Warship Wednesday October 5, 2016: The quiet behemoth of Toulhars
Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1859-1946 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all of their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger
Warship Wednesday October 5, 2016: The quiet behemoth of Toulhars
Here we see the French ironclad cuirasse Dévastation, leader of her two-ship class of early battleship. She had a quiet life, and has spent most of it on the beach.
In 1872, the huge central battery ship Redoutable was laid down at the Lorient Dockyard and was one of the most advanced composite-hulled (iron and steel) battleships in the world– sparking a naval building spree by possible foes Italy and Britain. With a wonky exaggerated tumblehome hull shape and full square rig, Redoubtable was a one-off vessel of some 9,500-tons with seven 270mm guns and 14 inches of plate armor with another 15 inches of plank composite timber backing.
With lessons learned from that vessel, a near sister, our Dévastation above, was laid down at Arsenal Lorient 20 December 1875 while a follow-on carbon copy of our hero, full-sister Courbet was laid down at Toulon.
Some 10,000-tons with a full 15 inches of armor in her belt, Dévastation mounted a quartet of 340mm (13.4-inch guns) which far outclassed Redoubtable, as well as a secondary battery of four 270mm pieces and 24 anti-boat guns. Four 14-inch torpedo tubes, two on each side of the ship, completed the outfit.
Commissioned 15 July 1882, her full dozen boilers exhausted through a very odd arrangement of twin side-by-side stacks under a two-masted square auxiliary rig. She could make 10 knots at best and was a beast.
Assigned to the ‘Escadre de la Méditerranée at Toulon, she carried the squadron flag of Vice-Adm. Thomasset, and gave quiet service in the Med for a decade before transfer to Brest.
She was a beautiful ship at the height of 19th Century indulgence as these series of shots from 1892 show. In particular, dig her Nordenfelt and Hotchkiss guns, her 270mm and the shot of the Marine.
She was placed in second-line service in 1898 and then in ordinary in 1901.
Afloat as a machinists school ship in Toulon after 1901, she was re-engined with two 3-cyl. compound engines and Belleville boilers, which enabled her to make 15-knots with a smaller number of stokers.
She was retained in nominal service until the outbreak of the Great War in 1914, when she was repurposed.
Her last cruise under her own power to Lorient in October 1914 saw Dévastation largely disarmed and transformed into a floating brig for incorrigible German prisoners of war, housing up to 500 troublemakers at a time under high security on the mole.
By 1919, with the Boche repatriated and little use for a 1870s ironclad, the French hulked Dévastation and in March 1922 sold her to one MM. Jacquard for her value in scrap iron– 180,000 francs.
Jacquard resold the rusty heap to a German breaker and two tugs, Achilles and Larissa, arrived from Hamburg on 7 May to pull the ironclad away but instead wound up running her aground on the sandy bottom of the Ecrevisse bench some 220 yards off the mouth of the channel marker.
Stuck embarrassingly all summer, the Germans sent the large tug Hercules to help the two smaller ones pull her off– unsuccessfully.
This wound up in a third sale to Albaret and Kerloc of Brest who attempted to break Dévastation in place in an operation run by former Tsarist Navy engineers in exile, removing hundreds of tons of topside armor plate in a risky effort to get her light enough to refloat that ended in the death of at least two workers though did get her to more pedestrian Larmor-Plage.
This operation continued for decades with ownership of the grounded scrap switching hands several more times until, by 1954, salvage operations halted.
While the ship is gone above water at high tide, her bones are still visible off Toulhars beach (47°42’417 – 003°22’643) at low tide and divers still poke around her submerged hull for souvenirs.
Her name has not been reused.
As for her sistership, Courbet was struck 5 February 1909 and sold for scrap the following year, in a more successful recycling effort than Dévastation.
9,659 tonnes standard
10,090 tonnes full load
100.25 m (328 ft. 11 in) o/a
95 m (311 ft. 8 in) p/p
98.70 m (323 ft. 10 in) w/l
Beam: 21.25 m (69 ft. 9 in)
7.51 m (24 ft. 8 in) loaded draught forward
7.80 m (25 ft. 7 in) 7.80 m loaded draught amidships
8.10 m (26 ft. 7 in) 8.10 m loaded draught aft
Depth of hold: 7.34 m (24 ft. 1 in)
Installed power: 12 boilers, 2 Woolf triple expansion engines totaling 6,000 ihp (6,000 kW), 900 tons of coal as built, 10 knots.
Re-engined 1899-1901 with two 3-cyl. compound engines and Belleville boilers, capable of 8,100 hp, and said to be good for 15 kts afterwards.
Propulsion: Twin screws (5.24 m diameter) + sail
Sail area 1,833 m2 (19,730 sq ft.)
Speed: 10 knots as built, 15 knots (28 km/h; 17 mph) at full load (steam) after 1901
Range: 3,100 nmi (5,700 km) at 10 kn (19 km/h) (steam)
Complement: 689 as completed varied until 1901 when dropped to ~200 plus 300 trainees.
4 × 34cm/18 model 1875
4 × 27cm/18 model 1870M
6 × 14cm model 1870M
18 × 37mm Hotchkiss revolving cannon
4 × 14in torpedo tubes
4 × 320mm/25 model 1870-81
4 × 274.4mm model 1875
6 × 138.6mm
2 × 65mm
6 × 47mm QF
20 × 37mm QF
2 × 14in torpedo tubes
After March 1902 refit:
4 × 274.4mm model 1893
2 × 240mm/40 model 1893/96
10 × 100mm model 1891 and 1892
14 × 47mm QF
2 × 37mm QF
Largely disarmed after 1914
38 cm (15 in) belt amidships
24 cm (9.4 in) redoubt
6 cm (2.4 in) main deck 
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