The French Navy struggled to regain its former glory into the 1840s, particularly when pushed away from warfare with Britain during the Oriental Crisis of 1840. Unlike the British, who designed their hybrid-powered warships as sailing vessels first and steam-powered vessels second, the French leaned towards primary steam-propulsion with sail-power as secondary. This led to a stream of French warships that lacked the sea-faring qualities of their hated contemporaries and limited French naval prowess on the whole.
This then led to the subsequent decade in which French naval engineers began to develop ideas to shore up the limits inherent in previous French offerings. The FS Napoleon ship-of-the-line of 1850 and the FS Bretagne of 1855 were both originally laid down as sailing warships. However, Bretagne benefitted from having her steam propulsion system installed when she was still under construction. She was laid down by the Brest Arsenal in January of 1853 as a three-masted sailing warship with three gun decks housing 130 guns. Bretagne was then launched on February 17th, 1855 and commissioned that same year. At the time of her launching, Bretagne became the second largest wooden three-gun-deck warship ever constructed.
As built, Bretagne displaced at 7,580 tons when under load and measured a length of 266 feet with a beam of 59 feet and a draught of 28 feet. Her crew complement totaled 1,170 men and included officers, sailors, various specialists and, when appropriate, marines. In her early career, Bretagne was outfitted with up to 130 guns of various types and caliber across her three gun decks - ranging from 80-pounders down to 30-pounders. Her assortment then changed during 1869 to which she took on rifled guns of better accuracy at range - including 2 x 190mm models.
As a hybrid propulsion vessel, Bretagne could rely on her rigged sails or her steam system. The Indret single-screw compound steam engine made use of eight boilers which produced up to 4,800 shaft horsepower to the single provided propeller. The boilers were sat along either side of the main mast. Maximum speeds reached 12.6 knots in ideal conditions. The three main sails offered old-school propulsion and range limited only by the vessel's onboard food stores and crew health/motivation. Under steam power solely, the vessel could manage a range of 1,000 nautical miles.
Bretagne's war record included service during the Crimean War (1853-1856) which pitted an alliance of France, Britain, the Ottoman Empire and Sardinia against the Russian Empire who sought control of the Black Sea. The war concluded in an alliance victory resulting in the "Treaty of Paris" which heavily restricted a military presence in the Black Sea, making it "neutral" to all sides. Bretagne saw service during the war years of 1854-1855.
Following her useful service life, Bretagne was then set by the French Navy as a floating barracks ship from 1866 onwards. Her military career then ended in 1879 when she was formally struck from the naval register. Taking on the name of "Ville de Bordeaux" during 1880, she was quickly scrapped, bringing an end to her French sailing career for good.
The Bretagne name was resurrected once more for a French Ship with the commissioning of the battleship Bretagne of 1916.