Military Wiki
French Navy
Marine nationale
Logo of the French Navy (Marine Nationale).svg
Active 1624[citation needed]–present
Country  France
Type Navy
Size 36,776 personnel (2014)[1]
130 ships[2]
206 aircraft[3]

Main: Brest, Île Longue, Toulon.
Secondary: Cherbourg, Lorient.
French overseas territories: Fort de France, Degrad des Cannes, Port des Galets, Nouméa, Papeete.

Overseas: Dakar, Djibouti, Abu Dhabi.
Nickname(s) La Royale
Motto(s) Honneur, patrie, valeur, discipline
("Honour, Fatherland, Valour, Discipline")
Colours Blue, white, red
Ships Current Fleet
Chief of staff Admiral Bernard Rogel
Ceremonial chief Admiral Stéphane Verwaerde
Insignia Ranks in the French Navy
Naval Ensign
Civil and Naval Ensign of France.svg
Aircraft flown
Attack Rafale
Fighter Rafale
Helicopter NH90, Eurocopter Lynx, Panther, Dauphin
Utility helicopter Alouette III
Patrol Atlantique 2, Falcon 50, Falcon 200
Trainer Mudry CAP 10, MS-88 Rallye, Falcon 10, Xingu

The French Navy, officially the Marine nationale ("National Navy") and often called La Royale, is the maritime arm of the French military.[4] Tracing its roots back from 1624 it is one of the world's oldest naval forces and historically played a key part in establishing the French colonial empire. Since 2008, its roles have been defined as maintaining intelligence, protecting populations, prevent crises, intervene wherever necessary to reestablish peace, and dissuade any threats against vital French interests.[5] The Marine nationale consists of four branches, the Force d'Action Navale, the Forces Sous-marines, the Aeronavale and the Fusiliers Marins (including Commandos de Marine). As a blue-water navy[6] the Marine nationale operates a wide range of fighting vessels, including a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, nuclear-powered submarines, frigates, patrol boats and support ships. The French Navy does not use prefixes of the names of its ships (such as the Royal Navy uses HMS, for instance). Foreign commentators sometimes use the prefixes "FS" (for "French Ship") or FNS (for "French Navy Ship"); these are not official, however.

As of early 2012, the French Navy employs a total of 38,643 regular personnel. The reserve element of the French Navy consists of; 5,519 personnel of the Operational Reserve and 4,752 personnel of the Citizens Reserve.[7]

The motto of the navy is Honneur, patrie, valeur, discipline ("Honour, Fatherland, Valour, Discipline") and these words are found on the deck of every ship in the fleet.


The French Navy is affectionately known as La Royale ("the Royal"). The reason is not well known; some theorise that it is for its traditional attachment to the French monarchy, some others said that before being named "nationale" the navy had been named "royale", or simply because of the location of its headquarters, "rue Royale" in Paris (similar metonyms include Matignon for the French Prime Minister, Quai d'Orsay for the French Foreign Ministry, La Coupole ("The Dome") for the Académie Française, etc.). The navy did not sport the royal titles common with other European navies like the British Royal Navy.

17th, 18th, and early 19th centuries

French Navy ships of the line in the Battle of the Chesapeake.

The navy became a consistent instrument of national power around the seventeenth century with Richelieu's efforts under Louis XIII, and Colbert's under Louis XIV.[note 1] Under the tutelage of the "Sun King," the French Navy was well-financed and -equipped, managing to score several early victories in the Nine Years' War against the Royal Navy and the Dutch Navy. Financial troubles, however, forced the navy back to port and allowed the English and the Dutch to regain the initiative. Before the Nine Years' War, in the Franco-Dutch War, it managed to score a decisive victory over a combined Spanish-Dutch fleet at the Battle of Palermo.

