WW1 French Navy Archives - naval encyclopedia

Gloire class Armoured Cruisers (1900)

Gloire class Armoured Cruisers (1900)

Marine Nationale, 1899-1954:
Gloire, Marseillaise, Sully, Amiral Aube, Condé

The Gloire class consisted of five armored cruisers built for the French Marine Nationale in 1901-1904, designed after a long internal debate in the Navy staff between three factions to determine the best type of cruiser in the next decade. A compromise was found and the Gloire class was approved in 1897 With a mixed armament of 7.6 in/6.5 in guns, and fleet-capable operations. Completed in 1903–1904, they served with the Northern Squadron, some operating in the far east, Mediterranean Squadron, where all met in 1910 in the 2nd Light Squadron, quite active in WWI. They served in the Far East, North sea, and Mediterranean and all fronts in WWI, including the black sea in 1919. Two survived in the 1920s, and on was still a training ship in 1944. #ww1 #marinenationale #frenchnavy.

Design Development of the Gloire class (1896-1899)

A nice view of Gloire’s forward section during an hommage to Vendemiaire (agence Rol). It shows in order, the capstan, main battery forward turret, conning tower, bridge and concidene rangefinders above, and fighting top with the four 37 mm Hotchkiss. Above was a spotting top and a platform for a projector.

By mid-1897 the three factions inside the navy staff, the Jeune École, traditionalists and modernists fiercely debated since 1896 over a newly authorized class of five cruisers:
-The Jeune Ecole (Young School) wanted fast, lightly armed ships for commerce raiding, faithful to their asymetric naval warfare credo.
-The traditionalists wanted cruisers to defend colonies, a quite extensive network between Africa, the Indian Ocean, Pacific and far East.
-The modernists desired both armored cruisers and small scout cruisers to operate with the fleet. Only their first would be accepted. They had to wait for 1912 for the second.

The previous Jeanne D’Arc, that quickstarted this new serie.

They came to a consensus that balanced armored cruisers could fulfill all these roles. The five cruisers intended to work with the fleet had been authorized already as part of the 1896 construction program but only three, the Gueydon class, would be ordered in 1897. Later Navy Minister and Vice Admiral Armand Besnard ordered Louis-Émile Bertin, Director of Naval Construction (“Directeur central des constructions navales”) started design work on an enlarged successor to the Gueydons with 500 metric tons (490 long tons) of extra displacement as room for improvements.

Artist depiction of the class in Brassey’s naval annual 1904

The 1896 construction program was amended in 1898. It was now to include six more armored cruisers, three of which were intended to be laid down under FY 1898. Édouard Lockroy (new Naval Minister), a politician, approved the new design based on the DNC previous work, and on 17 September ordered the first two in naval dockyards, while the remaining three would have their orders confirmed in 1899.

Detailed Design

Hull and general design

Comparison between the Gueydon and Gloire (Brasseys naval annual 1906 and 1912).

The additional weight decided by Besnard, on advices from Bertin, enabled the new Gloire-class to have an increasing height above the waterline and higher armored belt, with the extra benefit of adding more torpedo tubes. The final hull was established at 139.78 meters (458 ft 7 in) in overall lenght, 20.2 meters (66 ft 3 in) in beam, and 7.55 meters (24 ft 9 in) draft, more comfortable dimensions indeed compared to the Gueydons. This went for a displacement of 9,996 metric tons (9,838 long tons) compared to the Gueydon’s 9,516 tonnes for 139.90 m (459 ft) in lenght but 19.38 meters (63 ft 7 in) in beam.

Conway’s profile of the class.

The crew amounted to 25 officers and 590 enlisted men, more than the 566 officers and ratings of the Gueydon’s. Now, on the general design itself, they still resembled their forebears, with a long forecastle, limited tumblehome and modest ram bow, almost straight, a bridge with a thick military mast forward (with fighting and spotting top, going up), tall mainmast aft, two pairs of heavenly spaced funnels, and service boats on davits either side. For more, plans kept at Chatelleraut seems to not have been digitzed for this class yet.

Armour protection layout

The Gloire class had a main armored belt made with Harvey face-hardened armor plates.
-The main waterline belt was 150 mm (5.9 in) amidships and tapered down to 90 mm (3.5 in) forward past the barbette and 80 mm (3.1 in) aft.
-The upper belt strake was 130 mm (5 in) amidships tapered down 80 mm fwd and 70 mmm (2.8 in) aft. These outer strakes however were in less resistant nickel steel.
-ASW compartimentation extensive: (Bertin-style ship) Watertight internal cofferdam, backed by a longitudinal watertight bulkhead.

-Main-gun turrets 161 mm (6.3 in), Harvey armor all around.
-Main barbettes 174 mm (6.9 in) in ordinary steel.
-Secondary turrets faces/sides 92 millimeters (3.6 in)
-Secondary turrets barbettes 102 millimeters (4 in).
-164.7 mm casemates 102 millimeters.
-Conning tower 174 mm thick walls.
-Forward transverse bulkhead 100 mm (3.9 in) thick
-Aft transverse bulkhead 40-84 mm (1.6 and 3.3 in).
-Lower armored deck (made in mild steel plates) 25 mm (0.98 in), flat and sloped sections.
-Upper armored deck 24 mm (0.94 in) hardened steel.


These cruisers innovated little in this field and retook the Gueydon’s machinery essentially: They had three vertical triple-expansion steam engines each on a single propeller shaft. The idea of three shaft was that the axial one would be reserve fo cruising and the outer ones for speed and manoeuver, with different pressures.
In total this machinery was rated for 20,500 metric horsepower (15,100 kW) – To compare with Gueydon’s 21,500 shp), with the steam coming from 28 Belleville water-tube boilers.
Condé and Gloire had Niclausse boilers instead, a choice of their Yard.
This enabled a speed of 21 knots (39 km/h; 24 mph), but 21.27–21.88 knots (39.39–40.52 km/h; 24.48–25.18 mph) on trials based on 20,110–22,331 PS (14,791–16,424 kW). To compare with the Gueydon’s 21,4 nœuds. For range, they carried 1,660 long tons (1,690 t) of coal, enough for 6,500 nautical miles (12,000 km; 7,500 mi) at 10 knots. To compare, the Gueydons carried 1,575 tons of coal, for a 5,000 nm raduis at 18 knots according to some sources.


The main difference betwen the Gloires and Gueydons were in the armament’s repartition. They carried the same battery, but the Gloires had four of the previously casemated secondary guns relocated in deck turrets. It was homogeneous, with three calibers, main, secondary and light QF (2 calibers) anti-torpedo boat armament. But the torpedo armament was also superior to the Gueydon’s.


The main battery of the Gloire class rested on two quick-firing (QF) 194 mm (7.6 in) Mod. 1893–1896 guns. Same as the Gueydons. They were mounted in single-gun turrets fore and aft.
These fired a 75–90.3-kilogram (165–199 lb) shells (depending of its AP or HE nature) at a muzzle velocity of around 770-800 meters per second (2,500 to 2,600 ft/s).
Range was about 11,500 meters (12,600 yd) at +15° elevation. Each had a reserve of 100 shells. ROF (Rate of Fire) was two rounds a minute.


The secondary armament was split in two caliber, consisting of eight QF 164.7 mm (6.5 in) Mod. 1893–1896 guns plus six QF Canon de 100 mm (3.9 in) Mod. 1893 (two more compared to the Gueydons).
Four 164.7 mm were in two single-gun wing turrets on the broadside, forming a triangle pattern with the axial main turrets fore and aft.
The remaining ones were in single hull casemates.
They fired 45–54.9-kgs (99–121 lb) shells, HE or AP, fired at 900 meters per second (3,000 ft/s) and with a ROF of 3 rounds per minute. At +15° elevation they reached 10,800 meters (11,800 yd), which was almost the same as the main guns. Thus they completed well the slower-firing main guns.
200 rounds were in store for each of these gun.
The six 100 mm guns were located in casemates, two in the froward section of the hull, close to the bow, two in upper superstructure forward, and two in recesses aft, also above the main secondary casemates.
They fired a 14–16-kilogram (31–35 lb) shell (AP/HE) with a muzzle velocity of 710-740 meters per second (2,300 to 2,400 ft/s). Each had a storage of 250 rounds, all stowed in the casemates, and ROF was six rounds per minute.

Anti Torpedo-Boat armament

Their anti-torpedo boat defence rested on eighteen Hotchkiss M1886 47mm/40 -instead of 10 on the Gueydons- (1.9 in) and four Hotchkiss 37mm/40 (1.5 in) guns, the latter usable as saluting guns but not usable for a landing party as they were located in the fighting top. They were all in single mounts. Oddly enough, according to the photos above, these guns were presented as “AA guns”. They indeed had quite an important elevation that could enable this possibility. But being shoulder-moved and slow-firing contact-exploding shells, they would have been inefficient for this role.
These 47 mm guns were located in various positions: Four on the superstructure’s roof, on the corners, four in hull’s casemated position in recesses, one in stern chase, three either broadside also in casemates, just above the main belt. Their usefulness in heavy weather was dubious.

Torpedo Tubes

The Gloire class received a better torpedo armament, with five 450 mm (17.7 in) torpedo tubes: A submerged pair and another above water (4), broadside, and the last in the stern and also above water, on pivot mount like the ones of the broadside. Underwater tubes were fixed. In between they shared a stock of sixteen torpedoes. The ships could also be equipped to carry between 10 and 14 naval mines. This capability was never exploited.


During WWI, it’s likely that many of these Hotchkiss guns were landed at some point during a refit and replaced by at least two high-angle 75 mm AA guns. Only Marseillaise was thoroughly modified to be used as training ship.
Condé was largely disarmed as demoted as a barrack ships and later depot ship for submarines in the interwar. She was used as a tender for German U-Boats while in Lorient in WW2 and thus, perhaps rearmed with some modern AA by the Germans, but this information is researched right now for the WW2 section. As for Marseilaise again, she had her main fore and aft guns replaced by 164 mm guns instead, also in turrets in 1925. That’s about all which is known. She was retired in 1929.

Author’s profile.

⚙ Gloire class specifications as built

Displacement 9,996 t (9,838 lt) standard
Dimensions 139.78 x 20.2 x 7.55m (458 ft 7 in x 66 ft 3 in x 24.8 ft)
Propulsion 3 shafts VTE, 28 wt boilers 20,500 PS (15,100 kW)
Speed 21 knots (39 km/h; 24 mph)
Range 6,500 nautical miles (12,000 km; 7,500 mi) at 10 knots
Armament 2× 194, 8× 164, 6× 100, 18× 47, 4× 37, 5x 450 mm TTS
Protection Main belt 5.9-2.8 in, turrets 6.3-in, bkhds 3.9-in, CT 6.9-in
Crew 615

General Assessment of the Gloire class

Victor Hugo of the next Gambetta class. They were much larger, reaching 13,000 tonnes FL, and carried almost double the armament.

Design-wise, the Gloire class were surely an improvement on their commerce-raiding capabilities, with a slightly better range (but not better speed), larger armament and more flexible secondary turrets for better arc of fire, more guns of intermedediate and light armament plus more torpedo tubes for closer quarters. Armour was generally better, and their main armament was still ranged enough for a battlefleet use at the time. But in general they were too weak to engage anything else but their own kind.

Note that in this post, no word as been said about the Dupleix class, which will be seen next. They were started in the same 1896 programme, but the three cruisers were only 7000 tonnes, seen as weaker versions for the Gueydon/Gloire and one-off pure commerce raider experiment (not fleet capable) armed only with lighter caliber, 6.4-in and 4-in guns. But still armoured cruisers capable of combating other escorting cruisers.

It should be also said at this point that the “Jeune Ecole” wanted and had it’s serie of “pure” commerce raider, largely unarmoured or lightly protected from 1894, D’Entrecasteaux, Guichen, Chateaurenault (which even faked a liner’s silhouette !) and Jurien de la Gravière. Better jugdment prevented more to be built and greater efforts put into more versatile and capable armoured cruisers instead. As for “scouts” asked for the modernists, the last closest to home was “Milan” in… 1884. The French scout program was planned by Admiral and Navy minister Boué de Lapeyrière in 1912 but never realized. It was eventually the basis for the 1920s Duguay-Trouin class.

The armoured cruiser design really started to improve afer the Gloire class, which were more an in-between. A transitional class that made in numbers for what deficiences they possessed. From the next Léon Gambetta, the French Navy went for a brand new standard, way more impressive, and ended with the last “six pipers” just before the Dreadnought age, impressive commerce raiders but also very competent armoured cruisers considering the competition at the time.

Career-wise, the Gloire class had a short existence, on average 15 years of active service. The only exception were Marseillaise, a TS until 1929, and Condé, a barrack ships and later U-Boat depot ship, thus surviving the interwar treaties and still used in WW2. She was the only one to survive the war and be spent as target. The others had a rather dull existence. Apart Sully, sunk in the far east, all four were mostly deployed in largely uneventful escort missions during the Great War.

Read More


Conway’s All the World’s Fighting Ships 1860–1905.
Dai, Wei (September 2020). “A Discussion on French Armored Cruiser Identification: From the Gueydon Class to the Edgar Quinet Class”. Warship International. LVII
Friedman, Norman (2011). Naval Weapons of World War One: Guns, Torpedoes, Mines and ASW Weapons of All Nations. Seaforth
Jordan, John & Caresse, Philippe (2019). French Armoured Cruisers 1887–1932. Barnsley, UK: Seaforth Publishing.
Silverstone, Paul H. (1984). Directory of the World’s Capital Ships. New York: Hippocrene Books.



Model Kits

None (even Kombrig) but small 1/1750 models for wargaming.

FS Gloire (1899)

FS Gloire (“Glory”) was authorized in the 1896 Naval Program, ordered from Arsenal de Lorient on 17 September 1898, laid down on 5 September 1899, launched 27 June 1900, completed 28 April 1904 (cost 22,081,725 francs).

Prewar Service

She was assigned as flagship, Rear Admiral Joseph Bugard, 1st Cruiser Divisio, Northern Squadron, until 4 August 1905, participating in many exercises between the North sea, Channel, Bay of Biscaye, and Atlantic. With her sisters Condé and Amiral Aube, she carried the remains of John Paul Jones from France to Annapolis in April 1906, also stopping in NyC. Later the 2nd Cruiser Division formed in January 1907 in the Mediterranean. Gloire was transferred there and became its flagship. On 7–8 August she took part in the bombardment of Casablanca at the start of the conquest of Morocco. In October 1907 she was the flagship again, but carrying the flag of Rear Admiral Joseph-Alphonse Philibert.

Bombardment of Casablanca

A reorganization that saw the Mediterranean Squadron becoming the 1st Squadron again and Gloire with Condé and Marseillaise went to the 2nd Light Division of this 1st Squadron, by June 1910. Gloire was still divisional flagship and saw service with Amiral Aube and Condé in January 1911 while the Northern Squadron was fusioned in the same division. All ships but Sully, lost in Indochina years prior, were in March visiting New York City again.

As the turbine-driven Danton-class battleships entered service the 2nd Squadron became the 3rd in September. Gloire hoisted the colors as flagship of Rear Admiral Charles-Eugène Favereau. She took part in a fleet review for President Armand Fallières off Toulon. During a gunnery training on 20 September, a propellant charge exploded prematurely in a main turret, killing all operators instantly, badly wounding another five. The Agadir Crisis of 1911 had a treaty signed between the French and British governments in 1912, a famous agreement that was still valid in 1939. From then on, the Royal Navy would be tasked of protecting the northern French coast and the French would focus on the Mediterranean and defend British (and French) interests, notably Malta, Gibraltar and Suez. The norther squadron was all but reduced to a few vessels, and the 2nd-3rd Light Squadrons were fusioned into the 1st Cruiser Squadron. Gloire was sent back to the Atlantic Training Division by 10 November 1913 as flagship for Rear Admiral Auguste-Georges Bouxin.

WWI Service

During the July Crisis of 1914, Gloire and the other training cruisers of her unit, with reduced crews, were fully reactivated, assigned to the 2nd Light Division, 2nd Light Squadron to defend the English Channel with the Royal Navy. The 2nd DL was posted at the western end of the Channel on 4 August, to spot and captured German shipping as well as escorting troop convoys to France, notably General French British Expeditionary Force to France. On 27 October Channel patrols fell under command of Rear Admiral François le Canellier (flagship Gloire).

Nevertheless some German merchant raiders (like Möwe) did such a rampage that in 1916 the Allies had to transfer more cruisers to the Atlantic. Gloire ended in the 3rd DL and was sent to Dakar, French West Africa in February 1916. She was back to her post in May. A new reorganization saw her assigned to the 3rd DL patrolling the West Indies (Carribean), still hunting down German commerce raiders. Amiral Aube and Gloire left Brest on 20 May for Fort-de-France (Martinique) where Marseillaise and Condé already operated. The four armored cruisers were replaced by the 4th DL in September 1916.

Gloire was just barely back when recalled while trying to intercept Möwe by late December, off Halifax. She was back 17 January 1917. After some upkeep she was sent back to the West Indies as flagship, 3rd DL, until this unit was disbanded on 18 May. The cruisers were sent to the 4th DL, redesignated “Atlantic and Antilles Division” on 1 June 1917, Gloire still a flagship. From then on, the “four musketeers” were only tasked of escorting convoys from Saint Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands. This work started on 15 February 1918 and by May, Gloire collided by night with the American ocean liner SS City of Athens. Repaired in France she was back as flagship in the West Indies for which was now simply the “Atlantic Division” from 25 June. On 7 July the French were reassigned the protection of convoys from New York City to the Bay of Biscay. On 11 November she was still in this role.

Postwar Service

After leave, upkeep and refresher training, Gloire was still active. On 1 September 1919 she was escorting the ocean liner SS Leviathan carrying General “Blackjack” John Pershing back home. After this, she was placed in reserve for many more years, and stricken eventually on 7 July 1922 due to her age, sold for BU in 1923.

FS Marseillaise (1900)

FS Marseillaise (after the French national anthem) was authorized in the 1898 Naval Program. She was ordered from the Arsenal de Brest (Britanny peninsula, Northwest France) on 19 June 1899. Laid down on 10 January 1900 she was launched on 14 July 1900, completed in October 1903 as a cost of 22,031,750 francs.

Prewar Service

Marseillaise joined at first the 1st Cruiser Division, Northern Squadron, like Gloire and her sisters. She however carried President Emile Loubet to Naples for a state visit, in April 1904. She was then transferred to the Light Squadron, Mediterranean by October 1904. In September 1905 like Gloire, she became flagship, Rear Admiral Paul Campion until placed in reserve by July 1907.

Fully recommissioned in January 1908, still as flagship, but hoisting the colors of Rear Admiral Thierry, 2nd Cruiser Division, Northern Squadron. Thierry was soon relieved by Rear Admiral Paul Auvert by July 1909. In October the Mediterranean Squadron became the 1st Squadron, the Northern one, the 2nd Squadron. Marseillaise and Gloire in the latter were part of the 1st Squadron, 2nd DLC (Light Cruiser Division). From August 1911, they were now part of the renumbered 3rd squadron, 2nd DLC, then 3rd DLC, 3rd Squadron in September. After a fleet review and 1912 reorganization, their unit was reconcentrated in the Mediterranean, 2nd Light Squadron, 1st Cruiser Squadron with Marseillaise flagship again for Rear Admiral Albert Royer from 10 November 1913.

WWI Service

From 3 August, the 1st Cruiser Division became the 1st Light Division, retransferred to Cherbourg as distant cover to catch ships going through the recently created blockade at the western entrance to the Channel, for all German ships which would want to cross there. The 1st DL covered also troop transports of the British 6th Infantry Division, BEF, from Southampton to Saint-Nazaire in September and from 27 they patrolled the Channel at the head of an armada of smaller cruisers.

When the eastern Channel entrance was sealed off by a barrage of anti-submarine nets and minefields in 1915, Marseillaise, Gloire and sisters were relocated to the West Indies. By May 1916 the four sisters were now part of the 3rd DLC, trying to spot and catch German commerce raiders in the Carribean. The 3rd DL was disbanded on 18 May 1917. All four cruisers were reassigned the 4th DL “Atlantic and Antilles Division” from 1st June.
After escorting a convoy of nine tugboats from Brazil to Agadir in Morocco, stopping at Dakar in French West Africa, Marseillaise had an outbreak of malaria, infecting 420 men. The few remaining were only able to had her underway at 4 knots to Fort-de-France (Martinique) on 12 November and the rpidemic only ended in December. Marseillaise escorted convoys from Saint Thomas from 15 February 1918 and until the end of the war.

Postwar Service

Marseillaise was in general good condition post-war and reassigned to the Baltic Division on 18 December 1918 until relieved by Gueydon in November 1919, watching over the Bolsheviks manoeuvers and supporting the allies there themslves supporting “white Russians”. Reaassigned to the Atlantic Division in March 1920, she escorted on 29 June the ocean liner SS George Washington with president Woodrow Wilson back to the US. Placed in reserve the next year in 1921 she became a gunnery training ship, with a few modifications (uniform main artillery, new accomodations) based in Toulon in 1925–1929. Stricken in 1929 and renamed “Marseilles II” to free the name for a new light cruiser (La Galissonière class). On 13 February 1932 she was stricken and sold for BU in December 1933.

FS Sully (1901)

Sully (named after Henry IV marshall and statesman Maximilien de Béthune, Duke of Sully 1559-1641) was authorized in 1898, ordered from Forges et Chantiers de la Méditerranée on 24 May 1899, laid down the same in La Seyne-sur-Mer, and launched on 4 June 1901. She was completed in June 1904 and soon sent to French Indochina for her first commission. After a few weeks of servuce there, she struck an uncharted reef on 7 February 1905, in Hạ Long Bay. Fortunately where she was, the flooding was gradual and she settled, leaving time for her crew to evacuate in good order, without any casualty. Later small ships tried to salvage what could be, such as ammunitions and guns, or equipment in order to lighten her up. But while trying to refloat her due to tide movements she eventually broke in two. It was decided to abandon the wreck, stricken and considered a total constructive loss.

FS Amiral Aube (1902)

FS Amiral Aube (named after Théophile Aube, 1826-1890, a colonial veteran of the war with China) was authorized in 1898, ordered from Chantiers de Penhoët on 9 August 1899. Laid down in February 1901 at Saint-Nazaire she was launched on 9 May 1902. Completed on 1 April 1904 at a cost of 24,336,000 francs, her crew came from the just paid off protected cruiser Guichen. Assigned to the 1st Cruiser Division, Northern Squadron, she carried out exercizes in the Atlantic and English channel in the same group as Condé and Gloire (flagship). They escorted the remains of John Paul Jones from France to Annapolis in April 1906. She visited New York City (enabling taking many photos, now in the libray of congress coll.). Later she was assigned to the 2nd Cruiser Division in January 1907. Amiral Aube was later versed to the 1st Cruiser Division (in October) and took part in the Quebec Tercentenary in Canada, berthed in quebeck city, just below the famous “Frontenac Hotel”, the occasion to take many more photos.

As the new République-class battleships entered service in late 1909, the French Navy reorganized these cruisers into the 2nd Squadron. From January 1911, she was in this unit with Gloire and Condé and from March she visited New York City. Deployed in the Mediterranean and training by mid-1911 she took part in the fleet review off in September. Reassigned to Reserve Group by November 1911 she was only fully reactivated by January 1914, assigned the 1st Cruiser Division, 2nd Light Squadron.
Now part of the 1st Light Division she was based in Cherbourg, trying to catch german vessels trying to pass the western Channel entrance blockade. Next, she also escorted troopships of the BEF to France, notably the 6th Infantry Division from Southampton. On 27 October, Amiral Aube and Gloire led a fleet of smaller cruisers patrolling until the eastern entrance was seal off by a barrage in 1915.

Reassigned in the Eastern Mediterranean from 24 December, 2nd Division, 3rd Squadron, Amiral Aube, Marseillaise and Gloire patrolled Egyptian waters, protecting Suez, as well as the Ottoman-held Levantine coasts. After all this time at sea without a proper refit, Marseillaise’s machinery needed more and more repairs until the general staff had enough and ordered her to Brest for a full drydock refit in March 1916. In May she was reassigned to the West Indies, looking for German commerce raiders with Gloire from Fort-de-France. The 3rd DL was disbanded and renamed “Atlantic and Antilles Division” from 1 June 1917 and she escorted convoys from Saint Thomas, from 15 February 1918 until the end of the war.

With the Bolsheviks signing the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk on 3 March 1918, she was sent to North Russia, supportig the Allied intervention from Murmansk on 18 March. She covered the occupation of Arkhangelsk on 10 August and was back home on 18 October, relieved by Gueydon. In early 1919, Amiral Aube was reassigned like her sisters to the Atlantic Division and eventually placed in reserve in March 1920, in Lorient. She was stricken on 7 July 1922 and sold for BU in 1924.

FS Condé (1902)

FS Condé (after Louis Condé, famous Louis XIV’s generalissimo) was authorized in the 1896 Naval Program. Ordered from Arsenal de Cherbourg, on 17 September 1898 and then Arsenal de Lorient, 8 April 1898, she was eventually laid down on 29 January 1901 in the same slipway of FS Gloire. Launched the last in her class, on 12 March 1902, she was completed on 12 August 1904 at a cost of 21,594,975 francs.

Assigned to the 1st Cruiser Division, Northern Squadron with Gloire and Amiral Aube she had about the same career as the latter. She was in the Mediterranean Squadron by 1906. When the Light Squadron was split in half, Condé, Gloire and Amiral Aube went into the 2nd Light Division and from January 1911, 2nd Squadron. By August, she was in the 3rd Sqn, 3rd DL. Next the 2nd Light Squadron, 1st Cruiser Squadron, Atlantic Division in the French West Indies by early 1914. She took part in the US occupation of Veracruz by April 1914, protecting French citizens and interests off Mexico during the Revolution.

After the July Crisis, Condé and Descartes were at Veracruz in Mexico when recalled home. On 4 August they were assigned to the British 4th Cruiser Squadron trying to catch SMS Karlsruhe last spotted in the area. On 16 October, Condé teamed with HMS Berwick looking for other ships reported off the coast of Brazil. They were looking for the approaching German East Asia Squadron and prevent it to cross the Panama Canal as the US at the time were still neutral. The British Admiralty concentrated all its assets in the West Indies, including Condé on 8 November. However Von Spee was spotted off Chile five days later while Karlsruhe had been destroyed by an internal explosion on 8 November. Condé and Descartes remained in the West Indies until August 1915 and from 14 February HMAS Sydney reluieved Condé which could join her sisters in Martinique.

By January 1916 in the 3rd DL she took part in the search for German commerce raiders. Condé hiwever was pretty worn out after all this time and sent in France for a major overhaul at the Forges et Chantiers de la Gironde shipyard, Bordeaux, Western France, by July 1916. Since commerce raiders were now quite rare, by 1917, the local armored cruisers of the Atlantic and Antilles Division were tasked of escorts from late 1917, and started to cover the line St Thomas-St Nazaire from February 1918. Condé was ordered back alone however to the West Indies on 1 March. She later replaced the torpedoed armored cruiser Dupetit-Thouars in August 1918 and still in the Atlantic Division when the war ended.

Back to France by 28 May 1919, she carried 176 mutineers from French colonial infantry units to Casablanca, to be judged and interned. Condé relieved Gueydon in the Arctic on 25 June. There, she covered the French troops withdrawing from Arkhangelsk and later Murmansk on 12 October as the “reds” were advancing steadily. Reduced to “special reserve” on 15 March 1920 in Brest, Condé became a barracks ship in 1922 for the naval infantry in Lorient. In 1928, she became the HQ for the Naval Infantry School, but was stricken on 15 February 1933. From there, she was converted into a hulk instead of being scrapped. She was captured by the Germans in June 1940. They considerably modified her to be usable as a U-Boat depot ship. She was therefore spotted and sunk by Allied aviation in 1944. Her wreck was refloated in 1954 to be broken up.


French Battleship Suffren (1899)

Suffren (1899)

French Navy Pre-Dreadnought Battleship (1899-1916)

Design of the class

The Suffren was the last “classic” French pre-dreadnought. The next Republique class would indeed be of a modernized design, leaving no trace of the Jeune Ecole theories. Suffren was designed amost as a sister ship of Iéna, and improved Charlemagne design, whereas Suffren was at first a sister-ship, delayed to become an improved Iéna, with changes in armament and armour, notably a secondary battery in turrets and not in casemates.

Iéna, for comparison (Bougault coll.)

Completed in 1902, Suffren served wit the Mediterranean Squadron as flagship. She twice collided with ships and her propeller shafts replaced, and from 1914, assigned to the Dardanelles fleet, shelling Ottoman fortifications.
Moderately damaged on 18 March 1915 and repaired in Toulon, she returned to support the landings of the Gallipoli Campaign and when the entente withdrew. She collided and sank a frighter and was repaired again, reassigned to the French squadron off Salonica. Back to Lorient for a major refit she was torpedoed and sank off Lisbon by U-52 on 26 November 1916.

Hull and general design

The three Charlemagne class authorized in 1893 were in construction when VADM Armand Besnard convinced the Chamber of Deputies to authorize Iéna in 1897, improved and another next year Besnard requiring an entirely new design. Basically he wanted an enlarged and improved Iéna, providing a ground for future class.

Suffren at first only showed limited improvements in armament and armour but project became the new hot topic at the Conseil des travaux de la Marine (Board of Construction) and it veered towards a brand new new design, ony retaining token parts of Iéna. The biggest influence at the time was the expected move towards secondary armament in turrets rather than in barbettes, notably to five them a better field of fire. Thus, engineers were ordered to place all the secondary armament in wing turrets, three per side. The shell stowage also grew to 60 rounds per gun (45 on Iéna). In total, on ten, six 6.5-in guns were mounted in single-mount turrets, three per side, the remaining four in caemates at the largest beam.

Brassey’s plan

The hull was classic in design, albeit longer and larger than Iéna, 125.91 m (413 ft 1 in) long overall at the tip of the spur ram, 21.42 m (70 ft 3 in) in beam, and 8.22 m (27 ft) in draught, for 12,432 t (12,236 long tons) of normal displacement and 12,892 t (12,688 long tons) full loaded. In comparison, Iéna reached 12,105 t deeply loaded, her hull measured 122.31 m (three meters shorter) for 20.81 m (68 ft 3 in) in beam, so 61 cm narrower, but with a higher draft.

The hull shape was well rounded, albeit the clssic tumblehome was less accentuated, and metacentic height was better due to the beamier hull. She was supposed to have a slow, predictive roll. Superstructure wise, it ran allong the ship between barbettes. It comprised a conning tower one deck taller than the roofline of the A turret, and a bridge built above and behind, then a taller foward military mast, complete with a fighting top and spotting top above. The same was repeated on a shorter mast aft. They als had two funnels rasonably fat apart, forward.

Two view blueprint (HD)

She had well filled hull shapes, good freeboard, stepped aft: There was still the trademark “half deck” forward to support the A turret. Later designs of the Republique class would have a full deck forward. The stern was classically pear-shaped. The armour design focused on the same armoured belt full lenght to the bow, but was cut short mid-way to “B” barbette.
She had a fleet of service boats: Two barges and two steam cutter on deck, aft of the main military mast, four rowing boats under double davits aft either side, and two small yawls forward also under davits at the prow.
The crew comprised 668 officer and men in normal service (31 officers and 637 ratings) and up to 742 as flagship (42 officers and 700 ratings).

Armour protection layout

Armour scheme, extract from a Russian publication (see the model kits credits)

As said prior, most of the scheme of the previous Iéna was kept. She had a complete waterline armour belt, using Harvey armour:
-Main belt, citadel: 300 mm (11.8 in), 250 mm (9.8 in) at the bow, 230 mm (9.1 in) stern.
-Main belt lower edge: 124 millimetres (4.9 in) amidships, 113 mm (4.4 in) bow, 100 mm (3.9 in) stern.
-Main belt height 2.5 metres (8 ft 2 in), 1.4 m (4 ft 7 in) above, 1.1 m (3 ft 7 in) below waterline.
-Special-steel armour strake above, from the bow to aft transverse bulkhead, 70 mm (2.8 in) – 110 mm (4.3 in) amidships. -ASW: Subdivided cofferdam filled by water-resistant “bricks” of dried Zostera seaweed.
-Outer casemates special-steel 110 mm.
-Casemates transverse bulkheads 80 mm (3.1 in), centreline bulkhead 50 mm (2 in)
-Main turret: 290 millimetres (11.4 in) walls, 50mm roof
-Main barbettes: 250 mm (9.8 in).
-Secondary turrets 102 mm (4 in) fwd, 192 millimetres (7.6 in) back.
-Conning Tower: 224–274 mm (8.8–10.8 in) walls
-CT Communications tube: 150 mm (5.9 in) walls.
-Armoured deck 55–60-mm (2.2–2.4 in) in mild-steel plating laid+ 2x 10mm (0.39 in) plates.
-Splinter deck: 2x 19-millimetre (0.75 in) plates.

Suffren as completed in Le Pays de France N°21, page 13


Suffren was powered by three Indret vertical triple-expansion steam engines. They drove a propeller shaft each, the centre one driving a three-bladed screw propeller. The wing shafts drove four-bladed, 4.39 metres (14 ft 5 in) in diameter.
Steam came from 24 Niclausse boilers, working at 18 kg/cm2 (1,765 kPa; 256 psi). The whole was rated for 16,200 indicated horsepower (12,100 kW). As designed this was estimate to bring he to 17 knots (31 km/h; 20 mph).
Sea trials on 12 November 1903 revealed, based on a total of 16,809 ihp (12,534 kW), 17.9 knots (33.2 km/h; 20.6 mph). So contract speed was excedeed.
For range, Suffren carried 1,233 tonnes (1,214 long tons) of coal. This brought her, based on onsumption averages, to 3,086 nautical miles (5,715 km; 3,551 mi) on her designed cruise speed of 12 knots. However being a modern ship, she also had sprayers in their boilers, using a reserve of 52.15 tonnes fuel oil. This enabled to improve the coal burn rate. At last, to power a minimum systems when idle at anchor or machine cold, she had a 80-volt electrical power procured by two 600 amp dynamos, and three 1,200 amp ones.


Detail of Suffren’s forward turret, conning tower, secondary tower and casemate guns.

As said above, the main difference between the Suffrent and Iéna was an intereting artillery mix, with the same four twin Schneider 305 mm (12 in) guns as previous classes, but also a first level of secondary artillery with ten single Canet 164.7 mm (6.5 in) guns and eight single Canet 100 mm (3.9 in) guns as intermediate 2/3 rate artillery.
The bulk of anti-torpedo defence consisted in twenty-two single 47 mm Hotchkiss QF (1.9 in) guns and just two single 37 mm (1.5 in) Hotchkiss guns usable as saluting guns (and possible dismounted for landing parties), plus the usual four 450 mm (17.7 in) torpedo tubes. It was a well-rounded ensemble ensuring a volume of fire at all distances, but a bit nightmarish for the ammuntion supply.


The four Canon de 305 mm Modèle 1893/96 were in two turrets in the typical shape as previou battleships, of round section but with flat walls and thus, same protection all around. Each turret rested on its barbette, with the roof pierced by two observation posts for backup targeting in case the main fire direction was inoperable.
These mainstream guns, largely used in WWI, notably from railways, used a Welin interrrupted-screw breech with Hydro-pneumatic recoil. They elevated only to 15°, had a rate of fire of just one rpm, firing a 349.4-kilogram (770 lb) AP shell at 780/800 m/s (2,600 ft/s) to a maximum of 12,000 m (13,000 yd).


1st level: Ten 45-calibre Canon de 164.7 mm (6.5 in) Modèle 1893/96 guns:
-Six were mounted in single-gun turrets on either side of the superstructure. The remaining four were in upper deck casemates in sponsons. They fired a 54.9 kg (121 lb) shell at 900 mps (3,000 ft/s) to 10,800 metres (11,800 yd). Rate of fire was 2-3 rounds per minute. 200 shells for each gun were in store.
2nd level:
To compensate for the relatively slow rate of fire of the 6.5 in, Suffren had also eight 45-calibre Canon de 100 mm (3.9 in) Modèle 1893 guns. They were placed in shielded mounts on the shelter deck and superstructure. Each fired a 16-kg (35 lb) shell at 710 mps (2,300 ft/s) and could elevate to +20° for 9,000 metres (9,800 yd) in range. But their main advantage was four rounds per minute. 2,000 shells were carried for each.

Light Anti-torpedo boat Armament

The twenty-two 50-calibre Canon de 47 mm (1.9 in) Modèle 1885 Hotchkiss guns were located on the fighting tops (8) and the remainder in the superstructure. They fired a 1.5-kg (3.3 lb) shell at 650 mps (2,100 ft/s) to 5,000 metres (5,500 yd) and at a 15 rounds per minute in a short burst, down to 7 sustained due to heat issues. 16,500 rounds were carried in all.
The two 37-millimetre (1.5 in) Modèle 1885 Hotchkiss guns were placed on the upper bridge, close to officers to fire blanks for saluting, smoke or flares.

Torpedo Armament

No change compared to Iéna: Suffren carried four 450 mm (17.7 in) torpedo tubes, both on the broadside, half being submerged abaft the forward turret (offset to a 30° angle). The remainder two were above-water with limited 80° traverse. There was a supply of twelve Modèle 1892 torpedoes, four being were training models with dud warheads. I have no info on the specifics of these torpedoes.

⚙ Suffren specifications

Displacement 12,432 t normal, 12,892t full load
Dimensions 125.91 x 21.42 x 8.22 m (413 x 70 x 27ft)
Propulsion 3 shafts, triple-expansion steam engines, 24 Niclausse boilers 16,200 ihp (12,100 kW)
Speed 17 knots (31 km/h; 20 mph)
Range 3,086 nmi (5,715 km; 3,551 mi) at 12 knots (22 km/h; 14 mph)
Armament 2×2 305, 10× 164.7, 8× 100, 22× 47, 2× 37 mm, 4× 450 mm TTs
Protection Belt: 300, Decks 60, Barbettes 250, Turrets 290, Bulkheads 110, CT 224–274 mm
Crew 688 normal, 742 as flagship

Read More


Campbell, N.J.M. (1979). “France”. Gardiner, Robert (ed.). Conway’s All the World’s Fighting Ships 1860–1905.
Caresse, Philippe (2010). “The Drama of the Battleship Suffren”. Warship 2010. Conway.
Corbett, Julian (1997). Naval Operations. History of the Great War: Based on Official Documents. Vol. II
Friedman, Norman (2011). Naval Weapons of World War One: Guns, Torpedoes, Mines and ASW Weapons of All Nations; Seaforth Publishing.
Jordan, John & Caresse, Philippe (2017). French Battleships of World War One. Annapolis NIP
Silverstone, Paul H. (1984). Directory of the World’s Capital Ships. Hippocrene Books



Model Kits

None, but a book with tons of plans and photos for a scratchbuilt: MCN-201801 Naval Campaign 2018/01 French battleship Suffren.

