France unnerved neighboring Britain when they unveiled their all-wood, steam-powered screw propulsion battleship - the 90-gun Le Napoleon - in 1850. The French continued to build additional wooden steam-powered "ships-of-the-line" and added eight more Le Napoleon-class warships while converting a further twenty-eight sailing frigates and ships-of-the-line to steam propulsion as well. This inevitably forced the British in a frenzy to "out-build" their French counterparts for control of the world seas. As such, Britain succeeded in building eighteen new wooden steam-powered ships-of-the-line all her own and converted some forty-one older ships to steam propulsion to further strengthen her naval stable. Such warships were highly capable, though somewhat cumbersome, machines that could engage an enemy at distance with powerful onboard cannons and close in to ram enemies still utilizing wooden-hulled ships. Steam-powered ironclads could also maintain their speed during battle conditions as they did not require wind power in their sails as their primary propulsion.
French authorities knew they could not match the United Kingdom's ship output directly so a new initiative was needed. During the Crimean War, France witnessed the success of French and British steam-powered ironclad barges with their Paixhans (rifled cannons firing explosive shells) against Russian shore fortifications. As such, in 1857, the design of a new class of ship to challenge the powerful British fleet fell upon the noted French naval architect Dupuy de Lome.
Her single screw was designed to give her a top speed of 13 knots though reports indicated no more than 11.75 knots could be reached and those 11 knots were essentially the realistic maximum speed for a ship this heavy and in calm waters. She was armed with no fewer than thirty-six 6.4-inch (160mm) rifled main guns that could fire exploding shells. These shells proved lethal in that they could punch through the wooden hulls of enemy "tall ships" and explode once inside, causing maximum damage to both crew and systems alike. Tests were conducted against the 4.5 inch iron plate over 16.9 inches of timber and this stood up even against the heaviest British 68-pdr at point blank range. The La Gloire was 255.6 feet long and her beam was 55.9 feet wide while needing a draught of 27.10 feet of water underneath her or she would run aground. Armament centered around 36 x 163mm rifled muzzle-loading Model 1858/60 cannons.
As expected of the Industrial Age, de Lome did not calculate much in the way of crew comforts below deck so ventilation was poor at best - her boilers and steam engines produced a great deal of heat and stifling smoke within the confines of the vessel. Oil lamps were still required for illumination and this only added to the rising indoor temperatures which was further insulated by the iron plates covering the hull. Gloire's radical characteristics utilized a blunt bow with a convex back that allowed the ship to make flank speed using less power than British Frigates of the time. The gun ports were placed close to one another, making the gun deck somewhat crowded for the gunnery crew. The sails were upgraded from the original arrangement of a barquentine sail rig to a square-rigged barque design. While her primary means of propulsion was steam, her captain could rely on wind power in her sails in an emergency (full trust in machinery had yet to come at this point in history) or couple the two methods for maximum effect when in transit.
When Gloire was commissioned she immediately made all unarmored wooden ships-of-the-line obsolete, such was the power of technology at the time. All navies of the world would now need to start building these ocean-going ironclad warships. She served in the French Navy for nine years before undergoing a thorough overhaul and was rearmed. Her rearmament saw her original thirty-six muzzle-loading cannons replaced with 8 x 239mm BL Model 1864 and 6 x 193mm BL Model 1866 cannon types.
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