Ship of the line From a carrack to a blockship

Download 97.08 Kb.
Date conversion29.04.2016
Size97.08 Kb.

Ship of the line

From a carrack to a blockship

By Eugene Gluzman

School ,,Vzmakh”




Prologue. Ship of the line.................................................4

Chapter I. Origins……………………………………5

  1. Great ships, carracks and galleons………………………5

  2. Adoption of the line-of-battle………………………………7

Chapter II. Evolution of design in 17th and 18th century………………………………….8

  1. Ship of the line standards………………..8

  2. 74-gunned ships………………………………………………8

  3. Razees……………………….9

Chapter III. Advantages of Royal navy …………..10

  1. British navy supremacy through the Napoleon wars …………….10

  2. Results of the Napoleon wars……………………………………….10

  3. Rating system in the British Navy during the Napoleon wars…11

Chapter IV. Steam power……………………………11

  1. First steamships and paddle steamers…………………….11

  2. Blockships……………………………………………………11

  3. Purpose-built steam battleships……………………………12

Chapter V. Conclusion………………………………14

List of terms…………………………………………15


,,Ship of the line”,1995,Saint-Petersburg

School ,,Vzmakh”

By Eugene Gluzman

The aim of my work is to tell about how the most popular type of ship of the 17-19 centuries appeared and changed through the centuries. This type of ships crossed the seas in the most romantic age: the age of buccaneers, the epoch of Great geographical exploring, the age of majestic kings, proud queens, devoted vassals, patriots of their countries...

This topic is very important for the naval history because fleet played a great role in wars in all ages…

I study this theme with great pleasure because I’m fond of naval history and I want to understand finally what the ship of the line was.

I’ve found it out by building up naval history in chronologic way. At first I find out the ship of the line origins, than I look through the 17th-18th centuries-how ship of the line settled on standart types and became a indispensible part of naval history, and at last wrote about age of steam. I hope you’ll enjoy my work…


Ship of the line

HMS Victory -the

only surviving example

of a ship-of-the-line.

A ship-of-the-line was a type of naval warship constructed from the 17th century through the mid-19th century, to take part in the naval tactic known as the line of battle, in which two columns of opposing warships would maneuver to bring the greatest weight of broadside guns to bear. Since these engagements were almost invariably won by the heaviest ships carrying the most powerful guns, the natural progression was to build sailing vessels that were the largest and most powerful of their time.

From the end of the 1840s the introduction of steam power, and hence less dependence on the wind in battle, led to the construction of screw-driven but wooden-hulled ships-of-the-line, and a number of pure sail-driven ships were converted to this propulsion mechanism. However, the introduction of the ironclad frigate in about 1859 led swiftly to the decline of the steam-assisted ships-of-the-line, with the ironclad warship becoming the ancestor of the twentieth century battleship.

I. Origins

1. Great ships, carracks and galleons

* *
*The great ship Henri Grâce à Dieu, from the Anthony Roll*

The origin of the ship-of-the-line can be found in the great ships built by the English in the 15th and 16th centuries, and the similar large carracks built by other European nations at the same time. These vessels, developed from the cogs, which traded in the North Sea and the Baltic, had an advantage over galleys because they had raised platforms called "castles" at bow and stern which could be occupied by archers, who fired down on enemy ships. Over time these castles became higher and larger, and eventually started to be built into the structure of the ship, increasing overall strength.

Mary Rose was an English carrack and one of the first to be able to fire a full broadside of cannons, being well equipped with 78 guns (91 after a 1536 upgrade). Built in Portsmouth, England (1509–1510) she was thought to be named after King Henry VIII's sister Mary and the rose, the Tudor emblem. She was one of the earliest purpose-built warships to serve in the English Navy; it is thought that she never served as a merchant ship. She displaced 500 tons (700 tons after 1536), was 126 feet (38.5 m) long and 38 feet (11.7 m) abeam and her crew consisted of 200 sailors, 185 soldiers, and 30 gunners. Although she was the pride of the English fleet she was accidentally capsized during an engagement with the French July 19th 1545.