Career of FS Suffren (1904-1916)

Created with GIMP

Suffren was laid down at Brest Arsenal on 5 January 1899. She was launched on 25 July 1899, so quick for French standards at the time, but completed much later. She was named after 18th Cent. admiral Pierre André de Suffren de Saint Tropez (4th of the name, later a heavy cruiser class followed, a missile guided destroyer, and the first Barracuda class SSN).

Prewar Service

Suffren had her fitting-out delayed as fittings and armour were themselves much delayed. She started her sea trials in November 1903 (nearly four years after launch !) but was not commissioned until 3 February 1904. She made her inisitial training in the Channel.

On 18 August, she took part in a gunnery trial with Masséna, off Île Longue. She was attached for this a mild-steel plate of 55 centimetres (21.7 in) thickness, 225 x 95 cm long (7 ft 5 in by 3 ft 1 in) on the her forward turret side. This was one of the first of such resistance tests, by a large-calibre shell. Six sheep left inside simulated the crew.
Masséna fired from an anchored position just 100 metres (330 ft) away, and fired several 305 m (12 inches) AP shells at the plate, the first three knocking splinters off the armour plate and the last two with full charges cracked the plate, but still did not sent through debris inside. The turret was found still operational. Its Germain electrical fire-control system was also still functional and the sheep unharmed.
Splinters however did some damage, one retirned on Masséna, hit above the armour belt leaving a hole, and another landed close to the Naval Minister Camille Pelletan as an observer.

Suffren prewar at full speed. The lighting shows her tumblehome is still clearly a feature of the design. From shipsnostalgia

Suffren at last was fully commissioned in Brest and assigned to the Escadre de la Méditerranée immediately departing for Toulon. Upon arrival, as she was the most modern and largest French Battleship to that point, she became flagship, hoisting the mark of Vice-amiral Palma Gourdon on 24 February 1904. In April she carried President Émile Loubet on a state visit to Naples. However along the way several reports of defects were revealed, notably the underpowered capstan, barely capable of raising the anchor, the centre engine and propeller shaft overheating.

Gourdon was relieved by Vice-amiral Charles Touchard on 4 October 1905 and Suffren took part in fleet exercises off Hyères on 5 February 1906 when accidentally ramming the submersible Bonite, as the latter while submerged, miscalculated the fleet’s movements. Bonite was just at periscope depth 30 metres (98 ft) in front of Suffren, but both captains reacted promptly. The sub made a crash dive and Suffren veered quickly enough to just inflict a glancing blow. The submersible still had her bow crushed, ballast tanks ripped open so she had to drop her weighted keel and be beached to avoid sinking. Suffren on her side had two compartments next to the starboard engine room flooded as the steel plating was displaced. She was docked for emergency repairs and there were no casualties. During this immobilization it was decided to removed her above-water torpedo tubes. Suffren took part in an international fleet review in Marseille, on 16 September.

She was drydocked very close to Iéna on 12 March 1907, berthed in Toulon, when the latter exploded. The damage was moderate, and only a small fire started after some bruning debris landed on her decks. However soon, her ammunition magazine powder load was scriutinized. She took part in the annual fleet manoeuvres of the summer. On 5 November, Patrie took her place as flagship. She was still second in line on the 1th Battle Division.
In early 1908 engineers had her completed with a 2m (6 ft 7 in) Barr and Stroud rangefinder mounted on the navigation bridge for accuracy. She was transferred to the 3rd Battle Division this summer. During a manoeuver off Golfe-Juan on 13 August, she had her port propeller shaft badly damaged, dropping her propeller under 85 ft deep (it was recovered). A new shaft was to be ordered from Indret but since Iéna was at the time in full salvage after the enquiry, it happened the shafts were compatible and engineers seeked to obtain permission to do the transfer. But this was rejected by the Naval Ministry.

Suffren in Toulon, Agence Rol

In drydock it was also decided to have her center propeller shaft reworked to fix an old issue of overheating. 1909 saw her in a reorganisation, into two “Escadre de ligne” or battle squadrons each with three ships. 3rd BatDiv was reassigned to the 2nd BatRon. Suffren replaced ships in refitting, repair or maintenance. By November 1910 again, she lost her starboard propeller, lost this time in deep water and not recoverable. No shaft being available she had to wait three months, time during which her boilers were overhauled, one replaced. On 14 February 1911 this time, the port anchor chain broke while making towing exercises. One chain link killed a sailor and injured two. She took part in a naval review off Toulon on 4 September and her unit became the “1st Naval Army” on 31 October: Following an agreement with Britain in case of war, the French Fleet would concentrate in the Mediterranean. Several ships were transferred from the Northern Fleet.

After Iéna, another tragedy was to hit Toulon again, when Liberté exploded on 25 September 1911. Flying debris landed on Suffren and kill four men, but otherwise damage was light. Suffren was moved to BatDiv2, BatRon in replacement for her. On 14 March 1913 she was moved to BatDiv 1, BatRon 3, as flagship VADM Laurent Marin-Darbel on the 18th. Annual manoeuvres started on 19 May and ended wit a naval review for President Raymond Poincaré. BatRon 3 was dissolved on 11 November, Suffren becoming flagship, RADM Gabriel Darrieus in the “Division de complément” or Complementary Division. Her was replaced by CADM Émile Guépratte on 1 April 1914. She took part in the annual fleet exercise of 1914, starting on 28 May, but during manoeuvers she accidentally rammed Démocratie. The latter suffered little damage but Suffren lost her port anchor and hawsepipe, in addition to a hole, sent for emergency repairs. Thus she was absent fresh from drydock when WW1 broke out.

WWI Service

On 1 August, Division de complément sailed for Algiers to protect troopships convoy back to France. This mission started on 6 August and also went to Bizerte in Tunisia (22th) this time to operate contraband patrols in the strait of Sicily. By September she received another Barr and Stroud rangefinder, fitted close to the bridge, mounted on transverse rails fore and aft. She also had her after bulkhead removed, two 100 mm guns moved a deck lower.

CADM Guépratte complained about the fact his ships were not approriate for escorts and obtained permission to send Suffren, Saint Louis and the cruiser Cassini to Port Said in Egypt, this time to escort troop convoys coming from British India, starting on 23 September. She met the battleship Vérité off Tenedos and bot reported under British VADM Sackville Carden close to the Dardanelles. The idea was to intercept the newly commissioned battlecruiser Yavuz (Former Goeben) in case of a sortie with Midilli into the Mediterranean. Suffren was now in the renamed “Division des Dardanelles” (Dardanelles Division).

The Dardanelles Campaign

On 3 November, Suffren and Vérité joined the British squadron tasked of shelling Ottoman fortifications at the entry of the Dardanelles. This was a short pass to evaluate Turkish defences, and Suffren fired just 30 main guns shells with little results; In between the Ottomans bolstered their defences, and Suffren was reinforced by the earlier Gaulois from 16 November. Next, Suffren sailed for Toulon.

Suffren was back to the Dardanelles on 9 January 1915, still flagship of the Dardanelles Division. She shelled the fort of Kum Kale (Asiatic side) on 19 February assisted by Bouvet, which sent firing corrections via radio. Gaulois meanwhile dealt with Ottoman coastal artillery. HMS Vengeance started to take heavy fore when closing on fort Orhaniye Tepe and the battlecruiser HMS Inflexible tried to obliterate the coastal artillery but failed to do so and soon, Suffren and Gaulois were called to the rescue, combining fire for Inflexible and Vengeance to withdraw. Suffren fired 30 main, 227 secondary shells.

Suffren took also part in the bombardment of 25 February and was far more successful, closing to 3,000 yards (2,700 m). On 2 March, the Division moved to fire on fortifications in the Gulf of Saros. On 7 March it was back in its previous position, some forts continuously firing despite the delige of shells. British battleships joined in and later, Guépratte moved his squadron to the Gulf of Saros, arriving on 11 March for more shelling.

On 18 March was planned another major attack on the fortifications, the French following the British line into the Dardanelles. The French decided to engage forts at closer range and Suffren soon took coastal artillery fire. She was hit 14 times in 15 minutes, without significant damage since most were no larger than 240 mm (9.4 in) shells. They just bounced off her turret and hull. On such shell, while richeting, hit and stripped clean off the roof of a 164 mm turret and port casemate killing the crew. Debris entered its magazine and put it afore, but it was quickly flooded. Another hole her bow, flooding the area close to the citadel and forward turret.
Under Admiral John de Robeck orders, the French were ordered to withdraw, while Bouvet hit a mine and sank in less a minute with almost all hands. Suffren still managed to rescue 75 men and then escorted the badly-damaged Gaulois to safety. The pre-dreadnought was left beached on the Rabbit Islands, but she was later towed away after some patching up.

Suffren escorted Gaulois to Toulon via Malta, and weathered a storm underway, taking refuge in the Bay of Navarin. She arrived on 3 April, went straight into drydock on 20 May. She then headed east again joining the combined fleet at the Dardanelles, and remained in the area until 31 December, then sent to Kefalos, Kos island, during which she accidentally collided (and sank) the British steamer Saint Oswald, which was a horse transport evacuating troops from Gallipoli. Suffren was badly damaged and was sent back to Toulon on 20 January 1916.

Suffren and Agamemnon passing in front of the Dardanelles Forts

The Greek Campaign

She left Toulon in April and joined a reconstituted French squadron of six predreadnoughts.
The Initial French goal was to support operations on the Salonica front. On 9 July, Suffren became flagship of the 3e Escadre de ligne (BatRon 3) in place of Patrie, sent for a refit in Toulon. By August, political changes in Greece had King Constantine I wanted to maintain Greek neutrality and eny Greek Ports to the entente. On 7 October, the naval staff decided to pressure the Greeks into joining the entente and the French Battleships Patrie, Démocratie, and Suffren entered the harbour of Eleusina. Battle stations were clearly signalled, preparations were made to engage the Greek predreadnoughts Kilkis, Lemnos and the cruiser Elli. Negociations prevented to go any further and the French ships returned to their base.

Suffren in 1915

Suffren was to be refitted newt to Bizerte, but it was full already and she was diverted to the Lorient Dockyard instead, which proved in hindsight a fatal decision. On 15 November, Suffren too coal at Bizerte on 18 November and sailed two days kater to Gibraltar, the first leg. She was delayed by heavy weather en route and arrived on 23 November, recoaled and and exited the strait into the Atlantic without escort, which also was denied (the captain fully knew about U-Boat activites, some going as far south as the coast of Portugal.

Thus, on the morning of 26 November, circa 50 nautical miles (92.6 km; 57.5 mi) off Lisbon, Suffren was spotted and attacked by SM U-52, which launched four torpedoes. The latter was at the time not supposed to operate there, but en route to the Austro-Hungarian naval base at Cattaro, Adriatic, expecting a difficult crossing at Gibraltar. One torpedo hit close to a magazine, which detonated. This was sufficient enough to break the back of the battleship which sank within seconds will apparently all hands, 648 at the time. U-52’s captain arrived on the scene and emerged to see if he can puckup up suvivors but found none. After the loss of the Bouvet this was one of the most tragic loss of the French Navy up to that point.

Gueydon class Armoured Cruisers (1899)

Gueydon class Armoured Cruisers (1899)

Marine Nationale, 1899-1944: Gueydon, Montcalm, Dupetit-Thouars

Design development of the Gueydon class

Following the success of the Jeanne d’Arc, the French admiralty tasked chief engineer Emile Bertin to create a simplified and cheaper version, to be built in series.
However they still were intended to fill the same commerce-raiding strategy in line with the “Jeune École” theories. With three ships built, the Gueydon class confirmed the path taken since the Jeanne d’Arc, mostly caracterized by a much greater range and better speed compared to the previous ships since Dupuy de Lôme. The last commissioned, Dupetit-Thouars, in 1905 was the only lost in WWI. The two other survived the war, the interwar, and were scuttled in 1940 in Brest, later refloated but destroyed in 1944.

A “template” with mass production

“Following” them were (they were built practically at the same time, and quicker) were the Dupleix class (Dupleix, Desaix, Kléber), the Gloire class (Gloire, Marseillaise, Sully, Amiral Aube, Condé) near-repeats of the Gueydon, and finally back to much larger ships, the Léon Gambetta class (Léon Gambetta, Jules Ferry, Victor Hugo), followed by modified one-offs, the Jules Michelet (1905) and Ernest Renan (1909). No cruiser was built by France past the launch of HMS Dreadnought. There were only unrealized projects of battlecruisers and scout cruisers before WWI broke out. In all, following the Jeanne d’Arc in 1899 and in the span of six years, the French cranked up 16 armoured cruisers for their commerce raiding war, which scenario never realized itself.

Detailed Design

Hull and general design

The Gueydon class measured 137.97 meters (452 ft 8 in) long overall, and with a beam of 19.38 meters (63 ft 7 in), maximum draft of 7.67 meters (25 ft 2 in) for a displacement of 9,367 metric tons (9,219 long tons). Thus they were indeed less costy to built thanks to a ten meters shorted hull (147 m/482 ft 3 in on the Jeanne D’Arc), slightly narrower of just 5 cm (2 inch), and with a lower draft.
Protection was following about the same scheme, but less extensive by the dimensions. The Gueydon class had a lower hull, and the aft turret was not on deck, but elevated to the main upper deck.
About the silhouette, they had about the same superstructures, albeit lower and lighter, with the same, but thinner single military mast forward and pole aft like all previous cruisers, but based on a lighter machinery, with exhausts truncated into four main funnels, easier to distinguish. The hull seen from above still had a fairly elliptic design without straight section as customary of the time, hull lines were refined with narrower entries and ends. Their hull ratio was slightly less favourable, but they were regarded as better steamers overall, gaining a knot in top speed.
They had a crew of 566 officers and ratings, and would serve as flagships but added staff are not known.

Armour protection layout

It was Harvey armor for the main armor belt.
-The main belt was 150 mm (5.9 in) and extended vertically 1.3 meters (4 ft 5 in) below the waterline, and up to the upper deck over 43.0 meters (141 ft) in lenght.
-It went forward to the bow except but stopped 4.0 meters (13 ft) short of the stern.
-The lower, 150mm main armor tapered down to 91 mm (3.6 in) forward, 81 mm (3.2 in) aft, and down to 51 mm (2 in) to its lower edge.
-The upper armor strake was about 97–81 millimeters (3.8–3.2 in) down to 56–41 millimeters (2.2–1.6 in) above, between the main and upper deck.
-There was an aft transverse bulkhead, 84–41 mm (3.3–1.6 in) thick.
-There was a forward bulkhead, closing the casemate compartment, 120 mm (4.7 in) thick.
-There was another 102 mm (4 in) bulkhead below it, down to the lower deck, aft this time, rear of the casemate compartment.
-Horizontal protection comprised a main, curved, lower protective deck 2 to 2.2 inches thick. It was completed by a light armor deck on top, 20 mm (0.8 in) thick.
-Underwater protection was about the same as previous Bertin’s ships and his speciality: Extensivelty subdivided watertight internal cofferdam filled with cellulose, which ran all along these two protective decks.
-Gun turrets were semi conical with slanted sections, and had all around protection of 160–176 mm (6.3–6.9 in) with 32 mm (0.9 in) roofs.
-Main barbettes estimated 200 mm (8 in) thick, down to 50 mm (2 in) under the protective deck.
-The Main ammunition hoists had walls 2 inches thick.
-Secondary Casemate guns probably the same as for the Jeanne d’Arc, 74 mm (2.9 in) thick.
-100 mm guns had 50mm shields (2 in).
-The forward conning tower had 160 mm thick walls. There was no aft CT.
This was consistent with the previous design and perhaps better balanced, although with hindsight the thicker conning tower was not that useful. The greatest difference was the position of the aft turret, one deck higher, making for a taller barbette.


The Gueydon class like their predecessors had three shafts. The central one was the cruise shaft, and two outer ones were used for full speed. Gueydon had three vertical triple-expansion steam engines, connected to each propeller shaft. The interesting point is that not only this powerplant was reduced in size compared to the previous cruiser (which had 36 boilers and nearly 30,000 shp). Three variants were tried, all based on the same vertical triple expansion models:
-Gueydon had 28 Niclausse Boilers (19.600 shp)
-Dupetit Thouars had 28 Belleville boilers (22,000 shp)
-Montaclm had 20 normand Siguaudy boilers (Unknown output, assumed to be also 22K shp)
Going up to 22,000 indicated horsepower (16,400 kW) they could reach between 21 and 22 knots (39–41 km/h; 24–25 mph), so most authors put 21.4 kts as a medium. They were reached on trials. For autonomy, the Gueydon class carried up to 1,575 metric tons of coal (1,550 long tons; 1,736 short tons), enough for 8,500 nautical miles (15,700 km; 9,800 mi) at 10 knots (19 km/h; 12 mph) which was far less than the 12,000 nm of the Jeanne d’Arc, seen probably as too ambitious. She would also travel 5,000 nautical miles at 18 knots as extrapolated from the trials.


The armament of the Gueydon class was in straight line inspired by Jeanne d’Arc but with a twist: In common, they had the same single 194 mm (7.6 in) guns fore and aft, still “light” for armoured cruisers, but the secondary armament was brand new and composite: Wheras Jeanne d’Arc had fourteen single 138.6 mm (5.5 in) guns, the Gueydon class adopted eight of the new 164 mm (6.5 in) casemate guns which offered a far better range, same rate of fire, and heavier broadside. To compensate for the numbers, they had four single 100 mm (3.9 in) guns, with a much greater ROF. This made for a total of twelve guns.
The light battery was less extensive also, with ten instead of sixteen Hotchkiss 47 mm (1.9 in) guns and four single 37 mm (1.5 in) guns to compensate, located in the forward military top. This was completed by the usual torpedo tubes, the same two 450 mm (17.7 in) fixed broadside models. Overall a somewhat lighter but perhaps more balanced armament, which complicated supply though.


Same two 194 mm/40 (7.6 in) guns in single gun turrets fore and aft of the superstructure as for Jeanne d’Arc and all following cruisers. It used a separate-loading, bagged charge for a 75–90 kg (165–198 lb) AP shell existing the barrel at 840–875 m/s (2,760–2,870 ft/s). ROF was 2 rpm. The mount could elevate -6° to +15°. Range was circa 12,580 yards (11,500 m).


Their secondary armament comprised eight 45-caliber quick-firing (QF) 164 mm (6.5 in) guns in casemates. They were located along the hull, four in casemates to fire forward and aft, close to the bridge and aft superstructures and main turrets, and four in side postion with limited traverse.
These 164 mm guns became a staple of French designs up to that point. They were not that more powerful than the common Vickers 6-in (152mm), and the Modèle 1893 was used up to WWI and beyond, found vrtually on all cruisers and battleships of the French Navy. They had a Welin breech block, Hydro-pneumatic recoil, could elevate -10° to +25°, had a ROF of 2-3 rpm, shells leaving the barrel at 770–775 m/s (2,530–2,540 ft/s), up to 9,000 m (9,800 yd) at 25°. Later mounts allowed 36° and 18,000 m (20,000 yd).

The remainder Canet/Schneider 100mm/3.9-in guns (Canon de 100 mm Modèle 1891) fired a Fixed QF ammunition. Recoil used a Hydro-spring recuperator with a Canet screw breech for loading. ROF was 10 rpm, muzzle velocity 710–740 m/s (2,300–2,400 ft/s) and max range 9.5 km (5.9 mi). So they were even longer range compare to the 164mm.

Anti-torpedo boat armament

The same battery as before was used, but reduced. The ten Hotchkiss 47mm located along the main deck were 2 in Modèle 1886 using fixed projectiles for a 30 rpm ROF, at 571 m/s (1,870 ft/s), up to 5.9 km (3.7 mi) at +20°. The smaller 37 mm Hotchkiss (1.5 in) guns were located all four in the forward military top.

Torpedo Tubes

Same configuration as for the Jeanne d’Arc, both 450 mm tubes (17.7 in) were located above the waterline to avoid any weakness of the hull.

The Blueprints.com – Reconstruction of the class, two views.

Illustration by the author

⚙ Gueydon class specifications as built

Displacement 9,367 metric tons (9,219 long tons) standard
Dimensions 137.97 x 19.38 x 7.67 meters (452 ft 8 in, 63 ft 7 in, 25 ft 2 in).
Propulsion 3 shafts VTE steam engines, 28 Niclausse Boilers* 19,600-22.000 hp
Speed 21-22 kts as designed
Range 1,575 tons coal, circa 12,000 nmi at 10 knots ?
Armament 2× 194, 8× 164, 4× 100, 10× 47, 4× 37, 2x 450 mm TTS
Protection Main belt 6-1.6 in, turrets 8-in, casemates 4.7-in, CT 6.3-in
Crew 566

Read More


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Friedman, Norman (2011). Naval Weapons of World War One: Guns, Torpedoes, Mines and ASW Weapons of All Nations: An Illustrated Directory. Barnsley, UK: Seaforth.
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FS Gueydon (1899)

The first cruiser was named after Louis Henri de Guédon, Briton Vice Admiral, Governor of Brest and first governor of Algeria under the Third Republic. She was built at Arsenal de Lorient, started on 2.8.1898, launched on 20.9.1899 and completed, commissioned on the first September 1903 (construction time six years).
Gueydon was armed in Toulon in 1903 and started her first campaign in the Far East, based in Indochina for a time. Its assignation there ran from 1903 to 1906 after which, and following a refit, she was in gome waters (Toulon) in 1906-1909, then in service along the South Atlantic in 1910-1915.

When WWI started, she patrolled and escorted convoys along the shores of South America, from Brest to Gribraltar in 1915, and to the West Indies (French Caribbean, Antilles) in 1916. It seems this was her assignation until 1918, without much action. In 1919 she was in limited service and probably in reserve in 1922 due to to the Washington treaty limitations.

In 1923, she was comprehensively overhauled at Arsenal in Brest to serve from 1926 in Toulon as a gunnery schoolship. She had part of ther machinery removed (aft boilers groups) to make room for extra accomodation and had a mix of weapons to present the trainees all types in service. In 1927, she replaced Pothuau (an old protected cruiser) in this role. She was stricken in 1935, and from there was reconverted as a pontoon-barracks for the Preparatory School of the Navy.

She was anchored in Brest when WW2 started. She was notably photographed by the Luftwaffe, and to avoid capture, scuttled on June 18, 1940, just before troops entered the city. However her hull sunk in shallow waters and still emerged. She was refloated by the Germans but found little use, until at least she was maskeraded in 1943 as the cruiser Prinz Eugen to deceive RAF observers. The Germans added the old sloops Aisne and Oise to beef it up, erecting fake superstructures. Eventually she was completely blasted by the Germans in August 1944, during the capture of Brest by the allies, Free French and resistance groups. Photo 1 Photo 2

FS Montcalm (1900)

FS Montcalm, named after the French General in North America, was built in F C de la Méditerranée, La Seyne, south of France. Laid down on 27.9.1898 she was launched on 27.3.1900 and completed on 24.3.1902 (five years construction).
After sea trials and working out, she made her maiden voyage and shakedown cruise by conveying French President Émile Loubet to Russia, reaching Kronstadt in the black sea, to receive the official visit of Tsar Nicolas II on board for lunch on May 23, 1902. From 07.02.1903 she departed for the far east fleet, and served there until 1906. In 1906, she lost a propeller while steamiong back home in the Mediterranean. She was repaired in Bizerte and returned to Brest for final repairs and overhaul. She returned to the Far East fleet, until 1910, and was back home to be used on the south atlantic until the war broke out.

On February 17, 1915, the British requested her for a mission to Singapore, to quell a rebellion by companies of the 5th Light Infantry Regiment of the Indian Army. The latter was fuelled by the party’s anti-British nationalist propaganda “Ghadar”. The same year she returned to her patrol duties along the Atlantic coast from Brest to Gibraltar. The next year in 1916 like her sister she covered convoys to the Caribbean and South America, until 1918.

Marshall Joffre in Tokyo, as part of a goodwill diplomatic trour on behalf of the French government in Asia.

In 1921, she left for Singapore again, as part of Joffre’s Mission in the Far East. She carried the Marshal for a “goodwill tour” of four months in Asia. This tour lasted from November 11, 1921 – to March 12, 1922, a diplomatic mission to strengthen French influence in emerging Asian countries such as Indochina, Cambodia, Siam, Japan, Korea and the China, also to thank them, in his name as commander in chief, for their participation in the Great War.

Montcalm was decommissioned on October 28, 1926 and was converted as a training ship, paer of the “Armorique Group”, renamed “Trémintin” to free the name for a French heavy cruiser, in 1934. When the Second World War broke out, she was in Brest, scuttled on June 18, 1940 as German troops entered the city. She was refloated but destroyed again in 1943 following an air raid. Other sources states August 1944 which was more likely.

“Armorique” school group, with Tremintin (ex-Montaclm) and Gueydon, modified as a school ship. Photo reconnaissance by the Luftwaffe over Brest in June 1940.

FS Dupetit-Thouars (1901)

The cruiser, built at Toulon was named after Aristide Aubert du Petit-Thouars (1760-1798), killed in Aboukir while commanding Le Tonnant. She was laid down on 17 april 1899, launched on 5 july 1901 and completed on 28 august 1905 (6 years). She served at first in the Mediterranean, with nothing really notable but her peacetime exercises and upkeep periods routine. After a reserve period from 1911 to 1913, the Dupetit-Thouars was assigned in 1914 to the ocean instruction division. The cruiser will then carry out various missions during this period of war, including the escort of supply convoys leaving from North America to France.

In WWI she served in various escort missions and patrols between the far east, Mediterranean and Atlantic. In 1918 she mostly carried out transtlantic escorts. It’s with one of these, in August, that she was sunk by U-62.

Montcalm in the naval review EB1911

The sinking: Commander Pasqué commanded the ship on 26 June, sailing from New York to take charge of a convoy of 24 merchant ships leaving Halifax for the Verdon in France. On August 7, 1918, 7:50 p.m., carrying out a security mission in the Atlantic, 800 km from the French coast, for the Cruiser and Transport Force. She was ambushed (as known later) by SM U-62 at 46° 18′ north latitude, 12° west longitude. Armand Baudoin organized the evacuation aboard makeshift rafts, saving almost all of the crew. Out of 500 men, only ten were lost. Those still stranded at sea had to wait until August 8, spotted and picked up by USS Tucker, later landedin Brest on August 12. Commander Armand Baudoin was made a Knight of the Legion of Honor on August 15, 1918 by President Poincaré for his actions to save his crew.

As per the report when it arrived the Commander Pasqué went out for dinner while on the bridge was second in command, Captain of the Corvette Winter. Since she was underway in a very dangerous sector, all lookoputs were at their post, officers in duty on deck and engines as the crew. The outside watch from the forward topmast would warn the bridge at any moment by megaphones and by an electric warning bell. There was a security service in combat posts in case.

The was electrical emergency lighting was provided, reduced lights activated, maneuvering winches constantly heated and lifeboats arranged outside under the davits, whaleboats and yawl stored on the bridge. There were also many inflatable rafts and all men on the upper decks wore their lifejackets or have them close at hand. In addition the captain frequently ordered evacuation drills the day before each departure.

The three wireless telegraphy stations and radio direction-finding station were constantly armed. Ship position was reported by radio every half hour from the main and emergency station.
As the sun set at 8:15 p.m. the convoy stopped zigzagging, assuming a too low visibility for effective submarine operations. FS DUPETIT-THOUARS however leading the front of the convoy was still lacing at that time and by 8:45 p.m., moved circa 1000 meters in front of the convoy’s center.

The horizon was still clear enough to see the ships’s silhouettes. However wothout warning the first torpeo hit at 8:51 p.m. on the starboard side, under the forward bridge. Ten seconds later, a second hit near the aft gangway. No one spotted either the submarine or its periscope also Lt. POCHARD on the main lookout post, saw the last element of the trajectory first torpedo wake.
The damage was immediately apparent as the ship took a moderate list to starboard, and seemed slow enough to take measures. Security teams tried to stop the flood, but the explosion served the electric circuitry, most lamps shut inside the machinery and total darkness after the second hit due to the rupture of the lead switchboard.

Montcalm in Sydney, 1914, photo by Sam Hood

A few emergency quinquets allowed minimal visibility in the engines and boiler room and officers carried American portable electric lamps.
On the bridge, the hit broke the windows, damaged various control and transmission systems and acoustic pipes which prevented steering and communication with the engines. The megaphone was used instead. The wireless mast came down and a lifeboat was swept away.

A distress signal was posted though, and if the main machinery still worked, auxiliary machines died, and the pumps with them. Officers reported that even the progression of the flood was slow, there there was no chance of saving the ship and now only personnel safety mattered. Captain Winter ordered “full port, 90 turns” to move away from the probable position of the submarine, but all links with the steering room were broken, as well as to the port engine. Commander Pasqué back on bridge ordered to move on the port side to not coming across the convoy, risking collisions.
Aftr being informed of the extent of the flooding and damage, he ordered Captain Winter to start the evacuation on deck. He ordered to stop the engines, to lower the flooding but the list progressed. The evacuation was very orderly, going on for nearly sixteen minutes, in boats and rafts, others being picked up by escorting US destroyers.

The cruiser sank just moments after the last men and two commanders left the board. Documents contained in the box of the cipher room were thrown at sea. Of the ones lost, three died in boiler room 3, and the remaining ten were probably dragged with their rafts, into the capsizing. Officers indeed toured the ships in the depht to be sure none was missing. 50 minutes after the torpedoing, Dupetit Thouars went down. On August 8, all six escorting US destroyers Tucker, Drayton, Winslow, Porter, Warrington and Fanning carried the survivors. However around 10 p.m., the guilty U-62 emerged near the remaining rafts, maneuvered with precaution, alongside one of them and and officer spoke in French to ask the name, tonnage of the cruiser sunk, sent food and clothese, took off one of the men’s cap for its ribbon as souvenir and disappeared. U-63 was an U-57 class U-Boat, very successful as between 1917 and 1918 she sank 53 ships, Dupetit-Thouars included, her last and best “kill” of this war.

Jeanne d’Arc (1899)

Armoured cruiser Jeanne d’Arc

Marine Nationale, 1896-1920

The cruiser “Jeanne d’Arc” was the largest French cruiser in 1899, first oceangoing armoured cruiser and prototype for all following French armoured cruisers until 1907. Designed initially in 1892 as protected cruiser for overseas service, this was changed later and the design was modified by Engineer Emile Bertin as an armoured cruiser. Very different from previous armoured cruisers by this last minute change, she emphasised speed and range over protection, and was even considered woefully under-armed for her size. Not ideal for the fleet, she proved however roomy and adaptable to be transformed as a dedicated training vessel after WWI and until 1928, starting a long lineage and tradition in the Marine Nationale.


Design & construction

Jeanne d’Arc being designed in the 1890s was completely alien to the Dupuy de Lôme type armoured cruisers. This was basically a protected cruiser for overseas service, meeting requirement of range and speed that dictated some sacrifices, especially in protection.

Following a government change, with a new minister which privileged the home fleet, the design however was completely revised to be an armoured cruiser. Given the challenge and numerous recalculations to be done, notably in order to preserve stability, the task was given to superstar naval architect Emile Bertin, the director of the Navy’s Technical Section in 1895. He did his best, but still, his final design was regarded as unsuccessful: Too light for her armament, and the added armor lower her her designed speed considerably, meaning that for her size and cost she was not impressive for an armoured cruiser, especially in the light of foreign designs being built at the time: Her contemporaries were the Cressy class and Fürst Bismarck. Jeanne d’Arc was much larger but a bit slower and indeed less well armed and protected.


The name “Jeanne d’Arc” (Joan of Arc) chosen, was correlated to French Republican Nationalism of the time. It was for the first time given to a cruiser, but she was not the first french vessel to bear the name:
There was before a French frigate of 1820, a 52-gun frigate (1820–1834) from Brest, flagship of the Caribbean squadron, another frigate launched 1837, 42-gun comm. in 1852 and until 1865 taking part in the Crimean War. She was renamed Prudente in 1865 and decommissioned in 1898, freeing the name for the new armoured cruiser. There was also an armoured corvette built in Cherbourg in 1876 and still active until 1885. After this 1899 armoured cruiser, there was a 1930 cruiser, and a 1960 helicopter cruiser, both solely designed and used for training.
Jeanne d’Arc is a popular figure both in and outside France. The “maiden of Orleans”, liberating the British-occupier city and succeedeing in having the prince Charles crowned Charles VII, king of France. However betrayed, captured before Paris, she was famously prosecuted by the hostile faction of the Bouguignon and burned to the stakes as a witch and relapse, later rehabilited and made a Saint in 1920 by the Roman Catholic Church. She is contributed to the end of the 100 years war but modern historians are wildly dicussing many details of her life and impact at the time, to this day, making her a somewhat controversial figure, and today instrumentalized by the right/far-right nationalist and conservative part of the Society.

Final redesign of FS Jeanne d’Arc

Hull and general design

The final cruiser measured 147 metres (482 ft 3 in) long overall (a record for any French Warship), with a beam of 19.42 metres (63 ft 9 in) and a maximum draught of 8 metres (26 ft 3 in). She displaced 11,264 tonnes (11,086 long tons) under normal load, but up to 14,000 fully loaded with extra coal for long cruises in wartime. She had a had a metacentric height of 1.458 metres (5 ft). Her crew was of 651 officers and ratings.
Design-wise, she could not have been more different than the previous armoured cruisers like the Pothuau, last of a line of armoured cruisers derived from the Dupuy de Lôme. They were low on water with an impressive ram bow and had a limited top speed, of 19 knots and often 16 in practice. Pothuau herself displaced 5,347 tonnes standard, whereas the Jeanne d’Arc was twice as heavy, longer by 35 meters, larger by three, draftier by two, with a much longer superstructure, a large tower bridge forward and military mast, plus its six unmistakable funnels in two rows of three. Thanks to 36 boilers (instead of 18) or a larger and more modern type, she tripled her output for a theoretical 22 knots, or even 23 as first planned by the yard.
But despite of all of this, she kept the same armament of two 7.6 in/40 main guns (19,3 cm) wheread Fürst Bismarck had four 9.4 in (24 cm) and the Cressy class had two 9.2 in guns.

She was one of the rare cruisers to have her whole forward section fully armoured, from the belt to the weather deck, down to the bridge tower. Unlike previous cruisers she was at first envisioned to ream the atlantic and her size was seen as advantage: Her tall prow, one deck taller, and very long hull were meant for her to ride the waves instead of ploughing heavily in foul weather as the previous armoured cruisers did.

Armour protection layout

Jeanne d’Arc was designed with Harvey Armor plating for her main Parts:
-Belt: 150 mm (5.9 in) thick amidships.
-Fwd belt to bow: 100 millimetres (3.9 in)
-Rear Belt to stern: 80 millimetres (3.1 in).
-Main Belt extension: 1.5 metres (4 ft 11 in) below, 0.7 metres (2 ft 4 in) above waterline
-Main belt, lower edge: 50 millimetres (2.0 in).
-Upper belt: 80 mm strake armour over 1.92 m (6 ft 4 in) amidships
-Upper belt upper edge: 40 millimetres (1.6 in).
-Bow sides, above belt: 3x 40 mm up to forecastle deck.
-Protective Deck, slope: 45-55 mm (1.8 to 2.2 in) in mild steel +2×10 mm (0.4 in) “extra-mild” steel.
-Upper Deck: 11+7mm (0.4+0.3 in).
-Conning tower walls: 138 millimetres.
-Main turret plating: Krupp armour, 161 mm (6.3 in) on 2×11 mm plating
-Main turret roof: 20 millimetres (0.8 in)+10mm plating.
-Main Barbette 160 millimetres (6.3 in) thick
-Main barbette, below upper deck: 60 millimetres (2.4 in)
-Gun shields, secondary battery: 74 millimetres (2.9 in)
-Sponsons, secondary battery: 40 mm plating, hinged.
-ASW prot. 15 watertight bulkhead up to main armored deck, double bottom


Jeanne d’Arc had a momunmental powerplant, the largest ever placed on a French warship at the time. It consisted in three single three-bladed propellers, instead of two like on the Admiral Charner, driven by 3 four-cylinder vertical triple-expansion steam engines. These propellers were not all the same; Both outer propellers were meant for speed and 5-metre (16 ft 5 in) in diameter, while the centre one was smaller at 4.7 metres (15 ft 5 in), for cruise.

Steam came by no less than 36 Guyot-du Temple boilers, the largest ever fit, which altogether produced a total output of 28,500 indicated horsepower (21,300 kW; 28,900 PS) or even 33,000 shp in forced heat as designed (Conways). Jeanne d’Arc however failed to reach her designed speed of 23 knots (43 km/h; 26 mph). During her sea trials; on 23 January 1903, the best she managed was 21.7 knots (40.2 km/h; 25.0 mph), based on 29,691 ihp (22,141 kW; 30,103 PS), so less also than planned.

She carried however far more coal than previous cruisers (abour 600 tonnes), from 1,970 tonnes and up to 2,100 tonnes (2,067 long tons). This produced a range of 13,500 nautical miles (25,000 km; 15,500 mi) at 10 knots which was intended for her initial commerce raiding career. Bertin was tasked to improve her speed, and dedcided after the trials to replace her propellers and their struts. He also redesigned her her bilge keels, shortened, but new trials did not showned the awaited improvement, with around 21.8 knots reached. This was not that bad compared to her rivals, the Cressy reached 21 knots, and Fürst Bismarck 18.7 kts. However she was not a good steamer, with excessive coal consumption and poor agility, with a 2000 m tactical diameter.


Main Battery

Jeanne d’Arc’s main armament was the same since FS Dupuy de Lôme: Two 40-calibre 194 mm (7.6 in) Modèle 1893 guns in single-gun turrets fore and aft of the superstructure. Due to her particular design, they were further from the sterna and prow, higher up, so as not to be affected by bad weather. Each fired a 75–90.3-kilogram (165–199 lb) shell at 770 to 800 metres per second (2,500 to 2,600 ft/s) depending of the ammunition. Elevation was between -6° and +15°, rate of fire 2 rpm and range was below 16,000 meters (useful). Built with with several layers of steel reinforcing hoops, interrupted screw breech, they fired separate loading bagged charges and projectiles. They were also shared by Jeanne D’Arc derivatives, the Gloire, Gueydon and Léon Gambetta class cruisers, all in the same configuration.

Secondary Battery

Jeann d’Arc secondary armament comprised fourteen 138.6 mm/45 (5.5 in) Modèle 1893 guns, all in single mounts and protected by gun shields along the sides. Four were in each broadside, positioned in hull sponsons for maximum traversen while the remaining guns were on the sides of the superstructure, with a more limited traverse. They fired 30–35-kilogram (66–77 lb) shells at around 730-770 metres per second (2,400 to 2,500 ft/s) depending of the type. The breech was of the interrupter crew type, with a separate-loading, cased charge, their rate of fire was also 4 rpm and range (maximum) was 15,000 m (16,000 yd) at 25°. This armament was twice as much as previous armoured cruisers: Charner had only six. This at least compensated for her weak main armament.

Anti-Torpedo Boat Armament

The close-range anti-torpedo boat defense as not forgotten: She carried sixteen QF 47-millimetre Hotchkiss (1.9 in)/40 Modèle 1885. Four were in the fighting top on the forward military mast, the others along the superstructure. By contrast, previous cruisers were armed with only four of them completed by eight 37 mm (1.5 in) 5-barreled revolver guns. So in this department also, this was quite a potent defence, much superior.

