1798: Napoleon's Windmill powered Floating Fortress

While learning new things about Napoleon, I came across this floating contraption. I guess, some prisoner claimed that such a thing was in the works. Considering that it was supposed to be made of wood (pictures suggest that), the entire idea looks uber bizarre (unless it was supposed to be made of iron). The rigidity of a wooden construction would have hardly supported its size. Sounds like it was never made, but who knows?
  • 600 feet long, 300 feet wide, loaded with 500 guns, 36 and 48 pounders, and is capable of transporting 15,000 troops
The description below says: A view of the French Raft, as seen afloat at St. Maloes, in February 1798. Go figure...


  • An Exact representation of a raft, and its apparatus, as invented by the French for their proposed invasion of England.
The below description claims 60,000 men and 600 cannons


  • A new Machine (or Raft) to cover (or protect) the Landing of the French on their intended Invasion of England.
  • This is another variation on the supposed raft being built by the French for the invasion of Britain in early 1798.
  • Unlike other prints produced during this wave of paranoia in London, which represent the vessel as an excessively fantastic contraption more appropriate to the tales of Baron Münchhausen, this print pares it down to a severe geometric symmetry to assert its claim to being based in fact.
  • Indeed, a greater air of authority is lent by the claim that the engraving is made after an original drawing by a French prisoner of war, and by the wealth of statistical detail in the caption.
  • The machine is described as: ‘2,100 Feet long, and 1,500 Feet broad; has 500 Cannon round it, 36 and 48 Pounders; at each end is two Wind Mills, which turns Wheels in the Water at every point of the Wind to Navigate; in the middle is a Fort enclosing Mortars, Perriers.
  • It carries 60,000 Men, Cavalry, Infantry, and Artillery.’
  • Nonetheless, this does not disguise the unseaworthiness of the ‘new machine’, and neither is there any firm evidence that such a vessel was being constructed on the north French coast at this time.

  • The destruction of the French raft by an English frigate mand by brave British tars. 6 February 1798.


KD: Per the narrative, the invasion did not happened.

I was unable to find any texts pertaining to 1798, or to any one of the designs. The "windmill" propulsion was mentioned 38 years later, in this 1836 book.


In 1855 they called it "a new system of propelling vessels".


They were still talking about these "windmill powered ships" in 1872. Sounds like there was at least one in operation at some point.


KD: Just figured it was worth sharing. Wondering if they actually had something like this fully operational in 1798...
I maybe I am alone in this kind of thinking and did write it off as fanciful but I wonder if they floated the star forts to their locations.

I have seen quite a few forts that seem to have conning towers like that of battleships and aircraft carriers.

Although it would need some additional tech as bricks and mortar is not the best materials for floating.

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Totally independent of any matters of practicality and/or reality of the prototype, I kind of like that one with the round tower and elevated stern.
With model building being an interest, my brain goes to pondering what remarks and interest a radio control model might get at the pond.
Been ages since I've done RC boats, but wouldn't it be cool to show up with one of these loaded with figure from miniatures games?
Am pretty certain that wind power would be insufficient to drive the paddlewheels and electric motors would be a necessity.
A thing I wonder about those designs is whether a wind strong enough to provide propulsion would/could/might also provide enough push against the 'sail area' of the superstructure sides to interfere with steering.

And how much mass is that apparently fortified superstructure?
And how much propulsive force would be required to move that mass?
And would the propulsive force be enough to counter adverse winds?

My Dad was in the Navy and wind can be an issue in ship handling even when your ship is motorized instead of sail driven.
I no longer remember any of the terminology for it, just that it can be an issue.
At first I thought of this


Then I noticed the 'windmills' on this image were horizontal, like an helicopter


And that made me think of this...


Perhaps they were seeing amazing tech, they just couldn't draw it so well... Or they were drawn from repeated stories/ tales, and drawn using known tech? 🤔
Then I noticed the 'windmills' on this image were horizontal, like an helicopter
Going by how the deck and superstructure are rendered with their perspective lines relationship being a bit wonky, as are several other perspective lines, I'm going to expect wonky blade perspective instead of horizontal blades.
However ...
There is the question of whether the blades are literally in the horizontal plane with hub at top center of towers' domed roofs as it seems to appear ...
Or ...
Is that appearance just more wonky perspective amidst the overall generally wonky perspective?
Questions, questions ...
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