The Allies decided to take the port of Dakar, first trying a negotiation conducted by General Charles de Gaulle leader of the Free French Forces based out of England. If that failed then the vessel would be taken by force. Several Free French aircraft were launched from the HMS Ark Royal and landed at the Dakar airfield. However these pilots were taken prisoner and had their planes confiscated. The negotiation was not successful and the French Vichy collaborators went on to fight for the Nazis against the Free French and Allied forces - a stain of blood on whatever honor France still held. The three-day Battle of Dakar began on September 23th.The Allied forces consisted of 2 battleships - the HMS Resolution and HMS Barham, 1 aircraft carrier - the HMS Ark Royal, 5 cruisers, 10 destroyers and 8,000 invasion troops. The Axis Vichy French forces were comprised of 1 battleship - the Richelieu, 2 cruisers, 4 destroyers, 3 submarines and coastal gun emplacements.
The Allied fleet first bombarded the coastal defenses while the Vichy forces returned fire against the Allied fleet. Richelieu was hit by two 15" shells from the battleship HMS Barham, putting one of her 15" cannons out of service. On Richelieu, this proved to be her first day of firing her main guns in anger and this was against the British ships. Results proved disappointing when guns Seven and Eight failed in turret Number 2 when firing their first shells respectively. The cause proved to be the use of incorrect propellant charges which caused the 380mm shell to stick in the barrel and the resulting gas to "blow back" into the turret, damaging the breech mechanism as a result. It was then decided to use a smaller amount of propellant charge but this only served to significantly reduce the range and accuracy of the 15" shells - not a strong beginning for the pride of the French fleet.
In two days, Richelieu fired only a total of 24 rounds and did not score any hits on Allied ships. All of her gunnery crews were not onboard for the action, assigned instead to the shore batteries and it was here that the French found some success in scoring hits against Allied ships. The running battle forces the Allies to withdraw and lose capture of the port. There was great concern given to Frenchmen killing Frenchmen. Repairs on the damage Richelieu were underway in the port of Dakar and additional anti-aircraft mounts were added from the damaged French destroyer Audacieux and other vessels. She remained only partially seaworthy by this time and could only make 14 knots due to the damage received following the actions at Mers el-Kebir where she lost her forth propeller. By April of 1941, she was patrolling the African coast and received her first radar installation as well as three Loire seaplanes. She remained in African waters until November 1942 when the Allies officially invaded North Africa. The Allied success in the campaign saw some of the remaining Vichy forces join their Free French brothers for the Allied cause for the duration of the war. The Richelieu eventually fell into Allied hands.
The Richelieu was formally inspected by Allied naval engineers and found to be unfit for duty. The decision was to refit her at the Brooklyn Naval yard in New York, USA. Before she could sail under the Brooklyn Bridge, her highest antenna had to be removed. Knowing replacement of the 15" barrels was required, the Free French removed four barrels from her sister ship - the Jean Bart. In dry dock, her forth propeller and shaft were replaced, now allowing her to make 30.2 knots. The aircraft hangar and cranes were removed to make room for additional anti-aircraft batteries. Also removed were the 13.2mm heavy machine guns and the 37mm anti-aircraft cannon mounts. Replacing them were 48x20mm anti-aircraft guns in single mountings. Her rather simplistic radar was replaced by the latest air and surface radar. Her rear mast was shortened, allowing her to sail under the Brooklyn Bridge and two new and improved range finders were mounted on her foremast. The additional guns and superstructure changes resulted in her surface displacement increasing by 3,000 tons but, by this time, the limitations of the Washington Naval Treaty were a thing of the past. Richelieu performed so poorly as a gunnery platform that her new shells and power charges were now being shipped in from the United States.
On October 14th, 1943 Richelieu sailed from the Brooklyn navy yard to the British naval base at Scapa Flow. She remained with the British Home Fleet until March of 1944 and aided operations off of the Norwegian coast. Soon afterwards she was transferred to the British Eastern Fleet and used for replacement when other battleships were in dry dock undergoing repairs. She was then involved in a number of operations with the British Fleet in the Far East against the Japanese Empire. In April of 1944 she was sent to Ceylon, joining Task Force 65 for "Operation Cockpit" - a bombing raid by two Allied naval forces on April 19th against a Japanese port and oil facilities on Sabang Island off of Sumatra. In May of 1944, the Task Force (including Richelieu) moved on with "Operation Transom" - a bombing raid against Japanese naval and air targets on and around Surabaya, Java by American and British planes to be conducted on May 17th, 1944. Looking for targets in the area, the force attacked Pedal in June and on to Sabang and Sumatra in "Operation Crimson" in mid July of 1944.
In September Richelieu was ordered to Casablanca for a major six-month refit. Now resupplied and rearmed, she was reassigned to the British East Indies Fleet at the Allied base at Trincomalee, arriving there on March 20th, 1945. She was assigned to Task Force 63 in April just in time for bombardment operations of Sabang and the Nicobar Islands until early May. With her shells and powder almost exhausted she needed another refit, this time at Durban until August. On her way back to her base at Trincomalee, the Japanese had officially surrendered to the Allied powers, thusly formally ending combat actions in World War 2. In September of 1945, Richelieu remained under British command and supported the re-occupation of British Malaya. On her way back, she struck a magnetic mine causing her to need minor repair. However, she was able to represent France at the Japanese Surrender in Tokyo Harbor during the "Show of Force" and official surrender signing.
After the surrender, France ordered Richelieu to escort a French troop convoy to Indochina to re-establish French colonial rule. She remained in Indochina (Viet Nam) waters to support French troops and bombard shore targets during the French Indochina War. Needing resupply, she sailed for France in February of 1946 and was sent to show the flag in port calls at Portugal and Britain, serving as the Presidential ship taking Charles de Gaulle to Africa. She returned to French waters on January 30th, 1956, for the only time in her career and maneuvered with her sister ship Jean Bart for the day. Soon after, she was used as a training ship for upcoming French Naval candidates then as an accommodation ship until, finally, she was put into reserve in 1958. She remained in that status until January of 1968 and was redesignated as "Q432" before finally being scrapped in Genoa in September of 1968. Currently, the only remaining part of the largest battleship built in France is one of her mighty 15" guns held at Brest harbor.
Richelieu served both the Axis and Allied forces during World War 2 yet did not sink a single enemy ship. As a much-feared battleship design, she was more or less a failure concerning her primary purpose.
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