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Normandie-class battleship
Photo normandie.jpg
Artist's impression of a Normandie-class battleship
Class overview
Preceded by: Bretagne class
Succeeded by:
Planned: 5
Completed: 1
Scrapped: 5
General characteristics
Type: Battleship
Displacement: Full load: 25,230 t (24,830 long tons)
Length: Length overall: 176.6 m (579 ft 5 in)
Beam: 27 m (88 ft 7 in)
Draft: 8.65 m (28 ft 5 in)
Installed power: 32,000 shp (24,000 kW)
  • 2-shaft triple expansion engines
  • 2-shaft turbines
  • 21 or 28 coal-fired boilers
Speed: 21 knots (39 km/h; 24 mph)
Range: 6,500 nmi (12,000 km; 7,500 mi) at 12 knots (22 km/h; 14 mph)
  • 43 officers
  • 120 petty officers
  • 1,037 enlisted men
  • Belt: 300 mm (12 in)
  • Turrets: 340 mm (13 in)
  • Conning tower: 300 mm (12 in)

The Normandie class of dreadnought battleships was a group of five ships ordered for the French Navy in 1912–1913. The class comprised Normandie, the lead ship, Flandre, Gascogne, Languedoc, and Béarn. The design incorporated a radical arrangement for the twelve 340 mm main battery guns: three quadruple gun turrets, as opposed to the twin turrets used by most other navies. The first four ships were also equipped with an unusual hybrid propulsion system that used both steam turbine and triple expansion engines to increase fuel efficiency.

The ships, named after provinces of France, were never completed due to shifting production requirements after the outbreak of war in 1914. The first four ships were sufficiently advanced in construction to permit their launching to clear the shipyards for other, more important work. Many of the guns built for the ships were instead converted for use by the Army. After the war, the French Navy considered several proposals to complete the ships, either as originally designed or modernized to account for lessons from the war. The weak French post-war economy, however, necessitated that the first four ships be broken up for scrap. The last ship, which was not significantly advanced at the time work halted, was converted into an aircraft carrier in the 1920s. She remained in service in various capacities until the 1960s. The ship was ultimately scrapped in 1967.


In December 1911, the French Navy's Technical Committee issued a report that examined the design of the Bretagne class that had been ordered for 1912. They concluded that the amidships gun turret was an unsatisfactory choice, based on previous experiences with blast damage on battleships from the 1880s. This position influenced the construction of the next class of dreadnought battleships, for which design work began shortly thereafter. The French Navy's design staff submitted the first draft of the new dreadnought design in February 1912. The size of French shipyard facilities significantly impacted the design. Length was limited to 172 meters (564 ft), breadth to 27.8 m (91 ft 2 in), and draft to approximately 8.8 m (29 ft). These dimensions limited the ship to a displacement of around 25,000 metric tons (25,000 long tons) and a speed of 20 to 21 knots (37 to 39 km/h; 23 to 24 mph), depending on the armament arrangement. The design staff advocated retaining the same armament and armor as the previous Bretagne class, and a top speed of 21 knots.[1]

Line drawing of the Normandie class; the shaded areas represent the parts of the ship protected by armor

The design staff prepared another version that was armed with a main battery of sixteen 406 mm (16.0 in) guns in four quadruple turrets and had a top speed of 20 knots. The Technical department prepared two different designs for the propulsion system. Four direct drive steam turbines were proposed, as in the Bretagne class; the other option was a hybrid system that used a pair of direct drive turbines on the inner two propeller shafts, and two reciprocating steam engines on the outer shafts for low-speed cruising.[1] The latter design was adopted for the new ships, as the all-turbine system was less fuel-efficient. The fifth ship, Béarn, however, was instead equipped with four sets of turbines. The armor layout of the Bretagne class was retained, and the full load draft fixed at no greater than 9 m (30 ft).[2]

The next issue to be addressed was the main armament. The General Staff decided in March 1912 to retain the 34-centimeter (13 in) gun of the Bretagne class. They chose the new quadruple turret and advocated an armament of twelve guns in two quadruple and two double turrets. If this arrangement placed too much weight on the bow and stern, the arrangement of five twin turrets as in the Bretagne-class battleships would be substituted. In April 1912, the Naval Supreme Council accepted the latter design, unless the quadruple turret could be readied by the time construction was scheduled to begin.[3] The armor layout of the Bretagne class was to be retained, though an increase in the thickness of the main belt was to be effected if possible.[4]

