Pre-1872 Cerbere and Belier: what are these ships?


I meant to start this thread as soon as I had a chance to observe these two ironclads docked in Cherbourg, France. (Courtesy of @jd755) The below photo was allegedly taken in 1882, if we were to believe the backside of the photograph, which could actually be a postcard.

I am not sure if those boards on the front of these ships have their actual names on them, but here they are at a max zoom


One of them appears to be "CERBERE", and the other one I can not really make out, something "??LIER".

It's hard to say if any rivets were used constructing these ships, but they do not look riveted when you zoom in.

It would be interesting to ID these ships, to see if could get some back ground. They were obviously made prior to 1882, and look too futuristic for 1882, in my opinion. To be honest, the look upside down, and just straight up weird.

The above two reminded me the below Russian battleship Tsesarevich, which was made (allegedly) between 1899 and 1901.


KD: Anyways, if you have any idea what the above Cerbere & Incognito are, please share. Those are two very interesting ships, at least they appear to be.

Update: Per @NorthernLion's research, updated the thread title with "Belier".



Good find. What you're looking at is the Cerbere class warship active in (we are told) the mid to late 1800's as French coastal defense ships. They are the Cerbere and Belier specifically.

Apparently these were designed to RAM other ships, and they only made (found? bought? stole?) four of them.

List of battleships of France (Look under "Battleship Rams")

French armoured ram Cerbère 1865-1887
The first Ironclads 1859-1872
French Navy - 1852-1870 - Second Empire

Naval history is a strangely obsessive past time and I have done quite a bit of research into other ships for things like genealogical research. There is always a "paper trail", and you can usually find where the ships where built, dates of service, decommissioning, etc. With these, they exist, then disappear into thin air. Little to no information on them that I can find, which is very strange.

Please, if anyone else can find what happened to these I think we'd all be very interested.

Also great observation on the lack of rivets, similar to the Titanic observations, etc. These were said to be built in the 1860's yet there was no welding being used in shipbuilding until much later. We are told these had wooden superstructures with 8 inch thick iron plating as a shell. Show me a rivet that can accommodate that. I would also be very suspicious of that claim given the incredible mechanical stress a ramming vessel would be placed under.

I think your observations are spot on.


Appreciate looking into it. Nice links too. Interesting how this Cerbere Class has no info at all in the Wiki. The only one with a working link, Tigre, does not even have our ship listed there.

Cerbère class 3,532 tons.
  • Bélier (1870) – stricken 1896.
  • Bouledogue (1872) – stricken 1897.
  • Cerbère (1868) – stricken 1887.
  • Tigre (1871) – stricken 1892.
Here is one additional photograph of Belier.


Was able to find some info on this Tigre. It is hardly authentic, but we have what we have.

A whole lot of info, right? The Volume 4 book, linked up above, has quite a few interesting things in it. Separate threads for everything not related to this "ram" ships please.

Allegedly Bouledogue, taken from here.


Here is a colored art of the two OP ships. Nice looks they have. Very much 1880s, or whatever they really were.



Well-known member
google machine translation from French to English from here Gardes-côtes cuirassés

1870: Reunites Cherbourg.
8-1870: Le Havre. 1
870-71: Brest 1
872-84: Cherbourg.
1885-86: disarmed.
12-11-1886: scratched.
1887: demolition in Cherbourg.

1886: Central mobile defense building in Lorient - makes his career in the port of Lorient.
21-3-1897: sold to Mr Pittel de Brest - demolished in the arsenal.

based in Cherbourg all his career.

9-1874: join Brest.
1876-81: in reserve.
1893: demolished in Brest


Active member
Does that ship look like a ramming platform to you guys? With that curved front it almost seems as if a ramming attempt would guide the ship up and over the rammer, crushing the upper deck.
I'm not super familiar with ship design though, so maybe I'm wrong here.
If a car tried this same shape, it'd become a ramp for anything it tried to ram.


Well-known member
The design IS odd. Reminds me a bit of Leonardo da Vinci's tank design or else it looks like what I'd expect a two-sided ship to look like, where the structure is made to compensate for a sudden switch in gravity and the ship finding itself upside down. What does the bottom look like?


