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French Navy - 1870s

In 1872 an enormous advance was made. Wood was abandoned, the draft of the ships designed reduced ; deck protection was introduced, and recessed ports adopted. The Redoubtable was the first battleship laid down which embodied these innovations. The ship was originally fully rigged, but later only carried light military masts. She was a central-battery and barbette ship, carrying in her central battery four 27-centimeter guns ; in two barbettes above the casemate, one on each beam, two more 27-centimeter weapons, and aft a seventh gun of this caliber. The barbettes had no protection against artillery fire, but the central battery was completely enclosed by armor 10 inches thick. There was an end-to-end water-line belt, which amidships is 14 inches thick : 2502 tons of plating are carried. The ahead fire was delivered by four 27-centimetre guns, two in the barbettes and two in the central batten. The light or auxiliary battery was not forgotten, and eight 14-centimetre guns were disposed on the forecastle and quarter-deck. The speed on trial was 14.26 knots.

The Devastation and Courbet followed the Redoubtable. The weight of armor was increased to 2700 tons, and the maximum thickness to 15 inches, but the belt was not end-to-end, the stern being left unarmoured. The general features of the Redoubtable design were retained ; there was the central battery carrying four guns, 34-centimeter in place of 27-centimeter, with fore-and-aft fire; there were the unarmored barbettes above the central battery, carrying the 27-centimeter gun; but a heavy gun forward was added. Hydraulic gear of the Rendel pattern was fitted to the Devastation, and subsequently to her sister, and to successive French ironclads. The Devastation is perhaps the finest central battery ship that had ever been designed, and in all round fire was greatly superior to the English ironclads of her type and date. On trial she steamed 15.1 knots. She carried 900 tons of coal.

The Amiral Duperre was begun in 1876, some months after the Devastation. In her the central battery completely disappears, and the barbette is triumphant. There were four barbette towers, two placed forward, one on either bow, one amidships and one astern, at a height of 27 feet above the water. These barbettes were protected by 15-inch armor, and each contained one 34-centimetre 48-ton gun. They were, however, mere shallow trays of armor, resting on the upper deck, with an armored trunk running down to the protective deck ; and they exposed the gunners' heads and shoulders, while shells bursting underneath might bring them down through the ship's deck and bottom. There was a narrow end-to-end belt of armor 21 inches thick amidships. The weight of armor was 2900 tons. There were fourteen 14-centimetre guns mounted amid-ships. The chief defect of the ship was the great extent of unprotected side which she exposed to the enemy's fire. In this she resembled the British Inflexible, though she differed widely from that ship in her high freeboard and end-to-end belt.

The Amiral Baudin and Formidable, which followed the Duperre, were generally similar to her. There were three, instead of four, barbettes, and all were placed on the center-line. The armour was of steel, 16 inches thick on the barbettes and 21 inches amidships on the water-line, its weight reaching the very high figure of 4000 tons. The guns carried were three 75-ton weapons in the barbettes, and twelve 14-centimetre guns amidships. As in the Duperre, practically the whole of the ship's side was open to the smallest projectile, and only little patches and strips of very thick armour are carried.

In 1872, after the war with Germany, a new type of vessel was introduced, similar in general design to the British Royal Navy's Rupert and Glatton. The vessels of this class were mastless monitors, carrying one turret and two guns each. Their names were the Tempete, Tonnerre, Vengeur, and Fulminant. They were succeeded by two vessels of somewhat different design, the Tonnant and Furieux. These had one barbette forward, and another aft, with one 34-centimeter gun mounted in each. There was a very thick end-to-end belt, but the freeboard is low, and the pair was not too seaworthy.

The the three small ironclads Galissoniere, Triomphante, and Victorieuse were succeeded by four much better ships - the Turenne, Bayard, Duguesclin, and Vauban. The first two had hulls of wood, the last pair hulls of iron and steel. They were reduced copies of the Duperre, carrying four barbettes, arranged as hers are, one sponsoned out on each bow, one amidships in the center line, and one astern. The thickness of armor and weight of guns were reduced by one half, and the heaviest weapon carried was the 24-centimetre breechloader. The speed of the four varied between fourteen and fourteen and a-half knots.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 02:58:00 ZULU