A Detailed Look At: Béarn Aircraft Carrier
The aircraft carrier Béarn was the first and only aircraft carrier that the French Marine Nationale had built and possessed up to the end of the Second World War. The Béarn was a unique aircraft carrier with an interesting history and a raft of quirks that no other aircraft carrier could match.
Laid down at the dock in La Seyne on the 10th of January 1914 as the fifth Normandie class battleship, all work on Béarn was stopped during the duration of the First World War and by then, work on Béarn had not progressed significantly. In April 1920, she was launched to sea to clear space at the slipway but the Navy had not decided what to do with it yet. It wasn’t until a delegation visited the British aircraft carrier HMS Argus that the Navy decided what to do with the hull. It was determined that Béarn was to be completed as an aircraft carrier and conversion work lasted from August 1923 until May 1927 when she was commissioned. By this point, 13 years had passed from it being laid down to it being commissioned.
Béarn had a number of odd features, having quite an unusual engine setup which consisted of steam turbines that powered the inner pair of propellers and a reciprocating steam engines to drive the outer pair of propellers. The reciprocating steam engines were used for cruising and granted the Béarn a long cruising range while the combined power was used when speed was required. It also had inclined ends to the flight deck which were meant to help if an aircraft was landing too low but which in truth meant that those parts of the flight deck were useless. Béarn was the subject of much experimentation as the first aircraft carrier the French possessed, and it was on the Béarn that the first time a twin-engined airplane operated on an aircraft carrier.
Throughout its career, the Béarn received several complements of different aircraft which never seemed to be quite up to the standard of the era, indeed it was that at the outbreak of the Second World War, the Béarn still carried the Levasseur PL. 7 biplane which was obsolete. Hampered by several design flaws amongst which were its low speed and slow turnaround of planes, as well as the general lack of aircraft in the French defense forces, the Béarn was not deemed fit for deployment for the defense of France. All of her aircraft were moved to land to serve the defense effort against the German Invasion and Béarn was tasked with carrying French gold bullion to transfer overseas. After the armistice she was interned in Martinique and later received a refit in the US to improve its AA capabilities and optimize it as an aircraft transport. She continued as an aircraft transport for France until the 1960s when she was turned into a barracks in Toulon and finally scrapped in 1967. Throughout her career, Béarn never launched its aircraft in combat.
The Béarn Aircraft Carrier would have to be implemented as a unique aircraft carrier. I have done the following analysis assuming that the Béarn would be slotted in the game as a Tier 5 premium Aircraft Carrier for the French Marine Nationale. I’ve included her as she appeared in 1939.
Weight & Size
28,900 tonnes – 49,400 HP
The Béarn has a massive displacement, between that of tiers 7 and 8. It is 900t lighter than the Shokaku, but 7,013t heavier than the Hiryu in when compared to the IJN carriers. The comparison against USN carriers is a bit strange because the Lexington does not conform to the HP formula and is actually the 2nd heaviest carrier in the game; we can compare it to the two tier 7 USN carriers however and it is 9,749t heavier than the Saipan and 8,993t heavier than the Ranger. In terms of HP, the Béarn has 2,000hp fewer than the Shokaku, 7,900hp fewer than the Lexington but it has 4,800hp more than the Saipan, 4,500hp more than the Ranger and 3,800hp more than the Hiryu. When compared to the tier 5 carriers, the difference in hitpoints becomes even more marked, with the Béarn having 12,900hp more than both tier 5 carriers.
In terms of size, it is 182.6m (599ft 1in) long, 35.2m wide (115ft 6in) and has a draft of 9.3m (30ft 6in). This is quite a fat ship for tier 5, being fatter than both carriers but being shorter than the Zuiho. It should have a pretty decent concealment rating.