*Henri Grâce à Dieu* (French, "Henry Grace of God"), nicknamed "Great Harry", was an English great ship of the 16th century. Contemporary with Mary Rose, Henri Grâce à Dieu was 165 feet (50 m) long, weighing 1,000–1,500 tons and having a complement of 700–1,000. It is said that she was ordered by Henry VIII in response to the Scottish ship Michael, launched in 1511. She was originally built at Woolwich Dockyard from 1512 to 1514 and was one of the first vessels to feature gunports and had twenty of the new heavy bronze cannon, allowing for a broadside. In all she mounted 43 heavy guns and 141 light guns. She was the first English two-decker and when launched she was the largest and most powerful warship in Europe, but she saw little action. She was present at the Battle of the Solent against Francis I of France in 1545 (in which Mary Rose sank) but appears to have been more of a diplomatic vessel, sailing on occasion with sails of gold cloth. Indeed, the great ships were almost as well known for their ornamental design (some ships, like The Vasa, were gilded on its stern scrollwork) as they were for the power they possessed.

These ships were the first used in experiments with carrying large-calibre guns aboard. Because of their higher construction and greater load-bearing ability, this type of vessel was better suited to gunpowder weapons than the galley. Because of their development from Atlantic seagoing vessels, the great ships were more weatherly than galleys and better suited to open waters. The lack of oars meant that large crews were unnecessary, making long journeys more feasible. Their disadvantage was that they were entirely reliant on the wind for mobility. Galleys could still overwhelm great ships, especially when there was little wind and they had a numerical advantage, but as great ships increased in size, galleys became less and less useful.

* *

Another detriment was the high forecastle, which interfered with the sailing qualities of the ship; the bow would be forced low into the water while sailing before the wind. But as guns were introduced and gunfire replaced boarding as the primary means of naval combat during the 16th century, the medieval forecastle was no longer needed, and later ships such as the galleon had only a low, one-deck high forecastle. By the time of the 1637 launching of Britain's powerful *Sovereign of the Seas,* the high forecastle was gone altogether.

From the 16th to 18th century, the great ship and carrack evolved into the galleon, a longer, more maneuverable type of ship, with all the advantages of the great ship. The opposing British and Spanish fleets of the 1588 Spanish Armada were both largely composed of galleons. By the 1710s every major European naval power was building ships like these.

With the growing importance of colonies and exploration and the need to maintain trade routes across stormy oceans, galleys and galleasses (a larger, higher type of galley with side-mounted guns, but lower than a galleon) were used less and less, and by about 1750 had little impact upon naval battles.

Large sailing junks of the Chinese Empire, described by various travellers to the East such as Marco Polo and Niccolò Da Conti, and used during the travels of Admiral Zheng He in the early 15th century, were contemporaries of such European vessels. Chinese Junks carried cannon as well as other weapons unfavoured in the west but because of their construction and wider beam ends, were not as vulnerable to being fired on at the bow and stern as European ships were, and as a result there was no impetus to develop similar tactics. By the time European powers were capable of sending ships to Chinese waters, Chinese isolationism had resulted in these developments being abandoned and forgotten, and construction halted on all but the smallest types of Junks so that what they encountered were coastal defence ships comparable to European Sloops and not the 137 m (450 ft) long and 55 m (180 ft) wide Treasure Ships Admiral Zheng He commanded.

2. Adoption of the line-of-battle

In the early to mid 17th century, new fighting techniques came to be used by several navies, in particular those of England and the Netherlands. Previously battles had usually been fought by great fleets of ships closing with each other and fighting it out in whatever arrangement they found themselves, often using boarding. However, the further development of guns and the adoption of broadside arrangements of guns required a change of tactics. With the broadside the decisive weapon, tactics evolved to ensure as many ships could fire broadside as possible. The line-of-battle tactic required ships to form long single-file lines, and close with the enemy fleet on the same tack, battering the other fleet until one side had had enough and retreated. Any maneuvers would be carried out with the ships remaining in line for mutual protection.

