Battleship Provence

The battleship Provence was the second ship of the Bretagne class, which consisted of three dreadnought battleships and was completed during the First World War.


Launch and design:

After building the Courbet class battleships, the French Navy decided to build more but more heavily armed dreadnought battleships to modernize and expand the navy. The calibres of the main guns were no longer the 30.5 cm guns already used, but 34 cm guns to be able to draw level with the new battleships Great Britain and the German Empire.

For the construction of the ships, however, the dimensions were tied to the size of the docks of the French shipyards. So the dimensions of the ships should be the same as those of the Courbet class and thus a length of 166 meters and a width of 27 meters should amount to. In order to be able to carry the new, larger and thus heavier guns, they had to be moved closer to the bow and stern of the ships, which ensured stability but reduced seaworthiness. A total of 10 Canon de 34 cm Model 1912 guns were used in 5 twin turrets. Two of the turrets were at the front and two at the back of the ship, the last turret was located in the middle of the ship and should be able to cover both port and starboard. As middle artillery 22 x 138 mm cannons were used, which were accommodated in single towers along the hull. On each side 2 x 450 mm torpedo tubes were used for the attack and it was possible to carry up to 28 naval mines and to lay them as a barrier.

Similar to the Courbet class ships, the waterline belt was heavily armoured to protect the ship against attacks by submarines and their torpedoes, but the Brittany class armour was only up to 250 mm thick, the Courbet class up to 270 mm. The turrets of the main guns were protected by 300 mm thick armour plates, the middle artillery by 160 mm thick plates.

The construction of Provence began after the order on 1 May 1912, the launch on 20 April 1913 and the commissioning on 20 January 1916.



Drawing of the Bretagne Class


Battleship Provence


Battleship Provence




Use in war:

After being put into service and the subsequent test runs, the battleship Provence was officially handed over to the fleet on 1 March 1916 and assigned to the 1st combat squadron.

At the time of the introduction of the ship Italy had already joined the war against Austria-Hungary at the side of the Allies and had taken over most of the security tasks off the coast of Austria-Hungary, so that the French fleet patrolled only the southern part of the Mediterranean Sea.

After the port of Argostoli on the Greek island of Kefalonia could already be used from 27 April 1916, the Greek island of Corfu was added at the beginning of 1917 as a base for the French warships. However, already from 1917 the lack of coal became apparent, so that the battleships only rarely left the port, Bretagne and Provence remained even the whole year in the port.

In 1918, the shortage of coal continued to make itself felt and the ships remained in the port. However, this period was used to modernize some of the battleships, especially for the exchange of smaller guns.

After the armistice in Europe and the surrender of Austria-Hungary, the Ottoman Empire and the German Empire, the battleship Provence returned to its home port of Toulon.



Battleship Provence


Battleship Provence




Post-war deployment:

After the war some French battleships were sent to the Black Sea to support the allied troops in the Russian civil war. The Ministry of the Navy also planned the transfer of Provence to the region, but when mutinies spread on the other battleships, the plan was rejected and the ship was sent with the Lorraine to Constantinople, where they were to form the core of the new eastern Mediterranean fleet.

After a fleet inspection in Le Havre in June 1921, Provence was sent to the port of Toulon together with Bretagne. There the ship remained and was put with the Lorraine in reserve to be able to carry out modernization measures. On 4 July 1923, these were completed, increasing the range of the main guns, replacing some guns and installing new rangefinders and a fire control system.

The next modernisation was carried out between 12 December 1925 and 11 July 1927. The range of the main armament was increased again, the belt armour at the bow of the ship was removed and some coal boilers were exchanged for oil boilers.

The third and last modernisation took place between 20 September 1931 and 20 August 1934. The remaining coal boilers were exchanged for oil boilers, new turbines were installed and the guns of the main armament were replaced.

After the ship was put back into service, it was assigned to the 2nd squadron in the Atlantic Ocean. There some maneuvers were accomplished and journeys to Madeira and Morocco. 1936 a longer journey was begun to several stations in Africa, until in Spain the civil war had broken out. The Provence and Bretagne were divided thereby to the patrol at the Spanish coasts without intervening in the civil war. These ended in April 1937.




Use in the Second World War:

When the Second World War broke out in Europe, Provence and Bretagne were in the port of Toulon. After a maintenance from October 21 to December 2, 1939, both ships ran into the Mediterranean to secure the troop transports from Africa to France together with some destroyers and cruisers.

At the beginning of 1940 the transfer to Casablanca took place, from where several advances into the Atlantic were carried out to intercept merchant ships. Near Gibraltar the ship was damaged when it touched the ground. The subsequent repair had to be carried out in Toulon.

On 11 April 1940 the squadron was moved to Oran, later the Provence with the Bretagne changed to the port of Alexandria, until the two ships were sent on 18 May to Mers El Kébir to collect the French ships there.

After France's surrender on 22 June 1940, the French warships not interned in Great Britain were placed under the Vichy regime. The British Prime Minister Winston Churchill feared, however, that these ships could soon be subordinated to the German Navy or the Italian Navy and thus pose a serious threat to Great Britain. He therefore issued an order to take over all French warships that were already in the ports of Great Britain and to make the ships that were overseas either be subordinated to the Free French in Great Britain, be interned in neutral states or be sunk.

On 3 July 1940, the ultimatum for the handing over of the French warships was delivered in the port of Mers El Kébir. At the end of the 10-hour period, the British ships began to open fire.





At first, Provence tried to break out of the port, but quickly returned. After the sister ship Bretagne was hit several times and exploded, the crew of the Provence began to put the ship on the beach of the port, since it was also already heavily damaged and a sinking should be prevented.

After the withdrawal of the British warships, the Provence was lifted and transferred to Toulon, where all remaining warships of the Vichy regime anchored.

After the German Wehrmacht began to occupy France on 27 November 1942 and shortly before that the port of Toulon was also to be reached, the order was given to the French ships for self-sinking so that they could not be captured by the Wehrmacht.

The Provence sank also in the port but was lifted on 11 July 1943 by the Italian navy. They removed most of the main guns and used them as coastal guns off Toulon.

After the Allies landed in Normandy on 6 June 1944, the rest of Provence was towed to the harbour entrance and sunk there to block the entrance as a block ship.

It was not until April 1949 that the wreck was lifted and scrapped.




Ship data:





Type of ship:  




Building yard:  

Arsenal de Lorient

Building costs:  



April 20th, 1913


January 20th, 1916


After 6 June 1944 sunk as a block ship in Toulon, lifted and scrapped as of April 1949


166 meters


27 meters


Max. 9,1 meters


Max. 26.000 tons


1.133 men


18 Belleville boiler

after reconstruction:
6 Indret steam boiler

2 Parsons steam turbines


28.000 HP (20.594 kW)

Maximum speed:  

20 knots (37 kilometres per hour)




10 × Rapid fire gun 34 cm L/55 in 5 double towers

22 × Rapid fire gun 13,86 cm L/55 model 1910 in single towers

2 × Rapid fire gun 4,7 cm L/50 Hotchkiss

4 × Torpedo tubes ⌀ 45 cm


Belt: 160-270 mm
Citadel: 80-180 mm
Upper deck: 30-40 mm
Upper armoured deck: 40 mm
Lower armoured deck: 40 mm
Longitudinal tank bulkhead: 8 mm
Bar beds: 248-270 mm
Towers: 72-400 mm
Casemate: 180 mm
Command tower: 314 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.

Click here!



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.

Click here!



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.

Click here!



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.

Click here!






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