The Technical Department prepared two new designs, A7, which incorporated the five twin turrets, and A7bis, which was armed with three quadruple turrets. The A7bis design was some 500 t (490 long tons; 550 short tons) lighter than the A7 design, and on 6 April, the Navy accepted a quadruple turret design submitted by Saint-Chamond.[3] The secondary battery was initially to have comprised twenty-two 138.6 mm (5.46 in) guns, but by subtracting four guns, twelve 100 mm (3.9 in) guns could be added for the same weight.[4] The 100 mm design was not completed by the time work was scheduled to begin, so the 138.6 mm gun was chosen.[3] The Technical Department had initially proposed mounting the secondary guns in single and twin turrets, but it was determined that this arrangement was not flexible enough.[4] Instead, they were mounted in casemates in eight groups of three guns.[5]

Characteristics and machinery

The ships were 170.6 m (559 ft 9 in) long between perpendiculars, 175.6 m (576 ft 1 in) long at the waterline, and 176.6 m (579 ft 5 in) long overall. They had a beam of 27 m (88 ft 7 in) and a draft of 8.65 m (28 ft 5 in). At full load, the ships were to displace 25,230 t (24,830 long tons). The first four ships were equipped with a pair of steam turbines on the center shafts, without reversing gear. Normandie and Flandre had Parsons turbines, Gascogne had turbines built by Rateau-Bretagne, and Languedoc's turbines were built by Schneider-Zoelly. The four ships had a pair of four-cylinder triple expansion engines for steaming astern or cruising at low speed. The last ship, Béarn, was equipped with four Parsons turbines. Normandie and Gascogne were given twenty-one Guyot du Temple small tube boilers, Flandre and Languedoc were equipped with twenty-eight Belleville small tube boilers, while Béarn had twenty-one Niclausse small tube boilers.[6]

The ships' engines were rated at 32,000 shaft horsepower (24,000 kW) and had a top speed of 21 knots (39 km/h; 24 mph), with plans to increase the power to 45,000 shp (34,000 kW) and 22 knots (41 km/h; 25 mph). The ships were designed to carry 900 t (890 long tons) of coal and 300 t (300 long tons) of fuel oil, but up to 2,700 t (2,700 long tons) of coal could be stored in the hull. At a cruising speed of 12 knots (22 km/h; 14 mph), the ships could steam for 6,500 nautical miles (12,000 km; 7,500 mi); at 16 knots (30 km/h; 18 mph), the range fell to 3,375 nmi (6,250 km; 3,884 mi), and at top speed, the cruising radius dropped to 1,800 nmi (3,300 km; 2,100 mi).[7] The ships would have had a crew of 43 officers, 120 petty officers, and 1,037 enlisted men.[8]

Armament and armor

File:Plan normandie.jpg

CG-rendering of the Normandie class, showing the arrangement of the primary and secondary batteries

Twelve 340mm/45 Modèle 1912 guns mounted in three quadruple turrets comprised the main battery. One turret was placed forward, one amidships, and one aft, all on the centerline.[7] The turrets weighed 1,500 t (1,500 long tons; 1,700 short tons), and were electrically trained and hydraulically elevated. The guns were divided into pairs and mounted in twin cradles; a 40 mm (1.6 in) thick bulkhead divided the turrets. Each pair of guns had its own ammunition hoist and magazine. They could be fired simultaneously or independently.[9] The guns had a range of 16,000 m (52,000 ft) and had a rate of fire of two rounds per minute. The shells were 540-kilogram (1,190 lb) armor-piercing rounds and were fired with a muzzle velocity of 800 meters per second (2,600 ft/s).[10] Each gun was to have been supplied with 100 rounds of ammunition.[11] Five 3.66 m (12.0 ft) rangefinders provided fire-control for the main battery. Two of the rangefinders were mounted on the conning tower and the other three were placed atop each of the turrets. The turrets also had secondary gunnery control stations.[5]

The ships would also have been armed with a secondary battery of twenty-four 138.6 mm /55 Modèle 1910 guns, each singly mounted in casemates in the hull.[7] These guns fired a 36.5 kg (80 lb) shell at a muzzle velocity of 830 m/s (2,700 ft/s).[12] The guns would have been supplied with 275 rounds of ammunition each.[5] Six 47 mm (1.9 in) M1902 anti-aircraft guns, which were converted from low-angle guns, would also have been carried by the ships.[7][13] The ships were also equipped with six 450 mm (17.7 in) torpedo tubes, mounted submerged in the hull.[7] Each ship was to be supplied with 36 torpedoes.[5]