The eighteenth century saw the beginning of Royal Navy domination, which managed to inflict a number of significant defeats on the French. However, the French Navy continued to score various successes, as in the campaigns led in the Atlantic by Picquet de la Motte. In 1766, Bougainville led the first French circumnavigation. During the American Revolutionary War the French Navy played a decisive role in supporting the Americans. In a very impressive effort, the French under de Grasse managed to defeat a British fleet at the Battle of the Chesapeake in 1781, thus ensuring that the Franco-American ground forces would win the ongoing Battle of Yorktown. French warships participated in the battle by bombarding British ground forces. In India, Suffren waged campaigns against the British (1770–1780), successfully contending for supremacy against Vice-Admiral Sir Edward Hughes.

On 1 June 1794, a fleet under Admiral Villaret Joyeuse fought the Third Battle of Ushant to prevent the Royal Navy from destroying a large convoy, inbound from the United States, that transported grain to the starving France. The convoy escaped unharmed and the sailors were paraded in triumph in the streets of Paris, though the losses sustained during the battle would prove crippling in the following years and ensure the domination of the Royal Navy. In the Mediterranean, the French Navy waged a naval campaign during a 1798 French invasion of Egypt. Evading a pursuing British fleet under the command of Admiral Horatio Nelson, French fleet, consisting of hundreds of ships and carrying 30,000 troops, captured Malta before continuing to Egypt, where the French took Alexandria. French troops subsequently marched inland while the fleet anchored in Aboukir Bay. When Nelson discovered the French fleet's location, he set sail for Aboukir Bay and ordered an immediate attack. In the subsequent Battle of the Nile, the French were defeated, ending French naval power in the Mediterranean and encouraging other nations to join the Second Coalition and go to war with France.

From 1798 to 1800, France and the United States engaged in the Quasi-War, an undeclared naval war. Prior to the war, France had been outraged over US trade with Britain and the refusal to repay war debts from the Revolution on grounds that they were owed to the French crown, not Revolutionary France. French ships began seizing American merchant ships trading with Britain, inflicting substantial losses on American shipping. As a result, the United States Navy fought a series of largely successful naval engagements with the French. By the autumn of 1800, the US Navy and Royal Navy had reduced the activities of French privateers and warships.

The French Revolution, in eliminating numerous officers of noble lineage (among them, Charles d'Estaing), all but crippled the French Navy. Efforts to make it into a powerful force under Napoleon I were dashed by the death of Latouche Tréville in 1804, and the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, where the British all but annihilated a combined Franco-Spanish fleet. The disaster guaranteed British naval superiority throughout the Napoleonic Wars, and up until World War II.

The French Navy proved vastly inferior in tactics to the Royal Navy throughout the Napoleonic Wars. The French Navy, even with the help of Allied navies, was smaller: In 1812, the Royal Navy, consisting of 600 cruisers and some smaller vessels, was the size of the rest of the world's navies combined. During the Napoleonic Wars, most of its engagements with the British ended in defeat. Between 1793 and 1812, the French Navy lost 377 ships to the British, while the British lost 10 ships. In fourteen major engagements between 1794 and 1806, the French Navy suffered 23,000 casualties while the Royal Navy suffered 7,000 casualties. One in four British casualties were deaths, while more than half the French were. The lopsided casualty figures were due to the fact that the French sought to disable and capture enemy ships, while the British sought to kill or injure enemy gun crews. French gunners were told to fire as the ship began its up roll, and shoot high to disable the masts, spars, and rigging. British gun crews were taught to fire on the down roll, and to fire straight at the hull.[8] The French Navy was unable to prevent a British naval blockade of France during the Napoleonic Wars, and spent much of the war blockaded in port.

19th century revival

Restoration and July Monarchy (1814/5–1848)

During the Bourbon Restoration, the navy at first suffered from the compounded damage sustained during the French Revolutionary Wars and the Napoleonic Wars, and from the incompetence and derilection of the royalist officer corps, as epitomised by the disaster of the frigate Méduse and her proverbial Raft of the Medusa. Soon, however, the navy started to restore, under the impulsion of veterans of the Napoleonic Wars like Guy-Victor Duperré, Charles Baudin or Albin Roussin (all heroes of the Mauritius campaign of 1809–1811 who had tasted victory at the Battle of Grand Port). Adequate leadership was compounded with well-financed constructions, notably with large two-decker cruiser-frigates and innovative ship of the line designs, and sustained efforts of modernisation. Artillery standardised on the 30-pound calibre and later experimentated with Paixhans guns, while navigation saw the introduction of the first steamers with the corvette Sphinx.

