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Speech by Mr. Jean Alain Fleche in Bayeux on January 27, 2018

 vice-president of the Caen branch of the AGASM (general association of submariners' associations)

Mr Deputy

Mr. Representative of Mr. Mayor

My Colonel

commanding officer

My commander

Lieutenant

Madam and your family members

Mr. President of the Amicale Bévezier

Gentlemen Presidents of Patriotic Associations

Gentlemen flag bearers

Dear friends

50 years ago, on Saturday January 27, 1968, the Minerve submarine disappeared off the coast of Toulon with its entire crew. The wreckage having never been located, it is impossible to determine the exact causes of this sinking. The only certainties are:

- La Minerve was snorkeling. This type of navigation allows a conventional submarine to recharge its batteries without surfacing and therefore to maintain a certain discretion.

- The weather conditions were very bad. The violent wind created very significant hollows, the immersion was difficult to maintain, the antennas  permanently submerged did not allow good radio links. 

- The exercise in which the submarine was engaged consisted, for the crew,   in detecting radar emissions from an aircraft before it had contact. For the plane, the game consists of spotting the presence of the submarine before the latter has done so.

In summary, if the radar signals are too strong, the risk of detection is great, the alert is given and the submarine returns to the depths.

The plane, a Breguet Atlantic anti-submarine warfare, made contact   at 07:37 and made a first pass. He did the same   at 07:45 for a second pass. At 07:55 the dialogue is as follows:

  • Plane: I intend to cancel at 08:00 the radar check.

  • Submarine: I understand that you cancel this verification. Did you receive me?

  • Plane: I received you

In the next few minutes, the plane waits for the submarine to signal that it has received its radar signal. No answer. No end-of-year liaison or the usual courtesy formula   to wish you a safe return to your base at the plane.

Until 08:09 the Bréguet will try in vain to establish a new contact. Nothing surprising given the state of the sea and as the Minerva had other exercises to do in diving she had probably already returned to the depths. At 11 a.m. a message from the command of submarines in the Mediterranean cancels all the exercises and gives him freedom of maneuver.

This type of message did not require an acknowledgment. We'll never know if La Minerve received it.

His return to Toulon was scheduled for 9 p.m.

La Minerva will not return. After a timeout, the alert is triggered.

Immediately, all available means are implemented to save any survivors. Beyond 500 to 600 m depth, there is no hope. The submarine implodes. But, if the submersible ran aground near Toulon You have to act quickly, because it has a maximum of 100 hours of oxygen.

Five days during which the entire area is screened. On February 1, you have to admit the obvious. La Minerve and her 52 sailors are lost.

A number of hypotheses have been put forward.

- A collision on the surface: the Bréguet had signaled two merchant ships.

- Bar damage: defects had been observed on other submarines of the same type.

- A sudden ingress of water through the snorkel whose automatic valve system, without a grid, would have been damaged by the entry of a floating object: ten seconds of water ingress through such a chimney is enough to seriously destabilize the buoyancy of a submarine.

 

A wreck would have been spotted in the 80s. Plates   would be spread over several nautical miles and the thick hull would have broken up when hitting the bottom at high speed. However, it has not been identified with certainty.

 

In such accidents, due to defense secrets, it is necessary to wait   fifty years after the sinking for the archives to be opened.  1968 - 2018 the account is good . As long as they contain interesting information, perhaps we will know the truth.

 

We were in the middle of the Cold War. The Berlin Wall was not 7 years old. The Mediterranean was crisscrossed by ships and submarines of all nationalities seeking to obtain the most information about the neighbor. The crews had a mission, to warn of any aggression on the part of an  enemy who at the time came from the east. The craziest stories have delighted radio passageways. The Israeli submarine Dakar having been reported missing two days earlier, it was mentioned, among other things, that it would have been captured by the Russians with the Minerve. The discovery of the wreck, off La Crête  on May 28, 1999, more than thirty years after the sinking, put an end to the rumours.

 

As a disastrous echo to ce  50th anniversary of the disappearance of the Minerva, the drama of the Argentinian submarine San Juan, violently recalled that the profession of submariners remains dangerous. There was a woman on board. It is a rare enough fact to underline it and we will have a special thought for this pioneer and for all the families of these disappeared.

 

While waiting for hypothetical answers to these dramas, you will wonder why such a ceremony in Bayeux today.

 

Quite simply because the former submariners of Calvados, belonging to the Amicale Béveziers of the Amicale Générale des Anciens des Sous-Marins wanted to remember   one of the victims of this disaster and his fifty-one comrades to tell them that the  submariners are never forgotten by their brothers in arms whatever their nationality.

 

This is the second master electrician Bernard Allix.

Bernard was 27, he was among the oldest on board. The youngest was under 18, the oldest, usually the Pasha, just over 30.

  He was  from Lisieux, but he had married a bajocasse, Marie-Jeanne and was the father of a little girl, Fabienne.

Marie-Jeanne, finding herself alone with a little girl a few weeks old, returned to Bayeux and worked for many years at the Town Hall. Fabienne has started a family and lives in Caen. They give us the pleasure of being present today to attend this tribute paid to their husband and father and to his comrades.

 

I will end my remarks with three quotes.

The first is taken from the speech of General de Gaulle who came to Toulon for the national ceremony paying tribute to the crew:

"Sailors have died at sea. They were volunteers, that is to say, they had accepted the sacrifice and they had made a pact with danger."

 

The second is from Mr. Didier Decoin, secretary general of the Académie Goncourt, marine writer, who gave the speech at the inauguration, in Toulon, of the memorial  of the submariners on which are inscribed the 1667 names of submariners who died in service or for France since 1905.

"They offered France a supplement of France, a deeper blue France, an underwater, abyssal, unimaginable and mysterious France, which they conquered and defended at peril and then at the sacrifice of their lives.

A life of both hunter and prey, a life of confinement, but of free choice, of artificial light, but of true friendship, of storm on the surface, but of serenity in the heart, of plunging into darkness, but of certainty of choice, of grenades and mines that disintegrate, but of solidarity that rebuilds.

The darker the ocean became, the brighter their destiny turned out."

 

The third is the one made officially to the crew

Citation of the crew of February 7, 1968  to the order of the Navy

Operating a high performance submarine in the very demanding conditions of underwater navigation, have always set a high example of professional valor and dedication to the good of the service. Disappeared in service with their building in front of Toulon on January 27, 1968."

Bayeux - Cinquantenaire disparition Minerve

Family vault of the Allix family in Bayeux with a stele in memory of Bernard Allix

Recueillement devant la stèle de Bernard Allix - Cimetière de Bayeux
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