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any ship built or armed for naval combat. The forerunners of the modern warship were the men-of-war of the 18th and early 19th cent., such as the ship of the lineship of the line,
large, square-rigged warship, carrying from 70 to 140 guns on two or more completely armed gun decks. In the great naval wars of the 17th, 18th, and early 19th cent., ships of the line were the largest naval units employed.
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, frigatefrigate
, originally a long, narrow nautical vessel used on the Mediterranean, propelled by either oars or sail or both. Later, during the 18th and early 19th cent., the term was applied to a very fast, square-rigged sailing vessel carrying 24 to 44 guns on a single flush gun
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, corvettecorvette,
small warship, classed between a frigate and a sloop-of-war. Corvettes usually were flush-decked and carried fewer than 28 guns. They were widely employed in escorting convoys and attacking merchant ships during the great naval wars of the late 18th and early 19th cent.
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, sloop of war (see sloopsloop,
fore-and-aft-rigged, single-masted sailing vessel with a single headsail jib. A sloop differs from a cutter in that it has a jibstay—a support leading from the bow to the masthead on which the jib is set.
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), brigbrig,
two-masted sailing vessel, square-rigged on both masts. Brigs have been used as cargo ships and also, in the past, as small warships carrying about 10 guns. They vary in length between 75 and 130 ft (23–40 m), with tonnages up to 350.
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, and cuttercutter,
small, one-masted sailing vessel, with a rig similar to that of a sloop except that it usually has a sliding bowsprit and a topmast. From 1800 to 1830 cutters were in service between England and France.
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. With the advent of steel construction and steam propulsion in the latter half of the 19th cent., warships evolved into their modern form. The key naval vessels used in modern warfare are the aircraft carrieraircraft carrier,
ship designed to carry aircraft and to permit takeoff and landing of planes. The carrier's distinctive features are a upper deck (flight deck) that is flat and sometimes sloped to function as a takeoff and landing field, and a main deck (hangar deck) beneath
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 and the submarinesubmarine,
naval craft capable of operating for an extended period of time underwater. Submarines are almost always warships, although a few are used for scientific, business, or other purposes (see also submersible).
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; other modern warships include the battleshipbattleship,
large, armored warship equipped with the heaviest naval guns. The evolution of the battleship, from the ironclad warship of the mid-19th cent., received great impetus from the Civil War.
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, cruisercruiser,
large, fast, moderately armed warship, intermediate in type between the aircraft carrier and the destroyer. During World War II, battle cruisers operated as small battleships, combining in one vessel maximum qualities of gun caliber, armor protection, and speed.
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, destroyerdestroyer,
class of warship very fast relative to its length, generally equipped with torpedos, antisubmarine equipment, and medium-caliber and antiaircraft guns. The newest destroyers are equipped with guided missiles as their chief offensive weapon.
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, gunboatgunboat,
small warship for use on rivers and along coasts in places inaccessible to vessels of larger displacement. In the U.S. Civil War both sides used as gunboats, on the Mississippi and other rivers, any boat that had an engine and had room to mount a gun.
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, and torpedo boattorpedo boat,
small fast warship built specially for using the torpedo as a means of attack. The first modern torpedo boat was the Lightning, built for the British navy in 1877 by the shipyards of Sir John Isaac Thornycroft.
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See Jane's Fighting Ships (pub. annually since 1897).



a vessel belonging to a navy and capable of accomplishing definite combat missions or special tasks. According to the 1958 Geneva International Convention on the Open Sea, which was ratified by the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR on Oct. 20, 1960, a warship must have external markings that identify its nationality, be under the command of an officer in the service of the state and that officer’s name be listed in the roll of naval officers, and have a crew subordinate to regular military discipline. Warships are the property of the state; they are subordinate to its laws only and enjoy the right of extraterritoriality when officially located in foreign waters.

The engines of modern warships are heavy-duty steam, diesel, gas-turbine, atomic, and mixed power plants (for example, die-sel-gas-turbine). Depending on their combat functions, warships are armed with missiles, artillery, torpedoes, or mines; they may also have several types of weapons. They have radio-electronic and computer devices to control the weapons and the technical piloting equipment; to observe the air, water, and underwater situation; and to navigate and conduct communications. Some warships carry aircraft and helicopters. The hull of a warship consists of the following main parts: the frame (skeleton), which provides longitudinal and transverse strength for the ship; the outside plating; the upper and midde decks; and watertight dividers (bulkheads), which separate the internal areas of the ship into sections and compartments to ensure that the ship cannot be sunk and also for structural protection (on large surface ships, in areas where command posts, machine rooms, ammunition storerooms, and other quarters are located).

