Operation Catapult is launched - HISTORY
Year
1940

Operation Catapult is launched

On this day in 1940, British naval forces destroy the French fleet at Mers-el-Kebir, a port in Algeria, in order to prevent Germany from co-opting the French ships to use in an invasion of Britain.

With the occupation of France, the German aggressor was but a Channel away from Britain. In order to prevent the Germans from using French battleships and cruisers in an attack on Britain, Operation Catapult was conceived: the destruction or capture of every French ship possible. The easiest stage of Catapult was the seizure of those French ships already in British ports. Little resistance was met. But the largest concentration of French warships was at the Oran, Algeria, port of Mers-el-Kebir, where many warships had fled to escape the Germans. This stage of Catapult would prove more difficult.

Britain gave the French ships four choices: join British naval forces in the fight against Germany; hand the ships over to British crews; disarm them; or scuttle them, making them useless to the Germans. The French refused all four choices. Britain then made a concession: Sail to the French West Indies, where the ships would be disarmed or handed over to the United States. The French refused again. So the Brits circled the port and opened fire on the French fleet, killing 1,250 French sailors, damaging the battleship Dunkerque and destroying the Bretagne and the Provence.

On July 4, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill told the House of Commons that he would leave Britain’s actions to “history.” On July 5, Vichy France broke off diplomatic relations with Britain.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

TV legend Andy Griffith dies

On this day in 2012, Andy Griffith, famous for his role as the good-hearted, small-town sheriff of fictional Mayberry, North Carolina, on the iconic 1960s TV sitcom “The Andy Griffith Show,” dies at age 86 at his North Carolina home. The actor also was known for his starring role ...read more

Washington assumes command

On Cambridge common in Massachusetts, George Washington rides out in front of the American troops gathered there, draws his sword, and formally takes command of the Continental Army. Washington, a prominent Virginia planter and veteran of the French and Indian War, was appointed ...read more

Battle of Gettysburg ends

On the third day of the Battle of Gettysburg, Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s last attempt at breaking the Union line ends in disastrous failure, bringing the most decisive battle of the American Civil War to an end.In June 1863, following his masterful victory at the Battle ...read more

Idaho becomes 43rd state

Idaho, the last of the 50 states to be explored by whites, is admitted to the union.Exploration of the North American continent mostly proceeded inward from the Atlantic and Pacific coasts and northward from Spanish Mexico. Therefore, the rugged territory that would become Idaho ...read more

M.F.K. Fisher is born

Mary Frances Kennedy Fisher is born on this day in Albion, Michigan.Her father, a fourth-generation writer, purchased a newspaper in Whittier, California, where the family moved in 1911. In 1929, Fisher moved to France with her first husband, where she developed her twin ...read more

Tom Cruise born

On this day in 1962, Thomas Cruise Mapother IV is born in Syracuse, New York. After his breakout role in the 1983 film “Risky Business,” Cruise went on to become one of the biggest stars in Hollywood, appearing in a long list of critically acclaimed dramas and blockbuster action ...read more

Charter jet crashes mysteriously

On this day in 1970, a British Dan-Air charter, flying a Comet 4 turbojet, crashes into the sea near Barcelona, Spain, killing 112 people. The charter was commissioned by a tourist group who were headed for a summer vacation on the Spanish Mediterranean coast. The passengers ...read more

Khrushchev consolidates his power

Nikita Khrushchev takes control in the Soviet Union by orchestrating the ouster of his most serious opponents from positions of authority in the Soviet government. Khrushchev’s action delighted the United States, which viewed him as a more moderate figure in the communist ...read more

Mohammed V, sultan of Turkey, dies

On this day in 1918, with Turkish forces in the final months of fighting against the Allied powers during World War I, Mohammed V, sultan of the Ottoman Empire, dies at the age of 73.Born in 1844 in Constantinople, Mohammed ascended to the throne in 1909 after the forced ...read more