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French battleship Liberté

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Liberte French Battleship LOC 04282u.jpg
Liberté in harbor
Name: Liberté
Namesake: Liberty
Builder: Ateliers et Chantiers de la Loire, Saint-Nazaire
Laid down: December 1902
Launched: 19 April 1905
Completed: March 1908
Fate: Destroyed by accidental detonation of her magazines, 25 September 1911
General characteristics
Class and type: Liberté-class pre-dreadnought battleship
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)
Propulsion: 3 Vertical triple-expansion steam engines
Speed: 19 knots (35 km/h; 22 mph)
Complement: 739–769

Liberté was a pre-dreadnought battleship of the French Navy, and the lead ship of her class. She was laid down in November 1902, launched in April 1905, and completed in March 1908, over a year after the revolutionary British battleship HMS Dreadnought made ships like Liberté obsolete. After her commissioning, Liberté was assigned to the Mediterranean Fleet. She served for only three and a half years; while moored in Toulon in September 1911, an explosion of badly degraded propellant charges detonated the forward ammunition magazines. Some 250 officers and men were killed, and the ship was totally destroyed. The wreck remained in the harbor until 1925, when it was raised and broken up for scrap.


Line-drawing of the Liberté class

Liberté 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.[1] This was over a year after the revolutionary British battleship HMS Dreadnought, which rendered the pre-dreadnoughts like Liberté outdated before they were completed.[2] The ship was 133.81 meters (439 ft 0 in) long between perpendiculars and had a beam of 24.26 m (79 ft 7 in) and a full-load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). She displaced up to 14,860 metric tons (14,630 long tons; 16,380 short tons) at full load. She had a crew of between 739 and 769 officers and enlisted men. The battleship was powered by three vertical triple-expansion steam engines with twenty-two Belleville boilers. They were rated at 18,500 indicated horsepower (13,800 kW) and provided a top speed of 19 knots (35 km/h; 22 mph). Coal storage amounted to 1,800 t (1,800 long tons; 2,000 short tons).[1]

Liberté's main battery 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 194 mm (7.6 in) guns; six were mounted in single turrets, and four in casemates in the hull. She also carried thirteen 65 mm (2.6 in) guns and ten 3-pounders. The ship was also armed with two 450 mm (17.7 in) torpedo tubes submerged in the hull. The ship's main belt was 280 mm (11.0 in) thick and the main battery was protected by up to 350 mm (13.8 in) of armor. The conning tower had 305 mm (12.0 in) thick sides.[1]

Service history

After commissioning, Liberté was assigned to the Active Squadron of the French Mediterranean Fleet.[3] In September 1909, Liberté, Justice, and Vérité visited the United States for the Hudson-Fulton Celebration. The three battleships, commanded by Admiral Jules le Pord, were the first foreign contingent to arrive.[4]

An illustration showing the extent of the damage to Liberté

On 25 September 1911, as Liberté was moored in Toulon harbor, an accidental explosion in one of her forward ammunition magazines for the secondary guns destroyed the ship.[1] The explosion hurled a 37-metric-ton (36-long-ton; 41-short-ton) chunk of armor plate from the ship into the battleship République moored some 210 m (690 ft) away, which caused significant damage.[5]

The French Navy had earlier suffered a series of fatal accidents in Toulon, beginning with an explosion aboard a torpedo boat in February 1907, in which nine men were killed. The following month, the battleship Iéna blew up, killing 107 men. An explosion aboard a gunnery training ship killed six in August 1908, and an explosion on a cruiser killed 13. Six more men were killed aboard the cruiser Gloire a year later, on 10 September 1911. The explosion aboard Liberté killed some 250 officers and men.[5] The culprit was unstable Poudre B, a nitrocellulose-based propellant that was also responsible for the destruction of Iéna,[6] and possibly the other explosions as well.[5]

A state funeral was held for the victims of the explosion on 3 October 1911, attended by President Armand Fallières. The tragedy also raised an emotional wave of solidarity throughout France, with even small villages sending financial support to help the families of the victims.[7] Paul Painlevé, president of the navy committee, appointed a commission of inquiry after the explosion of the battleships Iéna was followed by that of the Liberté. Captain Antoine Schwerer was a member of the commission of inquiry and wrote a "Report on Naval Powders" (1912).[8] Captain Jaurès was exonerated of responsibility for the disaster by the board of enquiry.[9] The wreck of the ship remained in Toulon until 1925, when she was raised and broken up for scrap.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e Gardiner, p. 297
  2. ^ Gardiner & Gray, p. 21
  3. ^ Brassey, p. 48
  4. ^ Levine & Panetta, p. 51
  5. ^ a b c "French Battleship Blown up in Toulon Harbor". Popular Mechanics: 651. November 1911. Retrieved 9 December 2009. 
  6. ^ Oxlade, p. 18
  7. ^ Cardenas, Fabricio (30 July 2014). "Solidarité avec les victimes du cuirassé Liberté". Archives de Canet. Retrieved 12 February 2016. 
  8. ^ Schwerer 1912.
  9. ^ "Clonist", Volume IV, Issue 13297 23 Dec. 1911, page 3


  • Brassey, Thomas A., ed. (1908). Brassey's Naval Annual. Portsmouth, UK: J. Griffin & Co.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  • Gardiner, Robert, ed. (1979). Conway's All the World's Fighting Ships 1860–1905. Greenwich, UK: Conway Maritime Press. ISBN 978-0-8317-0302-8. 
  • Gardiner, Robert; Gray, Randal, eds. (1984). Conway's All the World's Fighting Ships: 1906–1922. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 978-0-87021-907-8. 
  • Levine, Edward F.; Panetta, Roger (2009). Hudson–Fulton Celebration of 1909. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Pub. ISBN 978-0-7385-6281-0. 
  • Oxlade, Chris (2011). Gunpowder. Chicago, Il: Heinemann Library. ISBN 978-1-4329-5458-1. 
  • Schwerer, Antoine (1912), Rapport concernant les poudres de la marine, présenté à M. le ministre à la suite de l'enquête qui lui a été confiée, Paris: Impr. nationale, p. 268 
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