Torpedo Tubes

Like all previous cruisers, the usual practice was to add torpedo tubes, in that case two submerged 450-millimetre (17.7 in) torpedo tubes in the broadside, with reloads. They carried indeed in total six Modèle 1892 torpedoes, each carrying a 75-kilogram (165 lb) warhead at 800 metres (870 yd) and unique setting of 27.5 knots (50.9 km/h; 31.6 mph).

Author’s illustrations: Jeanne d’Arc as completed and in WWI.

⚙ Jeanne d’Arc specifications as built

Displacement 11,445 tonnes (11,264 long tons) standard
Dimensions 147 x 19.42 x 9 m (482 x 64 x 26ft)
Propulsion 3 Shafts TE steam engines, 36 wt boilers: 28,500 ihp (21,300 kW)
Speed 21 knots (39 km/h; 24 mph)
Range 13,500 nmi (25,000 km; 15,500 mi) at 10 knots
Armament 2× 194 mm (7.6 in), 14× 138.6 mm (5.5 in), 16× 47 mm (1.9 in), 2× 450 mm (17.7 in) TTs
Protection Belt 150, Deck 55, Gun turrets 161, Barbettes 140, CT 138 mm
Crew 651

Jeanne d’Arc Carrer

Her start was very troubelsome: Planned in 1892 as a large protected cruiser to prey on trade routes as planned by the Young School, after a government change she became an armoured cruisers and Bertin managed to up-armor her. She was at last ordered on 28 December 1895, from Arsenal de Toulon. She was laid down in October 1896. Construction was slow and prolonged, almost brought to a standstill from September 1896 to June 1898. This was the result of a dispute between the constructor and naval administration, as well as disagrements about her engines, and multiple delays. In the end, she was only launched on 8 June 1899, and without her engines installed to press forward.

Jeanne d’Arc depicted in a specialized magazine in 1902

A troublesome early career

At last she received her intended boilers (not from the Yard, which was the usual practice at the time) and she was commissioned for sea trials on 1 March 1901. But her troubles were not over. It was revealed indeed the boiler rooms were very poorly ventilated, in addition to the boilers being very poorly insulated so that the temperature inside rose to 65 °C (149 °F), making all work impossible at high consumption rates. That heat brought countless indesirabke side effects, like the feed pumps failing repeteadly due to beyonf boiling hot feed water, managing to overheat in turn the condensers. This led to many modifications until March 1902, so that trials be resumed in next April.

There, heat problems were cured, but new problems appeared, this time with the piston rings, not in one, but all three engines. Further modifications and parts replacements, she was finally commissioned on 10 March 1903, even before her final trials took place. The whole process took since her keel laying seven years, and all this time, technology went forward; She was no obsolete however by any standards and at the contrary a great leap forward comparted to all previous armoured cruisers.

On 14 April, Jeanne d’Arc, considered very much a prestige vessel at this point, ferried President Émile Loubet to French North Africa, and back in Marseilles on the 29th of April. The cruiser was sent for her first atlantic trials, reassigned to the Northern Squadron in Brest. After all this was her intended theater of operation. On 1 June she took part in exercises off the coast of Brittany which lasted for several months.

However still, she was regularly plagued by boiler problems and overheating, and capped to a much slower speed as intended. This was so bad she was eventually reduced to reserve on 14 September, refitted and started new trials on 8 October, again reported unsuccessful. The admiralty ordered her to be decommissioned for full repairs on 15 November. Again, her troublesome machinery went through a complete overhaul. She was notably given 48 Normand-Sigaudy boilers in replacement. At last she was recommissioned for new trials, more successful in May 1905, but returned in reserve on 6 August.

Jeanne d’Arc in Brest, Britanny, 1905

On 26 May 1906 Captain Émile Guépratte (future admiral in WWI) assumed command and she was reassigned to the Mediterranean Fleet, as flagship of the Light Squadron. She visited Tangiers in Morocco, and Gibraltar, and proceeded to the large scale annual exercizes with fleet on 12-28 July. She later took part in a fleet review for the inauguration of the Rove canal tunnel connecting Marseilles to the Rhône River, assisted by President Armand Fallières in Marseilles, on 16 September.

In October 1906, Jeanne d’Arc visited Bizerta, Tunisia. In 1907, she visited Morocco, Algeria and Cherbourg on her way for a drydoc refit in Brest in June 1907, back to the Mediteranean Sqn. on 20 July. While in transit, just departing Gibraltar on 12 February 1908, one of her boiler exploded. The accident killed five, injured three more, badly burned. She returned in Brest to be placed in reserve on 15 April. This time, the admiralty had new plans for the capricious cruiser. Her numerous engines problems lead to unsufficient speed for her intended role but her large hull presented many advantages.

Christian Benjamin Olsen, Jeanne d’Arc, 1913

They ordered modifications to make her suitable as a training ship for naval cadets. After adding new accomodations in 1908-1910, and interior modifications, she was recommissioned on 20 May 1911.
It seems her armament was unchanged. She was attached to the Third Division, Reserve Squadron, until 1 May 1912 and prepared for long cruises. Next she was reassigned to the Atlantic Schools Division, with Brest as new home port. This was the start of a lengthy cruise in the Atlantic, Mediterranean and Baltic, from 10 October 1912 to 29 July 1913. She went to the Mediterranean and crossed the Zuez canal for her first visit to the Indian Ocean in her second cruise (10 October 1913-27 July 1914). When back, as war was looming and the admiralty wanted to convert her back to her role of cruiser, her boilers were replaced again, this time by 36 Guyot de Temple (28,000hp), and she received in addition six 37mm/20 QF guns.

Jeanne d’Arc at Annapolis, Maryland during her prewar cruise, with French officers on deck

Jeanne d’Arc WWI

The war has broken when she was done with her last modifications: She was assigned to Northern Squadron on 1 August, 1st Division, 2nd Light Squadron as flagship. Her first missions were to patrol the western English Channel, looking for German blockade runners. When reinforcements were needed in the Eastern Mediterranean with the start of the Dardanelles Campaign by February 1947, the admiralty wanted her reassigned to the Third Squadron, arriving in March.

Her first mission was to escort a troop convoy to Mudros and later in April, she covered French diversionary landings on the east (Anatolian) coast. Diverting attention for the main landings on the Gallipoli Peninsula, western side. During these operations close to the shore she was targeted by Ottoman artilley and hit twice by 6-in shells, on 26 April. Damage was light: She had a sponson hit, small fire started, mastered, some wounded crewmen, and a dud, tossed overboard.

Reassigned as flagship of the Third Squadron, she housed not one but three Vice-Admirals: Louis Dartige du Fournet, Dominique-Marie Gauchet, and Frederic Moreau, until 30 March 1916. She served as a HQ thanks to her roomy accomodations, based in Port Said, Egypt. There, she became the base for the French operations to blockade the Levantine and Aegean coasts, occupied by Turkey. Next she was deployed to cover landings on Ruad Island, on 30–31 August 1915. Later she covered the landings at Castellorizo, on 28 December. She shelled central Empires tarhets of upportunity, batteries and positons held by either Turkish or German troops and bombarded the German consulates in Alexandretta and Caiffa.

She was sent for a short refit and maintenance in Malta in October 1915 and returned to the Levant front, until March 1916, witthdrawn and sent back home for a comprehensive refit in France. She emerged from the drydock in January 1917, reassigned to the 4th Light Squadron operating in the West Indies (French Carribean). In late 1918 she returned to France, placed in reserve with a nucleus crew for peacetime.

Interwar career

In 1919, a commission examined her general state, and reported it was good enough for more service, after a refit. She had all her previous accomodations back to house many cadets and their instructors. She was recommissioned in her former role of training cruiser by August 1919. For ten years, until 1929, she made nine “world-spanning cruises” from her home port of Brest, usually departing by September or October, and back in July the next year. For her very last cruise in 1927–1928, Jeanne d’Arc was commanded by no ther than François Darlan. She was replaced in her role by the prewar armoured cruiser, but more modern Edgar Quinet, and the venerable “Jeanne” joined the reserve. She even became briefly “Jeanne d’Arc II” in 1930 as the brand new 1930 cruiser needed her name. This purpose-built training cruiser was the first. The former “Jeanne” was stricken on 15 February 1933, condemned on 21 March, sold for BU on 9 July 1934.

Read More


Conway’s All the World’s Fighting Ships 1860–1905.
Feron, Luc (2018). “The Armoured Cruiser Jeanne d’Arc”. In Jordan, John (ed.). Warship 2018. Osprey.
Friedman, Norman (2011). Naval Weapons of World War One: Guns, Torpedoes, Mines and ASW Weapons of All Nations. Seaforth.
Jordan, John & Caresse, Philippe (2019). French Armoured Cruisers 1887–1932. Seaforth.
Silverstone, Paul H. (1984). Directory of the World’s Capital Ships. NY Hippocrene Books



Model Kits

The only one known to me: The Kombrig 1:700 kit.

Original Plans

Amiral Charner class armoured cruisers (1892)

Admiral Charner class cruisers (1892)

France (1891-1926)
Admiral Charner, Bruix, Chanzy, Latouche-Tréville

Follow-up cruisers of the Dupuy de Lôme.

The previous Dupuy de Lôme was considered a prototype, an experimental armoured cruiser tailored for commerce warfare. The admiralty recoignised the merits of the design, innovative for them in the line of the young school, and it was decided to create a follow-up class, which consisted of four ships: Admiral Charner, Bruix, Chanzy, and Latouche-Tréville, all launched between 1892 and 1894, and commissioned in 1894 to 1896. Amiral Charner’s keel was laid down in 1889 in Rochefort Arsenal, whereas Dupuy de Lôme was not even launched. These four cruisers were cheaper orginally than their prototype and had an excellent and almost complete protection, very thick at many key points. They traded protection against speed, planned for 19 knots but this was never achieved.

Despite careful maintenance, their machinery was worn out already in 1914 and their top speed averaged 15-16 knots at full speed in service, ludicrously slow for cruisers. They were even left in the dust by the Danton class pre-dreadnoughts among others. Chanzy was wrecked on May 30, 1907 off China while the other three saw action during WWI in the Mediterranean: Admiral Charner was torpedoed by U21, sinking in 4 minutes on February 8, 1916. The other two were disarmed in 1920 and 1926.

Die Gartenlaube: engraving showing a multinational fleet off Crete in 1897. Admiral Charner is in the background.

Design development

Dupuy de Lôme

The Amiral Charner-class ships were designed as smaller and cheaper versions of the Dupuy de Lôme but still able to perform the same Jeune École’s commerce-raiding strategy, with the same recipe. All in all they were smaller, shorter at 106.12 metres (348 ft 2 in) long between perpendiculars, but still 14.04 metres (46 ft 1 in) in beam. The normal draught forward was also smaller at 5.55 metres (18 ft 3 in) up to 6.06 metres (19 ft 11 in) aft for a lighter displacement at 4,748 tonnes (4,673 long tons) normal or 4,990 tonnes (4,910 long tons) deeply loaded. From comparison, FS Dupy de Lôme displaced 6,301 tonnes (6,201 long tons), and was 114 meters long and 15.7 meters in beam.

However like the “prototype” they had the signature prominent plough-shaped ram bow and hull tumblehome on both sides. Overall, these features made them very wet forward in heavy weather, but captains generally felt them to be reasonably good sea boats. However they were better suited for the geberally calmer Mediterranean. Their high metacentric height was not compensated by their tumblehome though, and was inadequate. In fact all but the sunken ship at their first important refit had their heavy military masts replaced by simple poles before WW2. There was not so much to retire to their superstructure however. But in appareance they undoubtely looked like thinner French battleships.

Brassey’s 1902 depiction of the class

Armour Protection

-Both sides were protected by 92 mm or (3.6 in of steel armor, and the belt went down 1.3 metres (4 ft 3 in) below and 2.5 metres (8 ft 2 in) above their waterline. It tapered down from 20 centimetres (7.9 in) in thickness to 60 millimetres (2.4 in) on both ends. Again, Dupy de Lôme had 100 mm belt armor.

-The curved (“turtle”) protective deck was made of mild, not high tensile steel and 40 millimetres (1.6 in) in thickness on the flat section and increading to 50 millimetres (2.0 in) on its outer edges, forming the citadel, unclode by any bulkheads. It was however weaker, only 30 mm for the Dupuy de Lôme. This was the only improved pert in protection on this new class.

-The separated boiler and engine rooms as well as the magazines below were given an extra splinter deck, just 15 or about 1.5 in deep.

-Also for ASW protection their watertight internal cofferdam was filled with cellulose, alla long the protective deck and over 1.2 metres (4 ft) in height above the waterline.

-The below waterline section was subdivided into 13 watertight transverse bulkheads, and there were five more at the upper deck.

-The forward only conning tower, as well as the main turrets received 92 millimeters walls (3.6 in again) against 125 on the Dupuy de Lôme.

Detailed plans of the Latouche-Tréville


The Amiral Charner-class were given two horizontal triple-expansion steam engines. Each drove a single propeller shaft based on the steam provided by sixteen Belleville boilers working at 17 kg/cm2 (1,667 kPa; 242 psi). The total provided reached 8,300 metric horsepower (6,100 kW) under forced draught, a far cry from the 13,000 hp of their forebear. This lack of power was criticized early on, and Bruix was modified by the engineers with more modern boilers, to reach 9,000 metric horsepower (6,600 kW). Designed speed was 19 knots (35 km/h; 22 mph), not stellar for cruisers in the 1890s, but during sea trials they even failed to meet these figures.

Instead by pushing ther machinery hard, some reached 18.4 to 18.6 knots at best (34.08 km/h or 21.17 mph), based on a total output ranging from 8,276 to 9,107 metric horsepower (6,698 kW) on Bruix. The range was “Mediterranean”, with only 535 tonnes (527 long tons) of coal carried for just 4,000 nautical miles (7,400 km; 4,600 mi) at 10 knots (19 km/h; 12 mph). This was quite feeble for commerce raiding to say the least. They did not fared better than the previous Dupuy de Lôme but the latter was at least faster, reaching 20 knots (37 km/h; 23 mph).



All four cruisers mounted just two two 7.8 in/45 guns “Canon de 194 mm Modèle 1887” mounted in single turrets fore and aft of the superstructure. Turrets were hydraulically operated, however on Latouche-Tréville, electrical power was tested. These fired a 75–90.3-kilogram (165–199 lb) shell at 770-800 m/ second (2,500 to 2,600 ft/s) and range of circa 12,580 yards (11,500 m) at 14.5° and possessed a 2 rpm ideal rate of fire.


It comprised six 4.5 in/45 “Canon de 138.6 mm Modèle 1887” guns also single gun turrets on each broadside, close to tge fore and aft main guns, creating triangle patterns either side. They fired 30–35 kgs (66–77 lb) shells at 730-770 metres/second (2,400 to 2,500 ft/s). Range was circa 16,400 yards (15,000 m) at 25° elevation according to navweaps (so yes, different max elevations made the secondaries firing further than the main guns…). Rate of fire was double that of the 194, at 4 rpm.

Light guns

For close-range anti-torpedo boat defense the Admiral Charner class were defended by:
-Four quick-firing 2.6 in (65 mm) guns. Derived from the 57 mm Hotchkiss in 1888, they Fired a 9.0 lbs. (4.1 kg) shell at 2,346 fps (715 mps).
-Four QF 1.9 in (47 mm). The 3-pdr equivalents were very popular, also buuilt under licence and used by the British and US navies.
-Eight QF 1.5 in (37 mm) five-barreled revolving Hotchkiss guns. The latter were Gatling-like 6-barreled 20 caliber “heavy machine guns” firing explosing shells at short range, not on the torpedo boats but the torpedoes themselves in an attempt to detonate them, or just when vessels were close enough. It’s possible wheeled underarriage were carried to have them mounted and carried with a landing party.

Note: All three were made by Hotchkiss, an American engineer which not finding application at home for his patents, was convinced to settle in Europe and choose France to create his company. His light guns and machine guns range became almost the standard in the years between 1875 and preceding WW1. Event WW2 IJN light artillery still derived from his models.

Torpedo Tubes

All four cruisers were armed with four 450-millimetre (17.7 in) pivoting torpedo tubes: Two of these were mounted on each broadside, firing above water. Thanks to this they were easier to reload by being centralized and avoid potential weakness points in the hull. Currently i have no info on these models.

Construction and Modernizations

Amiral Charner was originally built in Arsenal de Rochefort, laid down on 15 June 1889, launched on 18 March 1893 and completed on 26 August 1895. Bruix was laid down on 9 November 1891 at the same yard, launched on 2 August 1894 and completed on 1st December 1896. Chanzy was built at Chantiers et Ateliers de la Gironde, Bordeaux, laid down on January 1890 and launched on 24 January 1894 and then completed on 20 July 1895. And Latouche-Tréville was ordered from Forges et Chantiers de la Méditerranée in Granville, laid down on 26 April 1890 and launched on 5 November 1892 the, completed on 6 May 1895. Chanzy was lost in 1907 and not modernized, but all three others, were. Charner was sunk in WW1 by an U-Boat, the two remaining ones, Latouche-Tréville and Chanzy surviced the war and received a few alterations until their decommission between 1923 and 1926.

The main early modifications consisted, not soon after sea trials, but in the 1910s to correct their stability issues by removing their thick military masts fitted originally, replaced by light pole masts. Light armament of six 1-pdr (37 mm) and four 2 pdr (47 mm) as designed was removed in the 1910s. Later in 1914, 76 mm (3-in) guns, were fitted with high angle mounts for AA defence with the 65 mm kept for after WWI. There is no known modification made after WWI.

Admiral Charner – Old illu by the auhor

Ad. Charner Specifications

Dimensions 106 x 13.97 x 6 m ()
Displacement 4,681 tonnes standard, 4,737 tonnes Fully loaded
Crew 393 wartime
Propulsion 2 shafts VTE, 16 Belleville boilers, 8,000 hp., 19 knots.
Speed 18 kn (33 km/h; 21 mph)
Range 8,870 nmi (16,430 km, 10,210 mi) 19 knots (35 km/h, 22 mph)
Armament 2 x 193, 6 x 140, 4 x 65 mm, 4 x 457 mm TTs sub.
Armor 92 mm belt, 110 mm turrets

General assessment of the class

Lackluster but active records

Amiral Charner spent most of her career in the Mediterranean after commission. She was sent to China during the Boxer Rebellion of 1900–01, assisting the international fleet into retaking the Taku Fortd. With Chanzy and Latouche-Tréville back in th Mediterranean, after a refit in Toulon, she took part in the International Squadron gathering off Crete during the 1897-1898 uprizing and Greco-Turkish War. They were there to protect French interests and evacuate citizens. As said above, Amiral Charner succumbed to the torpedoes of an U-Boat in early 1916, sinking very rapidy with just one survivor. It showed the extreme vulnerability of vessels built before ASW warfare became a concern. The compartimentarion could not stand the flooding created by several torpedo hits at once. In fact all 1890s French vessels were similarly at risk and there were many losses.

Apart Bruix, like her the sisters from 1900 up to WW1 she was already considered obsolete and retired from the frontline, kept in reserve, with brief period as training ship. Bruix served in the Atlantic Ocean, Mediterranean, Far and by aided survivors of the Mount Pelée reuption, Martinique, French West Indies or Carribeans. Bruix was decommissioned in Greece by 1918 and recommissioned but after some home reserve was recomm; to take part (the only one in her class) to the Black Sea attack against the Bolsheviks. Back home she was discarded in 1920 and scrapped in 1921.

Chanzy was a guardship off Crete but transferred to French Indochina in 1906 and ran aground off the Chinese coast, proving impossible refloat and therefore scuttled and everything valuable evacuated after the crew was rescued without loss. It was uncommon at the time off China as the coast was till not accurately mapped.

The second ship to be sunk was bay enemy action in WW1. Charner, Tréville, and Chanzy escorted troop convoys from French North Africa to France from August 1914 and the first two were reassigned to the Eastern Mediterranean blockading Ottoman coast, supporting Allied operations in the Dardanelles. She was also part of the French rescuing operation, taking aboard several thousand of persecuted Armenians, fleeing to the coast from Syria. Their guns stopped the chasing Ottoman troops.

Latouche-Tréville was also damaged by gunfire in 1915 dueing the Gallipoli Campaign. She had bee sent to assist in the capture of the German colony of Kamerun (Dec. 1914) and after the Dardanelles, she patrolled for a year the Aegean Sea and Greek waters. She became a training ship in late 1917. She was obsolete by that time and this was safe decision. She would be decommissioned in 1919. She returned home later, reduced to reserve before sold in 1926, the last to be scrapped.

A deceiving bunch

So all in all, these vessels were slow, making them unable to join most fleet exercizes in the 1900s, and in 1914-17 the suviving ships took part in several operations but never had to face Austro-Hungarian guns. Two dealt with Ottoman fortifications in the Dardanelles, but the rapid loss of Charner showed they ASW protection was woefully adequate and had been originally intended to resist to relatively light shell damage. They never fulfilled the promises of the Jeune Ecole and could not be integrated in the new armored cruiser tactics intended to serve in close coordination with the fleet like at Jutland. They still were useful as gun platforms and saw relatively “cushy” assignments, seeing many operations still despite their age.

Mecanically, these cruisers had scores of problems and issues revealed by initial sea trials and spent another year or more in fixes and overhauls. One, Bruix was even plagued by eight major issues and had two at sea collisions during her career. The loss of Chanzy in the far east was a combination of brash decision by the captain to cross a dense fog instead of waiting the weather cleared out, but heavy weather soon plagued effort of pulling her free when she was stuck on unchartted reefs, seen far too late to act. So overall, between their lenghtly consrtruction, lenghty post-trials fixes, numerous refits, stability and engine problems, and long period of reserve or total inactivity, these cruisers, coming straight from the delusions of the Jeune Ecole were not a bargain for the taxpayer. Still, for these 1890s vessels, three took part in WWI whereas many protected cruisers and pre-dreanoughts of the same era did not.

A curtailed legacy

The next Pothuau (1895), sole in her class.

The next armoured cruiser class, Pothuau (1895) was larger but armed with more guns, and with a different armour scheme plus secondary guns in casemates. Still, she was only able to reach 19 kts, and not successful either. In fact she was the last of the Dupy de Lome lineage. In 1896, after leaving some time for reflection, the admiralty built a brand new, far larger armored cruiser that was this time geared towards a more sensible speed, and like Pothuau returned to casemate guns instead of turrets. This was the Jeanne d’Arc (launched 1899) which proved instrumental for spawning a whole new trend in large fleet armoured cruisers, unlike the Jeune Ecole commerce raiders. She was followed by the Gueydon, Dupleix, Gloire, Gambetta classes or the 14,000 tonnes Quinet class, which were arguably far better. These constituted a modern force of 19 powerful cruisers, highly regarded in international circles, the last being commissionned in 1911. We will in the future cover all these.

Sources/Read More


Chesneau, Roger & Kolesnik, Eugene M., eds. (1979). Conway’s All the World’s Fighting Ships 1860–1905.
Feron, Luc (2014). “The Armoured Cruisers of the Amiral Charner Class”. Warship 2014.
Friedman, Norman (2011). Naval Weapons of World War One: Guns, Torpedoes, Mines and ASW Weapons of All Nations; Seaforth
Johnson, Harold & Roche, Jean P. (2006). “Question 22/05: French Amiral Charner Class Cruiser Differences”. Warship International. XLIII
Jordan, John & Caresse, Philippe (2019). French Armoured Cruisers 1887–1932. Seaforth Publishing
Silverstone, Paul H. (1984). Directory of the World’s Capital Ships. New York: Hippocrene Books.


On navypedia.org
On battleships-cruisers.co.uk
navires-14-18.com/ pdf FR
On fr-academic.com
On militaer-wissen.de
Detailed plans of Latouche-Treville
Plans of the next Pothuau

Model Kits

Not very inspiring to manufacturers. Not even Kombrig had a go on these. Scratchbuilders, your take !


Bruix in Brest, Postcard and detail

Transfer of the body of King George I painted by Chatzis Amphitrite. Bruix is in the escort

Latouche-Treville in 1908

Treville by Bougault

Amiral Charner

Charner in l’illustration, 1896

Amiral Charner was named after Breton Admiral Léonard Charner (1797-1869), with the campaigns of North Africa, Crimea and China to its credit. He also was the captain of the steam-driven man-o-war Napoléon in the 1950s. The ship bearing his name was the first. The cruiser was laid down at the Arsenal de Rochefort, simply nameed “Charner”, as lead ship in 1889 and after commission on 26 August, was assigned to the 2nd Light Division, Mediterranean Squadron but detached in the Eastern Mediterranean as tension rose between the Greeks and Ottomans.

On 6 January 1896, she became flagship of the Higher Naval War College (“École supérieure de guerre de la marine”). She was found at the head of a unit also comprising her sister Latouche-Tréville and the protected cruiser Suchet. Together, they prepared officers for command duties at sea and staff management in realistic conditions. She returned to the active fleet on 20 October. The ship was sent to Crete on 10 February 1897 to protect French asset and evacuate citizens as the Greco-Turkish War rage on, but also other western citizens. By November 1898 she returned home.

Amiral Charner was reassigned to the naval college, on 1 January 1899. There, she servved with the protected cruisers Friant and Davout. Then she was reassigned to the Northern Squadron based at Brest, NW France, for about 6 months before returning in her homeport in Toulon by late June. After three months she was back to Brest, but placed in reserve.

She was fully reactivated on January 1900 and sailed to Rochefort for a major overhaul, including the change of steam-piping for a long deployment in the Far East. She departed Brest on 26 June to arrive in Saigon in what was now the colony of French Indochina, on 1st August. Since she was close, she took part onthe early part of the allied offensive during the Boxer Rebellion (1901) and returned to Toulon on 8 November. After a new refit, she joined the 3rd Armored Division on 24 January 1902.

Amiral Charner in Toulon

The annual summer naval maneuvers this year saw her simulating a defending vessel in a scenaro where a fleet went into the Mediterranean from the Atlantic and attacked Bizerte in Tunisia while blockading ports. At last she was placed in reserve in Toulon, from 15 January 1903, given to the gunnery school in 1910. On 13 May she returned to Crete, Souda Bay, to act as a guardship, later relieved by Bruix in July 1912. She was sent in drydock and modernized (see modifications) but afterwards stayed in reserve, at Bizerta.
As war broke out in August 1914, she was fully recommissioned for service and at first escorted several troop convoys bertween Morocco and France with her sisters Latouche-Tréville and Bruix. In November 1914,she joined the 3rd Division, 3rd Squadron based in Port Said (Egypt).

There where she shelled Ottoman positions on the Syrian coast, but ran aground under enemy fire off Dedeagatch in Bulgaria (3 March 1915). This imposed the concerted effort of several shuips including the powerful Italian cargo liner SS Bosnia to be pulled out. She teamed in August with the battleship Jauréguiberry and cruiser Destrées for a coastal blockade between Tripoli, Lebanon and El Arish in Egypt. On 11–12 September, she rescued 3,000 Armenians north of the Orontes River Delta, literraly from the jaw of death, with Ottoman troops behind. She next covered the occupation of Kastelorizo island on 28 December with Jeanne d’Arc.

However on the morning of 8 February 1916, while Sailing from Ruad Island off Syria to Port Said in Egypt, Amiral Charner was spotted and ambushed by the German submarine U-21 (U19 class, 1912). She sank in just two minutes with the loss of 427 men and a single survivor later rescued five days later. Due to the lack of testimonies but the noted kill on the U-Boat’s diary, it was assumed she took three torpedoes in a row, hence the rapid flooding and capsizing of the vessel. Other survivors would probably managed to stay afloat for days afterwards, but drawn or died due to exhaustion before beign picked up.


Bruix in Brest, date unknown

Bruix (named after Napoleonic Admiral Étienne Eustache Bruix, 1759-1805) was commissioned for trials on 15 April 1896 and assigned to the Northern Squadron to be present for a state visit of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia and his wife in Dunkerque (5–9 October). Her steering however broke down on 7 October so she was sent to Rochefort for repairs. Trials resumed by December and she was recommissioned on the 15th, returning to the Northern Squadron. By 18 August 1897, with Surcouf, she escorted Pothuau with President Félix Faure aboard on a return visit to Russia.

But while en route, Bruix fractured a piston rod in her port engine and again, had to fold back for repairs. This was followed by armament trials until January 1898 so that the overall trials were at last complete on 25 February, eight years before construction start !. Bruix was reassigned to the Far Eastern Squadron based in Saigon, French Indochina, reaching there and being present until October, making in between a visit to Manila on 5 May to assist the remains of the Spanish Armada in the bay after the Battle of Manila Bay. In November, she while underway in the Suez Canal, the black serie of mishaps went on: She damaged her starboard propeller while transiting, but this did not hampered her to join her new home port of Toulon on the 28th. Repairs lasted until January 1899 after which she returned to the Northern Squadron on 3 February.

She visited before getting there ports in Spain and Portugal by June but another piston rod broke on the 7th and repairs were prolongated by a refit on 20 September, until 4 November 1900 modified as flagship. On 20 November she headed the northern cruiser division. In 1901, she took part in the annual fleet maneuvers with the Northern Squadron and its divisions but, fifth career incident, she collided with the British steamer SS Paddington. She had to return in port to have the plating of her armored ram repaired on 27 June. At this occasion since she was in drydock it was decided to fit her with bilge keels by November–December to improve stability. She remained in dockyard until 10 January 1902, this time ro fix her defectuous turrets. Reassigned to the Atlantic Division by April 1902 she toured Spanish ports until May.

After the cataclismic eruption of Mount Pelée on 5 May in the French Carribean, Bruix as flagship, RADM Palma Gourdon rushed to Fort-de-France for assistance to possible survivors, also carrying a small scientific party. She stayed in place and remained until 19 August. On 30 November RADM Joseph Bugard replaced Gourdon and Bruix back home spent the next years between reserve or limited training service with reduced crew.

She was fully reactivated in late 1906 to join the Far Eastern Squadron, leaving Toulon on 15 November, with her sister ship Chanzy, transiting Suez, crossing the Indian Ocean and reached Saigon on 10 January 1907; For the first time afterwards Bruix visited Japan, dropping anchor in Nagasaki. Meanwhile Chanzy ran aground off the Chinese coast, on 20 May. Bruix attempted to tow her out without luck. Chanzy was abandoned. Bruix showed flag in Vladivostock, in China and Japan before regaining home on 26 April 1909. Whilke transiting the Suez Canal, she collided (7th incident!) with the Italian steamer SS Nilo. She was in Toulon on 2 August for repairs and an overhaul lasting for weeks, but the latter in a context of anarchist troubles, was delayed by labor shortages. Towed to the dockyard at Bizerte in North Africa by June 1911 her overhaul was completed there at last in January 1912.

Keratsini photo showing Bruix on 6 jan 1917 with Ambassador Guillemin and embassy personal and officers on the cruiser

She then rejoined the reserve, but was recommissioned on 13 May and reassigned to the Levant Division, sent to safeguard or evacuate French citizens and their assets in Crete as guardship. She relieved Amiral Charner at Souda Bay on 9 July; After wards she spent two years with the Levant squadron. As the Italo-Turkish War commenced, her captain tried to interpose as fleeing Turkish troops were shelled by the Italian cruiser Coatit near the port of Kalkan, on 3 October. It was at the time a breach in international law.

On 8 November 1912 she assisted the relfoating of the Russian protected cruiser Oleg. Reassigned to the Tunisian Squadron on 13 January 1913, she remained in the Levant and assisted to salvage this time the steamer SS Sénégal hitting an Italian mine off Smyrna in Turkey. By March 1914 she escorted the Prince of Bulgaria, William, from Trieste to Durazzo in Albania, claiming his throne. Bruix next was back to Bizerta on 25 April 1914 for another refit until July 1914. War was looming at the horizon.

By August 1914 she was tasked to convoy escort between Morocco and France, also patrolling French and North African waters with Latouche-Tréville and Amiral Charner, fearing a raiod from Souchon’s Mediterranean squadron. Bruix next was tasked to join the Allied armada deployed for a campaign against German held-Kamerun in September 1914. She shelled several small towns and folded for home. After a short refit, Bruix was reassigned to take part in the allied fleet deployed for the Dardanelles campaign in February 1915.

Bruix in Salonica, 1917

She did not took part in the shelling, instead patrolling the Aegean waters in 1916-17. On 31 January 1918, she was placed in reserve in Salonika, but recommissioned on 29 November 1918 to join the allied occupation fleet gathered in Constantinople, and reassigned to the armored cruiser division, 2nd Squadron. In March-May 1919 she was in the Black Sea to take part in the support of “white russians” against the Bolsheviks. She also evacuated German and Allied troops from Nikolaev in Ukraine (March 1919) and Odessa (April 1919).

She departed the Black Sea back for Constantinople on 5 May and from there, transited the hallipoli slot and headed back for Toulon on 22 May, assigned to the reserve. The admiralty agreed due to her past problems, age and desig, she was no longer relevant and was to be scrapped. There was though the intervention of a buyer (which previous resold the Dupy de Lôme to Peru) and if the admiralty thought of converting her as an accommodation, the conversion to a merchant ship was judged impractical. She was stricken on 21 June 1920, sold in 1921 for scrap for 436,000 francs.


Chanzy’s engraving in the “Larousse Mensuel”, 06 August 1907.

Chanzy (named after General Antoine Chanzy of Franco-Prussian War fame) was ordered in Chantiers et Ateliers de la Gironde, commissioned for sea trials on 6 February 1895. Like Bruix she was plagued with so many problems that her engines and boilers needed an overhaul. She was decommissioned for repairs starting on 6 December and recommissioned a second time on 1 May 1895 followed by a new serie of sea trials which revealed nothing serious and she was granted service on 20 July.

Assigned at first to the 1st Light Division, Mediterranean Squadron, she was transferred to the 4th Light Division on 18 May 1896. After the annual fleet maneuvers she was reserve/repairs/refit at Toulon when ended with new trials on 28 December 1896. By 16 February 1897, she was sent off Crete as part of the International Squadron (Austro-Hungarian, Imperial German, Italian, Russian, British Navies) deployed to protect their citizens as the 1897-1898 Greek uprising on Crete against Ottoman Empire.

By March 1897, she was sent to Selino Kastelli, southwest Crete, to sent a landing party, part of a larger expedition rescuing Ottoman troops and Cretan Turk civilians from Kandanos. The International Squadron stayed until December 1898 but Chanzy departed on 25 February for home. Back to the reserve squadron she was only reactivated for the annual naval maneuvers. On 1 January 1899 she joined the 1st Light Division, visiting the Balearic Islands and touring the Aegean Sea and Middle East.

Her main steam pipe fractured on 20 February (injured three) and she was repaired, participating in the next annual maneuvers. For three weeks in September she was attached to the old Couronne (1861) before starting a cruise of French North Africa. She was briefly reassigtned to the Levant Sqn. on 1 February 1901 and by 4 April returned for the annual maneuvers and back to the Levant in October. She was back in Toulon on 1 February 1902 for a long inactivity in reserve, replaced by the brand new armored cruiser Marseillaise from May 1904.

Chanzy after running aground, 30 May 1907

Chanzy was recommissioned on 15 September 1906, this time to take her tout of duty in the Far Eastern Squadron. She departed on 15 November, arrived at Saigon on 10 January 1907, visited Hong Kong and toured the Chinese coast, Japan by April-May. However as she was underway from Shanghai on 20 May, thick fog hampered her voyage and she ran aground on an uncharted rocks off Ballard Island, Chusan Islands. Bruix, D’Entrecasteaux, Alger tried to pull her out, but in vain. She was definitely stranded and operations were frustrated by heavy seas. The crew remained aboard, throwing everything they could out but the enterprise was recoignised as futile and they were evacuated without loss on 1 June. By that time the cruiser, badly battered for days, started to fracture and eventually foundered, her wreck being a navigation hazard, was demolished later on 12 June and the remainder was left in place for many more years to rust out.


Latouche-Treville off Piraues harbor, 13-20 January 1907

Latouche-Tréville (named after Vice Admiral comte de Latouche-Tréville (A hero of the American War of Independence and revolutionary wars like Lafayette)) was built at Granville shipyard, Forges et Chantiers de la Méditerranée. She was commissioned for sea trials on 16 October 1893, the last of the class and already obsolescent. Contraty to her sister her initial trials seemed successful at first but still, some problems required over a year and a half of work before definitive commissioned on 6 May 1895…

Latouche-Tréville assigned first to the Northern Squadron in Brestn, and participated in a fleet review attended by newly elected President Félix Faure on 6 August 1895. She was transferred to the 2nd Light Division, Mediterranean Squadron arriving in Toulon in January 1896. For a short time she was assigned to the Higher Naval War College, training future officers with her sister Amiral Charner and Suchet. Next she was sent to the Reserve Squadron on 20 October. She too, was sent to Souda Bay in Crete by 17 March 1897 to support the international coalition during the Greco-Turkish War. She remained until 24 June and folded home.

On 18 October she was reassigned to the light division, Mediterranean Fleet, until 22 July 1904. In 1906-1908 she was partly in reserve with reduced crew but took part in yearly summer exercizes. By April 1899 she took part in a fleet review honoring King Umberto I of Italy at Cagliari in Sardinia. She also took part in combined fleet maneuvers with the Northern Squadron by June–July 1900. By 19 July she took part in anoher fleet review. Gunnery training on 24 January 1901 shown blast issues with her forward turret, that had to be repaired.

These took place bertween 1 February and 1 May, and while in drydock she received bilge keels to start adressing her stability issues. By October 1901, Latouche-Tréville was sent in the port of Mytilene and landed two Marine companies occupying major ports of the island on 7 November as to pressure Turkey into honoring its contracts with France. Sultan Abdul Hamid II agreed to enforce these and grant French companies the insurance of repaying past loans contracted to French banks.

On 18 December 1902 there was a gale in Toulon, and the steamer SS Médoc reupture its anchor lines and went drifing onto Latouche-Tréville’s ram. The steamer was gushed and had to be run aground to avoid sinking. The cruiser remained perfectly unscaved. She was sent in the eastern Mediterranean next, based in Syra, Cyclades, Aegean islands on 7 May to 16 December 1903. While back home she visited Naples in April 1904 with the entire French Mediterranean Squadron. She also took part this year to the spring cruise in the the eastern Mediterranean.

Back in Toulon she was placed in reserve on 22 July, replaced by the new armored cruiser Kléber in the light division. Her light Hotchkiss artillery was removed but she gained four extra 47 mm guns. Electrical system was upgraded and many other modifications were made. Recommissioned on 15 February 1907, she was assigned to the gunnery school.

In March during another refit her torpedo tubes were removed. On 22 September 1908, her aft turret saw one loaded guns misfiring as the breech opened, igniting propellant, which blew the breechblock through the turret door. The sighting hood was detached and projected into her deck the ship’s crew (and a catastrophic explosion) were avoided, as a brave gunner closed the door between the magazine and ammunition hoist. Nevertheless the whole gun crew was burnt to death, all fourteen plus five were wounded but badly burnt.

