Overview of the Bretagne class
The three battleships of the Bretagne class (Bretagne, Provence, Lorraine) Bretagne meaning “Britanny”, launched in 1913 and completed during 1915-16 were the second series of French Dreadnoughts to see the day. More massive and bearing 340 mm main guns centered in the axis, they corresponded to the contemporary battleships of the Royal Navy at the time, the Iron Duke class.
Battleship Provence in 1940
Their powerplant had been improved, though still walking on charcoal. The 340mm model 1912 guns proved to be one of the best designed by French arsenals. Many of these were used on the front a rail batteries with success. They were reliable, sturdy and accurate. The last captured ended during the occupation in casemates of the infamous Atlantic wall. Their initial range was 21,000 meters. An additional sistership was commissioned in 1914 by the Greek Navy, but construction was suspended in August due to the war.
The French dreadnoughts in the interwar
Their career was active and continued in 1918, especially in the Mediterranean. They had been conceived as spearheads for the Toulon squadron. After 1918, they underwent a number of modifications, including the modification of their main gun mounts and cradles, in order to increase their range in 1921-23. Then their coal boilers were partially swapped for fuel boilers in 1927-30 and finally all in 1932.
Provence Battleship, rear view in 1937 or 1939, US Navy recoignition archives.
In 1935 they received new superstructures, fire direction positions (including a tripod mast), rangefinders, and secondary anti-aircraft artillery. They also received new 340 mm guns, with a new modified mount increasing their range to 30,000 meters. Their casemate and central battery saw their protection greatly improved. Lorraine also received a seaplane, hangar, cranes and catapult instead of its central turret of 340 mm. In 1939, however, this modernization still did not have the scope of a real overhaul, but no project in this direction had been planned so far. 1929 crisis and financing the Maginot line also dried budgets in this direction.
Battleship Provence in 1938.
During the conflict, Bretagne and Provence were part of the squadron of Mers-el-Kebir when came Admiral Sommerville’s ultimatum to Admiral French Gensoul. Bretagne, hit in an ammunition bunker, exploded, causing the most casualties of the whole squadron. Provence nearly suffered the same fate and was badly damaged. Abandoned by her crew, she sank slowly into the harbor. She will be refloated and later towed to Toulon for repairs. Provence resumed service in 1942 in Toulon, but would be scuttled like the rest of the fleet in November.
Battleship Lorraine was in Alexandria during Operation Catapult, and thanks to the diligence of the admirals present, was partially disarmed and interned until 1943. Then she joined the FNFL, after modifications in the United States, including new AA artillery. This ship served in the Mediterranean, participating in the Provence landings (Operation Anvil Dragoon). From 1945 to 1953, the battleship Lorraine served as a training ship and was disarmed and converted into a depot before being broken up.
Characteristics, as rebuilt:
-Displacement: 23,230 t. standard -25 200 t. Full Load
-Dimensions: 166 m long, 28 m wide, 9.8 m draft.
-Machines: 4 propellers, 4 Parsons turbines, 12-24 Guyot Du Temple boilers, 29,000 hp. Maximum speed 20 knots.
-Armour: belt 270 mm, barbettes 170 mm, bridge 40, turrets 340 mm, blockhaus 314 mm.
-Armament: 10 x 340 mm, 8 x 100 mm AA, 8 x 37 mm AA, 12 x 13.2 mm AA MGs, 2 underwater TTs.
The Bretagne at Mers el Kebir, August 1940 – author’s illustration