Abel Aubert Dupetit Thouars taking over Tahiti on 9 September 1842. July Monarchy.

On 14 June 1830, a large fleet under Duperré, comprising 103 warships and 464 transports, executed the Invasion of Algiers, landing an army at Sidi Ferruch. Sultan-Khalessi, the main fort defending the city, was attacked on 29 June and fell on 4 July. The Bey then started negotiations, leading to his capitulation the next day. This action saw the first practical deployment of military steamers, then used to tow ships of the line to their optimal firing position. The next year, after the Revolution of July, a fleet under Rear Admiral Roussin conducted a show of force against the absolutist Miguel I of Portugal at the Battle of the Tagus, and strong-armed him into signing a humiliating agreement by sailing on the river into his very capital and seizing his fleet. In 1838, the navy conducted another display of force following failed diplomatic demarches, with the Pastry War in Mexico. A small frigate squadron under Baudin bombarded and silenced the defences of Fort San Juan de Ulua at the Battle of Veracruz. This action, where steamers were again used as tugs, marked the first deployment of Paixhans Guns, to great effect which did not go unnoticed by observers from the United Kingdom and the United States.

In 1842, the French Navy took over Tahiti under Admiral Abel Aubert Dupetit Thouars. French activity in those parts would continue throughout the 19th century, as his nephew Abel-Nicolas Bergasse Dupetit Thouars went on pacifying the Marquesas Islands in 1880. In August 1844, a French squadron of French Navy under the Prince de Joinville attacked the Moroccan city of Mogador, modern Essaouira, and the island facing the city, Mogador island. The campaign was part of the First Franco-Moroccan War.

Second Empire (1852–1870)

Le Napoléon (1850), the first steam battleship in history.

In a speech in 1852, Napoleon III famously proclaimed that "The Empire means peace" ("L'Empire, c'est la paix"), but actually he was thoroughly determined to follow a strong foreign policy to extend France's power and glory. Around that time, the French Navy was involved in a multitude of actions around the world.

The French frigate Guerrière commanded by Admiral Roze was the lead ship in the French Campaign against Korea, 1866. Here the ship is photographed in Nagasaki harbour, circa 1865.

Conquest of Cochinchina: Napoleon III took the first steps to establishing a French colonial influence in Indochina. He approved the launching of the Cochinchina Campaign in 1858 to punish the Vietnamese for their mistreatment of French Catholic missionaries and force the court to accept a French presence in the country. An important factor in his decision was the belief that France risked becoming a second-rate power by not expanding its influence in East Asia. Also, the idea that France had a civilising mission was spreading. This eventually led to a full-out invasion in 1861. By 1862 the war was over and Vietnam conceded three provinces in the south, called by the French Cochin-China, opened three ports to French trade, allowed free passage of French warships to Cambodia (which led to a French protectorate over Cambodia in 1867), allowed freedom of action for French missionaries and gave France a large indemnity for the cost of the war.

The Crimean War: Napoleon III's challenge to Russia's claims to influence in the Ottoman Empire led to France's successful participation in the Crimean War (March 1854 – March 1856). During this war Napoleon successfully established a French alliance with Britain, which continued after the war's close.

Second Opium War: In China, France took part in the Second Opium War along with Britain, and in 1860 French troops entered Beijing. China was forced to concede more trading rights, allow freedom of navigation of the Yangzi river, give full civil rights and freedom of religion to Christians, and give France and Britain a huge indemnity. This combined with the intervention in Vietnam set the stage for further French influence in China leading up to a sphere of influence over parts of Southern China.

