French submarine Minerve (S647)

Minerve was a diesel–electric submarine in the French Navy, launched in 1961. The vessel was one of eleven of the Daphné class. In January 1968, Minerve was lost with all hands in bad weather while returning to her home port of Toulon.

Minerve in Bergen (Norway) in 1962
Name: Minerve
Namesake: Minerva
Builder: Chantiers Dubigeon, Nantes
Laid down: May 1958
Launched: 31 May 1961
Commissioned: 10 June 1964
Homeport: Toulon
Identification: S647
Fate: Lost with a crew of 52 on 27 January 1968 in the Gulf of Lion, wreckage discovered on 22 July 2019
General characteristics [1]
Class and type: Daphné-class submarine
  • 860 tonnes (846 long tons) surfaced
  • 1,038 tonnes (1,022 long tons) submerged
Length: 57.75 m (189 ft 6 in)
Beam: 6.74 m (22 ft 1 in)
Depth: 5.25 m (17 ft 3 in)
  • 2 × 450 kW (603 hp) SEMT Pielstick-Jeumont-Schneider Type 12 diesel engines
  • 2 × 1,000 hp (746 kW) electric motors
  • 2 shafts
  • 12 knots (22 km/h; 14 mph) surfaced
  • 8 knots (15 km/h; 9.2 mph) snorkeling
  • 15 knots (28 km/h; 17 mph) submerged
Range: 10,000 nmi (19,000 km; 12,000 mi) at 7 knots (13 km/h; 8.1 mph) surfaced
Endurance: 30 days
Test depth: 300 m (980 ft)
  • 6 officers
  • 24 non-commissioned officers
  • 20 sailors
Sensors and
processing systems:
  • DRUA 31 radar
  • DUUA 2B sonar
  • DSUV 2 passive sonar
  • DUUX acoustic telemeter
Electronic warfare
& decoys:
ARUR 10B radar detector
  • 12 × 550 mm (21.7 in) torpedo tubes (8 bow, 4 stern)
  • 12 × torpedoes or missiles

Minerve sank two days after the submarine INS Dakar of the Israeli Navy disappeared in the eastern Mediterranean between Crete and Cyprus. Two other submarines were lost to unknown causes the same year, the Soviet submarine K-129 and the American USS Scorpion. After more than 50 years missing, the location of the wreck was discovered in 2019, 45 km south of Toulon.[2]


The Daphné class comprised second-class submarines, intermediate between the larger, ocean-going submarines of the Narval class and the small, specialised antisubmarine vessels of the Aréthuse class. The design was a development of the Aréthuse class, and were required to keep the low noise levels and high manoeuvrability of the smaller submarines, while also keeping a small crew and being easy to maintain.[3]

Minerve had an overall length of 57.8 m (190 ft), with a beam of 6.8 m (22 ft) and a draught of 5.25 m (17.2 ft). Displacement was 883 t (869 long tons) surfaced and 1,060 t (1,043 long tons) submerged.[3] The submarine had diesel-electric propulsion, with two 12-cylinder SEMP Pielstick diesel engines rated at a total of 1,300 bhp (970 kW) and one electric motor, rated at 1,600 shp (1,200 kW), which drove two propeller shafts, giving a speed of 13.5 kn (25.0 km/h; 15.5 mph) on the surface and 16 kn (30 km/h; 18 mph) submerged.[3][4] The ship's machinery and equipment were modular in order to ease maintenance. Range was 4,500 nmi (8,300 km; 5,200 mi) at 5 kn (9.3 km/h; 5.8 mph).[3] The submarine was designed to dive to a depth of 300 m (980 ft).[5]

Minerve was fitted with twelve 550 mm (21.7 in) torpedo tubes, with eight in the bow and four in the stern. No reload torpedoes were carried.[3] The ship had a crew of 45, composed of six officers and 39 enlisted.[3][4]

Service history

Minerve was ordered under the 1957 French Naval Estimates,[4] was laid down in May 1958 at the Chantiers Dubigeon shipyard in Nantes, and launched on 31 May 1961.[3] After a shakedown cruise to Londonderry Port, Bergen, and Gothenburg in November 1962, the submarine sailed from Cherbourg to Toulon, arriving on 22 December 1962. She was commissioned into the 1st Submarine Squadron on 10 June 1964. Minerve operated solely in the Mediterranean Sea. She was refitted at Missiessy Quay, Toulon, in 1967.[6]