In order that this order of battle, this long thin line of guns, may not be injured or broken at some point weaker than the rest, there is at the same time felt the necessity of putting in it only ships which, if not of equal force, have at least equally strong sides. Logically it follows, at the same moment in which the line ahead became definitively the order for battle, there was established the distinction between the ships 'of the line,' alone destined for a place therein, and the lighter ships meant for other uses. Examples of the latter include acting as scouts and relaying signals between the flagship and the rest of the fleet since, from the flagship, only a small part of the line would be in clear sight.

The adoption of line of battle tactics had consequences for ship design. The height advantage given by the castles fore and aft was reduced, now that hand-to-hand combat was less essential. The need to maneuver in battle made the top-weight of the castles more of a disadvantage. So they shrank, making the ship-of-the-line lighter and more maneuverable than its forebears for the same combat power. As an added consequence, the hull itself grew larger, allowing the size and number of guns to increase as well.

II. Evolution of design in the 17th and 18th centuries

1. Ship of the line standarts

* *

*Mahmudiye* (1829), ordered by the Ottoman Sultan Mahmud II and built by the Imperial Naval Arsenal on the Golden Horn in Istanbul, was for many years the largest warship in the world. The 62x17x7 m ship-of-the-line was armed with 128 cannons on 3 decks. She participated in many important naval battles, including the Siege of Sevastopol (1854-1855) during the Crimean War (1854-1856). She was decommissioned in 1875.
In the 17th century fleets could consist of almost a hundred ships of various sizes, but by the mid 18th century, ship-of-the-line design had settled on a few standard types: older two-deckers (i.e. with two complete decks of guns firing through side ports) of 50 guns (which were too weak for the battle-line but could be used to escort convoys), two-deckers of between 64 and 90 guns which formed the main part of the fleet, and larger three- or even four-deckers with 98 – 140 guns which were used as admirals' command ships. Fleets consisting of perhaps 10 – 25 of these ships with their attendant supply ships and scouting and messenger frigates kept control of the sea-lanes for major European naval powers whilst restricting sea-borne trade of enemies.

* *

The ,,French Valmy (1847), the largest ship-of-the-line ever built

The largest sailing three-decker ship of the line ever built was the The ,,French Valmy, launched in 1847. She had right sides, which increased significantly the space available for upper batteries, but reduced the stability of the ship; wooden stabilizers were added under the waterline to address the issue. *Valmy*was thought to be the largest sort of sailing ship possible, as larger dimensions made the maneuver of riggings impractical with mere manpower. She participated in the Crimean War, and after her return to France later housed the French Naval Academy under the name Borda from 1864 to 1890.

2. 74-gunned ships

The most common size of sail ship of the line was the "74" (so named for having 74 guns), originally developed by France in the 1730s, and later adopted by all battleship navies. Until this time the British had 6 sizes of ship of the line, and they found that their smaller 50- and 60-gun ships were becoming too small for the battle-line, while their 80s and over were 3-deckers and therefore unwieldy and unstable in heavy seas. Their best were 70-gun 2-deckers of about 150 ft (46 m) long on the gundeck, while the new French 74s were around 170 ft (52 m) In 1747 the British captured a few of these French ships during the War of Austrian Succession. In the next decade Thomas Slade (Surveyor of the Navy from 1755, along with co-Surveyor William Bately) broke away from the past and designed several new classes of 168ft-170ft 74s to compete with these French designs, starting with the Dublin and Bellona classes. Their successors gradually improved handling and size through the 1780s. Other navies ended up building 74s also as they had the right balance between offensive power, cost, and maneuverability. Eventually around half of Britain's ships of the line were 74s. Larger vessels were still built, as command ships, but they were more useful only if they could definitely get close to an enemy, rather than in a battle involving chasing or maneuvering. The 74 remained the favoured ship until 1811, when Seppings's method of construction enabled bigger ships to be built with more stability.