Mexico: The French Navy conducted a successful blockade of Mexico in the Pastry War of 1838. It was then heavily involved in French intervention in Mexico (January 1862 – March 1867). Napoleon III, using as a pretext the Mexican Republic's refusal to pay its foreign debts, planned to establish a French sphere of influence in North America by creating a French-backed monarchy in Mexico, a project which was supported by Mexican conservatives tired of the anti-clerical Mexican republic.

Korea, Japan: In 1866, French naval troops took part in the French campaign against Korea. The French Navy also had a significant presence in Japan with the Bombardment of Shimonoseki in 1863. In 1867–1868, some level of presence in Japan was maintained around the actions of French Military Mission to Japan, and the subsequent Boshin War.

Franco-Prussian War: At the outset of the Franco-Prussian War in 1870, the 470-ship French Navy imposed a blockade of the North German coastline, which the Germans never managed to lift. However, the French ships began suffering coal shortages and lacked the necessary weaponry to deal with the coastal defenses around major enemy ports. A planned invasion of northern Germany was scuttled after the marines and naval infantry tasked with the invasion were dispatched for land combat. After most of the professional army was captured in two major French defeats, naval officers were taken from their ships to officer reserve units. The blockade became less effective as autumn storms took their toll on the French ships still enforcing the blockade. In September 1870, the blockade was abandoned for the winter. Isolated engagements between French and German ships also took place in other theaters.[9][10]

Third Republic

Sino-French War: The projection of French naval power in the Far East reached a peak in the first half of the 1880s. The Far East Squadron (escadre de l'Extrême-Orient), an exceptional naval grouping of two (subsequently three) naval divisions under the command of Admiral Amédée Courbet created for the duration of the Sino-French War (August 1884 to April 1885), saw considerable action during the war along the China Coast and in the seas around Formosa (Taiwan). Besides almost obliterating China's Fujian Fleet at the Battle of Fuzhou (23 August 1884), the squadron took part in the bombardment and landings at Keelung and Tamsui (5 and 6 August 1884 and 1 to 8 October 1884), the blockade of Formosa (October 1884 to April 1885), the Battle of Shipu (14 February 1885), the so-called Battle of Zhenhai (1 March 1885), the Pescadores Campaign (March 1885) and the 'rice blockade' of the Yangzi River (March to June 1885).

19th century technological innovations

The ironclad Vauban (1882-1905)

In the nineteenth century, the navy recovered and became arguably the second finest in the world after the Royal Navy, albeit very much smaller. The French Navy, eager to challenge British naval supremacy, took a leadership role in many areas of warship development, with the introduction of new technologies.

  • France led the development of shell guns for the navy, with its invention by Henri-Joseph Paixhans
  • In 1850, Le Napoléon became the first steam-powered battleship in history.
  • La Gloire became the first seagoing ironclad in history when she was launched in 1859.
  • In 1863, the French Navy launched Plongeur, the first submarine in the world to be propelled by mechanical power.
  • In 1876, the Redoutable became the first steel-hulled warship ever.
  • In 1887, the Dupuy de Lôme became the world's first armoured cruiser.

The French Navy also became an active proponent of the "Jeune École" doctrine, calling for small but powerful warships using torpedoes and shell guns to attack the British fleet. French warship construction proved attractive to the newly industrialising Japan, when the French engineer Émile Bertin was invited to assist in warship design for the Imperial Japanese Navy.

20th century

The development of the French Navy slowed down in the beginning of 20th century as the naval arms race between Germany and Great Britain grew in intensity. As a result, it was outnumbered not only by the Royal Navy but also by the Imperial German Navy and United States Navy, which were also technically superior. It was late to introduce new battleships—dreadnoughts and light cruisers and it entered World War I with relatively few modern vessels. The Entente Cordiale ended the period in which Britain was seen as a potential enemy, reducing the need for a strong navy. Although there was no formal military alliance, there was a de facto agreement that France would play a leading role in the Mediterranean and Britain would protect the Northern coast of France against a possible German attack. During the war, few warships were built because the main French effort was on land.

