In the early years of the Cold War (1947-1991) period, the French Navy adopted two aircraft carriers in the Clemenceau-class - lead-ship FS Clemenceau (R98) and her sister FS Foch (R99) (the latter detailed elsewhere on this site). Both were conventionally-powered types of French origin fielding about forty aircraft and both went through periods of modernization during the latter Cold War stages to keep them viable fighting instruments. While Foch was sold off to Brazil to become NAe Sau Paulo (detailed elsewhere on this site) in Brazilian Navy service, Clemenceau was stripped and ultimately scrapped in the late 2000s.
FS CLemenceau (R98) was named after World War 1 French leader Georges Benjamin Clemenceau (1841-1929) and began construction at the port at St. Nazaire before seeing completion at the Brest shipyard. Her keel was laid down during November of 1955 and she was launched on December 21st, 1957. Formal commissioning followed on November 22nd, 1961. The warship "homeported" out of Brest for the duration of her time at sea and was known by the nickname "Clem".
In the immediate post-World War 2 (1939-1945) period, the French joined other world powers in continued use of aircraft carriers to head the main fleet. The enemy of the day was now the Soviet Union and its vaunted submarine force. The aircraft carrier, however, proved itself "King of the Seas" during the fighting of World War 2 so nearly all Western naval powers invested in maintaining a healthy fleet of aircraft-launching vessels that could bring the battle to the enemy anytime, anywhere.
The Clemenceau-class was being drawn up as soon as the early 1950s at which point the French Navy sought as many as six indigenously designed, developed and constructed ships of the standard. However, constraints soon led to just two being built - FS Clemencea and FS Foch. The ships carried a displacement of about 22,000 tons under standard load and up to 32,800 tons under full load. Dimensions included a running length of 869 feet, a beam of 168 feet and a draught down to 28 feet. Power was from 6 x Indret boilers feeing 4 x Steam turbines developing 126,000 horsepower to 2 x Shafts under stern.
The flight deck was of a typical "straight-through" design incorporating an angled section of runway over the port side allowing the vessel to launch multiple aircraft simultaneously. The island superstructure was offset to the starboard side and hangar elevators allowed the aircraft access to the resupply/maintenance decks below. Up to forty combat warplanes and support platforms could be carried including the French-made Dassault Etendard series as well as the American Vought F-8 Crusader. Self-defense was through 8 x 100mm turrets and later (1990s) modernized with 4 x Crotale Surface-to-Air Missile (SAM) systems at the expense of four 100mm turrets. The crew complement amounted to around 1,900 including vital air arm personnel and onboard security.
The warship carried the usual sensors, processing and communications systems to cover air-search, surface-search, navigation and fire control operations.
Once taken into service, FS Clemenceau and her sister marked the first purpose-built carriers for the French Navy. As such, the pair was under constant revision throughout their service lives. In 1962, she joined NATO exercises in Mediterranean waters and attempted to locate the wreckage of the lost submarine FS Minerve (S647) in 1968 (the vessel was never found). French nuclear testing then saw the carrier stationed in the Pacific as flagship of a forty-strong French naval presence in the region of Polynesia. From 1974 to 1977, she was stationed in the Indian Ocean during Operation Saphir I and Saphir II during the independence of Djibouti. In 1983-1984, she was stationed in Gulf waters during the Lebanese Civil War (1975-1990) and took part in Operation Promethee in the Gulf of Oman during the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988).
One of her final notable commitments was in the 1991 Gulf War as part of the coalition arranged to defeat Saddam Hussein and his vaunted Iraqi military which has invaded neighboring Kuwait the year prior. Beyond this the warship was committed for a time to the Yugoslav Wars of the 1990s as part of the UN involvement there. Her decommissioning followed on October 1st, 1997.
With her service time now over, Clemenceau was set aside for scrapping. An initiative to have her scrapped in India was abandoned due to protests so a British-based firm handled this action. The work began in late 2009 and ended in 2010.
FS Clemenceau was replaced in French Navy service by FS Charles de Gaulle (R91). de Gaulle, another conventionally-powered French carrier design, was launched in May of 1994 and continues in service with the French Fleet today (2018).
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