French Battleship Suffren (1903)

Thrilling action view of SUFFREN at speed

Intro - Read on.     |     Specifications     |     Photos

Named after the 18th century French admiral Pierre André de Suffren de Saint-Tropez, the battleship Suffren was launched in July 1899 at the Brest Dockyard and commissioned in 1903. At 12,750 tons, she was a transitional type between the Bouvet and the Republique/Liberté group, featuring diminished tumble-home shape and a longer hull (see section, below right).

Section through the ship's sideSuffren capitalized on the big breakthrough of the preceding Charlemagne class: the final switch to all twin turrets for the main armament, giving her the firepower of four 12" guns, not two or three. Unlike the Charlemagnes and their near-sister the Iéna, Suffren disposed her secondary armament of 6.4" guns in single turrets along the sides of the top deck: three per side for a total of six, an arrangement which was elaborated in the following 2-ship class, the Républiques, using twin turrets instead of the Suffren's singles. The beam turrets sat on squarish sponsons which popped from the ship's shoulders, somewhat in the manner of central battery ships. As you can see from the schematic plan, these formed the extremes of the ship's armored redoubt, itself a remnant of the central battery design. Two more 6.4" guns were housed in the redoubt structure on each side, one deck lower than the 6.4" turrets, again adapted for straight-ahead fire as in the old central battery ships (and a development of the Brennus design of 1889). With 16,000-hp engines and triple screw, Suffren could deliver a standard 18 knots. Taken altogether the ship's speed, improved seaworthiness, and sensible armament layout made Suffren France's first pre-dreadnought that was nearly competitive with those in the navies of her rivals, chiefly Great Britain's Royal Navy. Yet like all French designs, she was small by British standards -- 1,000 tons larger than the Charlemagnes, but still only 12,000 tons against 16,000 -- and not intended for prolonged deep-water voyaging.

Snapshot of SUFFREN at GallipoliIn 1915, Suffren was the flagship of the squadron of four French battleships commanded by Rear-Admiral Guépratte, which took part in the naval operations in the Dardanelles Campaign. During the March 18, 1915 attempt to force the Narrows of the Dardanelles in which the Bouvet was sunk, Suffren took a number of hits from Turkish land-based artillery. With several flooded compartments and a number of guns put out of action, Suffren had to journey to Malta in company with the battlecruiser Inflexible for repairs.

At left, a rare snapshot of the ship during the Gallipoli campaign, 1915, only a few months before her sad demise. The ship's stacks appear to have been equipped with spark arrestors similar to the Liberté class ships. Because of the much greater bore of Suffren's funnels, this was clearly another custom project by the French navy's marvelously inventive Funnel Cap Squad.

Having supported operations at Gallipoli and Salonika, Suffren was limping back to Lorient for a refit when she was intercepted off Lisbon by a lone U-boat on November 26, 1916. Because of battle damage and heavy seas, the battleship was only travelling at 9 knots, and unescorted when attacked. U-52's torpedo detonated a magazine. Suffren disintegrated and sank in seconds with all hands: 648 were lost.


Plans and Specifications

Schematic of Battleship SUFFREN

Specifications for the Suffren:
Dimensions: 422'6" x 70' x 28'   Displacement: 12,750 tons standard. Armament: (4) 12"/45 cal (2x2), (10) 6.4"/45 cal (6x1, 4 casemate-mounted), (8) 4", and (22) 3-pounder guns; (4) 18" torpedo tubes. Armor: KC type throughout. Double armored deck/splinter deck with cellular layer between. Belt: 12"/9"; turrets: 13"; hoists: 8"; conn: 12"/10"; secondary turrets, redoubt casemates, and lower deck side: 5¼"; deck: 3"; splinter deck: 1¾". Fuel capacity: 820 tons of coal std; 1150 tons maximum; 60 tons of oil, std. Propulsion: 32 Niclausse water-tube boilers; (3) inverted vertical triple expansion engines developing 16,200 ihp, shafted to triple screw. Speed: 18 kts. Crew: 730. Initial cost: £1,200,000 at 1902 valuation.

Metric Specs:
Dimensions: 128.8m x 21.3m x 8.6m   Displacement: 12,750 tons standard. Armament: (4) 305 mm/45 cal (2x2), (10) 162 mm/45 cal (6x1, 4 casemate-mounted), (8) 100 mm, and (22) 1.35-kg 3-pounder guns; (4) 450 mm torpedo tubes. Armor: KC type throughout. Double armored deck/splinter deck with cellular layer between. Belt: 305/229 mm; turrets: 330 mm; hoists: 203 mm; conn: 305/254 mm; secondary turrets, redoubt casemates, and lower deck side: 133 mm; deck: 76 mm; splinter deck: 44 mm. Fuel capacity: 820 tons of coal std; 1150 tons maximum; 60 tons of oil, std. Propulsion: 32 Niclausse water-tube boilers. (3) inverted vertical triple expansion engines developing 12,080 kW, shafted to triple screw. Speed: 33.3 km/hr. Crew: 730. Initial cost: £1,200,000 at 1902 valuation.


Sufferin' Succotash -- the Suffren!

French Battleship Suffren at anchor, with aeroplane

Suffren poses indolently with another technological marvel, the aeroplane, whose first successful flight came the same year she mustered into the MNF.

A fine bow view at anchor in Toulon, showing the ship's diminutive bridge and conning tower.

SUFFREN -- profile view in port, looking very smart

An equally good profile view showing the cutouts in superstructure for the secondary turrets, arrangement of accommodation ladders on the tumbled-back hull, and the masts and funnels.. Enlarge

Battleship SUFFREN - stern quarter view

Quarter view of the Suffren, showing the tumble-home hull and arrangement of secondary armament. Note octagonal tops and masts as in the Bouvet, beam sponson. The aft twin 12" turret is well visualized here.


Another view at Toulon. Caption reads "Suffren - First-rate Battleship and flagship."

SUFFREN underway
The Suffren underway, entering the Great Roadstead outside Toulon.

SUFFREN on washday

It's wash day at Toulon (a Tuesday or a Friday) and Suffren's laundry is fluttering from the forestays, the breeches from the backstays. This view of the great ship was taken on a breezy day in 1913. It is more than a year before the start of the Great War, and all's right with the world.  Enlarge

Thrilling action view of SUFFREN at speed

The French may not have had the best battleships, but they had some of the best battleship photographers. Here is Suffren lunging into the fray, spray shimmering around her bow, guns at the ready. The squarish sponson on the beam is shown to advantage in this shot, a popular postcard from the noted lensman Bougault of Toulon. For a pristine enlarged view, click here.


Fouled anchorFrench flagFouled anchor