Seaplane carrier Foudre

The Foudre is the first seaplane carrier in both the French Navy and the world to have been specially converted and used for the transport and deployment of seaplanes.


Launch and design:

After the lost Franco-Prussian War from 1870 to 1871, not only a new orientation and build-up of the French army began, but also of the French navy. In addition to a large number of battleships and armoured cruisers, the French Navy should also have its own ship, which was able to take small torpedo boats, transport them and bring them quickly to water.

For this purpose a concept was developed based on previous transport ships, which should be specially equipped for the task.

This concept presented a transport ship with a total length of 118,8 meters, a width of 15,5 meters and a displacement of 6.100 tons. Several cargo cranes were mounted on the deck to lift the torpedo boats from the water to their parking positions. These places could also be covered so that the torpedo boats were no longer exposed to the weather. 3 cranes on each side made it possible to transport up to 6 torpedo boats.

After the French Navy had approved the design, construction of the ship began on 9 June 1892, which was later christened Foudre.

The Foudre was launched on 20 October 1895 and put into service in 1896.



The Foudre in its original state as a torpedo boat carrier


A torpedo boat is brought aboard the Foudre by a crane




History of Foudre:

After the test runs and commissioning, extensive tests were carried out to simulate the use of small torpedo boats on the high seas in interaction with other French warships.

The Foudre also took part in the annual manoeuvres in the Mediterranean, but it was found that the entire concept of a torpedo boat carrier was inadequate.

For this reason, in 1907 and 1910 some modifications were made. In 1907 the vessel was taken out of service and converted into a repair vessel. This should make it possible that French warships on the high seas were less dependent for reparations on shipyards and also more difficult work can be made by the assistance of the new repair ship. The aim was, on the one hand, to make the ships operational again more quickly and, on the other hand, to avoid expensive stays in the shipyards wherever possible. After the conversion, however, it became apparent that this concept did not meet the requirements either. Therefore the conversion to a minelayer was started in 1910. During the Russian-Japanese war, the value of sea mines became apparent when they were integrated into an offensive strategy. Since both Great Britain and the German Reich were already working on corresponding concepts at this time, the French navy should also have corresponding possibilities at its disposal. For example, the Foudre adapted its equipment to transport and lay sea mines.

At the same time as the conversion of the ship, a committee was set up by the Vice Admiral Auguste Boué de Lapeyrère to work out the military possibilities of balloons and aircraft for use in the French Navy. After the committee came to the conclusion that the military use of aircraft would play an important role in the long term, concepts were immediately developed to achieve the desired goals in the French Navy. The focus was on the transport ship Foudre, which was to be converted into a mine layer at this second point. The conversion was stopped immediately and the ship was sent to the new naval port in Fréjus Saint-Raphaël, which had been under construction since 29 November 1911.

Once there, the ship was rebuilt and equipped again. This time a deck was built on the bow where the planes could take off. Also hangars for the transport and for the accommodation of the airplanes were built as well as cranes to let the airplanes into the water or to take up. In December 1911, the French Navy bought its first seaplane, a Canard Voisin seaplane equipped with floats. This plane was to be used for the first tests as soon as the Foudre was operational.

On 15 April 1912, the conversion work was completed and the ship's armament was assembled and in working order. Together with the british HMS Hermes, the Foudre was the first seaplane carrier in the world.



The Foudre after the conversion as a seaplane carrier


A Canard Voisin seaplane that was bought for the Foudre



On 1 May 1912 further seaplanes were bought by the Navy in order to be able to compare them with each other. Among them were Breguet monoplanes, Nieuport seaplanes and a converted Farman biplane. From July 1912 the exercises together with the cruisers and battleships started in the Mediterranean. Until the middle of 1913, 11 pilots could be fully trained for seaplanes.



A Canard Voisin of the seaplane carrier Foudre during an exercise in the Mediterranean in June 1912



In November 1913, the Foudre flight deck was adapted to accommodate the new Caudron seaplanes. The conversion work was completed at the beginning of 1914, so that the first Caudron could take off from the ship on 8 May 1914.



A Caudron seaplane is lifted aboard the Foudre in April 1914 to test the cranes


Foudre seaplane carrier in 1914




Use in war:

When World War I broke out in Europe, the Foudre remained in the Mediterranean.

Until 1916 the ship served as a supply ship for submarines and as a seaplane carrier for reconnaissance flights over Austria-Hungary, the Ottoman Empire and North Africa.

However, after the reconnaissance flights and the supply of the submarines became superfluous in 1916, since neither the fleet of Austria-Hungary nor that of the Ottoman Empire left the ports, the ship was allocated to the reserve.

Until the end of the war, the Foudre remained in its reserve status.





After the First World War, the Foudre was used for some time to train seaplane pilots.

On 1 December 1921, the aircraft was finally decommissioned, sold and scrapped.




Ship data:





Type of ship:  

Torpedo Boat Tender

From 1907:
Repair ship

April 15th, 1912:
Seaplane carrier


Single ship

Building yard:  

Chantiers de la Gironde

Building costs:  



October 20th, 1895


Course of the year 1896


Sold on 1 December 1921 and then scrapped


118,8 meters


15,5 meters


Maximum 7 meters


Maximum 6.100 tons


430 men




Triple expansion motors

24 Steam boiler


12.000 HP (8.948 kW)

Maximum speed:  

19 knots (35 kilometers per hour)




8 × 100 mm guns

4 × 65 mm guns

2 × torpedo tubes

4 × seaplanes


Deck: up to 120 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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