The first task of the Mediterranean battle squadrons was to escort transport ships carrying troops from French North Africa to France to join the Battle of the Marne. By the end of August 1914, French battleships, cruisers, destroyers, and submarines were conducting patrols in the Adriatic Sea to prevent any attacks by the Austro-Hungarian Navy. The most important operations of the French Navy were conducted during the Dardanelles Campaign. The French Navy also played an important role in countering Germany's U-Boat campaign, with warships patrolling the seas and escorting convoys. In December 1916, French warships arrived off Greece, bombarding Athens and landing sailors, forcing the pro-German Greek government to change its policies. A number of Greek Navy warships were seized and commissioned into the French Navy, and later played an important part in the anti-U-Boat campaign. The most significant losses sustained by the French Navy during the war were three pre-dreadnought battleships, one semi-dreadnought, four armored cruisers, one protected cruiser, twelve destroyers, and fourteen submarines.[11]

Listed below is a number of major ships of the French Navy at the outbreak of World War I in 1914 and the end of World War I in 1918. The first figure represents the outbreak and the second figure in brackets () represents the end of WWI.[12]

The first proto-aircraft carrier

Seaplane carrier Foudre

The invention of the seaplane in 1910 with the French Le Canard led to the earliest development of ships designed to carry aeroplanes, albeit equipped with floats. In 1911, the first such vessel appeared in the French Navy - La Foudre - she was the worlds first seaplane carrier. She was commissioned as a seaplane tender, and carried float-equipped planes in hangars on the main deck, from where they were lowered on the sea with a crane. La Foudre was further modified in November 1913 with a 10 metre flat deck to launch her seaplanes.[13] In spite of proposals of the French inventor Clément Ader in 1909 to build a ship with a flat deck to operate aeroplanes at sea, similar to modern aircraft carriers, the French Navy built its first aircraft carrier only in 1920s and did not go further in developing aircraft carriers before World War II. In 1920, Paul Teste achieved the first carrier landing of the history of the French Navy, aboard the Béarn.

Fleet construction between the World Wars

French destroyer Fantasque

After World War I, the French Navy remained the fourth largest in the world, after the British, US and Japanese navies, but the Italian Navy, considered as the main enemy, was almost as large as the French one. This order of fleets, with the French Navy equal to the Italian Navy, was sanctioned by the 1922 Washington Naval Treaty. Every naval fleet consisted of a variety of ships of different sizes, and no fleet had enough resources to make every vessel supreme in its class. Nonetheless, different countries strove to excel in particular classes. Between the World Wars, the French fleet was remarkable in its building of small numbers of ships that were "over the top" with relation to their equivalents of other powers. For example, the French chose to build "super-destroyers" which were deemed during the Second World War by the Allies as the equivalent of light cruisers. The Fantasque class of destroyer is still the world's fastest class of destroyer. The Surcouf submarine was the largest and most powerful of its day. The Dunkerque class battleships, designed specially to fight the German so-called pocket battleships, were, in spite of their relatively small size, very well-balanced designs and precursors of a new fast battleship generation in the world. The Richelieu class full-size battleships are considered by some experts as the most successful battleships built under displacement limits of Washington Treaty in the world.[14]


Major ships of the French Navy at the beginning of the German attack in May 1940:[15]

  • Modern Battleships: 3
  • Old Dreadnought Battleships: 5 (Bretagne, Provence, Lorraine, Paris and Courbet)
  • Aircraft carriers: 1
  • Seaplane carriers: 1
  • Heavy cruisers: 10
  • Light cruisers: 10
  • Heavy Destroyers (Contre-Torpilleurs): 32
  • Destroyers: 38
  • Submarines: 80
  • Sloops: 65

Second World War

Battleship Richelieu.

Light cruiser Georges Leygues provided fire support during Normandy and French Riviera landings.

