30th April 1940

French destroyer destroyed in the Firth of Clyde

Maillé Brézé was anchored off Greenock for maintenance on the last day of April 1940. Several men were aboard when a malfunction in her weapons system fired one of her torpedoes into her own superstructure.

When it detonated, the resulting explosion trapped several sailors below deck, and started a fire. Those who were able to escape briefly evacuated the ship, but worried that they would ignite the ship’s onboard fuel, returned to try and extinguish the flames. The only way they could do this was to flood the armoury, which had the unfortunate effect of adding to the weight of the ship, which was already sinking. Her descent below the waves was then all but inevitable and, when she disappeared, she took 37 sailors with her.

Destruction kept secret

On 19 August, under the heading “4-months-old secret”, the Bradford Observer revealed the loss of Maillé Brézé to its readers, explaining that “the 2441-ton French destroyer, one of the biggest in the world, sank near a British port in April after a series of violent explosions which set her ablaze from stem to stern… windows in the nearest town and for miles inland were shattered by the detonation”.

Following the war, another ship called Maillé Brézé was launched in 1953 and remained in service until 1988. In 2016 she appeared in the Second World War film, Dunkirk, in which she took the place of two British destroyers. When not appearing in films, the ship is a museum boat anchored at Nantes.

The ships had been named in honour of Jean Armand de Maillé-Brézé who had been the Admiral of France, in which position he had successfully directed French maritime forces in various battles against Spain.



Other events that occured in April

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