French Barbette Ship Amiral Duperré (1877/1883)

French Battleship Amiral Duperre at anchor
Amiral Duperré, French barbette ship, laid down 1877; 11,030 tons.

Intro - Read on.    |     Specifications    |     Baudin class    |     Pictures    |     Specifications    |     Formidable

Marking a considerable growth in size and an uneasy mixture of features as the armored warship evolved away from the sailing-ship model, this unique warship suffered from a disconnect between France's vaulting ambitions for maritime supremacy, and her relatively backward industrial plant. Named for the Baron Guy-Victor Duperré, hero of the Battle of Grand Port (1810), Amiral Duperré was a composite-hulled vessel designed for 14 kts, with a 22"/10" wrought-iron armor belt and 12" protection on the barbettes. Built at La Seyne, he was armed with four 13.4"/18 cal. breech-loading rifles, which had a glacial rate of fire. By 1907 three of her guns had been replaced by 13.4in/21cal M1881s which were scarcely better, and worse, made her battery a mixed lot of incompatible guns. The rest of her armament consisted of one 6.4" and (14) 5.5" BLR. As with the main guns, the 5.5s were inferior to British, German, and Italian weapons of the time.

Aft barbette, French battleship Amiral DuperreThe Duperré had a peculiar disposition of her main armament, dictated by the placement of the foremast front and center before the bridge. This obviated a centerline mounting forward, so the ship's designers, working under Dupuy de Lôme, sponsoned the two forward 13.4" barbettes out under the bridge wings. This permitted retention of a raised forecastle as in previous ironclad French ships; see plan, and note the unique anchor-storage arrangements. The other two barbettes were placed on the centerline abaft the funnels, as seen in this nice period diagram from Germany.

A hurricane deck and boat storage formed an overhead above the after guns. The main guns were partially protected by armored shields, open at the front. Another peculiarity of the ship's design was the twin side-by-side funnels. And of course there were the massive out-curving stem and the pointed plough ram at the ship's bow. Like so many French battleships over the years, Amiral Duperré, designed as one of the most powerful warships in existence, lost a lot of ground because of her protracted build time of six years. Wrought-iron armor, a relic of the 1860s, would be quickly dropped in favor of much lighter and stronger steel armor, yet it was retained in her construction. Indeed, most of her original equipment would be obsolete within five years of her joining the fleet. Yet, like many another antique ironclad, she would be retained on the French Navy list well past the turn of the century.

Crew photo on DUPERRE's bridge

Amiral Duperré's design was refined and enlarged in the Amiral Baudin and later barbette ships in the French Navy during the early 1880s. Designed without a sail rig, they benefited from an unobstructed arc of fire forward and thus could mount main guns on the centerline before the bridge. The "fierce face" of beaklike bow and far-forward bridge and funnel, first seen in the central battery ships of the 1860s and 70s, became the caricature-like profile of the French battleship for decades to come. As for Duperré, she survived until 1909 when she was struck from the list and sold for scrapping. Above, in happier times members of Duperré's crew pose proudly aboard their magnificent ironclad.

Plan and Specifications

Line profile of the French ironclad AMIRAL DUPERRE

Amiral Duperré's specifications:
Dimensions: 318'3" x 65'8" x 27'9"   Displacement: 9,200 tons. Armament: (4) 13.4"/18 BLR, (6) 5.5" BLR, (12) Hotchkiss machine-guns on bridge and in fighting tops; (4) 14" torpedo tubes. Armor: Wrought-iron type. 22"/10" belt, 12.5" barbettes, 9.5" shields and battery, 2" deck. Fuel capacity: 510 tons of coal. Propulsion: 2-cyl. compound steam engines developing 7,120 hp, shafted to twin screw. 3-mast barque sail rig (as built), later reduced to schooner and then military rig. Design speed: 14 kts. Maximum actual speed: 11.5 kts. Crew: 646.

Metric specifications:
Dimensions: 97m x 20m x 8.5m   Displacement: 9,200 tons. Armament: (4) 34 cm/18 BLR, (6) 14 cm BLR, (12) Hotchkiss machine-guns on bridge and in fighting tops; (4) 356 mm torpedo tubes. Armor: Wrought-iron type. 56/25.4 cm belt, 31.7 cm barbettes, 24.1 cm shields and battery, 51 mm deck. Fuel capacity: 510 tons of coal. Propulsion: 2-cyl. compound steam engines developing 5,309.4 kW, shafted to twin screw. 3-mast barque sail rig (as built), later reduced to schooner and then military rig. Design speed: 25.93 km/hr. Maximum actual speed: 21.3 km/hr. Crew: 646.

Old lithograph - plan of the French ironclad AMIRAL DUPERRE
Decorative band
French ironclad AMIRAL DUPERRE at Bizerta
The Duperré crosses below the Transporter Bridge at Bizerte, present-day Tunisia.

