The Charlemagne Class - 1899

The GAULOIS, 1900 - bow three-quarter view
The Gaulois leaving port. Ship was later torpedoed and sunk in the Mediterranean, 1916.  

Intro - Read on.    |     Specifications    |     Photos    |     The Iéna    |     Links

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The three Charlemagnes were the closest thing to a class of battleships in the French fleet during the 1890s, often called the "fleet of samples" period. After their near-sister the Iéna joined them in 1902, they made up the most cohesive and compatible squadron in the French fleet. Completed in 1899 and 1900, these were the first French battleships to opt for twin mountings for all their main guns rather than retaining single turrets for the main guns; the Canet Modèle 1893 twin 12"/40 turret is pictured below. This trio was well engined and built with pride. But they repeated many of the weaknesses of their predecessors: Unduly small size and stability problems caused by their somewhat moderated, but still voluptuous tumble-home shape. In one other respect these ships were noteworthy, even ground-breaking units: They provided a respectable test bed for some of the most outrageous excesses of the French navy's Funnel Cap Squad. Steampunk indeed!


Plans and Specifications

Schematic of French Charlemagne class battleships of 1899

The Charlemagne was the first French battleship to utilize two twin main turrets rather than relying on single turrets.

Specifications for the Charlemagne:
Dimensions: 380'9" x 67’6” x 28'   387'6" LOA   Displacement: 11,260 tons. Armament: (4) 12”/40 (2x2), (10) 5.5"/40, (8) 4”/40, and (20) 3-pdr guns; (4) submerged 18” TT. Armor: Harvey type. 16"/10” belt; 9” fore turret; 11" after turret; 8" hoists; 12" conn; 5" bulkheads; 3" battery; 1½” deck. Fuel capacity: 680 tons normal, 1100 maximum, plus 200 tons oil. Propulsion: (20) coal-fired Belleville boilers; (2) 4-cyl vertical inverted triple expansion engines developing 14,500 hp, shafted to twin screw. Speed: 18.2 knots. Crew: 631.

Ships in class: Charlemagne · St. Louis · Gaulois

Metric Specs:
Dimensions: 116m x 20.6m x 8.53m   118.11m LOA   Displacement: 11,260 tons. Armament: (4) 305 mm/40 (2x2), (10) 140 mm/40, (8) 100 mm/40, and (20) 3-pdr guns; (4) submerged 45 cm TT. Armor: Harvey type, in mm: 406/254 belt; 229 fore turret; 280 after turret; 203 hoists; 305 conn; 127 bulkheads; 76 battery; 40 deck. Fuel capacity: 680 tons of coal normal, 1100 maximum; plus 200 tons oil. Propulsion: (20) coal-fired Belleville boilers; (2) 4-cyl vertical inverted triple expansion engines developing 10,812 kW, shafted to twin screw. Speed: 33.5 km/hr. Crew: 631.


A Gaulois Gallery

French battleship GAULOIS of 1899
Gaulois passing close in a dramatic photo taken at speed.

French battleship GAULOIS of 1899 at Toulon: Bow view
A portside view of Gaulois at Toulon reveals the ship's still by-no-means-negligible tumblehome.

French Model 1893 12in/40 Twin Turret

The French Model 1893 12"/40 twin turret was a technological benchmark, used to arm the Charlemagnes and Iéna.   NavWeaps

French battleship CHARLEMAGNE under way - Photo M. Bar
The name ship leaving a port in the south of France.     Marius Bar

French battleship CHARLEMAGNE under way - Quarter view
Charlemagne steaming down the Grand Rade de Toulon.  Enlarge

French battleship CHARLEMAGNE under way - Photo M. Bar
Stern view of the Charlemagne, colourized by Isolake Jr.  Enlarge


The Iéna - 1898/1902

The IENA on trials by A. Bougault: Portside bow 3/4 view
The Iéna, shown here making 18.11 kts on trials, was a slightly improved Charlemagne.  Bougault

Ship History - Read on.    |     Photos    |     Disaster    |     Links

The Iéna, named for one of Napoléon's most famous victories at Jena and Auerstedt, was a near-copy of the Charlmagnes, with a slightly longer hull and secondary armament upgraded to eight 6.5"/45 (164 mm) Modèle 1893 and eight 3.9"/45 (100 mm) Mle 1893 guns. Her ostensible raison d'être was to correct the unstable ride caused by the excessive tumble-home in the Charlemagnes; but Alphonse Thibaudier, the Naval Constructor at the time, did not revise the ship's lines except to accommodate the 21 additional feet of length; in consequence, she rolled and pitched as badly as her predecessors. Outsize bilge keels failed to correct this distressing tendency. Mon Dieu! What was a navy to do, except replace Thibaudier with France's foremost naval idea man, Émile Bertin?

