French Navy 1860

French Navy 1850-60

Marine Francaise

The Marine Impériale before the Crimean War

The French Navy under Emperor Napoleon III had the rank of the world’s second largest, as France was a long standing rival to Britain, but now with appeased relations, was in full colonial expansion wth the goal to create the second largest Empire. There was no question of surpassing the British Royal Navy, not only because of industrial capabilities, as France lagged behind, but also because of the necessity to maintain a large -and-costly- land army. Its now well-established foes on the continent being Austria and Prussia.

Steamship of the line Austerlitz (engraving by Lebreton).

The French Navy neverthess had a brillant university network and was well able to excel in science and technology to compensate for its numerical inferiority to Britain by innovation and quality. Napoleon III arrive din power in 1852, elected and replacing the contested Louis-Philippe I, on a social background. The Emperor knew that a strong navy was the only way to built to repair france’s prestige internationally and be the instrument form building and maintaining a global colonial empire. A powerful Navy was also necessary to counted British traditional blockade and trade war. France’s industrial might was largely due to the effort of a new bourgeoisie encourage by King Louis-Philippe, and despite social reforms, the effort was maintained.

Military research during Napoleon III ws relaunched, both in the army and navy and there were largely enough talented engineers from the elite technical schools founded by Napoleon Bonaparte fifty years before. France was ready to launch a serie of breakthrough, notably in naval warfare.

Dupuy de Lôme and Paixhans for example were both engineers and techy officers, giving France respectively the first steamship of the line (Napoleon) and a high explosive shell, called the “Paixhans bomb”, devastated for wooden ships. In 1840 still, dispatch vessels and gunboats were the only ones propelled by steam power. Larger naval assets, ships-of the line, were sail-only. Many in the admiralties believed it was impossible to marry a steam engine with a large military vessel. The sidewheel system was the only way to propel a ship and was way too vulnerable to enemy fire. Therefore the adoption of the screw propeller, already desmonstrated in Britain with the dispatch vessels HMS Archimedes in 1837, started to show a way forward. Even before, all-metal screw-propelled steamships (like Brunel’s SS Great Britain) showed a way to be more innovative with steal and metal in 1843. But the Royal Navy did not followed. This was not lost on the other side of the channel however.

The French Navy goes full steam

The Napoleon was the first steam two-decker (plus one incomplete) ever to use steam propulsion and a lifting screw, as well as beeing fully rigged. It was based on the usual first class warship of the time, the 90-guns.
The SS Great Britain in fact impressed Dupuy de Lôme so much, he decided in 1845 to present King Louis Philippe a new major warship with a screw, called by then the “Prince de Joinville”. It was ordered in 1847 and started in Toulon, and then was renamed “24 Février” during the French Second Republic and the King’s abdication, and then “Napoléon” in May 1850, a few days before launch. She was eventually commissioned in May 1852, and a few months later (In december) Louis Napoléon was elected.

Despite some strong septicism from the admiralty, the enthusiastic future Napoleon III visited the yard and the ship later during her sea trials. It impressed all present so much that it became obvious this was a way forward. Plans to convert more ships commenced, but the war in Crimea started in between.

The French Navy in Crimea (1853-56)