The principal weapons and superstructure are set on the top deck of a surface ship. The bow part of the superstructure, which is the most developed part, contains the conning tower, pilot room, navigation room, and the captain’s bridge. Control of the warship and its weapons during combat is carried on from the conning tower; control under everyday conditions is carried on from the pilot room and the navigation room and from the captain’s bridge. The stern superstructure contains the standby conning tower and standby command posts for the ship’s combat units and services. Most modern warships have, as a rule, two masts. Aircraft carriers do not have developed superstructures and masts. Radar and radio antennas, distance-ranging posts, searchlights, and communications and signaling equipment are installed on the masts. Missiles are placed in launching shafts, and reserve missiles are in missile magazines; artillery ammunition is kept in artillery magazines, and torpedoes are kept in torpedo launchers, with reserve torpedoes on special racks. Aircraft and helicopters are kept on the top deck and in hangars.

The basic fuel for warships that do not have atomic power plants is liquid (mazut) and diesel fuel. It is kept in the space between the bottoms and in side compartments (in fuel tanks). Reserve water is located in special compartments in the space between the bottoms. Common quarters and staterooms are used to house the crew of a warship.

In order to perform combat missions successfully a warship should have excellent seaworthiness, including buoyancy (the ability to float when in the water at the assigned waterline while carrying all loads envisioned for the arm of service); stability (the ability to maintain equilibrium, a vertical position); unsinkability (the ability to remain floating with certain types of damage and flooding of one or several compartments); steaming ability (the ability to develop an assigned traveling speed with the given power of the main machinery); controllability (the ability to maintain an assigned course and change it through the action of the rudder and engines; a submarine should also have this ability for movement on the vertical, that is, the ability to maintain or change the depth of submersion); and smoothness and the amplitude of roll assigned by calculation.

The first warships, small wooden vessels of various shapes that were propelled by oars, appeared in Egypt, Crete, Phoenicia, and ancient Greece and Rome long before the Common Era. In the fifth century B.C. there appeared warships with several rows of oars arranged in different tiers above the surface of the water. Ships with two rows of oars were called biremes, those with three rows were called triremes, and so on. The crew of a large ship had several hundred men; the primary weapons were a ram and catapults. In the seventh century a faster ship, called the galley (Italian, galera), was built in Venice and gradually became the principal warship. It was 40–50 m long, about 6 m wide, had one row of oars, a crew of up to 450 men, and developed a speed of 7 knots (13 km/hr). In addition to oars, the galley had two masts with lateen sails. In the tenth to 11th centuries more refined ships (French, nefs) were built, on which the sails became the prime moving force, although oars were still used. The transition from oar propulsion to a sailing fleet was prolonged and lasted until the 17th and 18th centuries. The development of artillery gradually made it the main weapon of sailing warships.

With the appearance of standing navies in England, France, Spain, and Russia (1696) during the 17th century, state shipyards were established for building ships and admiralties were instituted. Warships were built with pointed tips instead of blunt bows and sterns; decks became more even; composite masts were used because of the enlargement of sails and changes in their types; and the internal areas of the ships were designed to make them more seaworthy. To protect against dry rot and overgrowth, the underwater part of warships was covered with copper.

Based on the experience accumulated by navies during wars and naval battles, a need arose to classify ships, their combat functions, size, displacement, number of guns, and crew size. In the mid-17th century warships were divided into six classes, or ranks (see Table 1).

Table 1. Classification of warships by rank
RankDisplacement (tons)Number of gunsCrew
Second ......700-90054-64650
Third ........500-70044-60450
Sixth ........50-2506-36100

Ships of the first, second, and third ranks, designed for waging artillery combat in which they formed in a line, were called ships of the line; ships of the fourth and fifth ranks, which were designated for reconnaissance and action on sea-lanes, were called frigates. Dispatch ships were ships of the sixth rank.

