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"Has anyone ever gamed France vs Italy vs Japan?" Topic

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earlofwessex15 Feb 2022 4:35 a.m. PST

I was wondering if anyone has ever gamed the Italians vs the French in the early 40s or one (or both – that would be cool) vs the Japanese. Any speculation on these possible match-ups?

79thPA Supporting Member of TMP15 Feb 2022 7:10 a.m. PST

I guess you could take/modify traditional battles and substitute French ships instead for Brit ships.


Specific French ships in the Med.


Personal logo Yellow Admiral Supporting Member of TMP15 Feb 2022 12:00 p.m. PST

There are only two ways I can get a historical narrative that leads to French fighting Italians in the Mediterranean:

  • The fall of France takes a lot longer to come about (or never does) and WWII in 1940 settles into some kind of sitzkrieg a la WWI;
  • Darlan allows or even orders surviving French naval units in Africa to join the British (as demanded before Mers el Kebir in June 1940).

Each of these requires quite a few adjustments to the timeline, but whatever, let's assume they do.

One of the first missions undertaken by the vastly enlarged Free French navy would surely have been rescuing French refugees. All those French sailors steaming off to join Germany's enemies would have resulted in Nazi reprisals against their families in metropolitan France. So there's your first big campaign a Dunkirk-like scenario in the south of France (Toulon? Marseille? the mouth of the Rhone?), with Italian warships trying to interdict and French warships trying to stop them.

After that you have to decide where the French units go. I think the Richelieu and Courbets would probably wind up at Gibraltar, the Dunkerque and Strasbourg in the North Atlantic chasing Germans. The cruisers and DDs I'm less certain about, but Dunkerque and Strasbourg would probably have had their own organic French escorts of only new, fast, long-ranged classes.

A powerful French squadron in the Med could have drastically changed the North African campaign. The Germans and Italians were barely able to get supplies and reinforcements through against only the Royal Navy IRL. With an Allied advantage of force, the effort in Africa might have become an Allied one to liberate Vichy colonies and launch an offensive into Tunisia.

I can't see any believable reasons to put French or Italian ships in the Pacific. They would have been busy in the Atlantic and Med until the fall of Italy and the repatriation of France, and by then would have been unsuited and unnecessary for Pacific theater operations in the late stages of the IJN's death throes. I suppose if the German and Italian surface navies are defunct or neutralized by 1942 (ahead of schedule because of extra French help?), the French could have formed a fast, long-range task force to help in the Pacific War. But why would they? The French didn't have any carriers, and building the Jean Bart into one would have taken too long. They could have helped a lot in the 1942-43 struggle for the Solomons where the USN was outnumbered and operating on a shoestring, but French interests would have been much more aligned with Royal Navy operations in SE Asia, where the French had colonies to reconquer from Japan. Neither the British nor French navies were properly equipped to do much in the Pacific or Indian Ocean theaters, so I don't see any reason for French ships to be there in the first place.

- Ix

Personal logo Saber6 Supporting Member of TMP Fezian15 Feb 2022 3:33 p.m. PST

Of course as a REAL stretch the fleet could have been sent to French holdings in South East Asia rather than Africa.

Just saying…

hindsTMP Supporting Member of TMP15 Feb 2022 9:44 p.m. PST

I would be easy to do a French-versus-Italian game in 1940, as they did actually briefly engage each other prior to the 1940 armistice. Just delay the armistice.

Also, at one point I was going to do a what-if mini-campaign with the French versus the Japanese in SE Asia. I was going to re-use my Norway Campaign rules, and started on a South China Sea campaign hex map. I don't recall how I had planned to account for the large disparity in fleet strengths, especially WRT naval aviation; presumably there would have been at least one French ally to keep the majority of the Japanese fleet busy (USN??). In the end, for various reasons, this project was never completed.

Martin Rapier16 Feb 2022 3:57 a.m. PST

This sort of thing is a favourite what-if type game among naval gamers.

I just did some random matchups with SPIs old 'Dreadnought' game. You could of course just line up the counters from AHGCs 'War at Sea' and 'Victory in the Pacific', but I suspect the Japanese carriers would send the French and Italian ships to the bottom long before anyone got to fire anything!

BillyNM16 Feb 2022 4:17 a.m. PST

If you want to pitch the French against the Italians, why not set it in WW1 with Italians joining the Central Powers?

earlofwessex17 Feb 2022 10:50 p.m. PST

Thanks for the comments. If I were to do French vs Italians, I would just wave my hand and replace ww2 with a war between these two countries, with, perhaps Spain taking the side of Italy.

I suspect that the Japanese could have destroyed both of these fleets combined, due to their aviation, but the fact that the two European powers were developing their navies with eyes on each other, not Japan, and Japan was developing with an eye on the US and, secondarily, the Royal Navy, makes me wonder how their systems, tactics, and technology would have interacted.

earlofwessex17 Feb 2022 11:17 p.m. PST

@Yellow Admiral – thanks for the good what-ifs with historical grounding. I think that evacuation from southern France idea sounds like fun.

