French WW1 Battlecruisers

Paper projects (1913)

French what-if battlecruisers

A bit provocative in its title, this article is dedicated to French prewar battlecruisers paper projects, proposed by officers Durant-Viel and P.Gille.

These were part of the ambitious 1912 naval plan that get rid off the noxious Jeune Ecole school of thought, to concentrate on modern homogeneous classes of ships inspired by foreign navies like the Royal Navy and Hochseeflotte.

The 1912 plan was established by Admiral Boué de Lapeyrière, then minister of Marine, and included 28 battleships, 10 scout cruisers, 52 large destroyers, 94 submarines and a dozen colonial gunboats to be completed in 1920. Now this plan mentioned “battleships” and “scout cruisers” but nothing in between, although the battlecruiser concept was known since the Royal Navy introduced the Invincible class in 1909. That’s why the plan was revised in 1914 to comprise eight grands éclaireurs d’escadre which loosely translates as “large squadron scouts”. These were battlecruiser by all but name, and were planned by two officers, Pierre Gille and Durant-Viel which proposed three designs, respectively. The final versions were inspired by the Queen Elisabeth class and were more akin fast battleships than battlecruisers. Whatever the case, the war ensured these projects stayed on paper, although the budget rose from 333 million francs to 567 in 1913.

French planned battleships

France was much more advanced in dreadnoughts, in fact two classes had been planned, and the first was already on construction when he war broke out: This was the Normandie class battleships, of which only the Béarn, laid down in January 1914 and only launched after modifications in 1920, was eventually completed as an aircraft carrier due to the Washington treaty limitations. The four others, Flandre, Gacoigne, Languedoc and Normandie, has been launched in October 1914 to may 1916, but were broken up after the war.

More impressive were the Lyon class battleships which added a quadruple turret (four total) to the design and reached a 30,000 tons weight. They made in numbers and quick-firing what lacked in caliber (340 mm versus 380 to 406 mm at that stage) with a full broadside of 16 guns per ship. None of the Duquesne, Lyon, Lille and Tourville designed by M.Doyere had been laid down when the war broke out, although they had been planned to be started in late 1914 by Brest, la Seyne, St nazaire and Lorient yards. We can only dream how these could have fared in ww1, or ww2 if properly modernized like the Regia Marina did with their Cavour and Caesar class dreadnoughts.

Gille’s battlecruisers

The requirements specified by the Ministry of Marine was of a 28,000 tonnes, 27 knots, eight-340 mm armed class of ship. This led to three designs, and one by Gille, which was submitted in 1913.

Gille’s design was called “cuirassé-croiseur” instead of the reverse “croiseur cuirassé”, the usual denomination for armoured cruisers, now obsolete. This could only means the design were intended more like fast battleships like the Queen Elisabeth class, but with a somewhat lighter armour, 270 mm for the main belt here (10 in). The preliminary designs of 1912 planned ships armed with eight 340 mm total, whereas Gille’s design paralleled the new Normandie class battleships with quadruple turrets. This made for a total of 12 guns, in three turrets, the same caliber ensuring lower ammunition and maintenance costs. These 13.4 in, 15 calibers model 1912 were relatively fast-firing (2 rounds per minute), and made for numbers what they lacked in shell weight. Quadruple turret management however, if procuring advantages like a reduction and concentration of armour, was risky if it was hit. It also could be problematic in terms of dispersion.

Gilles type
Rendition (src: Rengokuy) of the Gilles type.

The hull was built as a model, and extensively tested in a pool during the design process so engineers were very confident the hull lines of the ships were to be highly efficient. However the main battery turrets being quite heavy, this impose the whole range of modifications to enhance the hull’s solidity, with heavy duty longitudinal beams and bracing, and strengthened inner and outer skins of the hull. Metacentric height was calculated as 1.03 m (same as the Lion class). The steam direct-drive turbines developed 80,000 shaft horsepower (60,000 kW), fed by 52 coil-fired Belleville boilers. In 1912 there was no prospect of using oil-fired ones yet. Each shaft was connected by a high, medium and low pressure turbine. The direct drive turbine was used for the reverse. The 340mm/45 Modèle 1912 guns were the same already made by Schneider-Creusot for the Bretagne and future Normandie class.

The arrangement was identical to the latter, with a single forward turret installed on a secondary battery superstructure, while the two aft were arranged in a superfiring position. In any case this would have given a formidable broadside of 12x 240 mm guns, four in chase and eight in retreat. This caliber for these pieces using separate charges and shell was proper to the French Navy. It was more or less equivalent to the British 343 mm developed at that stage and were find light enough to be distributed in quadruple turrets. (WW2 King Georges class which also had two quadruple turrets would use a not-so-far 360 mm caliber rather than the very heavy 381 mm). The many cancellations that followed found these spare guns converted as railway guns, and later whole turrets were used for coastal defence.

