Battleship Bouvet

The battleship Bouvet was the last ship in a series of the first battleships built in France at the end of the 19th century in response to the expansion of the Royal Navy and the German Navy.


Launch and design:

After the lost Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871, France began to rebuild and structure its army. Shortly after the war the planning for the army began, only a few years later the French navy began to modernize and to build new ships.

During this process the plans for several early battleships were developed. Up to this time France had no experience in building such ships, but the technical development in Great Britain and the German Empire forced the Navy to build such ships as well.

Based on the experience of the Marceau class, the construction of the two battleships Brennus and Charles Martel began in 1884. However, these were abandoned by Admiral Théophile Aube, since the technical development already brought many innovations, which were to be introduced into the new ships. For this purpose, the construction plans were revised and adapted.

In 1888 the construction of the Brennus began, which was regarded as the first battleship built in France.

When the Naval Defense Act was enacted in Great Britain in 1889 and 8 battleships were released for construction, the French Naval Ministry was forced to enact the Naval Statute in 1890, which resulted in the construction of 24 battleships and other smaller warships. The first phase of the programme included the construction of 4 battleships based on the plans of the Brennus. On December 24, 1889, the basic requirements were set by the Ministry. Thus the displacement should amount to approximately 14.000 tons, the main guns should have a caliber of 340 mm and the armour should be up to 450 mm. 5 naval architects then submitted their designs for the new ships, and the Commission also decided on the second design by Charles Ernest Huin. He had already designed the battleship Charles Martel and submitted the design, which had already been accepted by the Commission. But shortly after the Charles Martel had been submitted, the French Ministry of the Navy asked for an improved version of such a ship. Although only 4 battleships were planned at that time, the subsequent design of the Bouvet was nevertheless accepted as the 5th battleship.

When designing the Bouvet, Charles Ernest Huin followed the design of the Charles Martel, but took the wishes of the Ministry into account, which led to the ship being somewhat larger overall, having more displacement and the middle artillery receiving a larger caliber. As with the other battleships, the Bouvet had only two single turrets in which the main guns with a calibre of 305 mm were housed one at the front and one at the rear of the ship. The two 274 mm guns were each housed in a turret on the sides of the ship. Further 8 x 138 mm, 8 x 100 mm, 12 x 47 mm and 8 x 37 mm guns were installed. Overall, however, the armament proved to be too weak compared to other warships of the time. Even before the start of construction of the Bouvet, the Navy Ministry experimented with a new type of fire control system, which connected several guns with each other and could thus deliver a concentrated fire. The Bouvet was the first French battleship to be equipped with this system. The central command post was set up under the connecting tower under the tank deck. With this system the main guns or the medium artillery could be interconnected or groups the smaller calibers.

The propulsion was provided by three vertical triple-cylinder triple expansion engines, each driving one propeller, making the Bouvet only the second French battleship with such a propulsion system. The required power was provided by 32 water tube boilers housed in 4 boiler rooms. The target output was 14.000 hp and the maximum speed 18 knots. The ship was 122,4 metres long, 24,4 metres wide, had a draught of 8 metres and a maximum displacement of 12.200 tonnes.

The armouring consisted of nickel steel up to 400 mm thick on the belt and was intended to protect the ammunition and boiler rooms in particular. The two main turrets were protected by 370 mm thick armour, the other turrets by up to 100 mm.

The launch of the Bouvet then took place on 27 April 1896, the commissioning in June 1898.



Battleship Bouvet


Battleship Bouvet


Battleship Bouvet




History of the Bouvet:

After commissioning and testing, the Bouvet was assigned to the Mediterranean squadron, where all new and modern warships of the French Navy were deployed at that time.

In the following years several exercises and manoeuvres were carried out together with the Atlantic Fleet. In addition, several round trips were carried out to the various ports in the Mediterranean region.

In 1902, the Bouvet, together with the Jauréguiberry battleship and the new Iéna battleship, was assigned to the 2nd Battle Squadron in the Mediterranean. This was used again for a number of manoeuvres, with an accident on 31 January 1903, when the Bouvet went too far from its position during shooting exercises and was accidentally hit by the Gaulois battleship, resulting in minor damage.

