Liberté in New York City in September 1909
|Preceded by:||République class|
|Succeeded by:||Danton class|
|Displacement:||14,860 t (14,630 long tons)|
|Length:||133.81 m (439 ft 0 in) (pp)|
|Beam:||24.26 m (79 ft 7 in)|
|Draft:||8.41 m (27 ft 7 in)|
|Installed power:||18,500 shp (13,800 kW)|
3 Vertical triple-expansion steam engines
|Speed:||19 knots (35 km/h; 22 mph)|
|Armor:||Belt: 280 mm (11 in)
Turrets: 350 mm (14 in)
Conning tower: 305 mm (12.0 in)
The Liberté class was a group of four pre-dreadnought battleships of the French Navy. The class comprised Liberté, the lead ship, Justice, Vérité, and Démocratie. The ships were in most respects repeats of the previous République class, and the major difference was the adoption of 194-millimeter (7.6 in) guns for the secondary battery, rather than the 164 mm (6.5 in) guns of the République class. Due to their similarity, the two classes are sometimes treated as one basic design. The four Liberté-class ships were built between 1903 and 1908; they were completed over a year after the revolutionary British HMS Dreadnought, which rendered the French ships obsolete before they entered service.
In September 1909, three of the ships, Liberté, Justice, and Vérité visited the United States for the Hudson-Fulton Celebration. Two years later, Liberté's forward magazines exploded in Toulon harbor, destroying the ship and killing approximately 250 of her crew. The three surviving ships saw action early in World War I at the Battle of Antivari, and spent the remainder blockading the Austro-Hungarian Navy in the Adriatic and were later stationed at Mudros in the Aegean. They were stricken from the naval register in 1921–1922 and broken up for scrap. Liberté was left on the bottom of Toulon harbor until 1925, when she was raised and broken up for scrap.
The Fleet Law of 1900 authorized the French Navy to build six new battleships, along with a host of other warship types; the law signaled an end to the Jeune École doctrine that emphasized commerce raiding and torpedo boats instead of a battle fleet of capital ships. The first two battleships ordered, the République class, formed the design basis for the subsequent four of the Liberté class. The naval engineer Émile Bertin designed both the République and Liberté classes.
General characteristics and machinery
The ships were 133.81 meters (439 ft 0 in) long between perpendiculars and had a beam of 24.26 m (79 ft 7 in) and a full-load draft of 8.41 m (27 ft 7 in). The ships displaced between 14,489 metric tons (14,260 long tons; 15,971 short tons) for Vérité to 14,860 metric tons (14,630 long tons; 16,380 short tons) for Justice at full load. The ships were built with a tall forecastle deck that extended all the way to the mainmast. The ships retained a small fighting mast for the foremast, but had a lighter pole mast for the mainmast. They had a crew of between 739 and 769 officers and enlisted men. The ships had a metacentric height of 1.1 m (3 ft 7 in), and were equipped with bilge keels to increase their stability.
The ships were powered by three 4-cylinder vertical triple expansion engines with twenty-two Belleville boilers, with the exception of Justice, which was equipped with twenty-four Niclausse boilers. The boilers were divided into three boiler rooms, each of which were trunked into their own funnel. The engines were rated at 18,500 indicated horsepower (13,800 kW) and provided a top speed of 19 knots (35 km/h; 22 mph). Normal coal storage amounted to 900 t (890 long tons; 990 short tons), and at a cruising speed of 10 kn (19 km/h; 12 mph), the ships had a radius of action of 4,200 nautical miles (7,800 km; 4,800 mi). Additional space aboard the ship could be used to store a total of 1,850 t (1,820 long tons; 2,040 short tons) of coal, which increased the cruising radius to 8,500 nmi (15,700 km; 9,800 mi).
Armament and armor
The main battery for the Liberté-class ships consisted of four Canon de 305 mm Modèle 1893/96 guns mounted in two twin gun turrets, one forward and one aft. The secondary battery consisted of ten Canon de 194 mm Modèle 1902 guns; six were mounted in single turrets, and four in casemates in the hull. They also carried thirteen 9-pounder guns and ten 3-pounder guns for close-range defense against torpedo boats. The ships were also armed with two 450 mm (17.7 in) torpedo tubes submerged in the hull.
The ships' armor layout was nearly identical to the previous République class. The main belt was 280 mm (11.0 in) thick at the waterline and extended for almost the complete length of the hull, from the bow to near the stern. The belt was reduced to 240 mm (9.4 in) on the top edge and 81 mm (3.2 in) on the bottom. On the bow and stern, the thicknesses were reduced to 180 mm (7.1 in), 140 mm (5.5 in), and 81 mm, respectively. The armored deck was 53 mm (2.1 in) thick amidships, and increased to 70 mm (2.8 in) on the slopes that connected to the belt. The main battery was protected by up to 350 mm (13.8 in) of armor, and had bases with 254 mm (10.0 in) thick armor plate. The secondary turrets had 150 mm (5.9 in) thick faces and 280 mm thick back plates to balance the turrets, and were mounted on bases with 140 mm thick armor, compared to the 90 mm (3.5 in) thick armor of the Républiques' turret bases. The casemate guns were protected with 140 mm of armor. The conning tower had 305 mm (12.0 in) thick sides.
Liberté, the lead ship of the class, was laid down at the Ateliers et Chantiers de la Loire shipyard in November 1902, launched on 19 April 1905, and completed in March 1908. Justice and Vérité were both laid down in April 1903, Justice at the La Seyne shipyard in Toulon and Vérité at the Forges et Chantiers de la Gironde shipyard in Bordeaux. Justice was launched on 27 October 1904 and completed in February 1908, and Vérité was launched on 28 May 1907 and completed in June 1908. Démocratie, the last vessel of the class, was laid down at the Arsenal de Brest shipyard on 1 May 1903, launched on 30 April 1904, and completed in January 1908. The ships were completed after the revolutionary British battleship HMS Dreadnought; her design, which incorporated a uniform main battery of ten 12-inch (300 mm) guns and high-speed steam turbines, rendered all other pre-dreadnoughts like the Liberté class obsolete.
In September 1909, Liberté, Justice, and Vérité visited the United States for the Hudson-Fulton Celebration. In early 1911, Justice and Vérité were used with success in the Navy's experiments with wireless telegraphy. Later that year, in September, Liberté was destroyed by a huge explosion in her forward propellant magazines. Several nearby warships were damaged by debris, including the battleship République. The explosion aboard Liberté killed some 250 officers and men. The wreck was left in Toulon until 1925, when it was raised and broken up for scrap.
At the outbreak of World War I in August 1914, the three surviving ships were assigned to the 2nd Squadron of the Mediterranean Fleet. They assisted in escorting troop convoys from French North Africa to metropolitan France in the first days of the war, and then moved to the southern Adriatic to prevent the Austro-Hungarian Navy from breaking out into the Mediterranean. There, at the Battle of Antivari, the French battlefleet caught and sank the Austro-Hungarian cruiser SMS Zenta in late August. Later in the war, Justice, Vérité, and Démocratie were sent to Mudros. After the end of the conflict, all three ships were placed in reserve and stricken from the naval register in 1921–1922 and sold for scrap.
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