Class Clashes France is back! Picking up where I left off after Bouvet, France moved to design a homogenous class of three ships based on the premise of challenging the British Royal Sovereign class. Lessons incorporated from Bouvet included the elimination of wing turrets, and the concentration of a uniform main battery in twin turrets for weight savings. The resultant class focused on secondary battery fire, extensive protection, and creating a quality gun platform; though still limited in size by government stipulations, the French managed to put to sea perhaps their finest ships since Gloire.
After a design contest in 1893, the French settled on an 11,260 ton ship to be capable of 17 knots on three shafts. Large armament was four 305mm/40 (12”) Mle 1893 guns in two balanced twin turrets, trained electrically, plus four 450mm torpedo tubes. Their secondary battery, really intended as the principal weapon of destruction and thus requiring the elimination of large wing turrets, was 10 x 138.6mm guns, four per side in casemates and one per side on the weatherdeck. 8 x 100mm multipurpose guns were mounted on her superstructure, with a further 20 x 47mm anti-torpedo boat guns and two 37mm anti-personnel Maxim cannons mounted about her masts, upper platforms, and lower decks. Armor was all-around, with a 400mm main belt topping 200mm of timber backing.
Two ships were built at Brest (Charlemagne and Gaulois) while Saint Louis was built at Lorient. Protracted twin turret development delayed the class’ completion until 1899, despite construction beginning in 1894. Constructed concurrently with the British Majestics, the French trio was better protected, faster, and had a heavier secondary broadside; also advantageous was her modern hydraulic fire control system. Drawbacks included decreased casemate protection, and only 1/3 the total number of ships compared to the British. Nevertheless, the era of the Flotte d’Echantillons had passed, and uniform designs would be the French preference moving into the 20th century. This photo is of Gaulois (closest) and Saint Louis, but it is not of them together; it is a composite, often mistaken as real.