WW1 French Destroyers

WW1 French Destroyers

France (1899-1918), about 90 destroyers


After having turned hundreds of torpedo boats in two decades under the influence of the “Young School”, France started creating destroyers in 1900, at first 300 tons, short range ships, but soon from 1908, 500+ tons, and eventually 800 tons ships in 1911, true fleet destroyers with turbines to match its dreadnoughts pace. But WW1 stopped all constructions and left the “Royale” in dire need of destroyers, to the point of ordering some in japan…

French Destroyer development

French destroyer development started logically with the development of torpedo boat warfare, an area which France embraced with passion, by numbers and quality in the wake of the Jeune Ecole (Young school) ideas. In 1900, France indeed had probably the largest topedo boat fleet worldwide, in the concept these can help sinking enough large enemy ships (namely from the Royal Navy at that time) to restore some balance before going on some decisive big gun naval battle, a bit like German early naval thinking with U-boats during WW1.

The first “torpilleurs d’escadre” was replaced at the end of WW1 by “destroyer” and these ships appeared as a development of large ocean going torpedo boats like the Forban (more on this chapter). The idea of large destroyers or “contre-torpilleurs” (the expression was still used during ww2 and even well afterwards) appeared after the end of the war, a reflection on Italian fleet of Torpedo Boats and of the need of destroyer leaders. This led to the classic distinction between the two WW2 french destroyer lineage we known today.

The first of these were 300-tonners ordered in 1898 and built by Normand; by then perhaps the best TBs specialist in Europe. Four were launched in 1899-1900 followed by two other series of four by other yards (St Nazaire, La Seyne and Rochefort) before going on larger series, the 1902 Arquebuse class, 1905 Claymore class, and 1908 Branlebas class, 340 ton ships. This was the start of a tradition of naming destroyers by using weapons and military-related terms. But in 1912 this torpedo boat fleet was obsolescent and gave a boost to the development of large, ocean-going fleet destroyers that were sorely lacking.

The Spahi, Voltigeur and Chasseur classes (1908-1909) marked a clear step in that direction at 520-590 tonnes, but the 1911 Bouclier class were the first to truly match the new requirements for fleet destroyers, with their turbines, this time to escort the new French Dreadnoughts. The last prewar class were the Bisson (790 tons standard). The Great war pretty much stopped all constructions. Constructions proceeded slowly: Two Enseigne Roux (launched 1915), the single Enseigne gabolde (work resumed well after the war, in 1920), requisitioned Argentine ships (four launched in 1911, but completed in 1914 to a revised design) were the only ones out of the yards.

The French navy so badly needed modern destroyers that an order was passed to Japanese shipyards, for the delivery of twelve 685 tonnes destroyers (revised Kaba design) named after colonial peoples (the “Arabe” class) in 1917 to serve in the Mediterranean.

French 300 tonners, early Destroyers (1899-1908)

Durandal class (1899)

Durandal illustration
Author’s rendition of the Durandal class, 1/350 scale.

These ships were the four oldest in service by 1914. The class also included the Hallebarde (Halberd), Espingole and Fauconneau. “Durandal” was Roland’s legendary sword, Charlemagne’s paladin. They were also the first “destroyer” of the French Navy and this serie served as a prototype, built by Normand.

Their machines were long enough to heat. Espingole had an accident and sank in 1903. Very small to the standards of 1914 destroyers, they served however, at dunkerque for the Durandal, Cherbourg for the Fauconneau, then both were sent to the mediterrannean in the company of the Halberd. They will be stricken in 1919, 1920 and 1921 respectively.

Turkish destroyer Samsun
Turkish destroyer Samsun – Yarhishar class, built prior to the war by Bordeaux yard on the same blueprints.

Technical specifications

Displacement: 296 tonnes. FL
Dimensions: 57.50 x 6.30 x 3.17m
Propulsion: 2 propellers, 2 turbines, 2 Normand boilers, 4800 hp. 26 knots max.
Crew: 52
Armament: 1 x 65, 6 x 47mm, 2 x 381 TTs mm.

