Surcouf (N N 3)

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The Surcouf (N N 3) was a French submarine ordered to be built in December 1927, launched 18 October 1929, and commissioned in May 1934. Surcouf, named after the French privateer Robert Surcouf, was the largest submarine ever built, until being surpassed by the Japanese I-400. Her short wartime career was marked with controversy and conspiracy theories. She was classified as an "undersea cruiser" by sources of her time.


Early career

The Washington Naval Treaty had placed strict limits on naval construction by the major naval powers, but submarines had been omitted. The French Navy attempted to take advantage of this by building three "corsair submarines", of which Surcouf was the first (and only one) to be completed.

Surcouf was designed as an "underwater cruiser", intended to seek and engage in surface combat.[1] For reconnaissance, she carried a Besson MB.411 observation float plane in a hangar built abaft of the conning tower; for combat, she was armed with eight 550 mm and four 400 mm torpedo tubes and twin 203mm/50 Modèle 1924 guns in a pressure-tight turret forward of the conning tower. The guns were fed from a magazine holding 60 rounds and controlled by a director with a 5 m (16 ft) rangefinder, mounted high enough to view a 11 km (6.8 mi) horizon, and able to fire within three minutes after surfacing[2]. Using her periscopes to direct the fire of her main guns, Surcouf could increase this range to 16 km (9.9 mi); originally an elevating platform was supposed to lift lookouts 15 metres high, but this design was abandoned quickly due to the effect of roll.[3] In theory, the Besson observation plane could be used to direct fire out to the guns' 24 mi (39 km) maximum range. Anti-aircraft cannon and machine guns were mounted on the top of the hangar.

Surcouf also carried a 4.5 m (15 ft) motorboat, and contained a cargo compartment with fittings to restrain 40 prisoners. The submarine's fuel tanks were very large; enough fuel for a 10,000-nautical-mile (20,000 km) range and supplies for 90-day patrols could be carried.

Soon after Surcouf was launched, the London Naval Treaty finally placed restrictions on submarine designs. Among other things, each signatory (France included) may possess no more than three large submarines, each not exceeding 2,800 tons (2,845 tonnes) standard displacement, with guns not exceeding 6.1 inches (155 mm) calibre. Surcouf, which would have exceeded these limits, was specially exempt from the rules at the insistence of Navy Minister Georges Leygues[2], but other 'big-gun' submarines of her class could no longer be built.

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