The Alsace Class at Sea and Their Possible Foes
Though they were never built the Alsace battleships' use in the Atlantic and Mediterranean would likely have been geared towards protecting French installations and colonies both in France proper as well as North Africa. French battleships tended to be speedy but short ranged, so under most circumstances the Alsace and her sisters would have been expected to operate in the eastern Atlantic and Med, likely under friendly air cover. While battleship-battleship combat was relatively uncommon in World War II the final showdown with the Bismarck was an exception and in the confined spaces of the Med it would not have been out of the question for the Alsace to meet the Vittorio Veneto in combat.
In truth, the completion of the Alsace class battleships would have hinged on the war not beginning until the mid-1940's. Even if France had not collapsed in 1940 it is unlikely, as with Germany, that battleship construction would have been prioritized over building tanks and aircraft. Like the German "H" design the Alsace class would have most likely been canceled on the slipways. Of course, if the war had not begun until 1945 the Alsace battleships would have faced a dramatically different threat environment. The German Z Plan aimed to build a balanced fleet with aircraft carriers, half a dozen or more updated and enlarged Bismarcks, and a dozen or so armored cruisers and battle cruisers. If completed, the combined threat of Germany, Italy, and Japan may have meant that French Alsace battleships would have faced direct naval attacks on French colonies and port facilities. It is even plausible that they would have gone up against the H class or the Yamatos gun to gun while an air battle raged overhead.
That the French battleship force would make a good account for itself in such a situation is without question. Though not engaged in combat during much of the Second World War, French battleships were attacked by the British and Americans both between 1940 and 1942. Though perhaps not as well armed or armored as their contemporaries no modern French battleships were permanently sunk by hostile fire - the Dunkerques were scuttled to prevent the Germans from taking them over later in the war and formed the only loss of modern battleships suffered by France during the war. The half-incomplete Richelieu and Jean Bart survived the war to form the nexus of the French Navy into the 1960s, by which time the aircraft carrier was clearly the capital ship of the future.
Janes Fighting Ships of World War II, 1946 Janes Publishing Company, 1994 reprint edition
Winston Churchill, The Second World War, 1959 Time Life
Barrie Pitt, The Battle of the Atlantic, 1977 Time Life Books
Image Credits: Photos courtesy of the US Navy, Diagram courtesy of Wikipedia user Rama.