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mid-19th-century wooden warship protected from gunfire by iron armor. The success of the ironclad when first employed by the French in the Crimean WarCrimean War
, 1853–56, war between Russia on the one hand and the Ottoman Empire, Great Britain, France, and Sardinia on the other. The causes of the conflict were inherent in the unsolved Eastern Question.
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 sparked a naval armor and armaments race between France and Great Britain. Ironclads were later used by both sides in the U.S. Civil War (see monitormonitor,
type of turreted warship (no longer used) carrying heavy guns, having little draft, and lying low in the water. Monitors were so called from the first of the class, the Monitor, built for the Union navy in the U.S. Civil War by John Ericsson. Launched in Jan.
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, Monitor and MerrimackMonitor and Merrimack,
two American warships that fought the first engagement between ironclad ships. When, at the beginning of the Civil War, the Union forces abandoned the Norfolk Navy Yard at Portsmouth, Va., they scuttled the powerful steam frigate Merrimack.
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), although only the Union navy had at its disposal sufficient industrial resources to build a sizable fleet. The armored ship became obsolete with the introduction (1870–90) of all-metal warship construction.
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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a major type of warship in the second half of the 19th century and the early 20th, with an artillery turret of heavy caliber and strong armor protection. Ironclads were the biggest and strongest ships of the navy at that time and were used in naval battles with enemy armored ships and in operations against coastal fortresses. The idea of plating ships of the major types with armor originated a long time ago. But it was only after the Battle of Sinope (1853), in which a Russian squadron under the command of Admiral P. S. Nakhimov destroyed the Turkish fleet with incendiary bombs, that the necessity of replacing wooden sailing ships with iron ships equipped with steam engines became a conviction shared by all navies. The construction of warships with iron hulls led to the wide use of armor to protect the thin iron side and deck from artillery shells.

The ironclads developed from the ships of the Monitor type, which were first used in 1862 in the Civil War in North America. Monitors were usually armed with two heavy caliber cannon (up to 280 mm) placed on a revolving armored turret and had a very low but carefully assigned freeboard. Subsequent development included an increase in the caliber, in the number of cannon, and in the height of freeboard. In Russia the first big ironclad ship, Petr Velikii, was laid down in 1869 and launched in 1872. It had a water displacement of 10,100 tons and was considered the most powerful and sea-worthy ironclad of its time. In the Russian Navy a distinction was made between squadron ironclads (for battles on the open sea) and coast defense ironclads (for action in inshore regions). Potemkin, which became famous through its participation in the Revolution of 1905-07, was a type of squadron ironclad. One of the mightiest squadron ironclads was the Andrei Pervozvannyi (laid down in 1905, launched in 1906; water displacement, 17,400 tons: speed, 18 knots; four 305-mm guns of the main caliber; side armor, 70-216 mm). A typical coast defense ironclad was the Admiral Seniavin (commissioned in 1896; water displacement, 4,790 tons; speed, 16 knots; four 254-mm guns of the main caliber; side armor, 152-254 mm). The experience of the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05 revealed that the number of guns of the main caliber was insufficient, that the calibers of the auxiliary artillery varied too much, that the armor plating of the ironclads was too weak, and that their ability to survive was too poor. Therefore the construction of ironclads was discontinued after the Russo-Japanese War; many navies of the world began building battleships instead. In some navies, mainly in the Scandinavian countries, a small number of ironclads were retained until the end of World War II and in the Swedish Navy, until the middle of the 1950’s. Several ironclads, for example in the Norwegian Navy, participated in combat action in offshore regions at the beginning of World War II.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


a large wooden 19th-century warship with armoured plating
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
References in periodicals archive ?
Mallory proved persuasive, and the Confederate government authorized two million dollars for purchasing ironclad warships. Unfortunately for the South, Europe did not immediately sell any iron-armored vessels.
These battles represented two aspects of the Confederacy's naval strategy to overcome the Union's naval superiority: use ironclad warships to sink the Union's wooden ships blockading Southern ports, and use commerce raiders to divert Union warships from the blockade to protect Union merchant ships.
Set during the American Civil War, The Battle of Hampton Roads: New Perspectives on the USS Monitor and CSS Virginia is the history of the first encounter between ironclad warships, the end of wooden warships, and the beginning of the machine-age navy.
In the first battle between ironclad warships, the Confederate ship Virginia and Union ironclad Monitor fought to a draw at Hampton Roads, Va., whereupon the Virginia retired, leaving the Union blockade intact.
In addition, while mine warfare, undersea warfare, and ironclad warships were not new in the 1860s, the Civil War became a proving ground for these new ships and weapons.