Flight Deck: 24mm
Upper Hangar: 24mm
Lower Hangar: 60-28mm
Underwater protection: 30mm bulkhead with coal bunker
The armour scheme of the Béarn reflects the fact that she was built from a battleship hull and as such it has quite good armour for its tier. The 80mm belt armour should ensure some protection from HE spam and might even bounce some small caliber AP and the deck armour is just a bit better than that used by same-tier carriers. The armour would really seem to have an armour equivalent to a tier 6 or tier 7 aircraft carrier, but if you’re being shot at and you’re a carrier, you’re probably toast anyways. It might save you from dying quickly and with careful angling you might survive an onslaught.
Interestingly, since the Béarn still carries coal, it retained the underwater protection system that the Normandie class Battleships would have used, with a 30mm bulkhead backed up by coal bunkers. Overall, not a great underwater protection scheme, but it should still prove some protection against torpedoes. The Béarn will certainly be a tough carrier to take down.
Figure 2 – Vought V-156-F dive bombers in Béarn’s hangar
40 Aircraft (20 Dewoitine D.376 fighters, 10 Levasseur PL.7 torpedo bombers, 10 Vought V-156-F dive bombers)
Dewoitine D.376 fighters (Tier 4):
Levasseur PL.7 torpedo bombers (Tier 3):
Vought V-156-F dive bombers (Tier 5):
The Béarn has a large aircraft capacity of 40 planes which would seem to be great at tier 5 due to the Bogue having 28 planes and the Zuiho having 30. There are several reasons why this isn’t as big of an issue in the specific case of the Béarn. In reality, the Béarn had several shortcomings which limited its effectiveness in combat; its aircraft elevators were very slow which meant a long turnaround for collecting aircraft and launching them and the aircraft possessed by the French Navy at that time were mostly obsolete. Those issue will show up in the in-game statistics, but to a smaller extent than in reality.
In terms of specifics, as I don’t know how the size of the rest of the navies, I’ll assume that the French Navy and all other navies will use 5-plane squadrons as that’s the middle ground between the IJN and USN navy squadrons. The Béarn would carry Dewoitine D.376 fighters, Levasseur PL.7 torpedo bombers and Vought V-156-F dive bombers, showcasing three different stages of aircraft development (biplanes, parasol wing monoplanes and low-wing monoplane) and would have a somewhat slower turnaround for these planes than the other Tier 5 carriers to showcase the slow elevators it had.
The Dewoitine D.376 fighters are tier 4 fighters which would be outclassed by all fighters carried by the tier 5 carriers, in fact they are even outclassed by the upgraded fighters carried by the Hosho. You’ll have to rely on your larger numbers of planes and carefully engaging enemy fighters over friendly AA cover if you want to ensure your success, if you lose some fighters, just remember that you have more planes in reserve than your opponents. It is also worth noting that since they are lower-tiered than the enemies they will be facing, the Dogfighting Expert captain skill will be of great use.
The Levasseur PL.7 torpedo bombers are tier 3 torpedo bombers and obsolete in the context of the game as it first flew in 1928. They would be comparable to the stock torpedo bombers used by the Langley and the Hosho, and as such they are unlikely to have much of an effect in the battle as they are slow and have low survivability. The torpedo they carried (the 400mm M26DA) would deal 8,367 damage and move at a speed of 35kts with a range of 3km. The torpedo would not be too different to the torpedo used by the low-tier torpedo bombers of the USN or the torpedo used by IJN torpedo bombers.
The Vought V-156-F dive bombers are tier 5 dive bombers which were bought from the US and thus have similar characteristics to them. They would be quite better than those of the IJN and would be almost as good as those used by the Bogue, with only a slightly lower speed and the bomb would cause fewer damage. I cannot comment on their accuracy, but that is one aspect that can be left up to WG to ensure the Béarn is competitive. The Vought V-156-F would be the biggest damage dealing threat from the Béarn as they are durable enough to go through the defending ship’s AA umbrella without taking too many losses, and their fast speed would ensure they can strike their targets swiftly.