Gille’s design specifications

Dimensions 205 x 27 x 9 m (672 x 88 x 30ft)
Displacement 28,247 t. – 30,000 t FL
Crew 41+1258
Propulsion 4 propellers, 4 shaft-geared turbines, 52 coil-fired boilers, 80,000 hp.
Speed 28 knots. max. (52 km/h; 32 mph)
Range 6,300 nmi (11,700 km; 7,200 mi) @15 knots
Armament 12× 340mm/45 M1912, 24× 138.6mm M1910, 6 TTs 457 mm
Armor Belt 270, turrets 270, blockhaus 250?, barbettes 250? mm, Decks 80? mm

Durand-Viel’s battlecruisers

In 1913, some Naval College students submitted several cheaper fast capital ships with 27,500 tons in displacement to the admiralty. Lt. Durant-Viel was the only one designing a battlecruiser. He drew two designs that were studied by the Admiralty in June 1914. Durant-Viel saw his ships forming a fast division, able like a cavalry to encircle and pummel slower capital ships.

Durant-Viel type A
Durant-Viel’s type A internal arrangement scheme

Durand-Viel’s A type battlecruiser

“A” design displaced 27,500 t (27,100 long tons; 30,300 short tons) and was 210 m long for 27m wide. Thy should have been propelled to 27 knots thanks to four sets of direct drive turbines and 74,000 shaft horsepower, fed by a set of 22 mixed boilers. Normal range would have been 3500 nm, and there has been enough fuel for six hours of combat speeds. Armament relied, as above, on the trusted 340mm/45 Modèle 1912 naval gun, but also in a quad-configuration. However compared to the “heavy” Gilles design, they only had two turrets, like the future Dunkirk class, but for and aft. Secondary armament relied on the local 138.6 mm Modèle 1910 guns mounted in casemates. The forward turret, like the Normandie, was mounted on the forward casemates superstructures. It is established these smaller caliber (compared to the mainstream 152 mm/6 in) had less punch but were faster-firing.

Such large number to bear and this rate of fire were thought enough and better suited to deal with torpedo boats, while the 6-in was generally seen fit to engage larger ships altogether. As customary also the design incorporates four submerged TTs for close and personal duels. The entire protection was copied from the Normandie, but slightly thinner. The belt was 280 mm thick, as compared to HMS Lion’s 229 mm as an example.
So in general philosophy these ships would have been a bit like German battlecruisers, a bit slower (HMS Lion 27.5 knots), slightly less heavily armed (340 rather than 343 mm guns, same for secondary), but better protected. A formidable counterpart for the future Normandie and Lyon anyway.

Possible reconstitution of the Type A if modernized in the 1930s.

Durand-Viel A design specifications

Dimensions 210 x 27 x 9 m (689 x 88 x 28ft)
Displacement 27,500 t. – 29,000 t FL
Crew 1299
Propulsion 4 propellers, 4 shaft-geared turbines, 24 mixed boilers, 74,000 hp.
Speed 27 knots. max. (50 km/h; 31 mph)
Range 3,500 NM (6,500 km; 4,000 mi) @15 knots
Armament 8× 340mm/45 M1912, 24× 138.6mm M1910, 4× 450mm (18 in) TTs
Armor Belt 270, turrets 270?, blockhaus 250?, barbettes 240? mm, Decks 80? mm

Durand-Viel’s B type battlecruiser

Photomanipulation showing the Type B as she could have been in 1940.

The “B” was designed a bit as a counterpart for the projected Lyon class battleships. The main difference was a much heavier broadside with brand new 370 mm guns (nearing the projected British 381 mm adopted by the Renown from 1916). As the same displacement was kept, compensation was obtained by a reduction in the armor protection (secondary guns) and increased power. This would have consisted either of four sets of direct drive turbines (63,000 hp) or steam-geared turbines (80,000 hp), with a corresponding top speed either of 26 or 27 knots. The new guns would have fired 880 kg (1,940 lb) shells able to penetrate 300 mm (12 in) of armour at 12,700 m. The secondary battery was increased of 4 guns, for 28 total. Armour scheme was identical to the “A” design but the hull was shorter by two meters. With such armour, secondary armament (even lighter) and heavy battery no doubt these ships would have been formidable opponents for any navy of the day.

Durand-Viel B design specifications

Dimensions 208 x 27 x 9 m (682 x 88 x 28ft)
Displacement 27,500 t. – 29,000 t FL
Crew 1299
Propulsion 4 propellers, 4 shaft-geared turbines, 18 mixed boilers, 63,000 hp.
Speed 27 knots. max. (50 km/h; 31 mph)
Range 3,500 NM (6,500 km; 4,000 mi) @15 knots
Armament 8× 370mm, 28× 138.6mm M1910, 4× 450mm (18 in) TTs
Armor Belt 260?, turrets 250?, blockhaus 240?, barbettes 230? mm, Decks 70? mm

The fact is the war erupted, and in August 1914 France seeing her territory invaded had no choice but commit all manpower available to counter the onslaught. As a consequence shipyards were soon emptied and constructions halted. If that was not been the case, the Normandie would have emerged in late 1915, early 1916, the Lyon in 1917, mirroring the Battlecruisers. With such ships and former dreadnoughts of the Courbet and Bretagne, France in 1917 would have committed a modern battle fleet comparable to the Hochseeflotte rather than a collection of prototypes inherited from the “young school adventure”. We can only guess also if these ships would have been still in service at the start of ww2.

