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Posts posted by Urza3142

  1. Marcel Bruno-Gensoul: How to sink a rising star


    Military officers have two duties to fulfill in their service. The obvious one is their obligation to serve their nation and carry out the missions assigned to them. Indeed many of the most vilified officers in history are notorious because of their perceived failure to uphold this first duty. The second duty is remarked upon less but is just as important to an officer’s effectiveness. They have a duty to their men, specifically to preserve their command and maintain its ability to resist the enemy and carry out the nation’s orders. While it may often seem like the two goals are opposed in many situations, the decent commanders find a way to make the best of any situation for both their country and their men. Unfortunately, the debacle at Mers El Kebir proved that Marcel Bruno-Gensoul was not one of those commanders. 

    Finding biographical information about the late Marcel Bruno-Gensoul was difficult, but he was born in the city of Montpelier in southern France in 1880. He joined the French Navy in 1898 and was promoted to the rank of ensign in 1903. By the time WW1 began, he had experience serving aboard various warships in Asia, Mediterranean Sea, and Syria. During the inter-war years, he rose in rank steadily, reaching contre-amiral rank in Oct 1932 and full admiral rank in 1940. Clearly this admiral was a rising star within the French navy of the time period. He also was one of the most anglophilic French admirals of the time according to at least one historian. Supposedly this is on account of him being one of the few Protestants in the French Navy. Most notably, during the Phony War of 1939-40, he participated in Franco-British combined operations in the North Atlantic, during which time he had ships of the Royal Navy, particularly HMS Hood, under his direct command.

    After the French surrender, he was actually visited by Admiral Dudley North who attempted to persuade him to continue the war with the British. Gensoul apparently made it clear that he held no ill will towards the British officers, and that he had no intention of letting the Germans get their hands on his squadron at Mers El Kebir. However, he felt loyalty first to the government of the Republic and thus told North that he could only obey Petain’s orders. Indeed, Gensoul’s opinion of the British was good enough that when Darlan informed him of the French government’s acceptance of the Franco-German armistice, Gensoul did not think it was likely that the British would attempt to seize his squadron.

    With hindsight of course this was a foolhardy assumption. Indeed, in my opinion it was naïve within the context of the times as well. The Royal Navy had developed a reputation and a tradition of destroying neutral or unaligned navies when they threatened to make the Royal Navy's position untenable. In addition, Darlan had warned him of the British qualms with the Franco-German Armistice. Even if Gensoul had been unaware of the rapidly worsening state of French-British affairs that had developed after Dunkirk, his decision not to heed the warnings of his direct superior is an indictment of his capacity as a military officer.

    When a destroyer from Force H entered the harbor of Mers El Kebir on the dawn of the 3rd of July, Gensoul was unprepared for the situation he was about to be confronted with. On board the HMS Foxhound was a certain Captain Cedric Holland, a former attache to Paris who had been sent on behalf of Admiral Sommerville to confer with Gensoul. Gensoul interpreted the dispatch of such a junior officer to be an official snub, and responded by sending Flag Lieutenant Dufay (who apparently was a friend of Holland according to one historian) to meet the Captain.

    This turned out to be a major mistake. Unknown to Gensoul, Churchill had forced through a plan to neutralize the French fleet against the wishes of his cabinet and the British Admiralty. Admiral Sommerville had been ordered to scuttle the French fleet if they did not respond to the ultimatum delivered by Holland. According to some sources, Somerville's choice to send Holland instead of meeting with Gensoul in person was motivated by Holland's fluency in French, not by a desire to snub Gensoul. Regardless, the ultimatum was significantly delayed and could not be retrieved by Gensoul until 9AM, by which point he only had 6 hours to formulate a response. 

    The ultimatum contained 3 possible options for Gensoul. First, he could join the Royal Navy and fight against the Germans. Second, he could sail his ships to a channel port under British control and reduced crews. Third, he could take his fleet to the Antilles Islands and the US under British control, where they would be interned for the duration of the war. Failing to accept these options would result in the scuttling of the French fleet being demanded. Otherwise the British task force would open fire on the French ships in harbor. Gensoul ordered his ship's captains to prepare for battle and sent a message to part of the French admiralty in Southern France explaining the situation. He neglected to mention the third option when describing the ultimatum. Even if it would have been rejected by the French government, the omission of such a critical piece of information in a tense standoff was yet another mistake Gensoul made that day. 

