Battleship Masséna

The battleship Masséna 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 also opting for Louis de Bussy's design. The Inspector General of Naval Construction had already gained experience in the construction of the Redoutable battleship and the Dupuy armoured cruiser and presented the plans for the construction of the Masséna to the Commission.

As with the other designs, the Masséna also 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. Since the front gun was positioned very far forward, the weight distribution of the ship was badly balanced, which increased the already large stability problems. The two 274 mm guns were each housed in a turret on the sides of the ship. Further 8 x 138 mm and 8 x 100 mm guns were installed. Overall the armament proved to be too weak compared to other warships of the time.

For the first time in a battleship 3 vertical three-cylinder triple expansion engines were used as propulsion, each driving one propeller. The power required for this was provided by 24 water-tube boilers housed in 2 boiler rooms. The target output was 14.200 hp and the maximum speed 17 knots. The ship was 112,65 metres long, 20,27 metres wide, 8,84 metres draught and had a maximum displacement of 11.735 tonnes. The actually planned displacement of 10,835 tons was thus clearly exceeded. As a result, the draught of the ship was higher and the belt armouring was partly completely under water and therefore no longer offered sufficient protection against torpedoes.

The armouring consisted of Harvey steel up to 450 mm thick on the belt and was intended to protect the ammunition and boiler rooms in particular. The two main turrets were protected with 350 to 400 mm thick armour, the other turrets up to 99 mm thick. In addition to the weaker armament, the armor of the Masséna was also too strong, which finally led to the high weight of the ship.

The Masséna was launched in July 1895 and put into service in June 1898.



Battleship Masséna


Battleship Masséna


Battleship Masséna


Battleship Masséna




History of Masséna:

After the commissioning the Masséna was assigned to the Atlantic Squadron, which started the same year with the annual manoeuvres with the Masséna as flagship.

In 1900, some repairs were carried out and the engineers disassembled the pipes too quickly, causing steam to escape and 4 engineers to be seriously injured. Subsequently, in June and July, several manoeuvres were carried out with the Mediterranean squadron, practicing blockades and attacks on ports.

In 1903 the Masséna, together with other older battleships, was assigned to the reserve of the Mediterranean squadron.

Several manoeuvres were carried out in the following years, with the older battleships being used only when the newer ships were in the shipyard and could not take part in the manoeuvres.




Use in war:

When the First World War broke out in Europe, the French Navy decided not to reactivate the Masséna in Toulon because the ship was already completely obsolete.

Finally, in 1915, the armament and important parts of the ship were removed.





When the landing of allied troops in Gallipoli did not bring the desired success and the troops had to withdraw again from the beach, the Masséna was dragged from Toulon to the Ottoman peninsula.

The rest of the ship was sunk there on 9 November 1915 to serve as a breakwater for the imminent evacuation of the troops.



The dismantled battleship Masséna as breakwater in front of Gallipoli




Ship data:





Type of ship:  



Single ship

Building yard:  

Ateliers et Chantiers de la Loire

Building costs:  



July 1895


June 1898


Sunk as a breakwater off Gallipoli on November 9, 1915


112,65 meters


20,27 meters


Max. 8,84 meters


Max. 11.735 tons


667 men


24 Lagrafel d'Allest water tube boiler

3 Vertical triple expansion machines


14.200 HP

Maximum speed:  

17 knots (31 kilometres per hour)




2 × 305 mm guns

2 × 274 mm guns

8 × 138 mm guns

8 × 100 mm guns

4 × 450 mm torpedo tubes


Belt: up to 450 mm
Deck: 69 mm
Main guns: 400 mm
Towers: 350 mm






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