AskDefine | Define warship

Dictionary Definition

warship n : a government ship that is available for waging war [syn: war vessel, combat ship]

User Contributed Dictionary



war + ship


  1. Any ship built or armed for naval combat

Extensive Definition

A warship is a ship that is built and primarily intended for combat. Warships are usually built in a completely different way than merchant ships. As well as being armed, warships are designed to withstand damage and are usually faster and more maneuverable than merchant ships. Unlike a merchant ship, a warship typically only carries weapons, ammunition and supplies for its own crew (rather than merchant cargo). Warships usually belong to a navy, though they have sometimes been operated by individuals or companies.
In wartime, the distinction between warships and merchant ships is often blurred. In war, merchant ships are often armed and used as auxiliary warships, such as the Q-ships of World War I and the armed merchant cruisers of World War II. Until the 17th century it was common for merchant ships to be pressed into naval service and not unusual for more than half a fleet to be composed of merchant ships. Until the threat of piracy subsided in the 19th century, it was normal practice to arm larger merchant ships such as Galleons. Warships have also often been used as troop carriers or supply ships, such as by the French Navy in the 18th century or the Japanese Navy during World War II.

Evolution of warships

The age of galleys

By the middle of the 17th century, warships were carrying increasing numbers of cannon on their broadsides and tactics evolved to bring each ship's firepower to bear in a line of battle. The man-of-war now evolved into the ship of the line. In the 18th century, the frigate and sloop-of-war – too small to stand in the line of battle – evolved to convoy trade, scout for enemy ships and blockade enemy coasts.

Steel, steam and shellfire

During the 19th century a revolution took place in the means of propulsion, armament and construction of warships. Steam engines were introduced, at first as an auxiliary force, in the second quarter of the 19th century. The Crimean War gave a great stimulus to the development of guns. The introduction of explosive shells soon led to the introduction of iron, and later steel, armour for the sides and decks of larger warships. The first ironclad warships, the French Gloire and British Warrior, made wooden vessels obsolete. Metal soon entirely replaced wood as the main material for warship construction.
From the 1850s, the sailing ships of the line were replaced by steam-powered battleships, while the sailing frigates were replaced by steam-powered cruisers. The armament of warships also changed with the invention of the rotating barbettes and turrets, which allowed the guns to be aimed independently of the direction of the ship and allowed a smaller number of larger guns to be carried.
The final innovation during the 19th century was the development of the torpedo and development of the torpedo boat. Small, fast torpedo boats seemed to offer an alternative to building expensive fleets of battleships.

The Dreadnought era

Modern warships are generally divided into seven main categories, which are: aircraft carriers, cruisers, destroyers, frigates, corvettes, submarines and amphibious assault ships.
Battleships encompass an eighth category, but are not in current service with any navy in the world. Only the deactivated American Iowa-class battleships still exist as potential combatants, and battleships in general are unlikely to re-emerge as a ship class without redefinition. The destroyer is generally regarded as the dominant surface-combat vessel of most modern blue water navies. However, it must be noted that the once distinct roles and appearances of cruisers, destroyers, frigates, and corvettes have blurred. Most vessels have come to be armed with a mix of anti-surface, anti-submarine and anti-aircraft weapons. Class designations no longer reliably indicate a displacement hierarchy, and the size of all vessel types have grown beyond the definitions used earlier in the 20th century. Another key differentiation between older and modern vessels is that all modern warships are "soft," without the thick armor and bulging anti-torpedo protection of WWII and older designs.
Most navies also include many types of support and auxiliary vessels, such as minesweepers, patrol boats and offshore patrol vessels.

Types of warship

See also

warship in Danish: Krigsskib
warship in German: Kriegsschiff
warship in Estonian: Sõjalaev
warship in Modern Greek (1453-): Πολεμικό Πλοίο
warship in Spanish: Buque de guerra
warship in French: Navire de guerre
warship in Korean: 군함
warship in Croatian: Ratni brod
warship in Indonesian: Kapal Perang
warship in Hebrew: ספינת מלחמה
warship in Lithuanian: Karo laivas
warship in Hungarian: Hadihajó
warship in Malay (macrolanguage): Kapal perang
warship in Dutch: Oorlogsschip
warship in Japanese: 軍艦
warship in Polish: Okręt
warship in Portuguese: Navio de guerra
warship in Simple English: Warship
warship in Slovenian: Vojne ladje
warship in Serbian: Ратни брод
warship in Finnish: Sotalaiva
warship in Swedish: Örlogsfartyg
warship in Vietnamese: Tàu chiến
warship in Turkish: Savaş gemisi
warship in Ukrainian: Військові кораблі
warship in Chinese: 军舰
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