Brest

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Brest is a French naval base and port on the Finisterre peninsula, at the far western end of Brittany, France. It is near the point where the English Channel becomes the Bay of Biscay and therefore has had strategic importance since the seventeenth century. (Vessels sailing to and from the Mediterranean and other points south need to pass by Brest to enter the English Channel)

Brest became a naval base when Cardinal Richelieu had wooden wharves built there in 1631. Not much later, “Minister of Marine” Colbert had them replaced with ones of stone, and that great exponent of the art of fortifications, Vauban, had the port fortified during the 1680s. During the eighteenth century Brest became the site for the French Naval College (École Navale,) the French equivalent of Dartmouth in Britain or Annapolis in the U.S.A.

During both the Seven Years' War (1756-63)) and the Napoleonic Wars which ended in 1815, Brest was blockaded for long periods by the Royal Navy.

Brest was used by the German Navy as the base for its Atlantic squadron during World War II and was bombed so mercilessly by the British that the three major warships there were not able to put to sea and had to be recalled to Germany in February 1942.

The town and base were rebuilt after the war and it has resumed its role as base for the French Atlantic fleet, site of the Naval College and is now a centre for maritime studies. The current population is a little over 140,000.

Reference: Hattendorf,John B, (editor in chief) The Oxford Encyclopedia of Maritime History Oxford University Press (2007) Volume 1

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