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A Turner Bugler, 2004

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The Iron Navy of France.


November and December 1863

From The Missouri Democrat, Tuesday, November 3, 1863.


Experimental Examination at and off Cherbourg – The Great Vessels not Fit for Ocean Service – Fearful Rolling, Pitching and Sea-Shipping of the Monsters.

[Paris (Oct. 8,) Correspondence of London Army and Navy Gazette.]

One must not always judge of French performance by French accounts, for the Government, being jealous of success, does not look with a favorable eye on those who register disaster or failure. French ships, French plates and French guns, and indeed, all French inventions under the patronage of authorities, succeed and are perfect. Instead of “the king can do no wrong,” here the judicial proverb is, “Government can not fail.” However, private accounts now and then get a broad, which impeach the fallibility of those in power, and show that there is no exception to the general rule, as laid down in the three words humanum est errare. We have already had some accounts of the performances of the French iron-clads, and those accounts were quite sufficient to make one tremble with indignation at the strange oversights and clumsiness of British ship-builders. France at once built a new and formidable class of vessels, which rode lightly on the water, who sides were considered impervious from stem to stern, to the best ordnance, which rolled no more, in which steered as freely as any ordinary ship. In England these difficulties were frankly acknowledged, and many obstacles to complete success have still to be conquered – impervious plates, buoyancy, ships that will not roll and will answer the helm at once, have not yet been obtained, and it is a question if France is a bit more advanced in the path of plated-ship science than her rival across the channel.

The commission to ascertain the merits of the French iron squadron, sailed on 27th of  September from Cherbourg. Vice Admiral Charles Penaud was in command of the squadron, which consisted of the Solferino, Magenta, Couronne, Normandie and L’Invincible, with the Napoleon and Talisman in attendance.

Arrived off Brest, the squadron commenced its first series of experiments during very rough weather. It was even separated by a gale on the 1st instant; and a writer in the Opinione Nationale makes the following observations: the rolling was terrible for the two vessels and three frigates, especially on board the Normandie (reported as so great a success in May, last year.) The water, in a continuous sheet, washed over her deck, and, as no ports could be kept open, no artillery practice was possible. The Warrior was the first large plated vessel which experienced this formidable rolling, which can always be more or less violent, according to the vessel, but which will always render, unless important improvements be introduced, long voyages exceedingly difficult for plated squadrons. An American constructor named Webb, who at this moment is terminating the fabulous Dunderberg, pretends that he can prevent rolling by adding to the keel of the vessel four smaller accessory keels, which, independent of the other, run from stem to stern, where they meet.

In the trial of speed the Solferino and Normandie carried off the palm, the Normandie having a slight advantage over its larger antagonist. The members of the commission, fatigued with their “rolling campaign,” intend taking ten days repose at Brest, from which port the squadron will go to the Ile d’Aix.