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Fleets in September 1939

British Royal Navy, French and German navies

The fleets in September 1939 with ship classes, ships under construction and deployment of the Royal Navy, French and German navies.

ROYAL NAVY

At the beginning of the War, the Royal Navy was the most powerful in the world. It had the largest number of ships and a network of naval bases and coaling stations around the globe.
Before mobilisation the strength of the Navy was 9,762 officers and 109,170 ratings. In January 1939 there were in addition 51,485 men in the Royal Fleet Reserve, 10,038 in the Royal navy Reserve (mainly serving in the Merchant Navy), 2,049 in the Royal Navy Auxiliary Sick Berth and Wireless Auxiliary reserves, and 6,180 in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve.

Ships of the Royal Navy Numbers Ship classes under construction
Battleships
15
2 Nelson, 1 Hood, 2 Renown, 5 Royal Sovereign, 5 Queen Elizabeth
Aircraft Carriers
7
1 Ark Royal, 2 Courageous, 1 Furious, 1 Eagle, 1 Hermes, 1 Argus
6
Heavy Cruisers
15
2 Exeter, 13 County (2 Australian)
Light Cruisers
41
2 Edinburgh, 8 Southampton, 4 Artehusa, 3 Sydney (Australian), 5 Leander (2 New Zealand), 2 Emerald, 3 Effingham, 8 Despatch, 2 Cardiff, 3 Caledon, 1 Adelaide (Australian)
9
Anti-Aircraft Cruisers
8
8 Cairo
16
Minelayer Cruiser
1
Adventure
1
Modern Destroyers
113
 
24
Old Destroyers
68
 
Modern Submarines
53
 
11
Old Submarines
12
 
Escorts
54
(4 Australian, 2 Indian)
80
Fleet Minesweepers
44
 
10
Monitors
2
 

Royal Navy dispositions in European waters in September 1939 were as follows:

Ships / Fleets Home Fleet
(Scapa Flow, Admiral Forbes)
North Atlantic Command (Rear-Admiral Wodehouse) Home Waters
Mediterranean
(Alexandria)
Battleships
7
2
3
Aircraft Carriers
2
2
1
Cruisers
15
2
5
6
Destroyers
17
9
65
31 + 4 escorts
Minesweepers
7
2
12
5
Submarines
21
2
-
10

Escort vessels served worldwide, while a number of ships of all types were undergoing refit, were in reserve, or being used on miscellaneous duties such as training.
Captains commanded battleships, battlecruisers, cruisers and aircraft carriers, which were organised in squadrons of between two and nine ships under a rear-admiral. Eight destroyers, each in the charge of a commander, plus a specially fitted leader commander by a captain, usually comprised a flotilla.
The Fleet Air Arm as it was known went to war with 190 aeroplans in aircraft and seaplane carriers; plus spotter floatplanes mounted on catapults in capital ships and cruisers.

 

FRENCH NAVY

In January 1937 France began a programme of modernisation and expansion which elevated the French Fleet to fourth largest in the world, although it was considerably smaller than that of her ally, Great Britain.
On 23 August 1939 Navy reservists were called up, anti-aircraft defences manned, and liaison officers were exchanged with the Royal Navy. By 1 September 1939 the strength of the French Navy was 160,000 personnel of all ranks.

Ships of the French Navy Numbers Ship classes under construction
Battleships
7
2 Courbet, 3 Bretagne, 2 Dunkerque
4 (Richelieu)
Aircraft Carriers
1
1 Bearn
2
Heavy Cruisers
7
2 Duquesne, 4 Suffren, Algerie
Light Cruisers
12
3 Duguay Trouin, 1 La Tour D'Auvergne (minelayer), 1 Jeanne D'Arc (training ship), 1 Emile Bertin, 6 La Galissoniere
3
Destroyers
78
6 Chacal, 18 Bison, 6 Le Fantasque, 2 Mogador, 26 Bourrasque, 8 Le Hardi, 12 La Flore
27
Submarines
81
1 Surcouf (submarine cruiser), 9 Requin, 29 Redoutable, 3 Roland Morillot, 6 Saphir, 1 Aurora, 32 Amazone
38
Minesweepers and Gunboats
56
33 old gunboats from WWI, 8 Bougainville, 12 Elan, 3 Chamois
30 (Chamois)

The deployment of the French navy on the outbreak of war was as follows:

Ships/Fleets Mediterranean
(Toulon and Mers-el-Kebir, Vice-Admiral Godfroy)
Atlantic
(Brest, Vice-Admiral Gensoul)
Bay of Biscay Channel Casablanca Indo-China
Battleships
3
Battlecruisers
2
Aircraft Carrier
1
Seaplane Carrier
1
Cruisers
10
3
2
Destroyers
48
10
3
7
2
5
Submarines
53
4
2

The early war strength of the Fleet Air Arm (Aeronavale) was four squadrons of dive-bombers, two of seaplanes and one of flying boats. They were all intended to be shipborne, although the employment of the two rather slow carriers on ferrying duties meant that the aircraft had to be shore-based, apart from those planes mounted on capital ship and cruiser catapults.
In 1939, naval aircraft strength was 350 planes.

 

GERMAN NAVY

The Treaty of Versailles strictly limited the size of the German Navy and forbade the design or construction of submarines, aircraft carriers, naval aircraft or heavy coastal artillery. The displacement of new vessels was limited to 10,000 tons.
Hitler chose to ignore the restrictive terms of the treaty, but was also anxious to remain on good terms with England. On 18 June 1935 the Anglo-German Naval Treaty was signed and while this limited the strength of the German Navy to 35 per cent of that of the Royal Navy, it permitted Germany to have submarines and all other types of ships forbidden her under the Treaty of Versailles. An ambitious programme of ship-building (the 'Z' plan) was set under way in 1937, and by September 1939 the Germany Navy comprised:

Ships of the German Navy Numbers Ship classes under construction
Battleships
2
2 Scharnhorst
11 (only 2 Bismarck finish)
Old Battleships
2
2 Schlesien  
Pocket Battleships
3
1 Deutschland, 2 Admiral Scheer  
Aircraft Carriers
 
2 (Graf Zeppelin, none finish)
Heavy Cruisers
2
2 Admiral Hipper
3 (only 1 finish)
Light Cruisers
6
1 Emden, 3 Königsberg, 1 Leipzig, 1 Nürnberg
6 (none finish)
Destroyers
22
16 Leberecht Maass, 6 von Roeder
12
Torpedo Boats
20
6 Möwe, 6 Wolf, 8 T1
13
Submarines
62
6 Type IIA, 18 Type IIB, 2 Type IA, 10 Type VIIA, 8 Type IXA, 11 Type VIIB, 7 Type VIIC
50

German merchant fleet: 400 ocean-going merchant ships ( more than 3/4 overseas at the time of the outbreak of WW2).


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