Until 1906, manoeuvres and round trips were again carried out annually, until on April 10, 1906, the Vesuvius broke out in Italy and the French warships helped by delivering food and treating injured on the ships.

After the restructuring of the Mediterranean squadron, the Bouvet was assigned to the 3rd battle squadron in July 1908 together with the Jauréguiberry and Suffren.

After the new République and Liberté class battleships arrived in the Mediterranean in January 1909, the squadrons were restructured again. The Bouvet was first put in reserve and only reactivated in 1911 to be used again in the 2nd battle squadron.

On 16 October 1912 the transfer to the 3rd squadron took place to serve as a training ship. This task was carried out until the First World War.




Use in war:

After the outbreak of the First World War, the French battleships in the Mediterranean Sea were mainly used to secure troop transports between North Africa and France, a task also performed by the Bouvet.

At the end of August 1914 this task was completed and the Bouvet supervised the trade between Tunis and Italy until November so that no smuggled goods could enter the German Reich.

After a brief operation in the Suez Canal to relieve the British warships there, the Bouvet was ordered to the Dardanelles on December 20, 1914, where the Allies began in the following months to pull together a large fleet for the invasion of the Ottoman positions. By mid-February this fleet had already consisted of 4 French and 12 British battleships. The attacks began on 19 February when the Bouvet, together with the French battleship Suffren and the British ships Albion, Triumph and Cornwallis, fired on Ottoman coastal fortifications at the Straits. This attack was carried out again on 25 February, this time more successfully, so that the Ottoman positions could be destroyed.

From 1 March 1915, these attacks were repeated in the Gulf of Saros, where Ottoman positions were also destroyed. On 18 March, the internal fortifications of the Ottoman army were attacked, protecting the narrowest part of the Strait. Initially, the positions were fired at from a greater distance by British battleships. Afterwards the French ships advanced to bombard further fortifications from the proximity. The Asian side of the Strait was to be fired at by the Bouvet and the Suffren. Contrary to the first suppositions, the Ottoman positions had not been destroyed by the British battleships, but were still functional. They then fired at the incoming French ships. Already in the early afternoon the Bouvet had received several hits, 2 guns had failed and a fire had broken out on the bridge. At this time the two French ships also received orders to retreat and the British ships were to continue fighting the fortifications.



The battleship Bouvet 1915 in front of the Dardanelles





After receiving the order to retreat, the Bouvet began her journey south when an explosion shook the ship and a strong cloud of smoke enveloped it.

The escorting British destroyers rushed to the ship to take in survivors, but the Bouvet sank within 2 minutes, leaving only 75 crew members to be rescued and 643 killed.

In later investigations it turned out that the ship had gone on a sea mine and presumably the ammunition chamber was hit and exploded.



The battleship Bouvet shortly after the explosion


The sinking battleship Bouvet




Ship data:





Type of ship:  



Single ship

Building yard:  


Building costs:  



April 27th, 1896


June 1898


On March 18, 1915 during the retreat from the Dardanelles on a sea mine run and sank


122,4 meters


21,4 meters


Max. 8 meters


Max. 12.200 tons


632 men


32 Belleville water tube boiler

3 Vertical triple expansion machines


14.000 HP

Maximum speed:  

18 knots (33 kilometres per hour)




2 × 305 mm guns

2 × 274 mm guns

8 × 138 mm guns

8 × 100 mm guns

12 × 47 mm guns

8 × 37 mm guns

4 × 450 mm torpedo tubes


Belt: up to 400 mm
Deck: 70 mm
Main guns: 370 mm
Towers: 320 mm






You can find the right literature here:


French Battleships 1914–45 (New Vanguard)

French Battleships 1914–45 (New Vanguard) Paperback – January 22, 2019

This authoritative study examines the French Navy's last battleships, using detailed color plates and historical photographs, taking them from their inception before World War I, through their service in World War II including the scuttling of the French fleet at Toulon in 1943, and the service of Richelieu in the war against Japan.

