France WAS

The French navy enjoys a fine, long tradition of service on the sea, but one which is marred by a strained relationship with the nation that it served. France's geography is, perhaps, the foremost cause of this strife. The nation's two, separated coasts provide the first problem. Any navy built to protect France from attack had to be large enough to counter an enemy in both the Mediterranean and the Atlantic, requiring in effect two navies. These ships had to be supported on both coasts, requiring a duplication of infrastructure for supplying and maintaining the fleet. The cost of operating this way was inevitably high and required coordination between the two areas. Because France also borders large states by land on each side, however, the primary threat to the nation's life usually loomed across a land border, making the task of raising the money to support a navy a very secondary consideration.

Despite these problems, French fleets still won many a victory. Louis XIV's financial wizard Jean-Baptiste Colbert's policies built the navy to a point where, in 1690, a French fleet beat the combined forces of the English and Dutch at the Battle of Beachy Head. This success allowed privateer-turned-admiral Jean Bart to harry English and Dutch shipping, capturing enough supplies even to feed the citizens of Paris after a failed harvest. Nearly eighty years later, a French fleet beat the English off the Chesapeake Capes, sealing the fate of Cornwallis' army and paving the way for American independence. Trafalgar, though, permanently ended France's ability to equal Great Britain at sea, so the navy turned to innovation to even the odds against superior British numbers. The French navy was a pioneer in ship design, first in the age of sail, but also in the use of ironclad floating batteries during the Crimean War, and launching the first sea-going ironclad , La Gloire, and the first steel-hulled warship, Le Redoutable. They were at the forefront of weapon design too, including the shell gun and the torpedo, delivered by torpedo boat and submarine.

Though it had long played second fiddle to the British navy, by World War I, the French fleet was decidedly inferior to both the German and American fleets too. Though the end of that war saw the German fleet shattered, France could only hope to establish local superiority and began to build with a mind to counter the Italians in the Mediterranean and the resurgent Nazi German fleet in the Atlantic. Part of the French plan to counter these threats was to build ships that, despite their small number, would be superior to their counterparts in other navies. So despite their small number, on an individual basis, French ships were generally a match for similar ships in other navies.

France's navy on the verge of WWII was one of the most advanced and powerful in the world, but its participation was severely limited because of France's quick fall to the German Army. Despite this, units of the French fleet fought valiantly (on both sides) many earning individual distinction. In WAS the French may suffer from a lack of options, but the units they can field are strong. The French fleet's strength lies in a group of Battleships whose power and price make them excellent choices and whose uniqueness will allow a player to sculpt interesting nation-pure builds. These, and other, French units also make excellent add-ons to any fleet, and because of France's cooperation with both sides historically, a player can add French warships to both allied and axis fleets.

Building a Fleet
A pure French fleet is probably best built upon their most powerful battleship, Richelieu. Escorted by Dunkerque for AA and anti-cruiser protection and to give the "Excellent Spotting' bonus to Richelieu's guns, a French player can round out a 100 point fleet with any of the available commons to provide a useful fleet. The French also have several of the most interesting, low-cost battleships in the game. Choosing Dunkerque's cheap guns and speed, Jean Bart's cheap armor, or Provence's three sets of guns, leave enough room in a build to take overwhelming numbers of support pieces. Unfortunately, the French are rather limited in 'swarm' options. On the surface are the destroyers, Le Terrible and Milan. Take Le Terrible for her Torpedoes or Milan for the Lay Smoke Screen SA. Like all destroyers, however, these are vulnerable to enemy air attack, though less so now that the French have their own fighter. Though the French now have air and submarine support, these units are frail enough that they should constitute supporting roles rather than being a focus of any build. Until more French units are released, feel free to use these battleships in conjunction with another nation's force, as they leave plenty of points for a submarine or air swarm and can hold an objective long enough to let the support units do their work. Another point to remember is that the destroyers remain France's only ASW option, so don't hesitate to take a few of them if submarines are the expected enemy. Even with the added diversity of units like Bearn and the new aircraft, a French fleet should still focus on their battleship's guns.

Fighting a Fleet
Because the French strength lies in battleships, pay special attention to how you use those big guns. The order in which you fire each vessels guns is more important than for other nations because of the Excellent Spotting (hereafter ES) special ability. Ships with this ability should always try to fire at a target second, for one extra die can be the difference between a miss and a hit, or a hit and a vital hit. For example, if you have a ship without ES, such as Jean Bart, firing at the same target as a ship that does, then Jean Bart should fire first. Any gun attack from another ship can trigger ES, so using an attack that has no chance of damaging a ship is often useful as a trigger. The guns of the Le Terrible, for example, might be better served shooting at an enemy battleship they have no chance of hitting then at a less well-defended enemy, as long as they trigger the ES of a larger ship, improving the chances of the rest of the fleet. Two ships with ES can also trigger it for each other using their secondary or tertiary batteries. With two Dunkerques, fire ship A's secondaries at the target first, triggering ES for the primaries of ship B, which then trigger ES for the primaries of ship A. If the target is a battleship the secondaries will certainly not hit, but may be of more use this way than in dealing a single damage to an enemy destroyer.
The D.520 is a great investment, and a capable fighter, but the Bearn is a bit clunky, so in 'power'-type builds, limit your expenditure on aircraft to a defensive role. One trap that captures many French players is the Richelieu's extended range 5. This is a large advantage to be sure, but other aspects of the French fleet make it hard to capitalize upon. The Lamotte-Piquet is the only method the French have of boosting their flag rating, and initiative is important in securing a range 5 shot. Even with Lamotte-Piquet's help, a flag rating of one won't overcome the big boosts available to other nations, meaning the French will likely have to wait a turn or two to secure initiative, and thus the ideal range. If in stalling a turn or two for a range 5 shot, however, the rest of the French force is being whittled down by enemy aircraft or especially by enemy submarines (which the French can only kill with their fragile destroyers) then the jockeying for position may have already cost you the game. Another option is to take advantage of losing initiative by taking Malin for her Smoke Screen ability. Triggering a smoke screen after Richelieu has fired has the same effect as a range five shot (the enemy can't shoot back) and you don't need to win initiative to get it.
Take advantage of range 5 when you can, and be thankful for it, but the longer the game goes on, the weaker the French become as enemy submarines, especially, begin to land torpedo hits. In response to submarines, never hesitate to rush straight in. Taking down two objectives and killing the bulk of the enemy fleet (despite the chance of your own quick death) is preferable to taking one objective and needing to kill the enemy's submarines, but having no unit with which to do so. With the strength possessed by French battleships, you may also want to consider giving your destroyers' ASW role precedence over killing enemy ships. Richelieu's guns are surer answers to enemy BB's than one or two torpedo dice.

Stat Table:

Light and Fleet Aircraft Carriers:

Béarn Class [1]

Joffre Class [2/0 built/2 Planned]


Alsace Class [1/0 built/2 Planned]

Richelieu Class [3/2 built/4 Planned]

Dunkerque Class [2]

Bretagne Class [3]

Courbet Class [4/2 remaining in 1939]

Heavy Cruisers:

Light Cruisers:




Patrol Bombers:

Dive Bombers:

Torpedo Bombers:


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