The French aircraft carrier Bearn was based on the hull of the Normandie-class of French battleships and was designed as an experimental aircraft carrier from the outset. Appearing in the relatively peaceful interwar years, the craft operated under such a guise until pressed into full operational service as a combat aircraft carrier by the time of the German invasion of France. Desperate to stem the invasion at whatever cost, the French government dug deep to find ways to accomplish the defense of France even if that meant enlisting this outdated and outclassed system crewed by personnel with neither the aircraft or tactics to meet the demand. In any case, the vessel was pressed into service but did little in the way of offensive measure, serving primarily as transportation for aircraft.
Layout of the Bearn was a bit conventional for the time. The island was held in a forward starboard side position and incorporated the smoke funnel, cargo crane and main communications mast into the design. The flight deck made up nearly all of the available top-space and featured at least three hangar elevators at fore, aft and amidships. Power was provided by 2 x shaft Parsons geared and 2 x shaft reciprocating triple expansion turbines (original to the Normandie-class design) delivering about 36,200 shaft horsepower with attainable top speeds of 21.5 knots. Her crew complement consisted of between 865 and 875 personnel as needed and she could field between 35 and 40 aircraft of various makes and types. Armament was a mix of offensive and defensive types beginning with her initial loadout of 8 x 155/50mm cannons, 6 x 75/50mm anti-aircraft cannons and 4 x 550mm anti-ship torpedo tubes. In 1935, a refit augmented her armament to include 8 x 37mm anti-aircraft cannons and 16 x 13.2mm anti-aircraft machine guns. In 1944, a further refit restructured her core armament to become 4 x 5" DP (Dual Purpose) main guns, 24 x 40mm anti-aircraft cannons and 26 x 20mm anti-aircraft cannons.
During the Second World War, the Bearn did relatively little in directly confronting German forces with her most notable action in being the hunting of the Admiral Graf Spee alongside British Navy forces while based out of Brest. Instead, the vessel was relegated to aircraft transport vessel (her slow overall speed almost necessitated such a secondary role) and naval pilot training as needed. In one such instance, the Bearn had made her way to the United States to pick up a delivery of US-produced warplanes for French service. By this time, France had capitulated to the German invasion and the Bearn was effectively in limbo. With the support of the United States, the Bearn was harbored at the small Caribbean island of Martinique in an effort to keep her from harms way or under German control should she return home.
Despite her aircraft carrier pedigree, the Bearn was wholly outclassed by the time of full Allied involvement in World War 2. She maintained her transport duties and never was fully used as an offensive weapons platform in the way the Americans and Japanese navies utilized their carrier systems in the Pacific. At any rate, the Bearn still served a useful and vital purpose - albeit in a more behind-the-scenes effort - to ensure Allied victory in Europe. As the story goes with most ships related to World War 2, the Bearn served a short time after the war, primarily as a training platform and ocean-going depot and a time during the French-Indochina involvement.
Construction of the Bearn began in 1914 under La Seyne and she was launched in 1920. The Bearn was officially commissioned in 1927 and served up until 1967 to which she was dismantled and scrapped. Her name was struck from the register that same year.
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