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French Navy - 1880s

The French marine executed its first great naval maneuvers in 1886 under the direction of Admiral Aube. He undertook to demonstrate the important part which torpedo boats were capable of taking in naval operations, and to establish them as the most efficient agents in this cause.

In 1880 were laid down three more barbette-ships, the Marceau, Neptune, and Magenta, and a fourth, barbette-ship and turret-ship combined, the Hoche. In these ships there were four heavy gun positions disposed lozenge-wise, one forward, one aft, and one on each beam. Thus, three guns could in most positions be brought to bear on an enemy. The 75-ton weapons of the Baudin gave way to the long 34-centimetre gun in the first three. The armour was 17 inches thick on the narrow end-to-end belt ; 13 inches on the barbette; and 3 inches on the deck. The Hoche differs from the others in having two turrets, instead of barbettes forward and aft, containing each one 34-centimetre gun ; amidships she had two barbettes, each with one 27-centimeter gun. Her weight of armor was 3618 tons, and she was reported to be dangerously unstable ; indeed, great fault was found with all the four ships of this class. But if they were indifferently protected above the water-line, they carried very powerful armaments, as they have no less than seventeen 14-centimeter guns besides their main artillery. The Hoche, Formidable, and Baudin were later reconstructed, and in the last two one of the 75-ton guns was removed with its barbette. The Hoche's quick-firing battery has been reduced.

The Brennus followed them after an interval of eight years, during which France only laid down second-class ships. She carried two turrets, fore and aft ; in the forward one were two 34-centimeter long guns of about 71 tons weight; in the after turret was one 34-centimeter gun. From end to end runs a 15-3/4-inch belt of compound armor, and above this, amidships, was a lightly plated citadel. On this citadel stood four small turrets, two on each beam, each carrying one 16-centimetre quick-firer. Six more of these weapons were mounted in the citadel and separated from each other by splinter- proof traverses. Thus ten 16-centimetre quick-firers were carried, of which five fired on either broadside and four ahead or astern. The ship did not have a ram bow but a perfectly straight stem. As originally equipped for sea she was so grievously overloaded that she lacked stability. Very considerable alterations were made in her.

The Tonnant design was received with favor, and was repeated with improvements in the four ships, Caiman, Indomptable, Requin, and Terrible, which were larger, just as heavily armored, and even more heavily armed. They carried each two 75-ton 42-centimeter guns, placed forward and aft, besides four 10-centimeter weapons. They were launched between 1881 and 1885, and were later reconstructed and re-armed. About the same date eight small armored gunboats of very doubtful value were added to the fleet.

Three years passed between the launch of Duguesclin and the designing of the Dupuy de Lome. In the meantime the importance of speed had been recognised, and the advent of high explosives had made armor more than ever necessary. The Dupuy de Lome was commenced in 1886 and completed in 1894. She was a fast cruiser with a broad belt of hardened steel 4-inch armor reaching from some feet below the water-line to the level of her upper deck. Her armament consisted of two 19-centimeter guns mounted amidships, one on either beam in sponsoned turrets, and six 16-centimeter quick-firers, each in a separate turret. Three of these guns were grouped forward, and three astern. End-on, two 19-centimeter and three 16-centimeter guns could be brought to bear ; on the broadside, one 19-centimetre and four 1 6-centimetre. There was a double armor-deck, and the speed was twenty knots, which had not been in practice attained, There were two military masts, and the funnels are of unequal size - a great disfigurement to the ship. But there was no denying her fighting value : she was well-gunned, fast, and well-protected.

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