The Charles de Gaulle leaving the Suez Canal (10-11 December 2001)

A picture, a story

©Thierry ANNE/ECPAD/Défense/2001

This photo puts the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle, currently in the final stages of renovation at Toulon, in the spotlight. Paris city council’s patronage of the vessel has given three classes of middle and high school students the opportunity to learn about the ship, and thus also about defence issues and careers. The youngsters will visit Toulon on 5 and 6 March.

Corps 1

©Thierry ANNE/ECPAD/Verteidigung/2001
Die CDG bei der Ausfahrt aus dem Suez-Kanal (10.-11. Dezember 2001)
Ref :  01 2001 392 11 31


The photograph dates from December 2001. It captures the silhouette of the aircraft carrier as it exits the Suez Canal towards the Red Sea.

It is worth remembering first and foremost the powerful symbolism of the place: throughout the 20th century, the Suez Canal was of major strategic importance (an area of contact between West and East, the site of friction between North and South, the quickest route between Europe and Asia) and a key economic axis.

The photograph should be looked at in terms of the military dimension: in the wake of 11 September 2001, France joined the US-led Operation Enduring Freedom (which aimed to strike Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan), providing logistical support through Operation Héraclès; the Charles de Gaulle, together with its air-force naval group, set sail on 1 December, leaving the Suez Canal around the 10th and arriving in the theatre of operations on 18 December. It was the first mission to be undertaken by the vessel, commissioned in May that year. The picture therefore captures an important moment in the career of the Charles de Gaulle, France’s first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier and a symbol of the country’s projection capability. With it, France reaffirmed its international role. The lyrical mood of the photo (the ship’s silhouette clearly picked out against the light, bathed in a flattering glow) highlights this aspect.

Meanwhile, the strong vertical lines (the ship’s towering control island and the slender minarets) reinforce the East-West opposition. Here, that opposition is peaceful: the Charles de Gaulle’s appearance as a floating fortress does not eclipse its role of ambassador. The vessel is the perfect embodiment of naval diplomacy as developed by France.