Old photographs of the French Naval base at Brest

Some years ago my wife and I visited Brest during one of our cruises. The town was badly damaged during the Second World War, but it has since been rebuilt and is a typical small French city. The main reason for the city’s existence is the large naval base that the French have had there for many years, and it was no surprise to find that it boasted a Naval Museum. During our visit a special photographic exhibition about the French Naval base was being held, and the following are some of the photographs that I was able to obtain copies of.

1878: The gunboat Voltigeur under construction.

1880: The cruiser Nielly prior to her launching. Of interest are the old wooden warships serving as hulks and the incomplete modern battleship that is sporting circular ‘huts’ over its as-yet-to-be-fitted main gun positions.

1891: The coastal defence battleship Furieux. The French build several of this class of ship as a counter to the Royal Navy’s larger battleships.

1893: The launch of the battleship Charles Martel.

1893: The battleship Charles Martel being fitted out. One of its main guns is being lowered into position.

1893: The battleship Saint-Louis. She was a sister ship of the Gaulois and Charlemagne, and took part in the Dardanelles campaign. She remained in service – albeit as a hulk – until 1933!

1900: The submarine Espadon under construction.

1905: The old battleship Devastation. She was launched in 1879 and remained in service until 1922, although by then she was a training hulk. The tumblehome shape of the sides of her hull is very noticeable in this photograph.

1910: A close-up of part of the destroyer Bombarde.

1910: The dreadnought battleship Jean Bart under construction.

1911: The Jean Bart during her fitting out. She was renamed L’Ocean in 1937.


8 Comments on “Old photographs of the French Naval base at Brest”

  1. Conrad Kinch says:

    Now that is very interesting. I see what you mean about the tumble home. I had no idea subs were in service so early.

  2. Steven Page says:

    Great pictures. There should be a book full of these available somewhere,preferably in English;-)

  3. Is it any wonder that so many of us favor the “Pre-Dreadnought” period, where almost every ship was an experiment and so many were very individual in their appearance?

    — Jeff

  4. What a fascinating collection of photos.I particularly enjoy the wooden walls.Jeff I think you make an excellent point indeed that speaks for me certainly.

  5. Conrad Kinch,

    It is only by seeing the ships from astern or ahead that you can begin to appreciate the extent of the tumblehome that was used!

    Submarines (actually submersibles to be really nitpickingly accurate) had been around for quite a long time by 1900 … but they were still very much in their infancy. (Don't forget that Thorsten Nordenfelt had built two 'submarines' for the Ottomans in 1886/87.)

    I am glad that you found these photos as interesting as I did.

    All the best,


  6. Steven Page,

    I totally agree! I would certainly buy a copy if I could.

    All the best,


  7. Bluebear Jeff,

    I totally agree!

    The pre-dreadnoughts and later ironclads have such individuality that there is nothing about them – however ugly they might look – that is not attractive.

    All the best,


  8. Tradgardmastare,

    I would love to know how many wooden warships were still around and being used – albeit as auxiliaries – in the early 1900s. I suspect that it was quite a few.

    All the best,


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