At the outset of the war, the French Navy was involved in a number of operations against the Axis powers, participating in the Battle of the Atlantic, the Allied campaign in Norway, the Dunkirk evacuation and, briefly, the Battle of the Mediterranean. However, Pétain's armistice terms completely changed the situation: the French fleet immediately withdrew from the fight. The British perceived the French fleet under the Vichy government as a potentially lethal threat. This threat would be made all the more real should the French somehow become formal enemies or, more likely, should the German Navy (Kriegsmarine) gain control of French ships. It was deemed essential that the French Navy be put out of action. Some vessels were in port in France, while others escaped to Britain or British-controlled Egypt. The British boarded all French ships in their hands, with many sailors re-joining the Allies as part of the Free French Navy (Forces navales françaises libres, FNFL) because of General de Gaulle’s growing influence. Although the boardings were conducted relatively peacefully, there was resistance on Surcouf, then the largest submarine in the world, resulting in a skirmish in which one French and three British naval personnel were killed. However, the most powerful concentration of the French fleet remained in Mers-el-Kébir or Dakar. A Royal Navy squadron delivered an ultimatum to the French fleet at Mers-el-Kébir. The ultimatum demanded that the ships and their crews either join the war effort or sail with reduced crews to a British port, promising that the ships would be repatriated at the end of the war or compensation paid for damages to them, and giving them the option of sailing to a French port in the West Indies where they could be demilitarized or temporarily given to the United States until the end of the war. If the French refused these offers, they had to scuttle their ships or be fired on. On 3 July 1940, the British opened fire after an agreement proved impossible (Operation Catapult). One French battleship was sunk, and two battleships and four destroyers were knocked out. A British submarine also sank an aviso. Six British naval aircraft were shot down. A total of 1,297 French sailors and 2 British airmen were killed.

Though the Free French Naval Forces continued to fight alongside the allies, the rest of the French fleet became hostile as a result of this action. Many senior members of the French Navy considered Britain and France effectively at war. The French Air Force repeatedly bombed Gibraltar, and throughout the war, there were instances where the French Navy came close to engaging the Royal Navy. In November 1942, for example, Admiral Jean de Laborde refused to use the remainder of the French Navy to support Operation Torch, arguing that French ships should instead be attacking the British and Americans.[16] In September, an attempt to take Vichy-held Dakar ended with the Battle of Dakar and a victory for the Vichy forces. In addition, the Allied attack on Dakar led directly to the Vichy bombing of Gibraltar. These actions soured Anglo-French relations, but did not inhibit further defections to the Allies. The subsequent Battle of Gabon, the Syria-Lebanon Campaign, and the Battle of Madagascar ended in Vichy defeats. During Operation Torch in November 1942, the Allies invaded French North Africa, leading to a large naval battle at Casablanca, but the Vichy forces quickly turned sides. In response, the Germans launched Case Anton and occupied the Vichy-held portion of Metropolitan France. The German occupation included the French naval port of Toulon where a large portion (one old battleship, two new battlecruisers, four new heavy cruisers, five new light cruisers and several destroyers and submarines) of the surviving French fleet lay. This was a major German objective and forces under SS command had been detailed to capture them (Operation Lila). This eventually resulted in French sailors sinking their own ships to save them from falling into German hands (scuttling of the French fleet in Toulon). No French capital ships and few others were taken in reparable condition.[17] A few ships fled Toulon and joined the Allies. Five submarines tried to escape. Three of them were successful, the Casabianca, Glorieux and Marsouin. Following "Torch", remnants of the French Navy moved to the Allies, including ships interned in Egypt, and then there were FNFL warships supporting the Allied landings in Normandy and southern France (Operation Dragoon).

The conquest of the European harbours put an end to the combat operations of the Navy, which spent the rest of the war clearing mines and repairing port installations. On the Pacific theatre, the French Navy was present until the Japanese capitulation; Richelieu was present at the Japanese instrument of surrender. At the end of the war, the weight of the French navy was 400,000 tonnes (800,000 in May 1940).