Old engraving of the French ironclad AMIRAL DUPERRE
An old engraving of Amiral Duperré: "French Armoured Ship of the 1st Class."

Model of the Duperré in the Musée de la Marine - showing deck layout

The Amiral Baudin Class (1879/1888)

Section of the AMIRAL BAUDIN of 1888The 2-ship Amiral Baudin class was a derivative group of barbette ship, laid down in 1879 but not completed until 1888-89. Designed without a sailing rig, the vessels had no foremast to block a centerline barbette forward, thus had two guns aft and one forward for the same broadside of three guns. Guns were up-sized to a 37 cm/28 cal. weapon (14.6") and protected by an armored gunhouse which was open at the back. The side-by-side funnels of the Duperré were trunked into one larger unit. The ships' peculiar armor scheme included a 16" steel belt 7 feet wide, 6 feet of which were below the waterline. Originally the class featured two steel pole masts with round tops, like the Duperré. This view shows Amiral Baudin later in her career when her foremast was replaced by the fortified model introduced by the Neptune. These ships had very long service lives, but were of little military value their last decades in service, having worn-out machinery and being unable to steer properly at speed. As with the earlier central battery ships, they had a large proportion of their intimidating features concentrated forward in what became known as the "fierce face" characteristic of the French battleship. Note the murderous-looking plough ram, surmounted by the far-forward bow gun, immediately followed by the many-eyed wheelhouse, huge puffing funnel, and burly military mast with its bristling gunhouse. Formidable indeed! With luck, an enemy would be too frightened to fight. Superstructure was limited to a lozenge-shaped bridge deck that encircled the gigantic funnel, and boat booms around the mainmast. Compare the Formidable's profile with that of the Marceau class to see how this look was adopted as the official template for new French battleships all the way through 1900. Their influence was not confined to France: the Baudin class ships served as the model for Germany's first true pre-dreadnought battleships, the Brandenburg class of 1893.

Amiral Baudin Class Pictures

Stern quarter view of AMIRAL BAUDIN by Marius Barr

Stern view of AMIRAL BAUDIN

Amiral Baudin -- stern quarter view, emphasizing the tumble-home hull shape that was de rigueur in the French service at the time.

French battleship FORMIDABLE, 1885

Formidable was an improved half-sister of the Amiral Baudin. The three centerline 14.6" guns are clearly visible in this shot.

FORMIDABLE, stern view with huge Tricolor ensign

Formidable wearing her largest ensign at the Franco-Italian fleet review in Genoa, 1905. Below, she appears in a wood-engraved illustration by Charles Massias who contrasts her with an ancient galley.

French ironclad FORMIDABLE of 1890 - illustration by C. Massias

Plans and Specifications

Schematic of the Amiral Baudin class battleships
Schematic from the 1888 Brassey's.

Specifications for the Amiral Baudin class:
Dimensions: 321' x 69' x 29' (98m x 21m x 8.84m) Displacement: 12,150 tons. Armor: Creusot steel armor: 406/250/152 mm belt (16"/10"/6"); 12¾" gunhouses (324 mm); 16" barbettes (406 mm); 8" ammo hoists (203 mm); 4½" battery (114 mm); 4"/3" deck (101/76 mm). Fuel capacity: 800 tons of coal maximum. Limited capacity for oil fuel retrofitted c. 1904. Propulsion: (12) coal-fired cylindrical boilers; (2) 5,000-HP 3-cyl compound steam engines, shafted to twin screw. Sails: Military rig. Maximum speed: 14 kts. Crew: 650.

Armament: as built: (3) 14.6"/28 cal BLR (37 cm/28), (8) 5.5" BLR (14 cm), and (18) 3-pdr guns; (12) Hotchkiss machine-guns on bridge and in fighting tops; (6) 17.7" (450mm) torpedo tubes. As modified 1897-1901: (2) 14.6"/28 cal BLR, (4) 6.4" M 1893 BLR (16.25 cm), (8) 5.5", and (18) 3-pdr guns; (10) Hotchkiss MG; (6) 450 mm TT except Formidable: (2) 10.8"/45 (27.4 cm) guns substituted for the 14.6", as noted above.

Schematic of French battleship FORMIDABLE of 1889, as modified 1897-1901

Schematic of Formidable as reconstructed 1897-1901. The midships barbette (which had always suffered from a limited arc of fire) was replaced by an armored redoubt containing six 6.4" guns. In this ship only, 10.8"/45 cal M1893 (27.4 cm) guns were substituted for the original main weapons. These ships lingered in the MNF's reserve until 1910 -- working the backwaters of a technological milieu undreamed of when they was designed back in the 1870s.

French battleship FORMIDABLE towing an observation balloon
In another popular woodengraving, Formidable tows a tethered hot-air balloon in 1890. Enlarge

Fouled anchorFrench flagFouled anchor