Barham and altered course to ram.
Aboard the U-331, von Tiesenhausen ordered for a crash dive. The boat’s helmsman hurriedly flooded the ballast tanks and flanked the engines at full speed ahead. As the huge ship, the HMS Valiant bore down on them, finally at the last moment, the U-331 slid beneath the waves and the battleship passed harmlessly overhead.
In the meantime, the HMS Barham swerved to avoid the incoming torpedoes. One torpedo missed, but three others found its target on her broadside. Three explosions were heard – one, two, three - and one or more of the torpedoes hit near a magazine. A fourth thunderous explosion resulted, probably the magazine going up, disintegrating the Barham, taking 862 men with her in three minutes.