As the 19th century came to a close, the primary competition of the Royal Navy was still the centuries old rival France, although Imperial Russia was coming up
fast. For two decades the French navy had been dominated by the
Jeune Ecole who disdained battleships. This clique believed that masses of small, cheap torpedo
boats could overwhelm the British Fleet for a mere fraction of the costs of battleships. Also part of their theory was that fast armored cruisers could attack the
Achilles Heel of Great Britain, her merchant fleet. If there had to be battleship construction, they should be small coast defense battleships. Battleship construction in
the 1870s to 1890 was characterized by small coast defense types. To further muddle strategic continuity, naval administrations had the life span of a gnat. There
were 31 different administrations in a 33 year time span. By 1890 it was decided to bring the French battleships back from the coast defense precipice. Even when a
larger ship was authorized the procedure for for ordering new ships was so Byzantine that French ships took far longer to complete then almost all other powers.
The
Magenta was ordered in 1880 but not completed until 1893. The Plan of 1890 contemplated building ten blue water, not coast defense, battleships.

Over the next decade the French Navy completed these ships, which can be grouped in two separate types based upon their characteristics. The French battle line
was known as a collection of samples in that French building practices tended to build one-off designs. This was primarily caused by lack of funds so multi-ship
orders were not placed. With each new design the French would again rearrange all of the pieces. The only exception was the 1894
St. Louis class in which three
battleships were built to the same design. This process resulted in little commonality from class to class or from ship to ship. French design emphasized rate of fire
and seaworthiness and were less interested in speed and armor. Single mount turrets were favored in a lozenge pattern with for and aft turrets and a wing turret on
each side amidship. In appearance they had heavy military masts and an extreme tumblehome. The genesis for the 1890 plan was a war scare and tariff war with
Italy in 1889 and fleet maneuvers in which the faster “Italian Fleet” could avoid contact with the “French Fleet” and ravish the French Mediterranean coastline. Also
the British had announced a big battleship program that year. In response initial plans called for 14,000-ton battleships with four 12.-inch guns and a 17-knot
maximum speed. However, the young turks of the
Jeune Ecole and penny-pinching politicians protested this “Gigantism” and estimates were cut down to a
maximum displacement of 12,000-tons, handcuffing designers.
The first five ships in the 1890 program were each given to a different designer, except Charles Martel and Bouvet had the same designer but even then the ships
were not to the same design.
Charles Martel, Carnot and Jaureguiberry were ordered  April 14, 1891 and Massena and Bouvet were ordered May 18, 1892. With
long building times, although built faster than ships of the previous decade, the first three were completed in 1897 and the last two in 1898. No two ships had the
same length or displacement running from 367-ft (oa) for
Jaureguiberry to 402-ft (oa) for Bouvet. The largest and slowest was Bouvet with a top speed of 17-
knots but the other four were at or close to 18-knots. They all had a common major armament of fore an aft single 12-inch gun turrets with single 10.8-inch wing
turrets. The 12-inch main guns were 45 caliber except
Massena with 40 caliber while for the 10.8-inch guns three of the four had 45 caliber and Charles Martel and
Bouvet had 40 caliber. The first three had eight 5.5-inch/45 secondaries and four 47mm QF. The last two reduced the secondary gun size in order to increase the
QF guns. These two had eight 3.9-inch secondaries with twelve 47mm QF guns. With a limit of 12,000-tons something had to go in order to permit more QF guns,
exhibiting the folly of a hard displacement limit.

