Greetings all, just received my copy by Jordan and Caresse published by Seaforth. An excellent read, but tought I'd post my Amazon review to provock a little discussion of these fascinating ships.. here goes!
This is not the book I was expecting, but thats probably my fault. I was expecting a book about the French "dreadnought" battleships of WW1. This book is about far more- the evolution of French battleships from the "fleet of samples" onwards- yes, those funky steam punkers with the wacky hull designs that are so fascinating and visually appealing. The format follows the now classic Seaforth layout of class by class detailed technical descriptions lavishly illustrated with photographs and drawings.
The reason I have given this 4 out five, rather than a full five is simply because I feel there is a fascinating story buried in here which the authors allude to in the design and appraisal sections for each class, but they do not draw out the thread and discuss in any detail. Simply put, the French designed and built battleships around a theory of sea warfare that seems to have differed fundamentally from the approach taken by their rivals in the RN, which partly explains the designs of their ships (the other explanation being a political decision to limit the displacement of their battleships to appease the Jeune Ecole school who favoured what would today be called “asymmetrical warfare”).
The ”tumblehome” hull designs of all the classes up to the “Patries” are the distinctive feature, yet the term does not appear in the text, neither are the reasons for the continuation of this feature from the days of sail. Mention is made of the need for all round fire, but the tactical imperatives are not discussed- I’m left with the impression that the French thought future naval battles would be close range “melee” Lissa or Trafalgar style battles- hence the adoption of the “lozenge” style armament distribution of the larger guns? The development of the quick firing smaller calibre gun led the French to develop the “Canet” turrets for what we would today think of as the “secondary” armament- but reading the text its apparent that in fact the French regarded these as the main armament of the ships- the discussion of the “Patries” brings this out to some degree.
Re tumblehome hulls the text mentions that architect Louis Emile Bertin gave a detailed analysis of the risks associated with French hull designs in the early 1890’s, but had to wait until his appointment as Chief designer later in the decade to cajole the naval establishment into moving away from these designs. It sounds as if there was quite a controversy, but this is not discussed in depth- a shame. Looking superficially Bertin’s designs of the late 1890’s (Patries, Henry IV) to my eye closely resemble the designs by Watts for the Dreadnought hull and Invincible class armoured/battle cruisers. Who influenced who?!
French designs went head to head with British designs in the Russo Japanese War of 1904/5- some discussion of the merits of each and lessons from Tsu-Shima would have been welcome- there is one mention that the French thought Tsu-Shima vindicated their “mission kill” approach of a high volume of medium calibre fire, but the early loss of Oslyabya to heavy gunfire is not discussed. Perhaps the authors did not want to stray too far from the technical descriptions of the ships?
In summary my comments are more along the lines of “more please” rather than a criticism of the book- mine is already covered in ink, so all in an excellent book and well worth the cash if the predreadnoughts are your thing.
Cut me to shreds here.....!