Following the relative success of Charlemagne-class battleships, a
decision was made to build “improved” Charlemagne-type ships and Iéna
was the first of these to be designed and constructed. Laid down in
January 1898 she was launched later that year and completed in 1902.
This was extremely fast for the French Navy and Ministry that changed
often and for long periods suffered from the effects of the “jeune
école” (Young/New School) who considered all battleships as fat
targets for torpedoes. She was 26 feet longer and about two feet
beamier than Charlemagne and carried an increased armor belt.
Iéna seemed to be a well liked ship although there seem to have been
comments that she rolled and pitched rather too much. Descriptions
from her captain indicate on the other hand that she steered easily
and was comfortable in a seaway.
Following her completion and trials at the port of Brest, Iéna travelled
to Toulon where she spent her career as part of the Mediterranean Fleet.
She was reported to have an excellent, possibly even “crack” crew who
felt high morale.
when Iéna was put into dry dock at Toulon on March 2, 1907, unloading of
ammunition began in accordance with standing Government directives.
Despite this, on Tuesday, March 12th,
ammunition began spontaneously detonating in the aft bunkers at 1:35 in
the afternoon. A series of detonations continued from then until 2:25 and
left the ship burned and damaged from just aft of the bridge to the stern
of the ship. Her commander, Adigard and 200 crew and dockyard workers died
in the explosions and fire.
she was patched and towed away to meet her end as a gunnery target.