Repairs were completed on 1909 but it was decided to place her in reserve on 1 January 1912. Latouche-Tréville was recommissioned on 20 November and sent to the Levant Squadron, leaving Toulon on 10 December for Port Said, Egypt, arriving on 16 December 1912. Like her sister ship she was also refitted in Bizerta (Tunisia) from 8 November to 26 December 1913, having her military masts replaced by light poles. She spent the rest of the year and next in Egypt.

Illustration of the Treville in 1896

Latouche-Tréville on 29 July 1914 was recalled in Bizerta as international situation degraded, prepared fpr war. She unloaded surplus equipment and like her sisters Amiral Charner and Bruix, was reassigned to escort troops convoys between Morocco and France. Next she was sent to blockade the Strait of Otranto, until 5 February 1915, and reassigned to the Dardanelles Squadron. She did not took part in the operation but instead joined the Syrian squadron on 20 March, to shell Ottoman installations at Gaza. Her gunners also claimed a railroad bridge at Acre (Palestine).

The cruiser was back in the Dardanelles on 25 April, this time providing fire support on 4 June. But an Ottoman 210 mm (8.3 in) replied and hit her aft turret, killing two men inside, wounding five. She was then transferred to the Aegean for ASW patrols on 17 June-20 August. Next she was sent in Toulon for repairs and refit, ending on 21 September 1915.

She was then sent back to the Aegean, supporting Allied forced off Salonica. But an epidemic burst aboard, so much that her crew was badly crippled. It was decided wiser to send her back off Toulon in quarantine, arriving on 5 January 1916 to be disinfected. A refit follow, and crew’s rest, after which she was prepared for operations in February. She spent 1916 in the central and eastern Mediterranean, making a large number of diverse missions. At last she was placed in reserve (December 1917), used with a reduced crew as a gunnery training ship, still in these waters. She was back in Toulon on 31 December 1918 to be decommissioned on 1 May 1919. She was stricken on 21 June 1920, hulked, but she was sold to a salvaging company that fitted cranes on her gutted deck to try saving the battleship Liberté’s wreck. She was then turned into a accommodation ship and floating workshop from 4 September 1920, and until 1925. She was this time sold for scrap a year later, the last of her kind. Dupuy de Lôme, her sister, and Pothau were now all gone.

French Battleship Iéna (1898)

Iéna (1898)

French Navy Pre-Dreadnought Battleship (1898-1907)

Iéna was ordered in April 1897, and completed in 1902, based on the relatively successful previous Charlemagne class. Although still caracteristic of the earlier designs with a pronounced tumblehome, Iéna adopted the classic international two 12-in (305 mm) gun turrets configuration of the time, but was still relatively slow, and slightly better protected as per the armour weight ratio. Unfortunately, she would never see WWI as she was gutted in a serie of catastrophic explosions in 1907 due to secondary guns propellants self-igniting while in drydock maintenance, followed by a thorough investigation and drastic safety measure concerning black powder charges aboard.

On the wake of the Charlemagne class

Part of the late part of the “Young School” era, Iéna was a pre-dreadnought battleship based on the Charlemagne class, but larger. Some historians tend to artificially link her to Suffren (launched 1899), but they were two very different ships (and will be treated that way). The only thing they had in common was they were the last French pre-dreanoughts before reforms came in. The subsequent Republique and Patrie class were truly a revolution, more homogeneous vessels of a new class entirely.

Iéna was completed on 14 April 1902, after four full years of design revisions for her (very lenghty) completion. She was assigned to the Mediterranean Squadron, alternating as flagship with Suffren and participating in annual fleet manoeuvres. In 1907, while docked for a refit, there was an accidental magazine explosion which destroyed her, killed 120 workers and sailors onboard and led to a thorough enquiry. It appeared that it was most likely cause by the decomposition of old “Poudre B” propellant. The scandal forced the Navy Minister to resign, and the commissioned estimated she was now obsolete and her salvaged hulk was used as target and sold for scrap in 1912.

On 11 February 1897, Navy Minister Armand Besnard confered with the Supreme Naval Council over the next design, seeking a larger Charlemagne-class with a displacement set at 12,000 tonnes (11,810 long tons). It was also question of a better armour scheme in order to preserve stability and buoyancy even after shells prenetrating the hull and causing flooding. The new battleship also had to be on par for armament with all foreign battleships and keep a top speed of 18 knots (33 km/h; 21 mph) with 4,500 nautical miles (8,300 km; 5,200 mi) of range.

The Director of Naval Construction Jules Thibaudier proposed his older preliminary design, showing a scheme incorporating improved Harvey armour, with a a highr belt armour above the waterline and a secondary armament of 164.7-millimetre (6.5 in) guns. Thibaudier submitted his revised design on 9 February 1897. It was approved by the Board of Construction on 4 March 1897, with minor revisions. The ship was then ordered on 3 April 1897 and the contract was submitted to Arsenal de Brest on the Atlantic coast (Britanny). She was laid down of 15 January 1898 and for once, launched rapidly, in September the same year.

The problem was a change at the head of government, meaning also a change of ministry and many design revisions which delayed her construction of four full years. Completed (“armement définitif”) indeed only came on 14 April 1902 at a cost of F25.58 million, far more than expected. Iéna ws the embodiement of everything wrong with French battleships of that era. With a completion that late, she was already obsolescent, and her early trials revealed many problems that had to be cured, so she spent many months at dock or in drydock (see career).

Design development

Iéna after commission off Toulon

Design development and construction

Iéna (Jena–Auerstedt), named after a Napoleonic Victory in Germany, in its origin, went back to a request of design dated 11 February 1897, by Navy Minister Armand Besnard, after consultations with the Supreme Naval Council. The idea was for an an enlarged Charlemagne-class battleship, to 12,000 tonnes (11,810 long tons). It needed also to have a better armour scheme capable of preserving both stability and buoyancy, even after several hiot at the waterline and flooding. The armament was a repeat essentially, and a match for foreign design, and the same fleet speed of the Mediterranean squadron at the time, 18 knots (33 km/h; 21 mph), plus a range of no less than 4,500 nautical miles.

The Director of Naval Construction Jules Thibaudier had been two month earlier preparing a preliminary design, to test the implementation of improved Harvey armour. His modificattions after receiving the request has been to increase the belt armour height above the waterline and replace the standard 138.6-millimetre (5.5 in) guns with 164.7-millimetre (6.5 in) guns, with more impact and longer range than the latter and actual 6-in guns used by other battleships.

Postcard of Iéna – from pinterest

Thibaudier submitted his revised design on 9 February 1897 already. Approved by the Board of Construction on 4 March 1897, only minor revisions were asked for before final submission for order. After these were done and the design resubmitted, the new battleships was officially ordered on 3 April 1897 and construction entrusted to Arsenal de Brest for a total Cost of F25.58 million including supplier’s armament, armour, and powerplant.

Iéna was eventually laid down on 15 January 1898, launched on 1 September 1898 and completed 14 April 1902. For once, construction was relatively swift compared to earlier 1890s standards, nearing ten years. The new direction at the head of the Navy indeed was well aware its designs needed to be completed fast in order not to be obsolete. Completion had been running for three years though, due to again, design revisions, the result as usual of changes in government and navy ministers that wanted to have their say.

Detailed design of Iéna

One one hand, having a much heavier displacement meant the possibility of improving many aspects of the design, but a lot was eaten by new dispositions taken to answer the main protection spec, compartimentation under the waterline, and no much space was allocated to the powerplant, which was more powerful, but due to the heavuer tonnage, was just barely able to deliver what was needed to reach 18 knots, not impressive compared to most pre-dreadnoughts of the time: The Duncan class (which mostly served in the Med) for example reached 19 kts, and 20 for the Italian Regina Margherita class.

Secondary armament was surprisingly heavy though, and compared well to the British 6-in guns of the time, and only eight were provided instead of twelve. This was compensated by eight lighter 100 mm (3.9 in), weaker but faster, nand limited to a 5.9 mi range, versus 7.8 for the 6-in guns, and 11 miles for the French 164 mm guns. The tertiary guns equivalent to the 12 pounder were twice as numerous also, twenty versus ten. This made for a slow, but overall heavily armed and slightly better protected than the average pre-dreanought in the Mediterranean.

Hull & general characteristics

Postcard of the previous Charlemagne – coll. Bougault from pinterest

She displaced 11,688 t (11,503 long tons) as designed, and 12,105 t (11,914 long tons) as planned deeply loaded. Her hull was 122.31 m (401 ft 3 in) long overall, for a beam of 20.81 m (68 ft 3 in) and less tumblehome as previous vessels, making her for a more favourable hull ratio and better speed. Her draught was 8.45 m (27 ft 9 in). She was seven meters longer, sixt centimeter beamier and about the same draft as the Charlemagne class.

She had large bilge keels, but roll pitched a lot, although both Captain Bouxin praised this at a sea-keeping point of view since these moves were predictable and gentle and she rode waves well, making her a good gun platform. She also manoeuvred well.

Construction was classic, with some limited ASW compartimentation below the waterline. Her silhouette also loosely resembled the previous Charlemagne, with the same complicated forecastle: It extended at full deck height up to the forward barbette, forming a redan, and then lowered from a meter up to the prow. The forward and aft turrets sat inside larger connical barbettes, supposed to deflect incoming rounds. Superstructure were limited to the main bridge forward, which sat on a two-level structure containing the coning tower, one deck above the forward turret.

Behind were located two funnels, in which pipes were truncated: A smaller round one immediately aft of the bridge, and a larger one amidship. At the rear immediately before the aft turret was the lighter and lower aft bridge. In between, there was a largely open structure at the upper gun battery, with gooseneck cranes and straps for her light service boats fleet of dinghies, cutters, yawls and steam picket boat. She had two main, thick military masts next to the bridges, with a large military top higher forward. The foremast also had a directing top surmounted by a projector. The crew comprised 727 officers and ratings but 33+668 as a “private ship”, and 731+48 as flagship.


Iéna was powered powered by 3 shafts of 4.5 metres (14 ft 9 in) (outer), 4.4 metres (14 ft 5 in) (centre) propellers, driven by three triple-expansion steam engines, fed in turn by 20 Belleville water-tube boilers working at a maximum operating pressure of 18 kg/cm2 (1,765 kPa; 245 psi), for a total of 14,500 PS (metric horsepower) or 10,700 kW. This was for a planned top speed of 18 knots (33 km/h; 21 mph). But her sea trials were not stellar: By using force heating at 16,590 metric horsepower (12,200 kW) on 16 July 1901, she just reached 18.1 knots (33.5 km/h; 20.8 mph).

For range, she carried 1,165 tonnes (1,147 long tons) of coal, enough for 4,400 nautical miles (8,100 km; 5,100 mi) at 10.3 knots (19.1 km/h; 11.9 mph) and she had an auxiliary 80-volt power unit with four dynamos, of respectively of a 600 and 1,200-ampere capacity. This was les than the 4,500 nautical miles (8,300 km; 5,200 mi) intended.


Her near sister ship Suffren (pinterest)

Iéna had a complete waterline belt made of Harvey armour, 2.4 metres (7 ft 10 in) high. From 12.6 in it tapered to 10.7 in at the bow, and 8.8 in at the stern. Below the waterline it was thinner at 120 mm (4.7 in) (bottom edge) and at the stern down to 100 mm (4 in). The upper armour belt had a lower 120 mm strake and upper 80 mm (3.1 in), combined on 2 metres (6 ft 7 in) high amidships.

There was for ASW protection underwater a well subdivided cofferdam filled by 14,858 water-resistant dried, compressed Zostera seaweed (“briquettes de zostère”) which expanded upon contact with water, hopefully pluging any holes. A sort of XIXth version of the “self-sealing tank”.

The armoured deck comprised a sandwich with a 65 mm (2.6 in) mild steel plate, placed over two 9 mm (0.35 in) plates and a splinter deck beneath also with two layers of 17 mm (0.67 in) plating each.

The turrets (in Harvey) were rounded, with flat walls 290 mm (11.4 in) thick topped by a mild steel roof 2 in thick and the Barbettes 9.8 in thick were also in Harvey armour with a deflector collar around on deck. The forward transverse bulkhead started at 55 and went on at the upper level to 150 millimetres (2.2–5.9 in) to enclose not the citadel, but the central battery. It fell to 2.2 in on the armoured deck. There was a single forward conning tower with thickness decrease from front to back and a 7.9 in communication tube below.

  • Main belt: HA 320 mm (12.6 in)
  • Outer Belt: 272 mm (10.7 in) fwd, 224 mm (8.8 in) aft.
  • Underwater belt 4.7 – 4 in aft (120-100 mm)
  • Upper belt: 4.7 – 3 in (120 – 75 mm)
  • Armor Deck: 2.6-in +2x 0.35-in (65 +18 mm: 83 mm)
  • Splinter Deck: 2x 0.67 in (34 mm)
  • Main Turrets: 11.4 (290 mm) sides, 2-in (50 mm) roof.
  • Battery Deck: 3.5 in (90mm)
  • Bulkheads: FWD 5.9 in, Aft 2.2 in
  • Secondary guns shields:
  • CT: 11.7-in face, 10.2-in sides and aft
  • Communication tubes below: 7.9 in (200 mm)
  • ASW Compartment with seaweed bricks


2×2 305 mm (12 in) Schneider Creusot guns

The 40-calibre Canon de 305 mm (12 in) Modèle 1893–1896 gun were the same as for the Charlemagne class. They were manually elevated at −5° (loading) and +15° maximum, firing a 340-kgs (750 lb) APC shell (one per minute) at 815 m/s (2,670 ft/s). Max range was 12,000 metres (13,000 yd). 45 shells were in storage per gun, plus 14 ready rounds in each turret. The turret was powered by a 300-ampere dynamo for traverse and for the ammunition hoist.

8× 164.7 mm (6.5 in) Canet guns

These eight 45-calibre Canon de 164.7 mm Modèle 1893 guns were located on the the central battery, upper deck, with two installed on each side in protruding sponsons. They fired a 54.2-kilogram (119 lb) APC shell (200 in storage for each). At +15° max elevation and 800 m/s (2,600 ft/s) they reached 9,000 metres (9,800 yd). They fired at 2–3 rounds per minute.

8× 100 mm/45 (3.9 in) Canet guns

The eight Canon de 100 mm (3.9 in) Modèle 1893 guns completed this in unprotected mounts on the shelter deck, firing each a 14-kilogram (31 lb) shell (240 in reserve) at 740 m/s (2,400 ft/s) on an elevation to 20° and 9,500 metres (10,400 yd) range, plus maximum rate of fire of six rounds per minute, three sustained.

20× 47 mm/40 (1.9 in) Hotchkiss guns

For close defence, she also carried twenty Canon de 47 mm (1.9 in) Modèle 1885 Hotchkiss. They were mounted on both military masts (eight) and the remainder in embrasures in the hull or superstructure, an arrangemebt that was criticized by Rear-Admiral (Contre-amiral) René Marquis, complaining in the 1903 report for slow hoists and lack of ready-use rounds. Also no fire-control system was designed for them in night operations. They fired a 1.49-kilogram (3.3 lb) shell (15,000 in store total) at 610 m/s (2,000 ft/s) to 4,000 metres (4,400 yd) and 15 rpm, 7 rpm sustained.

4× 450 mm (17.7 in) torpedo tubes

These two torpedo tubes per broadside, with for one, submerged at 60° angle, the other, above water, on mounts to traverse 80°. She had in store 12 Modèle 1889 torpedoes, four being training duds.

Iéna Specifications

Dimensions 122.31 x 20.81 x 8.45 m (401 ft x 68 ft x 28 ft)
Displacement 11,688 t, 12,105 tons FL
Crew 701 wartime
Propulsion 3 TE steam engines, 20 Belleville boilers for 16,500 ihp (12,100 kW)
Speed 18 kn (33 km/h; 21 mph)
Range 4,400 nmi (8,100 km, 5,100 mi) at 10.3 kts
Armament 4× 305 mm/45, 8× 164mm/45, 8× 100mm/40, 12× 47mm, 4× 450 mm (17.7 in) TTs
Armor Belt: 224-320, Deck 2.6 in, Barbettes: 250 mm, Turrets: 290, CT: 298mm

Iéna in service until her demise 1901-1907

Early service

Iéna was launched in Brest on 1st September 1898, completed only by 14 April 1902 at a cost of F25.58 million. She departed for Toulon right away. En route, she cemented a reputation, having a sailor overboard and any issues with her rudder. She arrived on 25 April and became became Rear Admiral Marquis’ flagship for the Second Division, Mediterranean Squadron from the start of May. Drydocked on 14–31 May to deal with her troyblesome rudder, she started a serie of goodwill visits, notably in French North Africa.

In January 1903 she was in refitting and later departed for the coast of Spain. She stoipped in Cartagena in June, being visited by King Alfonso XIII. After a refit 20 August-10 September she departed with the Mediterranean Squadron for a visit on the Balearic Islands. Again, while back, two crewmen died while training with the manual steering gear, in heavy seas. They were caught and crushed to death by the machinery. RADM Marquis was relieved of command by Rear-Admiral Léon Barnaud on 3 November and replaced. Iéna trained in home waters untim 17 December.

Iena, Bougault coll.

April–May 1904 saw her particopating in fleet exercizes followed by a review on the Bay of Naples, and at this occasion was visited by both the president Émile Loubet, and King Victor Emmanuel III. Next she departed for the Levant, visiting Beirut, Suda Bay, Smyrna, Mytilene, Salonika and Piraeus.

In 1905 she had another yearly refit on 15–25 April and took part in the “summer cruise” on 10 May-24 June followed by annual fleet manoeuvres on 3 July–1 August. Barnaud was replaced by RADM Henri-Louis Manceron on 16 November and on 12–17 April 1906, she was sent for a relief mission to a devastated Naples after the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. In July she took part in the combined fleet manoeuvres for the first time with the Northern Squadron. On 4 August, she was in refit. She took part in an international naval review in Marseilles (16 September) but while off Toulon she collided with, and sank Torpedo Boat No. 96.

Explosion and investigation

On 4 March 1907, Iéna was in Dry dock No. 2, Missiessy Basin, Toulon for her drydock hull maintenance, as well as a thorough inspection of her leaking rudder shaft. After just eight days at 13:35 a first explosion started near the aft 100 mm magazines. It spread and was followed by many others until around 14:40, completely devastating the battleship and spreading fire, debris and desolation in Toulon. At some point the blast was enough to blast clean off three nearby workshop’s roofs, while the ship was completed “cleaned off” from the aft funnel to the aft turret.

The main issue with a fire that coould have been contained, was her situation: In dry dock the magazine could not be flooded or water pumped out to extinguish the fire. Indeed, to save time, ammunition at that point was still abor, not unloaded before docking. On the bridge of the nearby moored battleship Patrie, the captain followed the first explosions and ordered right away to fire a shell into the dry dock gates. The idea was of course to flood it. But the gates were heavy and the shell simply ricocheted.

In the end, a local crew of workers led by an officer managed to have them manually opened, but in the meantile, some 118 crewmen and dockyard workers were killed plus 2 civilians nearby at Pont-Las by fallouts. The explisions were heard all around Toulon and the surroun ding countryside, more than 20 km away. This left the city in a state of shock and atonement.

On 17 March, the President of France, Armand Fallières, and Georges Clemenceau, the President of the Council of Ministers came and attended the following funeral, with a national day of mourning declared, a commemorative monument built in Lagoubran cemetery. For once, both the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies created their own commissions for a large inquiry, led respectively by Ernest Monis and Henri Michel.

Hearings followed reports of the wreck by scientists, and soon the most likely cause was atrtibuted to the fire start in the 100 mm magazine. Tests in laboratories shown the most likely explosion cause was due to decomposing Poudre B, a nitrocellulose-based propellant. It was noted are unstable when getting old, to the point it could self-ignite. This was contradicted by an April 1907 controversial report about the explision of a torpedo directly below the magazine, its warhead “cooking up”, as the further origin.

This hypothesis came from the yellow-coloured smoke which emitted, as reported by eye-witnesses before the first explosion. Navy Minister Gaston Thomson ordered on 31 March a replica magazine to be built and black-powder magazine nearby, however it failed to produce results on 6–7 August as the propellant used was more recent. President Fallières’s own appointed technical commission on 6 August was led by the world-famous mathematician Henri Poincaré, but also academic celebrities such as the chemist Albin Haller and even the inventor of “Poudre B”, Paul Vieille.

Meanwhile, the navy’s Propellant Branch not to be undone, tried to fend off criticisms by stating these were able to resist 43 °C (110 °F) for 12 hours. But they could not determine exact behaviour for old decomposing Poudre B in magazines with natural ventilation. The Senate Commission published its report on 9 July. The blamed fell on those implicated in the procurement and storage of Poudre B. It was debated on 21–26 November while the deputy assembly Commission followed on 7 November 1908 was more indecisive, stated by the presse as “a model of vagueness and imprecision”. There were clearly accusations of gross negligence abnd some business interests by some deputies which ended in a scandal and PM Thomson forced to resign.

Stern after explosions, showing her stille considerable tumblehome.

These explosions gutted the ship between Frames 74 down to the lower armour belt level and all the machinery destroyed. A Navy commission estimated the repair cost to around seven million francs on two years but the general advice by then was that she was now obsolete and not worth it. Indeed, since then a lot of changes intervened for the construction of a serie of larger, more modern Patrie and Republique class. Like Suffren, she was of another era.

The navy decided to have her decommissioned, used as a target ship with at least a recent protection scheme. Stricken on 18 March, she was disarmed keeping only her main gun turrets to be fired at, in 1908. Eventually she was made seawothy enough to be towed at sea for 700,000 francs, moored off Porquerolles Islands. The idea was to test the effectiveness of Melinite-filled armour-piercing shells. The Navy started its first live fire test on 9 August 1909 by the armoured cruiser Condé‘s 164.7 mm and 194 mm (7.6 in) shells from 6,000 metres (6,600 yd).

Results were inspected up close and photographed, even including a crew of wooden dummies and live animals. By 2 December after all these tests, Iéna was close to sinking after a new inspection and the navy decided to have her towed to deeper water and sunk for good, but as the towing began she suddenly capsized and sank. Her wreck was sold on 21 December 1912 for 33,005 francs, BU and salvaged until 1927, with the very last parts removed in 1957.

Sources/Read More

On histogen.dol.free.fr
On Calenda
On histoire-genealogie.com
On battleships-cruisers.co.uk
L’illustratrion, on Iéna

Campbell, N.J.M. (1979). “France”. Gardiner, Robert Conway’s All the World’s Fighting Ships 1860–1905.
Caresse, Philippe (2007). “The Iéna Disaster, 1907”. In Jordan, John (ed.). Warship 2007. Conway.
Friedman, Norman (2011). Naval Weapons of World War One: Guns, Torpedoes, Mines and ASW Weapons of All Nations
Gille, Eric (1999). Cent ans de cuirassés français. Marines édition.
Jordan, John & Caresse, Philippe (2017). French Battleships of World War One. Naval Institute Press.
Silverstone, Paul H. (1984). Directory of the World’s Capital Ships. Hippocrene Books.
Caresse, Philippe (2018). “The Battleship Iéna” in “The World of the Battleship” Seaforth Publishing.
Schwerer, Antoine (1912), Investigation Report on the Powders of the Navy to the Minister, Paris
Le Petit Journal supplément illustré 31 March 1907, 21 April 1907
L’Illustration n°3342 (16 March 1907) and 3343 (23 March 1907)

Charlemagne class Battleships (1895)

Charlemagne class Battleships (1899)

France (1894-1900)
Charlemagne, Saint Louis, Gaulois

The Charlemagne class Battleships were three French “pre-dreadnoughts” ordered in 1894 over a new design, in an attempt to rationalize and standardize capital ships in France. Charlemagne, Saint Louis, Gaulois were originally intended for the Atlantic but were soon in service in the Mediterranean, taking part notably during WWI in the Dardanelles Campaign, one being sunk by an U-Boat.

First step out of the Young School

One of the crucial change for the French Navy at the end of the century, was to start seeing some of the Young School (jeune école) theories with growing suspicion. France after the 1870 defeat and regime change, decided to reaffect budget towards its army, cutting down massively on naval spendings, and concentrating on coastal defence and armored cruisers, to wage an asymetric warfare on the global stage, mostly looking at the Royal Navy.

However after 1895, emerging Navies like those of Italy, Germany or Japan were contesting the old rivalry and forcing France started to look at a more conventional path, if war was to break out with these.

One point always brought forward in 1893 already was the great diversity of designs tested by the French Navy, lack of homogeneity and long contruction time. This plagued all previous battleships, obsolete when commissioned, like those of the Charles Martel, as well as some constestation on odd design choices, like single turrets and wings guns, or the typical pear-shape hull design (tumblehome) which proved not so ideal in rough seas as it was discovered.

Some of these complaints made their way into a new design ordered in 1894 of three Battleships based on the same, more advanced design, two of which were built in Brest and one in Lorient, with a strict specification and timetable respect.

Charlemagne, colorized by Irootoko Jr.

In the end, this procured three sister-ships that were a more coherent class, with general better characteristics, more conventional approach for artillery, hull construction, better armour scheme, and better speed. Intended at first for the Atlantic, they did not fare well in heavy weather and made their career in the Mediterranean instead, being quite active in WWI in this theater in which all three took part to the Gallipoli campaign, Gaulois being sunk by UB 47 in December 1916.

Despite they were faster built, and more coherent, these new battleships still entered service in 1900, being obsolete as their general design went back to 1893. They were followed by the single Iéna and Suffren, spin-off of their class in 1902-1904, before the old design ways were completely abandoned, leading to the brand new République-class battleships and the great fleet reforms that preceded WWI.

Charlemagne’s class predecessor, the Charles Martel class, showing all what was wrong with French capital ships under the Young School doctrine (colorized by Irootoko Jr).

Design in Details

Brasseys diagram of the class in 1896

The Charlemagne were an interesting mix between old and new habits. The “old” was paradoxically an inheritance of the young school experiments, but toned down: They were still characterized by a massive tumblehome, ram bow, and heavy military masts. But at the same time they opted for the more standard fore & aft twin turrets approach. Secondary armament was a bit weak, with just five 14 cm (5.5 in) guns in casemates per side, speed was the same as before and not impressive compared to Italian designs of the time, and armor had a weak spot where the tumblehome slope was located. The struct enforcement of specifications to the yards and avoidance to revise the design also helped a faster construction, of six years (Charlemagne) to four (Gaulois), and the choice of Atlantic coast yards played its part.

Original plans cutouts profile and deck

Decks plans elevations Original

original plans cutout profile

Hull construction

Symonds and Co Collection, Q22279 Gaulois

The Charlemagne-class battleships were small in 1900 standards: They measured 117.7 metres (386 ft 2 in) long overall, for 20.3 metres (66 ft 7 in) in beam, and deeply loaded, reached 7.4 metres (24 ft 3 in) in draught forward, up to 8.4 metres (27 ft 7 in) aft for a displacement of 11,275 tonnes (11,097 long tons) deeply loaded, which was also weak. The contemporary Majestic class (1895) reached 16,000 tonnes and the Italian Sardegna class (capable of 20.3 kts also) 15,000 tons FL.

The general design was still very much in line with previous French pre-dreadnoughts, with the typical tumblehome, still pronounced, a tall, rounded hull, small usable deck surface, conning tower and small bridge forward, towering above the forward main turret, flying bridge running along the amidship section to the aft bridge (with service boats under davits alongside), two heavy military masts with three levels, where the light guns and projectors were located, and the artillery spotters lookouts. As previous designs also, the very long ram bow was substracted from the utility deck lenght, so that the forward and aft turrets were very close to both deck ens of the ship, with little buoyancy reserve. Due to this, both this and their metacentric height resulted in poor behaviour at sea:

The Charlemagne-class ships indeed were poor seaboats in heavy seas, as shown by initial tests in stormy weather in the Bay of Biscay, in 1900. The Gaulois’s captain reported that his ship’s forward gun turret and casemates were flooded out, while his vessel was ploughing heavily, raisiong so much spray it even washed over the bridge, and the deck was flooded at each wave, water systematically going over the bow. However he also observed when the weather was good, his hip made for a steady gunnery platform, manoeuvering well and having a predictable roll. He however was very critical of the armour layout, not being high enough above the waterline, rightfully so.
The crew of all three ships consisted of 727 officers and enlisted men, but they were also outfitted as flagship and in that case, carried 41 officers and 744 sailors.


The armour scheme was seemed at the time as an improvement over previous experiments, but left much to be desired: They carried 820.7 tonnes (807.7 long tons) of Harvey armour, quality compensating for quantity, but it was a bit light. By thickness figures, the main belt and turrets were well protected, but the general scheme left the entire section above the armor deck and up to the casemate deck unprotected. The sloped section was not sufficient to stop modern AP shells.

As for ASW compartimentation, no special care has been made to adequately separate the machinery room VTE and boilers, but a single layer of compartimented sections behind the belt, and no longitudinal bulkhead. There was no particular innovation in this field compared to previous designs, which was paid dearly by a submarine kill in 1916. Details were as follows:

  • Waterline Belt 400 mm (15.7 in) thick over 3.26 metres (10 ft 8 in) high
  • Belt tapered down to 110 mm (4.3 in) at its lower edge
  • Armoured deck 55 mm (2.2 in) thick, flat section
  • Deck slope to the belt 35 mm (1.4 in), angled downwards
  • Main turrets 320 mm (12.6 in), roof 50 mm (2.0 in)
  • Main turrets barbettes 270 mm (10.6 in)
  • Casemates outer walls 55 mm (2.2 in)
  • Transverse bulkheads 150 mm (5.9 in)
  • Conning tower 326 mm (12.8 in), roof 50 mm
  • CT communication tube 200 mm (7.9 in)


Saint Louis underway

The three vessels had construction specification quite strict between them, all equipped with 4-cylinder vertical triple-expansion steam engines (VTE), driving each a 4.3-metre (14 ft 1 in) propeller. Steam was provided by 20 Belleville water-tube boilers working at 17 kg/cm2 (1,667 kPa; 242 psi). Total output was rated to 14,500 metric horsepower (10,700 kW). On sea trials they produced with forced heating up to 14,220–15,295 metric horsepower (10,459–11,249 kW). Top speed was 18 knots as designed, but up to 18.5 knots (34.3 km/h or 21.3 mph) was reached on trials. 1,050 tonnes (1,030 long tons) of coal was stored onboard, enabling a range of 4,200 miles (3,600 nmi) at 10 knots (19 km/h; 12 mph).


Main: 2×2 12-in/40 Modèle 1893/96 guns

The Charlemagne class made quite a rupture with previous designs (Charles Martel class) by having a more uniform armament in twin turrets fore and aft while earlier ships spread two 305 mm/45 Modèle 1893 guns in single turrets fore and aft, and two 274 mm/45 Modèle 1893 guns on the wings.

The four 40-calibre “Canon de 305 mm” Modèle 1893 were a first in the French Navy in this configuration, but forcing to adopt a common, solidary mount. The latter was rotated by electric motors while the guns were still hand-cranked for elevate and depression, respectively of -5° to +15°.

Loading position was fully depressed only. They had a ready rack with 10 shells before a new call to the magazine was necessary, helping for a “greater” rate of fire (1.3 minutes). They fired a 349.4-kilogram (770 lb) armour-piercing shell at at 815 m/s (2,670 ft/s), with a range of 12,900 metres (14,100 yd). 45 shells were provided for each gun, 180 total on board.

Secondary: 10x 4.5-in/45 Modèle 1893 casemate guns

From eight to ten 45-calibre Canon de 138.6 mm (5.5 in) for the previous vessels, was explained by having eight (four per side) in individual casemates along the amidship battery and two in shielded mounts, on the forecastle deck. Depression/Elevation was -5°30″ and +19°30″. They fired a 35 kgs (77 lb) armour-piercing shell at 4 rpm and 730 m/s (2,400 ft/s), with a range of 11,000 metres (12,000 yd) at maximum elevation. Total storage onboard amounted to 2316 rounds.

Tertiary: 8x 4-in/45 Modèle 1893 shielded guns

Complementary, eight “Canon de 100 mm (3.9 in) Modèle 1893” were all placed in shielded mounts on the superstructure. Depression/elevation was -10° to +20°, they fired a 16 kgs. (35 lb) shell at 5 rpm, 710 m/s (2,300 ft/s) and 10,000 metres (11,000 yd) range. Provision was 2288 rounds (286 per gun)

Light artillery: 20x 47 mm/40 Hotchkiss

To deal with torpedo boats, they also had twenty “Canon de 47 mm (1.9 in) Modèle 1885” Hotchkiss, eight located on fighting tops on both masts, four in the superstructure, and the rest in hull casemates. Depressio/elevation was -21° +24°. They fired a 1.5 kgs (3.3 lb) shell at 650 m/s (2,100 ft/s), with 12 rpm, and max range of 4,000 metres (4,400 yd). In total, the battleships carried 10,500 rounds.

Torpedo armament: 4x 450 mm

Four 450-millimetre (17.7 in) torpedo tubes were mounted in the broadside, two submerged and angled 20° from axis the others above the waterline, 90°. The ships carried for them twelve Modèle 1892 torpedoes, sporting a 75 kgs (165 lb) warhead, max range of just 800 metres (870 yd) at 27.5 knots (50.9 km/h; 31.6 mph). In 1906 the above water tubes were removed adnd plated over.

Old author’s illustration of the Charlemagne in 1914.

Old author’s illustration of the Gaulois in 1915.

Charlemagne class Specifications

Dimensions 117.81 x 21.39 x 8.38 m (386.5 ft x 70.2 ft x 27.5 ft)
Displacement 12,007 t (11,817 long, 13,235 short tons)
Crew 710 wartime
Propulsion 3 TE steam engines, 32 Belleville boilers for 15,000 ihp (11,000 kW)
Speed 18 kn (33 km/h; 21 mph)
Range 8,870 nmi (16,430 km, 10,210 mi) 19 knots (35 km/h, 22 mph)
Armament 2 × 305 mm/45, 2 × 274mm/45, 8 × 138mm/45, 8 × 100 mm, 12 × 3-pdr, 2 × 450 mm (18 in) TTs
Armor Belt: 460 mm (18 in), Turrets: 380 mm (15 in), Conning tower: 305 mm (12.0 in)

Sources/Read More


d’Ausson, Enseigne de Vaisseau de la Loge (1978). “French Battleship St. Louis”. F. P. D. S. Newsletter. VI
Caresse, Philippe (2012). “The Battleship Gaulois”. In Jordan, John (ed.). Warship 2012. Conway.
Chesneau, Roger & Kolesnik, Eugene M., eds. (1979). Conway’s All the World’s Fighting Ships 1860–1905.
Corbett, Julian (1997). Naval Operations. History of the Great War: Based on Official Documents. Vol. II
Friedman, Norman (2011). Naval Weapons of World War One: Guns, Torpedoes, Mines and ASW Weapons of All Nations
Gille, Eric (1999). Cent ans de cuirassés français [A Century of French Battleships] (in French). Marines édition.
Jordan, John & Caresse, Philippe (2017). French Battleships of World War One. Naval Institute Press.
Silverstone, Paul H. (1984). Directory of the World’s Capital Ships. New York: Hippocrene Books.


Cuirassé Charlemagne (photo marius bar)

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Charlemagne in 1914-15 (in grey camouflage)

Charlemagne (after the first Holy Roman Emperor), was authorised on 30 September 1895 as lead ship ship of class, laid down at the Arsenal de Brest, on 2 August 1894 launched on 17 October 1895, completed on 12 September 1899, which was still six years, but this was much improved for the second laid down two years after her, Gaulois, completed earlier actually, in January.

Charlemagne was assigned at first to the Northern Squadron base din Brest with Gaulois, but due to their problems with heavy weather, they were transferred to the 1st Battleship Division, Mediterranean Squadron, in January 1900. On 18 July 1900 she took part in combined manoeuvres with the Northern Squadron and a naval review hosted by the President of France, Émile Loubet in Cherbourg, Atlantic coast. She escorted the Minister of War and Minister of Marine on a tour of Corsica and Tunisia in October 1900 and took part in 1901 in an international naval review in Toulon, with ships from Spain, Italy and Russia.

In October 1901, the 1st Battleship Division (Rear Admiral Leonce Caillard) sailed to Mytilene, landing two companies of marines to occupy the island on 7 November in retaliation of Sultan Abdul Hamid II failing to honoroung contracts made with French companies and French banks loans. The 1st Division departed Lesbos afterwards for Toulon. In January–March 1902, Charlemagne wasn sent to Morocco to participate to the summer fleet exercises and allegedly collided with Gaulois on 2 March 1903, with little damage.

In April 1904, she took part in the escort of President Loubet in a state visit to Italy, followed after her return to the annual fleet manoeuvers of the summer. During a gunnery drill, a 100 mm cartridge spontaneously ignited in a magazine, in January 1905, but damage was well controlled. She sailed with the destroyer Dard, in an international squadron occupying Mytilene in November–December 1905. Thos was followed by another naval review by President Armand Fallières, in September 1906, followed by the summer naval manoeuvres in 1907. In September 1908 she was transferred to the 4th division.

Charlemagne wans sent for a time in the Northern Squadron, in October 1909. Underway north, she visited Oran, Cadiz, Lisbon and Quiberon. She was overhauled in Brest in January 1910. This was followed by a large naval review hosted by President Fallières off Cap Brun, 4 September 1911. Placed in reserve in Brest (September 1912) she was due for her major overhaul. When ot was over she experienced in a gale a 34° roll during her sea trials, in May 1913. Assigned to the training squadron of the Mediterranean Fleet, she headed south, andwas there from August 1913 until August 1914.

Charlemagne escorted Allied troop convoys at first, from North Africa, until November 1914. Like the rest of the French squadron she was ordered to the Dardanelles, in order to guard against a sortie by Goeben, refugee in Istambul. She took part later in the Gallipoli campaig, firing on 25 February 1915 on the fort at Kum Kale. On 18 March with Bouvet, Suffren, and Gaulois she made a first attempt to penetrate the Dardanelles, following six British battleships, in order to destroy Turkish fortifications further north-east.

Ordered to be relieved by six other British battleships, they went through a minefield laid during the night: Bouvet struck a mine, sinking quickly, Gaulois hit two but survived, escorted by Charlemagne to Rabbit Islands, north of Tenedos. There, she was beached and Charlemagne retired too for repairs, damaged during the bombardment, to Bizerte. This went on until May 1915, after which she returned.

Back to the “escadre des Dardanelles” she was ordered to bombard Turkish positions in support of the first Allied landings. Transferred to Salonica in October 1915 they joined the French squadron there to guard againsta possible intervention of the Greeks. Charlemagne was relieved and sent for a major refit in Bizerte, in May 1916, until August. Back to Salonica she was later assigned to the Eastern Naval Division or “division navale d’Orient”, until August 1917. Proceeding back to Toulon, she was placed in reserve on 17 September, disarmed on 1 November, stricken and disarmed from 21 June 1920, sold for BU in 1923.

