Léon Gambetta

Armored Cruiser
Arsenal de Brest
Brest, France
Pennant Number:
October 26, 1902
Keel Laid:
January 15, 1901
July 1905 (a)
Sunk April 27, 1915 by KuK U-5 (Linenschiffleutnant Georg Ludwig Ritter von Trapp)

Location: Ionian Sea, 19 miles south of Cape Santa Maria di Leuca, Italy.

At least 684 crewmen lost, 137 survivors picked up by Impavido and Indomito and other
small craft.
Completion was delayed due to the ship having been damaged during trials in late 1903.

Commanding Officers (information not available)

Combat Victories (none)

Ship's History (Wikipedia)
Minister of the Navy Jean Marie Antoine de Lanessan ordered the Arsenal de Brest to begin work on the ship, named after former French Prime Minister Léon Gambetta, on 2 July 1900 in compliance with the recently passed Naval Law (Statut Naval). She was laid down on 15 January 1901, launched on 26 October 1902, and began her preliminary sea trials on 1 December 1903. The cruiser ran aground in fog while conducting trials in late February 1904; two of her propellers and a large amount of hull plating had to be replaced. After resuming her trials in August, the cruiser briefly went aground again while trying to navigate the narrow entrance to the River Penfeld in early September. One of her bilge keels was damaged and the blades of her propellers were bent. Léon Gambetta finally began her official sea trials in April 1905 and was commissioned (armement définitif) on 21 July. Her construction cost 29,248,500 francs.

The ship was assigned to the Northern Squadron and became the flagship of the 1st Cruiser Squadron (1re Division de croiseur) under the command of Vice Admiral (Vice-amiral) Camille Gigon. Léon Gambetta participated in the Northern Squadron's visit to Portsmouth the following month to commemorate the signing of the Entente Cordiale allying France and Britain. Vice Admiral Horace Jauréguiberry had assumed command of the squadron by October when she ferried Émile Loubet, President of France, home from a state visit in Lisbon, Portugal. In May 1908 The ship transported Armand Fallières, who succeeded Loubet as President, to Dover, England, and in July participated in the Quebec Tercentenary in Canada. Jauréguiberry remained in command of the division through July 1909.

On 5 October 1909, the French Navy reorganized its forces and redesignated the Northern Squadron as the 2nd Squadron (2e Escadre) and the 1st Cruiser Squadron became the 1st Light Division (1re Division légère (DL)). In January 1910 Léon Gambetta was transferred to the Mediterranean where she was assigned to the 1st DL of the 1st Squadron (1re Escadre). The 1st DL was redesignated as the 2nd DL in August and a new 1st DL was formed with Léon Gambetta as its flagship in October. By 4 April 1911, the 1st DL consisted of all three sisters with Léon Gambetta serving as the flagship of Rear Admiral (Contre-amiral) Louis Dartige du Fournet. The ship was transferred to the 1st DL by 4 September and participated in the fleet review by Fallières off Toulon that day. The 2nd DL was reformed on 10 February 1912 with all three sisters assigned; Léon Gambetta became the divisional flagship.

When Imperial Germany declared war on France on 3 August 1914, the ship was the flagship of Rear Admiral Victor-Baptistin Senès. The following day the 2nd DL was part of the escorting force for a troop convoy from Algiers, French Algeria to Metropolitan France. On 13 August Vice Admiral Augustin Boué de Lapeyrère, commander of the Allied forces in the Central Mediterranean, was ordered to begin offensive operations against the Austro-Hungarian fleet in the Adriatic. He decided to break the Austro-Hungarian blockade of the port of Antivari, Montenegro, and to engage any ships operating out of nearby Cattaro. He split his available forces into two groups with the armored cruisers following the Albanian coast and the battleships tracing the Italian coast before cutting across the Adriatic to rendezvous at Antivari on the morning of the 16th. The latter sank the protected cruiser SMS Zenta that morning in the Battle of Antivari as the armored cruisers were coming up from the south.

At the end of the month, the French began intermittently escorting single cargo ships to Antivari, usually escorted by the armored cruisers and covered by the main battlefleet. The first of these was on 31 September when four armored cruisers escorted the steamer SS Liamone while the battleships bombarded the defenses of Cattaro. The 2nd DL escorted the cargo ship SS Henri Fraissinet as it brought long-range artillery pieces to Antivari on 1819 September. On the return voyage, they took advantage of the fog to bombard Cattaro before they were forced to withdraw by the heavy return fire. The 2nd DL participated in the next sortie into the Adriatic on 17 October, but it was uneventful. During the following mission, begun at the end of October, the 2nd DL raided the island of Lastovo on 2 November and Jules Ferry was narrowly missed by U-5, an Austro-Hungarian U-boat, on the return voyage the following day. The torpedoing of the dreadnought battleship Jean Bart on 21 December brought an end to the sorties into the Adriatic by the battlefleet; henceforth the supply ships were escorted by the armored cruisers or smaller ships. The French also responded by moving their patrol line further south to a line north of the Greek island of Corfu.

On 10 January 1915 Boué de Lapeyrère was informed that the Austro-Hungarian battlefeet was headed south; he put to sea with Léon Gambetta and the armored cruisers Ernest Renan, Waldeck-Rousseau and Jules Michelet patrolling off Corfu while the battleships cruised further south. This proved to be a false alarm. On 24 January Léon Gambetta ferried the Montenegrin Foreign Minister to the port of Medua, Albania, with a cargo of clothing and shoes for the Montenegrin Army, but it proved impossible to unload the cargo and the cruiser returned with it still aboard. There was another false alarm on 4 April, during which U-5 had spotted the cruiser off the island of Paxos, but was not able to maneuver into an attack position; the submarine was not spotted by the French ship. Léon Gambetta escorted the French freighter SS Whitehead to Medua on 5 April.

Italy signed the Treaty of London on 26 April, agreeing to declare war on Austro-Hungary. Boué de Lapeyrère, concerned about a possible pre-emptive attack on the southern Italian ports, temporarily moved all of his armored cruisers closer to the Strait of Otranto that day. Unbeknownst to Léon Gambetta, she had been stalked for a day and a half by Korvettenkapitän (Lieutenant Commander) Georg Ritter von Trapp, the new commander of U-5, when the submarine was finally able to make her attack at 00:40 on 27 April, roughly 15 nautical miles (28 km; 17 mi) south of Santa Maria di Leuca (the south-eastern tip of Italy in the Ionian Sea)

Von Trapp fired two torpedoes at a range of 500 meters (550 yd), both of which struck the cruiser. One of them detonated abreast the dynamo room and the other against the forward boiler room, which contained the only boilers that were operating. The explosions immediately knocked out all power and Léon Gambetta took on a 15-degree list. The loss of steam prevented the use of the ship's pumps and hindered the ability to lower the lifeboats. Only two could be lowered in the 10 minutes before the cruiser capsized and sank. One of the lifeboats subsequently sank due to overcrowding; only 137 men out of her crew of 821 were rescued by the Italian destroyers Impavido and Indomito and two torpedo boats. The casualties included Senès and all of the ship's officers.

After the sinking, Boué de Lapeyrère withdrew his armored cruisers even further south to a patrol line running through the Gerogombos lighthouse on the island of Cephalonia. He also ordered that patrols should be made at a speed of 14 knots (26 km/h; 16 mph), not the leisurely 6 knots (11 km/h; 6.9 mph) used by Léon Gambetta's late captain.

Page published Sept. 10, 2020