Ships of the Line
        Between 1782 and 1788, Baron Sané produced plans for three classes of ships of the line which became standard designs for the French navy for the next forty years. These were the 118-gun three deckers of the Etats de Bourgogne (later Océan) type, the 80-gun two deckers of the Indomptable type, and the 74-gun two deckers of the Téméraire type. These designs succeeded, not only because they performed well at sea, but because they gave the navy a rating structure with relatively equal intervals between types in size, strength, and cost. This is best illustrated by examining their armaments. All three had 36pdr guns on their gun decks: 16 per side in the 118 gun type, 15 in the 80, and 14 in the 74. On the next two decks, the 80 carried the same caliber guns as the 118 (24pdrs and 12pdrs), while the 74 carried lighter guns (18pdrs and 8pdrs). The 118 had an extra deck, a spardeck with 8pdrs. Around 1805 the 118-gun design was widened 6in to allow it to carry 18pdrs instead of 12pdrs on the main deck.
        In 1822-24, the navy modified this rating structure by adding a 100 gun two decker. The 80 and its 90-gun successor became a third- class ship and the 74 became a fourth class. Successive ordinances from 1817 through 1848 specified the standard armaments for the old and new types. (Ordinances after 1848 had little effect due to rapid changes in ship and artillery design.) These standard armaments were used in producing new ship designs and, to varying degrees, in assigning guns to ships. They are listed in table 6, including the armament for a new fourth class which was not built.


Pre-1822 Designs  
118-gun1817GD 32-36p; MD 34-24p; UD 34-18p; SD 12-36p carr., 14-8p,
 1828GD 32-36p; MD 34-24p; UD 34-36p carr.; SD 16-36p carr., 4-18p long
 1838As new 1st class
80-gun1817GD 30-36p; UD 32-24p; SD 10-36p carr., 14-12p
 1828GD 30-36p; UD 32-24p; SD 20-36p carr., 4-18p long
 1838As new 3rd class except 4 fewer carr. on SD
74-gun1817GD 28-36p; UD 30-18p; SD 10-36p carr., 14-8p
 1828GD 28-36p; UD 30-18p; SD 20-36p carr., 4-18p long
 1838GD 24-36p, 4-22cm shell; UD 26-18p, 4-16cm shell; SD 20-36p carr., 4-18p long
Post-1822 Designs  
1st class1828GD 32-30p No.1; MD 34-30p No.2; UD 34-30p carr., SD 16-30p carr., 4-18p long
 1838GD 32-30p No.1; MD 30-30p No.2, 4-22cm No.1 shell; UD 34-16cm shell; SD 16-30p carr., 4-16cm shell
 1848GD 24-30p No.1, 8-22cm No 1 shell; MD 26-30p No.2, 8-22cm No.2 shell; UD 34-16cm shell; SD 12-30p carr., 4-16cm shell
2nd class1828GD 32-30p No.1; UD 34-30p No.2; SD 30-30p carr., 4-18p long
 1838GD 28-30p No.1, 4-22cm No 1 shell; UD 34-30p No.2; SD 30-30p carr., 4-16cm shell
 1848GD 24-30p No.1, 8-22cm No.1 shell; UD 26-30p No.2, 8-22cm No.2 shell; SD 26-30p carr., 4-16cm shell
3rd class1828GD 30-30p No.1; UD 32-30p No.2; SD 24-30p carr., 4-18p long
 1838GD 26-30p No.1, 4-22cm No.1 shell; UD 32-30p No.2; SD 24-30p carr., 4-16cm shell
 1848GD 22-30p No.1, 8-22cm No.1 shell; UD 24-30p No.2, 8-22cm No.2 shell; SD 20-30p carr., 4-16cm shell
4th class1828GD 28-30p No.1; UD 30-30p No.2; SD 20-30p carr., 4-18p long
 1838GD 24-30p No.1, 4-22cm No.1 shell; UD 30-30p No.2; SD 18-30p carr., 4-16cm shell
 1848GD 20-30p No.1, 8-22cm No.1 shell; UD 22-30p No.2, 8-22cm No.2 shell; SD 14-30p carr., 4-16cm shell

        This rating structure survived into the steam era, due to the conversion of many sailing ships of the line, most of which retained their old ratings. With one exception (the 1st class Bretagne), new construction steam ships of the line were all of one type, Dupuy de Lôme's Napoléon class. Originally rated 3rd class ships because of their 90-gun armament, they were soon upgraded to the 2nd class because of their great size. The new 70-gun ships, which never materialized, were successors to the old 74s but were rated as 3rd class ships.