Framée class (1900)

Framee illustration
Framée class by the author 1/750

This class of destroyers derived from the Durandal, but had four boilers and consequently four chimneys. Laid down at St Nazaire and La Seyne in Toulon in 1897, the class included the Framée, Yatagan, Pique and Epée. They had a poorly distributed weight and were therefore were relieved of their firing control system, searchlight and initial masts. They also had difficulty reaching their expected speed at the tests. On August 11, 1900, the Framée struck the battleship Brennus and sank.

The Yatagan suffered the same fate with the steamer SS Teviot in 1916. The Pique operated in the Mediterranean, was modernized in 1916 and struck from the lists in 1921. The Epée also had a career in the Mediterranean and was sold for BU in 1920.

Technical specifications

Displacement: 319 t (314 long tons) standard
Dimensions: 58.2 m (190 ft 11 in) o/a x 6.31 m (20 ft 8 in) x 3.03 m (9 ft 11 in)
Propulsion: 2 propellers, 2 TE engines, 26 knots (48 km/h; 30 mph)
Range: 2,055 nmi (3,806 km; 2,365 mi) at 10 knots (19 km/h; 12 mph)
Crew: 55
Armament: 1 x 65 mm (2.6 in), 6 × 47 mm (1.9 in), 2 × 381 mm (15 in) TTs

Pertuisane class (1900)

Also known sometimes as the “Rochefortais class” these four sihps were build in Rochefort. They were ordered in 8.6.1898, based on Normand plans, laid down between June 1899 and January 1900, very similar to the Fauconnaux, and Espingole, but their funnels were slightly raked. They underwent their trials in 1902/03. They survived the First World War only to be scrapped afterwards.

Technical specifications

As Framée, but 9 tons less, 50 cm less in lenght and other minor differences

Arquebuse class (1902)

Arquebuse-class Pistolet, author’s illustration

Launched in 1902-04, these excellent light destroyers were the largest class in service before the war, with 20 units. They were faster than the previous ones (28 against 26 knots) thanks to their boilers with high pressure. They were engaged during the great war, in the mediterrannan, and the channel, and struck from the lists in 1919-1921.

The Catapult was sunk in 1918 in the sleeve by an unidentified submersible, and the Mousquet in 1914 in Penang harbor on the way back from patrol, trying to engage the Emden with the torpedo, hopeless (see the Emden odyssey).

Sarbacane (“peashooter”), photo by A. Bougault

Technical specifications

Displacement: 298t. Fully Loaded
Dimensions: 58.2 x 6.40 x 3.17 m
Propulsion: 2 propellers, 2 turbines, 2 Normand boilers, 6300 hp. and 28 knots max.
Crew: 60
Armament: 1 x 65, 6 x 47, 2 x 457 mm TTs (mobile 1 middle and 1 ar.)

Claymore class (1905)

Fleuret of the Claymore class, author’s illustration

These destroyers of the series of 1903, built mainly in Rochefort, they were 50 tons heavier than the previous ones of the series Arquebuse, with yet practically unchanged dimensions otherwise 8 cm in width and 30 in length. their machines developed more power, for a speed unchanged at 28 knots. There will be 13 units built, all surviving the war and will be erased from lists from 1921 to 1931.

Obusier, Claymore class off St Malo city – Postcard ELD Edition (cc)

Technical specifications

Displacement: 350t. Fully Loaded
Dimensions: 58.52 x 6.48 x 3 m
Propulsion: 2 propellers, 2 turbines, 2 Normand boilers, 6800 hp. and 28 knots
Crew: 60
Armament: 1 barrel of 65, 6 of 47mm, 2 TLT axis 457 mm.

Branlebas class (1907)

Depiction of the Branlebas class, author’s illustration

These 10 destroyers were the last of the series of “300 tonners” initiated with the Durandal of 1899. Attempts were made to reduce their speed by half a knot to lower the pressure of the boilers. The latter were also well protected by a slighty better internal armour arrangement, as well as the entire engine room.

