The career of French Admiral Marcel Gensoul collapsed in the virtual destruction by the Royal Navy of the fleet under his command at Mers el-Kébir, near Oran, Algeria, on 3 July 1940. Until that tragic day, Gensoul had been considered one of France's most promising naval officers. Since then, however, the French have known him only as "the man of Mers el-Kébir." Gensoul did nothing to shake off this unfortunate reputation. He never wrote his memoirs and never offered a public defense of his actions. He left his defense to others, preferring not to reopen the old Franco-British wound resulting from the events of 3 July 1940. On the other side of the Channel, actors in the drama and historians have expressed regret at the horrific consequences of the circumstances that led to the tragedy and shown sympathy for the difficult predicament in which the French admiral found himself. Meanwhile, in France very few people have seriously examined the role Gensoul played in the affair. For this reason it seems important, in order to understand the chain of events that took place on that tragic day, to reconsider the personality of the French admiral and to scrupulously analyze the part he played as one of the two main protagonists in the events. It will be particularly interesting in this regard to focus attention on Gensoul's proposal that the French squadron be disarmed in the port of Oran and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill's refusal of that option, which the Admiralty and many members of the British Cabinet found acceptable.


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pp. 835-844
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Archive Status
Archived 2010
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