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Clemenceau-class aircraft carrier
FS Clem1.jpg
Class overview
Builders: DCNS
Operators:  Marine Nationale
 Brazilian Navy
In commission: 22 November 1961
Completed: 2
Active: São Paulo (ex-Foch)
Retired: Clemenceau
General characteristics
Displacement: 22,000 standard; 32,780 maximum[1]
Length: 265 m (869 ft)[1]
Beam: 51.2 m (168 ft)[1]
Draught: 8.6 m (28 ft)[1]
Propulsion: 6 x boilers
4 x steam turbines
126,000 shp[1]
Speed: 32 knots (59 km/h)[1]
Range: 7,500 miles
Armament: 8 x 100mm[1]
Aircraft carried: 40[1]
Aviation facilities: Angled flight deck for CATOBAR operations

The Clemenceau class aircraft carrier are a pair of aircraft carriers which served in the French Navy from 1961 through 2000, and of which one currently remains in active service with the Brazilian Navy as the São Paulo. The Clemenceau class was France's first successful aircraft carrier design after World War II and was the backbone of the French Fleet for the duration of its forty years of service.


By the early 1950s, the French Navy had in service a number of aircraft carriers, the most modern of which was Arromanches. However, all of them were small and increasingly incapable of operating modern aircraft, which were steadily increasing in size. To ensure French independence in defence matters, a new class of two modern fleet carriers was envisaged. Displacing just under 35,000 tons each, the new ships would be slightly smaller than the 43,000 ton Royal Navy's newly commissioned Audacious class ships, but they would be capable ships for their size built from scratch to take advantage of the latest ideas in aircraft carrier design, including angled flight deck, steam catapults and mirror landing aid, and would operate a brand new generation of French designed carrier based aircraft.[1]

The draft statute prepared by the Naval General Staff in 1949 asked four aircraft carriers of 20,000 tons to be available in two phases. At its meeting of 22 August 1949, the Supreme Council of the Navy was even more ambitious where they asked six aircraft carrier fleet. On 15 July 1952, the French Navy still wanted two to five with the French Union (not available to the NATO ). According to the RCM 12, the final document of the Lisbon Conference of 1952, France should make available NATO aircraft carrier in the D-day, two on day 30, three on day 180. But by 1953, the Navy had to be satisfied with two aircraft carriers. The PA 54 Clemenceau, budgeted in 1953, was delayed until November 1955, the PA 55 Foch, budgeted for 1955, was delayed until February 1957. Between 1980 and 1981, she underwent a study to certify the platform before catapulting aircraft carrying missiles, bombs, AM-39 Exocet and tactical nuclear bombs. Like her sister ship the Clemenceau, the Foch underwent a modernization and refit, replacing 4 of her 8 100mm guns with 2 Crotale air-defense systems. Unlike the Clemenceau, the Foch in 1997 also received 2 Sadral launchers (for 6 Mistral missiles each);[2] those launchers were purchased by France in 1994.[3]

They would also have longer careers (until 1998 and 2000) when compared with the Audacious class aircraft carriers, which were withdrawn in 1972 and 1978.

The Clemenceau class aircraft carriers are of conventional CATOBAR design. The flight deck is 165.5m long by 29.5m wide; the landing area is angled at 8 degrees off of the ship's axis. The forward aircraft elevator is to starboard, and the rear elevator is positioned on the deck edge to save hangar space. The forward of two 170 ft (52m) catapults is to port on the bow, the aft catapult is on the angled landing deck. The hangar deck dimensions are 152m by 22-24m with 7m overhead.[4]

Air group

Designed from the outset as multi-role fleet carriers, the two Clemenceau class ships initially in 1961 had an air group with each of ten aircraft each of the IVM attack version and IVP reconnaissance version of the Dassault Etendard IV strike fighter, a squadron of up to eight Breguet Alizé aircraft were embarked for the antisubmarine warfare mission, and in the air-defense role a squadron of Sud Aviation Aquilon (license-built De Havilland Sea Venom) fighters.[1] They were also used for French amphibious assault operations with up to 30-40 helicopters (normal helicopter wing is 4 helicopters) deployed; just prior to the 1991 Gulf War as part of Operation Salamandre (the air component of Operation Daguet), the Clemenceau ferried 30 Aerospatiale Gazelles and 12 Aerospatiale SA 330 Pumas to Saudi Arabia.[5] The planned size of the total air wing was originally 60, but the increasing size of carrier-based aircraft in the late 1950s reduced that number to approximately 40.[1]

The more capable, missile-armed Vought F-8 Crusader was soon deployed, with a squadron of eight aircraft embarked, starting 2 years later from 1963. The Crusader served with the 2 carriers until the Foch was decommissioned in 2000. The Dassault Super Etendard entered service on both ships in 1978. The Super Etendard could carry both the Exocet missile and the Air-Sol Moyenne Portee (ASMP) nuclear missile, giving these ships a stand-off nuclear strike ability lacking in the earlier Etendard IV (equipped with free-fall nuclear bombs only).

Clemenceau and Foch were modernized during September 1977-November 1978 and July 1980-August 1981 (Foch). This mid-life upgrade cleared them for the new Super Etendard (along with several other upgrades, like the SENIT C3 system). Then they had up to 40 aircraft: 10 F-8FN, 15-16 Super Etendard and 3-4 Etendard IVP, 7 Alizé, 2 Super Frelon and 2 Alouette III. Their hangar measured 152 x 24 x 7 meters (3,648 square meters). The Clemenceau fuel depots were 1,200 mc (JP5) and 400 mc (AVGAS). Foch increased this amount up to 1,800 and 109 respectively.[6]

The Dassault Rafale was test flown from the Foch after deck modifications in 1992 and operated from this carrier after further 1995-6 deck modifications.[5]

Ships in class

The two vessels of the Clemenceau class are:

  • Clemenceau, lead ship of the class, was laid down in 1955, launched in 1957, and commissioned in 1961. She served in numerous roles with the French Navy alongside Foch for 36 years until finally decommissioned in 1997. After the end of her service she became embroiled in controversy over her disposal. She was dismantled and recycled by Able UK at Graythorp on Teesside, England.[7]
  • Foch, followed "le Clem" by about two years in building, and served slightly longer than the lead ship, being commissioned from 1963 to 2000. However, instead of being destined for scrap, she was immediately transferred to the Brazilian Navy where she continues to serve as São Paulo, the only aircraft carrier currently serving in Brazil.


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