The ships' waterline belt armor was 300 mm (12 in) thick amidships, and reduced to 120 to 180 mm (4.7 to 7.1 in) at the bow and stern. The upper belt was 240 mm (9.4 in) thick amidships and 160 mm (6.3 in) on the ends. The ships had two armored decks, both 50 mm (2.0 in) thick. Sloped armor 70 mm (2.8 in) thick connected the lower deck to the side armor. The conning tower had 300 mm thick sides. Each of the barbettes that supported the main battery turrets were protected with 284 mm (11.2 in) of armor; the turrets had 340 mm (13 in) thick faces and 250 mm (9.8 in) thick sides. The casemate guns were protected by 160–180 mm thick armor plating.[7]


Ship Builder Laid down Launched In Service Fate
Normandie[7] A C de la Loire, St Nazaire 18 April 1913 19 October 1914 Incomplete, scrapped 1924–1925
Flandre[7] Arsenal de Brest, Brest 1 October 1913 20 October 1914 Incomplete, scrapped October 1924
Gascogne[7] Arsenal de Lorient, Lorient 1 October 1913 20 August 1914 Incomplete, scrapped 1923–1924
Languedoc[7] Arsenal de Lorient 18 April 1913 1 May 1916 Incomplete, scrapped June 1929
Béarn[7] F C de la Méditerranée, La Seyne 10 January 1914 April 1920 May 1927[14] Converted to aircraft carrier, scrapped 1967[14]

Construction and cancellation

File:Avant normandie-3d.jpg

3/4 view of the Normandie class

Normandie and Languedoc were ordered on 12 December 1912, followed by Flandre and Gascogne on 30 July 1913. Béarn was ordered on 3 December; the five ships would permit the creation of two four-ship divisions with the three Bretagne-class ships then under construction. Work on the class was suspended at the outbreak of World War I, as all resources were needed for the Army.[6] The government did not immediately mobilize for war, as they expected the conflict to be brief.[15] The first four ships were launched after the start of the war, but only to clear the slipways for other purposes.[16] In July 1915, the Navy determined that the ships were not a priority, and prohibited further work. Later in July, work on the ships' armament was suspended, save the guns themselves, which could be converted for use by the Army.[3] Four of the completed 340 mm guns were converted into railway guns for the French Army. Nine of the guns built for Languedoc were also mounted on railway carriages in 1919, after the end of the war.[17] Several of the 138.6 mm guns were also converted for service with the Army.[3]

At the time work stopped, Normandie's hull was 65 percent complete, her engines were 70 percent complete, and her boilers were delivered but were instead installed in new destroyers. The turrets were 40 percent assembled. Languedoc had 49 percent of her hull and 73 percent of her engines constructed; her boilers were 96 percent complete and only 26 percent of her turrets were built. The hulls of Flandre and Gascogne were 65 and 60 percent complete, respectively, and their engines were 60 and 44 percent assembled. Both of their sets of boilers were used for destroyers. The two ships' turrets were 51 and 75 percent complete. Work on Béarn had not significantly progressed by the time war broke out: her hull was only 8–10 percent complete and her engines were only 25 percent finished. Her boilers were 17 percent assembled, and her turrets were at 20 percent.[3]

In January 1918, a final wartime order specified that the ships remained suspended, but that all material that had been stockpiled for work would remain in place. By that time, some 3,086 t (3,037 long tons; 3,402 short tons) of steel plating that had been earmarked for Gascogne had been taken for other uses.[15] On November 22, 1918, days after the Armistice with Germany, the design staff sent the General Staff a proposal to complete the first four Normandies to a modified design. The General Staff replied that the ships would need a top speed of 26 to 28 kn (48 to 52 km/h; 30 to 32 mph) and a more powerful main battery.[18] Since the dockyard facilities had not been enlarged during the war, the size of the ships could not be significantly increased. This allowed for only modest improvements, particularly for the installation of anti-torpedo bulges. In February 1919, the General Staff decided that the ships would be completed anyway, because new vessels incorporating the lessons of the war could not be completed for at least 6 to 7 years, due to the lengthy design studies such battleships would require.[19]

