Classification of warships

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The ranking of warships was based on their ability to "sail in line" in combat. With the development of keel line tactics in the 17th century, England began to designate suitable warships as ships of the line and to classify them into "ranks" ( English : rating of warships ). The decisive factor here was the number of cannons , but also the size of the ship and the associated resilience were included. A ship could change its rank by using different guns.


The ships of the 1st to 4th rank were the actual ships of the line. However, by the middle of the 18th century, the old 50- and 60-gun ships were already considered too weak for the battle line , as were the small 44-gun double-deckers of the 5th rank. Although never intended for the line, the frigates were also classified, namely in 5th and 6th rank. Smaller vehicles up to 18 cannons were not classified.

An example is the ranking (or classification) of the Royal Navy as it was in the 18th century; the divisions of the other navies were very similar.

  1. Rank: 100 and more cannons; Three and four-deckers ; from 2600 t; 850–950 men crew
  2. Rank: 098-90 guns; Triplane; from 2000 t; 750 men crew
  3. Rank: 080–64 guns; Two-decker ; 1300-2000 t; 490–720 men crew
  4. Rank: 060–50 cannons; Two-decker; 1100 t; 350 men crew
  5. Rank: 044–32 guns; Monoplane frigate; 700-900 t; Crew of 215-320 men
  6. Rank: 028–20 guns; Post ship; 550-650 t; 160–200 man crew

Not classified: sloops or corvettes , war cutters, etc.

Sixth rank ships required a captain but were not considered frigates. Sloops were led by a commander in the rank of Master and Commander , later called just a Commander . Smaller units such as cutters , schooners , gunboats etc. were commanded by a commander with the rank of lieutenant , and more rarely by a midshipman .


When calculating the number of guns, only the long-barreled guns were counted, the carronades introduced from 1779 were only counted if they replaced a long-barreled cannon, but not if they were also carried. Carronades were originally not included in the calculation, as they were initially not considered as full-fledged artillery and were placed on the ships as additional armament.


On a 74-gun ship, six additional 32-pounder carronades were installed on the hut deck ; these were not counted, although the ship now carried a total of 80 guns. But if twelve 9-pounder long-barreled guns on the quarterdeck were replaced by twelve 32-pounder carronades, these were still used for the ship's gun count, even if the ship now only had 62 long-barreled cannons. This classification was not dissolved until 1817, after which all cannons were counted, which also increased the rank of many ships. For example, all old 98-gun ships became 1st rank ships.

Also, no rotating guns and similar small arms and no armament in the dinghies were counted. A commander could also have additional guns installed, sometimes his own. These were also not taken into account in the gun count.


  • Rif Winfield: British Warships in the Age of Sail, 1714 to 1792: Design, Construction, Careers and Fates . Seaforth Publishing, Barnsley 2007, ISBN 978-1-84415-700-6 .
  • Rif Winfield: British Warships in the Age of Sail: 1793-1817 . Seaforth Publishing, Barnsley 2008, ISBN 978-1-84415-717-4


  1. ^ Angus Konstam: British Napoleonic Ship-of-the-Line. Osprey Publishing, London 2001, ISBN 978-1-84176-308-8
  2. The name comes from the fact that the ship was commanded by a " post captain ". As a "post captain" officers were (Engl. With the rank of captain captain ) called, to distinguish it from a lieutenant who commanded a ship, or a commander who also a matter of courtesy with captain were called. The origin of the name is unclear. For the term "post captain" see Brian Lavery: Nelson's Navy. Conway Maritime Press, London, 2003 reprint of revised. 1990 edition, ISBN 0-85177-521-7 , p. 98.