Links/sources – About the French 340 mm guns
Friedman, Norman (2011). Naval Weapons of World War I.
Le Masson, Henri (1985). “Some French Fast Battleships That Might Have Been”
Specs Conway’s all the world fighting ships 1906-1921.

Jurien de la Gravière

France (1899)
Protected Cruiser

A “tin-clad cruiser”

The term was used often to describe rival Italian and French cruisers of the interwar, sacrificing all for speed. But the French cruiser Jurien de la Gravière twenty years before was at the same time the last French “protected” cruiser and one of the thinnest built. The cruiser was named after Edmond Jurien de la Gravière (and his father, Pierre Roch), an admiral who served through the Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars. Construction started on November 15, 1897 at Lorient, launching occurred on June 26, 1899, but commission was reported to 1903, as sea trials dragged over a year due to construction errors that had to be fixed in turn.


The hull of the ship was narrow, nearly 1/10, and the bow had as short ram while the stem was pinted. The overall waterline was very thin and narrow. She was given four funnels far apart to serve the twenty-four boilers and two small military masts. The main artillery comprised eight Modèle 1893 164.7 mm guns, of which two were in shielded centerline mounts fore and aft, the remaining six in sides casemate mounts. The rest of light artillery model 1884 and 1885 was placed in various spots to hit incoming TBs. The 457 mm (18 in) torpedo tubes were submerged. Armour was as follows: The deck was protected by 35–55 mm (1–2 in) with 55–65 mm (2–3 in) slopes, the Conning tower was 100 mm (4 in) thick, the Gun shields were 70 mm (3 in) and casemates: 45 mm (2 in) and ammunition tubes 45 mm (2 in).

Profile from Janes
Profile from Jane’s

Active carrer

Completed in 1903, the Jurien de la Gravière was the last of the so-called “protected” cruisers of the French navy. It was narrower and lighter than the previous ones, though fairly close in design to the Guichen. Construction was too light, vibrations and not very manoeuvrable, and during the Great War he served, and on August 16, 1914, participated in the hunting of the Austro-Hungarian destroyer Ulan. In 1916 she was assigned to Admiral Boué de lapeyrère’s squadron during naval operations on the southern coast of Turkey, bombing enemy positions, then blockading Greece until 1917 before finishing in Syria. She was removed from the lists in 1922.


List of French Torpedo Cruisers
Profile on Shipbucket
Forum Page about the Jurien (Fr)
Specs Conway’s all the world fighting ships 1860-1906.

Jurien class specifications

Dimensions 137 x 15 x 6.30 m
Displacement 5,595 tonnes FL
Crew 463
Propulsion 3 screws, 24 DuTemple boilers, 17,400 hp
Speed 22.9 knots (42.4 km/h; 26.4 mph), Range 6,150 nmi (11,390 km; 7,080 mi)
Armament 8 x 162, 10 x 47 QF, 6 x 37, 2 TT SM 457 mm
Armor 45 mm max.


Jurien de la Gravière
Illustration of the Jurien de la Gravière

Jurien de la Gravière
Illustration of the Jurien de la Gravière in pre-war colors

Jurien prewar
Small photo of the Jurien prewar in civilian colors

Jurien 3d model by WOW
Jurien 3d model by WOW

Edgar Quinet

France (1907)

France’s last armoured cruisers

The last French cruiser-battleships, and by far the most imposing, were the two Edgar Quinet (sister-ship Waldeck-Rousseau), which constituted at the same time a synthesis of all the acquired experience in design for this particular type and an additional milestone in the genre. Laid down in 1905 and 1906 they were launched in 1907-08 and completed in 1911, and had an active career lasting until the 1930s.

Edgar Quinet class Armoured cruisers
Edgar Quinet class Armoured cruisers


Jeune École (Young School)’s own Admiral Ernest François Fournier strongly advocated for a fleet of armored cruisers based on the Dupuy de Lôme type back in the 1890s, for long-range commerce raiding, dealing with older battleships, and reconnaissance. Twenty-four armored cruisers followed, the Edgar-Quinet being the last, and like the previous Ernest Renan, their design was revised during construction, causing a delay of delivery. Although they had been the most powerful armored cruisers built by France, they entered service two years after the first British battlecruiser of the Invincible class, and therefore were obsolescent when accepted in service.

Indeed, because of its “semi-experimental” shipbuilding practices, France was late in the game and lacked any battlecruisers, although they had been planned by 1912′ Durand-Viel program, not to mention the few dreadnoughts in service compared to Germany and UK. This was however not that crucial as most of the French fleet had to operate in the Mediterranean, against less advanced fleets, like the Austro-Hungarian Navy.