        In contrast to their three types of ships of the line, the French in 1816 had only one standard type of frigate: a ship with 18pdrs in the gun deck and 8pdrs (later replaced by carronades) on the spardeck. After some experimentation between 1817 and 1822, two larger types with 24pdrs and 30pdrs were created in the mid-1820s. The 24pdr and 18pdr types were assigned new 30pdr armaments in the 1830s, leading to a slight increase in beam for both types in new designs in the 1840s. The standard armaments for the three frigate classes are shown in table 7.

Pre-1822 Designs  
36pdr (1820)1828GD 28-36p; SD 28-36p carr., 2-18p long
 1838GD 26-36p, 2-22cm shell; SD 28-36p carron, 2-18p long
24pdr (1819)1828GD 30-24p; SD 26-24p carr., 2-18p short
 1838GD 30-24p; SD 20-24p carr., 2-18p long (Calypso and Atalante)
18pdr1817GD 28-18p; SD 14-24p carr., 2-8p
 1828GD 28-18p; SD 16-24p carr., 2-18p short
 1838GD 24-18p, 4-16cm shell; SD 16-24p carr., 2-18p short
Post-1822 Designs  
1st class1828GD 30-30p No.1; SD 28-30p carr., 2-18p long
 1838GD 28-30p No.1, 2-22cm No.1 shell; SD 26-30p carr., 4-16cm shell
 1848GD 26-30p No.1, 4-22cm No.1 shell; SD 26-30p carr., 4-16cm shell
2nd class1828GD 28-24p; SD 22-24p carr., 2-18p short
 1838GD 28-30p No.2; SD 18-30p carr., 4-16cm shell
 1848GD 24-30p No.2, 4-22cm No.2 shell; SD 18-30p carr., 4-16cm shell
3rd class1828GD 28-18p long; SD 16-30p carr., 2-18p short
 1838GD 22-30p No.2, 4-16cm shell; SD 14-30p carr.
 1848GD 24-30p No.2, 2-22cm No.2 shell; SD 10-30p carr., 4-16cm shell

        The effect on most ship classes of the introduction of steam propulsion was to produce much larger ships with the same rating. The new steamers had approximately the same beam as their sail predecessors, but they were substantially longer to accomodate the engines and finer hull lines. For example, the designer of the paddle frigate Descartes gave her the same beam and depth of hull as sail 3rd class frigates, but increased the length from 158ft to 230ft and the displacement from 1700 to 3000 tons.
        The growth in size and cost of steamers was one reason for the popularity of the mixed propulsion idea in the 1840s. This idea, made possible by the advent of the screw propeller, called for retaining as many sailing ship characteristics as possible and installing an engine just large enough to provide mobility in calms and emergencies. The third class Pomone, with her 170ft 7in length and 2000 ton displacement, was a good example of this type. Mixed propulsion went out of favor in the early 1850s after the successful trials of more powerful steam warships like Charlemagne and Napoléon.
        The construction of screw frigates in France lagged behind the construction of screw ships of the line. The French finally built some 1st class screw frigates, the Impératrice Eugénie and Impétueuse classes, in the mid-1850s. After the conversion program for ships of the line was well in hand, the navy began converting sail frigates to steam in the late 1850s. These ships retained their sail ratings despite substantial increases in size. The successors of these oversized cruising ships in the post-1860 navy were a series of armored "corvettes" (2nd class battleships) and a few super cruisers like Duquesne and Tourville (launched in 1876).

