France’s first dreadnoughts
The Four Courbet class were the first French monocaliber type battleships to enter service. They were started late, pending the scheduled completion of six Danton. This delay was considered unfortunate in this new race for dreadnoughts that began in 1906. But the 1912 program, established by Admiral Boue de Lapeyrère had the ambitions to give France twelve other dreadnoughts before 1918. The war would decide otherwise. The Courbet class counted four ships, Courbet and Jean Bart of the first batch, both began in 1910 in Brest, launched and completed in 1913 and the other two, France and Paris, at St Nazaire and La Seyne in Toulon. These were not operational in August 1914, as hostilities just started: France aligned to that date only two dreadnoughts against 13 for Hochseeflotte and 22 to the Royal Navy.
Paris in Construction in Toulon
The Courbet were designed by engineer Lyasse, these ships were much better armoured than the Danton, but still less than equivalent British, American, and German units. Their artillery configuration showed an early conventional layout given a trademark of French battleships, which gave a strong battery for chasing or in retreat respectively of 8 and 10 guns, for 12 in total. But in 1914, the 305 mm caliber had been exceeded already for some years and it was moving towards the 343 mm caliber planned for Britain established emergency on the same basis.
The Courbet were recognizable to their three chimneys separated by their mainmast. Secondary armament remained below the standard caliber of other marine (152 mm) and anti-torpedo artillery was modest. But these 138 mm in barbettes just filled the role of anti-torpedo defense with much faster firing pace. Relatively good steamers, these battleships reached 22.6 knots. Shells provisions were 100 rounds for each 305 mm piece and 275 rounds for each 138 mm. They were also fitted to lay down 30 mines.
Battleship France off Toulon harbor
The four Courbet were sent to the Mediterranean in 1914 (the Paris there was already conducting its first operational missions). The Courbet became flagship of Admiral Lapeyrère, and two additional spotlight were added on the platforms on the second fire station. These five ships served intensely, the Jean Bart conceding a torpedo from U-12 in December 1914 in the Adriatic, but without much damage. France and Jean Bart were also sent to Sevastopol, to fight the “red” in 1919. At that time, the four existing ships were now obsolete, pending modernization. It was observed that their front deck was subject to plough water by heavy weather, but it was not possible to have them lengthened because of the lack of suitable dock. France hit a reef and sank in 1922 near Quiberon, and the other three, partially modernized, served as a training ships in 1939.
Courbet class specifications
|Dimensions||165,9 x 27,9 x 9 m|
|Displacement||22 200t; 26 000 PC; FL|
|Propulsion||4 hélices, 4 Parsons Turbines, 24 Belleville/Niclausse boilers, 28,000 hp|
|Speed||20 knots (39 km/h; 24 mph)|
|Range||4,200 nmi (7,780 km; 4,830 mi) at 10 knots (19 km/h; 12 mph)|
|Armament||12 x 305 mm, 22 x 138 mm, 4 x 47 mm et 4 TT sides 450 mm|
|Armor||Belt 270, turrets 320, blockhaus 300, barbettes 270 mm, Decks 20-70 mm|
Jean Bart in 1911
Courbet in 1913, rear view
Courbet armour scheme diagram Brasseys 1912
Battleship paris full steam, 1914. Photo Marius bar coll.
The France in 1914. Notice the hoists heavy torpedo nets, abandoned some time later.