The French Navy consists of six main components: the Naval Action Force
, the Submarine Forces
), French Naval Aviation
, the Navy Riflemen
(including Naval Commandos
), the Marseille Naval Fire Battalion
, and the Maritime Gendarmerie
. As of 2021, the French Navy employed 44,000 personnel (37,000 military and 7,000 civilian), more than 180 ships, 200 aircraft, and six commandos units;
as of 2014, its reserve element
numbered roughly 48,000.
Founded in the 17th century, with precursors dating back to the Middle Ages, the French Navy is one of the oldest still in continual service. It has taken part in key events in French history, and played a critical role in establishing and securing the French colonial empire
for over 400 years.
The history of French naval power dates back to the Middle Ages
, and had three loci of evolution:
- The Mediterranean Sea, where the Ordre de Saint-Jean de Jérusalem had its own navy, the Levant Fleet, whose principal ports were Fréjus, Marseille, and Toulon. The Ordre, which was both a religious and military order, recruited knights from the families of French nobility. Members who had fulfilled their service at sea were granted the rank of Knights Hospitaller, elites who served as the officer corps. The Ordre was one of the ancestors of modern French naval schools including the French Naval Academy.
- The Manche along Normandy which, since William the Conqueror, always tendered capable marines and sailors from its numerous active seaports.
- The Atlantic Ocean, where the navy of the Duchy of Brittany eventually constituted the nucleus of the royal Flotte du Ponant, which projected French naval power across the Atlantic and the Americas.
Names and symbols
The original symbol of the French Navy was a golden anchor
, which, beginning in 1830, was interlaced by a sailing rope
; this symbol was featured on all naval vessels, arms, and uniforms.
Although anchor symbols are still used on uniforms, a new naval logo was introduced in 1990 under Naval Chief of Staff
Bernard Louzeau, featuring a modern design that incorporates the tricolour—
by flanking the bow section of a white warship with two ascending red and blue spray foams—and the inscription "Marine nationale
The historic "Golden Anchor" symbol
Cardinal Richelieu personally supervised the Navy until his death in 1643.
He was succeeded by his protégé, Jean Baptiste Colbert
, who introduced the first code of regulations of the French Navy, and established the original naval dockyards in Brest
Colbert and his son, the Marquis de Seignelay
, between them administered the Navy for twenty-nine years.
Armament of a frigate in Brest, 1773
Napoleon inspecting the fleet of Cherbourg in May 1811 (by Rougeron and Vignerot)
After Napoleon's fall in 1815, the long era of Anglo-French rivalry on the seas began to close, and the Navy became more of an instrument for expanding the French colonial empire
Under King Charles X
, the two nations' fleets fought side by side in the Battle of Navarino
, and throughout the rest of the century they generally behaved in a manner that paved the way for the Entente Cordiale
During the latter part of the century, French officers developed the so-called Jeune École
(Young School) theory that emphasized the use of small, cheap torpedo boats
to destroy expensive battleships
, coupled with long-range commerce raiders to attack an opponent's merchant fleet.
The first seaplane
, the French Fabre Hydravion
, was flown in 1910, and the first seaplane carrier
, was christened in the following year.
Despite that innovation, the general development of the French Navy slowed down in the beginning of the 20th century as the naval arms race between Germany and Great Britain grew in intensity. It entered World War I
with relatively few modern vessels, and during the war few warships were built because the main French effort was on land. While the British held control of the North Sea, the French held the Mediterranean, where they mostly kept watch on the Austro-Hungarian Navy
The largest operations of the Navy were conducted during the Dardanelles Campaign
In December 1916, during the Noemvriana
events, French warships also bombarded Athens
, trying to force the pro-German government of Greece to change its policies.
The French Navy also played an important role in countering Germany's U-boat campaign
by regularly patrolling the seas and escorting convoys.
