By John Nicholas
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Still remaining on the French mainland were Amiral Nord and Amiral Ouest, the former at Dunkirk and the latter at Brest. The Dunkirk appointment was originally held by Amiral Raoul Castex, who was junior only to Darlan himself in the French Naval List; various reasons have been proposed for his being limogé11 on 17 November, but that given to Captain Holland was that Castex had drawn up and forwarded a most pessimistic appreciation of the vulnerability of Dunkirk, advocating planning for the evacuation of the town and demolition of its harbour facilities in the event of a German offensive through Belgium,12 and had pointed out the vulnerability of the Belgian and French Channel ports, which he prophesied would be ‘bombed out of existence’.
In Alexandria, Portsmouth and Plymouth, where the conditions were so much more favourable for the British, the ships were dealt with at the expense of only a few tragically unlucky casualties and much less resentment, but there were still difficulties, and the complexities continued for another two years or so. French warships at Toulon and Algiers were not interfered with at all, and in fact never did come under German control. Shortly after the Torch landings in November 1942, Darlan, now on the Allies’ side, ordered Admiral Laborde, who commanded the French fleet at Toulon, to leave and come over to join him.
4. The ‘Flower’ class, later designated as ‘corvettes’. 5. PRO ADM 116/5458. 6. Reussner, Les conversations, p. 242. 7. Ibid. 8. PRO ADM 205/4. 9. Andrew Cunningham, A Sailor’s Odyssey (London, 1957), pp. 211–12. 10. Reussner, Les conversations, p. 244. Huntziger will feature again later in this account, leading another French mission. 11. , pp. 243, 289. 12. PRO ADM 116/5458. 7 2 The Phoney War On 4 September 1939, the day after the Anglo-French declarations of war, the key departments of the French Admiralty moved out of the Rue Royale to a purpose-built war location in the grounds of the duc de Noailles’s Château de Maintenon, near Chartres.