When the French Navy required an all-modern aircraft carrier during the tumultuous Cold War years, it selected a conventionally-powered helicopter carrier as the FS Jeanne d'Arc (R97). The vessel saw its keel laid down in 1959 with official launching in 1961. She was formally commissioned into French Navy service in 1964. While an aircraft carrier in the general sense, the Jeanne d'Arc was a true helicopter carrier, her air wing composed of nothing but rotary-wing aircraft. Her onboard facilities supported up to ten various helicopter types depending on mission requirements. Jeanne d'Arc served in the helicopter carrier and training roles until finally decommissioned on September 1st, 2010. During her time at sea, Jean d'Arc she was given the nickname of "La Jeanne" and based out of Brest along the French northwest coast. Today (2014), the decommissioned vessel awaits her fate - most likely to be scrapped.
Originally, Jeanne d'Arc (R97) was to carry the name of "La Resolue" due to the fact that the original 1930s-era FS Jeane d'Arc cruiser remained in active French navy service. However, the original ship was decommissioned during 1964 in time for the new vessel to take up the name. Jeanne d'Arc (R97) served as the only vessel of her class.
As built, Jeanne d'Arc displaced 10,575 tons under standard load and 12,365 tons under full load. Her length measured 597 feet with a beam of 79 feet and draught of 25 feet. Propulsion was conventional in utilization of two geared steam turbines generating 40,000 horsepower output to 2 x shafts. This arrangement allowed for a maximum sea-going speed of 28 knots and range out to 7,500 nautical miles. Her complete crew complement numbered 627 to include 31 officers. She fielded a variety of sensors and systems including air/surface search radar, sonar, fire control, and navigation set along her main mast. Her defensive suite was led by 6 x Exocet-38 series anti-ship missile launchers (two banks of three launchers) with 2 x 100mm autocannons (the guns eventually removed in 2000). Short-range defense was through 4 x 12.7mm heavy machine guns.
The most important quality of this (and any) helicopter carrier was the flight deck - measuring 203.4 feet wide - designed to manage several helicopters simultaneously (depending on size). Hangar facilities were available for full-service work below the flight deck with an aft-elevator allowing the necessary access. Storage room also allowed the vessel to carry an array of munition options for her helicopter fleet.
Having only to serve helicopter aircraft, the general arrangement of Jeanne d'Arc was quite different from other aircraft carriers of the period. Her design was given a flight deck set over the stern with a smaller quarterdeck section fitted. The platform extended forwards to about midships. The bridge was set high on the sole superstructure which, itself, was fitted just ahead of amidships with a single smoke funnel seen aft. Her defensive armament was centralized ahead of the bridge superstructure along a sub-deck. The autocannons were at single turrets straddling either side of the bridge superstructure with the Exocet missile launchers in a pair of outward-facing, three-launcher units just ahead and in between.
During the course of her career, Jeanne d'Arc served training, support, and combat roles. During peacetime, she was a school for officer cadets but always reserved the capability to be readied for wartime service - primarily in support of amphibious operations where her helicopter-launching capabilities could be put to good use. Additionally, her internal space was such that the vessel could support up to 700 infantry prior to landing this force ashore by air or landing craft (LCVP). When stocked with Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) helicopter types, the carrier could also be called upon to hunt enemy submarines down through sonar and torpedoes.
The final cruise of Jeanne d'Arc (R97) was in 2009, her tenure fully ended in 2010.