Seaplane Carrier La Foudre (1895)
France (1895) - Torpedo mothership/Seaplane carrier
First life: As a torpedo boat mothership
The Foudre in still well remembered from, studied, and related upon as an interesting experiment and pioneering ship at the fall of the XIXth century. The Foudre "Lightning" was originally a pure product of the Jeune Ecole
("Young School"). It was a singular ship, however not unique as the Royal Navy developed the HMS Vulcan at the same time, defined as a torpedo boat carrier. The Foudre was started at Chantiers de la Gironde (near Bordeaux, Aquitaine), launched in 1895 and completed in 1897.
La Foudre as a torpedo boat carrier
This concept dated from the beginning of the application of torpedo boats, as it was answered the problem of limited range for these small ships. Therefore, just like modern aircraft carrier, the striking power of these TBs was extended thanks to the use of a cruiser that can be part of a fleet organically and provide a "torpedo cover". However after being built and tried, a problem appeared soon with the seaworthiness of these very small, 18 meters TBs, too light and cramped to be effective.
Indeed, in order to fit a squadron of eight TBs on board the cruiser (four front, four rear) with rolling cranes, cross hoists to lift and put these at sea, compromises were taken. I addition to their poor seaworthiness which imposed ideal meteorologic conditions for their operation, thy only embarked two torpedo tubes rather that 4-5 on regular TBs. The British on their part arrived at the same conclusion with the Vulcan and also dropped the idea.
La Foudre tending a 18 m torpedo boat
Second life: As an seaplane carrier
The concept was abandoned in the late 1890s, so the Lightning was taken in hand for a minelayer conversion. In 1912, it was against converted as a seaplane carrier after a new redesign of its bridge. This second part of this carrer is quite interesting as the Foudre was the first seaplane carrier ever put into service.
In this duty, she was fitted with a rear hangar to house 4 Canard Voisin seaplanes, and intensive tactical trials took place until 1914. As intended the Foudre can project "eyes" for the fleet well beyond the horizon. New foldable Nieuport were added to the mix and at some point during these large scale exercises, the Foudre operated no less than 11 pilots.
La Foudre operating a Caudron floatplane
Most flights were performed from the bay of Saint-Raphaël in the French Riveria. By the middle of 1913, in one of these opposing fleet wargames, a Nieuport used for observations again foiled a "surprise attack" by a group of warships. By November 1913 the Foudre tested a 10-meter flying-off deck at the front, to launch a Caudron G.3 seaplane, which successfully lifted off on May 8, 1914. The platform was dismantled and other experiments postponed. During the war all were replaced by much faster Caudron seaplanes.
The Foudre was based during the war in Port Saïd, then Mudros (near the Gallipoli landings area) served in 1917 as a seaplane carrier, depot ship and tender for submarines, but also HQ and training ships before being decommissioned in 1921.