Saint Louis

St Louis engraving, 1914, ELD coll.

Saint Louis (named after King Louis IX), was authorised on 30 September 1895, laid down at Arsenal de Lorient, 25 March 1895, launched on 2 September 1896, commissioned on 1 September 1900 after her sea trials. total cost was 26,981,000 francs. Before commission she participated in a naval review honoring President Emile Loubet at Cherbourg, July 1900.

She was soon assigned to the Mediterranean Squadron, based on Toulon from 24 September, squadron flagship on 1 October, and until 24 February 1904. She transported Louis André (Minister of War) and Jean de Lanessan (Minister of Marine) on a tour of Corsica and Tunisia and in 1905 she participated to yet another international naval review, also held by President Loubet, in Toulon.

On 25 June 1903 she hosted King Alfonso XIII of Spain during a visit to Cartagena after escorting President Loubet to Italy. Saint Louis visited Morocco in December 1906 as tensions rose in the region, and became flagship of the Second Battleship Division from 18 March, then flagship of the 4th Division, from 17 April 1908. She was a brief appareance in the Northern Squadron as flagship in October 1910, taking part in a large naval review with President Armand Fallières in attendance, off Cap Brun on 4 September 1911. However soon after she collided with the destroyer Poignard off Hyères, relieved on 11 November for repairs, which transofmed into a full overhaul at Cherbourg, complete in April 1912. She returned as squadron flagship on 15 April 1912.

In June 1912 she collided yet again with the submarine Vendémiaire, rammed and sank on 8 Junen in the English Channel, off the Casquets. The submersible and crew went down without survivors. Saint Louis was transferred to the Mediterranean Squadron again in late 1912, being based in Toulon from 9 November as flagship, Second Division, Third Squadron, from 18 March 1913. Later she was part of the Supplementary Division as flagship from 10 February 1914.

As war broke out, she escorted troop convoys from North Africa to France and on 23 September 1914 sh sailed to Port Said, escorting a British convoy carrying troops from India. In November she was ordered to the Dardanelles, as part of the guarding fleet in case the battlecruiser Goeben would break out, until January 1915. After a brief refit at Bizerte she sailed for the Eastern Mediterranean, flagship of the Syrian Squadron from 9 February 1915. This unit was supposed to prey on Turkish positions and lines of communication between the Syrian, Lebanese, Palestinian coast, down to the Sinai Peninsula. Saint Louis notably shelled Gaza and El Arish in April 1915, before headed to the Dardanelles in May 1915.

There, she was used to bombard Turkish positions, in support of Allied landings. She even became flagship of the French Dardanelles Squadron on 26 August. She was relieved for her wartime overhault at Lorient, departing in October 1915, and was back in May 1916, but as operations ceased in the Dardanelles, she was ordered instead to Salonica as part of the French deterrence fleet towards the Greeks, from 22 May. She was flagship of the Eastern Naval Division (“division navale d’Orient”) from 26 October 1916, until refitted in Bizerte in February 1917, placed in reserve in April there and in January 1919 she headed bacl to Toulon for deactivation.

Saint Louis was decommissioned on 8 February, becoming a disarmed training ship for stokers and engineers, in Toulon. Condemned on 20 June 1920, she became an accommodation hulk, and listed for sale on 29 June 1931, purchased in May 1933 for 600,230 francs, to be scrapped.


Gaulois in Toulon, Agence Rol Coll.

Gaulois (“Gaul”), was ordered on 22 January 1895 at Brest Arsenal, her construction delayed by the completion of Charlemagne until launch, and she was laid down on 6 January 1896, launched on 6 October, commissioned on 15 January 1899, assigned to Northern Squadron, but then 1st Battleship Division, Mediterranean Squadron on 30 September.

Both her and Charlemagne were scheduled to sail from Brest on 18 January 1900, and reached Toulon later. In Hyères, Gaulois accidentally rammed the destroyer Hallebarde, which survived and reached Toulon to be repaired. No damage was reported for Gaulois, which on 18 July, after combined manoeuvres with the Northern Squadron, took part in a naval review for Émile Loubet at Cherbourg, followed by an international naval review in Toulon. In October 1901, the 1st Battleship Division (Rear-Admiral Leonce Caillard) sailed to Mytilene, Lesbos, by then possessed by the Ottoman Empire. The battleship carried and landed companies of marines occupying the island on 7 November, forcing Sultan Abdul Hamid II paying his Empire’s debts to French Banks.

The 1st Division departed Lesbos in December back to Toulon and in May 1902, Gaulois became flagship, Vice-Admiral François Fournier sent in the US for her staff to assist the unveiling of a statue of Comte de Rochambeau, in Lafayette Square, Washington, D.C. President Theodore Roosevelt visited Gaulois and her crew was invited in New York City and Boston. While back, the battlesip also paid goowill visits to Lisbon and entered Toulon harbor on 14 June 1902.

Exercises off Golfe-Juan (31 January 1903) saw Gaulois hitting Bouvet during manoeuvers. Bouvert suffered little but Gaulois had two armour plates in her bow lost. Both captains were however relieved of their commands and Pierre Le Bris took command on 20 March. By April 1904 she escorted the president Loubet to Italy. She visited also Thessaloniki, Athens, and tested a wireless telegraph in December 1905. With Iéna and Bouvet, she took upt survivors of the April 1906 eruption of Mount Vesuvius in Naples. On 16 September 19106, she took part in another international naval review held in Marseilles.

Until the war broke out she went on in her routine of exercises with the Mediterranean Squadron, visiting port in the Empire. In January 1907, she was now in the 2nd Battleship Division, then 4th Battleship Division (July 1908), on 5 January 1909, 2nd Battle Squadron. The strongpoint of her gunnery drills had been the sinking of the target ship Tempête on 18 March. On 5 January 1910 she was now in the 1st Division, 2nd Battle Squadron transferred to Brest, replacing the Northern Squadron in late February. While there, one of her torpedoes was accidentally launched and colided with the the destroyer Fanion while training.

On 1 August 1911, the 2nd Battle Squadron became the 3rd Battle Squadron and she later took part in a residential naval review. She returned to the Mediterranean Squadron on 16 October 1912, and after another naval review for Pdt. Raymond Poincaré on the 10th, her unit was soon dissolved and she was reaffected to the “Complementary Division” with Bouvet and Saint Louis. In June 1914, Gaulois was to be sent to the Training Division of the Squadron but war broke out.

After escorting convoys she ws sent to Tenedos Island guarding against a possible sortie of Yavuz Sultan Selim, in place of Suffren. Gaulois was flagship, Rear-Admiral Émile Guépratte from 15 November, until 10 January 1915. On 19 February she bombarded Turkish Forts with Suffren at the mouht of the Dardanelles, notably Orhaniye Tepe. While on mission on 25 February, anchored some 6,000 metres (6,600 yd) away from the Asiatic shore, she engaged Kum Kale and Cape Helles, was replied, but moved closer to finish off the forts, down to 3,000 metres (3,300 yd) for the shore, having her secondary armament to bark too. She was hit twice with moderte damage.

Le Gaulois, battle damage in 1915

On 2 March, she shelled targets in the Gulf of Saros and went on raining steel on more positions joined with British battleships. Gaulois was hit by a 150 mm (5.9 in) shell, which failed to detonate. Guépratte’s was back to the Gulf of Saros to resupply on 11 March, and returned shelling Ottoman fortifications. On 18 March British ships led the way in the entrance, the French ships passing through them to engage forts closer. Gaulois was hit agai, twice. Her quarterdeck was hit, as the waterline, starboard bow. Armour plates were torned below the waterline, with a 7 metres (23 ft) by 22 centimetres (8.7 in) gash causing flooding. It soon uncontrollable so that Captain André-Casimir Biard orderedto sail to Rabbit Islands north of Tenedos to beach her. Non-essential crewmen were ordered off, in case she sank on her trip. She eventually arrived and beached as planned.

Gaulois was patched until fully refloated, towed away on 22 March, repaired further until she could depart for Toulon, via Malta escorted by Suffren. They crossed a storm on 27 March off Cape Matapan, so that Gaulois’s patches started leaking under the pressure. She setn a wireless message for assistance, answered by the armoured cruiser Jules Ferry and three torpedo boats, helping her until she reached the Bay of Navarin for furher repairs, taking spare metal from the oldMarceau.

Gaulois arrived at last at Toulon on 16 April, entering drydock and overhauled at the occasions: Her heavy military masts were removed and replaced by simple poles, the superstructure lightened, the conning tower removed a s well as the battery roof’s secondary guns, two 100 mm and six 47 mm guns. She received anti-torpedo bulges, making her beamier. All these measures greatly benefited her stability. In June she was at sea again for further operations. Gaulois sailed back to the Dardanelles, arriving at lemnos on 17 June.

She dropped anchor 1,000 metres (1,100 yd) on 11 August off the coast, to pummel the Ottoman artillery battery of Achi Baba. She was hit in return, one putting fire her deck, quickly mastered; While underway back the decodedly unlucky battleship ran aground at the harbour entrance. This obliged all her ammunition and storages being unloaded before she could be towed away on 21 August. Sailing with République she covered the Allied evacuation in January 1916. Next she headed for Brest on 20 July for an overhaul, her captain insisting she needed an extra 4,000 metres artillery range to fit in a modern battleline and so the admiralty though ot disarming her entirely as a barrack ship.

Alas, after her refit, shortened, she was ordered back to the Eastern Mediterranean on 25 November, being off Crete on 27 December 1916. There, she was was torpedoed by UB-47n at 08:03. Her escorting torpedo boat Dard and two armed trawlers could do little to prevent the ambush, and chased off the submarine afterwards, before coming back to assist the sinking Gaulois. Hit abaft the mainmast, flooding became uncontrllable, killing two crewmen outright, drawing many more attempted to abandon her. She sank however slowly enough for the rest of the crew to be successfully rescued. She disappeared beneath the waves at 09:03, off Cape Maleas, where she still lays today as a war grave.

Gaulois sinking after UB-47 hit.

WW1 French Battleships

WW1 French Battleships

France, 40 Battleships (1888-1917)

The Design of French Battleships

France invented the concept of sea going ironclad back in 1859 with the armoured frigate “Gloire”, immediately answered by the British Navy with the first all-iron armoured frigate, the Warrior, twice her size. From then on, the old rivalry went on under Napoleon III and the third Republic. In 1906, it was Great Britain who took the lead, and kept it until the end of WWI, with the dreadnought. France was slow to keep up, only planning a class of “semi-dreadnought”, instead, the Danton. When WWI broke out, France was found ill-prepared, with a large collection of mismatched vessels, the young school result of fifteen years of experimental playground. With just four dreadnoughts barely in service in August 1914, of the Courbet class, all the rest of the battlefleet, except the last homogenous classes in 1902-1911, was a mess of prototypes or semi-prototypes, without a single clear class in sight. Virtually all French battleships of the 1890 to 1905 generation were different from one another, and they used a very peculiar design, between single turrets in lozenge, considerable tumble-home and heavy military masts. They looks quite unique, and their most popular nickname by extension from the Hoche, was the “hotels”. They were also caricatured by the French themselves as ‘Castles’.

The controversial Hoche, before launch.

French battleships fought little during WWI. Their main theatre of operation was the Mediterranean, by agreement with the British. It was in effect devoid of any real naval threat. Before Italy entered war with the triple entente in May 1915, the Regia Marina was the only possible serious adversary for the French battlefleet, and once colors were announced, there was only one left: Austria Hungary and its small fleet trapped in Pola in the Adriatic. Nevertheless, the French fleet participated in the blocus of this sea, the control of Greece and the Aegean, and of course the Gallipoli campaign, loosing even more battleships than the British in this ill-fated endeavour, due to mines.

The Legacy of the 1880s and Young School

There was a long transition from masted ironclad to central battery ships like the Océan class in 1868, the Friedland (1873), Richelieu (1873), Colbert class (1875), Redoutable (1876), Courbet class (1882), and the 1879 Duperré, first barbette ship. But the first true, modern “steam-only” French battleships were the small Terrible class, still active in WW2. They perfectly represented the path chosen by the Young school, mostly geared towards a confrontation with the Royl Navy: Since the industrial output and financial wealth was completey different from Great Britain, the naval theoreticians thought the best course of action was some kind of asymmetric naval warfare at sea: Avoiding large scale battles with ships of the line (or modern battleships in that case) and tried to develop other avenues: Smaller, coastal battleships, armoured cruisers to prey on British shipping, and plenty of torpedo boats to re-establish the balance before the “decisive battle”.

Hoche, colorized by irootoko Jr.

Armament of French Battleships

So despite this radical approach, battleships were still tolerated. But there was freedom left to experiment there. The end result, for the rest of the world was a complete mess. Instead of proceeding with incremental steps, and building large classes of very similar vessels which simplified training, maintenance and organization, and lowered the costs, the French took sometimes ten year or more to built costly, single battleships that incorporated many changes and ideas delaying their completion and making them all different, and obsolete, in the end. Calibers multiplied also, creating an ordnance nightmare: Devastation (1879) still existed in 1922, and had 340 (13.4 in) and 274 mm guns (10.8 in), the Terrible class had 19.3 inches and 3.9 in guns, the Baudin class 14.6 in, 6.5 in and 5.5 in, until the Navy settled on the 12-in caliber in 1893 with the Charles Martel. The French also made the choice of having longer caliber guns than in the RN to out-ranged them, but due to space issues, in single turrets. Due to the tumblehome, there was simply not enough space on the deck forward to accept a twin turret.

Jaureguiberry and other “Martel” class battleships

The Baudin had three main guns in the axis, one amidship, the Hoche, Marceau class, Brennus, and Martel “class” (Martel, Carnot, Jaureguiberry, Massena, Bouvet) repeated the same “lozenge” pattern, with the main guns fore and aft and two smaller side guns amidships, of 10.8 inches (274 mm), which range for the latter was thought to be equal to the British Vickers 12 inches. The peculiar place in side sponsons obliged engineers to place here lighter guns, but this solution offered three guns in chase and retreat, unlike countries that adopted the fore and aft twin turret/barbette approach. Only the French used this configuration, the only Country which adopted it was Spain, with the unique French-built Pelayo in the 1880s, an indication this was probably not the best approach to battleship design. It was recognised in France too, at last, when the Charlemagne class settled in 1895 on the fore and aft 12-in twin turret universal solution, getting rid of side sponsons for good. This pattern was repeated for the Iéna and Suffren, and the following République, Liberté and Danton classes, the latter going back to a massive secondary artillery, after the transition initiated with the Liberté class (8-in secondary guns). The French were however quick to use secondary turrets, deck level, instead of casemated guns: They started with the Brennus (1891), confirmed later until the Suffren (1899), which had a mix of both, with ten 6.4 in (162 mm), including eight in four twin turrets for and aft, the remainder four being casemated guns one level below, with large recesses in the hull. At the same time, the tumblehome and rams were made less prominent. This was the end of the young school, and a return to “normality” thanks to more sensible ministers of the Navy which saw the greater picture.

The Carnot, by Bougault in 1896 off North Africa

For secondary artillery, the French tried to be a step above the standards of the time (from Vickers) with 6.4 inches guns (162 mm) instead of the commonplace 6 inches (152 mm). It was an incremental step over the previous 5.5 in (138 mm), and improvement on the second standard of 5-in (127 mm). At last in 1904 and the Liberté class, the French introduced a heavy secondary caliber, at first, of 7.6 in (193 mm), below the standard 8 in and later also below the standard of 10 inches (254 mm) with 9.4 in or 240 mm adopted on some armoured cruisers of the time, and used on the Danton. It went back to 5.4 in (138 mm), also substandard, but compensated by range, on casemated guns on the Courbet, Bretagne class, Normandie and Lyon, and it was still largely used on destroyers until WW2.

For the light artillery, Hotchkiss, Schneider and St Chamond, prominent French arsenals and gun makers, provided the French Navy with quick-firing guns since the 1870s.
For torpedo tubes, submerged, often 4 to 6 were installed, of 450 mm (17.7 in) on later dreadnoughts and pre-dreadnoughts.

-Main guns (in service in WWI): 16.5 in, 14.6 in, 13.4 in (28, 42, 45 cal.), 12 in (40, 45 cal.), 10.8 in
-Secondary guns: 9.4 in, 7.6 in, 6.4 in, 5.5 in, 5.4 in, 3.9 in
-Tertiary/Anti-TB guns: 1-pdr revolver (37 mm), 3-pdr (47 mm) and 47 mm AA/40 mm AA on Lyon), 9 pdr (67 mm).
-Torpedo tubes: 14 in (340 mm), 17.7 in (450 mm), 18 inches (457 mm).


Protection-wise, Early French battleships from this era generally had a thick protection, often to the detriment of speed. For the old Devastation (1879) for example, the belt was 15 inches thick, whereas the caliber of the main artillery was 13.4 inches. This reported difference was even greater on the Duperré (22 in for 13.4 in), Terrible (20 in/16.5 in), Baudin (22 in/14.6 in), Hoche (18 in/13.4 in), Marceau, Brennus and following, the thinner armour being explained by the use of modern compound steel. It was made thinner on the Bouvet class, by using this time Harvey nickel armour (16 in/12 in) and finally Krupp Cemented armour from the modern République, Liberté and Danton classes (11 in/12 in).

Jaureguiberry on sea trials – Marius Bar coll. The Navy and Army Illustrated, 1897, released in CC internationally since 1926.

Also they showed the tumblehome characteristic of their design, and a pronounced arm bow, more impressive than British ones. They had the tendency of making the bow “plough” in heavy weather, detrimental to stability, while the tumblehome idea, while in appearance a surveillance of the wooden ships of the line era for better stability, was a repeat of the same idea, allowing to push the superstructure higher, giving larger living spaces and raised platforms for light artillery. This went on to to the point of self-caricature, with the Hoche, the “Grand Hotel”, which height had to be lowered after entering service. The French advocated this pear shape made the ships more seaworthy, creating a greater freeboard and the concept was exported to the Russian Tsesarevich, but the Russo-Japanese War proved if the tumblehome design was good for long distance navigation, it can doom a ship quickly if the underwater integrity was lost, as it only aggravated the flooding problem. In fact three of the four with this design were lost, resulting in their abandonment.

“Mastodonte”, a particularly impressive “castle like” engraving of the Martel, showing its tumblehome and thick military masts (and a castle in the background).

Another design trope of that area, typical of French battleship design and found nowhere else, was the use of heavy military masts. These structure, very much “tower-like” were indeed very large, as they supported a targeting platform and light artillery platforms, often on two levels. In some cases, these platforms were entirely enclosed, leaving only hatches embrasures opened for QF anti-torpedo guns. The idea of having them there was to maximize their arc of fire around the ship, and visibility to deal with approaching torpedo boats, but also, as it appeared, submarines, which were easier to detect when close underwater from a higher position. The mast was a lightly armoured tube with an internal ladder or staircase depending of the builder. On many battleships, they were built only foward, and from the République, it became a standard. They were completely abandoned with the Danton. Nevertheless, the Courbet, Bretagne and Normandie still had a thick, tubular mast forward, large enough of a ladder inside, but no longer gunnery platforms. Instead, Admiral Boué de Lapeyrière pushed for the adoption of light projectors. Located on top of these towers, once they disappeared, they were relocated around the aft mast as in other navies, or the bridge, and more of them were installed.

For armour scheme, it varied of course, from the barbettes ships of the late 1880s which had an integral belt running the whole length of the ship and connected to an armoured deck above waterline level, with thinner slopes and upper belt, heavily protected turrets or barbettes, tubes, but weak conning towers. For the “standard” Charles Martel for example, the CT was thicker at 9 inches, whereas turrets were protected by walls 15-in thick, all around, making them quite heavy. From 1900, the thicker part was always the turrets, not the belt, not the CT, which was still relatively weak. Only from Iéna, this became a thing, with for the first time a 12-in thick walled conning tower, and the belt thicker at 12.8 in than the turrets (11.5 in), which was inverted on the Suffren. The first modern pre-dreadnoughts classes of 1900 returned to well protected turrets, then CT, and finally belt, at 14-in, 12-in and 11-in respectively, and oblong turrets, still without slopes, but sides and rear tapered to 10 inches while the belt was no longer integral but tapered down to 3.2 inches on both ends.
On dreadnoughts, still no “all or nothing” scheme, but a weaker armour in order to regain speed and agility. This was the case of the Danton class, with a 10.2 inches tapered down to 6 in, 1.2-1.6 in for the two armored decks, 11-3/4 inches for the same cylindrical type turrets and a the same thickness for the CT. The Courbet were protected about the same, with 180 mm thick bulkheads, but the belt extended well below the waterline, as the French feared underwater hits.


Niclausse boiler

We are going to concentrate on ships in active service during WWI here. Among the oldest battleships, the Marceau class barbettes ships vertical compound engines, with variable numbers of coal-burning boilers, 8 to 12, with Guyot Du Temple and Belleville becoming household names (the latter also used on Russian and Japanese cruisers and battleships). Engines were rather the specialty of each yard, Toulon, La Seyne, Brest, Lorient, Chantiers de la Loire*, were all involved in the final assembly but also the powerplant. The transition started with the Brennus, in a sense, first modern French battleship. Launched in 1891, she was given for the first time VTE engines (Vertical, Triple Expansion), coupled with no less than 32 Belleville boilers. The result was a 18 knots battleship (instead of 16 on the Marceau) which in addition had turrets for the secondary artillery. It was announcing a “relatively” homogenous group called the Charles Martel class (see above). All had two shafts. However, from the Masséna, for the first time, three shafts were installed, with compartmentation to avoid flooding of all the powerplant. This was in 1895, and submarines started to be respected as a potential weapon of war, in addition to be the golden age of torpedo boats.

From then on, this triple VTE engine became the norm, generally with Belleville boilers with an exception, the Henri IV and its Niclausse models. The latter were eventually found more efficient and started to replace completely the Belleville for all subsequent French Battleships: Suffren, the République class had Niclausse, as half the Liberté class, as well as the Danton class. The goal there was to provide enough boilers in a shorter time to fill the need of large classes. Five for the Liberté, Six for the Danton. The latter in that area also marked a turn: These semi-dreadnoughts were the First battleships in the French navy to be fitted with turbines, the first with four shafts, but still running on coal. Top speed reached 19.5 knots, versus 18 knots for all previous battleships.

Belleville Boilers

The real game changers were of course the French dreadnoughts, the Courbet class which had a relatively similar arrangement but with 28,000 shp instead of 22,000 for 20 knots, and mixed coal/oil burn, notably oil sprinklers in coal boilers as it was a common practice at the time. The Bretagne had more modern and far larger Parsons turbines, only two, but driving four shafts, fed by either Niclausse, Belleville or Du temple mixed-burning boilers. The Bretagne were not fast, at 20 knots, whereas the contemporary Queen Elisabeth were capable of 24 knots. To give some perspective, the ratio carried was 900 to 2680 tons coal versus 300 tones oil. France traditionally had coal mines in the industrial north-east, but its growing colonial empire allowed some access to African oilfields already. The incomplete Normandie class mixed TE engines and turbines, and 22 knots were planned, whereas the superlative Lyon class were to be given also a mix of VTE (which consumed less) and turbines, for 43,000 shp and 23 knots.

Battleship Jaureguiberry, internal arrangement (Brasseys naval register).

This picture would not be complete without mentioning the projected French battlecruisers of the Gilles and Durant-Viel types. The latter reached 26 knots on 4 shaft turbines and 18-21 boilers, still with a mix of coal and oil, but the Gille’s 1913 28,300 tonnes design was given 52 boilers for an amazing figure of 80,000 shp, allowing a top speed of 28 knots and more. Range was still 6300 nm at 15 knots. This was the same for the Normandie class, better than the Bretagne (4700 nm at 10 knots) or the Courbet (4200 nm), or Danton (3370 nm). The use of oil to fill ASW longitudinal compartments started in the interwar. To give comparisons, the HMS Dreadnought (1906) was capable of 6620 nm at 10 knots. However this lack of range was never seen as a problem, for the reduced dimensions of the Mediterranean.

French Pre-dreanoughts

The last barbette ships

Predecessor to the Devastation class, the Le Redoutable was a massive ship using steel for the world’s first time in naval construction as primary building material, completed by iron.

Many French iron-built central battery ships from the 1870s were still afloat in 1900-1910 in various roles. The 1879 Courbet, Devastation and Duperré (for the latter, first barbette ship), looked like three-masted battleships but their rigging was reduced, but they carried four relatively heavy (13.4 in /340 mm), short barrel (18-21 cal.) guns. The all-steel built Devastation was also the largest warship of her time, in 1882. But the first true “steam only” French battleships were the odd Terrible class, typical of the young school theories.
They were almost half the displacement of the previous Duperré, but had the two most massive guns ever fitted on the French battleship: 16.5 in guns (420 mm) on 19.3 or 22 caliber. They were kind of coastal battleships, with their low freeboard. Contrary to the others, they were rebuilt, modernized and participated in WWI (see later).

The Admiral Baudin class (Baudin, Formidable) were closer in concept to the Duperré, with three guns in the axis. Also, both were barbettes battleships, discarded in 1909-11. The last in this serie was the Hoche, another experimental vessels using a low freeboard, pronounced tumblehome, lozenge artillery, innovative turret-barbettes. Ridiculed as the “grand hotel” it encapsulated all that was wrong with the young school, including a construction over nine years and many modifications during service. She was unceremoniously sunk as target on 25/11/1913.

The Marceau class, last barbette ironclads

French Ironclad Magenta, the last completed of the Marceau class, last barbette ships in the French Navy.
These were actually the oldest “battleships” in service with the French Navy before 1914. Not only they had been laid down in 1881-83 as barbette ironclads, but they differed between them, and were still active before WW1, modernized. They were given new water-tube boilers in the early 1900s and their top-heavy superstructures and military masts were cut down. They saw limited use, Marceau and Magenta as training ship from 1903, whereas Neptune was mothballed. The parliamentary in 1908 decline any modernization of her as a waste of funds and she was struck from the naval register, in 1909 or possibly as late as 1913. Magenta was struck in 1910, but Marceau was converted as a floating workshop, supporting torpedo boats and submarines from August 1914 until the end of the war. Sold to ship breakers in 1921, she ran aground in a storm off north Africa and her wreck was left there to rot, still visible in the late 1930s. It was not known if this conversion included the removal of her artillery, and in that case she would have been potentially reactivated as a coast defence ship if needs be. She operated in Malta at first, but later moved to Corfu and then Bizerte in 1918.

The rebuilt Requin

Requin in the Suez canal – notice the camouflaged forward turret. photo IWM.

These even older barbette ships, laid down in 1877-78 and completed in 1887-88 had a quite formidable artillery in the 1900s when they approached the end of their career. Terrible was discarded in 1911, but Caiman, Indomptable and Requin were modernized. In 1898 already, these ships received much lighter 10.8 inch guns instead and the lighter artillery was changed to QF M1893 3.9 inches guns, TTs removed or reduced on all. But later Requin was taken in hands for further modernization. Her engine room was refitted with 12 Niclausse boilers coupled with two new VTE engines and new centerline funnels as a result. Quite different than the others, with single turrets for and aft, she served as a guardship in the Suez canal during the war. She was stationed in Ismailia in December 1914, as the entente feared Ottoman attacks from the northeast. In January 1915, Requin advanced further north to support of foray of British and French cruisers along the coast and later she joined the patrol. A berth was dredged in the delta, at Lake Timsah for Requin, now able to support ground forces at the northern end of the canal. She later teamed with D’Entrecasteaux early February 1915, Requin being heavily engaged by Ottoman field artillery batteries. Her main artillery quickly settled the matter and the Ottoman attack broke down. This was her most serious test in her guard duties. All three were discarded after, Requin in 1920 and the others in 1927.

Brennus (1891)

The Battleship Brennus – Symonds and Co Collection (cc)

Named after a Gallic chieftain leading the invasion of the Balkans in 280 BC (in fact that was a generic term, not a name, like Vercingetorix), Brennus marked a step in size and features. She presented several innovations, but was criticized as well, not least because of its armament. Instead of the four 13.4 in of the Hoche Marceau class, it had only three. One in the aft turret and two in the forward turret. However they were of 42 caliber M1887, versus 28 for the former M1881. This greatly improved range and muzzle velocity, therefore penetrating power. Started in Lorient in 1889 in the same basin used previously by the Hoche, she was almost 1,000 tons heavier, and much longer at 110.29 m. She was the first battleship not to use the lozenge configuration but concentrating the armament in axial turrets. She also was the first with single turrets for secondary guns and casemates. She was also roomier and carried way more boilers, of the modern Belleville type, giving a total output of 14,000 ihp versus 10,000-11,000, resulting in a top speed in excess of 17.5 knots (more than 18 knots on sea trials).

However all this rosy picture was destroyed by poor calculations; As first she was 15 feets over designed draught, and this was without fuel, supplies and ammunitions. She lacked seriously in initial stability. This was such that the ship, launched in 1891 was only completed in 1896, so after five years, and in addition had to be curtailed after her first trials. The military mast aft was completely removed as well as most of the initial superstructure, but even with this, she was still overweight, her belt dangerously deep below water. The protection called for steel and compound. latter was complete, 7ft 3in wide, at the lower edge but 2 ft above water. Amidship (citadel), this was 18 in tapered down to 12 in whe connected to the armoured deck and 10 in lower edge. The latter deck was double, with a layer of 2 in and one of 2.4 in, assembled with twin 0.4 in plates. Also unusual in her design, Brennus had no ram. Her Belleville boilers were a true innovation, although at that time without economisers (first gen). Her artillery was remarkable for the time, but she was completely spoiled by an inadequate displacement and narrow beam. She was in reserve already in 1914 and was scrapped in 1922. In between her above water torpedo tubes and 1-pdr quick firing guns from Hotchkiss were removed to made the ship a tad lighter.


Dimensions: 11,190 tons, 110.29 x 20.4 x 8.28 m
Power: 2 shafts VTE 32 boilers, 13,900 ihp 17.5 kts coal 600/980 tons
Armour: See notes. Upper belt, battery, casemates 4 in, turrets 18 in, CT 6 in
Armament: 3x 13.4 in (340.3 mm), 10 x 6.4 in (162.5), 4x 9-pdr, 14x 3pdr, 6x 1pdr*, 4x 18in TTs aw*

Charles Martel class, and the “standards” (1893)

Charles Martel & Jaureguiberry, credits irootoko jr.
This was a class “per se” although composed of varied ships, as all answered the same specs and were rather similar in many aspects, by facility from authors and historians. Nevertheless, on conway’s they are all separated. A dispersion that recalled somewhat the Russian Imperial Navy of that time (which was influenced by French design and the young school as well). None was active during the war but the last two, blooded at the Dardanelles. In common also they returned to the bad habit of mixing heavy and semi-heavy guns in typical lozenge formation, and their powerplant was largely inspired from the Brennus. Construction started in parralel: Charles Martel at Brest in april 1891, Carnot at Toulon in July, Jaureguiberry at La Seyne (Toulon) in November, Masséna in Chantiers de la Loire in September 1892, Bouvet in Lorient in January 1893. Armament was weak compared to the standards of the time, but the young school was so confident in this design, it was maintained for all four others, started in 1891 for three, 1892 for the next and 1893 for the last. They were completed in 1897-98 and already obsolete.

Charles Martel (1893)
Charles Martel, Jauréguiberry, Carnot, Masséna, Bouvet

Abusively described as single class, but broadly similar, this “standard” started with Charles Martel. She had a forecastle for a higher freeboard forward compared to the stern compared to the flush-deck Brennus. She had typical flying deck between the military masts and experienced stability problems. Some superstructures were later deleted as well as her aft military mast to regain some velocity. Contrary to Brennus she had a ram, was heavier, longer and larger, but instead of using twin turrets, in part because of the tumbelhome, she had a single turret forward and aft with less heavy guns than the previous ships: Two 12-in and two 10-in on the broadside, their barbettes exposed along the pear-shaped sides.
There was a complete armour belt 7 feets 7 inches in height, of which 1 feet 8 inches was above water. The central section amidship reached 18 inches (upper edge) tapering to 12 inches down to 10 in forward and aft. The upper belt was complete and 4 feets wide, up to 10 forward, 6ft aft. The armoured deck was somewhat arched from the main belt upper deck and sloped down at the bow. It was a 2.7 in sandwich with twin 0.4 in plates. The second armoured deck was 2ft 8 inches below and 1 inch thick. It was formed by a continuation of the inner bottom, and space divided into many small compartments like the space amidships on the armour decks. These outwards compartments could be filled with coalor stores. A rather good idea, it was called the “tranche cellulaire”, a cellular layer in favor for french designers at that time, which indeed improved ASW protection. Secondary 5.5 inches were in single turrets either side of the main broadside barbettes. Engineers gave the metacentric height of 4 feets, but on trials she was plagued by the same defects as Brennus -though at a less critical level- and was lightened up during service. In the reserve division with Brennus, Carnot, and Hoche in 1902, in the 3e Escadre de ligne on 5 October 1910 based in Brest, full reserve in 1912, and like Brennus, Carnot and Masséna, she was decommissioned and hulked to serve as a barracks ship in April 1914, and later deprived of her guns during the war. She was scrapped in 1922.


Dimensions: 11,693 tons, 115.5 x 21.64 x 8.38 m
Power: 2 shafts VTE 24 Lagrafel boilers, 14,900 ihp 18 kts, coal 650/980 tons
Armour: See notes. Upper belt, battery, casemates 4 in, turrets 15 in, CT 9 in
Armament: 2x 12in/45 in, 2x 10.8in/45, 8x 5.5 in, 4x 9-pdr, 16x 3pdr, 8x 1pdr, 2x 18in TTs aw*
Crew: 644-667

Jaureguiberry (1893)

Essentially similar but with a shorter hull, wider beam and her main guns closer to the ends of the hull fore and aft. She was less powerful and slightly slower. She presented two large military masts but no flying bridges, two close funnels of equal size, and her 5.5 in were in twin turrets fore and aft abreast their forward and aft superstructure. She also had six boilers rooms instead of four. She only served in the early part of the war: She was part in August 1914 of the Division de complément, and sent to French North Africa and patrolled the area with Bouvet, Suffren, and Gaulois, under command of admiral Boué de Lapeyrière, the French jackie Fisher; She was in the Syrian Division, and fought at the Dardanelles, became flagship of admiral Guépratte. She covered the Landing at Cape Helles and participated and Second Battle of Krithia on 6 May 1915. She also bombarded Haifa on 13 August, covered the occupation Rouad is. in September. Refitted at Malta in 1916 she was posted at Port Said until the end of the war and partially camouflaged. Sent to the reserve in 1918 she was BU in 1934.


Dimensions: 11,637 tons, 108.51 x 22.15 x 8.43 m
Power: same but 14,400 ihp 17 kts, coal 680/980 tons

Carnot (1894)

Battleship Carnot – illustration, Coll. Bougault (cc)
She differed by her hull form, higher forward freeboard, no flying deck, ad a single forward military mast. She also had two well spaced funnels of different diameter. She was placed in the reserve in 1914 with Charles Martel in Brest, Britanny (NW France), pending replacement by one of the new Normandie class dreadnoughts in construction. She was stricken in 1922 and BU.


Dimensions: 11,954 tons, 114 x 21.4 x 8.36 m
Power: 2 shafts VTE 24 Lagrafel boilers, 13,300 ihp 17.8 kts, coal 680/980 tons

Masséna (1895)

Battleship Masséna- irootoko jr
Not a very successful battleship built in Chantiers de la Loire (Nantes, south Britanny), she displaced 10,830 tonnes standard as designed but revealed 1,000 tonnes overweight, making her actual belt lower in the water than it really was. She was slightly more powerful with her 24 Lagrafel d’Allest and had three shafts instead of two but was slow and unstable. Her superstructure was later cut down as her aft military mast to regain some buoyancy. She also had a pronounced snout bow and far apart funnels, short military masts. She had tendencies of ploughing heavily in heavy weather, even reported as “unduly immersed” in British reports. She had armoured deck more far apart than in Martel, and still the cellular layer. Her wartime career was not impressive, even before the war broke up Naval Minister Ernest Monis decided to discard her. She was a hulk in 1915 in Toulon. Ultimately her only utility was to be towed to Cape Helles on the Gallipoli peninsula in November, and scuttled there to form a breakwater. This secured the evacuation effort of the Allied expeditionary force in January 1916. She was scrapped after the war.


Dimensions: 11,735 tons, 112.65 x 20.27 x 8.84 m
Power: 3 shafts VTE, 24 D’Allest boilers, 14,200 ihp 17 kts coal 620/980 tons
Armour: See notes. Upper belt, sec.turrets casemates 4 in, turrets, CT 14 in

Bouvet (1895)

The Battleship Bouvet- irootoko jr

In the wake of battleships of the Charles Martel type, Bouvet was the last of this serie. She was started as “Orient” in 1893, and delivered in 1898. Her hull was different, with a raised aft hull, but still a tumblehome. Her superstructures were a little lower and stronger at the origin so she did not suffered much from being overweight or unstable. She had two full-length armored belts. Overall, her protection was by far the best of the five. She proved it at the Dardanelles, taking many hits without suffering much. She faced indeed Turkish forts in March 1915 and carried out her task quickly but was eventually eight times below the waterline, still without sinking. Her ondoing was hitting a mine previously laid by the Nusret. The explosion of its bunker was likely due to the failure of her cordite gas extraction system. This broke her back and she sank and capsized in less than two minutes, taking most of her crew with her, less two survivors. This was one of the major losses of the entente in Gallipoli and a reason why battleships were retired from the area, focus shifting now on land operations.


Dimensions: 12,000 tons, 117.81 x 21.39 x 8.38 m
Power: 3 shafts VTE 32 Belleville boilers, 15,000 ihp 18 kts coal 610/980 tons
Armour: See notes. Belt 8-16 in, Upper belt, battery, 4 in, casemates 4.7 in, turrets 15 in, CT 12 in
Armament: Same but 8 x 5.5 in, 8x 3.9 in, 12x 3pdr, 7x 1pdr, 4x 18in TTs aw*

Charlemagne class (1895)

Charlemagne, St Louis, Gaulois

Charlemagne, credits irootoko jr.

The Charlemagne class was a true game changer. First off, these were the first French battleships to be built in a single homogenous class, and the first also to bear two tin turrets with 12-inches guns, the standard of the time for pre-dreadnoughts. However agai, calculation mismanagement led to be overweight, lowering considerably their belt armor and making them vulnerable above the waterline. The complete belt comprised an amidship section 14.5 inches tapering to 8 inches at tle lower end for the central upper section and 12-in down to 10 inches at the ends. It was conneted to the main deck forward but 3 feet 4 inches elsewhere. There was a cofferdam and cellular layer as previous design. The hull still had the characteristic tumblehome, but les pronounced.
Not flush deck ships, not single level gap with the forward section, it was elevated for half that heiht. In addition the forward main turret was elevated on an armoured barbette, but these were mounted on pivots like previous turrets. Secondary armament was all in casemates, including four in sponsons. They had two military masts and mixed above and underwater torpedo tubes, all removed during a refit. The 3.9 in were in the superstructures and lighter guns in the military masts tops. All three were started on each fiscal year, Charlemagne at Brest in 1894, St Louis in lorient, 1895 and Gaulois in place of Charlemagne in 1896. Lauched 1895-96, completed 1899-1900 (St Louis). They were the spearhead of the French Mediterranean squadron during WW1 and fought at the dardeanelles, where Gaulois took a hit on 18.3.1915 close to the port bow underwater, tearing the hull plating and the ship was quickly flooded by faultly ventilation trunks. She did not sank thanks to her crew action, but was later sank on 27.12.1916 by UB-47, 80 miles off Milo. She stayed afloat for 25 minutes, allowing to save almost all the crew. Charlemagne was stricken in 1920 and St Louis hulked, surviving until 1933.


