by John Jordan and Philippe Caresse
Barnsley, Eng.: Seaforth / Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2017. Pp. 328.
Illus., maps, diagr., tables, biblio., index. $75.00. ISBN: 1591146399
A Design History of the French Battle Fleet in the Era of the Great War
Following up his French Battleships, 1922-1956, author Jordan, aided by illustrator Caresse, gives us a detailed look at French battleships during the Third Republic through the Great War. The book opens with an introduction that summarizes the complex controversies of French naval policy in the late nineteenth century, when French naval policy was in turmoil, with some politicians and naval officers arguing over whether a fleet composed largely of commerce raiders, torpedo boats, and submarines was better than one built around the battleship, while others even questioned the need for a large navy, given that the nation’s principle threat was overland from Germany, matters which deserve books of their own, all to the detriment of the fleet, which entered the Great War still heavily dependent on pre-Dreadnoughts.
The main body of the book is divided into two sections. The first covers technical details of each class and ship design from 1890 onwards, during which some two dozen battleships of various types. Many of the earlier ships were built to unique designs, often rather experimental, which made forming homogenous squadrons difficult, and construction was often very prolonged. As a result, but the outbreak of the World War France had only two dreadnoughts in commission, plus more building or on order, most of which were never completed.
The second part of the book is an operational history of the ships, naturally concentrating on the events of the Great War, but also covering the interwar period and Second World War. While none of France’s battleships in this period were fully comparable to the best British or Germany vessels (those policy controversies at work), they saw a lot of service, supporting land operations, but never engaged in a traditional clash with enemy counterparts.
French Battleships of World War One is a valuable work, with excellent illustrations, including many in color, and a necessity for anyone interested in the battleship or the naval side of the world wars.