|Preceded by:||Richelieu class|
|Displacement:||40,000 long tons (40,640 tonnes)|
|Propulsion:||197,000 shp (147 MW) geared steam turbines|
|Speed:||30 knots (56 km/h)|
|Range:||5,000 nautical miles (9,000 km) at 18 knots (33 km/h)|
three 380mm turrets, triple mounts (9 guns) or 3 quad mounts (12 guns) depending on project
Side Belt: 320 mm with a 15.5 degree angle, 127 to 152 mm at the ends
The Alsace-class battleships were planned to succeed and enlarge the Richelieu class. The design planned for an improved Richelieu design with three triple or quadruple 380mm turrets (two fore, one aft). Six names were proposed, and two had to be chosen from this list: Alsace, Normandie, Flandre, Bourgogne; two more units were not given names. The laying down of the lead ship of the class, Alsace, was planned for 1941; with the Fall of France in 1940, none of the ships were built.
In 1936, the second London naval disarmament conference failure marked the end of the international naval armament limitation policy. Japan had withdrawn from the conference on January 15. Italy also declined to sign the treaty. A so-called "escalator clause" was included at the urging of American negotiators, allowing the signatory countries of the Second London Treaty—France, the United Kingdom and the United States—to raise the battleship main artillery caliber limit from 14 inches (356mm) to 16 inches (406mm), and the battleship Washington tonnage limit from 35,000 tons to 45,000 tons, if Japan or Italy still refused to sign after 1 April 1937. So, the U.S.A. adopted the 16-inches guns for their new fast battleship classes, the United Kingdom chose to respect the Second London Naval Treaty limitations for the King George V class battleships, Germany was not concerned as she had not been invited to the second London naval disarmament conference, but officially, the battleships Bismarck and Tirpitz did have 380mm guns and 35,000 tons. So France decided to respect the limitation of 35,000 tons and 380mm, as long as no continental European power had overtaken them. It was with these considerations in mind that the new Chef d'Etat-major Général de la Marine, Admiral Darlan, was ordered, in late 1937, to study new designs for two more battleships, as Dunkerque trials were starting to confirm some critical issue with her design, especially her all forward quadruple turret main artillery, and her dual purpose (anti-aircraft and anti-ship) secondary artillery of relatively light caliber.
Three projects were studied, the first (project A) with the same quadruple arrangement forward as Richelieu, but different secondary artillery dispositions, the second (project B) with one quadruple turret forward and one quadruple turret aft, the third (project C) with two fore triple turrets and one triple turret aft, in every case with a 380mm caliber. The project C was leading to an excess of nearly 2500 tons over the limit of 35,000 tons, so it was not proposed to the Chef d'Etat-major Général de la Marine.
In June 1938, Admiral Darlan chose the project A variant 2, for the first battleship to be laid down of the second pair of Richelieu-class battleships. She received the name of Clemenceau, and he choose the project B variant 3, for the second ship with whose design he was much involved, and gave her the name of Gascogne, the French province where he was born. These French Admiralty choices were tightly linked with the necessity of a maximum use of shipyards where big ships might be built.
So, the Salou graving dock, in Brest Navy Yards, was planned to be ready for a new battleship building in late 1938 – early 1939, after the Richelieu will have to be launched, or more exactly, floated up. It was not possible to leave the dock empty for at least six months, waiting to build a Project B design battleship after it had been ordered, as it would have necessitated at least one year to put up definitive drawings. So, the Project A design had to be chosen necessarily for the first battleship to be laid down in the Salou graving dock. Thus, the "Caquot dock" in Saint-Nazaire, in which was being built the Jean Bart, expected to leave it for October 1940, could be used for the second battleship to be laid down. Therefore, Richelieu being floated up on January 17, 1939, Clemenceau was laid down, this same day. Eighteen months later, Jean Bart left her berth nearly in sight of German vanguards, on June 19, 1940, so Gascogne was never laid down.
During the summer of 1939, the French intelligence services warned the French Admiralty that the keels of two German battleships, supposed to displace 40,000 tons and mount 406mm guns, actually Plan Z H-39 class battleships, had been laid down. It was considered then that it was time to surpass the limits of 35,000 tons and even 380mm. On the basis of the 1938 studies on Project C, new battleship designs emerged, which led to the so-called "Province"- or Alsace-class battleships.
Three types of battleships were studied, all with the same main artillery arrangement, two turrets forward, one turret aft, and the same secondary artillery arrangement (152mm caliber), all on center line, one triple turret forward, two triple turrets in superfiring position aft, between the funnel and the aft main artillery turret, as on the C3 version of projects for 1938 bis program.