It wasn’t until 1893 that the French discovered the economy of ordering multiple ships of a common design. On September 30, 1893 three ships were ordered from
the same design and became the
St Louis class. There was a significant time gap between the order of this class and the orders for the ninth and tenth ships of the
1890 program.
Jena wasn’t ordered until 1897 and Suffren in 1890. All five of these ships did away with the wing 10.8-inch guns and carried standard twin-12
inch gun turrets fore and aft.
Suffren was significantly larger with a length of 422-ft (oa) and displacement of 12,527-tons, breaking the 12,000-ton limit and a
1,000 tons heavier than the
St Louis class. All five had four 12-inch/40 twin turrets but secondary gun caliber started climbing. The St Louis class went back to ten
5.5-inch/45 but also packed eight 3.9-inch guns and twenty 47mmQF guns. Jena went to eight 6.4-inch, and
Suffren to ten 6.4-inch/45. Each had the same eight
3.9-inch tertiary guns and
Jena twenty 47mmQF and Suffren twenty-two 47mm. All five ships hit 18-knots. Charlemagne and Gaulois completed in 1899, St
Louis
in 1900, Jena in 1902 and Suffren in 1904.
The single ship ordering approach changed with the advent of the 20th century. The designs of the 20th century were built with multiple ships in the class and each
succeeding class improved upon the previous design. One of the factors that bedeviled French battleship designers was the restrictively low maximum displacement.
Enacted by penny-pinching politicians, this resulted in ships in which too much was attempted on too small of a design. Designers had to make severe compromises
that grouped guns together to provide common armor protection or carried them too low for stability purposes. The limited displacement of the designs caused
these “work-arounds”, which in turn created grave operational flaws in the ships and ham strung their combat effectiveness.

The last of the 1890 program,
Suffren was of the limited design but exceeded it and showed what could be accomplished with the 527-tons that she ran past the
politically imposed 12,000 limit. The
Suffren did reintroduce the practice on mounting secondary guns in turrets instead of casemates as still found in the designs of
the Royal Navy. Turret placement proved to be far better than casemate placement for the secondaries and it was here that French designers were significantly
ahead of their British contemporaries. It was with the next design that the limited displacement shackles were removed from the designers. With the
Republique
design the designers could provide a good, effective armor scheme with a belt running almost the entire length of the battleship. Displacement rose by 2,000 tons,
allowing the designers to create a balanced, well armed, well armored design. The
Republique design of 1901 had only two ships in the class, Republique and
Patrie, but the four sisters of the follow-up design could be considered half sisters of the Republique class. In fact Eric Gille in his volume on French battleships,
Cent Ans de Cuirasses Francais, list all six ships as the battleships of 15,000 tons of the Republique Type, which he calls the ultimate French pre-dreadnoughts.

However, most authorities separate the two ships of the
Republique class from the four ships of the Liberte class. Some authors list the Liberte class as the Verite
class because the lead ship
Liberte was not in service too long before blowing up in harbor. The names chosen for the ships hearken back to the 1st Republic of the
1790s with
Verite (truth), Justice, Liberte and Democratie. You might think of them as Gaulic superman ships with the motto, Truth, Justice and the Parisian Way .
The
Republique class was of 14,870 tons and armed with four 12-inch/45 (305mm) main guns, sixteen 6.5-inch (164.7mm) secondary guns with twelve in six
twin turrets and the other four in casemate positions, thirteen 65mm QF, ten 47mm QF and two underwater 18-inch 450mm beam torpedo tubes. The armor was
reasonable with a 11 to 7inch belt, 12 ½ inches on main turrets and 13-inches on the conning tower. The vertical triple expansion engines developed 17,500ihp and
drove three shafts for a maximum speed of 18 knots. The ships had three stacks with two grouped right behind the forward superstructure and the third separated
far aft in front of the aft superstructure. Although still possessing a goodly tumblehome, the design did not have the excessive tumblehome of earlier designs.
Republique was laid down in December 1901, followed by Patrie in December 1902.
Designers were thinking of ways to improve the class right from the initial design. The Liberte was ordered only seven months after the Patrie. The new design was
hardly new at all in that it had the same appearance, same armor, same machinery for the first two (the second two increased power to 18,000ihp with two fewer
boilers but from a different manufacturer), same dimensions and same armament, except for an increase to 12-inch/50 for the main guns, a large increase in size of
secondary armament and a slight increase in torpedo size to 460mm. In keeping with the trends in other navies, the size of the secondary guns was increased,
although the number of guns was reduced. Displacement rose slightly to 14,900 tons. The secondary armament for the
Liberte design was ten 7.6-inch/45 (194mm)
guns with six in single gun turrets and four in casemates. The ships were handsome, as they were less piled up than earlier designs and continued to exhibit distinctly
French characteristics. With their tumblehome, top hat stack caps, fierce-face appearance and small sized turrets, there was no mistaking their French design.