        The term corvette was first used by the French as a functional name for any light ship of less than 20 guns intended to scout for fleets or carry dispatches. The term aviso began to replace it around 1780 to describe this function, and by the beginning of the 19th century the term corvette referred to a 3-masted ship of 20 guns or less, in contrast to brigs which were similar ships with 2 masts. The most successful wartime types were the Victorieuse class, originally designed with 20-8pdrs, and the Diligente class with 20-6pdrs. In 1824 the ships of the Diligente class, which were the same size as the larger brigs, were reclassified corvette-avisos. They are discussed with the brigs which they resembled.
        After the war, the larger corvettes, called "corvettes de guerre," were of two types: those with a spardeck and those with an open battery. The spardeck corvettes became miniature frigates with up to 32 guns and were equivalent to British 26 and 28 gun frigates and corvettes such as Atholl, Challenger, Vestal, and Diamond. The French open-battery corvettes paralleled British ship-sloops and corvettes such as Rose, Rover, Dido, and Calypso. The spardeck corvettes proved very useful on overseas stations and were built in quantity. A change in their standard armament in the mid-1830s led to an increase in beam in new designs in the 1840s. Open-battery sail corvettes were less popular, and the last new one was launched in 1834. The standard armaments for French sail "corvettes de guerre" are shown in table 8.


Pre-1822 Designs  
Spardeck1817GD/SD 22-24p carr., 2-12p
 1828GD 20-24p carr.; SD 6-12p carr., 2-12p
Open Battery181718-24p carr., 2-12p
 182818-24p carr., 2-6p (Echo)
 183818-24p carr., 2-16cm shell (Echo and Camille class)
Post-1822 Designs  
Spardeck1828GD 20-30p carr., 4-18p short; SD 8-30p carr.
 1838GD 24-16cm shell; SD 6-18p carr.
 1848GD 22-16cm shell, 2-22cm No.2 shell; SD 6-18p carr.
Open Battery182820-30p carr., 4-18p short
 183820-30p carr., 4-16cm shell
 184820-30p carr., 4-16cm shell

        In contrast to sail corvettes, nearly all steam corvettes before 1860 were of the open battery variety. (The exceptions were the paddle Cuvier and the screw D'Assas and Du Chayla.) The ships fell into two classes depending on their horsepower, one between 320 and 400nhp and one between 220 and 300nhp. At the time the screw came into general use, the smaller class was out of favor, and there were only two screw ships rated as 2nd class corvettes (Chaptal and Caton). New ships based on the design of Chaptal were begun in 1856 (the Monge group), but because of a major revision to the rating structure of the fleet they were called 1st class avisos. The corvettes and 1st class avisos of 1860 were the ancestors respectively of the 1st and 2nd class cruisers of the 1870s and 1880s.

Brigs and Avisos
        These small ships undertook many of the essential utilitiarian missions of the fleet, especially carrying messages for the fleet and patrolling on foreign stations. (Steam avisos also often acted as transports.) Three distinct sailing types fall into this group: corvette avisos, "bricks de guerre" (war brigs), and brig avisos. The corvette avisos and brig avisos were built for speed. The corvette avisos were copies of a very fast ship built in 1801, Diligente (which outlived all but one of her progeny), and the brig avisos were based on American schooner designs acquired by Marestier during a trip to the United States. The larger brigs were also supposed to have a good turn of speed, but also had to carry a relatively strong armament. In an effort to solve this difficult problem, the navy in 1824 adopted a standard plan for its brigs with a hull copied as closely as possible from Diligente. (The plans of Diligente were also used for two 2nd class steam avisos, Biche and Sentinelle, built in 1848 as mixed-propulsion corvette avisos.)
        Standard armaments for sailing brigs and avisos are summarized in table 9. There was also an interim class of 18-gun brigs designed in 1821, which was assigned two more 24pdrs than the old 16-gun type. The standard armaments do not reflect several new armaments assigned to classes designed after 1840 or the trend in the late 1840s to arm the newer ships with shell guns: 12-16cm shell and 2-18pdrs in the large brigs and 6-16cm shell in the brig avisos.