On 27 January 1968, at 07:55 CET, Minerve was travelling just beneath the surface of the Gulf of Lion using her snorkel, roughly 25 nmi (46 km) from her base in Toulon, when she advised an accompanying Bréguet Atlantic aircraft that she would be at her berth in about an hour. This proved to be the last time the boat and her crew of six officers and 46 sailors made contact. She disappeared in waters between 1,000 and 2,000 m (3,300 and 6,600 ft) deep.[7]

Commander Philipe Bouillot later said that Minerve's new captain, Lieutenant de vaisseau André Fauve, had spent 7,000 hours submerged over four years on submarines of the same class and never had a problem. The only factor known that could have caused her to sink was the weather, which was extremely bad at the time of her loss.[7][8]

The French Navy launched a search for the missing submarine, mobilizing numerous ships, including the aircraft carrier Clemenceau and the submersible SP-350 Denise under the supervision of Jacques Cousteau, but found nothing and the operation was called off on 2 February 1968.[9] The search for Minerve, under the name Operation Reminer, continued into 1969 and used the submersible Archimède with the U.S. survey ship USNS Mizar.[9]


In October 2018, Hervé Fauve, the son of the last commander of the Minerve, led families of the crew to ask for new research through the French media. The submarine was the only Western missing submarine which had not been found since the end of World War II. The French Government started a new search for Minerve on 4 July 2019 in deep waters about 45 km (28 mi) south of Toulon.[10][11] The discovery of the location of the wreck was announced on 22 July 2019[2] by the company Ocean Infinity using the search ship Seabed Constructor.[12]

The wreck was found at a depth of 2,350 m (7,710 ft), broken into three main pieces scattered over 300 m (980 ft) along the seabed. Although Minerve's sail was destroyed, identifying the wreckage was possible, as the letters "MINE" and "S" (from Minerve and S647, respectively) were still readable on the hull.[13]


On the same day of her discovery, Squadron Vice-Admiral Charles-Henri du Ché, responsible for the search, declared that the remains of the submarine would be left untouched and would become a maritime sanctuary. A ceremony is to be held in the location where Minerve vanished with the relatives of the submariners in attendance. Its date has not been set.[14]

See also


  1. Roche, Jean-Michel (2012). "Sous-marin Minerve : Caractéristiques principales". (in French). Retrieved 6 February 2013.
  2. "French Minerve submarine is found after disappearing in 1968". BBC News. 22 July 2019. Retrieved 22 July 2019.
  3. Gardiner & Chumbley 1995, p. 121
  4. Blackman 1962, p. 91
  5. Couhat & Baker 1986, p. 121
  6. Roche, Jean-Michel (2012). "Sous-marin Minerve". (in French). Retrieved 6 February 2013.
  7. "La tragédie de la Minerve". (in French). Archived from the original on 27 September 2013. Retrieved 22 September 2013.
  8. "La disparition de la Minerve". (in French). 21 July 2019. Retrieved 12 January 2018.
  9. Roche, Jean-Michel (2012). "Historique du sous-marin Minerve". (in French). Retrieved 6 February 2013.
  10. "France: resumption of research of the submarine "La Minerve" disappeared 51 years ago". Teller Report. 4 July 2019. Retrieved 16 July 2019.
  11. Andrésy, Diane (14 July 2019). "A la recherche de «La Minerve», tombeau de 52 sous-mariniers" [In search of "La Minerve", tomb of 52 submariners]. Le Parisien (in French). Retrieved 16 July 2019.
  12. Willsher, Kim (22 July 2019). "French submarine found 50 years after disappearance". The Guardian. Retrieved 17 September 2019.
  13. Guibert, Nathalie (22 July 2019). "La « Minerve », le sous-marin disparu il y a cinquante ans, a été retrouvé au large de Toulon". Le Monde (in French). Retrieved 2019-07-22.
  14. "L'épave du sous-marin La Minerve ne sera pas remontée : « c'est un sanctuaire maritime »". Ouest-France (in French). 22 July 2019. Retrieved 23 July 2019.
  • Blackman, Raymond V. B. (1962). Jane's Fighting Ships 1962–63. London: Sampson Low, Marston & Co., Ltd.
  • Couhat, Jean Labayle; Baker, A. D., III, eds. (1986). Combat Fleets of the World 1986/87: Their Ships, Aircraft and Armament. Annapolis, Maryland, USA: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 0-85368-860-5.
  • Gardiner, Robert; Chumbley, Stephen, eds. (1995). Conway's All the World's Fighting Ships 1947–1995. Annapolis, Maryland, USA: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 1-55750-132-7.

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