Dimensions: 11,100 tons, 114 x 20.24 x 8.38 m
Power: 3 shafts VTE, 20 Belleville boilers, 15,000 ihp, 18 kts, coal 1080 tons
Armour: Main belt 14.5 in. Upper belt, battery, casemates 4 in, turrets 15 in, CT 13 in
Armament: 4x 12 in M1893, 10 x 5.5 in M1893, 8x 3.9 in, 20x 3pdr, 4x 1pdr*, 4x 18in TTs*

Henri IV (1899)

Henri IV – Symons & Co Coll.

Henri IV was one of the most unusual French battleship of the time and perhaps one of the best delusions of the “young school”. She was basically developed as a very large coastal battleship, using notably a very low freeboard as protection. Therefire she had a unusual three staged forecastle, with a surelevated main foward turret, surelevated aft main turret, superfiring secondary one, whereas the other 5.5 in were in casemates. Only one forward military mast, and very low freeboard aft deck. This remarkably odd warhip was an experiement and was not to be integrated in a battleline as a main armaent of just two 10 inches was really weak. Her armour in Harvey nickel was also adjusted on this caliber and weaker than battleships of the time. Built at Charbourg between 1897 and 1903, she saw active service at Gallipoli and was stricken in 1921. For more, click on the title to access the main article.


Dimensions: 8,800 tons, 108 x 22.20 x 6.98 m
Power: 3 shafts VTE, 12 Nicausse boilers, 11,000 ihp, 17 kts, coal 725/1080 tons
Armour: Main belt 3-11 in, upper belt, battery, casemates 4 in, turrets 12 in, CT 9.5 in
Armament: 2x 10 in M1893, 7 x 5.5 in M1893, 12x 3pdr, 2x 1pdr, 2x 18in TTs

Iéna (1898)

Iena, Bougault Coll.

Basically an enlarged Charlemagne, with a displacement reaching 11.860 tonnes and an overall lenght of 122 m. Iéna had the customary full lenght armoured belt, extending 3 feets above water, 4 feets below, on 275 feets she was 12.8 in thick, and gradually reduced to 9 in at both ends. It was tapered down at tle lower edge to 4.7 in. She had an upper belt in two strakes of 4.7 and 3.2 in for a combined 6 in. It was increased at the bow but lowered at the stern. They had also the usual cellular layer, main armour deck 2.5 in thick, or hardened steel 0.7 in and lower deck of 1.3 in. As the previous class, two tin turrets fore and aft, same 40 caliber 305 mm battery modele 1893-96. The secondary battery however came back to eight 162 mm casemated guns, including two in sponsons amidships. Lighter guns were in the superstructure or the two armoured masts fore and aft. Lower superstrcture and better calculation spared surprised with this design. Iéna had bilge keels but despite of this, rolled and pitched excessively in bad weather. Built in Brest 1898-1902 she was blew up by an accidental explosion in 1907. It was likelt due to the decomposition of nitrocelulose propellant in the after 3.9 in magazine, nd the flash communicated to the aft 12 in magazine. The main culprit for this disaster has been the removal of the cooling gear during a refit in drydock dueing her first main maintenance. She was patched up and ended as a target.


Dimensions: 11,860 tons, 122.15 x 20.8 x 8.38 m
Power: 3 shafts VTE, 20 Belleville boilers, 16,500 ihp, 18 kts, coal 1080 tons
Armour: Main belt 12.8 in, upper belt, battery 4 in, casemates 8 in, turrets 11.5 in, CT 12 in
Armament: 4x 12 in, 8 x 6.4 in, 8x 3.9 in, 20x 3pdr, 4x 1pdr, 2x 18in TTs

Suffren (1899)

Suffren in the Dardanelles, painting (cc)

Suffren was the last pre-dreadnought before the reforms. They were a further development of the Charlemagne, and closely resembled Iéna with some differences. The ain one was the reintroduction of turrets for a part of the secondary armament, three single guns on either side, plus two in recesses in the hull. Both twin turrets were surelevated. they were the same 12-in (305 mm) 4 caliber modele 1896. The armour was Harvey Steel. Complete belt extending 3 feets 7in above and 4 feets 7 in below the waterline. It was 12 in amidship, tapered down to 4.7 in on the lower edge and reduced after the barbettes to 8 in and finally 4 in. The upper belt of 4.3 in ended on a bulkhead close to the stern, and 6 feets 7 in wide. The belt upper belt level armoured deck was 2.7 in thick, reduced to 2 in forward and aft. The lower deck was 1.6 in thick. Cellular Layer and cofferdam divided the internal spaces and in addition there were four longitudinal bulkheads 2 feet 3 in high on the armour deck to contain flooding.

Suffren was built by Brest, like most last pre-dreadnoughts, between January 1899 and October 1903 when completed, which was substantially faster than the 1890s generation. Sent in the Dardanelles in March 1915, she was hit 14 times. One large caliber hit flooded the forward section by hitting below water, causing some list and a 9.4 in went through a port casemate, putting three secondary guns out of action and starting a fire. It would have cause a large explosion, if not prevented by the ammunition metal boxes and quick reaction from the crew. She survived the campaign only to be sunk by U-52 off the Portuguese coast on her way to Lorient, on 26 November 1916. It seems the torpedo detonated a magazine and she left no survivors.


Dimensions: 12,527 tons, 125.50 x 21.4 x 8.38 m
Power: 3 shafts VTE, 24 Niclausse boilers, 16,700 ihp, 17.9 kts, coal 1120 tons
Armour: Main belt 4-12 in, upper belt 4.3-5 in, battery 4 in, casemates 4-6 in, turrets 12.8 in, CT 12 in
Armament: 4x 12 in, 10 x 6.4 in, 8x 3.9 in, 22x 3pdr, 2x 1pdr, 2x 18in TTs
Crew: 714

The great reform and 1900s battleships

Biopic special: Admiral de Lapeyrière

Admiral Auguste Boué de Lapeyrière, the French Jackie Fisher. If one name must be advanced to explain and showcase the radical shift in the French Marine National about battleship, it’s this man. Born in the Gers, south of France in 1852 shortly before the Crimean war, ans a his father died, was adopted by his uncle, vice-amiral Dupouy, which undoubtedly had a strong effect on the young man’s upbringing and career preferrence. He entered the naval academy in 1869, fought as a fusilier marin (Marine Infantry) in the Franco-Prussian war of 1870, and served on the Armidc, D’Estrée and Aspic gunboats in the far east. He ended as manoeuver officer on the Hamelin in 1877-1878, after making world tours in various ships.

In 1879, he entered the Rochefort Underwater Defense School as a student, and graduated as a torpedo boat officer. Assigned as a maneuver officer on the Aviso Boursaint in the South Atlantic Division 2 he carried out hydrographic surveys from Montevideo. Lieutenant in August 1881, he commanded in Cherbourg the torpedo boat No. 1, in charge of training. The following year, the Franco-Chinese war broke out and he left for the Far East, as second in the cruiser Volta. At the Battle of Fou-Tcheou on August 23, 1884, Boué de Lapeyrère distinguished himself by sinking a Chinese Aviso. From May to July 1883, he participated in operations in the Red River delta (battle of the Pagoda) and under Courbet he was noted for his daring and offensive spirit. Her participated in the action in the port of Mawei and torpedoed the Chinese aviso Fu-Ching, junks and sampans. Appointed as commander of the Vipère, he took part in the battle of Formosa. He also covered the Tamsui landing in October 1884 and by May 1885 conducted the capture of the Pescadores Islands.

He came back in France with awards and recommendations by Courbet. He served on cruiser Seignelay, directed the rescue of the ocean liner Sindh off Piraeus and became at last Commander in November 1889, onboard the cruiser Cosmao in 1890, directing her completion, testing and training. He was second on the battleship Richelieu and Formidable, aide-de-camp in 1895 to vice-admiral, promoted captain in June 1896, his first commission on the battleship Hoche (the North squadron) and a cruiser in the Newfoundland and Iceland division. He captained the Bennus in the Mediterranean until 1990, completing his reputation of a very able seaman. Rear Admiral in 1902 and Major General at Rochefort he was given command two years later of the Atlantic Naval Division. He became member of the technical committee, chairman of the high seas vessels section in 1906 and ultimately vice-admiral in January 1908. By then he had under orders a full naval division, sent to the Baltic. He also became later maritime prefect of Brest. But he is best known for his reforms.

In 1909, Boué de Lapeyrère was called to the Ministry of the Navy under President Aristide Briand’s office. The Navy until then had been plagued by frequent minister changes, and hazardous theories of the “Young School”, plus unsufficient funding and neglect since 1871. The French started as the second in the world, down to the fourth rank, behind USN and Kaiserliches Marine and would have fell to the seventh after the Japanese, Italian and Russian if not reformed. Aware of this massive burden, Lapeyrère took an energetic stance and tried to shake up the old complacent naval administration as well as the yards. His action was facilitated by an unassuming and friendly “southern” attitude in political circle.

His efforts were soon concentrated in three main areas:
-Reorganization of services and support,
-Recruitment and training,
-Construction of modern ships in homogenous class and with internationally sanctioned design recipes.
His first decree came in December 18, 1909. It entirely reorganized the structures of Navy Department, ensuring better coordination between services (many of which were deleted). On September 12, 1910, he reorganized the École supérieure de la marine (Navy high school), rejuvenating the staff and appointing a 45-year-old engineer as Head of Technical Service. He also reformed the training of the fleet financed more regular large scale exercizes while the squadrons were also reorganized to be more efficient.
This modernization however was costly, and sooon found a hostile Parliament and indifferent public opinion, never well informed or interested in naval matters. The naval law of 1910 at last was aimed at procuring homogeneous series of battleships, cruisers but also torpedo boats. This was a massive investment the government agreed but did not dare present it to the Parliament, by fear of a distrust vote and fall of the cabinet.

The Courbet class, ordered as part of the ambitious 1912 naval plan.

But presented the right way, this plan in part succeeded, despite delays. Even before him in 1900, his advocacy of reforms and critics of the Young School led the Navy minister to order six large battleships of a very similar design, larger, faster and with a better range than anythig which came before, the Republique/Liberté class, and the first semi-dreadnoughts of the Danton class. Boué de Lapeyrière saw the construction of the Danton as an erros and pressed for the adoption of French’s first dreadnought as soon as possible. He ordered in a row the Courbet, Bretagne class (which all saw action in both wars), and the Normandie and lyon classes. On the cruiser’s side, he could do little as the last were completing when he entered his office, as the Cruiser program was curtailed after the launch of the Dreadnought. But he pressed not only for the adption of battlecruisers (Durant-Viel and Gills studies from 1912) and light scout cruisers as well. He also pushed for the creation of more coherent destroyer and submarine classes, and curtailed torpedo contruction which he considered obsolete;
His masterstroke was his 1912 naval program, which should have given France around 1920 24 capital ships (16 dreadnought and 8 battlecruisers) but the Great War aborted the project.

Allied commanders aboard hms queen elisabeth in 1915 – The gallipoli campaign. De Lapeyrière is first from the left, seated next to Ian Hamilton and John de Robeck.

Lapeyrière left the ministry already in 1911. He basically was the last general officer at the head of the ministry before the War, and was appointed by the naval staff in August 1911 as commander of the first line squadron, later called the “first naval army”. He pushed the training of this force to very high standards, in accordance to the Franco-English agreements of 1912. The latter indeed tasked the French to concentrate their forced in the Mediterranean, against the Austro-Hungarian fleet and possible hostility of Italy, allowing the Royal Navy to leave there only two local squadrons, in Gbraltar and Alexandria, concentrating on the Grand Fleet and the north sea. The German fleet was indeed the main opponent. In August 1914, Boué de Lapeyrière became the interallied Commander-in-Chief in the Mediterranean, protecting sea lanes, and the transport to France of the XIXth Army Corps from Algeria, while watching the Austrian fleet. He could not prevent the German cruisers Goeben and Breslau of escaping towards Constantinople. For this he earned the most serious reproaches of his career. His naval force was soon in action on the Adriatic, ready to intercept the Austro-Hungarian fleet. His force sank the cruiser Zenta off Antivari in August 1915, but sorties were rare. His ships however tried to provoke this sortie by bombarding Cattaro and land troops on the Dalmatian Islands, while destroying all semaphores and military structures in the area.

The cruiser Leon Gambetta, unknown origin (wc)

German postcard depicting the sinking of the Leon Gambetta (cc)

Ha also put in place the blockade of the Otranto, came to the aid of Montenegro and managed to adapt his forces to the increasing submarine threat along the way. His strategy however was considered too timid given his much superior forces, notably by Vice-Admiral Bienaimé. Léon Gambetta was sunk in the Adriatic on April 27, 1915 and Lapeyrière was held personally responsible for it as well. Sick of this, Boué de Lapeyrère eventually resigned in October. He joined the reserve in March 1916. After retiring from the navy and brielfy tried politics he retired in Pau where he died on February 1924.

République class (1902)

République, Patrie

Republique – Brassey’s naval annual

The many shortcomings of the previous classes had been highlighted and for the first time, a homogeneous class of battleships had been started, designed in 1899. As a result, the two first ships, République and Patrie were not launched until 1902-03 and completed in December 1906, and were already outdated as HMS Dreadnought had just come out. However, they were a significant improvement over previous classes in many areas, with 1.5 more displacement, better secondary armament in turrets, more conventional main artillery and hull. The next four were basically copies, but there were still enough differences for most historians to place them apart.

Development & design:

The two pre-dreadnought were ordered as part of a naval expansion program to answer German warship construction in 1898. The French program called for six new battleships. The last four became the Liberté class, improved copies of the first. République and Patrie were designed by famous French naval engineer Louis-Émile Bertin. They were a significant improvement over previous designs, carrying four 305 mm (12 in) guns, eighteen 164 mm (6.5 in) guns now mounted in gun turrets and not in casemates. This make their use more flexible as they had a much better arc of fire and were well above the sea, therefore still efficient in heavy weather. The ships also had a more effective armor protection arrangement and calculations were flawless, so when fully loaded they stayed at their opetimal draught, without consequence for their armour belt’s height. Stability was good and additional protections had been done in case of flooding.

In the end, they were better than previous classes, but were a generation late already. They should have been built ten years before. Construction was slow, due to frequent changes to the design while under construction, a typical problem in French naval construction that was only solved shortly before WW1. Because of this, they were completed in December 1906, while Dreadnought was in construction. Added to this, the next Liberté were a copy of the first, so further delaying new constructions until 1904-1907, completed in 1908 while the British, US, Germans already had their own dreadnought classes completed and were building more. To add insult to injury, the class after this, started in 1907, were still pre-dreadnoughts ! (see explanations later)

The République in service:

Both ships entered service with the fleet in 1907, whereas HMS Dreadnought was already commissioned, making all pre-dreadnoughts obsolescent. They became the front-line units in the French fleet for most of their careers, including half of WWI, replaced by the Bretagne class. Their peacetime careers was uneventful, a routine of training exercises and ports visits overseas, naval reviews for French politicians and foreign dignitaries. In August 1914 they were in the Mediterranean naval division, escorting troopships convoys with the French Army from French North Africa to France. Reinforcing the front, they allowed the Marne taxis eposide to take place, saving the day. Republique and patris then joined the main fleet, in faction for any sortie of the the Austro-Hungarian Navy. The only significant action wax the Battle of Antivari in September 1915 when the French caught and sank SMS Zenta.

The battleships patrolled the southern end of the Adriatic Sea until the Otranto barrage was set in place. However like for the Italians, repeated attacks from Austro-Hungarian U-boats forced them to be sent at a safer place. Patrie participated in the Gallipoli campaign, in May 1915. She was followed by République in January 1916, cover the Allied evacuation. The two battleships intervened in Greece, assisting the coup against the pro-German Greek government. République and Patrie were sent in Mudros to guard from any sortie of the Germans in Constantinople in the aegean. They saw no further action and by January 1918, République saw two of her 12 in guns removed and sent to the army while she became a schoolship. Patrie was also converted as a training ship after the war. The first was decommissioned in 1921, BU in Italy, and Patrie was maintained until 1936 before decommission and sold in 1937.


Dimensions: 14,605 tons st., 133.81 x 24.26 x 8.41 m
Propulsion: 3 shafts, 24 Niclausse boilers, 18,000 shp, 19 knots.
Armor: belt 280, turrets 350, CT 300, turrets sec. 152 mm
Armament: 4 x 305, 18 x 162, 25 x 47 mm, 2 TT 457 mm aw.
Crew: 825

Liberté class (1904)

Liberté, Justice, Démocratie, Vérité

Battleship Liberté 1904, colorized by Irootoko Jr.

Design development

The Liberté class were pre-dreadnought ordered as part of the same naval expansion program as the prevous République. During construction of the first two, adoption of heavier secondary batteries for the last pre-dreadnoughts (called “semi-dreadnoughts”) prompting the French to re-design them to carry a more powerful secondary battery with 194 mm (7.6 in) guns in turrets, so making a new class called the Liberté class. These heavies guns were in six single turrets, the remainder four in casemates. They were still not true “semi-dreadnoughts” compared to the Danton class as they were still equipped with VTE engines, lacking turbines. Armour wise, it was the same scheme with the only difference being the barbettes bases, 3.5 to 5.5 inches thick. Justice was about 400 tonnes heavier, and Liberté had a mixed anti-torpedo armament, with 9-pdrs of a new pattern.
These ships were built at Brest (Démocratie), La Seyne (Justice), Ch. de la Loire (Liberté) and Ch. de la Gironde (Vérité) between 1902 and 1908, launched in 1904 to 1907. Much too long compared to international standards and all obsolete when commissioned.

The Liberté class in service

Their peacetime careers were largely uneventful. Like the previous ones, they were first line and alternated time between training exercises, ports visits, and naval reviews. In 1909, Liberté, Justice, and Vérité made a noted visit to the United States, marking their participation to the Hudson–Fulton Celebration. Liberté never saw WWI: She was destroyed by an accidental explosion, caused by unstable propellant charges in the port of Toulon in 1911. The result of the enquity prompted the naval staff to enforce strict constrols and handling procedures for the storage of nitrocellulose propellant, and notably better cooling. The three other ships escorted troop convoys from North Africa in August 1914, and joined their sister-ships of the Liberté class in the armée naval posted south of the Adriatic Sea. Despite attempts to bring the Austro-Hungarian Navy out to battle, this never happened. They participated in the Battle of Antivari but were later retired from the area due to the threat of submarines. Vérité was sent to the Dardanelles in September 1914 and shelled Ottoman coastal defenses.

In 1916, the three sisters came to Greece, pressuring the neutral government to join the Allies, and assisted a coup overthrewing the king, bringing the country to war. They were then based in Corfu mostly inactive due to coal shortages. After the war, Justice and Démocratie joined the Black Sea dueing the recolution, monitoring German forces and demilitarization of Russian warships seized. Vérité also was sent to Constantinople, overseeing the Ottoman surrender. By mid-1919 they sailed back to France, Vérité decommissioned and the other two in 1920, sold for BU in 1921.


Dimensions: 14,500/14,800 tons standard, same dimensions
Propulsion: 3 shafts, 22 Belleville boilers, 18,500 shp, 19 knots, coal 1800 t.
Armor: same
Armament: 4 x 305mm, 10 x 193mm, 13 x 65mm, 10 x 47mm, 2 TT 457 mm aw.
Crew: 769-840

Danton class: First and last semi-dreadnoughts (1909)

Danton, Condorcet, Mirabeau, Vergniaud, Diderot, Voltaire

Battleship Danton, colorized by irootoko jr.

Design & construction:

These were the last French pre-dreadnoughts, designed by chief engineer Lhomme for the 1906 program. They had the misfortune of being ordered in various yards from June 1907, even as HMS Dreadnought was commissioned, and successors in construction. The 1900 naval plan went on however as these ships were much faster, having turbines, but were still too limited by their displacement to adopt an all 305 mm armament became true dreadnoughts. These 6 ships were all completed in 1911, while the Courbets were started. Obsolete, the Dantons nevertheless were much larger and faster than their predecessors with 18,300 tons instead of 14,800, using also the first turbines installed on a French battleship. With 19.5 knots (20.6 knots in tests). Some had Niclausse (Condorcet, Vergniaud, Diderot) and others Belleville boilers, and based on 22,500 shp they reached between 19.2 and 19.4 knots, while carrying up to 2030 tonnes of coal in wartime. This allowed them a radius of 3370 nm at cruiser speed of 10 knots, down to 1750 at 18 knots.

They were still not fast enough as the first Dreadnought and its successors (21 knots), but there again, because of their limited dislacement. A larger size would have ensured to cram more boilers, but they would have perhaps gained only one knot, as they were bad steamers, with high consumption and small range. Based in the Mediterranean, this was less a problem though. Their secondary armament progressed considerably, from 196 to 240 mm (10 inches), which were still fast-firing and had almost the same range as the 305 mm. So they are recoignised as France’s only semi-dreadnoughts, transitional battleships.
They also used the new British Barr & Stoud firing control system found in HMS Dreadnought allowing a theoretical range for their 240 guns from 13,700 to 18,000 meters. Their rate of fire was also very good, firing tests proving the validity of this weapon combination. Armor however did not progressed much, but tertiary armament was much reinforced at the start of WWI. They obtained 12 additional 3-in guns (75 mm) mounted on the turrets with high elevation mounts enabling AA fire. All these ships were completed in 1911, already obsolete. They were the last pre-dreadnought built in any navy.

Brasseys diagram 1915

Model of Danton at the Paris maritime museum

Wartime career:

Their career was not spectacular, and Danton was the only lost during the war, torpedoed by the U-64 in south of Sardinia. Voltaire survived in 1918 after being torpedoed by UB-18. These battleships were presed into the 1st armée navale, roamed the adratic for a short time, and later were sent to Greece, fired warning shots against the Greek government in Athens, to force it to swap side to the allies. Diderot, Vergniaud, Voltaire and Mirabeau formed later with the ships of the Liberté class the Aegean Sea squadron. They deployed against the Austro-Hungarian fleet close to the otranto barrage, ready for any sortie of the fleet in Pola. On November 13, 1918, they were stationed in Constantinople as a way of pressure during peace negociations. Vergniaud and Mirabeau left the Crimea in 1919, shelled Sebastopol by now in the hands of the “reds”. Mirabeau suffered a storm was grounded. She was refloated and towed away in 1919. Never repaired, she became as an experimental pontoon. The others underwent some modernizations to serve in the interwar, starting in 1922-25. Underwater protection in particular was overhauled. Condorcet, Diderot and Voltaire spent the rest of their careers as training ships. Condorcet was the last one still extant during WW2, she was scuttled in Toulon in November 1942, and sunk by the Germans in 1944 during Operation Anvil Dragoon. More on these on the upcoming post on French WW2 battleships.

Author’s rendition of the Danton class.


Displacement: 18,320t standard, 19,760t Fully loaded
Dimensions: 146.6 x 25.8 x 9.20 m
Propulsion: 4 shafts Parsons turbines, 26 Belleville or Niclausse boilers, 22,500 hp. 19.6 knots
Armor Protection: 45-300 mm
Armament: 4 x 305, 12 x 240, 16 x 75, 10 x 47, 2 x 457 mm TTs bd sub
Crew: 681

French Dreadnoughts

Due to the late order of the Danton class, laid down well after HMS Dreadnought was launched, in the summer of 1907. France took four years of delay before starting its first dreadnoughts. Part of this was it was already too late to change the design, and the idea of a powerful two-stage secondary artillery which compensated by the lack of an uniform 12-in battery by speed. Most historians recoignised now that it had two main reasons: French analyses of the Russian defeat at Tsushima in 1905, which credited the IJN victory to their large use of medium-caliber hits as the battle was close enough for this, and set the Russian superstructure ablaze. For this, the French considered the 240-millimeter (9.4 in) gun was a good compromise to a true 12-in. They had about the same range and were almost twice as fast.

Voltaire in Toulon, agence Rol, Gallica (cc)

They also recoignise Britsh innovation for speed, and adopted turbines for the first time. Construction however was delayed and crippled by the new Minister of the Navy, Gaston Thomson, which wanted budget cuts and constantly interfered with construction, ordering more than 500 modifications to reach an inferior limit of 18,000-metric ton. Builders had to scrap entire sections and rebuilt them. Proponents of a conversion to 12-in calibers were not heard as the displacement limit would have been exceeded. Needless to say, Boué de Lapeyrière was no longer there to change the outcome and could only enrage so see his ambitious naval plan curtailed and delayed by short view politicians. History is cruel, and in the end France entered WW1 with no less dreadnoughts than… Austria-Hungary.

Intermediate projects

The “Turenne” a ficticious dreadnought battleship proposed by world of warships. It is actually presented as if the Danton design had been successfully modified to carry 12-in guns instead of its 240 mm battery. In this guise, it is shown with the classic early configuration of one forward and one aft twin turret, and four side turrets. For this, the lenght would have been uncharged but the beam would have been pushed from 25.8 to 27 or 28 m. The loss in speed would have been compensated by stacking more boilers in this aditional beam. Still, they would have been slower than the standard of the time, but at least France would have fielded six dreadnoughts in 1911. Fully loaded displacement would probably have been around 21,500 tonnes. However at the time the parliament and navy minister fixed a standard limit at 18,000 tonnes only, condemning the plan. The 1910 plan as approved however succeeded in having this limit pushed up to 22,000 tonnes, the only realistic way to get a sustainable dreadnought design. Unfortunately for the French, this was still not enough for a heavier artillery than 12-in.

The development of dreadnought design proceeded in an incremental way under the leadership of the new minister of the navy, Augustin Boué de Lapeyrère. Unfortunately it’s extremely hard to find any blueprints or alternative designs for the Courbet class. So we basically have no clue about the alternative designs that preceded the final Courbet as we know it. It seems it leaped forward directly from the Danto to the final design, with superfiring turrets allowing to cram more turrets in the same space. The reason why the two classes of dreadnoughts (Courbet and Bretagne) used the same hull was of course to save development time, but also because of existing yard basin size. One only was larger at St Nazaire and could have authorized much larger vessels, but an unifrm class of four ships was needed built in concert, so the four yards concerned had to have at least a 180 m long basin.

Courbet class (1911)

Courbet, France, Jean Bart, Paris

Courbet, colorized by Irootoko Jr.

The Five Courbet class ships were the first French dreadnought battleships. They were started late due to the scheduled completion of the six Dantons. This delay, moslty because of political reasons, which was considered much unfortunate in the dreadnought race that started in 1906. But the 1912 program established by Admiral Boué de Lapeyrère, aimed to give France 12 other dreadnoughts before 1918. The war would decide otherwise. The Courbet class consisted of four ships, the Courbet and Jean Bart of the first tranche, started in 1910 in Brest, launched and completed in 1913 and the other two, France and Paris, in St Nazaire and La Seyne in Toulon. The latter were not operational until August 1914, when hostilities began: As a result, France only aligned 2 dreadnoughts in its fleet on that date against 13 for the Hochseeflotte and 22 for the Royal Navy.


Designed by engineer Lyasse, these ships had much beter armor protection than the Dantons, but still inferior to that of the British, American, and German ships. Their staggered artillery arrangement resumed a classic configuration on French battleships, which gave a chase or retreat eight pieces capability, ten in broadside, for 12 in total. But in 1914, the 12 inches (305 mm) caliber had already been exceeded but by Germany, and lead navies went towards the 14 in (343 mm) caliber. It was intended for the next Bretagne class, built in emergency on the same hull. The Courbets could be recognized by their three funnels separated by their main mast. Their secondary armament remained below the standard caliber of other navies (5 inches) and their anti-torpedo boat artillery was modest. But these 138 mm casemates precisely fulfilled the role of close defense thanks to their much higher rate of fire. Relatively good walkers, these ships reached 22.6 knots, quite an improvement over the Danton. They carried 100 shells for each 305 mm gun and 275 for each 138 mm. They had been designed to lay 30 mines also, which never happened.


The four Courbets were sent to the Mediterranean in 1914 (Paris was already making its first operational outings there). Courbet received the mark of Admiral de Lapeyrère, and two additional projectors were added on platforms on the second funnel. They served intensely, Jean Bart taking a torpedo from U 12 in December 1914 in the Adriatic, but without much damage. France and Jean Bart were sent to Sebastopol assist disarm the Russian fleet in 1919. At that date, these four battleships were now obsolete, making it even difficult to modernize. They ploughed heavily in heavy weather, but it was not possible to lengthen or modify them for lack of suitable dock. The battleship France struck a reef and sank in 1922 near Quiberon. The three others, partially modernized, were used as a training ship in 1939. Click the title link to access the main article.

Batteship Paris, colorized by Irootoko Jr.


Displacement: 22,200t. 26,000 FL
Dimensions: 165.9 x 27.9 x 9 m
Propulsion: 4 shafts Parsons turbines, 24 Belleville or Niclausse boilers, 28,000 hp. 20 knots
Armor: belt 270 mm, turrets 320 mm, CT 300 mm, barbettes 270 mm, decks 20-70 mm
Armament: 12 x 305, 22 x 138, 4 x 47 mm and 4 x 450 mm TTs sub bd.
Crew: 1108

Provence class (1913)

Provence 1916

Intended to replace the old battleships derived from Charles Martel, the three dreadnoughts of the Bretagne class (with Provence and Lorraine) were defined in the Lapeyrère plan of 1912. To save time, they were based on the hulls of the four previous Courbet, but their artillery arrangement and caliber was more modern: It consisted of five twin turrets with 13.4 in (340 mm), all in the axis. As the central amidship turret could only fire on broadside, this gave limited firepower in chase or retreat. Started between March and August 1912 in Brest, St-Nazaire and Lorient, they were launched in 1913 but completed during the Great War: Provence in June 1914, Bretagne in September 1915 and Lorraine in July 1916.

They were also the last French battleships equipped with Bullivant steel nets from their conception, withdrawn in 1917. Their underwater protection was otherwise passable, but their internal compartimentation, fire guidance and control equipment were excellent. The range of their guns was also passable, 14,500 meters at most, but increased to 18,000 at the end of the war by modifying the mounts. Their radius of action was also limited, but their Mediterranean theater of operation still suited it. Their career was very active: Bretagne was engaged in Greece, and the two others in multiple theaters of operations. Their interwar was ww2 career is also consequent. Click the title link to access the main article.

Bretagne, colorized by Irootoko Jr


Displacement: 23 230 t. 25,000 t. FL
Dimensions: 166 x 27 x 9.8 m
Propulsion: 4 shafts 2 Parsons turbines, 24 Niclausse boilers, 29,000 shp, 20 knots.
Armor: 400 mm turrets, 40 mm decks,
Armament: 6 x 340, 22 x 138, 4 x 47, 4 x 457 mm TT sub, 30 mines
Crew: 1133

Normandie class (1915)

Normandie, Bearn, Flandre, Gascoigne, Languedoc

If France has maintained its naval construction programme initiated 1912 until its conclusion in 1918, the fleet would have seen the adjunction of nine brand new battleships and eight battlecruisers to boot. And the last ones would have been the heavily armed battleships ever designed. Unfortunately the Navy always had been the poor child of budget spending. Because of manpower and resources were needed to bolster gun and ammo production, shipyards were virtually drained dry and all constructions were suspended. The third French dreadnought class was a clear departure over the previous design. Without the time to develop a 15-in gun (380 mm), the French choose another path, more guns, and at the same time a rationalization or armour. Engineers were aware of the lack of protection of preceding dreadnoughts and devised the best way to concentrate a heavier armour. They chose a path that would be a cornerstone of french capital ship design until WW2, notably with their trademark quadruple turrets.

Artist’s impression at the time of the Normandie class

This led to the design of the Normandie class, submitted, accepted and ordered in December 1912 for the first two and July 1913 for the next two and final one in December 1913, all named after French régions, ancient historical Duchies, pursuing the tradition the previous class. What really makes this class stand out are the choices made for their artillery and protection as well. The twelve 340 mm (13.4 in) main guns were mated in three quadruple-gun turrets, the first of their kind. This arrangement saved weight, and all three were lighter combined than the five twion turrets of the previous Bretagne. Not only it saved on weight overall, but allowed to concentrate armour where it really mattered. The design was also marked by the desire of obtaining a better range, a critic of all previous French Battleships. Therefore the first four were to be equipped with an unusual hybrid propulsion. It combined steam turbines and triple-expansion steam engines. The result allowed to increase fuel efficiency considerably. Another design originality, eventually dropped as too complex, was the adoption of double casemate mounting (like for the Borodino class battlecruisers). They would have been mounted in tandem, one at battery deck level, and others above in the superstructure. Instead, six were arranged in recessed on either side and the remainder in the lower deck aft, or evelated in a unusual (but also characteristic) forwatrd superstrcture which also supported the barbette. This made them at three levels. The model was still the trusted 5.4 in (138 mm) QF gun, two more than for the Bretagne.

Their powerplant comprised two 4-cyl Triple Expansion engines driving the outer shafts, mostly for cruising, and two Parsons turbines (on Gascoigne Rateau-Bretagne and Schenider-Zoelly for Languedoc). Béarn, the last ordrered, was a bit different as she had only turbines. All used small tubes boilers, either Guyot du Temple (Gascoigne, Normandie), Belleville (Flandres, Languedoc) or Niclausse (Béarn). Projected output as designed was 32,000 shp (compared to 29,000 previously) for 21 knots, still inferior to 1913 British first ‘fast battleships’ capable of 23 knots, but a modernization in the mid-1910s was intended to push this to 45,000 shp for 22 to 23 knots. They carried 900 tonnes of coal in peacetime, up to 2700 in wartime, plus 300 tons of oil (again, peacetime figure). Range was estimated to 6500 nm at 10 knots, much better than the previous Bretagne. This fell to 1800 at a sustained full speed. Nevertheless, this arrangement was later found unsatisfactory, perhaps explaining why th Béarn was given four turbines.

Splendid painting of the Normandie by Randall Wilson (Navart) Src

Armour-wise, the ships improved on protection, but their main belt was inferior to their caliber, 300 mm (12 in). This 11-1/2 inches armoured belt was comprised between the fore and aft barbette. The forward barbette for exmple was much father from the prow compared to the Courbet, same for the aft one, saving on armour beyond. It was indeed down to 180 mm (7-1/2 in) and 120 mm at the ends (4-3/4 in). The upper belt was 240 mm thick (9-1/2 in) amidship, then 160 mm (6-1/2) at the ends. The upper armoured deck which connected to it, was 50 mm (2 in), as the lower one with 70 mm slopes (2-1/2 in). The barbettes were 284 mm thick (11 -1/2 in) and the turrets had 340 (13.4 in) faces and 250 mm sides (9-7/8 in). Casemates were protected by 180 to 160 mm (7-6 in) and the forward conning tower had 300 mm walls (12 in). So thicker barbettes but weaker CT than on the Bretagne. Note: The Normandie class will be the object of a dedicated post.


Displacement: 25,230 t. 27,000 t. FL estimated
Dimensions: 175,6 x 27 x 8.65 m
Propulsion: 4 shafts, 2 turbines, 2 VTE, 24 boilers, 32,000 shp, 21 knots.
Armor: 300 mm belt, 340 mm turrets, 300 mm CT, 50 mm decks, see notes.
Armament: 12 x 340mm (3×4), 24 x 138mm, 6 x 47mm, 6 x 457mm TT sub
Crew: 1200

Intermediate plans for new battleships

These unfortunate battleships were caught by the war and as work stalled completely, they were cannibalized of their powerplants, boilers and armament (the Bretagne class at the end of the war were upgraded with the Normandie”s main guns), and ultimately cancelled in 1918. However, even before, wild discussion went on in the admiralty in order to know if they were to be completed or not, adn/or upgraded taking WW1 lessons in account:
-Was considered first a top speed of 24 to 25 knots was necessary, which would have required 80,000 shp.
-Using four turbines of a brand new model.
-Improved ASW protection by fitting them with bulges one meter large at the greatest beam.
-New main gun mounts to bring the range to 26,000 m
-Better accuracy with a new fire control system fitted on top of a new tripod mast.
-Improved internal hosrizontal protection
-550 mm instead of 450 mm torpedo tubes
Discussions also went on about the completion of the Béarn, even an option for 400 mm main guns (16 in) with greater elevation in modified quad turrets. As we know, Béarn wa ultimately completed as an aircraft carrier after the signature of the Washington treaty.

Lyon class (1917)

Lyon, Duquesne, Tourville, Lille

The 1912 naval law was amended when calling for four new battleships to be ordered in 1915. Design work started in mid-1913, and since longer graving docks would soon be completed in Brest and Toulon, the new ships would not be limited by infrastructure. The naval command considered increasing the caliber to 380 mm (15 in) to keep pace with the latest British battleships of the Queen Elizabeth class, but the French did not yet have a gun of that caliber completed, and the delays necessary to design and test it were deemed unacceptable. Additionally, the French expected to be fighting at ranges where the existing 340 mm gun was able to defeat heavy armor, so there was little need to step up to the larger caliber.

The 340 mm gun was adopted, but to improve the ship’s firepower, a fourth quadruple turret was added. The ships were allocated to shipyards in late 1913, with work to begin on the first two in January 1915, with the second pair to follow at an unspecified time. Work to complete the design continued into 1914, but the details of the ships’ underwater protection system had not yet been finalized by the time war broke out in August 1914. With the start of the war, the project was cancelled; no work was done and no material was assembled for the vessels. They would stay at paper stage only. But if completed and modernized in the interwar, they would have been quite formidable opponent for any navy. The quad turret design went on with the new Dunkerque and Richelieu class, but intermediate projects based on allocated Washington treaty called for triple and twin turrets. Fortunately we have more info about these. To this this interwar desing process, read the Dunkerque genesis. Note: This class will be the object of a standalone post in the future.


Displacement: 29,000 t. 32,000 t. FL estimated
Dimensions: 194,5 x 29 x 9.2 m
Propulsion: 4 shafts turbines, 32 boilers, 43,000 shp, 23 knots.
Armor: see notes.
Armament: 16 x 340mm (4×4), 24 x 138mm, ? 40-47mm, 6 TT sub
Crew: circa 1400

French Battlecruiser projects (1912-14)

A what-if author’s impression of the Durant-Viel second project, if built and modernized in the interwar

Gille’s battlecruisers:
Ministry of Marine (under De Lapeyrière) requirements was of for a 28,000 tonnes, 27 knots, eight 340 mm guns armed ship. This led to three designs, one by Gille submitted in 1913 and two by Furant-Viel in 1913: Gille’s design named “cuirassé-croiseur” (‘battleship-cruiser’) was apparently intended more as a fast battleship but with a lighter armor: 270 mm for the main belt (10 in). Preliminary designs in 1912 showed the eight main battery guns in three quadruple turrets like the Normandie class design, saving turet weight and concentrating armour better. These 13.4 in, 15 calibers model 1912 could fire 2 rounds per minute but the arrangement was more risky if one turret was hit and also in shells dispersion.