Brassey’s diagram of the previous Renan class (not one available of the Quinet)


Moving 14,000 tons and 160 meters long, they were among the largest French warships in 1914. They had been largely inspired by the Ernest Renan (1906), but were taller and better armed, including a uniform artillery distribution of the monocaliber type. One of their particular feature was the adoption of refrigerated ammunition holds, now a standard for French ships since the Battleship Iena explosion in 1907.


Their artillery was indeed simplified (this was less a nightmare for supply) with the suppression of 162 mm (6.3 in) guns for a complete fourteen 193 mm (7.5 in) battery (rate of fire, up to four rpm) complete with only 65 mm (2.5 in) QF guns to deal with TBs. The larger guns were divided into two double turrets, six single, and four in barbettes. The 65 mm (9-pounder guns) were distributed in casemates and the others on the superstructures. However in 1918 the threat of aviation made for a removal of 12 guns, replaced by tow 65 mm anti-aircraft guns and tow of 75 mm (3.0 in) AA guns. As customary, the two armoured cruisers were given also two 450 mm (17.7 in) TTs on each side, submerged.


Their armored belt was 150 mm (5.9 in), reduced to 70 mm (2.8 in) forward and 40 mm (1.6 in) aft. The lower main deck was 65 mm (2.6 in) thick. The upper deck was 30 mm (1.2 in) in thickness. Gun turrets were 200 mm (7.9 in), barbettes 200 mm, casemates 194 mm, however they were linked by transverse armored bulkheads ranging from 194 mm to 120 mm (4.7 in) internally. Conning tower was 200 mm. Rousseau survived two torpedo hits thanks to an efficient cofferdam built into the lower hull, doubled by a longitudinal watertight bulkhead.


Unable to sail past 23 knots, these ships arrived when the battle cruisers introduced turbines. They had three propellers, three 4-cylinder VTE (triple expansion) engines, 40 Belleville boilers, coal-fired, for a total output of 36 000 hp. The boilers were truncated into six funnels in two groups of three, characteristic of French cruisers at that time. All of these engines were separated in watertight compartments, to ensure at least the minimal propulsion of the ship was hit. In addition electrical systems were fed by six electric generators. Coal capacity amounted to 2,300 t, which made for a 5,100 nautical miles range (9,400 km; 5,900 land miles) at moderate cruise (10 knots).

The Quinet class in action

Their career was very active: Together with the Renan and the Michelet, they formed the 1st light division of the Mediterranean. They patrolled in the Straits of Otranto and ensured the Austro-Hungarian blockade. Both ships covered the seizure of Corfu in January 1916.

Waldeck Rousseau off Constantinople

Edgar Quinet

In August 1914 quinet took part in the pursuit of the German squadron of Admiral Souchon (SMS Goeben). She was present at the Battle of Antivari.
Quinet also carried out a rescue mission after the war of the population of Smyrna (Great Fire of Smyrna, Greek-Turkish War), embarking 1,200 civilians in 1922. In 1925-27, the Quinet underwent a complete overhaul, which made her a training ship, with a new weaponry, a new appearance, including seaplanes under shed. She hit a reef off Cape Blanc, Algeria and sank in 1930.


She served in the Adriatic and survived in 1914 two torpedo hits from Austrian U-Boats in October 1915 and duelled with several Austro-Hungarian destroyers. She served also in the Ionian and Aegean Sea until 1918. After the war she sent to the Black Sea to support the “whites” Russians of General Wrangel. At her arrival however her crew short-lived mutinied over poor conditions. At first assigned as flagship of the Far East fleet in 1929, she later returned to France to be disarmed in 1932 but was broken up only in 1941-44 to be sold fro scrap.

Edgar Quinet being launched
Edgar Quinet being launched


The Quinet class on wikipedia
Additional photos on
Combrig 1/700 Model kit review
Specs Conway’s all the world fighting ships 1906-1921.

Danton class specifications

Dimensions 159 x 21,5 x 8,4 m
Displacement 13 847 t. FL
Crew 892
Propulsion 3 screws, 4 VTE engines, 40 Belleville boilers, 36,000 hp.
Speed 23 knots. max. (40 km/h; 25 mph)
Range 5,100 NM (9,400 km; 5,900 miles) @10 knots
Armament 14 x 193 mm, 20 x 65 mm, 2 TT sides 457 mm
Armor Belt 150, turrets 200, blockhaus 200, barbettes 200 mm, Decks 65 mm


Illustration of the Edgar Quinet in 1914

Original Blueprint of the class

Danton class battleships

France (1909)

France’s last pre-dreadnought battleships

The six Dantons (Condorcet, Danton, Diderot, Mirabeau, Vergniaud, Voltaire) were the last French pre-dreadnoughts. They had the misfortune to be ordered in 1906-1908, while HMS Dreadnought was launched. However, the planned construction resumed until the delivery of the six units in 1911, to be succeeded by the first French Dreadnoughts, the Courbets. The Danton spent their career in the Mediterranean, quite active in many theaters of operation.