French naval forces, order of battle.
– Screw three deckers : Montebello (114 guns, converted in 1852) in service as 1854.
– Screw two deckers : Napoleon (1850), Charlemagne (1851), Jean Bart (1852), Austerlitz (1852), two Fleurus class (1853), two Duquesne class (1853), three Navarin class (1854).
– Screw frigates : Isly (1849, 2690 guns, 40 guns), Bellone (1853, 2350 tons, 36 guns) and Pomone (1845, 1900 tons, 36 guns).
– Screw Corvettes : The two D’Assas class (1854, 2100 tons, 16 guns), the three Primauguet class (1852, 1900 tons, 10 guns), Roland (1850, 1970 tons, 8 guns), and three iron hull ships : Reine Hortense (1846), Caton (1847), and Chaptal (1845).
– Screw Devastation class armoured floating batteries : Five purpose-built ships launched in 1855 and ready in time for the end of the war.
– Paddle frigates : 19 ships, all from 1841 to 1848. Ranging from 20 to 8 guns, and 2460 to 2820 tons.
– Paddle corvettes : 14 ships, from 1838 to 1851, ranging from 900 to 1600 tons, and from 4 to 10 guns, two were Iron hulled.
– Screw sloops : 5 ships : Biche, Corse, Lucifer, Marceau class, and Sentinelle. From 400 to 900 tons, 120-150 nhp, 2-6 guns. 13 other built after the war.
– Paddle sloops : 37 ships from 1830 to 1855, 400 to 900 tons, and 2-6 guns.
– Screw gunboats : 26 mixed sail-steam 2 to 4 guns ships, and 31 iron hulled one-gun, steam only batteries.
– Sailing ships of the Line : Valmy (114 guns), Hercules and Jemmapes (90 guns), Iéna, Inflexible and Sufren (82 guns), Jupiter (80) and Duperré (70).
– Sailing Frigates : 27 ships ranging from 38 to 56 guns.
– Sailing corvettes : 11 ships of 22 guns and one of 38 guns.
– Brigs : 21 ships equipped with 8 to 14 carronades and one with two heavy paixhans Mortars.

Steamships conversions

Algésiras, Arcole, Imperial and Redoutable launched in 1855-56, all beeing 5040 tons in displacement. In 1853, two 80-guns of 4330 tons were launched (Duquesne and Tourville), and the three Wagram class in 1854 (4560 tons), 90 guns. The Charlemagne (80 guns, 4060 tons) was launched in 1851, Jean Bart (76 guns, 4010 tons) and Austerlitz (86 guns, 4430 tons) in 1852. Many other steam ships-of-the-line were built during the crimean war (see 1870 records), as well as nine other sailing two-deckers of 90-guns converted as steamships from 1857 to 1860.

Some three-deckers were also converted, in fact, all four of the Friedland class (5170 tons, 114 guns) in 1854-58, and the Montebello (4920 tons, 114 guns), converted in 1852 was the only one which served during the Crimean war. The very first purpose-built steam three-deckers was the impressive Bretagne, a 6770 tons, 130 guns.

Unfortunately she was launched only in 1855 and therefore was not in service before the war ended. Depite of this, she demonstrated that even such gigantic ships could be propelled by steam power. Of course, cumbersome boilers and an enormous amount of coal in such ships led to gave them a deeper hull below waterline, thus reducing their habilities to be anchored in many shallow water ports.

The Crimean war allowed this new breed of warship to be put on the test. The Napoleon, as well as its sister-ships performed well against the Russian forts. In fact, one episode was so famous that it changed completely the way the British admiralty seen these French experiments…

Heavily pounded and its rudder disabled, one of the french sailing three deckers was pushed by the current near the forts and the reefs, when she was took in charge and towed by Napoleon out of any danger(the weather was sunny and very calm, perfect for gunnery practice, but all windless sailing ships were unable to evolve). This episode proved that the steam power, not only still allowed the ship to bombard succesfully the forts, but also to save an almost doomed traditional three-deckers.

The Paixhans guns were also put to the test. During the Sinope naval engagement, the Russian fleet famously burned most of the Ottoman fleet, which was almost unable to respond. Later in Crimea, some relatively light, french floating batteries were able to bombard the forts, blewing up their magasines and burning the unprotected crews from above (they fired on parabolic angles). The batteries, of the Devastation class, were specially built for this task, and were also heavily protected, in fact, they were armoured floating batteries, and remained all safe from the Russian replies.

The French Navy after Crimea

The Bretagne, 130-guns three-decker steamship of the line (1855), showcased in the 1859 naval review, since 1866 a training ship. Painting by Jules Achille Noël (London).

French Innovation

Napoleon in Toulon 1852, painted by Lauvergne

The steamship Napoléon showed its usefulness during the Crimean War, and pushed the Royal Navy to revise its position towards this new type. Quickly, even during the war, bith navies launched a wave of steam conversions of their fleet, which was in full swing when the war ended in March 1856, with new constructions as well;
In 1859, De Lôme unveiled yet anoher grounbreaking ship, the ironclad frigate Gloire. Rather small and wooden-hulled, this was no an impressive warship compared to traditional 3-deckers, that could obliterate her by firepower alone – but with the difference they could not, as she was entirely cladded in iron plates. The concept of the “ironclad” (in French “cuirassé”) was born. This new ace in Napelon’s III fleet game cards was to render obsolete overnight all wooden ships-of-the-line.