Having the French operating against the Japanese out of India has some possibilities, too, but you're right that there is not really a believable way to get them out to operate with the USN.

Nine pound round18 Feb 2022 4:32 p.m. PST

Well, what about Guadalcanal? Remember, the US forces at Guadalcanal were based on New Caledonia, which is still French territory. After the heavy casualties among both carriers and surface ships, the US asked the British if they could reinforce the South Pacific with a carrier and a battleship. They didn't have battleships to spare, but HMS Victorious went to Pearl Harbor and spent the first part of 1943 working with Saratoga in a two carrier force in the South Pacific. Had the modern French battleships joined the Allies, they might've made plausible reinforcements for that theater.

Personal logo Yellow Admiral Supporting Member of TMP19 Feb 2022 2:09 a.m. PST

Like I alluded to above: Richelieu, Dunkerque, Strasbourg, and some of the terrifyingly overpowered French DDs would have made great additions to the USN forces in the SoPac, especially during the 1942-43 struggle for Guadalcanal and the southern Solomons. The problem is I just can't see the French sending them there. French interests were mostly in French Indochina, and the British needed plenty of help in the CBI theater too. I think that's the part of the Japanese front the French would have joined.

That part of the world was too dangerous for ships without air cover, so I don't think the Free French Navy would have sent major units there until the tide had already turned and there were plenty of carrier task forces to join. That just wasn't going to happen until Axis seapower around Europe was completely neutralized. IRL the British Eastern Fleet left in 1942, and the much stronger British Pacific Fleet didn't arrive in the East until late 1944. It's a bit of a stretch to assume French seapower alone helps move that date earlier by a whole year, but just for grins, let's put the Anglo-French Pacific Fleet in the Indian Ocean by late 1943. Who are they going to fight? The IJN is already in retreat from the USN and USAAF battering it everywhere at once. Most of the Anglo-French naval missions are going to be raids, landings and convoys in western Indonesia and SE Asia. A faster-ebbing tide of the IJN than really happened probably wouldn't help liberate IJA land occupied territory in the CBI very much; that theater was going to take until 1945 to liberate inch by bloody inch, even with French naval help.

If you combine this optimistic what-if with some others – no disaster at Midway, USN and IJN gradually trade carriers over multiple battles instead – there might be enough IJN air cover to justify sending IJN surface battle units to the SE Pacific to help face down an Anglo-French naval incursion. However, the Pacific War was more about planes sinking ships than ships sinking ships, so I'm not sure how much use (or fun) French surface ships in the Pacific really would be.

- Ix

Personal logo Yellow Admiral Supporting Member of TMP19 Feb 2022 2:20 a.m. PST

Honestly I think most of the fun what-ifs are French vs. Italians in the Med and French vs. Germans in the North Atlantic. The French navy was designed for these match-ups, and if the land fight against Germany had gone more as the French expected (much slower) they might have occurred.

Send Dunkurque and Strasbourg after the pocket battleships, and when that's done, match them against Scharnhorst and Gneisenau. That's what they were designed to do.

Pit Richelieu and the Courbets against a Littorio or two and some Andrea Dorias; they were ready for that. If the French campaign took long enough, Jean Bart could have been finished in time to see service in the Med too.

Pitch French and Italian CAs, CLs and DDs into night fights over convoys to Africa. Mussolini wasn't going to let go of Tunisia without a fight, and the French were perfectly positioned to try to take it if they hadn't surrendered in just 6 weeks.

- Ix

Personal logo 4th Cuirassier Supporting Member of TMP24 Feb 2022 4:44 a.m. PST

Nobody's mentioned Madagascar, which was under Vichy rule until Operation Ironclad. If you wanted a France – IJN confrontation there'd have to be something doable there. Maybe the IJN annexes it like IndoChina and uses it as a base to operate against Italy in Ethiopia?

Nine pound round28 Feb 2022 5:22 a.m. PST

The circumstances that produced heavy surface actions in the Solomons were unique, and were partially driven by the circumstances of the period. From June, 1942 onward, both sides were trying to wage offensive warfare with a shortage of carriers. SWAPO became an active theater because it offered Japan the opportunity to cut the links between the US and Australia, and it offered the US an opportunity to seize islands that could be used to base aircraft in lieu of carriers.

The older US battleships weren't sent there because the logistical train couldn't support their fuel needs. If more modern battleships had been available, they would have been sent; as it was, "Washington," "North Carolina" and "South Dakota" all saw very active service there. The Allies depended heavily on their cruiser fleet to control the waters off Guadalcanal. If more modern battleships had been available, they would have used them.

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