Danton Marius-Bar
Danton at sea, Marius Bar coll.


So France was delayed in this race because of these particular ships, but at the same time the Dantons were quite improved compared to the previous Patrie/Liberté classes. They claimed 18,300 tons instead of 14,800, to receive the first turbines installed on a French battleship.
Practically regarded as “fast battleships” (20.6 knots in the tests against 18-19 on previous classes, they however had a low autonomy due to excessive coal consumption. For operating in the Mediterranean, however this was not such of a problem. Not dreadnoughts, they however took into account Cuniberti’s design ideas and in addition to their main 305 mm armament, had a sizeable provision of 240 mm turrets, a compromise between the two types of battleships, a bit like the British Nelson class.

Danton class - Brasseys naval annual 1915
Brassey’s naval annual 1915 – Danton class armour scheme



They used a new firing system modeled on that of the HMS Dreadnought in 1918: The British Barr & Stroud coincidence rangefinder. Range of their 240 mm guns increased from 13,700 to 18,000 meters. Rate of fire was also very good, and firing tests proved the validity of the combination of main and secondary calibers. The armor was not that advanced, but tertiary armament was singularly reinforced at the beginning of the great war: Indeed in addition were fitted twelve 75 mm mounted on the turrets which sufficient elevation and caliber to be used as AA weapons. These ships also carrid six Modèle 1909R torpedoes (114 kg (251 lb) warhead, 3,000 meters (3,300 yd) at 28 knots (52 km/h; 32 mph) or 2,000 meters (2,200 yd) at 33 knots (61 km/h; 38 mph) settings. There was also a storage space for 10 Harlé Modèle 1906 mines (explosive charge of 60 kgs (130 lb)).


Total weight of the armor accounted for 36%, so 6700 metric tons.
The main turrets had 340 mm (13.4 in) of frontal armor, 260 mm (10 in) sides and the roofs were given three layers of 24 mm (0.94 in) mild-steel plates. Barbettes had 246 mm (9.7 in) of armor thickness, down to 66 mm (2.6 in) below the upper deck. Secondary turrets had 225 mm (8.9 in) front, 188 mm (7.4 in) sides, 3x 17 mm (0.67 in) plates roof. The 240 mm barbettes were protected by 154 to 148 mm (6.1 to 5.8 in). The conning tower front had 266 mm (10.5 in) thick walls, 216 mm (8.5 in) sides. The communication tube down to the fire-control center was 200 millimeters thick. Noticeably, the ships had two protected decks formed from triple layers of mild steel, 15 mm (0.59 in) or 16 mm (0.63 in) thick.

Mirabeau 305mm gun replaced at Sebastopol
Mirabeau’s 305mm gun being replaced at Sebastopol


Each ship was fitted with four license-built Parsons direct-drive steam turbines. The steam was drown from 26 coal-fired Belleville or Niclausse boilers, each type being alternated on groups of three ships of the class. They were housed in two large compartments, 17 forward, 9 aft boiler room corresponding to the numerous funnels. The turbines developed 22,500 shaft horsepower (16,800 kW) total using steam at a working pressure of 18 kg/cm2 (1,765 kPa; 256 psi). Maximum speed as designed was 19.25 knots (35.65 km/h; 22.15 mph), but at sea trials they reached from 19.7 to 20.66 knots (36.5 to 38.3 km/h; 22.7 to 23.8 mph). Niclausse boilers burned however much more coal than Belleville boilers and copious amounts of smoke and sparks, even flames from incomplete combustion. Estimated range from 3,120–4,866 nautical miles (5,778–9,012 km; 3,590–5,600 mi) at 12 knots (22 km/h; 14 mph) was almost half that of their predecessors and they needed frequent coaling stops during the war.


Condorcet was built at A. C. de la Loire, St Nazaire, Danton at Arsenal de Brest, Diderot at Chantiers de Penhoët, St Nazaire, Mirabeau at Arsenal de Lorient, Vergniaud at A. C. de la Gironde, Bordeaux, and Voltaire at F. C. de la Méditerranée, La Seyne-sur-Mer. The ships were named after Enlightment figures.
Construction was prolonged by a number of factors: 500+ changes made to the original design and inability of the chief engineer to make timely decisions, meaning that the builders had to rip out some completed sections to incorporate modifications. Shortages of infrastructure at the shipyards, long delays in parts delivery, labor shortages, and lack of large building slips in the dockyards also explains it.

Battleship Vergniaud

The Danton class in action

Danton’s class career was not spectacular, the Danton being the only recorded loss, torpedoed by the U-64 off Sardinia, while the Voltaire survived in 1918 to those of the UB-18. These ships fired warning shots at the Greek government in Athens to force the Greeks to rally to the allies. The same vessels (Diderot, Vergniaud, Voltaire, and Mirabeau) formed the squadron of the Aegean Sea alongs with dreadnoughts, deployed against the Austro-Hungarian fleet.

