Throughout the 19th Century France was always seeking ways to redress the numerical superiority of the Royal Navy. Since the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 France never really came close to matching the Great Britain in naval power. However, French designers were never averse to trying new solutions to solve an old problem. Following the Crimean War in which the French had developed armored floating batteries, it was France which started the age of the ironclad with the construction of the Gloire, a wooden hull covered by iron armor. In contrast the Royal Navy tended not to innovate and to rapidly adopt successful innovations. Such was the case with the ironclad. The French may have started their construction but the Royal Navy quickly out-built them with a superior iron hull design started with HMS Warrior. If France couldn’t overcome Great Britain with standard ship of the line/battleship construction, then another path would be traveled.

The idea of the submersible was not new. Ancient Greek writers had theorized about it and De Vinci had prepared drawings. A small man propelled submersible had been unsuccessfully tried in the American Revolution. The first successful use was the CSS Hunley, which although not a true submersible, did sink a ship. Of course the victory was Pyric in that the Hunley used a spar torpedo and the explosion which sank her target probably caused the Hunley’s loss as well. Many have heard of the Hunley but very few have heard of a far superior design developed in France in 1863. The Hunley was propelled by man power just as earlier experiments had been. The French Plongeur used a compressed air engine. The Plongeur was a very large craft 146-feet in length and of a 420-ton displacement. With a limited supply of compressed air, the boat had a very short range, 7.5nm at 2.4-knots or 5.7nm at 3.8-knots. Maximum speed was 4.09-knots and she had a crew of thirteen. In armament Plongeur was just as restricted as Hunley, employing a spar torpedo. Launched April 16, 1863 the boat underwent trials. Although provided with horizontal rudders, the Plongeur had an uneven history of maintaining a consistent depth. The boat was disarmed in 1867 and stricken in 1872 but latter was given a steam engine and served as a harbor tanker until sold in 1937.

The next French submarine was far more successful. By 1888 the Ecole Jeune held sway. The “ Young School ” saw the torpedo boat armed with the Whitehead self-propelled torpedo, as well as commerce raiders as the keys to overcoming the superiority of the Royal Navy. By building huge numbers of small, cheap and expendable torpedo boats instead of expensive battleships, the theory was that mass torpedo attack would overcome the British battle line, while fast commerce raiding cruisers would further spread out the Royal Navy and knock out the under pinning of British strength. In conjunction with the surface torpedo boat the French designer Gustave Zede came up with a new submarine design whose main features were adopted by other navies. Ordered November 22, 1888 the Gymnote was wildly successful. It used an electric motor powered by batteries for propulsion. Since there was no separate propulsion system for surface operations, the design still had a limited range based upon battery life. Again range depended upon speed with 65nm at 5-knots surfaced. 31nm at 7.3-knots surfaced, or 25nm at 4.27-knots submerged. Armament was two 14-inch (356mm) self-propelled torpedoes mounted in drop collars.

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The next six designs were trials more or less with no more than four boats in any one class. The first French submarine design produced in large numbers was the Naiade class of 1903-1904. There were 20 boats in the class but the design was an unambitious 70-ton design with two 17.7-inch (450mm) torpedoes carried in external cradles. For the next five years there were another series of small production designs until the next large production design. The Pluviose class of 1907 – 1910 had 18 units and at 398-tons surfaced, 550-tons submerged, displacement, were the biggest boats produced up to that time. Named after scientists and French Revolutionary months the double hulled design used reciprocating steam engines for surface travel and electric motors for submersed operations. They carried one internal 450mm bow torpedo tube and six external 450mm torpedoes in cradles or drop collars. The steam engine provided a surface range of 1,500nm at 9 knots or 900nm at 12-knots. The submerged range was 50nm at 5-knots.