Frigate division of the French Navy in Toulon harbour.

The chief of the naval staff is Admiral Bernard Rogel,[18] and as of 2011 the Navy has an active strength of 37,000 military personnel and 7,000 civilian staff.[19] The Navy is organised into four main operational branches:

In addition, the National Gendarmerie of France maintain a maritime force of patrol boats that falls under the operational command of the French Navy:

  • The Gendarmerie maritime - The coast guard of France.

Main naval bases

As of 2013, major naval bases in use are; Toulon, Brest, Ile Longue and Cherbourg in Metropolitan France. Fort de France, Degrad des Cannes, Port des Galets, Nouméa and Papeete at Overseas departments and territories. As well as bases in foreign countries such as Abu Dhabi, Dakar and Djibouti.


Horizon class frigate.


Ships and submarines

Although French naval doctrine calls for two aircraft carriers, as of 2013 the French only have one, the Charles de Gaulle. Originally a planned order for the Future French aircraft carrier was based on the design of the British Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers currently under construction for the Royal Navy. However the French programme had been delayed several times for budgetary reasons and the result was priority being given to the more exportable FREMM project. In April 2013 it was confirmed that the second aircraft carrier project would be abandoned due to defence cuts announced in the 2013 French White Paper on Defence and National Security.

The French Navy operates three amphibious assault ships, one amphibious transport dock, two air defence frigates, 7 anti-submarine frigates and six fleet submarines (SSNs). This constitutes the French Navy’s main ocean going war-fighting forces. In addition the French Navy operates five light frigates, six light surveillance frigates and nine Avisos (or sloops). They undertake the navy’s offshore patrol combat duties, the protection of French Naval bases and territorial waters, and can also provide low-end escort capabilities to any ocean going task force. The four ballistic missile submarines (SSBN) of the navy's Strategic Oceanic Force provide the backbone of the French nuclear deterrent.


The French Naval Aviation is officially known as the Aéronavale and was created on the 19 June 1998 with the merging of Naval patrol aircraft and aircraft carrier squadrons. It has a strength of around 6,800 civilian and military personnel operating from four airbases in Metropolitan France. The Aéronavale is currently in the process of modernization with a total order of 58 Rafale multi-role fighters on order. 31 have so far been delivered and operate from the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle.

Customs and traditions


The rank insignia of the French Navy are worn on shoulder straps of shirts and white jackets, and on sleeves for navy jackets and mantels. Until 2005, only commissioned officers had an anchor on their insignia, but enlisted personnel are now receiving them as well. Commanding officers have titles of capitaine, but are called commandant (in the army, both capitaine and commandant are ranks, which tends to stir some confusion among the public). The two highest ranks, vice-amiral d'escadre and amiral (admiral), are functions, rather than ranks. They are assumed by officers ranking vice-amiral (vice admiral). The only amiral de la flotte (Admiral of the Fleet) was François Darlan after he was refused the dignity of Admiral of France. Equivalent to the dignity of Marshal of France, the rank of Admiral of France remains theoretical in the Fifth Republic; it was last granted in 1869, during the Second Empire, but retained during the Third Republic until the death of its bearer in 1873. The title of amiral de la flotte was created so that Darlan would not have an inferior rank than his counterpart in the British Royal Navy, who had the rank of Admiral of the Fleet.

Addressing officers

Unlike in the French army and air force, one does not prepend mon to the name of the rank when addressing an officer (that is, not mon capitaine, but simply capitaine).[20] Addressing a French Navy lieutenant de vaisseau (for instance) with a "mon capitaine" will attract the traditional answer "Dans la Marine il y a Mon Dieu et mon cul, pas mon capitaine!" ("In the Navy there are My God and my arse, no 'my captain'!").