Durant-Viel’s battlecruisers:
Design “A” was based on 27,500 t, 210m long, 27m in beam. They needed to reach 27 knots, and were equipped with direct-drive turbines for 74,000 shp fed by 22 mixed boilers. Range should have been 3500 nm, or six hours of full speed steaming ahead. Armamnt wad the same, eight 340mm/45 M1912 in quad turrets. Compared to Gilles design, they only had two turrets fore and aft. The Secondary armament was the same 138.6 mm casemated. The forward turret was mounted on the forward casemate superstructure. The entire protection was the same as Normandie in layout, but thinner. The belt still was 280 mm thick, much better than British WW1 battleships (229 mm for hms Lion). They were closer to German battlecruisers and slower. Again, the same critics were valid for their quad turrets.

Gille’s design armour layout (1913)

Read More/Src

French Battleships 1914–45 New Vanguard 266, Ryan K. Noppen
French Pre[Post]-Dreadnoughts
Dumas, Robert (1985). “The French Dreadnoughts: The 23,500 ton Courbet Class”. John Roberts (ed.). Warship. IX.
Dumas, Robert & Guiglini, Jean (1980). Les cuirassés français de 23,500 tonnes. 4 Seigneurs Eds.
Friedman, Norman (2011). Naval Weapons of World War One: Guns, Torpedoes, Mines and ASW Weapons of All Nations; Seaforth Publishing.
Gardiner, Robert & Gray, Randal, eds. (1985). Conway’s All the World’s Fighting Ships 1906–1921.
Gardiner, Robert & Gray, Randal, eds. (1985). Conway’s All the World’s Fighting Ships 1860–1905.
Gille, Eric (1999). Cent ans de cuirassés français, Nantes: Marines édition.
Halpern, Paul G. (2004). The Battle of the Otranto Straits: Controlling the Gateway to the Adriatic in World War I. Indiana University Press.
Jordan, John & Caresse, Philippe (2017). French Battleships of World War One. Naval Institute Press.
Jordan, John & Dumas, Robert (2009). French Battleships 1922–1956. Naval Institute Press.
Whitley, M. J. (1998). Battleships of World War Two: An International Encyclopedia. Naval Institute Press.

Battleship Hoche (1886)

Battleship Hoche (1886)

France (1881-90) – France’s ‘Grand Hotel’

The Hoche is now as then, the supreme ugly ducking in the nest, a testimony of how hard naval engineers of the time tried to push their luck with designs that had to square circles in terms of iron construction, heavy weaponry, stability as a gun platform, seaworthiness, and optimal protection, both active and passive.
The Hoche also incarnates with vivid colors the aberrations of the “Young School” naval think tank of young officers and engineers that imposed its views to the ministers of the 1880-1910 decades. They were firm believers in the most modern technologies as a way to compensate for the French Navy inferiority (towards the Royal Navy) through many innovations, almost rejecting the concept of capital ships battle lines. But the experimental nature of it all plagued the French Navy in many ways, generating extreme heterogeneity, odd solutions not repeated elsewhere, and excessive construction delays caused by too many revisions due to political instability.

Nothing encapsulates more the unique, almost “medieval” look of French battleships in the 1880-90s decade. Top: “Le Mastodonte”, engraving of the Charles Martel, giving some impression of the prow of the Hoche, Baudin and other ships of the time with their pear-shaped hull and numerous turrets and barbettes in rhomboidal position. Bottom: Illustration of French futurist illustrator and caricaturist Albert Robida (1848-1826).

This state of affairs stopped in 1912 when a new dynamic naval minister and admiral tried to reverse this, Boué de Lapeyrière. But when the war broke out barely two years later, the naval plan was just started. France entered the war with a woefully inadequate fleet made of obsolescent and relatively strange vessels. The Hoche, fortunately discarded a few years before, was one of the most shining example of this. Nicknamed the “Grand Hotel” the Hoche was indeed plagued, notably by massive stability issues. The Kaiser, Wilhelm II seeing her during a naval parade in Kiel was heard declaring “what a splendid target”…

Painting of the launch of Hoche in 1886 – wikimedia cc

Genesis of French 1880s Battleships

A long way has been done since the revolutionary Gloire in 1859. France had managed to crank up 23 masted ironclads since, including impressive steel ship, the latest being the massive Courbet class central battery ironclads, launched 1879-82. They were also the last of their kind. The 1879 Admiral Duperré was a barbette ship, follwowed by the steam-only barbette ironclads of the Terrible class (1885) and Admiral Baudin class (1883). The Hoche became a transitional model, basically an hybrid turret/barbette ironclad.

Engraving of the Formidable testing a captive balloon in 1890. By Louis Poyer, Source: La Nature. Revue des sciences et de leurs applications aux arts et à l’industrie, pp. 312-314. From Le Conservatoire numérique des Arts & Métiers

About the Baudin class: The precedessor of Hoche, Amiral Baudin and Formidable, has been laid down at Brest and Lorient respectively in 1879. They were an evolution of the Duperré (laid down in 1877) more than the Terrible class which was more a coastal ironclad class. Displacing 11,720 tons standard, the Baudin were signalled by their high freeboard, and looked modern with their massive guns, 14.6 in (355 mm) from Creusot and St. Chamond, all three in a centerline, with one midships. As usual they featured heavy military masts with armoured tops for light artillery and spotting, and some variety in their secondary armament (four 6.4 in, eight or ten 5.5 in, 3-pdr, and 1-pdr QF guns). Both ships diverged in light artillery. Construction time was quite long, as they were completed in 1888-89 after ten years. Their armour was conventional but faulty at a crucial juncture: There was a large area of unprotected side above the waterline, a silver plate offer to plunging hits. Their modern artillery configuration, inline, was not repeated as the admiralty wanted their four guns, and the lozenge configuration was later adopted.

The Hoche was in fact initially planned as the third unit of the Amiral Baudin class. However its design was heavily modified to the point of generating a very specific ship. This was very typical of that mood of “prototyping frenzy” of the time. Although the Amiral Duperré and Baudin classes made a sufficient impression at the time of their appearance, they were never considered completely successful, their main drawback being the unprotected areas and high freeboard and narrow armor belt, which covered the ship only at the waterline. For the next design plunging fire was taken more seriously, as holed just above the waterline would surely flood the armored deck surface, and as compartmentation and bulkheads were an afterthought waves would sweep above the belt, leading to a rapid loss of stability and danger of capsizing in case of excess manoeuvres.

French battleship Hoche, Mitchell’s painting (cc)

Since the integrity of the whole waterline area, including well above was considered by the French admirals as a priority, both to maintain full speed and staying an acceptable gun platform, engineers saw only way to resolve the issue in reducing the freeboard height. Naval Engineers thought capable of designing low freeboard ships while preserving acceptable seaworthiness and the same speed. The culprit were the second class coastal battleships of the Terrible class. This drove the contracted yard to simply make it larger.

The new type of project was developed on the initiative of marine engineer Charles Ernst Ewen, the chief designer for armored vessels of the French fleet, from 1880 to 1897. Armament was discussed also a large deal, after protection. At first, 406 mm guns were planned, even 450 mm guns, which rivalled those of the Italian ironclads of the time, but more reasonable concepts prevailed, leading to the adoption of the more standard 340 mm. During the design process, blueprints underwent significant revisions due frequent change of naval ministers, each having its own views on current developments. Therefore final blueprints was approved only four months after the order was passed.

Design of Hoche

As already stated, the battleship as drawn by Chief Engineer Huin was marked by having a relatively low freeboard, fully protected by armor. However this also meant that some facilities and crew accomodations in the former upper level of the hull should be moved somewhere else. It was decided to transfer them to superstructures, which by consequence appeared massively expanded, giving the ship its iconic appearance. Also the funnel was pushed forward. Huin submitted two different plans, but he could have never predicted the numbers of changes that will plague her construction afterwards.

Original blueprint (extract) of the side and top view of the Hoche as approved in 1882 (Archives – Marine Nationale)

The silhouette was also marked by two massive armored masts with heavy multi-tiered closed tops, making turret-like structured which took place in the superstructure, also carrying the weight of the extra bridges. The military tops also allowed the admiral to better control the battle. Of course their main purpose outside observation and communication was to place light QF artillery, to deal with TBs. The high position gave them an excellent sector of fire. However, another point somewhat missed by engineers (or forced upon by the Navy) was the combination of well developed, high superstructures and heavy combat masts caused the center of gravity to move up significantly.

The Hoche, as designed, displaced about 11,502 tons but was still slightly smaller than previous ships. Total by 1891, amounted to 19.583 million francs, still below the average standard of the time, another subject to be proud of by the Yard. Nevertheless due to the chaotic nature of French political life, constant budgetary problems and constant interferences caused the construction drag for 9 years, compared to 4 years on average of the British battleship. The main issue was that in five years, naval tech advanced so rapidly as to render the Hoche obsolete. The new battleship was named after Lazare Hoche, a French Revolution General.

Model of the Hoche showing the forward ‘turret-barbette’ – Musée de la Marine, Paris

Armament of the Hoche

Main and main-secondary armament

Initially, the French naval staff wanted four 14.6 in (340 mm) guns, installed in a lozenge pattern barbettes. But in August 17, 1882, as construction was well advance, the new naval minister, Admiral Clouet, proposed to the replace the fore and aft barbettes installations by rotating armored towers, considered less vulnerable. For reasons of weight saving however, and already to preserve the center of gravity the project was modified to leave only two 340 mm guns fore and aft in hybrid installations, of quite unique turret-barbettes. The lack of firepower would be compensated by installing smaller, but faster guns in other positions.

As a result, the final battleship armament consisted of two 14.5 in (340 mm)/28-caliber rifled guns, completed by two 274 mm/28-caliber rifled guns in lateral barbettes, preserving the initial lozenge pattern so distinctive of French ironclads. The management of two different calibers make the whole main artillery spotting and control more difficult as observers had a hard time distinguishing between their respective plumes. However the naval staff considered this small matter due to the short firing distances of that time, below 6,000 m.

The French Canet Canon de 340 mm, 28 calibre modèle 1881 like the Marceau class which followed were adopted. They had a rate of fire of one shot every 4 minutes, for a 420 kg shell on a maximum range of around 8,000 meters. The secondary 274 mm guns modèle 1881 had the same barrel length/caliber, but the range fell to 6,530 meters. The great advantage of the hybrid system however allowed them to be loaded in any position, saving time in an already very long reload process.

The rhomboidal arrangement made the fore turret stationed high and very close to the bow, topped by a very pronounced ram. This disposition, along with the high center of gravity and deep hull, made the ship ploughing heavily in heavy weather. The lozenge type arrangement made it possible to aim 3/4 of the entire main artillery in any direction, a point quite appreciated by the naval staff, always eager to frequent manoeuvring skills in battle. For maximal efficiency however, the Hoche had to open fire below 6,000 m to be reasonably accurate with the three guns.

Secondary armament

The secondary battery consisted of eighteen 140 mm guns (5.5 in), fourteen of which were placed on the main deck, four more in the superstructure. The guns in the battery were not protected by any armor. The crews were easy prey for splinters. To top it all, ten 47 mm (5-pdr) Hotchkiss QF guns, six of which were installed in the superstructure, above the side barbets plus four more in the fighting tops. Ten 3-pdr (37 mm) turret guns were also installed. The idea of carrying midget Torpedo boats was discussed but forgotten. Torpedo armament consisted of five 480 mm (18 in) surface rotary torpedo tubes. One in the stern and the other four on the bow sides, covering 60 degrees of frontal arc.

Armour protection

The general scheme was a development of the previous ocean/Terrible class battleships. Steel slabs manufactured by Creusot were tested in 1880, recognized as the best at that time, far surpassing welded armor Compound processed plates. The steel belt stretched along the entire waterline, ranging from 450 mm (midships) to 350 mm aft. Total height was now raised to 2.3 meters, in the center section, while it was down to 1.8 meters on both ends, basically after the barbettes armoured wells. Initially, this was considered sufficient but due to structural overload, most of the belt was in practice hidden under water, 30 cm protruding above water when fully loaded.

The cross section of the belt was trapezoidal with the thickest part in the upper section and gradually tapering to the lower section. This belt was formed by two plates rows, the second on top the first, laid on a teak lining. This buffeted the shock of a shell along the entire hull, calculated to avoid metal fatigu, localize the damage and simplify repairs. The upper edge was topped by an armoured deck of 80 mm, in iron, covering the entire waterline level of the ship.

Hoche by Paul Thiriat

The turrets for the main guns had 320 mm walls and the barbettes protecting the turning mechanisms were 350 mm thick. The 274 mm guns barbettes were also 350 mm thick. They stood on the main deck but there was an unprotected vertical section down the armored deck, reduced in theory by the low and sloped freeboard height. It was calculated that the slope offered some extra protection above the waterline, and the water itself, at the level of the belt.

Propulsion of the Hoche

The Hoche powerplant consisted in two steam engines rated for 11,000 hp. Top speed as a result, with forced heating, reached 16 knots, as shown on trials. On paper this was 15 knots, with at normal output this fell to 12.5 knots. As her active life shown, her great instability led to further reduce this speed, especially for manoeuvring tightly.

The ship has a turning radius of around 400 meters and she was relatively agile and manoeuvrable due to her short hull and large breadth. Stability was good as long as she stayed in straight line. However, on trials, her structural overload quickly shown disturbing roll when turning at maximum speed. It reached 15 degrees.

Hoche’s crew consisted of 611 officers and men. To carry them all, adnd land a Marine Infantry party as common for the time, the battleship was given no less than 15 boats suspended along the main galley. On each side initially were fitted two small spar torpedo boats for special operations, like attacking ships at anchor and minelaying. The Hoche, as customary in 1890, was given a provision of heavy netting and spars to create a wearable all-around protection at anchor.

Career of the Hoche

Hoche went into operation in 1890. Soon, numerous problems started to emerge. She rolled badly as the wind itself was sufficient to push on the large area of the superstructure, keeping the guns for stabilizing. Also the hull was overweight so much that she plunged down in heavy weather – in fact both the bow and stern decks were excessively wet. Water would enter the fore and aft turrets, causing problems to the guns loaders and servants whereas salt corroded everything. Her bow plunged so badly that the bow wave seemed to flow permanently directly above, making her look like she was about to sink by the prow.

Nevertheless, the Hoche filled the French admiralty with pride, enough to send her with the innovative armored cruiser Dupuy de Lome to represent France at the inauguration of the Kiel Canal in 1895. The Kaiser then famously said (as was reported) “What a great target!”. By that time the only significant modifications has been the replacement of the old model 5.5-inch guns by new QF models 5.5-inch guns, twelve instead of eighteen, but in the same broadside battery.

Four were concerned plus two mounted in casemates on each corner while the aft military mast was replaced by a pole. At the same naval yard, this first modernization consisted in urgent work to lighten the superstructure and reducing the excessive metacentric height. But dismantling just one combat military mast was not enough. The extensive bridges and superstructures had to be dismantled, whereas the rounded protrusion hanging over the stern tower for the main caliber was to be removed.

Hoche emerged emerged with a different profile, but still this was not enough. As she returned in action, her stability proved to be still a concern. In 1892 as she served in the Mediterranean, near Marseilles, she collided with the liner Maréchal Canrobert, due to a navigation error of the latter while the second has her view obscured by smoke after firing her main guns. The steamer has been built in Scotland, in service since 1881, as a 1200-ton 250-foot iron-hull ship carrying mail and passengers for her new company operating between the colonies and France.

The fleet was indeed performing live fire and fast manoeuvers, and the liner, which came from Bône in North Africa, approached to offer her passengers a better view (according to testimonies and the enquiry), but came way too close and she was rammed and as a result cut in half, sinking very rapidly with the loss of 107 passengers. The Hoche remained mostly intact due to the strength of her ram bow, but immediately assisted passengers.

In 1897, Hoche was maneuvered into the dry dock at Brest for repairs by a tug, which captain made a misjudgment, letting the hull hitting the the angle of the dry dock. This added two months of extra work to repair the damage. On May 13, 1898 when she was steaming off the Quiberon Bay, Hoche ran into an uncharted rock, and had to returned to Brest for extra repairs. By July 1898 this translated into a full rebuilt.
She entered the drydock for a last time.

The foremast was now lowered and the hinged deck above the superstructures was removed, this time greatly reducing its height and weight. The Boilers were all replaced with new models, sixteen Belleville boilers, while the outdated secondary battery, twelve brand new 140 mm quick-firing guns were installed. Also her single large stack funnel was replaced by two smaller side-by-side stacks.

Nevertheless in 1899 she appeared totally out of fashion and her active life was drawing to an end. After 18 years of service and with the Dreadnought setting up a new breed, the Hoche had no military value left. In April 1908 she was decommissioned and placed in reserve. On January 1, 1910 she was disarmed. She ended sunk as target in November 1913, disarmed. She was sank by the French battleship Jauréguiberry and the armoured cruiser Pothuau on 2 December 1913 and therefore missed the great war.


Being a revolutionary design Hoche was more advanced than its predecessors. The freeboard height reduction allowed to reduce the vulnerable area to shells and the new rhomboidal artillery arrangement made it possible to concentrate 3/4 of the main guns in any direction. In addition these 340 mm armored towers on thick barbettes offered many advantages. Both heavy military masts were also looked upon as an improvements and found many uses. But all this was paid dearly.

Hoche’s Achille heal was her very low stability. Her captains soon learned to avoid turning at full speed, as she systematically tilted to 15 degrees, bordering with the no-limit (recovery) point. This was caused by excessively heavy superstructures, bulky combat masts, and highly placed artillery. All this was the result of political interference and constant revisions. The Hoche was in short an overloaded mess, which new, taller belt armour ended totally hidden underwater, defeating her purpose in the first place.

Despite all this, the admiralty was pleased with the ship, abundantly showcased in the press and a proof of French ingenuity. She looked, and was a powerful ship due to her considerable artillery to the point of being considered very successful. The rhomboidal artillery pattern was repeated in subsequent battleships designs and many other French warships, until twin turrets were at last adopted.

Hoche at VilleFranche circa 1890 – Colorized by Irootoko Jr.

Henri IV class specifications

Dimensions 102,59 m x 20,22 m x 8,31 m
Displacement 10 820 tjb
Crew 26 officers 438 sailors
Propulsion 2 shaft HTE, 8 Niclausse boilers, 12,000 hp.
Speed 16.5 knots. max. (30 km/h; 19 mph)
Range ? nmi (740 tonnes coal)
Armament 2 x 340 mm, 2 x 274 mm, 18 x 138 mm, 10 x 47 mm, 5 x 37 mm, 5 380 mm TTs
Armor Belt 460 mm, barbettes 400 mm, decks 80 mm, turret 400 mm

Read More

J. Gardiner Conway’s all the world’s fighting ships 1865-1905
-Jean Meyer et Martine Acerra, Histoire de la marine française des origines à nos jours
-Rémi Monaque, Une histoire de la marine de guerre française
-Michel Vergé-Franceschi, Dictionnaire d’Histoire maritime
-Geoffrey Regan’s Book of Naval Blunders. André Deutsch. pp. 43–44
-Alain Boulaire, La Marine française : De la Royale de Richelieu aux missions d’aujourd’hui
-Jean-Michel Roche, Dictionnaire des bâtiments de la flotte de guerre française de Colbert à nos jours, t. 1 1671-1870
Official Yard museum model
‘Cent ans de Cuirasse Francais’ Eric Gille
Warships fotofax French battleships 1876-1946 R.A. Burt
Musée de la Marine, Paris

The Model corner
Kombrig 1/700 Hoche
Kombrig 1/350 Hoche Resin
Review of the Kombrig model

WW1 French Cruisers

WW1 French Cruisers

France (1870-1912) – About 60 cruisers

The armoured cruiser Condé, from the Gloire class, seen from the Romanov Shtandard Imperial Yacht, from the Romanov family album 2, page 26 (CC)

Compared to the relative simplicity of the interwar French lineage, the history of French cruisers goes back to 1860s steam frigates. The first “cruiser” per se (unprotected) was the Decrès launched in 1866. The forst protected cruiser was Sfax, in 1884, and the first armoured cruiser Dupuy de Lôme in 1890, which was arguably also the prototype for modern armoured cruisers, an influential design. Conway’s also included in the armoured “cruiser” section ships that were arguably more second-class ironclads, such as the Belliqueuse (1865), Alma class (1867), La Galisonnière class (1872), and barbette ships such as the Bayard (1880) and Vauban class (1883). Despite their peculiar nature, Torpedo cruisers (1885-1897) are also integrated here.

Specifics of French cruisers

Wjat can be said about French cruisers, compared to their foreign counterparts ? The early cruiser development did not differed much from other nations, the first cruisers were the continuation of mixed steam frigates, with better guns mounted on rails for greater arcs of fire. Wood was still widely used as France had a hard time to catch the British industrial capacity in terms of steel production in the 1870s.

Arguably the invention of the protected cruiser was British, with the experimental 1878 Comus class corvettes, which had a full-lenght protective deck, or the Italia class battleships (1880), which protection was limited to the protective deck again. Esmeralda (1884) was an export Chilean cruiser from Armstrong Elswick, later IJN Izumi, is generally credited as the word’s first true protected cruiser. The French Sfax was launched the same year, and all-metal, like following cruisers.

Tumblehome and plough bows: It is also typical of French cruisers of that era to have very pronounced ram bows, “plough bows”. More than 120 years before it was discovered the bulbous bow shape allowed hydrodynamic performances, the ram bow was take very seriously by the French admiralty, following the battle of Lissa in 1866. The plough bow as made by the French may look impressive but the shape was tailored to absorb the shock of the impact when ramming, and was compartmented so to not provoke damage or water leaks into the regular bow behind. The drawback though, was a tendency in heavy weather for the ship to “plough” in waves, which was dangerously wet.

The French “trademark” tumblehome also very popular on battleships and was another architectural fantasy of French designers under the Young school theories. The whole idea was basically about stability. It was though that this pear shape allowed to reduce the weight of the upper deck, making the vessel more seaworthy and allowing to make it a bit taller as well, with a greater freeboard. The French made it to the extreme the heavier was the ship, until dropping it completely after 1912 reforms. By then flat-side hulls became the norm. French cruisers used it, but until the end of the 1890s. By the start of the century this practice decreased. The last armoured cruisers for example had a moderate lateral slope and conventional straight stem.

The Young School and cruisers:

The whole raison d’être for the Jeune école (‘Young school’) was to compensate the disadvantage of the French Navy in battleships, using new tactics and innovation in naval warfare (ie, torpedoes, mines). This was basically to apply principles of asymmetric warfare to a whole navy, which was at the time in the 1880s, the world’s second. Cruisers for the school was just an afterthought, as the ship kept its role as in traditional navies, inherited from frigates.

However, the French came with a dedicated purpose for a new kind of cruiser: Used planning to raid trading assets of the enemy and curtail its economy. This was very much targeted against Great Britain, still a likely opponent despite an opportunistic alliance in the Crimean adventure of 1852. Both navies were looking at each others, when the Napoleon made its debut during this war, a steam conversion was immediately quick-started in both navies. In 1859 when the French unveiled the first sea going ironclad, the Royal Navy had to swap on the first all-metal ironclad and whole series followed. For cruisers, the British took the advantage with the protected cruiser, but France launched her first the same year (1878).

The cruiser Dupuy de Lôme (blueprints)

However for a raiding ship, it was important to defeat any cruiser that could be guarding and patrolling trading lanes. The Dupuy de Lôme was designed for this role, precisely, named after the great innovator of the French Navy. Dupuy de Lôme was laid down during 1888, capable of 23 knots and was a “long range killer”, able to defeat any cruiser afloat. The idea of an armoured cruiser was not new, the first were masted ships in the 1870s such as the HMS Shannon and the Russian General-Admiral.

Compared to “protected cruisers” which were a lighter version of the first, lacking a level of protection, armoured cruisers were designed with a full “armoured box”, protecting both the main artillery deck and the machinery spaces, often with sloped sides, belts, and ending with bulkheads to constitute an enclosed “box” called the citadel. This was common to these cruisers and battleships, but the latter had a thicker armour in connexion to the larger artillery caliber. The Dupuy de Lôme particular innovation was to be entirely steel-sheated and having military masts instead of being rigged.

The Jeune Ecole school of thought at large proposed a navy composed mainly of fast cruisers for commerce raiding, with torpedo-boats for coast defense. The result was very much the French Navy of the 1890s. However, the Dupuy de Lôme accumulated engine problems, completion was delayed until 1895, and not only she was not very seaworthy (notably because an exagerated plough bow), her armor could be penetrated with relative ease by modern quick-firing guns. Therefore after her and the Admiral Charner class there was until 1897 a “vacancy” in construction to study other designs.

The idea of a commerce raider was no lost to Jackie Fisher, well aware of the Jeune école concepts, and which own twists on these concepts were instrumental in designing the first battlecruiser. The Germans as well were very receptive to this tactical approach to the use of cruisers, and they used theirs (Von Spee’s squadron in particular) just for that purpose (see for example the Emden).

Arguably, the WW2 Kriegsmarine also applied these “asymetric warfare” concepts when using her capital ships, the three Deutschland class, the Scharnhorst class, and even the Bismarck and Tirpitz. Too few or ill-adapted for a battleline, they were thought for commerce raiding first, as Plan Z never materialized.


Armament-wise, the French went with specific gunnery: Main gun on cruisers in the 1880-90s revolved around the 6.4 in (162 mm), and secondary guns 5.5 in (140 mm). Quite close, they could create a problem when spotting water plumes. Lighter armaments revolved around the 9-pdr (65 mm), 3-pdr (47 mm), 2-pdr (37 mm) Hotchkiss, standard or revolver models. Cruisers were also fitted with torpedo tubes early on, relatively small ones at 305 mm (12 inches), and in the 1890s, 18 inches or 450 mm became more common. As in other navies, these torpedo tubes were gradually removed, as not practical and potential sources of water spills. Many cruisers of this era could also potentially carry 120 mines.

Some ships in the French Navy were very lightly armed, such as the very last unprotected cruiser, the Milan (1884), was a 1,700 tonnes ship very lighlty armed, with two 4 inch guns, and 13 small/light guns. Too slow for reconnaissance at 18 knots, the concept was not very useful. She was also the onl non-sailing French cruiser, but soon protected cruisers became the norm. Early masted protected cruisers such as the Sfax, Tage, and Admiral Cecille were given the armament above, declined on all protected cruisers until the Jurien de la Gravière (1899). The latter was given the Modèle 1893 164.7 mm (6.48 in)/45 guns, completed by the Modèle 1885 47 mm (1.9 in)/40 guns and Modèle 1884 37 mm (1.5 in)/23 guns found on earlier ships.

Modèle 1887 194 mm (7.6 in)
The late 1890s, early 1900s saw on armoured cruisers a new standard: The 7.6 in gun (194 mm) was 8.7302 meters long and weighted 10.770 tons total. The bore caliber was 194 mm, rifled, and the barrel caliber reached 630 mm. Muzzle ddevlocity was about 770 to 800 meters per second depending on the projectile, which stayed at 600 to 619 meters per second in flight after travelling some 2 000 meters.

The later 1893 model is a shortened version, heavier at 10,840 tons, 8,076 m long or 40 calibres instead of 45. Internal volume rose from 43,389 to 49,030 dm31. The M1887 went to the first battleships built for the French Navy, the cruiser the Dupuy-de-Lôme and five units of the Amiral Charner class. The Pothuau was given the 1893 model, in the same layout.

Modèle 1893 164.7 mm gun (6.48 in)
This gun weighted 7.04 t (6.93 long tons; 7.76 short tons), for a barrel length of 7.412 m (24.32 ft), a separate-loading, bagged charge, and fired a 50.5–52 kg (111–115 lb) shell. It used a Welin breech block, with Hydro-pneumatic recoil also found on the famous “75 mm Modèle 1897”. The gun average alevation was about -10° to +25°, for a rate of fire of about 2-3 rpm (whereas the ’75’ could fire 15-30 a rpm burst (dependent on crew training and fatigue). The 164 mm muzzle velocity was 770–775 m/s (2,530–2,540 ft/s) and effective firing range was 9,000 m (9,800 yd) at 25°. Its maximum firing range was 18,000 m (20,000 yd) at 36°. It was mounted on the last French armoured cruisers (Dupleix, Gloire, Gueydon, Léon Gambetta) and République-class pre-dreadnoughts. The M1893 was soon eclipsed by the 194 mm/40 (7.64″) Modèle 1893 and the 194 mm/50 (7.64″) Modèle 1902. Postwar, France adopted the more conventional 8-in heavy caliber (203 mm), but 6.1-in for light cruisers (155 mm).

Modèle 1891 65 mm gun (2.6 in)
For tertiary guns, the Canon de 65 mm Modèle 1891 became widespread (2.6 in). It was designed by Schneider et Cie and produced by Le Creusot. It was 3.4 meters (11 ft 2 in) long, with a barrel length of 3.2 meters (10 ft 6 in), 50 caliber, and fired a Fixed QF shell weighting 4 kilograms (8 lb 13 oz). It used a Wedge breech system, and muzzle velocity was about 715 m/s (2,350 ft/s).

Hotchkiss 47 mm L/40 M1885

This QF gun was an international success story, by an American which created his company in France and was made famous for his guns and machine guns, competitors of Vickers own products. The Hotchkiss L/40 M1885 was also known in the Royal Navy the QF 3-pounder (or 1.9 in) and was fairly common. It used a vertical sliding-wedge, and its rate of fire was about 30 rpm, for a muzzle velocity of 571 m/s (1,870 ft/s) and a maximum firing range of 5.9 km (3.7 mi) at +20° and 4.5 km (2.8 mi) at +8. The gun was also licenced built by Obukhov in Russia, Skoda for the Austro-Hungarian navy and Elswick Ordnance Company for export, reaching many navies, including the IJN (Imperial Japanese Navy).

Homogeneous classes

Unlike battleships classes where lots of experimentations took place, French cruisers were generally a bit more homogeneous in constructions, with slightly more classes than for battleships, but still many single ships. For unprotected cruisers, for example, there were seven classes (32 ships) for 16 single ships. For protected cruisers, nine classes (24 ships) for 9 single cruisers. For armoured cruisers, six classes (20 ships), for only 5 single ships. As a reminder, for battleships (before the dreadnought age and 1912 De Lapeyrère reforms), not starting with central battery ships (1868-82) or barbette ships (1879-83), but with the Hoche, there were two classes (6 ships) for 10 single ships.

For practical reasons, some of these were integrated artificially in the Charles Martel class. Another specifics of French cruisers classes were they went by three more often, if not as a standard. The idea was to have one ship reserved for the Atlantic fleet, one for the Mediterranean fleet and one overseas along the French Empire, with potentially one of the three in drydock maintenance.

The torpedo gunboat Dunois and the cruiser Gloire in the background. From Pinterest, origin Unknow.

Torpedo Cruisers were popular, before “destroyers” (by then called contre-torpilleurs) were invented, because perfectly in line with the theories of the obnoxious (in retrospect) Young School. The type, just like coastal “battleships” was particularly popular in the young school. Torpedo cruisers were the smallest of the lot, precursors of torpedo boat destroyers. They were lightly armed and had the double task of leading TBs, while protecting them and destroying other enemy TBs.

However the denomination changed overtime, recognising the too great disparity in tonnage with regular cruisers and swift in role: The first Condor and Wattignies classes were “cruisers” wheras the Bombe, Lévrier, D’Iberville, the Dunois class were “gunboats”. The French still classed the latter as “contre-torpilleurs” but they were much too slow to be effective in that role and never really found their place in the French Navy, as in many others. In Total, the French would deliver 21 of these torpedo ships, versus 33 “torpedo gunboats” for the Royal Navy.

Italy, Austria-Hungary also toyed with the idea, but not Germany, Japan or the USA. However, France, like Great Britain tried the torpedo mothership concept: HMS Vulcan inspired the Foudre. Both were unsuccessful and converted later as a depot ship or seaplane carrier (Foudre) respectively.

The 1894 Foudre was another take on the “torpedo boat mothership” which proved a failure. The French recognised the previous HMS Vulcan’s failure as the inability of its midget TBs to deal with the heavy weather of the north sea, and thought the Mediterranean better suited for the concept, but their experiment fell under the same predicament.

The Troude – University Library of Congress, Washington (cc)

Protected cruiser Chasseloup Laubat LOC 4a15950v (CC)

D’Entrecasteaux Model

Former Frigate-size mixed vessels (1860-1876)

Circé type converted Frigates
This comprised 11 converted sailing frigate group laid down in 1829-1850 from various yards. Displacement range considerably between 2,740 tonnes (Armorique) and 3,935 tonnes (Magicienne). Armament ranged from 42 to 56 guns, but after modifications, 24 to 36 mostly 6.4 in M1860 and 5.5 in RML. Completed in 1862 to 1870 they were discarded in 1875 to 1888.

Wooden-hulled steam corvettes & frigates (1862-77)

Next were built eight steamships, the wooden screw corvettes 1,795 tons Cosmao and Dupleix, the 1,387 tons Talisman, 1,795 tons Résolue, the 2745 tons wooden screw frigates Vénus and Minerve and the first wooden hull cruisers, the 1,870 tons Decrès and the 1,722 tons Desaix. Also the 1323 tons Limier class (6 ships, 1867), the 1820 tons Châteaurenault (1868), 1191 tons Linois (1867).

The Frigate Dupleix in China

Built in parallel along an ambitious naval plan, the Infernet class (4 2042 tons ships, 1869-74), Sané class (three 2072 tons vessels, 1869-74), Bourayne class (10 vessels, 1330 tons tons, 1869-72), the ex-Imperial Yacht Hirondelle (1181 tons, 1869, converted 1873), and the more modern Rigault de Genouilly class (2 ships launched 1876) inaugurated a plough-style ram bow. They were all discarded in the 1890s but participated for many to the Sino-French war.

Iron masted cruisers (1877-84)

This new lineage started with an ambitious long-range 3479 tonnes all-iron vessel, the Duguay-Trouin (1877). Sheated and coppered she used the same plough ram bow and had an overhanging stern, and was barque rigged. She was armed with five 7.6 in RML (180 mm), four in sponsons, one axial, five 5.5 in, ten 1-pdr Revolver and for the first time, two underwater torpedo tubes. The Duquesne (1873) was relatively similar but larger, at 5905 tonnes and the Tourville was a near-sister ship.

There was a return to smaller station masted cruisers with the Lapérouse class (4 ships, 2363 tons, 1877-82), and Villars class (4 ships, 2382 tons, 1879-82) and the 3300-3700 tonnes Iphigénie (1881), Naïade (1881), Aréthuse (1882), and Dubourdieu (1884). All but the Aréthuse has a clipper bow; The last unprotected French cruiser was the Milan, a 1,700 tons narrow cruiser and forerunner of the protected Forbin and Troude classes (1884). She had a minimal sloop rigging. All these cruisers were discarded in the late 1890s to 1908 for the Milan.

French Masted protected cruisers

There were three “transitional” cruisers built at the same time the protected cruiser concept appeared, and the Milan, last unprotected cruiser. The first two were discarded in 1906 and 1910 but the third in 1919. All three will be covered in detail when examining the French Navy in 1895.

Sfax (1884)
A two-funnels, ram bow, overhanging stern barque rigged 4560 tonnes cruiser armed with six 6.4 in guns in sponsons and casemates, ten 5.5 in guns in broadside ports, and ten revolver guns plus five torpedo tubes above the waterline. They were designed as long range ships for distant stations. They were made with a protective deck 2-3 feets below the waterline, 2.4 in thick in four layers. There was also a 1-in thick conning tower in between the two funnels where the bridge was located. The formula was never repeated; The hull had a cofferdam and cellular layer between the armoured deck and upper decks to limit water damage.

Tage (1886)
A much larger (7470 tons) three-funneled protected cruiser with a plough ram bow and tumblehome, barque rigged. She received two more main guns and was later reamed with 162 mm guns and 140 mm QFC guns. It was generously provided with revolver guns, of 3-pdr and 1-pdr. The protective deck was down to 2.2 in, with 2 in slopes, and there was a 3ft 3in cofferdam above it, 3.5 bulkheads, and a 3.5 in conning tower.

Amiral Cecille (1888)
A smaller but generally similar 5,836 tonnes vessel, barque without royals, armed the same as the Tage. Seven of her main guns were on the upper deck: Six in sponsons and one firing forward, the eight right aft on the poop. The 5.5 in were on the main deck broadside. The protective deck was 2.2 in total on the flat section, 4 in on the slopes, ending at 4.2 in below the waterline. Above there was a cofferdam with a seemingly better underwater compartmentation.

Bulkheads were 3.1 in (80 mm) and the CT was 3.5 in thick (90 mm). Contrary to the two others she had two shafts connected to four vertical compound steam engine fed by 12 cylinder boilers, rated for 10,200 ihp, enough for 19.4 knots. She carried 925 tonnes of coal. Contrary to the two others, Cécille, which entered service in September 1890, served in the French Caribbean, and from 1907 she was used as a school ship for mechanics in Toulon and was still active in 1919.

Barely cruisers: French Torpedo Vessels

Although most of these are “gunboats” they are integrated here for practical purposes. They are not integrated into the main count of “cruisers” and were only a ten-years fad, soon eclipsed by faster torpedo boat destroyers.
Condor class Torpedo Cruisers (1885)
These first torpedo cruisers were six one-funneld ships with plough bow, considerable tumbelhome, forecastle and poop, classed as crusiers whereas they were more torpedo gunboat, somewhat large at 1,230 tonnes. The Condor, Epervier, Faucon and Vautour (birds of prey) were laid down in 1884, launched 1885-89 and completed in 1886-89, at Rochefort and Toulon. They had two shafts IC or HC engines 4 cyl. boilers for 3000 ihp and 17 knots, armed with five 3.9 in, four 3-pdr, six 1-pdr and four 14 in TTs. All were discarded between 1907 and 1911.
The next Wattignies class (1893) were similar except for less width, more draught, and more displacement, 4000 ihp for 18.5 knots, Six 3-pdr instead of four and four 1-pdr. With Fleurus she was discarded in 1908-1910.

Bombe class Torpedo gunboats (1885)
Denomination changed for these eight much smaller, three-masted ships (369-430 tons FL), 59.20 m long which were given two shafts VC and loco boilers for 1,800 ihp, enough to reach 19 knots at best. They were armed with two 3-pdr, five 1-pdr, two 14-in TTs. These were all built at FC chanters de la Méditerranée except for Ste-Barbe and Salve, at Claparède, launched 1885-86 and completed in 1887-90 and discarded in 1906 to 1911.