    Over the course of the day Gensoul informed the British of his intention to resist with force. It is worth noting that at the same time Admiral Rene-Emile Godroy had came to an agreement with Admiral Cunningham to prevent an attack on the French fleet in Alexandria. While the situation in Alexandria was different from Mers el Kebir, it is worth noting that Alexandria was possible because Cunningham disobeyed Churchill's orders. With Sommerville feeling compelled to carry out Churchill's intentions, the choice for how the confrontation would play out was squarely within the control of Gensoul. Unfortunately, he could not reconcile his desire to avoid a confrontation between the two nations with his understandable reluctance to disobey his government and endanger the Franco-German armistice. He attempted to conduct last minute negotiations between himself and Holland in order to buy time, before finally offering to scuttle his ships in Oran as a compromise almost 2 hours after the expiration of the original ultimatum. Unfortunately, the British were made aware that French reinforcements were closing on the port and thus Churchill ordered Sommerville to put an end to the fair. Since Gensoul had not taken measures to maneuver his ships into a position from which they could effectively resist the British, the result was a one sided slaughter. The battleship Bretagne was sunk while its sister Provence was damaged to the point it sunk in harbor. In addition, the battlecruiser Dunkerque and super destroyer Mogador were both badly damaged. The only capital ship that managed to escape the trap was Strasbourg. 

    Gensoul had been caught off guard at Mers el Kebir. Whether you choose to take the sympathetic or unsympathetic view on his actions and character, what is immeasurably clear is that Gensoul failed to react decisively when confronted with Sommerville’s ultimatum. He failed to take the dispatch of Holland seriously, which cost him precious hours. He did not send the entire contents of the British ultimatum to the French government, which left them without a piece of critical information on the situation. Finally, he could not make up his mind to defy his government, compromise with the British, or prepare for battle until he had run out of time. Whether it was Gensoul’s naive faith in British honor or his own determination to avoid a conflict, Gensoul certainly contributed grievously to the loss of 1200 French sailors and the dissolution of the French Raiding Force. This incident would mark a low point in Vichy French and British relations, and would destroy the career of an otherwise widely respected officer. For failing to fulfill his obligations to his country and his men at a crucial juncture, I judge Gensoul to be one of the worst commanders of the 20th century. 

  2. tldr Where do Belles get their power from if not having their chosen captain is that big of an influence on their effectiveness?

    I want to echo this questioning as it was a source of confusion for me. I was under the impression previously that Belles gave their ships supernatural capabilities, which conveniently allows them to fight the Morgana on closer to equal terms. The statistics provided by the internal memo don't make sense within that context. 

    "Where Navy ships carrying SAs without designated “Captains of the Fleet” seem to be 8 to 15% more effective against the unknown fleets than ships without SAs, the presence of a chosen captain can double or even triple performance according to the metrics proposed by [REDACTED]"

    This statement leads me to believe that either the memo writers are spit-balling a useless/incorrect statistic due to questionable data/questionable data analysis/intentional misrepresentation or that the nature of how a belle derives its supernatural powers was misunderstood by me. 

    We know that both Morganas and Belles are "playing a whole other ball game" and are a step above normal ships. Mention of destroyer armor defeating BB shells has been in previous updates. If that is the case, how is a fleet with a "special advisor" but without a "captain of the fleet" only 8-15% more effective? What would data points in this range even look like in reality? A manifested belle that had her captain reassigned? Why would the absence of a captain lead to such a massive drop in capabilities?

    If what this memo writer writes is the case, it would suggest that far more of a belles capabilities come from her bond with her captain than I was led to believe. Which I would honestly find quite disappointing if that were the case. I'm generally not a fan of stories where we as a protagonist are elevated to such a ridiculous extent that it turns everyone else in said universe into observers rather than other actors. 

  3. https://www.usnwc.edu/getattachment/2b4e5021-2bf4-457b-b529-eeabb0abd3a6/A-Strategy-Has-to-Be-Able-to-Work-to-Be-Masterful-.aspx


    A great essay by Alan Zimm about the flaws within Genda's attack plan.


    To follow up on DrYuriMom, attacking the port facilities and oil fields isn't as clear cut as it seems. It takes an extraordinary amount of munitions to render a dockyard un-operational and this is often a task carried out by heavy bombers. The Japanese carriers simply couldn't carry enough munitions to render Pearl Harbor out of action for more than a trivial amount of time.