Pre-1822 Designs  
Brig (16-gun)181714-24p carr., 2-8p
 182814-24p carr., 2-8p
 183814-24p carr., 2-16cm shell
 182816-18p carr., 2-8p
 183814-18p carr., 2-12p short
 184814-18p carr., 2-16cm shell
Post-1822 Designs  
Brig182818-24p carr., 2-18p short
 183818-24p carr., 2-16cm shell
 184818-24p carr., 2-16cm shell
Brig-Aviso182816-18p carr.
 18388-18p carr., 2-12p short
 184810-18p carr., 2-12p short

        The early naval steamers were all classified avisos, reflecting their subsidiary role in the fleet. The 160nhp 1st class paddle avisos like Sphinx held a position in the steam navy similar to that of the large brigs and corvette avisos in the sail navy, while the larger 2nd class paddle avisos (those between 80 and 120nhp) were similarly related to the sail brig-avisos. Both types continued to be built after the advent of the screw, the 200nhp Aigle of 1853 being the last of many ships descended from Sphinx. The rating structure of the fleet was then overhauled, and a new class of 150nhp ships, called 2nd class avisos, was built to assume the military functions of the old 1st class avisos. These, in turn, were the ancestors of the 3rd class cruisers of the 1870s and 1880s.

Floating Batteries, Gunboats, and Mortar Vessels
        Although new floating batteries and gunboats did not appear in the post-Napoleonic navy until the 1850s, neither type was new. Floating batteries had been used offensively in sieges such as the siege of Gibraltar in 1782, and they were used defensively to protect locations which lacked fixed fortifications. Gunboats had been built in large numbers during the Napoleonic wars. Twenty of these vessels which had names still existed in late 1819, as did twelve which were referred to only by numbers. Two, Encelade and Liamone, still existed in 1839. Most of the named craft were built at Toulon or La Seyne between 1810 and 1814 and carried 4-18pdrs.
        Floating batteries and gunboats were revived during the Crimean War as specialized ships for a specific mission, reduction of Russian fortifications in the Black Sea and Baltic. The success of the armored batteries at Kinburn is well known. Following the war, the French continued to build armored floating batteries for both offensive and defensive use. They also continued to build one of the two classes of gunboats developed during the Crimean War, the smaller 2nd class type. These were found to be useful, not only for their original purpose, but also for overseas and colonial service.
        Sailing mortar vessels were also built as part of the Crimean War siege train. These were not the first mortar vessels in the postwar navy, however. In 1817 Marestier designed a 300 ton transport, Bayonnais, with mountings for two 32cm mortars, and in 1824 a class of eight ships was begun on similar plans. Unlike their prototype, these eight were classified as mortar vessels for much of their careers, even though most of their service was as transports.

Small Vessels
        The sail navy contained a multitude of small armed craft. At the end of 1819, for example, it included 11 schooners, 6 luggers, 3 avisos, 2 yachts, 1 cutter, 1 felucca, 9 péniches, 2 trincadours, and 1 flatboat. Twenty years later it had 9 gun brigs, 28 schooners, 12 cutters, 4 avisos, 2 chebecks, 1 sloop, 1 lugger, 6 trincadours, 4 balancelles, and 10 of unspecified types. The number of small sailing craft declined as steamers took over many of their functions: at the end of 1859 the navy had only 14 schooners, 8 cutters, and 1 lugger. Particulars are given here for the two largest and most important standard types in this category: the gun brigs and the 6-gun schooners.
        Particulars are also given for all of the small steamers (those below 80nhp) carried on the navy list between 1816 and 1859. These include the navy's first steamers, the Voyageur and Africain of 1819. Many of the later small paddle vessels were shallow draft vessels built for colonial service. Eventually, all small paddle steamers were classified as 2nd class avisos and their screw counterparts were classified flotilla avisos. The listing also includes two specialized types developed for the Crimean War: gun launches and sectional floating batteries. The latter could be taken apart and transported to the war zone either by sea or by rail.

Copyright © Stephen S. Roberts 2004-2015.