Victor Hugo

Armored Cruiser
Arsenal de Lorient
Lorient, France
Pennant Number:
March 11, 1901
March 30, 1904
Keel Laid:
March 2, 1903
April 16, 1907
Sold Nov. 26, 1930 and scrapped.

Commanding Officers (Information not available)

Combat Victories (none)

Ship's History (Wikipedia)
Named after the novelist Victor Hugo, Jean Marie Antoine de Lanessan, Minister of the Navy, ordered the Arsenal de Toulon to begin work on the ship on 11 March 1901 in compliance with the recently passed Naval Law (Statut Naval). The order was transferred to the Arsenal de Lorient on 3 June 1902 even though that shipyard was committed to building two of the preceding Gloire-class armored cruisers. Coupled with the need to transport the assembled materials to Lorient, the change delayed her keel laying until 2 March 1903. Victor Hugo was launched on 30 March 1904 and began her sea trials on 15 January 1907. The cruiser was commissioned (armement définitif) on 16 April. Her construction cost 30,748,300 francs.

On 8 May Victor Hugo departed Lorient for Jamestown, Virginia, to participate in the Jamestown Exposition, together with the armored cruiser Kléber and the protected cruiser Chasseloup-Laubat. By 20 May they were visiting New York City; the ships returned to Jamestown on 31 May where they participated in the naval review presided over by President Theodore Roosevelt on 10 June. Upon her return to France later that month, Victor Hugo was assigned to the Light Squadron (Escadre légère) of the Mediterranean Squadron. On 5 October 1909, the French Navy reorganized its forces and redesignated the Mediterranean Squadron as the 1st Squadron (1er Escadre) and the Light Squadron became the 1st Light Division (1er Division légère (DL). The ship was assigned to the 2nd DL of the 1st Squadron on 4 April 1911 with her sisters, although she was reduced to reserve later in the year. Victor Hugo had been reactivated by 10 February 1912 when she was reassigned to the 2nd DL.

After the Agadir Crisis of 1911, the French and British governments agreed in 1912 that the Royal Navy would defend the northern French coast and the French would concentrate their fleet in the Mediterranean and defend British interests there. The French designated the consolidated fleet the 1st Naval Army (1re Armée Navale) and grouped its two DLs into the 1st Light Squadron.

When Imperial Germany declared war on France on 3 August 1914, the ship was still assigned to the 2nd DL. The following day the cruisers were 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 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 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.

Italy signed the Treaty of London on 26 April 1915, 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, including the three sisters, closer to the Strait of Otranto that day. Léon Gambetta was torpedoed and sunk by U-5 with heavy loss of life on the 27th. 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. After the Italian declaration of war on 23 May, the French ships withdrew further into the Mediterranean and Ionian Seas with the 2nd DL ultimately basing itself at Alexandria, Egypt, Bizerte, French Tunisia, and British Malta; the division was responsible for patrolling the area between Capo Colonna in southern Italy and the easternmost point of the Greek island of Crete.

At the end of 1915, the French and British decided that the Serbian Army's position in Montenegro and Albania was untenable and that it would have to be evacuated. Victor Hugo helped transfer some of the evacuees from Brindisi, Italy, to Bizerte in early January. The Allies occupied the neutral island of Corfu on 9 January to provide a place for the Serbs to recuperate and to rebuild their army. In March, they occupied the Greek island of Argostoli to serve as a base for the battlefleet while the armored cruisers were based further north at Corfu. The Royal Serbian Army deemed fit for combat in May and the French armored cruisers provided distant cover for the transfer to the Salonica Front until it was completed on 15 June. Shortages of coal and trained manpower hampered most training for the rest of the year and became worse in 1917. As tensions rose between the Allies and the neutral Greek government in early 1917, Victor Hugo and the armored cruiser Jules Michelet were tasked to patrol the Gulf of Corinth and prevent any Greek troops from moving from their positions in the Peloponnese across the bridge over the Corinth Canal on 28 April to interfere with Allied operations in Athens. The 2nd DL landed a company of Senegalese troops on 11 June and reinforced them with machine-gun armed sailors until King Constantine I abdicated the following day and a pro-Allied government was installed. On 12 August, the 2nd DL was disbanded with Victor Hugo reduced to reserve at Bizerte and Jules Ferry was assigned to transport duties for the next year.

Victor Hugo was reactivated in 1921 and assigned to the Atlantic Flying Division (Division volante de l'Atlantique). The following year she was transferred to the Far Eastern Division (Division navale de l'Extrême Orient). Departing on 12 October 1922 with Jules Michelet, they arrived in Saigon, French Indochina, on 19 April 1923. Her service there was uneventful and the ship arrived back in Toulon on 11 July at which time she was placed in reserve. Victor Hugo was stricken from the Navy List on 20 January 1928 and sold for scrap on 26 November 1930.

Page published Sept. 11, 2020