Supriya Ghosh (Editor)

French Navy

Updated on
Share on FacebookTweet on TwitterShare on LinkedInShare on Reddit
1624 – present


Blue, white, red

Dassault Rafale


La Royale


Attack aircraft
Dassault Rafale

French Navy French Navy Defense Update

36,331 personnel (2016) 90 ships 179 aircraft

Main: Brest, Île Longue, Toulon Secondary: Cherbourg, Lorient French overseas territories: Fort de France, Degrad des Cannes, Port des Galets, Dzaoudzi, Nouméa, Papeete Overseas: Dakar, Djibouti, Abu Dhabi

Brest, Cherbourg-Octeville, Lorient, Fort-de-France, Dzaoudzi

Mudry CAP 10, SOCATA Rallye family, Dassault Falcon 10, Embraer EMB 121 Xingu

French Air Force, French Army, Royal Navy, French Armed Forces, National Gendarmerie


The French Navy (French: Marine nationale, "national navy"), informally La Royale, is the maritime arm of the French Armed Forces. Tracing foundation along with the Ministère de la Marine dating back to 1624, La Royale is one of the world's oldest naval forces and historically played a key part in establishing the French colonial empire. Since the early foundings, its roles have been defined as maintaining intelligence, protecting populations, preventing crises, intervening wherever necessary to reestablish peace, and dissuading any threats against vital French interests. The Marine nationale consists of four branches: the Force d'Action Navale, the Forces Sous-marines, the Aéronavale and the Fusiliers Marins (including Commandos Marine). As a blue-water navy 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 June 2014, the French Navy employed a total of 36,776 regular personnel. The reserve element of the French Navy consisted of 4,827 personnel of the Operational Reserve.

French Navy French Navy Takes Delivery of BPC Dixmude World Maritime News

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

French Navy French Navy awards SSF contract to DCNS Naval Technology


French Navy httpsuploadwikimediaorgwikipediacommonsthu

The history of the French Navy (French: La Marine Française) dates back to the History of the French Navy of Antiquity to the Renaissance (French: Histoire de la marine française de l'Antiquité à la Renaissance) (a period which commenced in the 5th century BC until 1600), part of the History of the French Navy (French: Histoire de la marine française).

The French Royal Navy (French: La Marine Royale Française) was quasi inexistent prior 1624.

The navy was heir to several traditions:

French Navy Post WWII French Navy Weapons and Warfare

  • In the Mediterranean, that of the Ordre de Saint-Jean de Jérusalem (French: Ordre de Saint-Jean de Jérusalem) which recruited knights from the most renowned families of French nobility to form the officers corps of the Levant Fleet, whose principal ports were the arsenals of Fréjus, Marseille, and Toulon. The Ordre de Saint-Jean de Jérusalem, which was both a religious and military order, had its own respective international war fleet which assured the policing of the seas in the Mediterranean. The members which had satisfied obligations for periods in service at sea fulfilling their service, were granted the rank of Knights Hospitaller (French: Chevalier-Hospitalier). However, many considered the naval service formation to integrate later, while being well formed, their respective navy. The Ordre de Saint-Jean de Jérusalem was one of the ancestors of the French naval schools and in principal, the French Naval School. The Order accordingly formed most of the ships Captains, Officers of the French Royal Navy (French: Officier de la marine royale française) and Admirals of the Marine française de guerre de la Méditerranée.
  • In the Manche with Normandy which, since William the Conqueror (French: Guillaume le Conquérant), always tendered capable marines and sailors while housing active sea ports;
  • In the Atlantic, the navy (French: la Marine) of the Duchy of Brittany constituted the nucleus of the Flotte du Ponant. The particular jurisdictions and rights of Brittany, out of which its marine military force, conserved itself until the Revolution which ringed also the end of the administrative territorial independence of Brittany, even though both French and Breton crowns were united in the Union of Brittany and France since 1532.

  • French Navy French Navy Cyprus conduct joint SAR exercise Naval Today

    During the Revolution, the French Navy (French: Marine Nationale) succeeded to the French Royal Navy (French: la Marine Royale), elaborated by Richelieu (French: Histoire de la marine française de Richelieu à Louis XIV) since 1624. Under the First French Empire and the Second French Empire, the navy was designated as the Imperial French Navy (French: Histoire de la marine française depuis 1789).

    The French Navy (French: La Marine) is still designated today familiarly as « La Royale ». This expression was used by commercial sailors due to their military service at the corps of the navy (French: Marine de guerre française) by the institution of maritime inscription. The implementation then of the Ministère de la Marine later the État-major de la Marine de guerre française at "rue Royale", probably also contributed to make that formula popular.

    The symbol of the French Navy, which was since origin « a golden anchor », which starting since 1830, was « interlaced by a cable » in simple enrolment of an « inverted S form ». This symbol featured on all naval vessels, the arms, uniforms, the couriers, equipment, and general arms of the navy. This symbol was replaced in 1990 by a logo featuring a bow section of a white warship with two ascending red and blue spray foams, and the inscription « Marine nationale ». The Chief of Staff of the French Navy was Admiral Bernard Louzeau.