They also had a more solid and spacious walkway. They were all in service during the Great War. The Etendard was sunk in April 1917 (battle of destroyers in the Channel), and the Branlebas in September 1915 (a mine off Nieuport). All these units served in the Atlantic and the North Sea except the Dagger and Sabretache which joined the Adriatic in 1916.

The Oriflamme and Branlebas sank the German torpedo-boat A15, and captured a German seaplane off Ostend. The survivors were removed from service from 1921 to 1932.

Technical specifications

Displacement: 340 tons FL
Dimensions: 58 x 6.6 x 2.4 m
Propulsion: 2 propellers, 2 turbines, 2 Normand boilers, 6800 hp, 27.5 knots.
Crew: 60
Armament: 1 x 67, 6 x 47 mm, 2 x 450 mm TTs.

French 500 tonners, prewar Destroyers (1908-1909)

Spahi class (1908)

This new class called “450 tons” was launched to catch up with international standards. The class included besides the Spahi, the Hussard, Carabinier, Lansquenet, Mamelouk, Ensign Henry and Aspirant Herber. They differed significantly in tonnage and dimensions, coming from different shipyards at different dates.

Apart from the Carabinier which was sunk on November 15, 1918, all these destroyers survived their Mediterranean service and were removed from the lists in 1922-30. The Carabinier was caught in nets in Latakieh (Syria) and bombed for two days by Turkish artillery before being scuttled by her crew. Officially the Ottoman Empire had signed the armistice already.

Technical specifications

Displacement: 530-550t. FL
Dimensions: 64 x 6.5 x 2.3 m
Propulsion: 2 propellers, 2 turbines, 4 boilers, 7500 hp, 28 knots.
Crew: 79
Armament: 6 x 65 mm (2.5-pdr), 3 x 450 mm TTs sub.

Voltigeur class (1908)

The Voltigeur and the Tirailleur were two destroyers of 450 tons modified, with dissimilar dimensions. They had a triple expansion engines mated on their central propeller and two turbines on each of the other two propellers.
This system proved in fact certainly reliable but heavy and not very flexible. Both were launched as experimental training boats in 1908 and 1909 from two shipyards (Atlantic and Gironde) and discarded from the lists in 1920-21.

French DD Voltigeur
French DD “Le Voltigeur” – Postcard, ELD Editions (cc)

Technical specifications

Displacement: 450 – 590t. FL
Dimensions: 63-65 x 6.4-6.8 x 2.9- 3.2 m
Propulsion: 3 propellers, 1 TE engine, 2 Rake turbines, 4 boilers, 7500 hp, 28 knots.
Crew: 77
Armament: 6 x 65 mm, 3 x 450 mm TTs sub.

Chasseur class (1909)

This new class called “450 tons” was launched to catch up with international standards in this area. The class included besides the Spahi, the Hussars, Carabinier, Lansquenet, Mameluck, Ensign Henry and Aspirant Herber. They differed significantly in tonnage and dimensions, coming from different shipyards at different dates.

Apart from the Carabinier which was sunk on November 15, 1918, all these destroyers survived their Mediterranean service and were removed from the lists in 1922-30. The Carabinier was caught in nets in Latakieh (Syria) and bombed for two days by Turkish artillery before being scuttled by his crew. Officially the Ottoman Empire had signed the armistice for a long time.

Technical specifications

Displacement: 530-550t. FL.
Dimensions: 64 x 6.5 x 2.3 m
Propulsion: 2 propellers, 2 turbines, 4 boilers, 7500 hp, 28 knots.
Crew: 79
Armament: 6 pieces of 65, 3 TLT 450 mm SM.

French 800 tonners, prewar Destroyers (1911-1915)

Bouclier class (1911)

These 12 destroyers were ordered under the 1908 plan and generally referred to as “800 tons”. Modern, equipped with oil-fired turbines and boilers, with a raised stern, they had many advantages, but differed in their machineries and their dimensions, although most of them have Parsons turbines.

