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CV Bearn class 

CV/AKV/AS Bearn class










5 Apr 1920

7 May 1927

21 Mar 1967

Scrapped (La Spezia, Italy) 1967

Notes: France’s first aircraft carrier, Bearn was built on the hull of a cancelled Normandie class battleship that had been started in 1914. The pre-WWI-style hull was short and squat, and less than ideal for an aircraft carrier. Inexperience with carrier design also hampered the ship, for example the elevator layout was almost useless during practical operations. A bigger problem was lack of suitable planes as carrier-based fighters were the lowest of low priorities to the French navy during the 1930s. None the less Bearn was valuable in introducing shipboard aviation to France. It was planned to use Bearn as a training carrier in conjunction with the two planned Joffre class carriers (which were never built).

When WWII broke out, the French navy already viewed Bearn as a second-line asset and she was operating in the west Atlantic. As the situation worsened she was instructed to load as many newly-purchased fighters in the USA as possible and quickly bring them back to France. En route, France surrendered and Bearn anchored at Martinique in the French West Indies. Britain allowed a “soft internment” there, i.e. Bearn would be left alone if she stayed pierside. When the USA entered WWII, Bearn’s crew joined the Free French side.

Throughout 1942 Bearn was in Philadelphia, PA receiving a refit by the US Navy, which added radar and deleted her obsolete equipment. However it was found that even with the refit, Bearn was unsuitable as a carrier and she was tasked with ferrying planes to Europe. In 1945, a second refit made this role permanent by deleting the forward part of the flight deck and adding cranes and boats topside.

(Bearn in late 1945, with radar added, the forward edge of the flight deck deleted, and an extra crane added. The ship is painted in USN Measure 33 “dazzle” camoflauge.) (courtesy Haze Grey & Underway website)

After WWII ended, Bearn stayed in active service as an aircraft ferry between France and French Indochina. After the end of French involvement there, she returned to Toulon first as a large-vessel navigation training ship and later as a submarine tender.

(Bearn serving as a submarine tender in Toulon during 1957)

Displacement: 22,146t standard, 28,400t full Dimensions: 598’9”x115’5”x29’ Machinery: Reciprocating: 2 Parsons steam engines, 2 shafts Max speed: 21.5kts Complement (design): 865


(designed for 32; could carry up to 40 in ferry role; more with deck parking)

The only type operated off Bearn was the Loire Nieuport 41 dive bomber. Grumman Wildcat fighters and Vought Vindicator attack planes were to replace them in 1940, however France fell before this could happen. (The embargoed Wildcats were lend-leased to the Royal Navy as Martlet Mk.1’s.)


x4 Mk30 5”                            8NM AA/surface

x24 (6 quad) Mk4 40mm       2NM AA

x26 Oerlikon 20mm               1NM AA

(Original fit was eight 6”casemate guns, six 3” free-arc guns, sixteen .50cal AA guns, and four fixed 20” anti-surface torpedo tubes)


Type SA (X)                         21NM air search/6NM surface search (range, bearing)


Flight deck: 1” Hangar deck: 2 ¼” Belt: 3 ¼”


Entry created by: Jason W. Henson
Contributors: Jason W. Henson

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