The Mystery of the Surcouf !

Not to be outdone by the British or Americans, France fielded
Surcouf, at 361 feet and 3,304 tons the world`s largest submarine until World War II. She had a revolving turret with a pair of 8 inch guns, a hangar for carrying an airplane, an extra large fuel tank and a huge storage compartment.
On June 1940 Surcouf was in refit in Brest. She escaped the Germans and limped across the channel to Devonport, Plymouth on the surface under great difficulty and much bravery as she had only one engine and a jammed rudder.
July 3rd, 1940 (Operation Catapult), the British were worried that when the French surrendered it would deliver the French Navy to the Nazis. There were 30 or 40 French Ships in British Ports, these were boarded and asked to surrender. The Surcouf was the only one to resist, 2 British Officers and one French sailor were killed. Surcouf was never forgiven for this. The crew of Surcouf was almost completely replaced by seamen adjoining to Free France. The only remained officer, Louis Blaison, was soon appointed the commander.
On August 1940 Surcouf was refitted and put on convoy patrol. Surcouf was not trusted and there were even rumors that the submarine was sinking Allies ships. A British officer and 2 sailors were put on board for `liason` purposes.
December 1940, Surcouf was sent to Canada on a `goodwill tour` with the Free French Admiral Muselier in charge. There were rumors that the free French were going to liberate St. Pierre and Miquelon, Surcouf goes to Quebec City and the Admiral goes to Ottawa to confer with the Canadian government. Meanwhile in the city the Captain is confronted by a famous New York Times Reporter Ira Wolfert that Surcouf is leading a free French task force to take St.Pierre and Miquelon.

The Captain has the reporter kidnapped and hides him in the trunk of a car and smuggles him aboard Surcouf.

December 20th. Surcouf returns to Halifax and attends a Navy Party, they inform their hosts that they are leaving the next day on maneuvers.
Dec 25, 1940 Surcoufand 2 Free French Corvettes take St. Pierre in 15 minutes.
The Americans (Roosevelt) are furious and demand that the Free French return the island to Vichy. DeGaulle of course refuses.

Jan 1st, 1941, (speculation) The Americans send a destroyer to St. Pierre and are fired upon by the Surcouf. As many as 2 American sailors were killed and the incident was hushed up.

January 1941, it is decided that Surcouf should be sent to the pacific theater. She goes to Bermuda for repairs; there are rumors that Surcouf is going to make a `break` for Martinique and back under Vichy control. 

February 18, 1941:

Officially: Surcouf is said to be lost at night in the Caribbean Sea, possibly, as a result of collision with American cargo ship Thomson Lykes. 127 members of the crew and 3 attached British seamen perished.

It is alleged that the Surcouf was sunk by the American submarines USS Marlin, SS-205, and USS Mackerel, SS-204 in Long Island Sound. There is a report that Surcouf was tailed by the 2 subs from Bermuda and probably circled back to St. Pierre.

Specifications, Surcouf:
was, in her time, the largest submarine in the world. Her vast and ponderous   dimensions were necessary to carry all the items considered necessary for world-wide commerce raiding. The twin 8" turret forward of the conning tower was controlled by a director and a 40 ft. rangefinder. The lesser guns were mounted on the top of the small seaplane hangar which was in the tail of the conning tower. Other unusual features were a compartment for 40 prisoners, a l6 ft. motor cutter, a magazine for 600 rounds of 8" ammunition and extra large fuel tanks. The decision to mount such large guns with a range of 15 miles seems a little extraordinary when the director’s visual horizon could not have been more than 7 miles and even then ranging must have been problematical. Presumably at greater ranges spotting by the seaplane would have been possible.
For such a large submarine her diving time of 2 minutes was good, although it took longer than this to open fire after surfacing.

Launched on October 18, 1929, commissioned May 1934

Displacement (srf/sub tons): 3,304/4,218
Dimensions (L*B*D meter):
Propulsion: 2*3,800hp Sulzer Diesels, 2*1,700hp electric motors, 2 shafts
Speed (srf/sub knots):
Range (srf/sub n/miles@knots): 10,000@10 or 6,800@13.8/70@4.5 or 60@5
Diving depth (meter): un known
8 officers 110 enlisted
Torpedo: 6*550mm (21.7") bow torpedo tubes, total of 14 torpedoes, 4*400mm (15.75") stern torpedo tubes with total of 8 torpedoes
Mines: none
Armament: 1*twin 8" (203mm) main deck gun, 2*37mm AA gun, 2*2*13.2 machine gun
Specifications, MB.410, Besson / ANF-Mureaux (411):

The MB.410 was an observation aircraft, low-wing monoplane with a single central float and two small stabilizing floats, that could easily be disassembled for stowage. One MB.410 and two MB.411s were built; one MB.411 was carried on board.

One 130kw Salmson 9Nd
Weight, takeoff (kg): 1,140
Wing Span (meter): 12.0
Length (meter): 8.25     
Speed (kph): 185          
Ceiling (feet): un known
Range (km): 345
Armament: un known
Crew: 1-2

Back to History Inex

Image Country Year Description
Saint Pierre & Miquelon 1962 French submarine Surcouf. Noel 1941-1961
Saint Pierre & Miquelon 1994 French submarine Surcouf. Commander Louis Blaison
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