Great Britain was already informed of the construction in Toulon by 1858, and started conversions plans of its own, but with even more innovations to boot: The Warrior class indeed was the first all-steel propeller-driven ironclad class, with a tonnage twice as heavier as Gloire. Immediately previous stemahips of the line in conversion were then reconsidered for conversion as Ironclads. All this happened in the span of five years and admiralty had a hard time following the technological ballet. Westminster also made it was clear the Royal Navy needed twice as many Ironclads as France, but still on budget. This led to a mishmash of carefully built, all-iron vessels, but a flurry of slower wooden ships conversions, like HMS Achilles and Minotaur.

If this was not enough, Captain Siméon Bourgeois, associated with builder Charles Brun in 1863 made the first submarine in the world to be propelled by mechanical power. This made France a leader in submarine development overnight. French naval construction started to replocated the Gloire model, and following sister-ships, the Provence class in 1861, Couronne (1861) and Magenta (1861), the latter being the first two gun decks ironclads, but still, wooden-hulled. During these ten years of naval arms race, UK was watchful to maintain its superiority both in technology and numbers.
In 1870, the French were building the Océan class ironclads. Still wooden-hulled, there were the first however with a central battery, four main guns and iron watertight bulkheads. However in August the war was lost an Napoleon III, ahtough hostilities would only end in May 1871, after the fierce repession of the Commune of Paris by the new convervative, bourgeois Government of Adolphe Thiers. This same year saw the launch of the Bélier, followed in 1871 by the Tigre and 1872 by the Bouledogue, all three all-iron coastal defense torpedo rams. The same year also, the French were building at Brest, Rochefort and Toulon the La Galissonière class, small central battery ironclads, laid down in 1868-69. These 4500-4600 tonnes vessels were less armoured and well armed than regular ironclads and has been assimilated by many authors, like the Alma that preceded them, as armoured “cruisers” though the term was not used then.”

La Galissonière class

Also in 1870 were in construction a serie of 19 composite frigates, all laid down in 1866-69. These were the four Infernet class, the three Sané class, the ten Bourayne class, and Hirondelle. Ranging from 1,100 to 2,000 tonnes, they came from three Atlantic coast yards, Brest, Cherbourg, and Nantes. The Infernet were the last with a clipper bow, the following being fitted with rams. Not armoured, they counted on some large artillery pieces to take their opponents down, and speed. The Bourayne for example had a single 6.4 in BL guns, completed by 5.5 in and small 1-pdr revolver guns. Also, the French were building sloops (others would describe them as gunboats) for their colonial ports, notably the Boursaint, a modified version of the preceding Bruix (launched 1867).

The first broadside ironclad: Gloire, 1859

They were also studying replacement for their older gunboats with the future Crocodile class, laid down after the war – The first was launched in 1873. These eight ships were better armed and had a longer range and speed. In 1875, the torpedo would enter French vocabulary and Claparède Yard would create a prototype, called “number one” in 1876. A new era started as these fast and cheap vessels were much simpler than submarines. Indeed, since the plongeur, there was no new prototype before 1888 and the all-electric Gymnôte by engineer Gustave Zédé, a quarter of a century after.

The 110-guns Hoche (ex-Prince Jérôme), steamship of the line.

The French Navy 1856-1870

Read More:
R. Gardiner Conway’s all the world’s fighting ships 1860-1905
Roche, Jean-Michel (2005). Dictionnaire des bâtiments de la flotte de guerre française de Colbert à nos jours 1 1671–1870
Nomenclature des Navires Français de 1614 a 1661; Nomenclature des Vaisseaux du Roi-Soleil de 1661-1715, 1715-1774, 1774-1792, 1792-1799, 1799-1815 and 1814-1848. Alain Demerliac, Editions Omega
The Sun King’s Vessels (2015) Jean-Claude Lemineur. Editions ANCRE.
Winfield, Rif and Roberts, Stephen (2017) French Warships in the Age of Sail 1626–1786. Seaforth Publishing.
Winfield, Rif and Roberts, Stephen (2015) French Warships in the Age of Sail 1786–1861. Seaforth Publishing.
A History of the French Navy, from its beginnings to the present day (1973) E. H. Jenkins
50-gun ship, Rif Winfield (Chatham Publishing, 1997).