A continuing problem with French construction was the slow building time. The yards were inefficient and a British yard could pump out two battleships in the time it
took a French yard to produce one. The
Liberte class ships were no exceptions from this malady. Liberte was launched April 19, 1905 and finished in December
1907 but took a long time from the laying of the keel and launch. Justice was laid down in May 1902, launched on September 27, 1904 but not completed until July
1907.
Verite took almost five years to build as well. She was laid down in May 1903, launched four years later in May 1907 and completed in May 1908. Democratie
was the quickest build only taking four years. Laid down in May 1903, she was launched in April 1904 and completed in July 1907. Although contracted in 1902, the
ships were not in commission until the end of 1907 and into 1908. By this time
HMS Dreadnought had already been in service for some time and therefore the design
was obsolescent, if not obsolete, from the start of their service. With the entente cordial the French navy no longer had to concern itself with the channel or Atlantic
squadrons, as the Royal Navy could station its vast battle fleet against the emerging German High Seas Fleet. Instead, the French focused their gaze upon the
Mediterranean where Italy was seen as the most likely enemy.
The last of the French predreadnought battleship designs will always be somewhat of a mystery because they were actually a postdreadnought design. HMS
Dreadnought
was launched February 10, 1906 and completed years before the last mixed gun French design was ordered. The French had gone from one extreme to
another. From ordering one ship designs, the
Danton class consisted of six ships of a common design. Unfortunately, the design chosen was already obsolete. The
Danton class battleships were big ships and were actually heavier than the Dreadnought at 18,400-tons normal compared to the 17,900-tons normal for
Dreadnought. Why then did France build the mixed gun Danton class when they could have ordered ships with all big guns? In Cent Ans de Cuirasses Francais Eric
Gille points out that not everyone was in favor of the
Dreadnought design. Even in Great Britain there were critics of the design who believed the all big gun
battleships would be too big and reduce the quantity of battleships that could be ordered. Others pointed out that the Japanese fleet had smothered the Russian fleet at
the Battle of Tsushima with secondary hits that could not be achieved with the puny QF secondary guns of
Dreadnought. These critics either overlooked or were
unaware that it was the big caliber hits that sealed the Russian’s fate, not the medium caliber shells, which caused crew casualties but not fatal damage to the Russian
ships. You could probably call this group the “
All Your Eggs in One Basket” group as they were afraid the loss of one or two all big gun battleships would take out too
much of the fleet’s strength. They preferred to spread the risk in having a larger quantity of less capable ships. The distinguished French designer Emile Bertin
basically held this same view and was dubious of the
Dreadnought design.

The creation of Les Cuirasses de 18,000 tonnes type
Danton, actually originated as the Dreadnought was under construction. Since the 12,000-ton shackles have
been removed after the
Suffren, each new design had jumped in size. However, for the Danton class it was a huge jump from 15,000-tons to 18,000-tons. In August
1905 the Minister of Marine sketched out preliminaries for the ships of the 1906 program. His idea was for three battleships with a displacement of 18,000-tons, 18-
knot top speed, four 12-inch (305mm) main guns and twelve 9.4-inch (240mm) secondary guns in six twin turrets. Other proposals quickly followed and finally the
basic characteristics were boiled down to three choices. One was the design as seen by the minister, a second was for a French version of
Dreadnought with ten 12-
inch guns (305mm), one was a variation of the
Danton design, and a third was a compromise between the two with six 12-inch (305mm) and twelve 7.6-inch
(194mm). Then another group came in favor of all big guns but using the 10.8-inch (274mm) gun. They pointed out that the Germans were using their own eleven
inch (280mm) guns and they thought the 10.8-inch gun was the equivalent.
After doing some calculations it was determined that it would take 20,000-tons displacement for a ship mounting ten 12-inch (305mm) guns and since the ministry
was looking at a 18,000-ton battleship, the all big gun option was removed from the options. The coincided with the conclusion that the greater rate of fire of the 9.4-
in gun (3 rounds/min) over the 12-in (2 rounds/min) more than compensated for the lighter projectiles. Other options were 17,200-tons for four 12-in and ten 9.4-in.
18,000-tons for four 12-in and twelve 9.4-in and 17,400-ton for four 12-in and sixteen 7.6-in. The design with four 12-in and twelve 9.4-in guns was chosen and the
French passed on the opportunity to build their own dreadnought design. This proved to be a grievous error, as their subsequent dreadnought program was always a
day late and a franc short.

