MartiniPundit

Random thoughts and insights – always shaken, never stirred

Trafalgar 200

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Today marks the opening of the celebrations for the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar, a victory which assured Great Britain’s command of the sea for the next hundred years, and which ultimately confined Napoleon to the continent. Although Admiral Horatio Nelson fell in his moment of triumph – mortally wounded by a French sharpshooter – he knew that he had won the day. (Nelson was quite battered in his time, having already lost an eye and an arm in other battles.) Warships from 35 nations have gathered at Portsmouth England to partake. Here are (bottom to top) the HMS Invincible, the USS Saipan, and the FS Charles de Gaulle:

Trafalgar200 website here, and a good description of the battle here.

Update There have been some suggestions that the French were trying to upstage the British by sending the de Gaulle – their most impressive naval unit – inasmuch as they actually lost the battle of Trafalgar. I think this is reading too much into things. Look at the picture – if size matters, the de Gaulle compares unfavorably to the HMS Invincible and definitely to the Saipan. It is important to consider that both of the latter carriers are not ‘attack’ carriers, the Invincible being what the British call a “through-deck cruiser” meant primarily for helicopters and VSTOL aircraft like the Harrier. The Invincible, by the way, is by no means a new ship, having fought in the Falklands twenty-three years ago. The Saipan, similarly, is not an aircraft carrier, but is what we in the States call an ‘amphibious assault ship.’ This means she has harriers, and helicopters, and a lot of marines. Her primary role is to project a complete battle force – air, land, and sea – at any given point, but she is not a fleet carrier like a Nimitz class.

The Charles de Gaulle, on the other hand, is the French version of a Nimitz, and she does not compare favorably at all. She carries fewer aircraft (less than half), displaces far fewer tons (look at the picture), and has proven rather cranky in actual operations. This is not surprising given that only the US has had real experience and success building nuclear-powered surface warships. Teething pains are to be expected, as the Russians found out when they tried to build ships of this sort. The de Gaulle is what she is, and that is the finest warship in the French fleet. I think it appropriate to give the French the benefit of the doubt on this one. No doubt some Gallic pride is involved, but I believe they sent the de Gaulle not to snub the British, but to honor their role in this great naval conflict. Personally, I wish we could have sent a super carrier to this review, but there is a war on.

Here is a picture of the de Gaulle in company with the USS Enterprise CVN-65 which give some idea of the relative size: 

The Enterprise was the first nuclear powered aircraft carrier in the world. Of course, she was commissioned in 1961 (de Gaulle in 2000), and displaces some 90,000 tons (more than twice the de Gaulle) and carries nearly 100 aircraft (de Gaulle carrries 40). If someone really wanted to upstage the British, they would have sent a ship like the Enterprise.

Written by martinipundit

June 28, 2005 at 9:30 am

Posted in History, Ships

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