In the 18th century numerous inventions and discoveries in metallurgy and shipbuilding and the introduction of iron in shipbuilding made it possible to improve significantly the design of warships and to increase their sail area, artillery, and displacement (to 3,000-4,000 tons). The number of guns on ships of the line was increased to 120–135. In 1807, R. Fulton (USA) built the first experimental steamship, the Clermont. In 1826 the first steamship armed with artillery (eight cannons) was built for the Russian Navy and was named the Izhora. With the appearance of the propeller in the 19th century, warships with steam power plants began to be built. At the same time, the navies of France, Russia, and other nations adopted heavy cannon (calibers up to 220 mm), which fired exploding shells, destroyed the side of a ship, and caused large fires. In the first half of the 19th century mines were adopted by the Russian Navy. All these developments made armor necessary. Taking the experience of the Crimean War of 1853–56 into account, the navies of many countries switched to building armored steam-propelled ships and to increasing the thickness of the armor (up to 610 mm). In the 1870’s ships without sail rigging were built.

Military shipbuilding was greatly influenced by the further development of mines and the invention of the self-propelled mine, which came to be called the torpedo. In the late 19th century armor-clad ships (battleships) became the main striking force of the navy. They were divided into casemate, barbette, and turetted ships, depending on the way their guns were arranged. To support them in combat, cruisers, including armor-clad cruisers, and torpedo boats were built. Minelayers began to be built. The classification of warships also changed. In Russia in 1892 warships were divided into the following classes: battleships (squadron and coastal defense), cruisers (first and second ranks), mine cruisers, gunboats (oceangoing and coastal defense), torpedo boats, transports, training vessels, and others. Before the Russo-Japanese War of 1904–05 this classification was supplemented with new classes, including destroyers, mine transports, and hospital ships. After the war the submarine class became established, and battleships and line cruisers made up the basis of naval fighting strength. In 1910–12, Russia built the world’s first minesweepers. Many countries built light cruisers. Submarines developed further.

During World War I (1914-18) battleships found limited use because of the greatly increased danger of mines and submarines, and the building of line cruisers was discontinued. Destroyers, minelayers, and minesweepers were extensively developed. Submarines became an independent arm of naval forces and were divided into large, medium-sized, and small. In the course of the war new classes of warships appeared, including aircraft carriers, patrol ships, and torpedo cutters.

During World War II battleships lost their former importance for good and, together with cruisers, became support forces for aircraft carriers. Submarines had a prominent place in combat action. Antisubmarine and antiaircraft defense ships were developed. In the 1950’s warships were equipped with atomic power plants, nuclear missiles, and the latest radio-electronic equipment. Missile-carrying atomic submarines, missile-carrying surface ships, and new antisubmarine ships were built. In the 1960’s and early 1970’s a number of countries began experimental construction of warships with dynamic support principles, including hydrofoil ships and Hovercraft. These ships have high traveling speeds and other advantages.

In present-day navies warships are classified as underwater or surface ships, depending on the physical medium in which they operate. They are subdivided into groups by the nature of the missions they perform; the groups are warships designed for waging combat action, which constitute the basis of the navy; auxiliary ships for supporting the navy at sea; and roadstead and base ships and floating equipment for supporting naval forces in roadsteads and harbors. Warships are subdivided, by the importance of the combat missions they perform, into strategic ships and operational-tactical ships. They are divided by type of engine into atomic vessels and vessels with conventional power plants. All the navies have adopted a division of warships into classes. Ships may be further divided into subclasses within a single class, depending on differences in tactical and technical data. A single class (subclass) may contain ships of different types that differ in displacement, composition, and arrangement of weapons and equipment. The US Navy has adopted a division of warships into categories that join several classes of ships, for example, the categories of warships, landing ships and vessels, and patrol and escort ships. Different nations have different interpretations of the classes, subclasses, and types of warships.

In the USSR the following basic classes of warships are used: missile-carrying submarines, torpedo submarines, missile-carrying ships, artillery ships, antisubmarine ships, antimine defense ships, landing ships, and others. In the US Navy and the navies of certain other nations the basic classes of warships are aircraft carriers (assault and antisubmarine), submarines (atomic missile-carrying, atomic torpedo, and others), cruisers (with guided missiles, heavy, light, and others), and destroyers (with guided missiles, frigates, and others). For determining the legal status of ship commanders and crews, to plan norms of matériel support, and also depending on displacement and weaponry, warships are divided into ranks. Four ship ranks have been established in the navy of the USSR; the first rank is highest.


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Kovalenko, V. A., and M. N. Ostroumov (compilers). Spravochnik po inostrannym flotam. Moscow, 1966.
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