Bretagne class battleships

France (1914)
Bretagne, Provence, Lorraine

France’s wartime dreadnoughts

Before the war, France’s first dreadnoughts, the Courbet class, just entered service in 1911-1912. In the meantime, dreadnought design was still improving on the other side of the Channel, both in terms of artillery caliber and configuration but also speed, already peaking into the “super-dreadnoughts” genre. According to the ambitious French 1912 naval construction programme, a new battleship class was scheduled for 1913. It was to be like the British Queen Elisabeth and Revenge class, the first French “super-dreadnoughts”.

Albeit excessive as legitimate battleships worthy of the name were built in the interwar and became the standard for ww2, the Bretagne were nevertheless a leap forward in terms of Battleship design as far as France was concerned, although still 2-3 years late. All three were started in may-july-november 1913 at Lorient, Brest and Loire shipyards (St Nazaire), and commissioned in 1916. Nominally they were replacements for the Carnot, Charles Martel and Liberté. They had long careers after modernization, well until 1945. Following Normandie and ever more Lyons were to be really amazing designs and we’ll try to have a quick overview of these in another article.

Battleship Provence in 1916


Both ships classes shared similar hulls and armour arrangements (because of shipyards limitations, as ordered by the Conseil supérieur de la Marine (CSM)), but of course the real change was artillery with 10x 340mm (13.4 in) main guns, arranged in five double turrets all in the centerline. These were the AB, XY front and rear, plus another in the center, located just between the two chimneys and superstructures. This made for a reduction in firepower strength both in chase and retreat, but a bigger broadside.
The secondary battery comprised 22x 138.6 mm Mle 1910 guns in barbettes. Although inferior to the 152mm of the British and German types, they had toughly the same range but were much faster to reload, enabling true defensive advantages against fast ships like destroyers and torpedo-boats. There were also 7× 47 mm QF (1.9 in) guns also used for saluting, and 4× 450 mm (18 in) torpedo tubes.

On the armour side however, using the same hull imposed a sacrifice, as the width of the armored belt was reduced by 20 mm (0.79 in) to compensate for the increased weight of the main battery. Like the previous class, armour was in general a bit “light” according to contemporary standards, with only 270 mm for the belt, 314mm for the conning tower but 340mm for the turrets whereas the decks were 40mm thick. For propulsion, all three relied on four Parsons steam turbines, fed by 18 to 24 Niclausse boilers (Lorraine) generating a total output of 29,000 shp (22,000 kW). Speed was reduced at 19 knots but overall range slightly better at 4,600 nautic miles (8,500 km or 5,300 miles).

Battleship provence after refit
Battleship provence after refit, 1935.

Active service

The Bretagne and Lorraine were assigned to the 1st Division of the 1st Battle Squadron and quickly posted in the Adriatic while the Provence was made fleet flagship for the Mediterranean at large. It was also sent in the southern sector of the Adriatic, based at Argostoli and Corfu. Provence did some appearance off Greece, trying to intimidate the government of Greece not to join the central powers. in January 1919 Lorraine was sent to Cattaro to guard the Austro-Hungarian fleet. Lorraine and Provence were placed into reserve in 1922 due to budget cuts. Lorraine was active by 1923 after an overhaul. All three ships were taken in hands for a full modernization by 1935 (see 1939 file).


Bretagne class BB on wikipedia
Individual: The Provence
Specs Conway’s all the world fighting ships 1906-1921.

Provence class specifications

Dimensions 166 x 26,9 x 9,8 m
Displacement 24,000t; 26 000 FL
Crew 1193
Propulsion 4 hélices, 4 Parsons Turbines, 18-24 Belleville/Niclausse boilers, 29,000 hp
Speed 19-20 knots (39 km/h; 24 mph)
Range 4,600 nmi (8,500 km; 5,300 mi) at 10 knots (19 km/h; 12 mph)
Armament 10 x 340 mm, 22 x 138 mm, 7 x 47 mm et 4 TT sides 450 mm
Armor Belt 270, turrets 340, blockhaus 314, barbettes 170 mm, Decks 40 mm


Battleship Provence after refit, post 1935

Bretagne battleship brassey's naval annual
Bretagne battleship, Brassey’s naval annual

Provence battleship post 1935 rear
Provence battleship post 1935 rear view – US Navy recoignition archives

The Bretagne (“Britanny”) in 1916.

Dunois class Torpedo Cruisers
Courbet class battleships