They were launched between 1910 (Helmet) and 1912. The Bouclier and Casque differed from the others by having three propellers, and being the fastest of the group, reaching nearly 36 knots in sea trials. Built too lightly however, they tended to be unstable and vibrate. They were modified and their hull was reinforced, the weapons modified during the war: They received a single 75mm/45 AA, two machine guns and 8 to 10 ASW Giraud deep charges.

Their career was very active in the Mediterranean for the most part, and the losses comprised the Boutefeu (mine), Dague (mine), Fourche (torpedoed by the U15), Faulx (collision). The others were dropped from the lists in 1926-33.

Technical specifications

Displacement: 760 – 800 tons PC
Dimensions: 78.3 x 8 x 3.3 m
Propulsion: 2 propellers, 2 Parsons turbines, 4 Normand boilers, 13,000 hp, 30 knots.
Crew: 83
Armament: 2 x 100 mm, 4 x 65 mm, 2×2 450 mm TTs.

Bisson class (1912)

6 destroyers started under the 1910 plan and the 1911 plan. Derived from the Bouclier class, they differed in some details, like the funnels in two separate groups, a raised aft deck, and a rear mast more developed to integrate the TSF antennas. The armament remained the same, the dimensions being slightly higher, the power also, and the radius of action largely improved.

Everything was paid on the scale with nearly 70 tons more. The class included the Bisson, Renaudin, Cdt. Lucas, Protet, Mangini, and Magon. The Cdt. Lucas was operational after the beginning of the war (launched in July 1914). Their career was very active in the Mediterranean (except the Magon who served on the Atlantic and was part of the squadron based in Dunkirk, duelling almost daily with German Destroyers based in Flanders. The Renaudin was torpedoed in March 1916 by the Austro-Hungarian U6 off Durazzo, the others will be disarmed in 1933-36.

Technical specifications

Displacement: 790 – 855 tons FL
Dimensions: 78.1 x 8.6 x 3.1 m
Propulsion: 2 propellers, 2 Bréguet turbines, 4 Indret boilers, 15,000 hp, 30 knots.
Crew: 83
Armament: 2 x 100, 4 x 65 mm, 2×2 450 mm TTs.

French wartime Destroyers

Enseigne Roux class (1915)

Two Ships of the Enseigne Roux class were started at the Arsenal de Rochefort and launched in may and july 1915, but a third, Enseigne Gabolde was started at Normand, le Have but construction was dropped and she was completed after the war in a completely new design (see below).

These destroyers were ordered under the 1913 program, as enlarged 800-tonners, and fitted with tripod masts, with their armament similar to previous ships but a supplementary 75 mm AA was fitted during the war along with two ASW grenade racks of the guiraud type and one Pinocchio towed torpedo.

Both reached 31 knots in 1916 trials, and served with the Dunkirk flotilla, fighting in May 1917 against German destroyers, and covered the british bombardment of the Zeebruge/Ostende coast by monitors. Mecanicien principal Lestin, joined first the Mediterranean squadron, before moving to Dunkirk. Both ships were stricken in and broken up in 1937.

Technical specifications

Displacement: 850 – 1075 tons FL
Dimensions: 82.3 oa x 8.6 x 3 m
Propulsion: 2 propellers, 2 Parsons turbines, 4 Du Temple/Guyot boilers, 17,000 hp, 30 knots.
Crew: 81
Armament: 2 x 100mm (3.9 in)/45, 4 x 65mm/45 mod 02, 2×2 450 (17.7in) mm TTs.

Aventurier class (1914)

Author’s illustration of the Aventurier type

These four destroyers had been ordered by Argentina, but were requisitioned on August 9, 1914, then finished and awaiting departure for their sponsor. Renamed and rearmed with 100mm Canet French cannons.

Having sorted out their chimneys at the beginning, they experienced such boiler problems that they had to be replaced by a mixed coal / fuel oil system and that they were equipped with four chimneys. They served in the Mediterranean but were disappointing for their speed. After the war, they served in the Baltic to counter the “reds”. From 1924 they were again equipped with new boilers and continued to serve until 1933-36.