On November 13, 1918, they were stationed in Constantinople. After the war, Vergniaud and Mirabeau set out for operations in the Crimea in 1919, bombing Sevastopol in the hands of the “reds”. But Mirabeau underwent a storm and was stranded, but saved and towed back to dock in 1919. Never repaired, she served as a pontoon for experiments, while the others undergone some modernization in 1922-25. This particularly concerned underwater protection, with fitting of bulges. These three ships (Condorcet, Diderot and Voltaire) spent the rest of their career as school ships.

Mirabeau bombarding Athens
Mirabeau bombarding Athens

The Condorcet was removed from the lists in 1931 but still served as a training ship for torpedo boat crews, cleared of its armament but equipped with 4 Torpedo tubes on its deck, and was extant in Toulon in 1939. In November 1942 she was scuttled like the rest of the fleet, but remained afloat and was later repaired as a pontoon. In 1944, she was struck by an raid raid. She was towed and sunk by the Germans at the entrance of Toulon harbor and, after the landings in Provence, refloated. She was finally stored before demolition, which took place in 1945.

Vergniaud at Toulon

The Voltaire had been converted into a pontoon since 1930, and was definitively condemned in 1935, but sold for scrap only in 1939. The Vergniaud served as a target ship after 1921 and was scrapped In 1929. Finally, the Diderot also served as a pontoon, condemned in 1936 and srapped in 1937.


Bretagne class BB on wikipedia
Individual: The Provence
Specs Conway’s all the world fighting ships 1906-1921.

Danton class specifications

Dimensions 146,6 x 25,8 x 9.20 m
Displacement 18 320t, 19 760t FL
Crew 681
Propulsion 4 screws, 4 Parsons turbines, 26 Belleville/Niclausse boilers, 22 500 hp.
Speed 19,6 knots. max. (40 km/h; 25 mph)
Range 4,600 nmi (8,500 km; 5,300 mi) at 10 knots (19 km/h; 12 mph)
Armament 4 x 305 mm, 12 x 240 mm, 17 x 75 mm, 10 x 47 mm et 2 TT sides 457 mm
Armor Belt 300, turrets 300, blockhaus 300, barbettes 170 mm, Decks 75 mm


Illustration of Danton class battleships

Danton class battleships full
Another illustration of the Danton class, below the waterline

Profile of the class.

Model - Musee de la marine
Shipbuilder model at the Musee de la Marine, Paris.

Blueprint of the class

Detailed vectorial illustration by J.Gimello (

La Foudre Seaplane Carrier

France (1895)

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.


The Foudre on wikipedia
Specs Conway’s all the world fighting ships 1860-1906.

La Foudre class specs (1914)

Dimensions 118.8 x 15.5 x 7 m
Displacement 6,100 tonnes FL
Crew 430
Propulsion 2 screws, 2 Triple expansion engines, 24 boilers, 12,000 hp
Speed 19 knots (35 km/h, xx mph)
Armament 8 x 100 mm, 4 x 65 mm, 2 TTs, 4 floatplanes
Armor Deck : 120 mm (4.7 in)


An illustration of La Foudre during the great war as seaplane carrier.

La Foudre, original plans 1890s

La Foudre in the 1890s

La Foudre, original plans 1890s


D’Iberville class Torpedo Cruisers

France (1893)
Casabianca, Cassini, D’Iberville

The D’Iberville class in brief

The three ships of this class, Casabianca, Cassini and Iberville were put into service between 1894 and 1896. They came a few years after the two Lévrier 1891, but differed in all. Larger and nearly twice as heavy, they had a forecastle and raised poop, and a more consistent and better distributed artillery. The D’Iberville was the only one fitted with 6 Torpedo Tubes (TT), the other two having three, but in 1899, the first had them all disembarked, followed later by the others.

Operational career

The Casabianca and Cassini were rebuilt in 1911-12 as minelayers, but showed little brillance in this role and were replaced by Pluto and Cerberus in 1913. Nonetheless the fleet kept them in service in 1914, for patrols. Casabianca struck a mine off Smyrna in June 1915 and the Cassini was torpedoed by a U-boat in February 1917 in the Strait of Bonifacio. The D’Iberville was on duty in the harbor of Penang, witnessed the destruction of Jemtchug by Emden but believing it was an accident she left the German cruiser unscaved, the latter being largely superior in all directions anyway. She then patrolled the Algerian coast until late 1917 but was withdrawn from service in 1922.

Casabianca in the 1900s. Shorter chimneys and masts, no TTs.


List of French Torpedo Cruisers
French torpedo cruisers
Specs Conway’s all the world fighting ships 1860-1906.

D’Iberville class specifications

Dimensions 95 x 12 x 5.4 m
Displacement 2428 tonnes FL
Crew 137
Propulsion 2 screws, 2 turbines, 8 Normand boilers, 8500 hp
Speed 20.5 knots (40.7 km/h; 25.3 mph)
Armament 2 x 140 mm, 4 x 100 mm, 8 x 47 mm QF, 2 x 12.7 mm MGs (1914)
Armor None


D’Iberville in the 1890s

Cassini in the 1900s. Notice the shorter masts and chimneys. TTs were removed by then.