    As for oil tanks:

    "Alan Zimm has quite firmly debunked the myth that destroying the oil tank farms would have been easy. As oil silos would take hits, more flames and smoke would obscure the targets. There would be plenty of misses. They could not have been strafed. These were big oil silos with thick sides, floating tops (no oxygen inside the silos), fire suppression systems, berms to prevent leaking fuel from spreading to other silos, and good spacing between them. To overcome such defences, the Japanese would have needed to crack the tanks open with bombs to light them up. I'm not sure if the 60kg bombs that the A6M2s could carry would have done it (I highly doubt it), but in all likelihood they would have needed to use 250kg bombs carried by the D3A1s. Even if theoretically one could light fuel oil inside an oxygen free silo with a fire suppression system by strafing it, the Japanese aircraft capable of strafing which took part in the attack were armed with 7.7mm MGs (D3A1s with 2x7.7mm) and 20mm cannon (A6M2 Model 21s with 2x7.7mm and 2x20mm). The Japanese did not use AP or API ammunition like the Americans. They used AI and fuseless HE in their 7.7mm MGs and several different kinds of HE in their 20mm cannon. These shell types were great for destroying aircraft, but were useless for punching through the thick skin of oil silos.


    Overall, Alan Zimm's conclusion (accepted within the academic community) was that the Japanese could have done significant damage to the oil tank farms (though certainly not 100% destruction as people kind of just assume), but at the cost of a full wave of dive bombers. The results would have been the USN pulling tankers over to Pearl to act as temporary fuel storage while new oil silos were constructed (and the underground facilities then under construction would have no doubt been accelerated). Zimm gave a window for inconveniencing the Pacific Fleet of a few months. Nowhere near the apocalyptic appraisals of Kimmel, Nimitz and the older historiography.


    One can still debate whether or not the value of hitting the oil tank farms was better than, say, hitting various light fleet units in harbour. I don't really have a firm opinion myself, as the argument against bombing the oil tank farms isn't nearly as slam dunk as the silly "destroy the port facilities" nonsense. The Japanese ended up doing neither option anyway, and instead the majority of the second wave dive bombers blew their loads on Nevada (other BBs too IIRC). This is very recent scholarship, so it hasn't yet leaked into the popular conception of the battle. That process can take years, if not decades. The popular understanding of most of WWII is typically 30-50 years out of date compared to where the academic community currently is, simply because the vast majority of people don't have time (or the ability in the case of academic journals) to read the newest books and, more importantly, journal articles on any given subject." (Justin Pyke)

  4. Well as much as I can't stand people who use violence as a method of social interaction, I do feel Pola was an interesting take on a role that I think it necessary in Victory Belles. We've been lacking a good sadistic/violent belle to balance out all the other furballs of fun and joy


    Also, this interview has me interested in what the experience of being boarded must be like for a belle. I can't imagine its pleasant.

  5. Thanks to both Ninja and Metis for helping to give me new perspective on this section.



    You're taking it the wrong way. She's absolutely not downplaying her namesake's achievements. She is simply looking at what made him great, especially from the perspective of his crew. He earned the title of Bestevaer for a reason. He was a father to his men, and more than just a genius. I think that side of him is far more important than his undoubtedly incredible record as an Admiral. It gives you the strength of the man, the size of his character, not just a list of accomplishments.


    I'm aware of this, but something in the footnote mentioned read strangely. I don't think my reaction would be as strong if the line was something along the lines of "he was a well-renowned admiral from the 17th century, beloved for his Christian charity and remembered for his service to the Republic". At the time, it seemed like excessive downplaying for the sake of some undeveloped characteristic of the belle herself.



    Incidentally, and this may be a mistaken impression, but I think there's a local tradition of not glorifying and/or romanticizing history. The fact that history is dependant on who's books you read is a fact that was quite literally a part of my history textbook, and I distinctly remember that accounts of Willem van Orange's assassination that claimed the dying man preached fanciful things like someone who didn't just get fatally shot were mocked and called untrustworthy. History as it is taught here in general has nothing glorious or romantic to it, in fact. The only time it's not about some statistic politely called two opposed armies dying in the name of some manner of cause that may or may not require an explanation as to why it was important at the time it's an aforementioned explanation or something completely dull like an update on economic policies/practices.


    This is a perspective I would have never known about otherwise. My heritage, upbringing, and understanding as a historian was heavily influenced by a sense of romanticism. Even the most unbiased and counter-mainstream arguments HAVE take into account the power of perception and romanticism in relation to the events of the past.

  6. I enjoyed DeRuyter, but that awfully short footnote she gave for her namesake seems a little off...


    Humble is one thing, but describing one of the greatest admirals in history (almost certainly the best dutch admiral in history) as a "nice guy" seems... just plain off.


    Its kind of the equivalent of a British ship describing Nelson as a "wicked dude" or a Korean ship named after Yi Sun-sin calling him "a cool guy".


    Do the Dutch have something against nationalism?


    And just for clarification I'm referring to the footnote she gave before Mahan intervened.

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