3. Razees

In a few ships the design was altered long after the ship was launched and in service. In the Royal Navy smaller two-deck 74 or 64 gun ships-of-the-line which could not be used safely in fleet actions had their upper decks removed (or razeed), resulting in a very stout, single gun-deck warship which was called a razee. The resulting razeed ship could be classed as a frigate and was still much stronger. The most successful razeed ship in the Royal Navy was HMS Indefatigable which was commanded by Sir Edward Pellew.

III. Advantages of Royal navy

1. British navy supremacy through the Napoleon wars

Although Spain, the Netherlands and France built huge fleets, and even in France's case with better ships, they were rarely able to match the skill of British naval crews. British crews excelled, in part, because they spent much more time at sea, were generally better fed, were well trained in gunnery (allowing a faster rate of fire), and were generally more competent as the Royal Navy based promotion much more on merit rather than purchase. Traditionally neglecting the British Army, which, historically, has usually been smaller than the armies of comparably prominent continental countries, Britain devoted more resources to her prized navy.

During the Napoleonic Wars, Britain defeated Europe's major naval powers at battles such as at Copenhagen, Cape St. Vincent, Aboukir ("The Nile") and Trafalgar, allowing the Royal Navy to establish itself as the world's primary naval power. Spain, Denmark and Portugal largely stopped building ships of the line during this time under duress from the British. Britain emerged from the Napoleonic Wars in 1815 with the largest and most professional navy in the world, composed of hundreds of wooden, sail-powered ships of all sizes and classes. The Royal Navy had complete naval supremacy across the world following the Napoleonic Wars, and demonstrated this superiority during the Crimean War in the 1850s.

2. Results of the Napoleon wars

Nonetheless, the Napoleonic Wars, as well as the American War of 1812, had illustrated the shortcomings of ships-of-the-line when an enemy resorted to tactics including the large-scale use of privateers. Both the French and the Americans had demonstrated what a menace small, lightly-armed, but fast, nimble, and, most especially, numerous vessels like sloops and schooners could be when they spread across the wide oceans, operating singly or in small groups. They targeted the merchant shipping that was Britain's economic lifeblood, and ships-of-the-line were too few, too slow, and too clumsy to be employed against them. Overwhelming firepower was of no use if it could not be brought to bear (the Royal Navy's initial response to Napoleon's privateers, which operated from French New World territories, was to buy Bermuda sloops). Similarly the East India Company's merchant vessels became lightly armed and quite competent in combat during this period, operating a convoy system under an armed merchantman.

3. Rating system as in force in the British Navy

During the Napoleonic Wars




Gun decks


Approximate Burthen in tons*

In Commission 1794

In Commission 1814

Ship of the line

1st Rate

100 to 120


850 to 875




2nd Rate

90 to 98


700 to 750

about 2,200



3rd Rate

64 to 80


500 to 650




4th Rate

48 to 60


320 to 420

about 1,000



Frigate,brig etc.

5th Rate

32 to 44

1 or 2

200 to 300

700 to 1,450



6th Rate

20 to 28


140 to 200

450 to 550





16 to 18


90 to 125




Cogs,Luggers,merchant ships,cutters etc.

6 to 14


5 to 25

< 220

IV. Steam power

1. First steamships and paddle steamers

The first major change to the ship-of-the-line concept was the introduction of steam power as an auxiliary propulsion system. The first military uses of steamships came in the 1810s, and in the 1820s a number of navies experimented with paddle steamer warships. Their use spread in the 1830s, with paddle-steamer warships participating in conflicts like the First Opium War alongside ships-of-the-line and frigates.

Paddle steamers, however, had major disadvantages. The paddle-wheel above the waterline was exposed to enemy fire, while itself preventing the ship from firing broadsides effectively. During the 1840s, the screw propeller emerged as the most likely method of steam propulsion, with both Britain and the USA launching screw-propelled warships in 1843. Through the 1840s, the British and French navies launched increasingly larger and more powerful screw ships, alongside sail-powered ships of the line.

