Silent Service: Surcouf

Zut alors I’m actually getting the update?

Yeah, we do want to actually show off what your design looks like before giving you new art. After all, you’re quite literally the oldest shipgirl drawn by Sima, and he’s shown tremendous improvements since. 

Je vous remercie.

Now you’re just being too formal. 🙂

Now, before we enter the in-universe portion, would you like to explain to our readers a bit about your inspirations and how you came to be in the storyline?

Okay! Where to begin…

Actually I’m too lazy. Here’s commentary from the creator.

When Sima first joined up with Pacific, he wanted to try his hand at drawing shipgirls. Initially he thought he was only going to draw Abyssals and other monsters, but then we decided that hey, why not.

At the time Sima was studying in Surcouf’s country (France!) and we thought, well, maybe a French shipgirl is a good idea. At the time Morgane suggested, why not a submarine girl? France had very good and sometimes unique submarine designs.

Sune interjected. At the time, we were finishing up volume 2, and she wanted a SEXY submarine girl.

So, Surcouf came around roughly then. At the time, we used her to introduce the foreign navies in Action Report vol. 2. France’s formal entry into the Abyssal War occurs when a French carrier group was attacked by the Abyssals. I did not make the date explicit, but there were a large series of incidents on the high oceans involving warships, weather, and a lot of political fingerpointing.

Unlike the Royal Navy Special Test and Evaluation Command, France had virtually no infrastructure or support for shipgirl operations. I should note, too. France is in a uniquely difficult position in Pacific. Unlike the English who more or less preserved the vestiges of their overseas empire and didn’t collapse catastrophically, France did.

Devastated during the war, France’s economic recovery was slow. Like the ahistorical Korean War in Pacific, the First Indochina war was also a lot bloodier. What’s more, unlike real life, The French soon found ourselves a two-front, full-blown war in both Indochina and Algers. These wars also started much earlier.

Like in real life, there were many that saw the Marshall Plan as an insidious affair. Nationalist, or patriotic Frenchmen saw Americanization as another form of invasion. The forgiveness of war-time loans (including lend-lease) came with hefty hidden price-tags. French theaters were “persuaded” to play American films. French corporations were “convinced” to take American investments or else flounder internationally.

It is true that Iowa’s appearance in 1950 marked the formal timeline divergence of Pacific. However, even before that, you can see the signs of failures to come. In real life, America supported a number of French efforts to obtain additional loans from the World Bank. Those loans never materialized. In real life, there were significant developments in France’s industry thanks to a series of trips taken in America to study their capabilities. In Pacific, due to the polarization of French industries, these reforms were a lot slower. I can go on, but as expected, the French government was always a hair’s breath away from insolvency and bankruptcy, and the resultant social stability…

Let’s put it this way. In real life, the PCF hit the zenith of its power around 1947, declining to about 20% or so for the next twenty or so years. In Pacific, the PCF routinely scores about 30-40% of the vote and anywhere from a third to slightly less than half of parliament. This alone contributes to the massive amounts of political instability in France. After all, can you imagine the communists working with a Gaulist or a French conservative or even the monarchists (yes, those are still around, surprised, yeah?)

Faced with imminent collapse, France tried to look for a solution. The UK was definitely content watching an old rival weaken, and the United States was a polarizing influence in France to say the least. There was the very real concern that France was increasingly being sidelined for the rump state of West Germany in the US’s attempts to curtail the USSR. The idealistic speech of Robert Schuman seems ironic in retrospect when a mere four years later, while the US was bogged down in the Korean War, the French government declared martial law in the Saar after a series of internal conflicts. To this date it is French in all but name.

Two years later, France refused Anglo-American requests on behalf of Germany to return control of Rhineland. In a curious turn of events from real life, the “West” was no longer fearful of West Germany siding with the USSR. Rather, France – fed up with how it was treated for this entire time – became the loose cannon. Given the massive support that the PCF enjoyed, there are very real concerns about what the West should do should France vote in a communist government.

Historians in Pacific would later comment that the stronger spirit in France was its nationalist (Gaulist) tendencies. The western Allies were wary of exerting too much pressure, and this, in hindsight, fed into the political climate of France and its interactions with those territories. Post-war industrial disarmament continued and the heavy industries there fed right back into the French economy. Pro-German or, more importantly, anti-French parties were banned first in the Ruhr, and then soon after in both the Saar and Rhineland. Political dissidents and other “undesirables” were met with expulsion. A series of “Francophonization”

It may seem ironic to some that France was engaging in what appeared to be very suspiciously similar behavior to Germany in the 1930s. Many French politicians do not disagree. However, many contended that it was justified given France has been invaded thrice by Germany, and the goals of colonization and annexation could not have been clearer politically. Many French politicians simply and cynically recognized France’s position, and pursued a policy they saw that was best for France (largely at the cost of Germany).