Technical specifications

Displacement: 930, 1250 tons FL
Dimensions: 88.5 x 8.6 x 3.1 m
Propulsion: 2 propellers, Rake turbines, 5 Forster-Wheeler boilers, 18,000 hp, 32 knots.
Crew: 140
Armament: 4 x 100 mm, 6 x 550 mm TTs (2×2, 2×1).

Arabe class (1917)

The french Navy in 1916 desperately needed more fleet destroyers, its own yards being deserted, stripped of manpower and resources, and the British and American shipyards being busy winning the battle of the Atlantic. In the end the only “free” shipyards then able to deliver ships fast with some room to spare, was Japan. So the French admiralty, after seeing some Japanese DDs operating in the Mediterranean, with the Japanese squadron, ordered in early 1917 no les than twelve destroyers.

They were delivered in record time, in five month between the laying of the keel and completion, so all were active before the end of 1917. The “Arabe” class as it was known (all named after peoples living in French colonies) served actively and were scrapped in the 1930s.

However their armament was Japanese, which caused problems with supplies, partially resolved by the presence of other Japanese DDs in the area. Part of these served with the 11th flotilla, making patrols from Tarento, and 3rd division at Mudros, while most were later based at Brest, North squadron. Some also covered military operations during the Rif war in 1924-25.

Technical specifications

As Kaba class: See ww1 japanese destroyers

Enseigne Gabolde (1914-1921)

Enseigne Gabolde
This was an experimental destroyer, suspended on slip after the outbrek of war. She was to be fitted with Parson Turbines geared turbines for greater economy (26,0000 hp and 33 kts), construction was resumed only shortly before the end of the war and taken over for completion to a modified design, taking into account the lessons of the war.

Her boilers were used afterwards by two of l’Aventurier class destroyers. She had four funnels heavenly spaced, and a larger bridge, forward gun superimposed, not a very satisfactory arrangement due to the ship’s size.

Technical specifications

Displacement: 835/950 tons
Dimensions: 83.6 oa or 82 wl x 8.2 x 3.1m
Propulsion: 2 shaft Parson geared turbines, 4 Normand boilers, 20,000 hp for 31 knots, 196 tons of oil, range 1300 nm at 14 knots
Crew: 80
Armament: 3 x 100/45 mod 93, 1x 75mm, 1x 75mm AA, 4x 550mm Tts model 23 (2×2)

French Captured Destroyers

One overlooked aspects of French naval operations in WW1 is the Greek campaign, which involved a large portion of the fleet, and large landing of troops. The Greek neutrality cost them an occupation in the hands of the French, the seizure of major harbours and ships: Namely the Three Aetos-class destroyers (ex-Argentinian, ex-Greek), four ex-Niki class destroyers, four ex-Thyella class, and six ex-Doris class all seized in salamis in 1916, which served until the end of the war and were reverted back to the Greek navy afterwards. See the Hellenic Navy in WW2 and Greek Marine in WW1 for more.

French postwar reparation Destroyers

War reparations in the wake of the Versailles treaty clauses granted France a generous supply of cruisers, submarines and detroyers. In detail, these were :
> Ex-Tatra class: The single Matelot Leblanc (ex-Dukla) incorporated in 1920, and which served until 1936.
> Ex-V67, V125: These two Hochseetorpedoboote were renamed Pierre Durand and Buino, respectively. They served until 1933 and 1934.
> Ex-S131 class: The Chastaing, Vesco, Mazaré and Deligny served until 1934 and 1935.
> Ex-H145 class: Rageot de la Touche and Marcel Delage were the former H146 and H147. They served until 1935.
> Ex-S113: Amiral Sénès was the sole S-113, probably the best German destroyer of the war. She was strenghtened and modified for French service and was capable of 32 knots, still in service by 1936.
> Other ex-German destroyers were transferred but in such poor condition that they were never commissioned and soon broken up: These were the V-100, V-126, and V-46.
See the German WW1 destroyers section for more information

M89 1500-ton class destroyer

These ships were planned in the 1913 program but cancelled before either ship could be laid down at the outbreak of the war. They are therefore known by their pennant numbers, M89 and M90. They proceeded from the ambitious 1912 naval plan tht asked for fast battleships and light cruisers as well as larger and more heavily armed destroyers. The plan in detail included fifty-two fleet destroyers, however this number included ships of the 300 and 550 tons type, still in completion for some.