On May 8, 1906 orders for two of the three ships were placed with
Danton to be built at Breat and Mirabeau at Lorient . However, the machinery for the design was
still undecided. As with every other navy, French battleships had used triple expansion reciprocating engines. The French were very interested in turbine machinery
installed in
Dreadnought and waited to find out how the turbines performed on Dreadnought’s trials. Dreadnought was completed in October 1906 and her turbine
power plant proved to be an outstanding success, as important or more so than the all big gun layout. On December 29, 1906 the ministry ordered that turbines would
be used in the
Danton class. With the decision to go with turbines made, it was decided to expand the class from three to six and at the end of December Voltaire,
Vergniaud, Diderot and Condorcet were ordered. It still took some time to order turbines as French at that time had no turbine manufacturer. Four Parsons turbines
were used in each ship with 26 Belleville boilers to provide the steam. Since the Royal Navy was also equipping their battleships and battle cruisers with Parson
turbines, the French order was at the tail end of the queue. Finally on January 10, 1908
Danton was laid down, almost two years after the order was placed and on
July 4, 1909 she was launched. Although it took a year and a half to reach the launch date, the class completed very quickly given the history of slow construction for
French yards.
Danton, Diderot and Condorcet completed in April 1911. The other three took another year with Voltaire completing in May 1912, Mirabeau in July
and
Vergniaud in November. The turbines proved to be a success in the French design just as they were with Dreadnought with Danton and Voltaire exceeding 20-
knots and the other four achieving speeds slightly below 20-knots.
Although completed in April 1911, Danton had to go through trials and finally joined the fleet at the end of 1911 with 1st Squadron, First Division  of  l’armee navale.
All of 1912 was spent in cruises along the coasts of Provence and Corsica . In 1913
Danton went further afield, participating in fleet maneuvers off of Provence and
Tunisia and in the fall steaming with the squadron to the Levant with visits to Egypt , Syria and Greece . There were more maneuvers in May 1914 off Corsica ,
Algeria and Tunisia . In August with the outbreak of World War One, the primary task of the French Fleet was to bottle up the Austro-Hungarian Fleet. On 16 August
1914
Danton and her squadron encountered the Austrian light cruiser Zenta, which was hit. The balance of 1914 was spent patrolling the Ionian Sea with occasional
sorties into the Adriatic and visits to Malta and Bizerte . For 1915 it was more of the same for
Danton. Finally in 1916 she was sent to Toulon for a refit, which was
completed in December 1916. At the start of March she steamed to Corfu but by mid month she was back in the western Mediterranean . On March 19, 1917
Danton
was cruising south of Sardinia when she was spotted by the German U-Boat
U-64. A single torpedo put paid to Danton, which sank after 30 minutes. However, most
of the crew was rescued with 806 saved and 296 lost.

The Hobby Boss 1:350 Scale Danton - Who would have thought that the predreadnought battleship Danton would be massed produced in styrene plastic. Mikasa I
can understand, as it was Admiral Togo’s flagship at the Battle of Tsushima. The modelling world has indeed changed. Hobby Boss appears to be a division of
Trumpeter and is well know for its wide range of aircraft and armor kits. I don’t know if its true or not but Hobby Boss appears to produce kits that are a cut above
the Trumpeter line. I do have quite a number of their armor kits and most come with brass photo-etch and hundreds of parts per kit with very high quality. They have
had a few ship kits but mostly submarines. To see Hobby Boss jump into the 1:350 scale market with a French pre-dreadnought is truly exciting. Their 1:350
Danton
has what I have come to expect in their armor kits, hundreds of parts, three brass photo-etch frets and even metal anchor chain. The low price makes a true bargain.
Another thing that jumps out is the open hull casemates and open windows on the superstructure, which lets the modeler glaze the windows with Krystal Klear.
The hull has the traditional tumblehome but not to the extent of earlier French pre-dreadnoughts. The hull is full hull so you will have to cut off the lower hull to
waterline it. There are two hull halves joined along the center line. There are no indents inside the hull parts to simplify cutting off the lower hull probably because
there are two transverse supports inside the hull. The six casemate positions on each side are open and parts are provided for the gun room behind each position. If
you wish you can add figures around the guns inside the hull, although I don’t know how much you would see of the figures. At the top of the hull halves are
excellent open chocks that slightly overhang the hull sides. The portholes are deep but are not drilled all the way through the hull. They do not have rigolles
(eyebrows). The anchor wells, two on starboard and one on port side, are crisp and uniquely French. Battleships of the Marine Nationale featured recessed anchor
wells starting with the
Saint Louis Class of 1893 and continuing through their dreadnoughts ordered before World War One. Another characteristic of French
designs are doors on the hull sides. Some are large entry doors, which are outlines for the separate photo-etch hull doors) and some are small doors surrounding a
port hole. They could be opened for extra ventilation. The kit has all of the doors closed. There is a triangular sponson that is part of the base for the amidship 9.4-
inch gun turret.

