Despite having one of the largest navies in the world prior to The Second World War, the French Navy was ill-prepared for the conflict. Their naval doctrine was heavily influenced by the lessons learned from the First World War, which emphasized the use of battleships in major fleet engagements. However, advances in technology and tactics during the interwar period made this strategy outdated.
At the start of the war, the French Navy was focused on protecting their colonies and maintaining control of the Mediterranean. They also planned to engage the Italian Navy if they entered the war on the side of the Axis powers. However, the German invasion of France in 1940 caught them unprepared and with the swift collapse of the French ground forces, the French Navy soon found itself isolated and in some degree of disarray.
One of the key personalities in the French Navy during The Second World War was Admiral François Darlan, who served as the commander-in-chief of the French Navy from 1939 to 1940. Darlan advocated for a more modern approach to naval warfare, including the use of submarines and aircraft carriers. However, these ideas were not widely accepted within the French Navy, an attitude that how dire consequences for France in 1940.
The French Navy faced significant challenges during the war. Many of their ships were outdated and poorly maintained, and they lacked the resources to modernize their fleet. Additionally, the German invasion of France caught the French Navy off guard, and many of their ships were destroyed, isolated or captured without putting up much of a fight.
After the fall of France in 1940, the French Navy was largely inactive for the remainder of the war. Some French ships joined the Free French Forces under the command of Charles de Gaulle, while others were interned by the Vichy government or seized by the Germans. The Vichy government, led by Marshal Philippe Pétain, collaborated with Nazi Germany and was recognized as the legitimate government of France by many countries, including the United States.
However, after the Allied invasion of French North Africa in 1942, the Vichy Navy was divided between those who remained loyal to the government and those who joined the Free French forces. The Vichy Navy's most significant contribution to the war effort was the scuttling of its own ships in Toulon Harbor in 1942 to prevent them from falling into German hands.