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Summary of Search 

Extract from Revue maritime n° 253 (pages 441-446) 

The buildings on site begin the search immediately.

From 3:30 a.m. on Sunday January 28, less than an hour after the device was triggered, we already find on patrol in the Minerve exercise sector:

  • a Breguet-Atlantic aircraft.

  • the Cassard, the Agenais, the Béarnais, the Playful, the Adroit, the Alert and the Frondeur.


During the day, a helicopter explores the coastal strip (10 nautical miles) while an Alizé plane combs the open sea.


At 9.30 a.m., the minesweepers of the 30th division and all the tugs and other vessels available from the port management arrived as reinforcements, to which was added at 12 p.m. the Kersaint, Jaureguiberry and La Bourdonnais groups.


Finally the aircraft carrier Clemenceau, which had its personnel recalled in the streets of Toulon with loudspeakers, arrived in the area at 2 p.m. with two flotillas of helicopters.


Instructions from the Chief of the Naval Staff

Marine Toulon therefore immediately implemented all available means.

The Chief of Staff of the Navy then intervenes to ensure that maximum efficiency is obtained from these means.


The goal sought and to be achieved is to save the survivors who may still exist in the hull of the submersible.

Revue maritime n° 253-Minerve


For it,research in the La Minerve sector where the seabed is over 2,000 meters and further offshore is useless.Beyond 5 to 600 meters deep, the submarine is crushed by the pressure of the water, and no life is possible there. One can only hope to find survivors if the Minerve had her accident in relatively low waters, during her return voyage to Toulon. On the other hand, it is necessary to act as quickly as possible, because the submarine has a maximum of 100 hours of oxygen.


Here are the instructions given by the Chief of the Naval Staff on January 28 at the end of the afternoon.

“In the current state of our knowledge, we can hope that the Minerve rests on the bottom, without being crushed, on the road which goes from its diving sector to the Rade des Vignettes. I expect that all vessels equipped with sonars will be employed tonight to explore depths below 600 meters”.

And he adds a little later:

"Research must remain oriented towards the location of the Minerva in areas where the depth allows the survival of personnel".


For five full days, a very extensive research device will sift through the sensitive area


This device will first include a group of quatre   escorts including La Bourdonnais, Bouvet and Normand in the coastal area west of Cap Sicié.

A group of three escort ships and a submarine will be used east of Sicié.

In the immediate vicinity of Toulon, between Sicié and Porquerolles and north of the 43rd parallel, four coastal escorts and helicopters will explore this area.

The Ariane and Vénus submarines are looking for their sister ship south of Porquerolles.

Visual searches are carried out by dredgers and tugs in the deep sea area, while the Clemenceau helicopters carry out incessant patrols.

The Navy brings together in Toulon all the military and civilian resources, French and foreign, likely to contribute to research.

This is how the squadron escort La Galissonnière, our warship best equipped with search sonars, participates in searches with its low frequency sonars which are particularly valuable for searching submarines while diving.

The Elie Monnier is there with the entire team of the Underwater Research group and its Galeazi turret. There too is the Terebel with its Télénaute from the French Petroleum Institute.

Commander Robert Giraud conveys the Cousteau saucer that its author will operate himself in the investigations.

"Commander Robert Giraud" with Cdt Cousteau's saucer - Photo by Christian Parriaux 

The dredger Pâquerette and the launch Winaretta bring their magnetometer and the English sideways sonar from the French Petroleum Institute.

From Monday, January 29 in the morning, the General Staff of the Navy asks the American Navy what assistance it is likely to bring to search and rescue operations.


An almost immediate response states:

  • that the rescue vessel Petrel is on its way to the Mediterranean and will return there on January 31.

  • that no valid American rescue equipment exists in the Mediterranean (in Naples in particular).

  • rescue equipment (compressors and hoses) is being assembled in the United States and can be airlifted to Toulon within 24 hours.

This last point is of particular interest to the French Navy, which will subsequently welcome with gratitude all proposals from the American Navy.


Both through the exchange of personal messages between the two Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Moorer and Admiral Patou, and through conversation with the Naval Attaché, Paris requests that, given the short time required for transport the rescue equipment is kept ready for despatch during all the time that there can be hope of attempting the rescue.


And if the Petrel did not stop in Toulon, it was because it could only be there on February 2, after the search had stopped.

"Sonar" contacts gave some hope: the investigations carried out did not confirm them.

Here are the main ones:

  • 10 miles south of Cepet, a very clear contact was obtained by the Jaureguiberry, confirmed by magnetic detection. Commander Cousteau dived on it with his saucer: it was an old wreck.

  • 4 miles southwest of Cap d'Armes, the submarine Ariane had fairly clear sonar contact. Several successive searches could not confirm it.

  • A contact of the coastal dredgers in front of Escampo-Barriou proved to be due to an anomaly of the relief.


On the morning of February 2, the search is suspended.

For more than five full days, January 28, 29, 30, 31 and February 1, the search for the wreck of the Minerve continued tirelessly with all the means the Navy could bring together. Even if there had been survivors after the catastrophe, they were after this lapse of time and for many hours without oxygen: one had to admit the cruel evidence.

Also a telegram of Thursday February 1 at 8 p.m. ordered the suspension of the search on February 2 in the morning.

From the start, moreover, the submariners were, not without reason, pessimists. It had to be admitted that the Minerve had dived far outside its diving sector to have had its accident on accessible bottoms or that the accident had occurred during its return trip to Toulon, carried out on the surface.


No external manifestation coming from the Minerva and which could lead to the assumption that there were survivors, was reported during the search.

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