French Central Battery Ships:
Rédoutable (1876/1881) | Dévastation (1881) | Courbet (1883)
Rédoutable - read on. | Specifications | Pictures | Dévastation and Courbet (1878)
When the Rédoutable was launched from the Lorient Dockyard in 1876, she was one of the most advanced composite-hulled (iron and steel) battleships in the world; her launch provoked more powerful copies in England and Italy. While the full square rig gives her an archaic look to our eyes, the radical hull shape and advanced Creusot process compound armor placed her on the cutting edge of technology in her day.
Brought into existence as an improvement of the 1870 Colbert, France's last wooden-hulled ironclad, and modeled on her predecessor's design, Rédoutable combined central battery mounting with some barbette-mounted guns. The central battery comprised a huge ironclad box (redoubt) protruding from both beams; exaggerated tumble-home created a "tunnel" form (right) allowing the central battery guns to fire either dead-ahead or -astern; or, theoretically, both at once. Click here to enlarge drydock photo. The three barbette mountings were on either upper-deck corner of the central battery boxes (concealed by light-colored hangings in our top photo), and on the centerline aft, clearly visible in the photo below. French naval design was already becoming fixed as high-sided ships with a hull shape featuring extreme tumble-home (see Rédoutable's side in section below left) and exaggerated fierce-looking rams, guns crowded onto the extreme bows, all later characterized as the "fierce face" principle. Generations of seasick French sailors could testify to the poor seakeeping characteristics of ships so shaped. But the tumble-home convention would endure in French naval architecture long after the central battery had disappeared. So would the practice of siting elements of the main armament in beam positions, either in wing turrets or in barbettes sponsoned over the sides.
A gigantic plow ram disfigured Rédoutable's bow; a single enormous oblong funnel dominated her superstructure. Huge anchors with wooden stocks swung from her bows, and the ship featured a haughty raised forecastle. The overall effect was grotesque and homely, with many outsize features juxtaposed.
According to Scientific American (on her commissioning in 1881):
"The Rédoutable is built partly of iron and partly of steel and is similar in many respects to the ironclads Devastation and Courbet of the same fleet, although rather smaller. She is completely belted with 14 in. armor, with a 15 in. backing, and has the central battery armored with plates of 9˝ in. in thickness. The engines are two in number, horizontal, and of the compound two-cylinder type, developing a horsepower of 6,071, which on the trial trip gave a speed of 14.66 knots. Five hundred and ten tons of coal are carried in the bunkers, which at a speed of 10 knots should enable the ship to make a voyage of 2,800 nautical miles. Torpedo defense netting is fitted, and there are three masts with military tops carrying Hotchkiss revolver machine guns. The offensive power of the ship consists of seven breechloading rifled guns of 27 centimeters (10.63 in.), and weighing 24 tons each, six breechloading rifled guns of 14 centimeters (5.51 in.), and quick-firing and machine guns of the Hotchkiss systems. There are in addition four torpedo discharge tubes, two on each side of the ship.
"The positions of the guns are as follows: Four of 27 centimeters in the central battery, two on each broadside; three 27 centimeter guns on the upper deck in barbettes, one on each side amidships, and one aft. The 14 centimeter guns are in various positions on the broadsides, and the machine guns are fitted on deck, on the bridges, and in the military tops, four of them also being mounted on what is rather a novelty in naval construction, a gallery running round the outside of the funnel, which was fitted when the ship was under repairs some months ago. There are three electric [search]light projectors, one forward on the upper deck, one on the bridge just forward of the funnel, and one in the mizzen top."
Rédoutable's design was copied and enlarged in the sister-ships Courbet and Dévastation of 1878-79 and other combination central battery/barbette ships in the French Navy through the early 1880s, but preference shifted to all-barbette ships with their lighter-weight mountings. The Rédoutable had her sail rig removed in the early 1890s and replaced with armored military masts of the Neptune type. The ship was present during the negotiation of the 1901 treaty penalizing China for damages suffered in the Boxer Rebellion. Following the great extortion of the Celestial Realm, the venerable ship spent the rest of her days stationed at Saigon in the French colony of Indochina. Jane's Fighting Ships of 1906-07 sourly noted Rédoutable was "of no fighting value" and assessed: "Rédoutable is worn out, also unseaworthy, and is to be dismantled ..." (London: Sampson Low Marston, 1906, 152). After a very long career, the old ironclad was decommissioned and broken up in 1910.
This handsome woodengraving of the Rédoutable accompanied the 1881 Scientific American story.
