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French Warships in the Age of Steam 1859–1914 (Hardback)

Maritime > Naval Maritime > Seaforth Publishing P&S History > By Century > 19th Century P&S History > By Century > 20th Century

By Stephen S Roberts
Seaforth Publishing
Pages: 512
Illustrations: 250 illustrations
ISBN: 9781526745330
Published: 16th November 2021

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In 1859 the French navy was at a high point, having fought alongside the British in the Crimean War and developed a formidable fleet of fast wooden-hulled steam ships of the line. But in that very year the world’s navies had to start over again when French naval architect Dupuy de Lôme introduced the ironclad battleship. The French navy then went through three tumultuous phases. In the 1860s and 1870s it focused on building a new traditionally-structured fleet in which wooden-hulled battleships gave way to iron and steel ships with massive guns and armour. In the 1880s and 1890s this effort was disrupted by a vigorous contest between battleship sailors and advocates of fast steel cruisers and small torpedo craft, leaving France by the end of the 1890s with few new battleships (none as large as the best foreign ships) but some two hundred torpedo boats. The Fashoda dispute with Britain in 1898 revealed the weakness of the French navy and between 1900 and 1914 the French focused on rebuilding a strong battle fleet. In 1914 this fleet remained well behind those of Britain and Germany in numbers, but taken individually French warships remained among the best in the world.

This book is the first comprehensive listing in English of more than 1400 warships that were added to the official French navy fleet list between 1 January 1859 and World War I. It includes everything from the largest battleships to a small armoured gunboat that looked like a floating egg. Reflecting the main phases of naval policy, the ships are listed in three separate parts to keep contemporary designs together and then by ship type and class. For each class the book provides a design history explaining why the ships were built, substantial technical characteristics for the ships as completed and after major reconstructions, and selected career milestones including the ultimate fate of each ship. Following the earlier volumes written jointly with Rif Winfield, French Warships in the Age of Sail 1626-1786 and French Warships in the Age of Sail 1786-1861, this trilogy now provides a complete picture of the development of French warships over a period of almost three centuries.

French Warships in the Age of Steam is a big, beautiful book with small type. Seaforth Publishing delivers another outstanding visually pleasing product. It is logically arranged in a standard format that gives lots of useful technical information and background on individual ships and armaments, for easy reference. The variety of selected photographs and illustrations are appropriate to the subject. Entries are encyclopedic in nature and draw upon the best available French primary sources. Coverage includes many better known warships in the fleet of “samples” slave-ship-interdiction as well as less-known vessels employed close to the metropole and across France’s colonial possessions. Roberts is to be commended for his diligence in chasing down information and his depth of knowledge. The book is recommended as an essential one-stop warship reference for historians interested in the French navy and its rivals before the First World War, ship scale modellers and hobbyists, as well as naval wargamers.

The Northern Mariner/Le marin du nord

As a technical reference on the French ships of 1859 to 1914, this book is a must for the serious naval architecture student, modeler, or enthusiast. So much solid information is packed in this book, arranged logically, clearly and with so many illustrations, I cannot see where another volume on this subject can compete. Highly recommended!

Nautical Research Journal 67:3 (Autumn 2022).

Featured in

Naval Review - Summer 2022

"This outstanding book will be essential for future studies of naval policy in the period between la Gloire and the First World War."

The Mariner's Mirror

"Superlatives abound in describing this book, arguably the finest naval “shiplist” ever created. It is, in fact, far more than just a ship list, though that is the central thread of the work’s purpose...The author has taken extraordinary care in basing data on reliable archival sources and explaining contemporary terms and means of measurement."

Warship International Vol. 59

This outstanding book will be essential for future studies of naval policy in the period between la Gloire and the Great War, because warships were and remain the obvious physical manifestation of policy and strategy.

Read the full review here

The Naval Review

If you are interested in the French navy of this period or in the history of warship design, then this will be an essential reference work, tracing the development of the warships of one of Europes main naval powers.

Read the full review here

History of War

Featured in

Great War IPMS, Great War SIG newsletter – October 2021

Featured in

Cher Ami, Great War Sig Newsletter - IPMS, June 2021

About Stephen S Roberts

Stephen S Roberts has been studying the French navy since 1964, and wrote his PhD thesis on ‘The Introduction of Steam Technology in the French Navy, 1818-1852’. He served afloat for almost five years as an officer in US Navy destroyers, but he returned to Paris several times thereafter to collect material that is now in this book. In 1987 he edited for publication a classic dissertation by Theodore Ropp, The Development of a Modern Navy: French Naval Policy 1871-1904, and in 1991 prepared a detailed reference volume, Register of Ships of the US Navy, 1775-1990, Major Combatants, a thorough updating of a 1969 volume by K Jack Bauer. In 2013 he returned to his first love, producing between then and 2017 with Rif Winfield French Warships in the Age of Sail 1626-1786 and French Warships in the Age of Sail 1786-1861. He designed the present volume to form a trilogy with these covering almost three centuries of French warships and taking the story into the age of steam.

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