French Warships in the Age of Steam 1859–1914



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In 1859 the French navy was at a high point, having fought alongside the British in the Crimean War and developed a formidable fleet of fast wooden-hulled steam ships of the line. But in that very year the world’s navies had to start over again when French naval architect Dupuy de Lôme introduced the ironclad battleship. The French navy then went through three tumultuous phases. In the 1860s and 1870s it focused on building a new traditionally-structured fleet in which wooden-hulled battleships gave way to iron and steel ships with massive guns and armour. In the 1880s and 1890s this effort was disrupted by a vigorous contest between battleship sailors and advocates of fast steel cruisers and small torpedo craft, leaving France by the end of the 1890s with few new battleships (none as large as the best foreign ships) but some two hundred torpedo boats. The Fashoda dispute with Britain in 1898 revealed the weakness of the French navy and between 1900 and 1914 the French focused on rebuilding a strong battle fleet. In 1914 this fleet remained well behind those of Britain and Germany in numbers, but taken individually French warships remained among the best in the world.

This book is the first comprehensive listing in English of more than 1400 warships that were added to the official French navy fleet list between 1 January 1859 and World War I. It includes everything from the largest battleships to a small armoured gunboat that looked like a floating egg. Reflecting the main phases of naval policy, the ships are listed in three separate parts to keep contemporary designs together and then by ship type and class. For each class the book provides a design history explaining why the ships were built, substantial technical characteristics for the ships as completed and after major reconstructions, and selected career milestones including the ultimate fate of each ship. Following the earlier volumes written jointly with Rif Winfield, French Warships in the Age of Sail 1626-1786 and French Warships in the Age of Sail 1786-1861, this trilogy now provides a complete picture of the development of French warships over a period of almost three centuries.

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