Well-known member
The design IS odd. Reminds me a bit of Leonardo da Vinci's tank design or else it looks like what I'd expect a two-sided ship to look like, where the structure is made to compensate for a sudden switch in gravity and the ship finding itself upside down. What does the bottom look like?
From the French site linked to above comes this drawing of the ships predecessor. As they are improved versions of the Le Taureau it's likely they were the same or very similar design. They were designed to simply put a hole under the waterline of the ship under attack. The sea would then do the sinking.

And from here; French armoured ram Cerbère 1865-1887

Mon Cerbére 1.png

She was part of the Cerbère-class an improved version by Dupuy de Lôme of the Tareau-class with as sister ships the Belier, Bouledogue and the Tigre. The Cerbère was laid down at Brest on 14 September 1875, launched 23 April 1868, completed in October 1868 and stricken in 1887. These vessels possessed a wooden hull and a turtle shaped deck with a aft ship beak shaped.

The armour of wrought iron consisted of a 7-8.7” belt (220mm thick on a 800mm thick layer of wood) while the turret was protected by 7”. According to Conways with a displacement of 3,532 tons were the dimensions of these rams 65,56 (between perpendiculars) x 1640 x 5,66 metres. (maximum). According to Von Kronenfels with a displacement of 3,403 tons (design) and 3,510-3,758 tons in service were her dimensions 66,00 (waterline) x 16,19 (maximum) x 5,50 (design)-5,55/5,82 (full load) fore and aft 5,40 (design)-5,82/5,97 (full load) metres. Hold at keel was 5,37 metres. Proportion length: beam was 4:08. The gun turret was placed on third of the ships’ length and had a diameter of 18,6 metres. The armament consisted of 2-9.4” (24cm) guns later strengthened by 4-1pdr revolver guns and off course a spur ram of 10’. The engines and 6 oval boilers supplied 1,800 ihp (Conways) or 1,530 (Von Kronenfels which also said that the Tigre had 1,880 ihp) allowing a speed of 12-12,5 knots (Conways) or 11,39 knots (Von Kronenfels) and 79,80 revolutions (Von Kronenfels) with a coal bunker capacity of 180 tons. Her crew numbered 159 men.

Even the US Navy were in on the game but not ramming apparently. Actually she had a "very long ram bow" according to that site!
From here; USN Ships--USS Alarm (1874-1898)

Check out the rudder design on the two ships. France and the United States co-operating or stealing?
The more I look at it the more it looked as though it was in fact a propulsor of sorts. Actually it is. It's a cyclodial propeller aka a Fowler Wheel. Never heard of it before.

From here, where there's a massive version of that image.
Further info on the in service life and fate of the Alarm.

For further information on the propeller go here
commissioned in 1874 and commenced trials. The Alarm, was radically different from any other ship then in the U.S. Navy. She was constructed entirely of iron, the first American ship with a complete double hull built on the transverse bracket system. Electricity was used throughout the ship for lighting and communications, another first. To provide superior speed and maneuverability she had received a “Fowler Wheel”, an early cycloidal propulsion system, shaped like a four-bladed, horizontal paddle wheel. By altering the angle of attack of the blades as the wheel spun around, the pilot could change the direction of the ship instantly without using a rudder. During trials it became apparent that the Fowler wheel delivered only on the latter criterion: The Alarm spun like a top, but she was dead slow. To add to the embarrassment it was soon discovered that the engines had worked themselves loose from their bed-plates, necessitating extensive repairs to the brand-new ship. For the next four years the Alarm carried out a number of experiments at the Washington and New York Navy Yards, but mostly she lay idle. Overall the experiment was seen as a costly failure.
Last edited:


New member
For what it's worth, wrought iron armour plate of good quality was drilled on its back face, and long bolts were then put through the ship's frame, wood backing and into the armour plate. In short, it was screwed on from the inside. Source: Actually going and looking at the cutaway structure of HMS Warrior's armour in Portsmouth.
Also, the French rams were described as being totally armoured from end to end; hence you'll see nothing but armour plate, unpierced by 'rivets'.
Further, this is why you'll read of bolt heads or 'rivets' being sheared off and flying around the inside of warships like bullets - because they were applied from the inside. It's really quite simple when you pause and think about it.
No welding required in the 1860s.
It was only the god-awful rubbish that was layered on monitors which had bolts going through from the outside. It was just a stupid way of doing things.