90 guns on
Ships Plans
google book Appendice_au_Catechisme_du_Marin_et_du…

The French fleet in 1860:

Bretagne (1855)

New flagship of the French Navy and world’s largest warship. She was launched in February 1855 and thus Completed two years after her British homologue HMS Duke of Wellington, Bretagne was commissioned too late to take part in the Crimean War, over after the fall of Kinburn in October 1855.
Specs: 5,289/6,875 tonnes FL, diimensions 81 x 18.08 x 8.56 m (266 x 59.3 x 28.1 ft). She had Indret steam engine, 8 boilers, 4,800 shp on a single shaft, 12.6 knots.
Capacity 1,800 passengers and crew 1,170 men 130 guns (detailed to come in a dedicated article)

Gloire (1859)

The first of three ships, Invincible and Normandie being laid down in May and September 1858 but launched later in April 1861 and March 1860 respectively at Toulon and Cherbourg. So we will focus here on the Gloire. Also in 1859 were started the Courronne, and the Magenta class. More were to come in 1861.

Napoléon class screw 2-deckers (1850)

Author’s illustration
The Napoleon was a ship of the line of the French Navy built from 1848. Equipped with 90 guns, it was the first warship in the world to have propeller propulsion1. Steam became the primary element of propulsion while the sails would become a simple auxiliary that could be reduced and used only in favorable winds to help the machine. Launched in 1850 at the arsenal of Toulon, she was the first of a class of nine warships designed by Henri Dupuy de Lôme. She was discarded in November 1873 after an artillery modernization.

Charlemagne (1851)

The Charlemagne was a 66-gun Second Empire Navy ship of the line. It is a sailing vessel transformed into a steamship by the addition of a steam engine driving a propeller. In November 1852, he was sent by Napoleon III to Constantinople, in violation of the London Convention, to force the Sultan to grant Catholics the keys to the Basilica of the Nativity. He took part in the Crimean War.
Armament: 80 guns, displacement: Dimensions: Similar to Napoléon.

Austerlitz (1852)

Laid down as Ajax, she was renamed Austerlitz on 28 November 1839, still on keel.
In 1850, her rigging was changed for that of a 90-gun, and a steam engine was installed.
On 19 September 1854, she ran aground in the Ledsund, in Åland, Grand Duchy of Finland. She was refloated after throwing sixteen of her cannon overboard. She took part in operations in the Black Sea in 1854. On 16 April 1855, Austerlitz ran aground at South Foreland, Kent, United Kingdom in foggy weather. She was refloated the next day.
From 1871, she was used as a prison hulk of prisoners of the Paris Commune. Between 1874 and 1894, she was used as a school ship. She was eventually broken up in 1895.
Specs: 4500 tonnes, dimensions 70.62 x 16.80 x 7.67 m (231.7 x 55.1 x 25.2 ft). Steam engine 500 shp= 10.2 knots. Crew 883, Armament 100 guns

Jean bart (1852)

The Jean Bart was a 90-gun Suffren class ship of the line of the French Navy which also took part in the Siege of Sevastopol (1854–1855) and Battle of Kinburn (1855) as a sailing ship, laid down on 26 January 1849 in lorient and Launched on 14 September 1852. In 1856, Jean Bart was fitted with a steam engine. From 1864, she was used as a training ship, renamed “Donawerth” in September 1868, and scrapped, renamed again “Cyclope” in 1886.
Specs: Displacement: 4,070 tonnes – Dimensions: 60.50 x 16.28 x 7.40 m (198.5 x 53.4 x 24.3 ft). Protected by 6.97 cm of timber. Sail 3114 m², Crew 810-846 men. Armament initially until 1839: 30 × 30-pdr (lower deck), 32 × 30-pdr middle deck, 24 × 30-pdr carronades, 4 × 18-pdr upper deck. After 26-32-24* pdr from lower to upper decks + 4x 18 pdr lower. *carronades