Torpedo Cruiser Cassini

Cassini in the 1890s

Dunois class Torpedo Cruisers

France (1897)
Dunois, La Hire

A strange mix of characteristics

The Torpedo Cruiser was a development of the controversial Jeune École (“Young school”) a strategic naval concept that argued that the large ironclad battleships then being built in Europe could be easily and cheaply defeated by small torpedo-armed warships. Most nations including UK would built some in the 1880-1890s but the concept proved ill-fated and most of these ships were used for other tasks in 1914.

Dunois in 1914

The Dunois class

Dunois and La Hire, named after two famous knights who fought alongside with Joan of Arc, followed the class of d’Iberville, but differed in that they adopted reversed bridges in their design, bottom front and rear. They were lighter, but despite more power (hp 7500 against 5000), failed to exceed 22 knots. Wrongly classified as TB destroyers as being too slow, they were none the less neither really destroyers of cruisers, as they did not possessed Torpedo tubes.

Lahire in 1914

Operational carrer

Dunois spend the most of the great war as a gunboat, offering an artillery support to the British troops from Dunkirk. She was removed from the lists in 1920. Lahire, assigned as a gunnery training ship in Toulon made patrols throughout the Mediterranean. In 1918, a short overhaul saw her equipped with two 100 mm Model 1917 guns and six recent QF 47 mm plus deep charge racks. She will be removed from service, stricken and paid off in 1922.


List of French Torpedo Cruisers
French torpedo cruisers
Specs Conway’s all the world fighting ships 1860-1906.

Provence class specifications

Dimensions 166 x 26,9 x 9,8 m
Displacement 899 tonnes FL
Crew 137
Propulsion 2 screws, 4 Normand Sigaudy, boilers, 7500 hp
Speed 22 knots (40.7 km/h; 25.3 mph)
Armament 2 x 65 mm, 6 x 47 mm QF
Armor None


Dunois in 1914

The Dunois in the 1890s

Dunois and cruiser Gloire in the Mediterranean, 1900s

Bretagne class battleships

France (1914)
Bretagne, Provence, Lorraine

France’s wartime dreadnoughts

Before the war, France’s first dreadnoughts, the Courbet class, just entered service in 1911-1912. In the meantime, dreadnought design was still improving on the other side of the Channel, both in terms of artillery caliber and configuration but also speed, already peaking into the “super-dreadnoughts” genre. According to the ambitious French 1912 naval construction programme, a new battleship class was scheduled for 1913. It was to be like the British Queen Elisabeth and Revenge class, the first French “super-dreadnoughts”.

Albeit excessive as legitimate battleships worthy of the name were built in the interwar and became the standard for ww2, the Bretagne were nevertheless a leap forward in terms of Battleship design as far as France was concerned, although still 2-3 years late. All three were started in may-july-november 1913 at Lorient, Brest and Loire shipyards (St Nazaire), and commissioned in 1916. Nominally they were replacements for the Carnot, Charles Martel and Liberté. They had long careers after modernization, well until 1945. Following Normandie and ever more Lyons were to be really amazing designs and we’ll try to have a quick overview of these in another article.

Battleship Provence in 1916


Both ships classes shared similar hulls and armour arrangements (because of shipyards limitations, as ordered by the Conseil supérieur de la Marine (CSM)), but of course the real change was artillery with 10x 340mm (13.4 in) main guns, arranged in five double turrets all in the centerline. These were the AB, XY front and rear, plus another in the center, located just between the two chimneys and superstructures. This made for a reduction in firepower strength both in chase and retreat, but a bigger broadside.
The secondary battery comprised 22x 138.6 mm Mle 1910 guns in barbettes. Although inferior to the 152mm of the British and German types, they had toughly the same range but were much faster to reload, enabling true defensive advantages against fast ships like destroyers and torpedo-boats. There were also 7× 47 mm QF (1.9 in) guns also used for saluting, and 4× 450 mm (18 in) torpedo tubes.

On the armour side however, using the same hull imposed a sacrifice, as the width of the armored belt was reduced by 20 mm (0.79 in) to compensate for the increased weight of the main battery. Like the previous class, armour was in general a bit “light” according to contemporary standards, with only 270 mm for the belt, 314mm for the conning tower but 340mm for the turrets whereas the decks were 40mm thick. For propulsion, all three relied on four Parsons steam turbines, fed by 18 to 24 Niclausse boilers (Lorraine) generating a total output of 29,000 shp (22,000 kW). Speed was reduced at 19 knots but overall range slightly better at 4,600 nautic miles (8,500 km or 5,300 miles).

Battleship provence after refit
Battleship provence after refit, 1935.

