Louis-Émile Bertin bigraphy, stories - Engineers

Louis-Émile Bertin : biography

23 March 1840 - October 22, 1924

Matsushima, flagship of the Japanese Navy up to the Sino-Japanese conflict.]] Louis-Émile Bertin (23 March 1840 – October 22, 1924) was a French naval engineer, one of the foremost of his time, and a proponent of the "Jeune École" philosophy of using light, but powerfully armed warships instead of large battleships.

Early life

Bertin was born in Nancy, France on 23 March 1840. He entered the Paris École polytechnique in 1858. At exiting the school, he chose the field of Naval Engineering (Corps du génie maritime). His role model was Henri Dupuy de Lôme, who had designed the first ironclad warship in France. Bertin came to be known for his innovative designs, often at odds with conventional wisdom, and won international recognition as a leading naval architect. In 1871, he also became a doctor of laws, showing great versatility of talents.


Life in Japan

In 1885, the Japanese government persuaded the French Génie Maritime to send Bertin as a special foreign advisor to the Imperial Japanese Navy for a period of four years from 1886 to 1890. Bertin was tasked with training Japanese engineers and naval architects, designing and constructing modern warships, and naval facilities. For Bertin, then aged 45, it was an extraordinary opportunity to design an entire navy. For the French government, it represented a major coup in their fight against Great Britain and Germany for influence over the newly-industrializing Empire of Japan.

While in Japan, Bertin designed and constructed seven major warships and 22 torpedo boats, which formed the nucleus of the budding Imperial Japanese Navy. These included the three Matsushima class protected cruisers, which featured a single but immensely powerful 12.6 inch Canet main gun, which formed the core of the Japanese fleet during the First Sino-Japanese War of 1894–1895.

Bertin also directed the construction of the naval shipyards and arsenals of Kure and Sasebo.

However, Bertin's time in Japan was also plagued by political intrigue. There were strong factions with the Japanese government who favored the British or Germans over the French, or who still begrudged the French for their previous strong support of the Tokugawa bakufu. Bertin's position was more than once put into jeopardy. That Japan was gambling on the yet-untested Jeune École philosophy in approving Bertin's designs was also of concern.

His efforts in building up the Imperial Japanese Navy, made a decisive contribution to the Japanese victory at the Battle of the Yalu, 17 September 1894, Japanese Admiral Itoh Sukeyuki, (who had been on board the flagship Matsushima) wrote to Bertin:

"The ships fulfilled all our hopes. They were the formidable elements of our fleet; because of their powerful armament and intelligent design, we were able to win a brilliant victory against the Chinese armoured ships". (Yuko Ito"La Marine moderne d'Émile Bertin", p167-170)

Émile Bertin received the Order of the Rising Sun, second class, from the Meiji Emperor at the end of 1890. During the ceremony, the Navy Minister Saigo Tsugumichi (1843–1902) declared:

"Not only did Bertin establish the plans for the construction of coastal ships and first-class cruisers, he also made suggestions for the organization of the fleet, the defense of our coasts, the construction of high-caliber guns, the usage of materials such as steel or coal.; during the four years he has been in Japan, he never stopped working for the technical improvement of the Navy, and the results of his efforts are remarquable" (Tokyo, January 23, 1890"France-Japon Eco, No97, p82)

Warships designed or built while in Japan

  • 3 cruisers: the 4,700 tons Matsushima and Itsukushima, made in France, and the Hashidate, built by Japan in Yokosuka, Japan.
  • 3 coastal warships of 4,278 tons.
  • 2 small cruisers: the Chiyoda, a small cruiser of 2,439 built in Great Britain, and the Yaeyama, 1800 tons, built at Yokosuka Naval Arsenal, Japan.
  • 1 light cruiser: the Chishima, built in France.
  • 1 frigate, the 1600 tons Takao, built in Yokosuka.
  • 16 torpedo boats of 54 tons each, built in France by the Companie du Creusot in 1888, and assembled in Japan.
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