The Technical Department created a revised design that incorporated some improvements. The machinery for the four ships that had been launched during the war would be retained;[20] increasing their speed to 24 kn (44 km/h; 28 mph) required a corresponding increase to 80,000 shp (60,000 kW), which could be obtained by building new turbines.[21] The elevation of the main guns was to be increased to 23–24 degrees, which would increase the range of the guns to 25,000 m (82,000 ft).[20] The need to engage targets at longer ranges was confirmed by the examination of one of the ex-Austrian Tegetthoff-class ships that had been surrendered to France at the end of the war.[22] The main armored deck was to be increased to 120 mm (4.7 in) to increase resistance to plunging fire. The submerged 450 mm torpedo tubes were to be replaced with deck-mounted 550 mm (22 in) tubes, and fire control equipment was to be improved. Equipment for handling a two-seat spotter aircraft was also to be installed.[20]

After the war, Admiral Pierre Ronarc'h became Chief of the General Staff, and in July 1919 he argued that the Italian Navy was the country's primary rival, and that they might resume work on the Francesco Caracciolo-class battleships that had been suspended during the war. He suggested there were three options for the first four ships: complete them as designed, increase the range of their guns and improve their armor, or lengthen their hull and install new engines to increase speed. The Technical Department determined that lengthening the hulls by 15 m (49 ft) could increase speed by as much as 5 kn (9.3 km/h; 5.8 mph). Nevertheless, by 12 September 1919, he had determined that completing the ships would be too expensive for the fragile French economy.[23] Plans for the four incomplete ships included converting them into cargo ships, fuel tankers, or passenger liners, and using them as floating fuel depots. These plans were abandoned, however.[24] The four ships were formally cancelled in the 1922 construction program, and were laid up in Landevennec and cannibalized for parts before being broken up in 1923–1926.[23] Much of the salvaged material was incorporated into completing Béarn and in the cruisers built during the 1922 program.[24]

Béarn was launched in April 1920 to clear the slip; the Navy had not yet decided what to do with the vessel.[20] Plans to complete the battleship included replacement of the coal-fired boilers with eight oil-fired Niclausse boilers and new, more powerful turbines. A new quadruple turret that allowed for greater range was considered, along with twin turrets mounting 400 mm (16 in) guns.[21] In 1922, the Navy instead decided to complete the ship as an aircraft carrier. Conversion work began in August 1923, and was completed by May 1927. The ship was the first carrier of the French Navy. She served in the fleet through World War II, though she was used as a ferry for aircraft.[25] In 1944, she was refitted in the United States and equipped with a battery of modern American anti-aircraft guns.[14] She remained in service through the First Indochina War, still as an aircraft ferry. She was ultimately broken up for scrap starting in 1967.[26]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Preston, p. 67.
  2. Preston, pp. 67–68.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 Preston, p. 68.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Le Masson, p. 412.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 Le Masson, p. 414.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Gardiner & Gray, pp. 198–199.
  7. 7.00 7.01 7.02 7.03 7.04 7.05 7.06 7.07 7.08 7.09 7.10 Gardiner & Gray, p. 198.
  8. Preston, p. 70.
  9. Friedman, p. 209.
  10. Friedman, p. 207.
  11. Le Masson, p. 413.
  12. Friedman, p. 225.
  13. Friedman, p. 229.
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 Gardiner & Chesneau, p. 261.
  15. 15.0 15.1 Le Masson, p. 415.
  16. Whitley, p. 45.
  17. Friedman, p. 210.
  18. Preston, pp. 68–69.
  19. Le Masson, p. 416.
  20. 20.0 20.1 20.2 20.3 Preston, p. 69.
  21. 21.0 21.1 Gardiner & Gray, p. 199.
  22. Le Masson, p. 417.
  23. 23.0 23.1 Preston, pp. 69–70.
  24. 24.0 24.1 Le Masson, p. 419.
  25. Preston, pp. 70–71.
  26. Preston, p. 71.


  • Friedman, Norman (2011). Naval Weapons of World War I. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 978-1-84832-100-7. 
  • Gardiner, Robert; Chesneau, Roger, eds (1980). Conway's All the World's Fighting Ships, 1922–1946. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 978-0-87021-913-9. 
  • Gardiner, Robert; Gray, Randal, eds (1985). Conway's All the World's Fighting Ships: 1906–1921. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 978-0-87021-907-8. 
  • Le Masson, Henri (1984). "The Normandie class Battleships with Quadruple Turrets". International Naval Research Organization. pp. 409–419. 
  • Preston, Anthony (2002). The World's Worst Warships. London: Conway Maritime Press. ISBN 978-0-85177-754-2. 
  • Whitley, M. J. (1998). Battleships of World War II. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 978-1-55750-184-4. 

Further reading

  • Breyer, Siegfried (1973). Battleships and battle cruisers 1905–1970. London: Macdonald and Jane's. ISBN 978-0-356-04191-9. 

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