They differed on two points:
Second, the anti aircraft artillery, consisting in every case of dual mountings of 100mm caliber (so-called pseudo turrets), would have counted eight mountings, on types n° 1 and 2, twelve mountings on type n° 3.
The armour is nearly the same (belt: 330mm on type n°1 and n°2, 350mm on type n°3; upper armoured deck :170–180mm; lower armoured deck: 40mm) and the propulsion assuring the same speed (31.5 knots) as Richelieu, so the length of the hull, the power of propulsion machinery, and the Washington tonnage are varying from 252 m, 170,000 hp (130,000 kW) and 40,000 tons for the type n°1, 256 m, 190,000 hp (140,000 kW) and 42,500 tons for the type n°2, to 265 m, 220,000 hp (160,000 kW) and 45,000 tons for the type n°3.
As seen above, the type n°1 would have been similar to Vittorio Veneto-class battleships, for the main artillery, in arrangement and in caliber, and an anti-ship secondary artillery which would have counted one triple turret less, but with a disposition on an axial line, the broadside would have been 50% more powerful, and the anti-aircraft artillery, with a slightly bigger caliber (100mm instead of 90mm) would have counted the same number of barrels. It also may be described as something between HMS Vanguard, with one more 381 mm gun, and the Lion-class battleships, with a main artillery of only 380mm caliber.
The type n°2 would have been similar to the Lion-, North Carolina- and South Dakota-class battleships, regarding the main armament, in caliber and in arrangement. The top speed would have been 2 knots (3.7 km/h) higher, 30 kn instead of 28 kn for the U.S. Navy battleships concerned, with consequently a longer hull, more horsepower and an enlarged displacement. The choice of a dual-caliber secondary artillery instead of a dual-purpose one is characteristic of the Continental European navies at the beginning of the Second World War; the lack of a robust light anti-aircraft battery is also consistent with contemporary practice that was soon outstripped by events.
The type n°3 would have retained a distinguishing feature of French capital ships: the quadruple turret. The French Navy advocated such a battery arrangement consistently, incorporating it into the designs of the proposed Normandie class and Lyon class classes of battleship in the First World War, and then bringing it into practice on the Dunkerque-, Richelieu-, and Gascogne-classes. The secondary artillery would have been near of which will have been fitted on Jean Bart as completed post war (9 x 152mm and 24 x 100mm), except the lack of fourteen AA 57mm dual mountings and twenty 20mm single mountings.
The French Admiralty is reported to have chosen the type n°1, the nearest of Richelieu design, and discarded the type n°2, because of the delays to perfect the 406mm guns, a new device for the French Navy, and considered the type n°3 dimensions excessive, being nearly those of Iowa-class battleships (270 m, 212,000 hp (158,000 kW), 45,000 tons).
The first unit was intended to be laid down on 1941, in the Penhoët shipyards, where had been built the Normandie transatlantic liner, and later the Strasbourg battleship, and where was being built the Joffre-class aircraft carrier. But this choice would have deferred the building of the second aircraft carrier Painlevé of the Joffre-class aircraft carrier, clearly showing the higher priority granted, in this time, to battleships on aircraft carriers by the French Admiralty.
The second unit would have had to be laid down on 1942 in a new dock which was intended to be built in the Brest Navy Yards.
Two names of French provinces would have to be chosen among Alsace, Normandie, Flandre and Bourgogne, but with the 1940 France defeat, these battleships were never ordered, no work was ever begun, and even no material stored. French provinces names have currently been used for French capital ships, as Bretagnes and Normandie-class battleships. They had also been considered a moment for Rubis-class nuclear attack submarines, and are nowadays in use for Aquitaine-class second generation stealth frigates.
- Breyer 1973, p. 73.
- Breyer 1973, p. 80.
- Dumas, Jean Bart 2001, p. 104.
- Dumas, Jean Bart 2001, p. 87.
- Dumas, Jean Bart 2001, p. 88.
- Lenton, German vessels 1966, pp. 48–49.
- Breyer 1973, pp. 305–309.
- Dumas, Jean Bart 2001, pp. 104–105.
- Jordan & Dumas 2009, p. 165.
- Le Masson 1969, pp. 75–76.
- Dumas, Richelieu 2001, pp. 16–26.
- Dumas, Jean Bart 2001, pp. 105–106.
- Jordan & Dumas 2009, p. 177.
- Giorgerini & Nani 1973, pp. 319–338.
- Lenton, British battleships 1972, p. 63.
- Lenton, American battleships 1968, pp. 36–41.
- Jordan & Dumas 2009, p. 180.
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