French Ship – Victor Hugo

The Léon Gambetta Class (1905)

Bow view of GAMBETTA moving fast

This dramatic view of the name ship emphasizes her resemblance to the République/Liberté group: reduced but still notable tumble-home amidships; square scuttles; armament layout patterned after the battleship template.

Ships’ History – read on.    |    Specifications    |    Photos    |    Menu

The three Léon Gambettas were very slightly larger than the Jeanne d’Arc, a knot slower, but more heavily armed. Where Jeanne had embodied jeune école design doctrine in her multiple single mounts, the Gambetta class embodied the new thinking of Louis-Émile Bertin, Director of Naval Construction and Ingénieur général, who had shaken things up with his Républiqe class battleships of 1903.

One of GAMBETTA's cantilevered 7.6-in turretsThe Gambettas shared many details with the battleships: the individual funnel caps, the concave line of the bow, the foremast a scaled-down version of the battleships’ masts. But more essentially, their gunnery layout with its emphasis on twin turrets was identical to the Républiques. Four 7.6″ guns in twin turrets (left) benefited from improved armor protection around the bases; twelve quick-firing 6.4″ guns in twin turrets were ranged three to a side along the weather deck, just as the Républiques’ secondary armament; again like the Républiques, the aft turret stood on a stepped-down quarterdeck. And even as in the battleships, four secondary guns in casemates on the main deck provided axial fire ahead and astern. Utilizing the by-now standard sandwiched-engine-rooms layout, the cruisers made do with four lofty funnels, two fewer than the Jeanne d’Arc. With 4,000 fewer HP on their three shafts, they still were good for 22 knots, even with their heavier armor.

Before the start of WWI, the British and French redeployed their fleets, the British bringing most of their armor home to face the Germans in the North Sea while the French transferred most of their Atlantic coast units to the Mediterranean. There was an explicit agreement that each nation would cover its ally’s rear in the event of war. All the Gambetta class were pressed into wartime service in the Mediterranean. Léon Gambetta was part of the French Fleet based at Malta blockading the the Austrian Navy in the Adriatic, usually from a position south of the Strait of Otranto between that body and the French base at Corfu.

On the clear, calm night of April 26-27, 1915, Léon Gambetta was patrolling the Ionian Sea about 15 miles south of Cape Santa Maria di Leuca, off the SE tip of Italy. At the approximate position 39.30’N, 18.15’E, she was torpedoed twice by the Austrian submarine U-5, under the command of Lt. Cdr. Georg von Trapp. The ship was cruising at only 6.5 knots with no escort, a sitting duck target. U-5 fired her fish at a range of under 500 yards. One torpedo hit the port side dynamo room and the other, the aft boiler room. The stricken cruiser took only ten minutes to sink. Of the 821 men aboard, 684 were lost, including Rear-Adm Sénès, commander of the 2nd Light Division; 137 survived. After this disaster, the blockade line was moved further north to the longitude of Cephalonia, western Greece, because of expected Austrian naval activity. At the time, Italy had not yet openly joined the war on Austria, and was technically Austria’s ally through the Treaty of the Triple Alliance (the third partner being Germany). The Allies were pressuring the Italians, soon after prevailing on them to declare war on Austria-Hungary.


Plans and Specifications

Schematic of LEON GAMBETTA

Specifications for the Léon Gambetta class:
Dimensions: 476′ x 71′ x 26’3″ Displacement: 12,400 tons. Armament: (4) 7.6″ (2×2), (16) 6.4″ QF guns (6×2, 4×1), and (24) 3-pdr guns; (5) 18″ TT. Armor: 6¾”/3″ belt; 8″ CT, turrets, and turret bases; 5½” secondary turrets & bases; 5″ aft bulkhead; 2¼” deck. Fuel capacity: 1,320 tons of coal normal, 2,100 tons coal and 100 tons oil. Propulsion: Boilers: 20 coal-fired Niclausse(LG), Guyot (JF), Belleville (VH); (3) 4-cyl VTE developing 29,000 hp, shafted to triple screw. Speed: 23 knots. Crew: 730. Endurance: 1,500 nm @22 knots; 12,000 nm @10 kts.

Ships in class: Léon Gambetta · Jules Ferrer · Victor Hugo. In service: 1905-07.

Metric specs:
Dimensions: 145m x 21.6m x 8m    Displacement: 12,400 tons. Armament: (4) 194 mm (2×2), (16) 165 mm (6×2, 4×1), and (24) 3-pdr guns; (5) 45 cm TT. Armor: 172/76 mm belt; 254 mm CT, turrets, and turret bases; 140 mm secondary turrets & bases; 126 mm aft bulkhead; 57 mm deck. Fuel capacity: 1,320 tons of coal normal, 2,100 tons coal and 100 tons oil. Propulsion: Boilers: 20 coal-fired Niclausse(LG), Guyot (JF), Belleville (VH); (3) 4-cyl VTE developing 21,625 kW, shafted to triple screw. Speed: 38.4 km/hr. Crew: 730. Endurance: 2,778 km @40¾ km/hr; 22,224 km @18.5 km/hr.


A Gambetta Class Compendium

LEON GAMBETTA side view, at anchor
And here she is from the other side.

Color lithographic card of VICTOR HUGO at anchor w/French flag
A handsome postcard of her sister ship Victor Hugo.

Georg von Trapp, studio portrait

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