The
Danton Class had metal decks instead of wooden deck planking. The Hobby Boss kit has two large decks. One is for the main deck, which runs 80% the
length of the ship and there is a short quarterdeck, which starts at the deck break, which is almost at the stern. These decks show plates, which was the decking for
the class rather than wooden planking. However, the seams are raised instead of recessed. Deck photographs of other French predreadnoughts seem to show dark
panels separated by light raised seams. The panels may be deck linoleum attached to each other by brass strips in a manner similar to linoleum strips used by
Japanese warships. The color plate shows the deck panels to be dark brown in keeping with a linoleum, rather than a steel surface. I was especially impressed with
the coal scuttle detail. Instead of plain circular plates, Hobby Boss has included significant plate/scuttle detail. You may think that lack of wooden planking would
detract from deck detail but you would be wrong with
Danton. There is a huge amount of fine deck detail beyond the steel or linoleum plate detail. Starting at the
forecastle the deck anchor hawse are unique in design and are open so that the provided anchor chain will disappear into the hawse fittings. Deck edge bollard
fittings have the base plate as part of the deck with separate bollard posts. There also appears to be a very large single bollard fitting near the bow but this could be
some type of machinery. The anchor windlasses are separate parts that go into locater holes. The deck entrances to the chain locker are deep so that there is more
than enough depth for the anchor chain to fit. Additional detail are recesses for additional inboard open chocks, ventilation fitting with top louvers and host of small
fittings whose purpose I don’t know. The actual deck plates start with the forward main gun turret. The plate and coal scuttle detail comprise the bulk of the
amidship deck detail but there are some square openings on each side of the first three funnels. Between the three forward and two aft funnels is boat storage. Boat
chocks are molded to the deck and are too thick but they largely be hidden once the boats are attached. Seven pyramid ventilators and locater outlines for various
tower ventilators make this area very busy. Five more pyramid ventilation fittings are on the aft end of this major deck, although some may actually be deck access
fittings. At the aft end are a lot of locater holes for the posts for the separate aft platform.
Sprue B has only two parts. One is the forward superstructure with the open windows and the other is the 01 deck that is the base for the forward three funnels. In
addition to the square windows, the superstructure part has porthole, forward ventilator fitting and cable with bracket detail. The 01 deck has deck access openings,
boat chocks, coal scuttles, and pyramid ventilator fitting.
Sprue C concentrates on parts for the five stacks of the ship. There are three different patterns of stacks
and each stack has two halves, base apron and top hat cap. The gun room parts for the casemate 75mm guns add another six parts to this sprue. Seven tower
ventilators with nice louvre detail are present. The sprue is rounded out with three deckhouses and the navigation platform. Two of the deckhouses have open
windows.
Sprue D is a mix of the hull’s underwater parts and parts for the masts. The bilge keels are separate parts, which allows for finer keels. The four propeller
shafts with support struts are on this sprue. For mast parts there are the thick tubular foremast, the much thinner mainmast, yards and tops. The sprue rounds out
with parts for jack staff, flag staff, winches, aft deckhouse with door detail, small quarterdeck ventilator tower, small platform and base.