French battleship IENA explodesIéna spent much of her 5-year career in the yard in various attempts to address her shortcomings as a sea-boat, and in the arrangement of her fire control and secondary armament. She was ordered to Toulon's Dock No. 2 for graving and inspection of her rudder shaft in March 1907. Shortly after 1330 on March 11, the ship was split asunder by an explosion amidships in the No. 5 100 mm magazine. This in turn triggered other explosions and soon the waist of the ship was engulfed in a fireball (left). The cause was aging nitrocellulose propellant, which set off the débacle through spontaneous combustion in the ship's powder tier. The explosions and fires devastated the vessel and destroyed much of her propulsion machinery. Because of the ship's being in drydock, it was at first impossible to flood the magazines. The battleship Suffren, berthed beside the Iéna in Drydock No.1, was buffeted by the continued blasts and nearly capsized inside her own dock.

One Ensign de Vaisseau Roux managed to open the sluice gates in No. 1 and flood the dock before being himself decapitated by flying debris. He was accounted one of the heroes of the day, his action making possible the containment of the fires aboard. This in turn contained the damage before it spread further through France's main naval base.

French battleship IENA gutted after explosion & fireWhen the emergency was over, the ship's side amidships was found ripped open from the rail all the way down below the waterline, to the lower edge of the armor belt. A survey of the Iéna revealed a battleship so badly damaged that it would be prohibitive to rebuild her: a figure of 7 million francs was mentioned, at a time when a new Liberté class battleship cost 1.42 million. Already well into an ambitious battleship construction programme featuring Bertin's more elegant designs, the French Navy opted to take the loss and use Iéna's hulk as a target to assess the latest armor-piercing shells. These trials were conducted at the Ξle des Porquerolles between August and December 1909. On December 2, the vessel capsized and sank despite efforts to save her. The hulk was sold to the junk man and was salved in several stages between 1912 and 1927, its tormented steel sacrificed to feed the furnaces of Progress.

Meanwhile in government, the brouhaha over the self-igniting gunpowder forced Navy Minister Gaston Thomson from office. But problems with nitrocelluose propellant persisted. The report on the specific conditions that caused the Iéna's loss did not prevent virtually the same thing happening to the newer, Bertin-designed Liberté four years later.


If You Yearn for the Iéna

The IENA on trials by A. Bougault: Portside bow 3/4 view
The Iéna sets out on a patrol from home base Toulon.

The IENA on trials by A. Bougault: Portside bow 3/4 view
A harborside view of the Iéna with crewmen mustered topside.

The IENA on trials by A. Bougault: Portside bow 3/4 view
The Iéna on trials - starboard side companion to the shot at top.  Bougault

Battleship IENA: Portside quarter view
Viewed from the stern quarter, the Iéna appeared identical to the Charlemagnes.

Battleship IENA: Portside quarter view
Colourised B&W photo of the Iéna: Contemporary postcard of the cruder sort.

The IENA at anchor: Portside bow 3/4 view
Iéna in her heyday, about to slip her mooring.  Enlarge


The Iéna's Magazine Explosion

The IENA exploding, photo by Marius Bar
The Iéna, shown wreathed with explosion clouds, takes fire in Toulon.   Marius Bar

The IENA exploding - Photo by M. Bar
The Iéna explodes and burns in drydock - stern view.   Enlarge  Marius Bar

The IENA burning after her 1907 magazine explosion
The Iéna burns:   port side detail by Toulon's other master naval photographer.   A. Bougault

The IENA magazine explosion: Contemporary illustration (1907)
Contemporary illustration shows locus, if not accurate appearance, of the cascading explosions.

The IENA burnt out after 1907 magazine explosion

The scene days after the explosion: one burnt-out battleship. It was estimated that it would take Fr. 7 million to put the damage right; a brand-new 1907 battleship cost Fr. 1.42 million. Iéna accordingly was designated as a target for her own navy.  Enlarge  Marius Bar


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