Warships have proliferated since the 1850’s, in size, number, and type.
Warships have proliferated since the 1850’s, in size, number, and type. In the mid-nineteenth century, steam-powered warships replaced sailing ships as the main element of naval forces, screened by smaller frigates. The battleship emerged as iron replaced wood in the 1860’s, and large-caliber guns were increasingly employed. Battleships and cruisers dominated late nineteenth century naval warfare. In the twentieth century, the development of submarines, torpedo boats, destroyers, aircraft, aircraft carriers, nuclear power, and guided weapons influenced naval warfare.
The 1850’s marked a turning point in the development of naval warfare technologies. Up until this time wood had remained the building material of choice, and most warships relied on sail power. The few
Within a decade, however, several technical developments transformed naval warfare. First, improved machinery was built to move new, propeller-driven ships. Propellers offered several advantages over paddle wheels. The propellers, below the waterline, were out of the line of direct enemy fire, as were the engines and boilers. Without large side paddles, steam-powered ships could carry additional broadside guns. In contrast to that of the partly submerged paddle wheel, all of the propeller’s turning motion moved the ship.
The CSS Alabama, during a battle with the USS Kearsage, was sunk off the coast of Cherbourg, France, in 1864 at the height of the U.S. Civil War.
Between 1865 and the end of the nineteenth century, naval warfare changed relatively little. With few naval battles to test technological developments, all the major navies followed a similar line of development. The dimensions and displacement of capital ships, or the most powerful ships in world navies, continued to grow at a generally even pace as armor grew thicker to defeat larger and larger naval guns. By the 1880’s, navies generally consisted of two types of ships: capital
Among the major navies, only the French followed a separate policy. Clearly unable to match England’s industrial capacity, the French navy opted for a wartime strategy of
At the end of the nineteenth century, however, additional technological advances further changed warship development. The creation of advanced optical range
In 1862, the American Civil War witnessed the first battle of armored warships: the Union’s Monitor (right), the U.S. Navy’s first ironclad, and the Confederacy’s Virginia.
In a revolutionary leap in capital ship development, all of these developments were combined in HMS
At the same time that technology accelerated capital ship development, other technical breakthroughs threatened the battleship’s dominance in naval warfare. Naval
A 1902 schematic of the world’s principal navies.
After World War I, naval technology expanded into wider fields, particularly after a naval limitation treaty signed at the
The British ship HMS Dreadnought in 1909.
In response to the German U-boat threat, the Allies promoted the use of electronic warfare to detect the
The USS Scorpion, a nuclear submarine, surfaces at Portsmouth, England.
The major German weapons development of World War II was guided
Specialized amphibious warfare ships represented the final major development during World War II. The conflict marked the first time that large-scale invasions came from the sea, and specialized landing craft emerged to carry troops onto enemy shores. The craft ranged from small personnel carriers to the utilitarian landing ship
In the postwar era, navies struggled to incorporate many of the technological advances and weapons introduced during World War II. With the exception of the United States, the world navies relegated their battleships to the scrap yard as the aircraft carrier maintained its position as the primary capital ship. Two requirements caused a surge in the size of new American carrier construction. First, heavier jet aircraft, introduced at the end of the war, needed longer takeoff and landing spaces than wartime carriers permitted. Second, wary of losing its influence to the new U.S. Air
In the postwar era, electronic systems continued to proliferate, and modern warships were festooned with antennas and radar dishes. Contemporary warships feature electronic radar, sonar, electronic countermeasures, communications, fire control, and intelligence-gathering facilities, all considered necessary for modern naval warfare. The miniaturization of electronics also led to the replacement of guns with missiles as the main naval armament in the postwar era. Antishipping
A final feature of naval development in the postwar era is the proliferation of the multipurpose ship. Due to the high cost of new technology, most navies can no longer afford specialized warships, and small, cheap, multipurpose frigates have come to form the backbone of most navies. Only major navies can afford such expensive items as aircraft carriers, amphibious warships, and dedicated antiaircraft cruisers.
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Galleys to Galleons
Naval Development: The Age of Sail
Warships and Naval Warfare
Armies and Infantry: Modern
Naval Development: The Age of Sail