chapter  3
17 Pages

The French Navy, 1880–1914

ByPaul Halpern

The French Navy in 1880 was still burdened by the aftermath of the Franco-Prussian War. It was decidedly the junior service as far as expenditure was concerned and its case was not helped by the fact that owing to the circumstances of the war in the public mind it had not been able to accomplish much at sea. Ironically, the navy did enjoy considerable popularity owing to its services on land in the defense of Paris. In 1880 it was operating under the framework of the program of 1872, a program whose goals the French legislature never came near to funding adequately. The French placed most emphasis on maintaining ships on distant stations and, in European waters, a ‘squadron of evolutions’ (escadre d’évolutions), plus ships considered essential for training. The number of battleships in commission was relatively small. The French planned for coast defence ships (garde-côtes) and gunboats (canonnières) to protect their coasts and cruisers and sloops (avisos) for foreign stations.1 The primary potential enemy was still Germany and the first battleship laid down under the program and commissioned in 1878, the Redoutable, was designed with a shallow draught for operations in the Baltic and with a still sizeable amount of sail to minimize the need for coaling while executing a blockade of the German coast.2