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The Brumaire class of 1911-1912 was a further refinement of the Pluviose class. The major difference came in the form of substituting diesel engines for steam engines. Almost 171-feet in length, they were three feet longer than the Pluviose but surfaced displacement was slightly less because the diesel power plant was significantly lighter than the bulky and heavy reciprocating steam engine with corresponding boilers. Surface and submerged range was improved with a surface range of 1,700nm at 10-knots and a submerged range of 84nm at 5-knots. Top speed using diesel and electric was 13.8-knots, two knots faster than the Pluviose or 8.8-knots on diesel alone, a knot faster than the Pluviose. Armament was identical. The names continued to use the names f scientists and French Revolutionary months. One of these boats was Curie (Q 87), which was launched at Toulon on July 18, 1912. The entire class was based in the Mediterranean during World War One. On December 20, 1914 the Curie tried to sneak into the port of Pola to attack units of the Austro-Hungarian fleet. She became enmeshed in anti-submarine nets and was sunk by the Austrians. The boat was raised, rebuilt with a German U-Boat conning tower, new more efficient machinery and an 88mm deck gun. After the war France reacquired their long lost Curie and kept it in service until March 1928.

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The U-Boat Laboratorium Curie
U-Boat Laboratorium is a firm from Sankt Petersburg that specializes in the off-beat and unusual topic from 1:350 scale from the World War One time period. As a Russian firm you would anticipate that the company would gravitate to Russian topics but so far it has produced models of French and German subjects. The Curie is not the first French submarine produced by U-Boat Laboratorium, as a completely different and unique design in the form of the Mariotte was previously released. The Curie is not a repop of the Mariotte but a kit of a dramatically different design. Concurrently with the release of the Currie, the company also released the boat as it appeared in Austrian service as the U-14. Although the Austrian U-14 model uses a common hull with the Curie, the Austrian modifications added a full conning tower and 88mm deck gun giving the boat a distinctly German appearance.

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The item that makes the greatest visual impact is the hull casting. Naturally as a submarine, the hull casting is almost the whole show, so it is absolutely imperative that it be cast correctly. If you have ever been aboard a World War Two submarine, you will have noticed that it is a tube on top of which is a separate deck. Between the deck and the tube of the hull is empty space that floods or drains through a series of limber holes. The use of limber holes was a common design characteristic of every navy’s submarine designs in World War Two but not so in World War One, especially not with the French. With the Curie you have the tube all right and you have a deck but there is no bulkhead between the tube and deck and accordingly no libber holes. Instead the Curie has numerous support braces running along the top of the hull that are used to support the deck. This is what gives the U-Boat Laboratorium Curie its very unique appearance is the fine resin support structure cast as part of the hull casting. There are 21 of these braces, some of which extend the width of the outer tube, and the others where there are wings on either side of a solid structure that extended up to the deck. The solid structures were for hull access, either for personnel or stores, as well as the base for the conning tower. The support structures are very well done with no defects or breakage. Hull detail is not just limited to the support bracing, as there are plenty of other hull fittings on the top of the tube such as bollards and cleats, as well as hull side detail. There are a few additional resin parts such as a low structure that forms a base for the cupola conning position, as it is too small to call it a conning tower. There are also additional resin fittings that are attached on top of the photo-etch deck.

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Brass Parts
Brass parts come in the form of machined brass parts and from a relief-etched photo-etched fret. You get six machine turned brass torpedoes for all of the external torpedoes fitted to cradles or drop collars. Other turned brass parts include fittings for the propeller shafts, support pillars for a lookout tower and periscopes. A large brass fret is included considering the size of the model. The largest parts are the relief-etched decks. For the two main deck pieces, the relief etching includes deck panels and access fitting detail. Additionally, there are bollard plates. Both parts have fold-down support pillars, which attach to the resin hull. A third relief-etched deck is for the low superstructure that forms the base for the conning cupola. For this piece the fold-down sides have limber holes and and an open mesh deck pattern. Locator holes are present for the lookout tower. Other parts included are deck railings, propellers, propeller guards, lookout tower, torpedo cradles, rudders, and assorted other fittings. There are also two relief-etched name plates but there is a problem with them in that the lettering is reversed, giving a mirror image. U-Boat Laboratorium may be resolving this issue but there is another alternative. If you attach them upside down the C, I, and E will be just fine but you’ll have to use a hobby knife to modify the U and R. Of course modify these two letters before you attach the name plates.

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Another very unusual 1:350 scale resin and brass kit has been provided by U-Boat Laboratorium with the French submarine Curie. This unique design of a 1912 design, provides another fine example of the evolution of the submarine.