Specifications for the Rédoutable:
Dimensions: 330'5" x 64'8" x 25'8" Displacement: 9,200 tons. Armament: (7) 10.6" BLR, (6) 5.5" BLR, (12) Hotchkiss machine-guns on bridge and in fighting tops; (4) 14" torpedo tubes. Compound armor: 13.75" belt, 9.5" battery, 2" deck. Fuel capacity: 510 tons of coal. Propulsion: 12 cylindrical coal-fired boilers; two 2-cyl. compound steam engines developing 6,071 HP, shafted to twin screw. Sail plan: 3-mast ship rig as built, modified to 3-mast barquetine, 1880s, and to 2-mast military rig, c. 1890. Maximum speed: 14.66 kts. Endurance: 2,800 nm at 10 kts. Crew: 706.
Dimensions: 100.7m x 19.7m x 7.8m Displacement: 9,200 tons. Armament: (7) 27 cm BLR, (6) 14 cm BLR, (12) Hotchkiss machine-guns on bridge and in fighting tops; (4) 356 mm torpedo tubes. Compound armor: 35 cm belt, 25 cm battery, 50 mm deck. Fuel capacity: 510 tons of coal. Propulsion: 12 cylindrical coal-fired boilers; two 2-cyl. compound steam engines developing 4,527 kW, shafted to twin screw. Sail plan: 3-mast ship rig as built, modified to 3-mast barquetine, 1880s, and to 2-mast military rig, c. 1890. Maximum speed: 27.1 km/hr. Endurance: 5,186 km at 18.5 km/hr. Crew: 706.
Schematic of Rédoutable from Brassey's Naval Annual of 1888.
Model of Rédoutable in the Lorient Museum.
Rédoutable at Toulon, 1890s, refitted with armored masts. She appeared in this guise during her China and Vietnam service.
The Dévastation Class - 1878 / 1881
France's Greatest Central Battery Ships
The next stage: battleships Courbet and Dévastation (shown). Side-by-side chimneys formed sides of the superstructure; sail rig was abandoned altogether. Otherwise, the ships were slightly larger, improved copies of Rédoutable. They were also worthy contestants for the French navy's Ugliest Battleship award, in a field packed with serious competitors.
Schematic of Dévastation from Brassey's Naval Annual of 1888.
Schematic of the Dévastation class. Specifications:
Dimensions: 318'3" x 69' x 28'3" Displacement: 10,000 tons. Armament: (4) 10.8" BLR, (2) 9.4" (3 on Courbet), (1) 6.4" (Courbet only), (10) 4" guns; (14) 3-pdr and (17) 1-pdr guns; (8) Hotchkiss MG on bridge and in fighting tops; (4) 14" torpedo tubes. Compound armor: 13.75" belt, 9.5" battery, 2" deck. Fuel capacity: 900 tons of coal. Propulsion: Two 2-cyl. compound steam engines, shafted to twin screw. Rig: 2-mast military rig as built. Maximum speed: 14.66 kts. Endurance: 2,800 nm at 10 kts. Crew: 689. Re-engined 1899-1901 with two 3-cyl. compound engines and Belleville boilers, capable of 8,100 hp, and said to be good for 15 kts afterwards.
Dimensions: 100.7m x 19.7m x 7.8 m. Displacement: 10,000 tons. Armament: (4) 27 cm/28 M1881 BLR, (2) 24 cm BLR (3 on Courbet), (1) 18 cm (Courbet only), (10) 10 cm, (14) 3-pdr, and (17) 1-pdr guns; (8) Hotchkiss MG on bridge and in fighting tops; (4) 14" torpedo tubes. Compound armor: 35 cm belt, 25 cm battery, 51 mm deck. Fuel capacity: 900 tons of coal. Propulsion: Two 2-cyl. compound steam engines, shafted to twin screw. Rig: 2-mast military rig as built. Maximum speed: 27 km/hr. Endurance: 5,186 km at 18.5 km/hr. Crew: 689. Re-engined 1899-1901 with two 3-cyl. compound engines and Belleville boilers, capable of 6,040 kW, and said to be good for 27.8 km/hr afterwards.
The Dévastation anchored when new, 1882.
Sister ship Courbet on maneuvers, showing the unique funnel arrangement and grotesque hull shape. The two ships were re-boilered and re-engined in 1899-1901 and retained in the Commissioned Antiques Division of the French navy for a further dozen years.
Stern view of the Courbet shows the bizarre contours of a French ironclad hull, c. 1882, and the 6.4" stern turret, unique to this one ship.