Battleship Charles Martel

The Charles Martel battleship was one 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, with the commission finally agreeing on the design by Charles Martel, who later became the eponym of the ship.

Due to the interference of the French parliament, which particularly criticized the high expenditures, the plans had to be changed and the displacement could finally only amount to a maximum of 12.000 tons in order to save money. After the adaptation of the construction plans, the construction of 5 battleships was finally decided on September 10, 1890.

With the Charles Martel, the designer oriented himself on the version of the battleship already presented in 1884, but adapted the plans to the new requirements. The ship had a length of 115,49 metres, a width of 21,64 metres, a draught of 8,38 metres and a displacement of 11.880 tonnes. The ship had two large masts between which there was an eye-catching deck, which made the ship top-heavy but at the same time seaworthy.

The propulsion was provided by two vertical triple-cylinder triple expansion engines, each driving one propeller. The power required for this was provided by 24 Lagrafel d'Allest water tube boilers, which were housed in 4 boiler rooms. The target output was 13.500 hp and the maximum speed 17 knots. During later test runs, an output of 14.931 hp was measured.

Contrary to the requirement for a 340 mm calibre armament, only two 305 mm calibre guns were mounted in individual turrets on the Charles Martel. In addition, two 274 mm calibre guns were mounted, each in a single turret and only on one side of the ship. Further armament consisted of 8 x 138.6 mm guns, 8 x 65 mm guns, 12 x 47 mm guns and 8 x 37 mm guns. Also 4 torpedo tubes were installed, of which 2 were fixed in the bow and the other 2 on platforms on the deck.

The armouring consisted of nickel steel up to a thickness of 460 mm at the belt and was especially designed to protect the ammunition and boiler rooms. The two main turrets were protected with 380 mm thick armour, the other turrets with up to 10 mm.

The launch of the Charles Martel then took place on 29 August 1893, the commissioning in June 1897.



Illustration of the Charles Martel


Battleship Charles Martel




History of Charles Martel:

After the commissioning the usual test runs took place until the ship could be officially handed over to the French navy. However, the handover was delayed after another battleship had problems with the welded tubes of the boiler plant and, like Charles Martel, these still had to be replaced.

After the official delivery the ship was assigned to the Mediterranean squadron and took part from 1897 to 1898 in the international operation during the Greek uprising on Crete.

Until 1902, the Charles Martel remained the flagship of the Mediterranean. During this time, several manoeuvres and exercises were carried out.

In 1902, together with other older battleships and cruisers, the ship was assigned to the reserve fleet of the Mediterranean squadron. In the following years these ships were reactivated for a short time of the year to take part in manoeuvres when newer ships were docked for maintenance during this time.

In 1909 the Mediterranean squadron was reorganized after the new ships of the République and Liberté class were put into service and a second squadron could be built, to which also the Charles Martel was assigned. In 1911, the battleships of the Danton class followed and a third squadron with the home port Brest was built, whereby the older ships were pulled together in the now third squadron.



Battleship Charles Martel




Use in war:

When World War I broke out in Europe, Charles Martel and Carnot lay in the port of Brest. The two ships were equipped with a hull crew and kept operational, but only until the new Normandy class ships were completed and could replace the two ships.

The Charles Martel then remained in the port as a reserve until the end of the war, but was not used in the war.





After the First World War, the ship was removed from the register of warships in 1922 and sold and scrapped in the same year.




Ship data:


Charles Martel



Type of ship:  



Single ship

Building yard:  


Building costs:  



August 29th, 1893


June 1897


1922 sold and scrapped


115,49 meters


21,64 meters


Max. 8,38 meters


Max. 11.880 tons


644 men


24 Lagrafel d'Allest water tube boiler

2 vertical triple expansion machines


13.500 HP (10.100 kW)

Maximum speed:  

17 knots (31 kilometres per hour)




2 × 305 mm guns

2 × 274 mm guns

8 × 138 mm guns

8 × 65 mm guns

12 × 47 mm guns

8 × 37 mm guns

4 × 450 mm torpedo tubes


Belt: up to 460 mm
Deck: 70 mm
Main guns: 380 mm
Towers: 230 mm






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