A frégate antiaérienne type 70 Cassard
From the start of World War II
, the Navy was involved in a number of operations, participating in the Battle of the Atlantic
, the Norwegian Campaign
, the Dunkirk evacuation
and, briefly, the Battle of the Mediterranean
. However, after the fall of France
in June 1940, the Navy was obligated to remain neutral under the terms of the armistice that created the truncated state of Vichy France
. Worldwide, some 100 naval vessels and their crews heeded General Charles de Gaulle
's call to join forces with the British, but the bulk of the fleet, including all its capital ships, transferred loyalty to Vichy. Concerned that the German Navy
might somehow gain control of the ships, the British mounted an attack on Mers-el-Kébir
, the Algerian city where many of them were harbored. The incident poisoned Anglo-French relations, leading to Vichy reprisals and a full-scale naval battle at Casablanca
in 1942 when the Allies invaded French North Africa
. But the confrontations were set aside once the Germans occupied Vichy France
. The capital ships were a primary goal of the occupation, but before they could be seized they were scuttled by their own crews
. A few small ships and submarines managed to escape in time, and these joined de Gaulle's Free French Naval Forces
, an arm of Free France
that fought as an adjunct of the Royal Navy
until the end of the war. In the Pacific theatre
as well, Free French vessels operated until the Japanese capitulation; Richelieu
was present at the Japanese Instrument of Surrender
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. You can help by adding to it
. (December 2020)
French navy facilities in metropolitan France (status 2015)
The chief of the naval staff is Vice-admiral d’escadre Arnaud de Tarlé
and as of 2014 the Navy has an active strength of 36,776 military personnel and 2,909 civilian staff.
The Navy is organised into four main operational branches:
In addition, the National Gendarmerie
of France maintain a maritime force of patrol boats that falls under the operational command of the French Navy:
During most of the Cold War, the Navy was organised in two squadrons based in Brest and Toulon, commanded by ALESCLANT (Amiral commandant l'escadre de l'Atlantique
) and ALESCMED (Amiral commandant l'escadre de la Méditerranée
) respectively. Since the post-Cold War restructuring process named Optimar '95, the two components have been divided into the Naval Action Force (commanded by ALFAN) and the Antisubmarine Group (commanded by ALGASM).
Main naval bases
Ships and submarines
The French Naval Aviation is officially known as the Aéronautique navale
and was created on the 19 June 1998 with the merging of Naval patrol aircraft and aircraft carrier squadrons. It has a strength of around 6,800 civilian and military personnel operating from four airbases in Metropolitan France. The Aéronavale is currently in the process of modernisation with a total order of 40 Rafale
light fighters on order. Forty have so far been delivered and operate from the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle
Seamen must be at least 17 but no more than 24 years old, with a minimum level of schooling.
Petty officers must be at least 17 but no more than 24 years old, with at least a high school diploma giving access to university studies. Petty Officer Candidate begin training with five months at the Petty Officer School at Brest
Contract officers serve on an initial eight-year contract, renewable up to 20 years.
- Operational officers must be 21 to 26 years old, with at least a Bachelor of Science degree, or having passed a classe préparatoire aux grandes écoles in engineering or business.
- Staff officers have to be 21 to 29 years old, with an honors degree or master's degree in a field corresponding to the military occupational specialty.
- Less than 22 years old, having passed a classe préparatoire in science. After four years at the École Navale (naval academy) a cadet will graduate as Enseigne de Vaisseau with an engineering degree.
- Less than 25 years old, having an honors degree in science. After three years at the naval academy a cadet will graduate as Enseigne de Vaisseau with an engineering degree.
- Less than 27 years old, having a master's degree. After two years at the naval academy a cadet will graduate as an Enseigne de Vaisseau.