Hercule class screw 2-deckers (1853)

A serie of 13 ships (2 cancelled) on identical plans. The first built in Toulon.
4,440 tonnes, Dimensions 62.50 x 16.20 x 8.23 m (205 x 53 ft 2 in x 27 ft), 3,150 m2 (33,900 sq ft), crew 955 men
Armament: 100 guns: 32*/30**/30*** 30-pdrs, lower/middle/upper: *long *short *carronades and 4 long 18-pdr upper deck

Hercule (1836), Jemmapes (1840), Tage.
Henri IV (Cherbourg) launched 1848, took part in the Bombardment of Odessa (1854), lost, storm at Eupatoria 14.11.1854.
Austerlitz, Fleurus, Annibal (Prince Jérôme), Duguay Trouin, Turenne, Ulm (Lys 1830) from Rochefort, present at the Bombardment of Kinburn (1855)
Wagram (Bucentaure 1839) built Lorient 1833-1840? present at the Bombardment of Kinburn.
Navarin, Eylau.
As for Fleurus, Built in Toulon, laid down on April 1825, launched 2 December 1853 and commissioned in 1855. From January 1855 she started her engine trials and soon proceeded to the Black Sea and started action in Crimean War, by 1862, she became a troopship and took part in French intervention in Mexico. She ended as a hulk in Saigon as the headquarters to the French naval division of Indochina.

Tourville class screw 2-deckers (1853)

The Tourville class was built like the razeed Océan-class three-deckers. They had a reduction of armament (80 guns) but better stability but poor manoeuvrability. Two ships, Tourville and Duquesne. Tourville was launched 31 October 1853 at Brest and Duquesne launched 2 December 1853 at Brest. She took part in the Baltic Crimean War theater, shelling Sweaborg on 10 August 1855. She took part in the French Intervention in Mexico as troop ship, was in reserve by 1864. Hulked in Cherbourg, 1871 a prison for Paris Commune survivors. Stricken, renamed Nestor BU 1878.
Duquesne also took part in the Baltic front in the Crimean War with Tourville, and in Mexico as a troop ship. She was a barracks hulk until 1887.
Specs: 4,400 tonnes, dimensions 61.40 x 16.69 x 7.23 m (201.4 x 54.8 x 23.7 ft), Steam engine 650 HP. 90 Guns, three decks, 30 pdr long, short and carronades.

Algésiras sub-class (Napoléon) (1855)

In construction, but completion during of after the war:
Algésiras 90 (launched 4 October 1855 at Toulon) – Transport 1869
Arcole 90 (launched 20 March 1855 at Cherbourg) – Stricken 1870
Redoutable 90 (launched 25 October 1855 at Rochefort) – Stricken 1869
Impérial 90 (launched 15 September 1856 at Brest) – Hulked 1869
Intrépide 90 (launched 17 September 1864 at Rochefort) – Stricken 1889
Also: Ville de Nantes sub-class:
-Ville de Nantes 90 (launched 7 August 1858 at Cherbourg) – Stricken 1872
-Ville de Bordeaux 90 (launched 21 May 1860 at Lorient) – Stricken 1879
-Ville de Lyon 90 (launched 26 February 1861 at Brest) – Stricken 1883

Souverain class screw 3-deckers (1854)

Bretagne, screw 3-decker (1855)

(To come)

Eylau class screw 2-deckers (1856)

(To come)

Ville de Nantes class screw 2-deckers (1858)

(To come)

Duguay-Trouin class screw 2-deckers (1858)

(To come)

Fontenoy (1858)

(To come)

St Louis (1858)

(To come)

Bayard (1860)

(To come)

Pomone (1845)

Isly (1849)

Renommée (1857*)

Clorinde (1857*)

Astrée (1859)

Bellone class Frigates (1853)

Impératrice Eugénie class Frigates (1856)

(screw Corvettes/sloops, batteries, paddle frigates/corvettes to follow soon)