Painting of the ironclad LA GLOIRE by François Roux
A painting of the Gloire by François Roux, of the distinguished Marseille family of marine artists.

Ship's History - Read on.    |     Specifications    |     Photos    |     L'Ocean Class

A groundbreaking vessel in every respect, La Gloire was the first ever seagoing ironclad battleship, and as such the mother of all succeeding armored battleships. Designed by France's brilliant chief naval architect Dupuy de Lôme, she was a wooden-hulled frigate -- basically a ship-of-the-line design, cut down by one deck and sheathed in 4.7" thick wrought-iron armor. She was not the first armored warship: the floating batteries Napoléon III had built for the Crimean War, only a few years previously, claimed that distinction. Rather, Gloire was the world's first self-propelled, seagoing armored warship. Originally designed with barquentine rig, she was given more square-rigged sails in an upgrade to barque rig in 1862 (photo). However, the amount of sail provided was only sufficient to provide auxiliary power. This was a steamship with a permanetly mounted propeller, not a lift-up model as in British warships of the time. Beacause of her fine lines aft and back-tilted stern, the French frigate could attain flank speed with lower power than comparable British warships.

Ironclad French Battleship La GloireLa Gloire's radical features included a blunt bow with convex stem and low freeboard which made accuracy difficult for her main deck gunners in a seaway. The gunports were placed slightly too close to the waves, and too close to each other, making a crowded workspace for the crew, compared to the spacious and well-protected gun-deck of the Warrior sisters. La Gloire was launched in 1858 and commissioned in August 1860; her construction seems to have been rushed in order to claim a "first" for France, somewhat in the way HMS Dreadnought would be rushed into production some 50 years later. Ordinarily timber in a ship abuilding was allowed to season for up to 3 years to avoid the possibility of dry rot. This practice seems to have been deliberately ignored in the making of the world's first seagoing ironclad, which materially shortened her service life -- she lasted only 21 years.

La Gloire's debut caused a sensation in naval circles, and led the British to counter with an even more revolutionary armored frigate -- the all-iron HMS Warrior of 1860, twice the size of Gloire and coming close enough on her heels to steal some of her thunder. In succeeding years, the French Navy built two armored wooden copies of the Gloire, and one all-iron-hulled version, La Couronne. Even this ship failed to take advantage of the possibilities in iron construction for watertight subdivision, but was instead an iron copy of a wooden ship. The two wooden copies, the Normandie and Invincible, were made from unseasoned lumber and were stricken after only 10 years, victims of dry rot; La Gloire herself was scrapped in 1883. By contrast, her iron-hulled sister, La Couronne, was still afloat in 1932. She was rebuilt to resemble an old ship-of-the-line of the Napoléon type, and served as the Marine Nationale gunnery school for several decades.

France had built a sizable fleet of ironclads by 1870: three five Gloire clones and ten wooden-hulled look-alikes, the Provence class. Dupuy de Lôme's next move was to lay down a class of central battery ships: the Océan class of 1868.

Plans and Specificatons

Plans of the pioneer French ironclad LA GLOIRE, 1859

Detailed plans show the deck layout, with the bridge just before the mizzenmast; forward placement of the magazine; and arrangement of machinery. Enlarge

La Gloire's specifications:
Dimensions: 255'6" x 55'9" x 27'10"   Displacement: 5,630 tons. Armament: (36) 6.3" RML. Armor: 4.67"/4.33" wrought-iron belt bolted on all-wooden hull. Fuel capacity: 665 tons coal. Propulsion: 8 oval fire-tube boilers; 2-cyl horizontal return connecting rod engine developing 2,500 IHP, shafted to single screw. Sail rig: Barquentine, later altered to 3-mast barque; sail area: 11,810 square feet. Maximum speed: 12.5 kts. Crew: 570.

Metric specifications:
Dimensions: 77.9m x 17m x 8.5m   Displacement: 5,630 tons. Armament: (36) 16-cm RML. Armor: 118.6/109 mm wrought-iron belt bolted to all-wooden hull. Fuel capacity: 665 tons coal. Propulsion: 8 oval fire-tube boilers; 2-cyl horizontal return connecting rod engine developing 1,864 kW, shafted to single screw. Sail rig: Barquentine, later changed to 3-mast barque. Sail area: 1,097 square meters. Maximum speed: 23.15 km/hr. Crew: 570.

A Picture Essay on the First Seagoing Ironclad

Sail Plan of French ironclad LA GLOIRE

Plan of the ship published in Britain before she was completed attests to the keen interest in this development across the Channel.

Old print of LA GLOIRE under sail in a gale, c. 1862

Perhaps the best-known view of Gloire, a woodengraving depicting her rigged as a barquentine cutting through choppy seas under a full spread of canvas. In reality the ship was a dreadful sailer and designed only for short-range cruises under steam, with sail used sparingly to aid in speed and fuel economy.

Photo of French ironclad LA GLOIRE in her prime
The one really good photo of La Gloire in her prime.

Model of the Gloire in the Musée de la Marine, Paris, shows the ship's features, including tapered stern, underwater hull shape, and single 4-bladed screw. For a color shot of the model, click here.

A rare photo of Gloire rigged as a barque, drying her sails.

L'Invincible was one of La Gloire's short-lived, wooden-hulled sisters.

La Gloire:  Lithograph by Lebreton
La Gloire depicted in port by Lebreton, Paris' top marine printmaker.

The Océan Class (1869 - 70)

What a decade will do! A highly patriotic lithograph depicts improved Gloire ironclads, the Océan class, on maneuvers in 1869. Relying partly on barbette mountings and partly on broadside deployment, the 3 Océans were the third class of ironclad following the Gloire, succeeding the Magentas of 1862 and the Provence class of 1863-5.

Plan of the Océan class: pure Dupuy de Lôme. Armored box battery amidships in the hull, elevated gun-deck with corners on 4 barbettes high over the weather deck, secondary guns amidships on the gun-deck and along the rail toward bow and stern. The hull shape -- high forecastle and all -- re-echoed down the decades in the French fleet, during de Lôme's lifetime and for a bit beyond. The opernwork midships gunhouse seen here soon evolved into the armored redoubt of the central battery ships of the 1870s.

Model of l'Océan in the Musée de la Marine, Paris, showing the ship's partially armored hull, midships redoubt, and side-by-side dual stacks.

Another view of the Océan model, showing the ship's knifelike bow and ram.

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