    17th, 18th, and early 19th centuries

    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. 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 French Navy scored 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 a 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.

    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.

    Restoration and July Monarchy (1814/5–48)

    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 dereliction 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 (such as the Surveillante class) and innovative ship of the line designs (such as the straight-walled Hercule class), and sustained efforts of modernisation. Artillery standardised on the 30-pound calibre and later experimentation with Paixhans guns, while navigation saw the introduction of the first steamers with the corvette Sphinx.

    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 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 (1852–70)

    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.

    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.

    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 ad hoc 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

    In the 19th 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 Paixhans gun by Henri-Joseph Paixhans. They were first fired in anger, to great effect, at the Battle of Veracruz in 1838. In 1850, Napoléon became the first steam-powered battleship in history. 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, Redoutable became the first steel-hulled warship ever. In 1887, Dupuy de Lôme became the world's first armoured cruiser.

    The French Navy also harboured the "Jeune École" school of thoughts that called for small but powerful warships using torpedoes and shell guns to attack fleets of large conventional warships; this led to the mass production of torpedo boats, that proved unreliable in the open sea, and to inconsistent designs in pre-dreadnought battleships as new ideas were very quickly brought up and phased out. Nevertheless, 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 the 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.

    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 World War I.

  • Dreadnought battleships: 4 (7)
  • Pre-dreadnought battleships: 17 (13)
  • Armoured cruisers: 22 (18)
  • Protected cruisers: 13 (12)
  • Destroyers: 35 (42)
  • Torpedo boats: 180 (164)
  • Submarines: 50 (61)
  • The proto-aircraft carrier

    The invention of the seaplane in 1910 with the French Fabre Hydravion led to the earliest development of ships designed to carry airplanes, albeit equipped with floats. In 1911, the first such vessel appeared in the French Navy – Foudre – she was the world's 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 (33 ft) flat deck to launch her seaplanes. 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 the 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 Béarn.

    Fleet construction between the World Wars

    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 submarine Surcouf 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.

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

  • Modern battleships: 3 (Dunkerque, Strasbourg, Richelieu)
  • Old dreadnought battleships: 5 (Bretagne, Provence, Lorraine, Paris and Courbet)
  • Aircraft carriers: 1 (Béarn)
  • Seaplane carriers: 1 (Commandant Teste)
  • Heavy cruisers: 7
  • Light cruisers: 11
  • Heavy Destroyers (Contre-Torpilleurs): 32
  • Destroyers: 38
  • Submarines: 80
  • Sloops: 65
  • Second World War

    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 Kriegsmarine (German navy) 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 concentrations of the French fleet remained in Mers-el-Kébir and 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 demilitarised 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. 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). All French capital ships in Toulon were completely destroyed, and few others were taken in reparable condition. A few ships fled Toulon and joined the Allies. Five submarines tried to escape, of which three succeeded: 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). A destroyer patrol operated against the Germans in the Adriatic Sea until very late in the war.

    The conquest of the European harbours put an end to most of the combat operations of the Navy, which spent the rest of the war clearing mines and repairing port installations. In the Pacific theatre, the French Navy was operative 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).


    The chief of the naval staff is Vice-amiral d’escadre Arnaud de Tarlé, and as of 2014 the Navy has an active strength of 36,776 military personnel and 2,909 civilian staff. The Navy is organised into four main operational branches:

  • The Force d'Action Navale (Naval Action Force) – The surface fleet.
  • The Forces Sous-marines (Submarine forces) – Nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines and fleet submarines.
  • The Aviation Navale (Naval air force) – Ground and sea-based aircraft.
  • The Fusiliers Marins (Naval riflemen) – Protection force and infantry including the Navy special forces (Commandos Marine).
  • 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.
  • During most of the Cold War, the Navy was organised in two squadrons based in Brest and Toulon, commanded by ALESCLANT (Amiral commandant l'escadre de l'Atlantique) and ALESCMED (Amiral commandant l'escadre de la Méditerranée) respectively. Since the post-Cold War restructuring process named Optimar '95, the two components have been divided into the Naval Action Force (commanded by ALFAN) and the Antisubmarine Group (commanded by ALGASM).

    As of 2014, major naval bases in use are; Toulon, Brest, Ile Longue and Cherbourg in Metropolitan France. Other bases include Fort de France, Degrad des Cannes, Port des Galets, Dzaoudzi, Nouméa and Papeete at Overseas departments and territories as well as bases in foreign countries such as Abu Dhabi, Dakar and Djibouti.

    Ships and submarines

    Although French naval doctrine calls for two aircraft carriers, as of 2015 the French only have one, Charles de Gaulle. Originally a planned order for French aircraft carrier PA2 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, seven anti-submarine frigates, five general purpose frigates and six fleet submarines (SSNs). This constitutes the French Navy’s main oceangoing war-fighting forces. In addition the French Navy operates six light surveillance frigates and nine avisos (light corvettes). 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 oceangoing 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 modernisation with a total order of 40 Rafale light fighters on order. Forty have so far been delivered and operate from the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle.



    Seamen have to be 17 but not 25 years old, having at least completed mandatory school attendance.