2. Blockships

In 1845, Viscount Palmerston gave an indication of the role of the new steamships in tense Anglo-French relations, describing the English Channel as a "steam bridge", rather than a barrier to French invasion. It was partly because of the fear of war with France that the Royal Navy converted several old 74-gun ships-of-the-line into 60-gun steam-powered blockships, starting in 1845. The blockships were "originally conceived as steam batteries solely for harbour defence, but in September 1845 they were given a reduced [sailing] rig rather than none at all, to make them sea-going ships... The blockships were to be a cost-effective experiment of great value". They subsequently gave good service in the Crimean War.

3. Purpose-built steam battleships

* *

*Le Napoléon* (1850), the first steam battleship

The French Navy, however, developed the first purpose-built steam battleship, with the 90-gun Le Napoléon in 1850. She is also considered the first true steam battleship, and the first screw battleship ever. Le Napoleon was armed as a conventional ship-of-the-line, but her steam engines could give her a speed of 12 knots (22 km/h), regardless of the wind conditions: a potentially decisive advantage in a naval engagement.

Eight sister-ships to Le Napoléon were built in France over a period of ten years, as the United Kingdom soon took the lead in production, in number of both purpose-built and converted units. Altogether, France built 10 new wooden steam battleships and converted 28 from older battleship units, while the United Kingdom built 18 and converted 41.

In the end, France and Britain were the only two countries to develop fleets of wooden steam screw battleships, although several other navies made some use of a mixture of screw battleships and paddle-steamer frigates. These included Russia, Turkey, Sweden, Naples, Prussia, Denmark and Austria.

During the mid 19th century the ship-of-the-line was made obsolete by the ironclad warship, a vessel armored in iron plate and propelled by the steam engine which enabled it to better choose its placement in battle. New guns would simultaneously appear as well, and be carried by both wooden and ironclad ships, but the obsolescence of the ship-of-the-line, indeed of all wooden warships, was not fully realized until March 8, 1862 during the first day of the Battle of Hampton Roads, when two powerful wooden warships were sunk and destroyed outright by the Confederate ironclad CSS Virginia. However, the power implied by the ship-of-the-line would find its way into the ironclad, which would develop during the next few decades into the concept of the modern battleship.

V. Conclusion

So, you are at the end of my work…Now we see how ship of the line evolved from the beginning of the New time to the rise of machinery... We see that at first ship of the line was just a vessel with a ,,castle”at stern, then a small maneuverable ship or a three-gun-decked monster and at last a steam giant.

As you see ship of the line was really important for trading, exploring, many wars wouldn’t be won without naval support...This type of the ship gave a push to progress , modern battleships were developed from this type of ships. Many powerful nations of that time based their political and economical strength on their navies.

History knows many cases when supremacy on the sea changed position of the nation in the world!

The adoption of steam power was only one of a number of technological advances which revolutionized warship design in the 19th century. The ship of the line was overtaken by the ironclad: powered by steam, protected by metal armor, and armed with guns firing high-explosive shells.

List of terms

Ship of the line - was a type of naval warship constructed from the 17th century through the mid-19th century, to take part in the naval tactic known as the line of battle.

Line of battle - a naval tactic in which two columns of opposing warships would maneuver to bring the greatest weight of broadside guns to bear.

Carrack - a three or four-masted sailing ship developed in the Atlantic Ocean in the 15th century by the Portuguese.

Cog - a type of ship fitted with a single mast and a square-rigged single sail.

Galley - is a ship which can be propelled entirely by human oarsmen, used for warfare and trade.

Junk - a Chinese sailing vessel used as an ocean going vessel.

Sloop - a sailboat with a fore-and-aft rig and a single mast farther forward than other ships had.

Razee - is a sailing ship that has been cut down (razeed) to reduce the number of decks.

Frigate - a warship which is as long as a ship of the line and were square-rigged on all three masts (full rigged), but were faster and with lighter armament, used for patrolling and escort.

Blockship - a steam-powered ship of the line.

The database is protected by copyright © 2016
send message

    Main page