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Testimony of a member of the commission of inquiry

Admiral Jean CAZENAVE, now retired, wrote his memoirs to tell his children about his career. He recounts the work of the commission of investigation  which attempted to elucidate the causes of the disappearance of the Minerva. 

"In the month of janvier  the Minerva had disappeared. She was doing an exercise with a naval aircraft in the south of Cape Sicié. The sea was very heavy. Before its disappearance, we knew that the submarine was snorkeling.


La Minerve had just carried out a major refit in Toulon and the LV FAUVE, which I knew little about, had just taken command of it after several embarkations on submarines of the same type. His professional qualities were recognized. The crew of the Minerve was made up of officers whom I had  with me on the Eurydice like GADONNET and AGNUS and half of the Maistrance of my deputy marine. It was a shock for me.  Half of the officers and petty officers were part of my crew on the Eurydice. I had a lot of pain.

Jean Cazenave.jpg

Jean Cazenave in 1979

-Photo Noyale Piot


Captain Lasserre

A commission of inquiry was appointed. I was a member as a former commander of a submarine of the same type. From April until June, the Commission meets several times a week in Paris, rue Octave Gérard.


The President of the Commission was Admiral EVENOU, Inspector General of the Navy and its members were Captain LASSERRE of the EMM, the engineer of the maritime engineering DEVAUCHELES and myself.


First auditions

For days, we studied everything that was peddled by the press, based  on sometimes dubious testimonies, received the admirals, the maritime prefect of Toulon, the commander of the submarine forces, the pilot of the Breguet-Atlartic plane that had worked with the submarine just before it disappeared.

All these hearings did not allow us to know the time and place to within 100 nautical miles and even less the causes of the accident.

The accident of the American nuclear submarine Tresher

Through our military attache in Washington, we brought in the US Congress report on the disappearance of the US nuclear submarine Thresher in March 1963.


I will remember this report all my life.

The surface vessel, which was in contact with the submarine until it disappeared, had recorded all conversations with the commander of the submarine until the sound of the implosion at 600 meters deep. The Thresher was doing a test at maximum speed at immersion of 50 meters, water leak on a seawater pipe crossing the electrical room, vaporization of pressurized water on the electrical supply cabinets causing the shutdown reactor primary pumps and propulsion shutdown. The building loses speed, no longer responds to the commands of the dive bars, badly weighed (too heavy) begins to sink.

The commander orders: " Surface, hunt everywhere", but the air does not reach the ballast tanks, the expansion of the air having caused ice plugs in the pipes and the last words of the pasha " 400 meters, 500 meters..." and the sound of the implosion.

The report also included the conclusions of Congress on the work carried out during the refitting of the Thresher by the private company in charge of the maintenance of the submarine. The questions of the senators were relevant and showed a great knowledge of the elected officials on the functioning of the companies.

First hypotheses

This report made us think of an accidental leak to explain the disappearance of the Minerve. As a former commander of the Eurydice, I made two assumptions:

  • the first: to hold the periscopic immersion in heavy weather, the building had to be weighed "heavy".

  • The second: during my command, I had problems with de  snorkel head valve. If it closes slowly, we took on a lot of water and we had to dry the crate of sea water in which the water embarked by the air tube was puking.

​The Commission accepted my hypotheses after having them checked by the Direction des Constructions Navales.


A supposed cause of the disappearance and retained by the Commission was:"building losing periscopic immersion, weighed heavy, and having taken on board a lot of sea water through its air tube". We needed to know the place and if possible the time of the disappearance to do research.


Time and place searches

One thing was certain: the implosion of the hull must have caused a sound wave. Southern newspapers reported that residents of the Var coast had heard several explosions that day.


  the engineer of Maritime Engineering COPPIN, responsible for Pyrotechnics of the CEPY (Commission for Practical Pyrotechnics Studies), was summoned. He tells us that his services had made no experiments that day. He added that each time a civil or military organization made use of explosives, it had to declare it to the Geophysics Laboratory headed by Professor ROCARD [1].
The President of the Commission contacted the laboratory to find out what had been recorded that day. In fact, the mission of this laboratory was to capture all seismological movements attributable to explosions. The secret purpose of this laboratory, which had installations all over the world, was to record the underground atomic explosions carried out by the Russians or the Americans, to determine their power and if possible their location.


Professor ROCARD  came himself with an old school satchel full of documents. We saw a sort of "Cosinus scientist" arrive (broken collar and black bow tie).


“You can see on these various readings that an underwater explosion creates an overpressure. But that day at 07:59, I have a depression that I can't explain to myself. Now I finally understand. This must correspond to an implosion and perhaps that of the hull of your submarine. Thank you very much for allowing me to develop our knowledge”.


We remained silent. No one dared ask him if he could situate the event.


“My three bearings provided by my seismographs give an area of uncertainty of 10 nautical miles to 100 nautical miles in the south of Sicié. You'll excuse me, my seismographs have better accuracy on the underground explosions to the east. Thank you for inviting me and for advancing our knowledge”.


He took his hat and left us...accompanied by the admiral. The character impressed us.

Findings of the Board of Inquiry

From his words, we retained a large area on which the Bathyscaphe was plunged, which found nothing, because the bottoms at this place are very deep and tormented.


We had an exact time of disappearance, 07:59. 8:00 a.m. is time for shift change, when those leaving are in a hurry to do something else and those taking over are not necessarily fully awake.


The Commission spent two months thinking and writing its report.


Our conclusions were multiple: after the study of the accident of the Tresher, one made modify the construction of the Redoutable [2]:

  • Prohibition of the passage of pressurized seawater pipes in electrical rooms

  • study and installation at the Central of a weighing computer allowing to permanently know the weight of the submarine to counterbalance the thrust of Archimedes
  • installation of huge air bottles called “Chasse  Rapide” at the front of the SSBN to give it a positive tip in the event of damage.

One multiplied the instructions of use of the materials and the volume of the “general instructions”. We replaced "reflection, common sense, professionalism ..." by volumes of documents.

We decided on a measure applicable to the whole Navy: watch shifts would be done post by post, ordered by an officer of the watch and would be staggered over time.


The Commission believed that it had done its job. Admiral Evenou brought the report to Admiral Patou (CEMM). Fifteen days later, the Commission was again convened in Paris by the Admiral to communicate to us the impressions of the CEMM: the Admiral was satisfied because he made only one remark to me: "Your report reads like a novel policeman and I have a horror of detective novels". No comment..."

[1] The father of politician Michel ROCARD

[2] 1° French nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine launched on March 29, 1967 and armed on December 1, 1971


Admiral Patou Chief of Naval Staff (CEMM)

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