Battleship Suffren

The battleship Suffren was one of the first French battleships to be built at the end of the 19th century and used during the First World War.


Launch and design:

In the course of the French armament of the navy and the goal to have 24 battleships built and in service until the beginning of the 20th century, an only slightly modified version was demanded after the start of construction of the battleship Iéna to save time for the development.

Thus only the armament and the armour should be strengthened, the remaining design should be taken over completely. It was only when the French Navy took on the project and demanded further changes that the design had to be changed more than originally planned. The middle artillery was no longer to be housed in casemates but in towers. The armour of the waistline was also to become thicker and more continuous. After it was also demanded that the number of grenades of the main guns be increased from 45 to 60, the developers had to adapt the design accordingly and only took over the basic construction of the Iéna.

The planned battleship named Suffren had a total length of 125,91 metres, a width of 21,42 metres and a draught of 8,22 metres and was therefore slightly larger than the Iéna. The maximum displacement was 12.892 tons.

As with the other French battleships, 4 x 305 mm guns in two double turrets formed the main armament of the Suffren. Only the number of shells carried was increased from 45 to 60. The middle artillery consisted of 10 x 164 mm guns, six of which lay in a single turret on each side of the ship and the remaining four in casemates on the 1st deck. Further armament included 8 x 100 mm, 20 x 47 mm, 2 x 37 mm guns and 4 x 450 mm torpedo tubes.

The belt armouring of the ship became more continuous and had a maximum thickness of 300 mm. The deck was provided with 60 mm thick armour, the main gun with 290 mm and the middle artillery up to 192 mm.

It was driven by three vertical triple expansion steam engines, each driving one screw, with the central screw having three wings and the two outer ones each having four wings. The required output of 16.200 hp was provided by 24 water-tube boilers, which enabled the ship to reach a top speed of up to 17 knots.

The Suffren was then launched on 25 July 1899 and put into service on 3 February 1904.



Drawing of the battleship Suffren


Battleship Suffren




History of the Suffren:

Originally the commissioning was planned for 1903, but as the delivery of important components was delayed, the ship could only be officially handed over to the French navy on February 3, 1904. In order to compensate the time of the tests in the apron again, already in November 1903 the first journeys and tests with the ship were accomplished.

After the Suffren was fully equipped and handed over, it was assigned to the Mediterranean squadron, where it served as a flagship from April 1904 under the command of Vice Admiral Gourdon.

In the following 2 years several manoeuvres were carried out. During these manoeuvres there were considerable deficiencies on the ship concerning the propulsion of the anchors, which had too little power for the weight of the anchors. On the other hand the propulsion of the middle propeller caused problems, because it overheated quickly and therefore could not be used fully functional. Until 1906, these defects were remedied by several stays in shipyards.

In February 1906 another manoeuvre was carried out. On February 5th there was a collision between the Suffren and the submerged submarine Bonite, when the submarine calculated its position wrong and was directly in front of the moving Suffren. Only by a fast course change of the battleship worse could be prevented, nevertheless the submarine was touched and damaged.

During a stay in the shipyard in Toulon on 12 March 1907, a heavy explosion occurred on the battleship Iéna, which lay next to the Suffren in the dock. The Suffren was also slightly damaged by the shock and flying parts.

Further modifications took place at the beginning of 1908 and from December 1910 to February 1911 when a propeller shaft broke, the propeller was lost and the ship had to wait for replacement.

During a manoeuvre in May 1914 another accident occurred. This time the Suffren was rammed by the battleship Démocratie when the Suffren could no longer be steered. Both ships were only slightly damaged, but both had to be repaired in the shipyard in order to be operational again in the middle of the year due to increasing political tensions.



View of the Suffren front gun turret




Use in war:

Shortly after the outbreak of World War I, the Suffren was first equipped with new rangefinders. On 26 September 1914, the ship was moved to the Dardanelles, where, together with the battleship Vérité, it was to prevent the two German ships SMS Goeben and SMS Breslau from breaking out back into the Mediterranean.

On 3 November, the first positions of the Ottoman army were fired at in the Dardanelles. Although this led to only minor damage, the Ottoman troops strengthened their positions in return, which later caused high losses for the Allied troops.

From 16 November to 9 January 1915 the Suffren in Toulon was in the shipyard for overhaul. The ship was then sent back to the Dardanelles to strengthen the Allied fleet there, which was preparing for the existing invasion.

The bombardment began on 19 February, when French and British battleships fired at the positions along the Strait. Further advances and shelling followed on 25 February, 2, 7 and 11 March. These only slightly damaged the Suffren. Only the large-scale attack on 18 March led to a catastrophe. Altogether the Suffren received about 14 hits during the advance, whereby a turret of a 164 mm gun was completely destroyed and the entire operating crew was killed. Some burning parts from the deck also fell into the magazines where they started a fire. This could be extinguished just in time before the grenades exploded. Another hit on the bow of the ship destroyed the substructure of the front turret so that it was no longer functional. On its retreat from the strait, the squadron also lost the battleship Bouvet after it had sailed to a sea mine and sank within 2 minutes. 75 crew members were rescued by the Suffren before it had to accompany the severely damaged Gaulois from the Dardanelles.




Drawing of the battleship Suffren 1915 during the battle in the Dardanelles




Until April 3, 1915 the escort of the battleship Gaulois to the port of Toulon lasted where both ships were repaired afterwards. The Suffren was already operational from the 20th of May and was sent back to the Dardanelles to support the allied troops. After the end of the support on 31 December 1915, the ship returned to the port of Kefalos. It rammed the transport ship Saint Oswald, which sank afterwards. To repair the damage, the Suffren had to be brought back to Toulon, where it remained until April 1916.

In the same month also several older French battleships of the Mediterranean fleet were pulled together to a squadron, under it also the Suffren fell. These were to sail around Greece afterwards and thus increase the pressure on the Greek government not to enter the war at the side of the German Empire.

This mission ended in October 1916, after which it was decided that the Suffren should go to the Bizerte shipyard for repairs and overhauls. However, the shipyard was changed at short notice after Lorient informed the French Navy that there was still a berth available.

So the Suffren went from Bizerte via Gibraltar to Lorient.





On the morning of 26 November 1916, the battleship Suffren was sighted by the German submarine U-52 about 50 nautical miles off the Portuguese coast near Lisbon. This shot several torpedoes at the ship, one hitting the ship's magazines and causing the grenades to explode.

The Suffren sank within a few seconds, none of the crew members survived.




Ship data:





Type of ship:  



Single ship

Building yard:  

Arsenal de Brest

Building costs:  



July 25th, 1899


February 3rd, 1904


On 26 November 1916 sunk by the German submarine U-52


125,91 meters


21,42 meters


Max. 8,22 meters


Max. 12.892 tons


668 men


24 Water tube boiler

3 vertical triple expansion machines


16.200 HP (12.100 kW)

Maximum speed:  

17 knots (31 kilometres per hour)




4 × 305 mm guns

10 × 164 mm guns

8 × 100 mm guns

20 × 47 mm guns

2 × 37 mm guns

4 × 450 mm torpedo tubes


Belt: up to 300 mm
Deck: up to 60 mm
Main guns: 290 mm
Towers: 250 mm
Bulkheads: 110 mm






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