Battleship Voltaire

The battleship Voltaire was the 6th and thus last ship of the Danton class and meant a clear technological leap out of the Liberté class, which served as a basis for the new French battleships.


Launch and design:

Since the beginning of the 90s of the 19th century, France has begun to significantly expand its navy and has demanded, ordered and for the most part already in service a large number of battleships.

The growth of the navy of the German Empire and also the fleet construction programme of Great Britain at the beginning of the 20th century led to a commission of the French Navy Ministry beginning to revise the French construction programme and adapt it to the new conditions. Reports from the Russo-Japanese War were also consulted and evaluated for the investigation. The commission came to the conclusion that the defeat of the Russian Maine was caused by many hits in the superstructures of the ships by the middle artillery of the Japanese sailors, less by hits of the main guns. The high speed of the Japanese ships also played a role in their victory.

With this result a revision of the battleships of the Liberté class was suggested, which should take over the strengths of the Japanese warships. Thus it was decided that the middle artillery should no longer consist of 194 mm guns, but of 240 mm guns, since these had a stronger penetration power with a larger range. However, the point of higher speed demanded by the French Navy had to be discarded when planning the new ship class, since the Ministry of Finance set strict limits on the financial means, which meant that the new ships could only have a maximum displacement of 18.000 tons. In order to maintain this limit and still achieve a higher speed, savings would have had to be made on the armour, which was ultimately preferred by the Navy.

In March 1906, the first drafts of the new Danton class were presented, but there was little consensus. So changes were demanded at the armament and additional 305 mm main guns were demanded, which would have increased however again the weight clearly. The French parliament, on the other hand, was less interested in the armament than in the propulsion of the new ships. The battleship Dreadnought, which is already under construction in Great Britain, had a much stronger armament and a propulsion system with Parsons steam turbines. Parliament feared that the installation of triple expansion steam engines would lead to a technological decline and that it would not be able to connect to Great Britain or the German Reich. In May 1906, designers and technicians were sent to the Parson factories, weapon factories and shipyards in Great Britain to inform themselves about the technical possibilities. The result was that the turbines produced more power and required less space and were therefore superior to triple expansion steam engines.

Until June 3, 1908, further changes, discussions and debates were held about the final equipment of the warships, whereby the type ship was already under construction. Finally the navy, the commission and the parliament agreed to equip all 6 ships of the class with turbines.

The result was the Danton class with a length of 146,6 metres, a width of 25,8 metres and a displacement of maximum 19.736 tons, whereby initially only 18.318 tons were aimed at, but new main guns significantly increased the weight during construction.

During arming, 4 x 305 mm Modèle 1906 guns were finally mounted in a twin turret at the front and rear of the ship. The middle artillery consisted of 12 x 240 mm guns, each housed in three twin turrets on both sides of the ship. Furthermore 16 x 75 mm, 10 x 47 mm guns and 2 x 450 mm torpedo tubes were used.

However, the armour had to be reduced compared to the Liberté, otherwise the weight of the ship would have been significantly higher. The belt thus had only 270 mm thick armour, the main gun 300 mm and the deck 40 to 70 mm.

For the first time, 4 Parsons steam turbines with 26 steam boilers and an output of 22.500 HP and a maximum speed of 19 knots served as propulsion.

The Voltaire was launched on 16 January 1909 and put into service on 1 August 1911.



Launch of the battleship Voltaire


Battleship Voltaire


Battleship Voltaire




History of the Voltaire:

After the commissioning and the test runs the Voltaire was assigned together with the already finished sister ships to the 2nd squadron of the 1st Mediterranean fleet. With this squadron maneuvers and exercises were accomplished starting from April 1912.

1913 to mid 1914 the annual manoeuvres in the Mediterranean were held again until the diplomatic situation became more and more acute after the assassination of the Austro-Hungarian heir to the throne Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Serbia and the French warships were instructed to remain close to their home ports and to be put on alert.



Battleship Voltaire


Battleship Voltaire


Battleship Voltaire




Use in war:

When the First World War broke out in Europe, the Voltaire in the Mediterranean was assigned to hunt the two German ships Goeben and Breslau near Sicily. On the 9th of August the ship was strengthened by more French battleships, as the German ships could not be found and an eruption into the west of the Mediterranean was to be prevented.

When it became apparent that the two German ships were subordinated to the Ottoman Empire, the French battleships were ordered to the Adriatic coast to force the Austrian-Hungarian navy to leave the port and thus to engage in battle. However, since the ships did not leave the ports, the French ships limited themselves to firing at positions and fortifications along the coast. The battleship Jean Bart was attacked on 21 December by the Austro-Hungarian submarine U-12 and severely damaged. As a result, the battleships were withdrawn after it was recognized that they were still insufficiently protected against submarine attacks. The Voltaire, together with the Condorcet and the Diderot, then took over the blockade of the Strait of Otranto to prevent the Ottoman warships from leaving.

Since January 1916, besides British warships, French warships also took part in the harassment of the Greek monarchy not to enter the war at the side of the German Empire and Austria-Hungary. From August onwards, preparations began for a coup d'état, which was to take place in December. The Voltaire joined the group of ships in the port of Athens at the end of November and left part of the crew to the group of coup d'étatists, who were to go ashore on 1 December. However, the group was quickly pushed back by Greek soldiers and armed civilians. The Allied warships then blocked the Greek ports. The Voltaire was soon withdrawn from this task and moved to Mudros to prevent the battle cruiser Goeben, which now sailed under the flag of the Ottoman Empire, from breaking out and entering the Mediterranean. This task was carried out until April 1918.

In the period from May to October 1918 the ship was in Toulon in the shipyard for repair and maintenance work. After leaving the shipyard to take over tasks at Mudros again, the Voltaire was torpedoed and hit twice by the German submarine U-48 off the island of Milos on October 10. The first reparations could still be carried out in Milos, but the complete reparation had to be done in Bizerte, because this shipyard was much better equipped for such tasks. Since at this time first negotiations about a ceasefire had begun, the ship could not be used up to the end of the war any more.




Post-war deployment:

After the end of the war, the Voltaire was moved to Toulon and assigned to the reserve.

In the years 1922 to 1925 some modernization measures were carried out, whereby particularly the underwater protection against torpedoes was strengthened and also older guns were exchanged.

From 1927 on the ship served for the training, only on 17 March 1937 it was withdrawn from this task.





On May 31, 1938, the Voltaire was sunk in Quiberon Bay to serve as a target ship for weapons testing.

The wreck was finally sold in December 1949 and scrapping began in March 1950.




Ship data:





Type of ship:  




Building yard:  

Forges et Chantiers de la Méditerranée, La Seyne-sur-Mer

Building costs:  



January 16th, 1909


August 1st, 1911


Sold in December 1949 and scrapped as of March 1950


144,9 meters


25,8 meters


Max. 9,2 meters


Max. 19.763 tons


681 men


26 Steam boiler

4 Parsons steam turbines


22.500 HP (16.800 kW)

Maximum speed:  

19,2 knots (35,6 kilometers per hour)




4 × 305 mm guns

12 × 240 mm guns

16 × 75 mm guns

10 × 47 mm guns

2 × 450 mm torpedo tubes


Belt: 270 mm
Deck: 45 to 70 mm
Main guns: 300 mm
Gun turrets: 188 to 225 mm
Command bridge: 300 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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