Lévrier class Torpedo gunboats (1891)
Léger and Lévrier were 503 tonnes torpeod gunboats, two-masted, again with a pronounced tumblehome, but a straight stem, slight foredeck elevation, two shafts VTE for 2,400 ihp and 18.7 knots, armed with one 9-pdr, three 3-pdr, two 1-pdr and two 18-in TTs (457 mm) forward and aft of the funnel. Both were built at Lorient in 1890-91 and completed in 1891 but stricken in 1910 after 19 years of service.

D’Iberville class Torpedo gunboats (1893)

Author’s illustration of d’Iberville during the war.

Looking like midget cruisers, these three ships, Casabianca, Cassini and d’Iberville were in service by 1894-1896. They were much larger and almost twice as heavy than previous ships (Lévrier class) twith a forecastle fore and aft, and a larger and better distributed artillery. D’Iberville was the only one to actually have 6 TT versus 3 on the other two. In 1899, they were removed.

Casabianca and Cassini were rebuilt in 1911-12 as minelayers, and were replaced in that role by Pluton and Cerbere in 1913. They fought in WW1: Casabianca hit on a mine off Smyrna in June 1915 and sank, and Cassini was torpedoed by a U-boat in February 1917 in the Strait of Bonifacio. D’Iberville was in station at the port of Penang when the Russian cruiser Jemchug was crippled by SMS Emden. At first the captain believed it was an accident and let the German cruiser go without a fight. Back in the Mediterranean threater, D’Iberville patrolled off the Algerian coast until 1917 and was stricken in 1922.

Dunois class Torpedo gunboats (1897)

Author’s illustration of the Dunois during WW1

Dunois and Lahire, named after two famous knights alongside Joan of Arc, adopted an inverted deck design, low at the front back, rather than forecastles. Lighter, they were more powerful at 7500 vs 5000 ihp but did not reached more than 22 knots.
They were reclassified as destroyers despiteb their poor performances, and did possessed TTs. Dunois made ther service in UK, operatin off Dunkirk in support of British troops. She was stricken in 1920. Lahire was a training ship for Toulon’s gunners, and patrolled the Mediterranean. In 1918, a she received tow 100 mm guns model 1917, and six 47 mm guns, plus ASW grenades. She was stricken in 1922.

Foudre Torpedo depot ship (1895)

Author’s rendition of the Foudre in 1915 as a seaplane carrier;

The foudre was a singular vessel, but not a unique case (HMS Vulcan), called a “porte-torpilleur” or litt. a “torpedoboat carrier”. This was one of the innovative and cherished “young school” prototypes. By default of giving battleships small torpedo boats, a dedicated carrier was tested; Foudre was given two sections on which midget TBs (“torpilleurs vedettes”) were stored and lowered at sea by rolling gantry cranes. However soon, tests showed ​​these midget TBs too small to be effective despite their 18-meters. They were just unstable in heavy weather and unoperable.

The concept was abandoned even though the ship was barely in service, after being completed in 1897. In 1900, the Foudre was ten in hands for conversion as a minelayer, and in 1912 as an experimental seaplane carrier. She was based in Port Said and Mudros and after 1917 served as a submarine depot ship, discarded in 1921.

La Foudre, original blueprints, 1890.

1912 programme and the “never were cruisers”

The very last French cruiser prior to WW1 was the Waldeck-Rousseau (1908), second of the Edgar Quinet class. These were 13,847 to 13,995 long tons (14,069 to 14,220 t) comparable to the German Blücher and British Warrior class. These were massive ships designed to take part in the battle line, bearing a main battery of fourteen 194 mm (7.6 in) guns ready to cause havoc on enemy ships superstructures.

This was less than the heavier standard chosen by RN ships, comprising six heavier guns (254 mm) and four 190 mm, but the French had an advantage of rate of fire. The appearance of the dreadnought in 1906 pretty much made both pre-dreadnoughts and armoured cruisers obsolete overnight. Soon the French devised their first idea of a Battlecruiser, which will revolved through Gilles and Durant-Viel studies.

Besides this, Admiral Boué de Lapeyrière, in charge of the French ministry of the Navy, wrote and published the Statut Naval (Naval Law) on 30 March 1912, with an ambitious naval program, which not only stroke definitely earlier experiments of the “Young school” but managed to confirm the effort engaged since 1905 in built homogeneous class of ships (notably the République and Patrie battleships). The program, which advised the construction of 28 battleships, 10 scout cruisers and 52 fleet torpedo boats among others, clearly sent a signal to restart cruiser construction which had been virtually suspended after the last armoured cruiser.

The 1912 Arethusa class was the main inspiration for the French first scout cruiser design

Models for these scout cruisers were not hard to find: Both the Royal Navy and Kaiserliches Marine, Regia Marina and KuK. Kriegsmarine all created their own version of the same concept. In fact, France would earn four of these as war reparations in 1920, Metz, Colmar, Strasbourg and Thionville. It was a far cry of the 12 ships initially planned. The French scout cruisers, cut short by the war, were to be named La Motte-Piquet, from a French admiral of the XVIIIth century.

At first, a 6,000-tonne éclaireurs d’escadre (fleet scouts) design was chosen, more versatile, but soon a lighter ship similar to the British Arethusa class was preferred. There was no precedent indeed. The last unprotected cruiser, Milan (1884) was barely capable to reach 18 knots, and the last protected cruiser, Jurien de la Gravière, was too large for the job. The initial sketches and specs also looked liked on the Karlsruhe class and Magdeburg classes.

Attempt of a rendition of the Lamotte-Picquet (wikimedia CC)

The first three of these new cruisers, reclassified as “convoyeurs d’escadrilles” or flotilla leaders were planned to be laid down in Toulon Naval Dockyard by November 1914. Two more were planned for a construction in private shipyards to spare construction time. However after Germany declared war on France by August, 3, 1914, all naval construction in France were suspended.

The La Motte-Picquet program was left suspended to a further decision. They were reviewed again by a commission in July 1915 (Service technique des constructions navales). They made several suggestions to improve the design, as enlarging the hull and adding four 65 mm/50 Modèle 1902 high-angle (AA) guns, deleting the mainmast, reducing shafts to two. Not adopted, plans remained unaltered in a folder for the remainder of the war.

France had its light cruisers as war prizes, both former German and Austro-Hungarian vessels after the war. On September 1919, the program was relaunched, 1915 changes were applied, and the project evolved into the first postwar French cruiser design, the Duguay-Trouin-class.

The revised plans under ‘Project 171’ concerned six cruisers, presented by the new French Minister of Marine, Georges Leygues by January 1920. After a major restructuring plan it was cut down to three. Twelve new “torpilleurs-éclaireurs” (scout torpedo boats) were also scheduled.
The same plan also oversaw the conversion of the Normandie class into the aircraft carrier Béarn.

Ernest Renan, library of Congress (cc)

The La Motte-Picquet class were interesting prospective light cruisers designs, a first for the French Navy as the type was previously never built. They had an armoured belt on their outer hull, but only 28 mm (1.1 in) thick over the machinery ended by bulkheads of 14–16 mm (0.6–0.6 in). Gun shields were 5–10 mm (0.2–0.4 in) in thickness, barely protecting from shrapnells. The conning tower could have been armored at least by 30 mm but figures are not known.

The cruiser’s primary armament was eight 138.6 mm (5 in) guns Model 1910. They were the same used in the secondary battery of the new Courbet and Bretagne-class battleships. Main guns were placed in single mounts in a pair forward, two aft, and four amidships. Anti-TB armament comprised two 47 mm (2 in) QF and 3-pounder Hotchkiss guns (37 mm) of the same dependable model mounted on other ships. Torpedo armament comprised four 450 mm (18 in) torpedo tubes placed on the main deck, above the engine room, with reloads.

Instead of a raked bow, the designer choosed a simpler straight stem while the hull shapes were traditional. The propulsion system was little innovatove as well, and did not used turbines, but instead proven VTE engines, fed by twelve boilers. Also eight were coal-fired and four partial coal/oil-firing. Top speed as designed was not blistering even for 1913, targeted at 29 knots (54 km/h; 33 mph).

In this nomenclature we will see briefly classes and single French cruisers that were no longer in service in WW1 (they will be treated more in detail the following years), and not earlier steam frigates and second-class central battery ironclads, but more in depth classes that were active prior to WW1, although classes were largely depleted with decommissions. There was a great gap (as seen earlier) in construction from the Quinet class in 1907, until 1923 (The Primauguet class), a bit like in the US Navy. Presentation following is based on a chronological order rather than by tonnage.

French protected Cruisers

Here are various “modern” ships, not rigged vessels in service at least for one ship in each class, during the Great War.
Davout (1889)
A smaller (3030 tonnes, 88 x 12 x 6.6 m) two-funneled steam cruiser, she had a pronounced plough style ram bow, and considerable tumblehome. Her military masts were of the same style of the battleships of the time. Armament comprised six masked 6.4 in (162 mm), four 9-pdr, four 3-pdr, 2-1pdr and six broadside TTs above the waterline. The 162 mm guns were placed in sponsons on the main deck and the remainder fore and aft on the forcastles. For the first time, ITE (Inversed triple expansion) steam engines were tried. With 9000 ihp from her 8 Niclausse boilers, the ship reached 20.7 knots and carried 840 tons of coal. Armour was about the same as on the Cecille but lighter: 2.8 in on the CT, 2-4 in on the armoured deck and slopes. She was stricken from service in 110.

Suchet (1893)
Generally similar to the Davout, almost a sister-ship, but with a longer hull at 97 m. She displaced 3362 tons. She had an Horizontal triple expansion engine which developed 9500 ihp thanks to 24 Belleville boilers, but she was slower at 20.4 knots. Armament was reinforced, with four 3.9 in guns (100 mm) instead of the 9-pdr, twice more 3-pdr (47 mm), eight 1-pdr (37 mm) Hotchkiss QF revolver guns, and seven TTs, one submerged and the other above the waterline. Like for the Davout they were gradually retired. The protective deck was 3.4 in thick. Suchet was discarded in 1906.

Forbin class (1888)

Small station cruisers with fine lines and plough bows. They had a length/width ratio of 1:10 (95 x 9 m), were propelled by two shafts HC engines, 6 boilers for 5800 hp, and with displacement of 1,935 tonnes standard, they reached 20.5 knots. They carried 300 tons of coal. Armament was light twoo, only four 5.5 in guns (130 mm), three 3-pdr, four 1-pdr revolver, four 14-in TTs and they could carry 150 mines. These two funneled ships also had two light masts able to carry sloop sails as auxiliaries, but not the Surcouf, apparently fitted with military masts. Their protective deck was limited to 1.6 in thickness with a splinter deck above the machinery space. Surcouf was fitted with a conning tower, and she was also the only one of the three ships, in service during WW1. Coëtlogon was stricken in 1906 and Forbin became a collier in 1913. Forbin’s engines were converted to mixed oil/coal boilers and eight 3-pdr guns were installed.

Troude class (1888)

Generally similar cruisers to the Forbin class, but with three light masts and raked funnels. All three diverged in displacement: Troude 1,994 tonnes, Lalande 1,968 tonnes, Cosmao 1,923 tonnes. Armament was the same but with the two sponsons closer together. Only Troude and Lalande had an armoured CT, with 1-in plating. The four 305 mm TTs were removed in service and the 3-pdr were increased to 10 guns. The only survivor of the class, Cosmao, was built in Gironde arsenal in Bordeaux in 1887, launched in 1889 and completed in 1891. Of light construction, she did barely reached 20 knots, as vibrations hampered artillery precision and observation systems. Operating in the Mediterranean, Cosmao will soon be relegated to secondary duties, before being removed from the lists in 1922.

Alger class cruisers (1891)

The cruiser Jean Bart (cc)

Relatively large two-funneled cruisers with military masts, plough bows and tumblehome. Alger had an overhanging stern, not the Isly and Jean Bart. Laid down in Cherbourg, Brest and Rochefort in 1887, launched in 1889 and 1891 and completed in 1891-93, they carried a heavier armament as before: Four 6.4 in/28 model 1887, six 5.5 in/30, two 9-pdr, eight to twelve 3-pdr, eight to ten 1-pdr guns and five 14-in TTs. The main guns were in sponsons, like the secondary ones to the exception of a single poop 5.5 in gun. They were capable of 19.5 knots, good steamers. Alger was hulked in 1911, Jean Bart was wrecked on 11.2.1907 on the north African coast. She has been reboilered with Niclausse models in 1903 in order to reach 20 knots. Isly survived until 1914 but was discarded.

Technical specifications
Displacement: 3,982 tons FL
dimensions: 105 x 12.98 x 6.10/6.45 m
Propulsion: 2 shafts VTE/HTE, 8 cyl. boilers (or 24 Belleville on Alger), 8,000 hp, 19.5 knots.
Crew: 387-405
Armour: CT 3 in, deck 2 in, gun shields 2 in
Armament: 4 x 162, 6 of 140, 2 x 65, 12 x 47, 10 x 37 mm, 5 x 305 mm TT bw

Friant class (1893)

The Friant class was originally a class of three, also comprising the Bugeaud, Chasseloup-Laubat and Friant, started in 1891, launched in 1893 and completed in 1895. They were relatively classic in protection, with a shell section pear and as always a massive spur. The Bugeaud was reformed in 1907, the Chasseloup in 1911, and the Friant was used from the beginning of the war as a depot ship. She survived until 1920 in this role before being delivered to the scrapyard.

Technical specifications
Displacement: 3,982 tons FL
dimensions: 94 x 13 x 6.30 m
Propulsion: 2 shafts VTE, 20 Niclausse boilers, 9500 hp, 16 knots.
Crew: 339
Armament: 6 x 162, 4 of 100, 4 x 47, 11 x 37 mm, 2 x 305 mm TT bw

Linois class (1894)

Cruiser Lavoisier – Bougault Coll.

A quite different class from the Forbin and Troude, with a higher freeboard, and short forecastle deck, two large funnels and widely spaced masts. They featured four 5.5 in/45 (140 mm), one masked on the forecastle and the others in sponsons. Two 3.9 in (100 mm) secondary and eight 3-pdr, six 1-pdr guns completed this, and four 21-in TTs above the waterline. Like the previous ships they can carry 120 mines. Only Lavoisier had mixed burning boilers. Galilée and Linois were discarded in 1910, Lavoisier went on to serve during WW2 and until 1920.

Technical specifications
Displacement: 2,285 tons FL
dimensions: 100.63 (98) x 10.62 (10.97) x 5.44 m (Galilée)
Propulsion: 2 shafts VTE, 16 Belleville boilers (Linois 6 cyl. boilers), 6,800 hp, 20.5 knots.
Crew: 250/269
Armament: 4 x 140, 2 of 100, 8 x 47, 6 x 37 mm, 4 x 457 mm TT aw, 120 mines

Descartes class (1894)

The Descartes and Pascal were built at Soc. de la Loire and Toulon yards on similar 3960 tonnes plans. They had plough bows and pronounced tumblehome (dim. 93.3 x 12.9 x 6.5m) fitted with two shafts VTE, 16 Belleville boilers for 8500 ihp and 19.5 knots. They were armed with four 6.4 in guns (164 mm) M1891/93, ten 3.9 in (100 mm), eight 3-pdr, four 1-pdr, nd two 18-in TTs. The main guns were in midship sponsons (plus three more 3.9 in) the rest of the 3.9 in were on the forecastle, poop aft, and one in the bow. The deck guns had 2-in shields. The CT had 2.8 in walls, the armoured deck was 1.8 in thick on the flat section, 2.4 on the slopes. Over it was a cellular layer and below a debris deck to protect the machinery. Descartes suffered hot ammo rooms problems and lacked ventilation. Both were ballasted for stability. Pascal was stricken in 1911 but Descartes served in WW1 as a patrol ship in the East indies until 1917 and she suffered two ships collisions. Back in Lorient she as disarmed to carry and operated ASW seaplanes and was discarded in 1920.

D’Assas class (1893)

The cruiser D’Assas, Cassard class – Bougault collection (cc)

The D’Assas, Cassard and Du Chayla were very similar to the Friant class, to the exception of their CT protected by 4-in armour, the armoured deck (flat) was 2.8 in and slopes 3.2 in. They were slighlty longer and larger (96.14 x 16.67 x 6.25 m), faster at 20 knots thanks to 10,000 ihp produced by 20 Lagrafel d’Allest boilers mated on two shafts VTE. They carried 600 tons of coal. Armament wise, they carried ten 47 m guns (3-pdr) instead of four and five to nine 1-pdr (37 mm) and larger torpedo tubes of 457 mm (18 in). D’Assas was discarded in 1914 but the two others served in WW1. Cassard spend her WW1 service in the western Mediterranean ad the red sea but in 1917 she operated with the Indian ocean squadron. From 1922 she was attached to the gunnery school and was discarded in 1923. Du Chayla covered the 1907 Casablanca landing. She was in action in the Atlantic and the read sea from 1916, and until 1918, and afterwards she was off Lebanonand in the blak sea to cover White Russians operations until 1919. However her guns has been requisitions by the army at that time, she was left with two 164 mm, four 75 mm and four 47 mm guns. She was stricken in 1921 but not BU before 1933.

Technical specifications
Displacement: 3,962t – 3,890 tonnes (Cassard and Du Chayla) standard
Dimensions: 96.14 x 13.67 x 6.25 m
Propulsion: 2 shaft VTE, 20 boilers, 10,000 hp, 20 knots.
Armour: From 85 mm armored deck slopes to 125 mm CT, 4 mm shields.
Crew: 392
Armament: 6 x 163, 4 x 100, 10 x 47, 5-9 x 37 mm, 2 x 457 mm TT aw.

Protected Cruiser D’Entrecasteaux (1893)

Built at La Seyne in Toulon between 1894 and 1899, this protected cruiser, which cost 16,700,000 gold francs at the time, was well protected with copper-lined wooden plates and a pear section. Her poorly arranged interior fittings and ventilation made her the “hotter” French cruiser in bunkers and machines. It was decided to quickly add a ventilation system.
D’Entrecasteaux led a career without notable incident first in the Channel, then in the Mediterranean. She survived the war and was stricken from the lists in 1922. She was then rented to Belgium temporarily, but soon the navy separated from it, having no means to exploit her. She was sold in 1927 to Poland at Scrap price, renamed Baltyk, used as a submarine depot ship (photo) and still existed, docked in Gdynia in 1942. The Germans scrapped her.

The Polish cruiser ORP Baltyk during the interwar.

Technical specifications
Displacement: 7,995t FL
Dimensions: 117 x 18 x 7.5 m
Propulsion: 2 shaft VTE, 5 boilers, 14,500 hp, 19.2 knots.
Armour: from 250 mm turrets to 20 mm decks
Crew: 559
Armament: 2 x 192, 12 x 140, 12 x 47, 6 x 37 mm, 2 x 457 mm TT sub.

Protet Class (1896)

Protet -library of Congress

Built at FC de la Mediterranée (Catinat) and Soc. de la Gironde (Protet) in 1894/96 and launched in 1896/98, completed in 1898/99, these cruisers were near-repeats of the Descartes class (derived from the Friant design). They were 4,000 tonnes protected cruisers with their main guns in sponsons, secondary 100 mm (3.9) ones fore and aft in pairs under 2-in masks, and the rest in sponsons. Two funnels, two light masts far apart, tumblehome and recesses for the sponsons. They could also carry 50 mines, stowed in the steering engine compartment and the rail was going through the captain’s cabin. They were dropped through a single stern port. Stability on these ships was doubtful and Protet was heavily ballasted. None saw action suring the war, they were discarded in 1910 and 1911.

Protected Cruiser Guichen (1897)

The Guichen was started in 1895 at the Loire NyD and completed in 1899. She was a commerce raider, intended to make war on trade. She was fast enough and her autonomy was high. Her boilers were designed to burn fuel oil with coal, taking up less space on board. The Guichen first operated in the Channel in 1914, and then she was sent to the Atlantic Squadron, operating in the Bay of Biscay. Next she was sent to Morocco, and the Eastern Mediterranean. She helped evacuating thousands of Armenians from the 1915 Turkish genocide. From 1917 she operated in the Aegean Sea, and by 1919 served with Black Sea Sqn, assisting white Russians in Crimea. She was removed from the lists in 1922 and later scrapped.

Technical specifications
Displacement: 8150t. PC;
Dimensions 133 x 17 x 7.5 m
Propulsion 3 propellers, 2 VTE machines, 36 D’Allest boilers, 25,000 hp. and 231.5 knots max.
shielding from 157 to 56 mm-; Crew 604
Armament 2 guns of 162, 8 of 140, 10 of 47, 5 of 37 mm, and 2 TLT flanks SM 457mm.

Protected Cruiser Chateaurenault (1898)

Author’s illustration of the Chateaurenault, showing its obvious liner style.

This light cruiser built in La Seyne, started in 1896 and completed in 1902, had characteristics borrowed on the Guichen on protection and armament, but was treated differently in shape, displaying the deceiving profile of liner. This had the advantage of luring a potential predator, and could pay off later in submersible warfare as a Q-ship. She will prove faster than the Guichen at lower power. Based in the Mediterranean, after operating with the 2nd squadron in the Channel, she participated in the hunt for the German raider Möwe. Later she acted as a troops carrier. She did not, however, fooled UC38, that torpedoed her on December 14, 1917, off Corfu. Slowly sinking, this allowed almost all her crew to evacuate, together with troops, in total 1,162 men, without any human losses.

Technical specifications
Displacement: 7900t. 8200 t. FL
Dimensions: 135 x 17 x 7.4 m
Propulsion: 3 shafts, 2 VTE steam engines, 14 Normand boilers, 23,000 hp, 24 knots.
Armor: Turrets 120 mm, decks 20-25 mm
Crew: 604
Armament: 2 x 162, 6 x 140, 10 x 47, 5 x 37 mm.

D’Estrées class (1899)

Author’s rendition of the D’Estrées in 1914.

The D’Estrées in 1914 was the sole protected cruiser of the class bearing her name, but also comprising her sister-ship Infernet (1899). The latter was removed from the lists in 1910. These ships were designed for colonial service in the far East (Indochina). D’Estrées was one of the last French protected cruisers in 1899. Small, medium-range, lightly armored ships with an internal turtleback armored deck. Infernet was badly damaged and removed from service in 1910. D’Estrées sailed for the mediterrannean, and operated until 1915, then the Red Sea until 1918. After a short overhaul, she went back to the Far East until her final withdrawal in 1922.

Technical specifications
Displacement: 2428t PC
Dimensions 95 x 12 x 5.4m
Propulsion: 2 turbines, 8 Normand boilers, 8500 hp. 20.5 knots.
Armour: Armoured deck 43 mm, bridge, shields and casemates
Crew: 235
Armament: 2 x 140, 4 x 100, 8 x 47, 2 x 12.7 mm HMGs.

French Armoured Cruisers

Dupuy de Lôme (1890)

Brassey’s basic blueprint in 1902

This cruiser was marked as a landmark in naval design, and considered by some authors to be the world’s first armoured cruiser. She was however intended to attack enemy merchant ships and destroy any cruiser opposition. However her development was plagued by boilers and machinery problem. She was eventually commissioned in May 1895. Her career was spent without notable incident, mainly in the Mediterranean.

The French armoured cruiser should have been sold in Peru in 1912, but the sale failed and she was re-acquired by the French Navy, after her 1910 decommission. Until 1914 she has been left almost without maintenance, and after some overhaul she was used as a port guardian, carrying out patrols. With new machinery installed in 1905 she had three funnels and her military masts has been replaced by lighter masts. A controversial photo shows what’s looks like a camouflage in 1916, but it’s likely to be the shadow of overhanging boats. She was eventually resold to the Belgians in 1920 and was used as a freighter under the name of… Peruvian after a radical new overhaul.

Postcard of the ship – Bougault coll.

Technical specifications
Displacement: 6680t. FL
Dimensions: 111 x 15.70 x 7.5 m
Propulsion: 2 shafts VTE, 20 Normand boilers, 16,000 hp. and 20 knots
Armor: from 102 to 130 mm
Crew: 520
Armament: 2 x 193, 6 x 162, 4 x 65, 8 x 47, 8 x 37 mm, 2 x 457 mm TTs.

Amiral Charner class (1892)

Author’s rendition of the Admiral Charner in WW1

The previous cruiser was considered a prototype for this class. It consisted of four ships originally: Admiral Charner, Bruix, Chanzy, and Latouche-Tréville, launched in 1892-94 and commissioned in 1894-96. Admiral Charner’s keel was laid down in 1889 at Rochefort. These four modest cruisers had an excellent, almost complete, thick protection at many key points. They traded this however for speed, not being able to reach their designed 19 knots mark.

Despite careful maintenance, their machinery was worn out in 1914 and top speed was usually 15-16 knots. Thick military masts were fitted as designed, but they were replaced to improve their stability by light masts. Light armament, which comprised six 1-pdr (37 mm) and four 2 pdr (47 mm) was deleted ast this occasion. Chanzy was wrecked on May 30, 1907 off China. The other three were active during the Great War, Admiral Charner was torpedoed by U21, sinking in 4 minutes on February 8, 1916 in the Mediterranean. The other two were disarmed in 1920 and 1926.

Technical specifications
Displacement: 4681 tonnes, 4737 tonnes Fully loaded
Dimensions: 106 x 13.97 x 6 m
Propulsion: 2 shafts 2 VTE, 16 Belleville boilers, 8000 hp., 19 knots.
Armour: 92 mm belt, 110 mm turrets
Crew: 393
Armament: 2 x 193, 6 x 140, 4 x 65 mm, 4 x 457 mm TTs sub.

Armoured cruiser Pothuau (1895)

Cruiser Pothuau (Author’s illustration)

The Pothuau was a single cruiser, relatively small and sometimes classed as a protected cruiser as her belt protection was thin. She had inded a complete belt from 4 feets 11 inches belowe the waterline up to 8 feets 2 in above it, and inside was a curved armor deck with 3.3 in thick slopes, 1.7 in horizontal surface, and thin splinter deck over the machinery. The 193 mm guns were placed in single turrets fore and aft, and the ten 140 mm guns were in casemated barbette alongside the hull with recesses for forward and rear firing, plus two in side sponsons in the center. Three funnels, two light masts wide apart, a plough bow and tumblehome made this single ship a typical French cruiser of the time, which participated actively in WW1 and was discarded in 1929.

Technical specifications
Displacement: 5,374 tonnes, 6,200 tonnes Fully loaded
Dimensions: 110 x 15.30 x 6.5 m
Propulsion: 2 shafts VTE, 18 Belleville boilers, 10,000 hp., 19 knots.
Armour: 58 mm belt, Deck 83 mm, turrets 180 mm, CT 230 mm.
Crew: 459
Armament: 2 x 193, 10 x 140, 10 x 47 mm, 8 x 37 mm, 4 x 457 mm TTs aw.

Armoured cruiser Jeanne d’Arc (1899)

“La Jeanne” in 1900 as built and in Grey livery in wartime.

First large French armoured cruiser, she was also the first training ship to bear this famous name. During the Great War, she was used in a round with the Jauréguiberry, participating in the capture of Ruad island in 1915, and sailed to the Mediterranean to cover the Gallipoli landings. She escorted convoys between France and the USA in 1917-18. In 1919 she returned to her role as a training ship, until 1928 when she was replaced by a new ship of the same name. Photo

Jeanne d’Arc, engraving by Louis Poyet.

Technical specifications
Displacement: 11 100t. FL
Dimensions: 145.4 x 19.4 x 8.10 m
Propulsion: 2 shafts VTE 36 DuTemple boilers 33,000 hp. 21.8 knots.
Armour: 180 to 45 mm
Crew: 651
Armament: 2 x 193, 14 x 140, 16 x 47, 6 x 37 mm, 2 x 457 mm TTs.

Gueydon class cruisers (1900)

Author’s illustration of the Gueydon, in wartime livery

The Gueydon class included the Gueydon, Dupetit-Thouars and Montcalm, started in 1898-99 and completed in 1902-05. They were smaller than Joan of Arc, equipped with more modern weaponry, and faster. They served as a model for all French cruisers-cruisers to come. Their career during the Great War and after was quite rich: The Gueydon was employed on escort missions in the Atlantic, but was also part of the Indochina squadron, and sent to the Arctic and Baltic to support the whites in 1919 -1920. In 1923 he was rebuilt, then served in France before being assigned to school in 1928, first of the gunners and then cadets.

Montcalm, from an unknown magazine, 1902 (cc)

In 1935 he was disarmed, anchored in Lorient and used as a barracks. In 1942 the Germans demolished it. Montcalm joined the Australian squadron in 1914 and participated in the capture of Samoa and other German possessions from the Pacific. After a long overhaul in 1916, he was sent the 4th squadron of Eastern Indian cruisers then escorted convoys in the Atlantic.

It was erased from the lists in 1933 and used as floating pontoon in Brest under the name of Trémintin. The Germans had it demolished in 1943. Dupetit-Thouars did all its service in the Channel and in the Atlantic. He was torpedoed on August 7, 1918 off Brest, returning from the escort of 28 American freighters from New York. The American destroyers saved practically all his crew.

Brassey’s diagram of the Gueydon

Technical specifications
Displacement: 10,200 t. FL
Dimensions: 139.8 x 20.2 x 7.7 m
Propulsion: 3 shafts, 2 VTE engines, 28 Niclausse boilers, 21,800 hp. 21.5 knots.
Armor: Belt 152, turrets 172, blockhouse 81, turrets 100 mm-
Crew: 615
Armament: 2 x 193, 8 x 162, 6 x 100, 18 x 47 mm and 2 x 457mm TT sub.

Dupleix class armoured cruisers (1900)

Author’s illustration of the Dupleix

The Dupleix class also included the Desaix and Kléber. They were started in 1897-98 and completed in 1903-04, 5-6 years of construction. As a result, their design was already obsolete at the time of the Russo-Japanese War. Although well protected, these cruisers were poorly armed and were a step back from Gueydon, including speed.

-Desaix patrolled the Channel before being posted in defense of the Suez Canal with Montcalm. She was partially disarmed in 1917 and joined the cruiser Glory in the Far East, remaining there until 1922.

-Dupleix was present in Indochina since 1910 and participated in the Von Spee squadron’s hunt in 1914, capturing German vessels. She returned to the eastern Mediterranean, shelling Bodrum. She was then posted to the North African squadron until 1927.

-Kleber served in the Channel and on the Atlantic with the Joan of Arc in 1914. He was then sent to cover the Gallipoli landing, where she was seriously affected. Her commander beached her to avoid sinking. She was refloated, towed and repaired in Toulon. She carried out shelling missions in the Aegean Sea and then returned in drydock following a collision with an English steamer. She was detached to Dakar in 1916 after a short overhaul in Bordeaux. Back to Brest in 1917, she hit a mine laid by UC61 on June 27, 1917 and sank slowly with 18 crewmen, the rest survived.

Kléber in the U.S. before the First World War. Library of Congress (cc)

Technical specifications
Displacement: 5595t. FL
Dimensions: 137 x 15 x 6.30 m
Propulsion: 3 shafts VTE, 24 boilers Du Temple 17,400 hp, 22.9 knots.
Armour: 45 mm
Crew: 463
Armament: 8 x 162, 10 x 47 and 6 x 37mm, 2 x 457 mm TTs sub.

Gloire class armoured cruisers (1900)

Armoured cruiser Gloire – Author’s illustration

These five ships derived from Gueydon which they took again many characteristics. They were five in number, started in 1899-1900, launched between 1900 and 1902 and completed in 1903-04. The class included Glory, Conde, Admiral Aube, Marseillaise and Sully. Their armament remained unchanged from the Gueydon, but in a different way, they were noticeably larger, but their speed remained almost unchanged. They walked mainly with coal, but had a reserve of 80 tons of fuel oil.

Outside the Sully, which struck a reef in Indochina on September 30, 1905, and sank body and property, the three others served in the Atlantic and Admiral Aube in the Mediterranean. They escorted the convoys without making losses despite their poor underwater protection, like the other French cruisers. Glory suffered a collision with a US liner and made a stopover in New York for repairs in 1918.

The Condé was disarmed in 1933 only and served as a barracks-ship until 1940. It was used as a storage ship for U- Booted by the Germans in Lorient, then served as a target for planes until 1945 before being demolished. The Marseillaise became a training ship for gunners in 1925 and was demolished in 1929.

French cruiser Gloire steaming up, The University of Washington Libraries (cc)

The cruiser Gloire, Brassey’s diagram 1912

Technical specifications
Displacement: 10 200 t. FL
Dimensions: 139.8 x 20.2 x 7.7 m
Propulsion: 3 shafts, 2 VTE, 28 Niclausse boilers, 21,800 hp. 21.5 knots max.
Armor: belt 152, turrets 172, CT 81, turrets 100 mm
Crew: 615
Armament: 2 x 193, 8 x 162, 6 x 100, 18 x 47 mm, 2 x 457mm sub TTs.

Léon Gambetta class armoured cruisers (1902)

Author’s illustration of the Gambetta class

This class included Léon Gambetta (1901), Jules Ferry (1903), and Victor Hugo (1904). They were started in 1901-03 and completed in 1905-07. More so than the Glories, they were more powerfully armed. Their 47 mm high-speed parts were a newer, more efficient model, but they were freed from a number of superfluous carriages during the war, four being mounted on AA carriages.

Gambetta struck a reef during its tests and was put into service. His protection under the waterline was also mediocre, as evidenced by its tragic end. During the Great War, the three buildings were in the western Mediterranean and also served in the Adriatic. On April 27, 1915 the Austrian U5 sent two torpedoes in the flank of the Gambetta which capsized and sank in 10 minutes, taking with him almost all his crew. The officers accompanied in death Rear-Admiral Senes.

Victor Hugo accompanied the Jean Bart to Malta, after the latter concealed a torpedo, and evacuated with Michelet the Serbian troops from Corfu to Bizerte. They were put in reserve in 1923 and sent to the Far East in 1928, before being definitively erased from lists in 1930. The Ferry had a career without notable incidents and was retired in 1927.

Brassey’s diagram of the Gambetta

Léon Gambetta, from War of the Nations, New York Times Co., New York, 1919.

Technical specifications
Displacement: 13,847 t. FL
Dimensions: 159 x 21.5 x 8.4 m
Propulsion: 3 shafts VTE, 40 Belleville boilers, 36,000 hp. 23 knots
Armour: 203 mm, 152 mm
Crew: 892
Armament: 14 x 193mm, 20 x 65, 2 x 457 mm TT sub.

Armoured cruiser Jules Michelet (1905)

Author’s Illustration of the Michelet

This ship was practically an improved copy of the Gambetta she was following. She differed only in details, including her artillery arrangement. She kept the same speed despite greater power, and this due to a slightly higher displacement. She served in the Mediterranean during the war and was used as a target ship until 1937.

Jules Michelet as seen by the Dutch Gouverneur-General at Tadjong Priok (cc)

Technical specifications
Displacement: 13 105t. FL
Dimensions: 146.5 x 21.41 x 8.41 m
Propulsion: 2 shafts VTE, 28 boilers Du temple, 30,000 hp. 22.5 knots.
Armour: from 203 to 45 mm; Crew 770
Armament: 4 x 193, 12 x 162, 24 x 47, 2 x 457 mm TT sub.

Armoured cruiser Ernest Renan (1906)

Author’s illustration of Ernest Renan

One of the last French cruiser-cruisers, the Renan, designed by Emile Bertin, came directly from Gambetta-class ships, such as the Michelet (1905). But it differed in the arrangement of boilers, giving it its elongated silhouette and six very characteristic chimneys, for a higher displacement. It was also significantly faster, able even according to its designer to spin 25 knots with the boilers originally planned giving it 42,000 hp.

She had a secondary armament against torpedo boats , 16 guns moref 65 mm guns, receiving during the war several AA guns. She served until 1918 in the Mediterranean, then as a training ship, even receiving a floatplane in 1927, and losing his mast before. It was removed from the lists only in 1931.

Renan at ful speed – Journal of the American Society of Naval Engineers. Washington, DC: R. Beresford.

Technical specifications
Displacement: 13 500t. FL
Dimensions: 149 x 21.34 x 8.36 m
Propulsion: 2 shafts VTE, 42 Niclausse boilers, 36,000 hp. 23 knots.
Armour: from 203 to 55 mm
Crew: 824
Armament: 4 x 193, 12 x 162, 16 x 65, 8 x 47, 2 x 37 mm, 2 x 457 mm TTs sub.

Edgar Quinet class Armoured cruisers (1906)

Author’s illustration of Quinet

The last French armoured cruisers, and by far the most imposing, the two Quinet (the second being the Waldeck-Rousseau) were both a synthesis of the experience gained and an additional milestone in the genre.

Laid down in 1905 and 1906 they were launched in 1907-08 they were completed in 1911. They displaced 14,000 tons and were 160 meters long, and were part of the largest French warships in 1914. They were inspired by the Ernest Renan (1906), but larger and better armed, including a uniform artillery distribution, of a “monocaliber” type, with the removal of the 162 mm intermediary turrets for a complete battery of fourteen 193 mm guns completed by light QF 65 mm guns. This made these ships the first “monocaliber” in service with France, although their caliber cannot compete with true dreadnoughts.

The heavy guns were splitted into two twin turrets, six single turrets, and four in barbettes. The 65 mm guns were placed in eight barbettes and the remainder were located on the battery bridge. These cruisers reached 23 knots, but they ultimately ate a budget that could have been affected on the first French battle cruisers (never started).

Their career was very active though. With Renan and Michelet, they formed the 1st “light” division of the Mediterranean. They participated in August 1914 in the pursuit of the German squadron (admiral Souchon), and patrolled in the Strait of Otranto.

After the war, Quinet carried out a rescue mission for the population of Smyrna, ecavuating 1200 civilians in 1922. In 1925-27, she underwent a complete overhaul, and became a training ship with a new armament, new appearance, and seaplanes under hangar. She struck a reef at Cape Blanc off Algeria and sank in 1930. Waldeck Rousseau served in the Adriatic and survived two torpedos from an Austrian U-Boote. She also served in the Ionian and Aegean seas and later the Black Sea, in support General Wrangel’s “White Russians”. She was left unmodified, placed in reserve, disarmed in 1932 and scrapped afterwards.

The Edgar Quinet in December 1928, in San Diego, Cal. See also: http://www.archeosousmarine.net/quinet.php

Another photo, forward view, showing the modified bridge (http://ecole.nav.traditions.free.fr/jeannedarc.htm).

Technical specifications
Displacement: 13,847 t. FL
Dimensions: 159 x 21.5 x 8.4 m
Propulsion: 3 shafts VTE, 40 Belleville boilers, 36,000 hp. 23 knots
Armour: 203 down to 152 mm
Crew: 892
Armament: 14 x 193 mm, 20 x 65, 2 x 457 mm TT sub.

Read More/Src

Roger Chesneau, Eugène M. Koleśnik, Conway’s All the World’s Fighting Ships (1860-1905)
Robert Gardiner et Randal Gray, Conway’s All the World’s Fighting Ships (1906-1921)
Eric Gille, Cent ans de cuirassés français, Nantes, Marines édition
Dictionnaire des bâtiments de la flotte de guerre française de Colbert à nos jours, Tome II, 1870–2006