    Petty Officers

    Petty officers have to be 18 but not 25 years old, having at least a high school diploma giving access to university studies. The Petty Officer Candidate begins his training with five months at the Petty Officer School at Brest.

    Contract officers

    Contract officers are serving on an initial eight year contract, renewable up to 20 years.

  • Operational officers have to be 21 but not 27 years old, having at least a bachelor of science degree, or passed a classe préparatoire aux grandes écoles in engineering or business.
  • Staff officers have to be 21 but not 30 years old, having a honors degree or master's degree in a field corresponding to the military occupational specialty.
  • Career officers
  • Less than 22 years old, having passed a classe préparatoire in science. After four years at the École Navale (naval academy) he will graduate as Lieutenant junior grade with an engineering degree.
  • Less than 25 years old, having a honors degree in science. After three years at the naval academy he will graduate as Lieutenant Jg. with an engineering degree.
  • Less than 27 years old, having a master's degree. After two years at the naval academy he will graduate as Lieutenant Jg.
  • Ranks

    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). 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'!").


    France's financial problems have affected all branches of her military. The 2013 French White Paper on Defence and National Security cancelled the long-planned new aircraft carrier and a possible fourth Mistral-class amphibious assault ship, and conceded that British help would be needed to sustain an enduring presence. The backbone of the fleet will be the Aquitaine-class FREMM anti-submarine frigates, replacing the Georges Leygues class, but plans to buy a possible seventeen FREMMs were cut back to eleven and then to eight. The cancellation of the third and fourth Horizon destroyers mean that the last two FREMM hulls in 2021/2 will be fitted out as FREDA air-defence ships to replace the Cassard class. DCNS has shown a FREMM-ER concept to meet this requirement, emphasising ballistic missile defence with the Thales Sea Fire 500 AESA radar. Industrial considerations mean that the funds for FREMMs 9-11 will now be spent on five more exportable frégates de taille intermédiaire (FTI, "intermediate size frigates") from 2023 to replace the La Fayette class which in the meantime will be upgraded with new sonars.

    On 9 January 2014 it was announced that the two remaining Batrals in French service would be replaced in 2016/17 by three 1500-tonne (empty) Bâtiments Multimission (B2M) at a cost of ~€100m (US$136m), later increased to four. DCNS has funded the construction of the Gowind-class corvette L'Adroit and loaned her to the MN for fishery patrols to support an overseas marketing campaign for the design. At Euronaval 2010 DCNS showed a 30,000t concept called the BRAVE-class replenishment and support ship to replace the Durance class, three Flotlog replenishment ships are planned along with four BSAH offshore support vessels. Construction has started on the first of six Barracuda-class nuclear attack submarines; commissioning of Suffren is planned for 2018. The first MM40 Exocet Block 3 missile was test-fired in 2010 to be produced. Naval versions of the SCALP EG land-attack cruise missile are under development, along with a planned Aster Block 1NT with greater capabilities against ballistic missiles.


  • Vice-admiral (lieutenant-général) du Casse
  • Vice-admiral (lieutenant-général) Duguay-Trouin
  • Rear admiral (chef d'escadre) Jean Bart
  • Rear admiral Pierre Bouvet
  • Captain Cassard
  • Captain Surcouf
  • Captain Thurot
  • Heroes of the First Republic

  • Vice-admiral de Latouche-Tréville
  • Vice-admiral de Villaret-Joyeuse
  • Vice-admiral Bruix
  • Rear Admiral du Chayla
  • Captain du Petit Thouars
  • Captain Casabianca
  • Explorers

  • Vice-Admiral Bougainville
  • Rear-Admiral d'Entrecasteaux
  • Rear-Admiral Dumont d'Urville
  • Commodore Lapérouse
  • Captain Samuel de Champlain
  • Captain d'Iberville
  • Captain Nicolas Baudin
  • Captain Louis de Freycinet
  • Commander Doudart de Lagrée
  • Lieutenant de St Aloüarn
  • Lieutenant Francis Garnier
  • Lieutenant Savorgnan de Brazza
  • Other important French naval officers

  • Admiral Florent de Varennes—first admiral of France
  • Admiral Jean de Vienne—admiral of the French fleet during the Hundred Years' War
  • Admiral d'Estaing—admiral of the French fleet which helped the United States secure independence
  • Admiral de Grasse—commander of the French fleet at Chesapeake Bay during the American Revolutionary War.
  • Admiral Courbet
  • Vice-Admiral Tourville—commander of the French fleet at the Battle of Beachy Head
  • Vice-Admiral Villeneuve—commander of the French and Spanish fleets at the Battle of Trafalgar
  • Vice-Admiral Duquesne—commander of the French fleet at the Battle of Agosta
  • Lieutenant commander Paul Teste, pioneer of the modern aeronaval operations.
  • 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
  • André Marty, a leading figure in the French Communist Party (PCF) from 1923 to 1955
  • 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
  • Victor Segalen, ethnographer, archeologist, writer, poet, explorer, art-theorist, linguist and literary critic
  • Eugène Sue, a famous 19th-century novelist
  • Paul Emile Victor, an ethnologist and polar explorer
  • References

    French Navy Wikipedia