Future of the navy

  • FREMM multipurpose frigates — The first eight vessels were ordered in November 2005 and three more on September 30, 2009. Construction of the Aquitaine, the first ship of the series built for the French Navy, began in March 2007. She was unveiled during a ceremony at the DCNS shipyard in Lorient, France on May 4, 2010. The Aquitaine (D650) is due to be delivered during 2012, the second FREMM, the Normandie is scheduled for delivery 13 months later, followed by a delivery rate of one ship every seven months. The FREMM program is planned to continue until 2022.[21][22] The first eight ships are to be supplied in an ASW (anti-submarine warfare) configuration.[23] It looks increasingly unlikely that units 9, 10 and 11 will be ordered as per the 2013 white paper on defence and national security.
  • Barracuda class submarines — Six of the nuclear attack submarines are planned, the first to be commissioned, the Suffren, is being expected for 2017.
  • Gowind class corvette, L'Adroit.
  • New models of the successful Exocet missile to be produced.
  • Land-attack cruise missiles: such as SCALP EG to be used by surface warships and submarines.

2013 White Paper

The 2013 French White Paper on Defence and National Security announced significant cuts to the French Navy and abandoned plans for a second aircraft carrier.[24]

Notable French naval officers


Heroes of the First Republic


Other important French naval officers

Notable people who served in the French Navy

  • Marcel Cerdan, world boxing champion during the 40's
  • Jean Cocteau, poet, novelist, dramatist, designer, playwright, artist and filmmaker
  • Jacques-Yves Cousteau
  • Philippe de Gaulle, the son of the general Charles de Gaulle
  • Alain Delon, actor, served as a fusilier marin in the First Indochina War
  • Bob Denard, a mercenary notorious for coup attempts and wars in Africa
  • Jean Gabin, another major French actor, he joined the free French naval force during the Second World War
  • Paul Gauguin, painter, sculptor, print-maker, ceramist, and writer
  • Bernard Giraudeau, actor, film director, scriptwriter, producer and writer
  • Albert II, Prince of Monaco, reserve Lieutenant Commander
  • Pierre Loti, mostly known for his literary works
  • Michel Serres, philosopher and author
  • Eric Tabarly, a famous yachtsman
  • Eugène Sue, a famous 19th-century novelist
  • Paul Emile Victor, an ethnologist and polar explorer


See also


  1. Both Richelieu and Colbert have been honoured for their contributions to the navy by having had capital and other types of ships named after them. See French ship Richelieu and French ship Colbert, respectively.


  1. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named Key figures in 2014
  2. French Navy,
  3. World Air Forces 2014 10 December 2013
  4. "French Navy". Retrieved 2011-12-28. 
  5. Missions, Ministry of Defence
  6. Intervenir, Ministry of Defence
  7. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named Key figures in 2012
  8. Budiansky, Stephen: Perilous Fight: America's Intrepid War With Britain on the High Seas, 1812–1815
  9. Wawro, Geoffrey: The Franco-Prussian War: The German conquest of Frence in 1870–1871
  10. Wilhelm Rustow and John Layland Needham: The Way for the Rhine Frontier, 1870: Its Political and Military History
  11. "French Navy, World War 1". Retrieved 2011-12-28. 
  12. S. A. Balakin: VMS Francyy 1914–1918, Morskaya Kollekcya 3/2000 (in Russian)
  13. Description and photograph of Foudre
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  15. Louis Nicolas : Histoire de la marine française, Presse universitaires de France in French)
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  20. Rapport sur la féminisation des noms de métier, fonction, grade ou titre – La diversité des usages
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Further reading

  • Randier, Jean (2006). La Royale: L'histoire illustrée de la Marine nationale française. ISBN 978-2-35261-022-9. 
  • Maria Petringa, Brazza, A Life for Africa, Bloomington, IN: AuthorHouse, 2006. ISBN 978-1-4259-1198-0. A biography of French naval officer, explorer of Africa, and human rights activist Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza, including a detailed description of his years on the training ship Borda, and his experiences at the French Ministry of the Navy on rue Royale, in Paris.

External links

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