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In the initial period after Second World War the French navy had 5 aircraft carriers, the oldest of which was constructed before the war, but their value was very limited. The French navy, in order to eliminate these older ships, thus designed these two light fleet carriers which were laid down in the mid-1950s.

Conceived before the arrival of General de Gaulle, the Clemenceau and Foch aircraft carriers made it possible to affirm the French policy of independence with regard to Atlantic Alliance and to affirm the sovereignty of France. After the Second World War already, the construction of an aircraft carrier Clemenceau, the PA-28, had been considered but the idea had been abandoned. Put on hold in November 1955, Clemenceau was launched in December 1957, entered in service in November 1961 and carried out its first sortie at sea in 1963.

These vessels incorporated all the advances in carrier design made in the immediate postwar period. They served the French Navy in both European and Pacific waters, with operations in the latter supporting of the remaining French colonial territories and nuclear testing. They were among the most powerful units in the Mediterranean and at least one carrier was off Lebanon at all times when French military units were ashore as part of the international peacekeeping forces in Beirut. Following the paying-off of the British aircraft carrier Ark Royal these were for a time the largest units in any European navy.

The Clemenceau class aircraft carriers were of conventional in design. The flight deck extends 543ft (165.5m) by 97ft (29.5m) and is angled at 8 degrees to the ship's axis. The forward aircraft elevator is offset to starboard, and the after elevators is positioned on the deck edge to increase hangar capacity. One of the two 170ft (52m) catapults is to port, while the other catapult is on the angled deck. The hangar deck, which is offset to port, has a usable length of 499ft (152m) and a width of 72-79ft (22-24m). It has 23ft (7m) overhead clearance.

A new generation of aircraft was designed to operate from these carriers. Two flights each of ten Etendard IVM ground support fighters (with integral reconnaissance capability) were initially embarked, along with a flight of Alize turbo-prop ASW aircraft, while F-8E Crusaders were purchased from the USA in 1963 and from 1966 made up the interceptor flight.

On December 19, 1956, government officials awarded a contract to design, produce and fine-tune a ship-borne Etendard IV M, a low- and medium-altitude strike and fighter plane for use on Clemenceau-class vessels. Between December 9, 1961, and May 26, 1965, the French Navy's air arm took delivery of 69 Etendard IV Ms and 21 Etendard IV Ps - and went on to clock transonic speeds for the first time in its history. The Etendard IV Ms served in the French Navy until July 1991, in a ship-borne fighter school, the Squadron 59 S of Hyres, which they had entered in October 1965.

The Etendard IVM was then replaced by the Super Etendard, which can carry Exocet anti-ship missiles and has a nuclear strike capability. The Super-Etendard was France's first combat aircraft featuring modern weapon outfits. But the relatively small size of the ships, together with the limited capacity (20 tons) of the elevators and catapults has made it difficult to find a replacement for the F-8Es. A further limitation on the effectiveness of these ships is their lack of integral airborne early warning (AEW) aircraft. and they would have the same problem as the British Task Force in the 1982 South Atlantic war if the were to deploy against a reasonably sophisticated enemy. Both carriers normally embark two Super Frelon ASW helicopters and two Alouette IIIs.

As of 1985 plans Clemenceau was due to payoff in 1995, followed by Foch in 1998, but this depended upon satisfactory progress with the new nuclear carriers. Meanwhile, both were upgraded at their refits, which included replacing four 100mm guns by Naval Crotale SAM launchers. Clemenceau underwent refit from 01 September 1985 through 31 August 1989, which included remodelling construction such as anti-aircraft missiles. Foch was under refit from February 1987 to early 1988.

Affected to the squadron of the Mediterranean of 1960 to 1965, Clemenceau passed then in the Atlantic then operated in the Pacific and the Indian Ocean in the Sixties, and took part in the 1991 Gulf War. A qenuine instrument of sovereignty, just like Foch, this ship was armed with sea-to-air missiles Crotale EDIR and guns of 100 mm. She had an armored bridge and Sagaie chaff launcher.

In the Navy, officers will not soon forget the mutiny of 1999 aboard aircraft carrier Foch. Some 60 volunteers, all of Maghreb parents, had taken their officer hostage. After being entrenched for two days in the aircraft carrier's cafeteria, they had to be dislodged by a squadron commando. These "beurs" were reacting against a collective punishment inflicted on a rebellion during a mission off Yugoslavia in which the Super-Etendards had strikes on Kossovo considered by the Muslim recruits to be a Islamic shrine.

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Page last modified: 09-04-2017 16:01:36 ZULU