Condorcet shows off her handsome profile while leaving port -- off Lemnos, 1918.
A clear derivative from the immediately preceding République/Liberté series, the Danton was the last and best French pre-dreadnought battleship design, prototype of a class of six ships. These differed from the Republiques chiefly in having quad screw and turbine engines for enhanced power and reliability. In gunnery, the secondary battery size was bumped up to 9.4" guns, placing the class among the world's most powerful semi-dreadnoughts. Following Émile Bertin's sensible disposition originally used for the Républiques in 1902, the secondary guns were mounted in six twin turrets ranged along the sides. In addition the ship carried an assortment of 26 light guns and two 18" torpedo tubes.
Who but the French would name a battleship after a poet? But in fact, all six of these vessels were named after French intellectuals: philosophes and writers of the Age of Reason, many of them statesmen in the Revolution: Diderot, Mirabeau, Condorcet, Vergniaud, Voltaire. (Actually the Italians did name a dreadnought after Dante, but if there was any HMS Milton I haven't heard of it. HMS Blake was named for a naval hero, not the romantic poet.) This was highly revealing of French character, when contrasted to the British and German fixation on generals, famous victories, and martial virtues in naming their warships. Nor was it without precedent: an 1895 MNF cruiser class had honored Descartes, Pascal, and other prominent thinkers and scientists.
Danton's profile shows the 15% larger hull -- 480' long -- and quad-screw arrangement. In length, tonnage, and propulsion she was competitive with the 1906 Dreadnought; in armament with the 1908 Lord Nelson. The deck plan shows an armament somewhat modified from the Republique class. All twelve 9.4" guns are now mounted in twin turrets along the top deck. Instead of three funnels the Dantons each had five, of two sizes related to the number of boilers vented, but still with the gap for the engine room between the two groupings. But the most important upgrade on these ships was in their propulsion plant. 26 Belleville water-tube boilers, 22,500-HP turbine engines, and quadruple screw made for 19-kt speed (19.2 kts in the lead ship), in a much larger hull than the Libertés (18,300-ton vs. 14,600). In other design changes, the masts were simplified, abandoning large fighting tops or armored gunhouses in favor of much smaller platforms for a more modern look. The hull shape incorporated a decreased tumble-home shape amidships, recessed anchor cradles in the bows, and the frank abandonment of the ram bow. This was the new look Bertin had imposed across the French fleet at the time; the large armored cruisers of the Edgar Quinet and Léon Gambetta types, miniature Dantons themselves, replaced the odd Dupuy de Lômes of the 1890s as surely as the sleek Dantons and Republiques superseded the lumpy Jauréguiberry and Masséna in the MNF's main battle line.
Already already outmoded by the time they commissioned in 1909-11, the Dantons nevertheless were powerful units of the French fleet, which entered WWI with only two commissioned dreadnoughts to Germany's 14 and Britain's 22 -- mon Dieu! Although two more dreadnoughts were on their trials and seven improved models were already building, the French had once again been outpaced by the frenzied German and, especially, British prewar production. Having only one operational dreadnought squadron during the first years of the War, the French made do with their more abundant (and expendable) pre-dreadnoughts. All the Dantons saw wartime service, chiefly in the Aegean, where four Dantons and three Libertés made up the French fleet.
The name ship Danton herself made the ultimate sacrifice, being torpedoed and sunk by U-64 off Sardinia, with the loss of 296 lives, March 19, 1917; it made headlines when the discovery of her wreck was announced in February 2009, sitting upright on the sea bed with three of her big gun turrets still intact. Mirabeau's fate was kinder, being grounded and seriously damaged off the Crimea in 1919 while supporting the western intervention in Russia's civil war. She was salvaged and later used as a target ship, finally being cut up in 1928. Diderot and Voltaire were both scrapped in the late 1930s, while Condorcet was partially disarmed and converted to serve as the French navy's torpedo school at Toulon. Sabotaged by her crew and partly sunk as the Germans swarmed over Vichy France in 1942, she survived as an accommodation ship until 1944, when she was sunk by Allied air raids at her Toulon berth, next to the damaged superdreadnought Provence. After the war she was raised and gradually broken up between 1947 and 1959.
Plans and Specifications
For an enlarged plan, click here.
Specifications for the Danton:
Dimensions: 481' x 84'6" x 27'6" Displacement: 18,310 tons std; 19,763 deep laden. Armament: (4) 12"/45 cal. (2x2), (12) 9.4"/45 (6x2), (16) 3"/65, and (10) 2" guns; (2) 18" torpedo tubes. Armor: KC type. 10.7"/8" belt, 12.64" turret faces, 9" secondary turrets, 11" barbettes, 12" conning tower, 3" deck, 45 mm splinter deck. Fuel capacity: std bunkerage, 940 tons coal; maximum, 2,010 tons. Propulsion: (26) Belleville or Niclausse water-tube boilers (varied with ship); (4) FC Med (Parsons type) turbine engines developing 22,500 SHP, shafted to quad screw. Maximum speed: 19 kts. Endurance: 3,370 nm @ 10 kts. Crew: 923.
Ships in Class: Danton · Condorcet · Diderot · Mirabeau · Vergniaud · Voltaire
Dimensions: 146.6m x 25.8m x 8.2m Displacement: 18,310 tons std; 19,763 deep laden. Armament: (4) 305mm/45 cal. (2x2), (12) 250 mm/45 (6x2), (16) 76mm/65, and (10) 47 mm guns; (2) 45 cm torpedo tubes. Armor: KC type. 270/200 mm belt, 320 mm turret faces, 305 mm conning tower, 225 mm secondary turrets, 280 mm barbettes, 76 mm deck, 45 mm splinter deck. Fuel capacity: std bunkerage, 940 tons coal; maximum, 2,010 tons. Propulsion: (26) Belleville or Niclausse water-tube boilers (varied with ship); (4) FC Med (Parsons type) turbine engines developing 16,778 kW, shafted to quad screw. Speed: 35 km/hr. Endurance: 5,800 km @ 18.5 km/hr. Crew: 923.
Danton Class Photo Gallery
The Voltaire's energetic profile, with smoke blown back in her slip stream. It required 16½ tons of coal per hour to propel the ship at speed. Early turbine ships were actually less fuel-efficient at lower speeds than their piston-powered cousins -- a problem not solved until the interwar period, with the introduction of geared turbines.
Voltaire making a high-speed run off Bordeaux. Above in text block, Vergniaud at medium throttle.
Another view of Voltaire; the stokers have laid on the coal with a heavy shovel for the camera, but the engineers have yet to open the throttles to "Full Ahead." This gravure print has been heavily retouched, with selected elements of the photo (smoke, etc.) showing through. The artist has picked out the turrets so they shine like burnished aluminum, sharpened funnel and mast details. But he has also eliminated the distinctive cutaways in the hull and rendered the water in an obviously faked manner.
The Diderot works up to speed under a plume of oily smoke.
The Mirabeau in wartime grey, getting underway under columns of coal smoke.
A wonderful view of Vergniaud cutting swiftly through smooth water. Click here for a killer enlargement.
An artistically colored illustration of the Vergniaud. Enlarge Adieu!