Now, why am I telling you all this? This provides significant context for why the French STEC-equivalent is the way it is. In the earliest days, the French government was concerned with its own survival. In Action Report 2 Eisenhower mentions that De Gaulle wouldn’t even take him seriously in the late 1950s. These are two leaders with pretty good professional and personal relationships. France basically did nothing for a long time, and the very few French shipgirls were left pretty much directionless and free to do what they’d like.

The Abyssals, in hindsight, did humanity a favor by attacking French ships. With an unpleasant feeling in their stomachs (hmm, has there been any other time where France was caught flat-footed before?) the French high command received the STEC delegation, and was immediately confronted with several choices.

First, France is woefully unprepared for any sort of Abyssal war. While France has significantly less coastline than say, the United States, it has to defend two distinctive areas in the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. She has to decide to focus on one or the other, and ultimately settled on the Atlantic (since Britain holds Gibraltar and the Suez Canal can in theory be blocked off; France does not understand that the Abyssals “teleport” despite STEC’s very explicit warning and explanation).

Secondly, France is woefully unprepared for any sort of Abyssal war. It has no capacity whatsoever to support shipgirl operations. There is neither the political will nor the actual infrastructure nor the technological know-how to develop something like STEC’s Avalon naval base or the USSR’s Lenin-class battle fortresses. France will have to send her shipgirls to fight with another service to ensure her own survival.

Out of sheer sensibility, the French decides to send Surcouf to STEC. The Americans were the furthest along, after all.

Thirdly, France is woefully unprepared for any sort of Abyssal war.  Morale is actually kind of bad. France has a significant naval tradition, but not in the context of World War II, which is where the shipgirls appear to stem from. France has a military, but it is flat-out second-rate compared to the hardware and training that the US or UK or the USSR has.

With only one shipgirl and at most maybe a handful of individuals to come, the French is understandably pessimistic. The cynicism in the 50s has mutated to a sort of fatalistic attitude thirty years later, where France recognizes that its contributions to the war to come will be limited, its decision-making capabilities will likely be significantly curtailed, and it’s really at the mercy of both foe and ally.

Like the Japanese, the French arrive at the table hesitant and suspicious. Unlike Japan, however, France does not have any force to back it up. The situation, if so bluntly described, is not unlike that of the Free French Forces during the Second World War.

This plays a significant role in Surcouf’s own personality. She’s more than aware of where France is at, and in that sense she’s going to be more combative and argumentative because she’s sensitive to matters of “national honor.” No Pacific shipgirl isn’t proud of their country and who they are, and I hope that you can see that a proud Frenchwoman like Surcouf isn’t going to appreciate cheese-eating surrender monkey jokes.

And the small snippets we’ve posted?

Still canon. The dive records isn’t much different from how I performed in Silent Service, and that the rest of everything else remains true. In that sense I guess it really is a glimpse into the future, haha!


So, how are you doing?

To be honest today was just okay. Do you really want to hear more?

Sure.

When I say just okay I mean I didn’t hit anything today in practice.

Okay, well, everyone miss once in a while.

They put me on the closest distance possible and I still didn’t hit anything. I feel really bad.

Well, you know, we all start somewhere. At least the gun didn’t stall, right? Plus, this is only your fourth? Fifth try? I wouldn’t be so hard on yourself.

What am I going to say to the Ministère? I didn’t do a good job again today?

Well, I think that’s relative to where you were, and I think effort matters a whole lot. We’re all learning about this shipgirl business, you know. That, and it’s my job as your commanding officer to write those evaluations, remember? I know you’re trying to do your best to be useful, but I wouldn’t be so quick to give yourself a bad grade.

…Thanks.

Here. Why don’t I take the papers and you go find Tautog or the others? I’m guessing you haven’t eaten much today, right? Go find something to eat. 

Okay.


You’re chipper today.

Tautau, I’ve been thinking. Am I troublesome?

Huh?

Am I annoy?

Well, “annoy,” maybe… I mean, sure, on occasions, you get on my nerves. But on occasions EVERYONE can get on my nerves! I wouldn’t hold that against you either. 