Active service

The Bretagne and Lorraine were assigned to the 1st Division of the 1st Battle Squadron and quickly posted in the Adriatic while the Provence was made fleet flagship for the Mediterranean at large. It was also sent in the southern sector of the Adriatic, based at Argostoli and Corfu. Provence did some appearance off Greece, trying to intimidate the government of Greece not to join the central powers. in January 1919 Lorraine was sent to Cattaro to guard the Austro-Hungarian fleet. Lorraine and Provence were placed into reserve in 1922 due to budget cuts. Lorraine was active by 1923 after an overhaul. All three ships were taken in hands for a full modernization by 1935 (see 1939 file).


Bretagne class BB on wikipedia
Individual: The Provence
Specs Conway’s all the world fighting ships 1906-1921.

Provence class specifications

Dimensions 166 x 26,9 x 9,8 m
Displacement 24,000t; 26 000 FL
Crew 1193
Propulsion 4 hélices, 4 Parsons Turbines, 18-24 Belleville/Niclausse boilers, 29,000 hp
Speed 19-20 knots (39 km/h; 24 mph)
Range 4,600 nmi (8,500 km; 5,300 mi) at 10 knots (19 km/h; 12 mph)
Armament 10 x 340 mm, 22 x 138 mm, 7 x 47 mm et 4 TT sides 450 mm
Armor Belt 270, turrets 340, blockhaus 314, barbettes 170 mm, Decks 40 mm


Battleship Provence after refit, post 1935

Bretagne battleship brassey's naval annual
Bretagne battleship, Brassey’s naval annual

Provence battleship post 1935 rear
Provence battleship post 1935 rear view – US Navy recoignition archives

The Bretagne (“Britanny”) in 1916.

Courbet class battleships

France (1911)
Courbet, Paris, France, Jean Bart

France’s first dreadnoughts

The Four Courbet class were the first French monocaliber type battleships to enter service. They were started late, pending the scheduled completion of six Danton. This delay was considered unfortunate in this new race for dreadnoughts that began in 1906. But the 1912 program, established by Admiral Boue de Lapeyrère had the ambitions to give France twelve other dreadnoughts before 1918. The war would decide otherwise. The Courbet class counted four ships, Courbet and Jean Bart of the first batch, both began in 1910 in Brest, launched and completed in 1913 and the other two, France and Paris, at St Nazaire and La Seyne in Toulon. These were not operational in August 1914, as hostilities just started: France aligned to that date only two dreadnoughts against 13 for Hochseeflotte and 22 to the Royal Navy.

Paris in Construction in Toulon


The Courbet were designed by engineer Lyasse, these ships were much better armoured than the Danton, but still less than equivalent British, American, and German units. Their artillery configuration showed an early conventional layout given a trademark of French battleships, which gave a strong battery for chasing or in retreat respectively of 8 and 10 guns, for 12 in total. But in 1914, the 305 mm caliber had been exceeded already for some years and it was moving towards the 343 mm caliber planned for Britain established emergency on the same basis.

The Courbet were recognizable to their three chimneys separated by their mainmast. Secondary armament remained below the standard caliber of other marine (152 mm) and anti-torpedo artillery was modest. But these 138 mm in barbettes just filled the role of anti-torpedo defense with much faster firing pace. Relatively good steamers, these battleships reached 22.6 knots. Shells provisions were 100 rounds for each 305 mm piece and 275 rounds for each 138 mm. They were also fitted to lay down 30 mines.

Battleship France off Toulon harbor

Active service

The four Courbet were sent to the Mediterranean in 1914 (the Paris there was already conducting its first operational missions). The Courbet became flagship of Admiral Lapeyrère, and two additional spotlight were added on the platforms on the second fire station. These five ships served intensely, the Jean Bart conceding a torpedo from U-12 in December 1914 in the Adriatic, but without much damage. France and Jean Bart were also sent to Sevastopol, to fight the “red” in 1919. At that time, the four existing ships were now obsolete, pending modernization. It was observed that their front deck was subject to plough water by heavy weather, but it was not possible to have them lengthened because of the lack of suitable dock. France hit a reef and sank in 1922 near Quiberon, and the other three, partially modernized, served as a training ships in 1939.


Courbet class on wikipedia
Individual: The Courbet
Specs Conway’s all the world fighting ships 1860-1907.

Courbet class specifications

Dimensions 165,9 x 27,9 x 9 m
Displacement 22 200t; 26 000 PC; FL
Crew 1108
Propulsion 4 hélices, 4 Parsons Turbines, 24 Belleville/Niclausse boilers, 28,000 hp
Speed 20 knots (39 km/h; 24 mph)
Range 4,200 nmi (7,780 km; 4,830 mi) at 10 knots (19 km/h; 12 mph)
Armament 12 x 305 mm, 22 x 138 mm, 4 x 47 mm et 4 TT sides 450 mm
Armor Belt 270, turrets 320, blockhaus 300, barbettes 270 mm, Decks 20-70 mm


Jean Bart in 1911

Courbet in 1913, rear view

Courbet armour scheme diagram Brasseys 1912

Battleship paris full steam, 1914. Photo Marius bar coll.

The France in 1914. Notice the hoists heavy torpedo nets, abandoned some time later.