Battleship Liberté Explosion
Liberté's magazines explode accidentally on Sept.
25, 1911, destroying the 3-year-old ship and showering her neighbors in Toulon Harbor (including République - below) with twisted, smoldering debris. The chain-reaction detonation of the magazines followed some moments of frantic firefighting on board after spontaneous combustion erupted in a forward magazine.This explosion followed the similar loss of the battleship Iéna by only 4 years. Nitrocellulose gel, the preferred propellant of the French Navy, was prone to spontaneous combustion; it was implicated in both tragedies.
Sections of the Liberté's armor plate were hurled outwards with such force they were embedded in the République anchored nearby. She was only one of the recipients of the Liberté's "tough love"; more than 100 sailors were killed on ships anchored nearby. France's dockpyards toiled many a long and dispiriting hour to repair the damage all through the fall and winter.
The blowing up of the powerful French Battleship "Liberté" in the Harbor of Toulon, early in the morning of September 25, adds another appalling disaster to the fatal record, which, in the past five years, has given the French navy the reputation of being the most dangerous to itself of all the navies of the world. All the fatalities have occured at Toulon, which is the great naval base of France, and in them about 400 men have lost their lives. The first of the series of disasters occurred in February, 1907, when nine men were killed by the explosion of a torpedo boat. This was followed a month later by the explosion of the battleship "Iena" sacrificing 107 lives. In August, 1908, a gun explosion on a gunnery school ship killed six; in September , 1910, an explosion on a cruiser killed 13, and Sept 10, 1911, six men were killed by an explosion on the Cruiser "Gloire."
The disaster to the "Liberté," resulting in the death of about 250 men, was due to fire so located that the fumes rising from one of the magazines made it impossible to reach and open the sea valves so that all the magazines could be flooded.
The Battleship Liberte was torn apart and totally destroyed by an explosion of her magazines today. Four hundred officers and men were killed. The Battleship Republique was badly damaged and the battleships Democratic and Verite also suffered severely from the masses of twisted iron and armor plate that were hurled upon their decks.
This is the greatest disaster that has ever fallen upon the Franch Navy and in magnitude is almost without precedent in the annals of the world's fighting ships. The grief which prostrates the fleet and nation is made more intense by the memory of the recent review here, a notable display of France's naval greatness, in which the doomed ship was one of the finest figures.