This isn’t turning out quite as you were expecting it was going to turn out, huh?

Yeah. I feel terrible. Like I have failed my people. I HAVE FAILED THE REPUBLIC. GAH…

Okay, Frenchie, here. Listen. I like it a whole lot better when you’re your normal self. You know, the slightly insufferable icy beauty who jumps at a chance to show us how great everything French is? The one who keeps on telling me that France saved the world? Could sure use some of her right now.

S-sorry. I didn’t mean for it to come across like I was trying to make fun of you. What I was trying to say, I guess, is that you shouldn’t let that kind of stuff bother you too much. 

You’re proud. You’ve got very high standards for yourself. I know it from the way you dress and the way you maintain your equipment and the things you do when you aren’t on the job. You take your status as France’s only shipgirl very seriously, and honestly I can think of a few who could use some of your pride, but what I’m trying to say is that you can’t let that burden get to you.

Does that make sense? So yeah, okay, you didn’t hit anything today. So what? You were doing something better than yesterday, right?

Well, a zero is still a zero if you know what I mean…

Yeah, but the fact that they had to drag you off the range means that you were trying really, really hard. I don’t think anyone would laugh at you or make fun of you for that. The thought and the effort matters, you know! Heck, when was the last time you saw Dolphin allow extra surface range time? 

Look, Frenchie. We’re all rooting for you. See this?

…At least I didn’t miss salmon night.

Yeah, Venturer saved that plate for you. Said something about can’t have her rival waste away before she proves objective English superiority. Get it now?

We’re all in this together. Mike’s always said that the fleet moves at the pace of its slowest ship. There’s plenty of ways you can interpret that. On one hand of course nobody wants to be the slowest ship. Everyone wants to be the fastest. But, sometimes we are. Some things we’re good at. Some things we aren’t. That’s how it is. I sure can’t fence like you, and I’m pretty sure you’re a top of the line close range combatant.

So what I’m trying to say is that we’re going to be the slowest ship sometime. You can’t help it. That’s why we’re here to help. We’re all in this together, after all!

So please cheer up? I’m not really good with words, hmph, and I’m sorry that this isn’t quite working out like I had. It’s one thing reading about motivational psychology in a book and another thing completely to actually put it into practice –

…Can I have a hug?

Sure.


Okay. So, is there anything you want to tell us about the historical Surcouf?

I thought we have a subcorner for that specifically?

You still do. Yeah. But here’s a chance to talk a little bit about – 

HEY. IN UNIVERSE FRENCHIE. IN UNIVERSE!

Sorry!

Uh. I think there’s an important thing to note about the submarine Surcouf. Other than being one of the biggest sources of conspiracy since her sinking was never truly determined, she was named after Robert Surcouf, a famous French patriot and mariner.

I want to say that in France, ships are named in a very solemn manner. It is believed, though it may be simply an old mariner’s tale, that the ship will take on the characteristics of its name. Robert Surcouf may be a villain to the English, but he is definitely a hero to us French. He not only fought against overwhelming odds on multiple occasions, but he was shrewd, full of spirit, and made do with what he had on hand.

The Marine Nationale was in a similar situation. It was a bad time. France was still down. We were not unlike that of the Japanese who saw very large odds stacked against us. Darlan, Muselier, and the others moved heaven and earth to make France strong to spite our old rivals across the sea. The concept of “unrestricted submarine warfare,” well, we had something very similar to it. It is called “guerre de course.” You can translate it into trade war or commerce war.

At the time the Surcouf was built, there are many in France that believed that to wage such a war – like Robert Surcouf did – was the only way to protect France’s far-flung empire. France, perhaps more so than any other country, developed her submarine forces with great effort. In the end she was not limited by the lack of will. The matter was purely technological.


How do you feel about the upcoming Abyssal War?

I am actually a little concerned mostly because I am questioning the conventional thinking on the way in which the Abyssals attack. I worry that we are not understanding just how they make war.

My current understanding is that the Abyssal fleet “warp” or “drop” in units from somewhere beyond our universe. Some explain it as tearing a hole in the fabric of reality where the Abyssal units appear out of nowhere.

If this is the case then why do they not attack us now? Why do they not bring in as many units as possible, and destroy us in one fell swoop?

I guess I am concerned that there may be Abyssals hidden on this world somewhere that we have missed. That would be very dangerous if we could not know for sure.

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