Louis Joubert Lock

The Louis Joubert Lock (French: Forme Ecluse Louis Joubert) also known as the Normandie Dock, is a lock and major dry dock located in the port of Saint-Nazaire, in Loire-Atlantique northwestern France. Coordinates: 47°16′40.8″N 2°11′52.08″W / 47.278°N 2.1978°W / 47.278; -2.1978

Owned by the Port authority of Nantes-Saint-Nazaire and not the ship building company Chantiers de l'Atlantique, its strategic importance as a major naval construction and maintenance asset since its completion in 1934, resulted in it becoming the main target of the British Army Commando raid of 1942, the St. Nazaire Raid, to stop German battleships such as Tirpitz from accessing maintenance facilities in the Atlantic Ocean.


The lock has two major functions:

  • To give access to the Loire River and hence the Atlantic Ocean for ships of the biggest size, from the port of Saint-Nazaire. The port maintains a constant water level, and the lock allows this to be maintained while also allowing access to for the largest ships
  • For the maintenance and the construction of large ships, the lock can be drained and hence made into a dry dock, making it possible to work on normally submerged or immersed parts of ships.


As an historic major seaport on the western edge of the Atlantic, the closest for ships coming from the western Atlantic to France, Saint-Nazaire had played a major part in World War I as a disembarkation point for United States Army troops. The US Army had undertaken various development projects around Saint-Nazaire, including the construction of a refrigeration plant in the docks for storage of imported meat and dairy products.

At the end of the First World War, the Port Authority of Saint-Nazaire envisaged the construction of a third basin to mitigate the port's then lack of large scale ship facilities. However, due to the post-war recession and resultant down turn in shipping traffic, the idea was abandoned. However, scale problems encountered during the construction of the SS Ile de France, and the opportunity to build the proposed super passenger liner which would become the SS Normandie, resulted in a reassessment of the project.

Designed and engineered by Albert Caquot, work started in February 1929, and final acceptance took place in 1934. The facility, then the largest dry dock in the world, connected the Penhoet basin with the Loire River. It was named after the former president of the Saint-Nazaire Chamber of Commerce, Louis Joubert, who had died in 1930.

With the fall of France in 1940, the dock took on new strategic importance for the Germans, as it was the only dry dock on the West Coast of France capable of servicing the battleships Bismark and Tirpitz. The location gave access to the Atlantic Ocean, by-passing the Royal Navy's defensive lines organised along the GIUK gap. Of course the battleships had to get there though. Bismark broke into the Atlantic in 1941 but was damaged in the Battle of the Denmark Strait. She was heading for St Nazaire for repair when she was brought to battle by the Royal Navy and sunk, leaving Tirpitz as the largest surface threat from the Kriegsmarine.

St. Nazaire Raid

On March 27, 1942, the Joubert was the main target of Operation Chariot. The original strategic purpose of the combined Royal Navy and British Commandos raid was to make Joubert inoperative, the only port on the Atlantic capable of servicing the German battleships Bismarck (already sunk by 1942) and Tirpitz. This gave the port a strong strategic importance to both the Axis Powers and the Allies during the Second World War, and it was decided that if this drydock could be put out of action, then any offensive sortie by the Tirpitz into the Atlantic could be much more dangerous for her, and probably not worth the risk.

After Operation Rheinübung on 18–27 May 1941, in which the Bismarck and heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen were to have ended their operational raid at Saint-Nazaire, but which resulted in the sinking of HMS Hood and the sinking of the Bismarck; the need for the Allies to take the Joubert out of operation was increased.

A force of 611 British Commandos launched the St. Nazaire Raid against the shipyards of Saint-Nazaire, codenamed Operation Chariot. The old British destroyer HMS Campbeltown was used as a ram-ship loaded with explosives against the Loire River estuary gate of the Joubert, and its later explosion combined with commando destruction of the Joubert's pumping facility and machinery made it inoperative.

Although the Nazi German forces tried to repair the facility, the Joubert remained out of commission for the rest of the war, and it did not function again until 1948, and was not commissioned until 1950. The first ship it accommodated after being repaired was the former German ocean liner SS Europa, which on refit became the SS Liberté, in compensation given to France by the United States of America in compensation for the loss of the SS Normandie in New York.

Major dimensions

  • Length: 350 metres (1,150 ft)
  • Width: 50 metres (160 ft)
  • Height: 15.25 metres (50.0 ft)
  • Lock gates: caisson-and-camber, each 51 metres (167 ft) long and 11 metres (36 ft) thick, constructed of hollow steel sections
  • Volume of water: approximately 260,000 square metres (310,000 sq yd)

Ships built in the facility

  • SS Normandie
  • SS France
  • Oil Tankers Batillus, Bellamya, Pierre Guillaumat and Prairial

RMS Queen Mary 2

On 10 December 1998, Cunard Line released details of Project Queen Mary, the project to develop a liner that would complement RMS Queen Elizabeth 2. Harland and Wolff of Northern Ireland, Aker Kværner of Norway, Fincantieri of Italy, Meyer Werft of Germany, and Chantiers de l'Atlantique of Saint-Nazaire were invited to bid on the project. If construction began immediately, the liner could be in service by 2002. But it was not until 6 November 2000, that a contract was signed with Chantiers de l'Atlantique, then a subsidiary of Alstom.

Her keel was laid down in the Joubert on 4 July 2002, with the hull number G32. Approximately 3,000 craftsmen spent some 8 million working hours on the ship, and a total of 20,000 people were directly or indirectly involved in her design, construction, and fitting out. In total, 300,000 pieces of steel were assembled into 94 "blocks" off of the drydock, which were then stacked and welded together to complete the hull and superstructure. She is so much larger than the ships that Chantiers normally build that the shipyard treated her as "1.6 ships."

The QM2 was floated on 21 March 2003. Her sea trials were conducted between 25 September-29 September and 7 November-11 November 2003, between Saint-Nazaire and the off-shore islands of Ile d'Yeu and Belle-Ile. The final stages of construction were marred by a fatal accident on 15 November 2003, when a gangway collapsed under a group of shipyard workers and their relatives who had been invited to visit the vessel. 48 people on the gangway fell over 15 m (50 ft); 32 were injured and 16, including a child, were killed.

Construction was completed on schedule. Due to the size of the ship, the luxury of materials, and the fact that, due to her nature as an ocean liner, she required 40% more steel than a standard cruise ship, the final cost ended up being approximately $300,000 US per berth - nearly double that of ships such as Voyager of the Seas, Grand Princess, or Carnival Conquest.