Overall, the aircraft suite from the Béarn is somewhat lacking as the aircraft are quite weak individually, but with the capability to carry 40 aircraft and have 20 aircraft on the air at a single time with four squadrons, it can somewhat pull its weight for the team. You will have to depend on your team to help you with their AA suites so engage enemy fighters over your allies so you can win engagements reliably.
Figure 3 – Béarn’s aircraft elevator in action
8×1 155mm/50 Mle. 1920 guns
The secondary battery for the Béarn isn’t very good. It has an acceptable number of guns in casemates which have decent fields of fire so your guns should always be able to fire on an approaching enemy, however the issue with these guns is their rate of fire. The 155mm/50 Mle. 1920 guns would fire a 59kg HE shell at 864m/s against enemies, with each shell dealing 2300 damage and having an 11% chance to cause a fire which is quite good. These guns however have a rate of fire of 3 rounds per minute which means that these guns will only fire once every 20 seconds and thus you’ll be hard pressed to hit anything with the terrible shot dispersion that secondary batteries have. They would have the standard 4km range as is common for tier 5 and would be a decent secondary battery for a tier 5 carrier.
It is interesting to note that the Béarn was the only aircraft carrier that had torpedo tubes. It had four torpedo tubes fixed abeam and as such, will not be included in the ship’s armament.
6×1 75mm/50 Mle. 1924 AA guns (6dps @3km), 8×1 37mm/50 Mle. 1925 guns (12dps @3km), 16×1 13.2mm/76 machineguns (36dps @1.2km)
The AA suite for the Béarn is quite weak, only fit for self-defense and even then, you should be amazed if you down any planes at all as they come to drop their ordnance upon you. The Béarn has an AA suite fitting for a tier 4 carrier and has most of the damage concentrated in the 1.2km range, which means that it’s barely useful. Don’t rely on the Béarn’s AA suite for much, it’s just something to have but won’t do much.
21.5 kts – 22,500hp (steam turbines) + 15,000hp (reciprocating engines)
When compared to the other tier 5 carriers, the Béarn is average in terms of speed, having speed above the Bogue but below the Zuiho. It should allow it to reposition if needed and almost keep up with the fleet, but you won’t be able to outrun much except for the slowest battleships. The Béarn is actually quite fat so it should have a rather decent turning radius.
The Béarn would have the standard tier 5 carrier consumable of Damage Control Party.
Figure 4 – Béarn’s aft as a plane lands
The Béarn would be a unique aircraft carrier in the game, it combines a large airgroup of underwhelming aircraft with massive survivability, relying on strength in numbers instead of in qualitative superiority to accomplish its job over the skies. The Béarn will be hard pressed to beat enemies if you’re careless, but if you time your engagements properly, it could be quite rewarding as you can tie up enemy fighters throughout the map while the bombers do their runs. It is quite important to note that due to the Béarn’s armour, underwater protection and massive hitpoint pool, you should never be sunk by a single wave of enemy aircraft which makes the Béarn a bit more forgiving than its in-tier competitors.
The Béarn deserves to be in the game, as the only aircraft carrier of the French Marine Nationale before the Second World War, its historical importance cannot be understated. The Béarn will have to deal in the game with many of the issues that the Béarn actually had to contest with in reality. The French Marine Nationale had outdated aircraft, limited resources and did not prioritise the development of an aircraft carrier until it was too late. While the Béarn seems like a bag of contradicting features, it will be massively rewarding for those who learn how to use it properly and somewhat forgiving if you make a mistake as you have the hitpoints and spare planes to do so. The use of an experienced captain and the necessary modules will be absolutely crucial for the Béarn to accomplish its objectives, as well as good coordination with your teammates. Throughout her career, Béarn never launched its aircraft in combat, but that’s something we can fix in the game. Vive la France!
- Large airgroup
- Good armour
- Four squadrons
- Amazing hitpoint pool
- Weak AA
- Sub-par aircraft
- Mediocre secondary battery
Figure 6 – Three generations of French aircraft carriers: Béarn alongside Arromanches and Foch (or Clemenceau)