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French Navy - 1860s

The armored frigates Invincible and Normandie were followed in 1862 by ten frigates of very similar pattern to the Gloire, but carrying, instead of her 4'7 inch plates, armour 5'9 inches thick. They were also a trifle faster and more manageable. They were uniform in type, and this uniformity beyond doubt gave France an advantage which in more recent years passed to England. They carried from 880 to 950 tons of plating each.

Their successor was the small ironclad Belliqueuse, of 3750 tons, generally similar in design to our Bellerophon, though, of course, on a smaller scale. She was intended for cruising in distant waters and was of wood. Her battery consisted of four 19-centimetre, four 16-centimetre, and four 14-centimetre guns. In 1865 the Alma type was introduced, and seven vessels were built after it. Wood was abandoned for the upper works, but still retained for the hull of the ship below the water-line. There was an end-to-end belt, a central battery, and above this on either beam a barbette tower with fire ahead and astern. The barbettes were slightly sponsoned out from the sides, and each contained one 19-centimetre gun.

In 1868 the Ocean, a far more powerful ship, was launched, and in 1869 and 1870 she was followed by the sister ships Marengo and Suffren. The weight of armor carried rose to 1370 tons, and the thickness to 8'6 inches on the water-line. The hull was of wood, the upper works of iron. The battery was carried in a central armoured enclosure, and in four barbette towers, resting upon the armoured walls of the enclosure, amidships on either beam. The guns, as usual in the French type of tower, revolved on a turn-table inside a fixed armoured turret. The gunners were not adequately protected, but then on the other hand they could obtain a clear view of their enemy. In each tower was one 27 or one 24-centimetre gun, and in the central work four to six other heavy guns. Besides the heavy weapons an auxiliary armament of 12 and 14-centimeter guns was carried. The engmes of the Suffren were compound.

In 1868 the Richelieu, an improved Ocean, was laid down. She had the four barbette towers of the earlier type, but a longer central battery. She carries in each tower a 24-centimeter gun ; in her central battery was six guns of 27 centimeters, while one of 24 centimetres was placed forward under the forecastle. The armor was 8-6 inches thick. The speed on trial was 13'1 knots. The hull was of wood below the water-line ; above it, outside the central battery, of iron. The weight of plating rose to 1690 tons. She was followed by three ships of similar type, which, however, differ slightly from her and from each other. The Trident had two barbette towers, and carries eight 27-centimeter guns and two 24-centimeter. The Colbert and Friedland carried, the former eight 27-centimeter and six 24-centimeter, the latter eight 27-centimeter guns, as their heavy armament. Their hulls were of wood, and their armor 8'6 inches at its thickest.

The Taureau, a wooden garde-cotes cuirasses, or armor-plated coast-defence ram with one 24-centimetre gun, mounted forward in a barbette, followed in 1863, and a little later four similar vessels carrying two 24-centimetre guns in a revolving turret forward. In 1864 a number of floating batteries for harbor defence were laid down. They were very inferior ships even at the date of their design, and were good for little work at sea.

By purchase at the close of the American Civil War, France acquired the monitor Onondaga, and the large casemate-ship Dunderberg, which was renamed Rochambeau. Both soon disappeared from the French Navy List.

A third class of armorclad which has been built by France was the vessel for cruising on distant waters, or for encountering at home the cruisers which were now beginning to abound in all navies. The first ships of this class were the Alma and her sisters. These were followed some years later by the three small ironclads Galissoniere, Triomphante, and Victorieuse. They were all three of wood, with a complete belt 6 inches thick, and 4 inches of armor on their battery or barbettes. They were merely weak and slow ironclads, and had no important advantages as cruisers. For fighting purposes they are about as bad ships as the British Nelson.

Lack of motive-power was the reason why man-sized submarines lagged behind their little automatic brethren, the Whitehead torpedoes. Compressed air was just the thing for a spurt, but when two Frenchmen, Captain Bourgois and M. Brun, built the Plongeur, a steel submarine 146 feet long and 12 feet in diameter, at Rochefort in 1863, and fitted it with an eighty-horse-power, compressed-air engine, they discovered that the storage-flasks emptied themselves too quickly to permit a voyage of any length. The Plongeur also proved that while you can sink a boat to the bottom by filling her ballast-tanks or make her rise to the surface by emptying them, you cannot make her float suspended between two bodies of water except by holding her there by some mechanical means. Without anything of the kind, the Plongeur kept bouncing up and down like a rubber ball. Once her inventors navigated her horizontally for some distance, only to find that she had been sliding on her stomach along the soft muddy bottom of a canal. Better results were obtained after the Plongeur was fitted with a crude pair of diving-planes. But the inefficiency of her compressed-air engine caused her to be condemned and turned into a water tank.

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Page last modified: 24-11-2018 18:47:00 ZULU