Customs and traditions
insignia of the French Navy are worn on shoulder straps of shirts and white jackets, and on sleeves for navy jackets and mantels. Until 2005, only commissioned officers
had an anchor on their insignia, but enlisted personnel
are now receiving them as well. Commanding officers have titles of capitaine
, but are called commandant
(in the army, both capitaine
are ranks, which tends to stir some confusion among the public). The two highest ranks, vice-amiral d'escadre
), are functions, rather than ranks. They are assumed by officers ranking vice-amiral
). The only amiral de la flotte
(Admiral of the Fleet
) was François Darlan
after he was refused the dignity of amiral de France
(Admiral of France
). Equivalent to the dignity of Marshal of France
, the rank of amiral de France
remains theoretical in the Fifth Republic
; it was last granted in 1869, during the Second Empire
, but retained during the Third Republic
until the death of its bearer in 1873. The title of amiral de la flotte
was created so that Darlan would not have an inferior rank than his counterpart in the British Royal Navy
, who had the rank of Admiral of the Fleet
Unlike in the French Army
and air and space force
, one does not prepend mon
to the name of the rank when addressing an officer (that is, not mon capitaine,
but simply capitaine
Addressing a French Navy lieutenant de vaisseau
(for instance) with a "mon capitaine
" will attract the traditional answer "Dans la Marine il y a Mon Dieu et mon cul, pas mon capitaine!
" ("In the Navy there are My God and my arse, no 'my captain'!")
The Toulon band in Brest
The main military musical unit of the French Navy is the Band of the Toulon
: La musique des équipages de la flotte de Toulon
), founded on 13 July 1827.
The Bagad Lann Bihoue
, based on the bagad
bands in Bretagne
, is currently the sole bagpipe
band in the French Navy.
On 9 January 2014 it was announced that the two remaining Batrals
in French service would be replaced in 2016/17 by three 1500-tonne (empty) Bâtiments Multimission
(B2M) at a cost of ~€100m (US$136m), later increased to four.
DCNS has funded the construction of the Gowind-class corvette L'Adroit
and loaned her to the MN for fishery patrols to support an overseas marketing campaign for the design. The Durance class
will be replaced under the FLOTLOG project by four derivatives of Italy's Vulcano-class logistic support ship
, to be delivered in 2022–29.
along with four BSAH offshore support vessels. Construction has started on the first of six Barracuda-class nuclear attack submarines
; commissioning of Suffren
took place in 2020. The first MM40 Exocet
Block 3 missile was test-fired in 2010 to be produced. Naval versions of the SCALP EG
land-attack cruise missile are under development, along with a planned Aster Block 1NT
with greater capabilities against ballistic missiles.
In October 2018, the French Ministry of Defence launched an 18-month study for €40 million for the eventual future replacement of the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle
beyond 2030. A decision for the new carrier is scheduled to take place beyond 2025, and the future carrier is to remain in service until beyond 2080.
French naval officers
Heroes of the First Republic
Other important French naval officers
Notable people who served in the French Navy
- Marcel Cerdan, world boxing champion during the 1940s
- Jean Cocteau, poet, novelist, dramatist, designer, playwright, artist and filmmaker
- Jean Cras, composer
- Jacques-Yves Cousteau
- Philippe de Gaulle, the son of the general Charles de Gaulle
- Alain Delon, actor, served as a fusilier marin in the First Indochina War
- Bob Denard, a mercenary notorious for coup attempts and wars in Africa
- Jean Gabin, another major French actor, he joined the free French naval force during the Second World War
- Paul Gauguin, painter, sculptor, print-maker, ceramist, and writer
- Bernard Giraudeau, actor, film director, scriptwriter, producer and writer
- André Marty, a leading figure in the French Communist Party from 1923 to 1955
- Albert II, Prince of Monaco, reserve Lieutenant Commander
- Pierre Loti, mostly known for his literary works
- Albert Roussel, composer
- Michel Serres, philosopher and author
- Eric Tabarly, yachtsman
- Victor Segalen, ethnographer, archaeologist, writer, poet, explorer, art-theorist, linguist and literary critic
- Eugène Sue, a famous 19th-century novelist
- Paul Emile Victor, an ethnologist and polar explorer
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Last edited on 5 June 2021, at 23:36
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