On September 1, 1910, France became the last great naval power to lay down a dreadnought battleship, the Courbet. The ensuing Courbet and Bretagne-class dreadnoughts had a relatively quiet World War I, spending most of it at anchor off the entrance to the Adriatic, keeping watch over the Austro-Hungarian fleet. The constraints of the Washington Naval Treaty prevented new battleships being built until the 1930s, with the innovative Dunkerque-class and excellent Richelieu-class of battleships designed to counter new German designs.

After the fall of France in 1940, the dreadnoughts and fast battleships of the Marine Nationale had the unique experience of firing against German, Italian, British, and American targets during the war.

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French Battleships of World War One

French Battleships of World War One Hardcover – June 15, 2017

When war broke out in August 1914 France had only two dreadnoughts in service, with a second pair running trials. The main body of the elite Armée Navale was made up of the eleven battleships of the Patrie and Danton classes, both of which were intermediate designs with two main gun calibers. Older ships included survivors of the notorious Flotte d'echantillons ('fleet of samples') of the 1890 program and their successors designed during the 1890s.

This book traces the development of French battleships from 1890 to 1922, and also covers the extensive modifications made to the survivors during the interwar period. It is liberally illustrated throughout with line drawings and labelled schematics, plus photographs from the extensive Caresse collection, many of which are previously unpublished.

This is the most comprehensive account of these ships published in English or French, and is destined be the standard reference for many years to come.

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French Armoured Cruisers 1887–1932

French Armoured Cruisers 1887–1932 Hardcover – November 1, 2019

Of all the threats faced by the Royal Navy during the first years of the twentieth century, the one which stood out was the risk to Britain's sea lines of communication posed by France's armored cruisers. Fast, well-armed, and well-protected, these ships could have evaded any attempted blockade of the French ports and, supported by a worldwide network of overseas bases, could potentially have caused havoc on the trade routes.

The primary focus of the book is on the technical characteristics of the ships. Detailed and labeled drawings based on the official plans are provided by John Jordan, and each individual class of ship is illustrated by photographs from the extensive personal collection of Philippe Caresse. The technical section is followed by a history in two parts, covering the Great War (1914-18) and the postwar years, during which the surviving ships saw extensive deployment as "station" cruisers overseas and as training ships. This is the most comprehensive account published in English or in French and is destined to be the standard reference for many years to come.

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To Crown the Waves: The Great Navies of the First World War

To Crown the Waves: The Great Navies of the First World War Hardcover – July 15, 2013

The only comparative analysis available of the great navies of World War I--each chapter is written by a recognzed expert fluent in the subject language. The work studies the Royal Navy of the United Kingdom (John Roberts), the German Kaiserliche Marine (Dr. Peter Schenk with Axel Niestlé and Dieter Thomaier) the United States Navy (Trent Hone), the French Marine Nationale (Jean Moulin), the Italian Regia Marina (Enrico Cernuschi and Vincent P. O'Hara) the Austro-Hungarian Kaiserliche und Königliche Kriegsmarine (Zvonimir Freivogel), and the Imperial Russian Navy (Stephen McLaughlin) to demonstrate why the war was won, not in the trenches, but upon the waves. It explains why these seven fleets fought the way they did and why the war at sea did not develop as the admiralties and politicians of 1914 expected.

After discussing each navy's goals and circumstances and how their individual characteristics impacted the way they fought, the authors deliver a side-by-side analysis of the conflict's fleets, with each chapter covering a single navy. Parallel chapter structures assure consistent coverage of each fleet--history, training, organization, doctrine, materiel, and operations--and allow readers to easily compare information among the various navies. The book clearly demonstrates how the naval war was a collision of 19th century concepts with 20th century weapons that fostered unprecedented development within each navy and sparked the evolution of the submarine and aircraft carrier. The work is free from the national bias that infects so many other books on World War I navies. As they pioneer new ways of viewing the conflict, the authors provide insights and material that would otherwise require a massive library and mastery of multiple languages. Such a study has special relevance today as 20th-century navies struggle to adapt to 21st-century technologies.

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