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Saber and Scroll

Abstract

The 1921-1922 Washington Conference on naval arms limitation had a profound effect on the French Navy. For the Marine Nationale, as in the other signatory fleets—those of Great Britain, the United States, Japan, and Italy—the conference and resultant treaty stymied capital ship construction. However, in its attempt to forestall a battleship arms race of the kind that had helped spark World War I, the treaty led instead to an increased focus on cruiser, aircraft carrier, and submarine development. France was humiliated by the conference’s outcome; despite possessing an overseas empire second in size only to that of Great Britain, she was allocated a minor ratio of capital ship tonnage, and on par only with Italy—a young and aggressive nation with Mediterranean ambitions. Although overshadowed by the emerging U.S.-Japanese naval rivalry in the Pacific, the Washington Treaty presaged a naval arms race between the Third Republic and Fascist Italy for control of the western and central Mediterranean.

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