There are four identical
E Sprues. The 9.4-inch secondary gun turrets dominate the sprue with turret, turret base, barbette, sighting hoods and gun barrels. The main
gun barrels are also present. Each sprue has three secondary gun barrels and one main gun barrel. The secondary gun barrels have a counterweight at the muzzle and
the main gun barrels lacks this counterweight. The barrels have open muzzles. The 75mm casemate tertiary guns are also on these sprues. Other parts are anchors,
searchlights, ships’ boats, gun directors, bollard fittings, open chocks, aft bridge pillars, binnacles, steam launch funnels and deckhouses with side and top door
detail. There are two
G Sprues. The main gun turrets are found here, along with their bases, and sighting hoods. Other parts include more ships’ boats bollard
fittings, propellers, windlasses and their tops, boat booms, gun directors and navigation bridge equipment. The steam launch hulls have propeller and rudder detail.
There are two small
H Sprues that have the plastic parts for the two cranes. Although there are brass photo-etch details for the cranes, the crane post and arm are
plastic. Unfortunately, the numerous weight saving oval voids are not open. Hobby Boss should have included the posts and arms as part of the photo-etch instead of
solid plastic. The
K Sprue has the short quarterdeck, navigation bridges, platform, rudder and two transverse hull interior supports. The quarter deck detail has
pyramid skylights/ventilators, bollard plates, deck coamings, barbette mushroom ventilators and stern anchor equipment. The last plastic part is a stand for the
completed model.
Hobby Boss provides three photo-etch brass frets on their Danton. The A Fret is large with two identical and smaller B Frets. All deck railing is included. The
railings have a bottom runner, which eases their attachment to the hull and serves as deck edge scuppers. At certain locations every fourth stanchion extends
upwards. My best guess is that the longer stanchions were used to support deck awnings. The multi-piece stack clinker detail takes up quite a bit of space,
considering there are five stacks. Brass vertical ladder in most manufacturer’s kits is a ladder that you attach to the plastic or resin part. Hobby Boss marches to the
beat of a different drummer. The vertical ladder has attachment posts so that the ladder stands-off a short distance from the stack or bulkhead. The inclined ladders
are also excellent with handrails, trainable treads, voids on the bottom rail and perforated platforms. Crane detail is present with amazing boat and tackle relief-
etched parts. There are numerous triangular supports, a couple of flying boat platforms, conning tower band, and ventilator tower platform. The two smaller B
Frets concentrate on the shutters for the 75mm tertiary gun positions on the hull. However, there are more inclined ladders, railing and vertical ladder. The vertical
ladder on these frets do not have the standoff posts found on the large A Fret. The fret is rounded-out with boat tackle and davits. Metal anchor chain is included in
the kit. A decal sheet provides for yellow gold stern nameplates, straight flags and waving flags.

An attractive color plate is included. Of special note is the color of the deck aft of the steel gray forecastle. The plate shows a brown color, which would be found
with a linoleum deck. A twenty page instruction booklet provides for comprehensive assembly. The first three pages are the general instructions and parts laydown.
Page four has basic hull assembly and page five has addition of 75mm hull gun positions. Page six has main deck attachment followed by underwater gear
attachment on page seven. Page eight gets into the
nitty-gritty with plastic and brass parts for deck equipment and hull gun doors attachment, which is further
expanded on page nine. Page ten is the forward superstructure assembly. Page eleven is superstructure assembly and attachment. Page twelve has assembly of
turrets, large deck tower and mast assembly. Page thirteen has masts, deckhouse and ventilator tower attachment. The funnel and crane assembly occupies page
fourteen. Page fifteen is the attachment of the stacks, cranes and some inclined ladders. Page sixteen and seventeen are for amidship assembly with platforms,
ladders and ships’ boats. Page eighteen is for deck railing and page nineteen for turret placement. The last page has attachment of outboard fittings such as
accommodation ladders and ships’ boat swung out from the hull. To me the instructions are clear and very easy to follow, I didn’t notice any pitfalls.
Hobby Boss has come out with a very fine kit in their French predreadnought battleship Danton in 1:350 scale. This plastic kit has quality parts with three brass
photo-etch frets and metal anchor chain. There is a lot of quality for the low to moderate price point of the kit and is very good value.
Steve Backer
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