This troubled Vice admiral Pierre Ange Marie Le Bris of the general staff, director of constructions, which estimated the planned Bouclier-class, Bisson-class and Enseigne Roux-class ships, were 800 tonners, still not true “fleet destroyers”. So he convinced the board to accept a new new class of 1,500-tonne destroyer, nine to be built in the following years and a further twenty-three to later replace the 300 and 500 tonners. This would have been around the early 1920s, but of course the war broke all these plans.

So what did these “super-destroyers” looked like ?
Naval Constructors Department (Service technique des constructions navales, STCN) work focused on a veritable “destroyer predator”, able to defeat any known destroyer class, in speed and armament. Emphasis was quickly put on and expected combat distance of 3,000 m (9,842.5 ft). Therefore as the design work went, 138.6 mm (5.46 in) guns newly developed by Schneider seemed the preferred choice. But in the next spring of 1914, the same company proposed a new 140 mm (5.5 in)/25 gun design with a sliding breech for quicker firing.

Armor scheme is not known but would have included protection by a conning tower, and thick deck armor, possibly also some armor over the engine room and ammo wells. The final design was approved on the 9 June 1914, including, for a 1530 tons (standard) ship, two 140 mm (5.5 in) single mounts fore and aft and two triple 450 mm axial torpedo launchers banks and two single abeam the bridge. Four boiler groups feeding geared steam turbine was to provide a comfortable 25,000–38,000 shp (19,000–28,000 kW) as a top speed of 33 knots (38 mph) was requested. Launch was expected in 1915 and completion in early 1917.

1500-tons project Rebirth:
The project was revived in 1917, in Spring, and thus requirements were officially reiterated, provision was made of wartime experience modifications. Focus was one sea keeping, with references such as the powerful Italian Leone class and British V-class and traduced into a flared bow. The single TTs were eliminated and three 140 mm (5.5 in)/25 guns were to be fitted instead of two. Moreover the new torpedo banks were for 550 mm (22 in) torpedoes and a single 75-mm (3.0 in)/50 AA gun was to be also installed.

The beam was enlarged and crew augmented, enough to need a commodore as commanding officer. Power was also raised to 40,000 shp (30,000 kW) for an expected speed of 35 knots. Also another critic was to be remedied with a range of 3,600 nautical miles (6,700 km; 4,100 mi). Final STCN specs were issued on 28 November 1918.

Ferdinand-Jean-Jacques de Bon placed priority on destroyer construction after the war, which was approved by Georges Leygues, the new minister of Marine. Interestingly enough these were to be called in french “destroyers”, and led to the 1924 Bourrasque class, while the French also designed a new class of ships named “contre-torpilleurs” this time to be specifically deployed against the large torpedo-boats built by the Italians. The “torpilleur d’escadre” primary role was to attack the enemy line of battle.

Read more

Couhat, Jean Labayle (1974). French Warships of World War I. London: Ian Allen. ISBN 0-7110-0445-5.
Gardiner, Robert & Gray, Randal (1985). Conway’s All The World’s Fighting Ships 1906–1921 and 1860-1905. London: Conway Maritime Press. ISBN 0-85177-245-5.

Author: naval encyclopedia

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4 thoughts on “WW1 French Destroyers

    1. Hello Howard,
      I would say those of the Arquebuse class, also « Oriflamme » and « Branle-bas » (fighting also in august), there is a website (in French) with the detailed career of all French destroyers, let me find it back.

  1. Hello Howard,
    Can you detail all French DDs that participated in the Dardanelles 1915, and what time period that each was there?

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