The evolution of naval warfare from 17th century to 19th century

Dec 2016
92
Spain
#1
In 17th century during the Anglo-Dutch Wars (1652-1674) there were famous naval battles where many warships were involved, including ships of the line with 80 guns such as De Zeven Provincien, one of the biggest ships of the line that took part in Battle of Texel, a battle with 75 warships in the dutch side and 92 warships in England and French side.

In 18th century during Seven Years War (1756-1763), one of the most famous naval battles was The Battle of Quiberon Bay (1759), a battle with 24 ships of the line in British side and 21 ships of the line in French side. The largest ships of the line had 80 guns such Formidable or Orient.

In early 19th century during Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815) , one of the most famous naval battles was Trafalgar (1805), a battle with 27 ships of the line in British side and 33 ships of the line in Spanish/French side. The largest First-rate ships of the line of the period took part in this battle such as HMS Victory with 104 guns and Nuestra Señora de la Santísima Trinidad with 136 guns.

In later 19th century during Second Schleswig War (1864), the battle of Helgoland took place with 2 frigates and 1 corvette in Danish side and 2 frigates and 2 gunboats in Austrian side. The frigates that took part in the battle had up to 30 guns.

At the end of 19th century during Spanish-American War (1898), the Battle of Manila Bay took place with 4 protected cruisers and 2 gunboats in US side and 2 protected cruisers, 4 cruisers and 2 gunboats in Spanish side. The largest protected cruisers such as USS Olympia had 8 guns.

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As you can see, there was a trend to decrease the number of warships that took part in naval battles from 17th century to 19th century and also the number of guns in largest ships. In later 17th century over 50 warships per side (including many ships of the line) were engaged in naval battles. In later 18th century and early 19th century the number of warships decreased to around 20 warships per side. But in later 19th century and at the end of 19th century just a very small number of warships were engaged in naval battles. Also the number of guns in largest warships had evolved from 80/over 100 guns to 8 guns.

Which were the reasons of the declining of big naval battles in terms of number of warships involved as well as the number of guns that warships had?
 

Chlodio

Ad Honorem
Aug 2016
3,521
Dispargum
#2
Number of ships reduced because the ships were becoming more expensive, at least in the 19th century. Gun counts reduced because ships were getting heavier. Gun weight made up a considerable percentage of the total weight of wooden sailing ships. There's only so much weight a ship can carry and still float. Sails and masts were fairly light, but steam engines and the coal to feed them were much heavier. Also iron was heavier than wood. After the steam engine, the coal, and the iron plating, there was much less allowable weight remaining for the guns. This was partly compensated by the guns becoming more effective. Smooth bore cannon were highly inaccurate. They also inflicted relatively little damage per hit. Wooden sailing ships therefore had to fire a lot of rounds to inflict the necessary damage. Rifled cannon had longer ranges and higher accuracies so they could land more hits even though they were firing fewer rounds. Rifles can also fire cylindrical shells while smooth bores can not. Cylindrical shells allow for an increase in shell weight without increasing the gun's caliber. So not only were rifles landing more hits, those hits inflicted more damage. Then let's add the rotating turret. Before turrets, the guns on the port side could only fire to port while starboard guns could only fire to starboard. With rotating turrets the same guns can fire to either side so you only need half as many guns.
 
Dec 2013
34
Finland
#3
As you can see, there was a trend to decrease the number of warships that took part in naval battles from 17th century to 19th century and also the number of guns in largest ships.

Which were the reasons of the declining of big naval battles in terms of number of warships involved as well as the number of guns that warships had?
Number of warships taking part in some individual battle is dependent on lot of reasons: who's fighting who (which navies are against each other), preceding naval strategy/policy (how many ships are built and to what purpose) etc.

Global politics in naval affairs after Napoleonic wars were that the British ruled the seas - some old naval powers declined (Spain, Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, France) and others arose only at the end of the 19th century (Japan, USA, Germany). Development of technology was a huge factor in this process as a) smaller countries could no longer afford big fleets and b) old fleets become obsolescent, which meant new industrial powers could enter the naval race.

If we look at naval operations, not just naval battles, in the 19th century, number of warships involved did not necessarily decrease when compared to previous centuries - e.g. the Anglo-French fleet that attacked Sveaborg (Helsinki) in 1855, during the Crimean war, consisted of 77 ships. The Russian fleet did not get out of their base in Kronstadt - if they'd done so, you'd have had a naval battle with over 100 ships and a very likely Russian defeat.

Number of guns in a ship was related to technological development and is not connected to the number of ships as such. Tsushima and Jutland just outside your set time frame are examples of large naval battles again (early 20th century).
 

Bart Dale

Ad Honorem
Dec 2009
7,095
#4
In 17th century during the Anglo-Dutch Wars (1652-1674) there were famous naval battles where many warships were involved, including ships of the line with 80 guns such as De Zeven Provincien, one of the biggest ships of the line that took part in Battle of Texel, a battle with 75 warships in the dutch side and 92 warships in England and French side.

In 18th century during Seven Years War (1756-1763), one of the most famous naval battles was The Battle of Quiberon Bay (1759), a battle with 24 ships of the line in British side and 21 ships of the line in French side. The largest ships of the line had 80 guns such Formidable or Orient.

In early 19th century during Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815) , one of the most famous naval battles was Trafalgar (1805), a battle with 27 ships of the line in British side and 33 ships of the line in Spanish/French side. The largest First-rate ships of the line of the period took part in this battle such as HMS Victory with 104 guns and Nuestra Señora de la Santísima Trinidad with 136 guns.

In later 19th century during Second Schleswig War (1864), the battle of Helgoland took place with 2 frigates and 1 corvette in Danish side and 2 frigates and 2 gunboats in Austrian side. The frigates that took part in the battle had up to 30 guns.

At the end of 19th century during Spanish-American War (1898), the Battle of Manila Bay took place with 4 protected cruisers and 2 gunboats in US side and 2 protected cruisers, 4 cruisers and 2 gunboats in Spanish side. The largest protected cruisers such as USS Olympia had 8 guns.

-----------------------------------------

As you can see, there was a trend to decrease the number of warships that took part in naval battles from 17th century to 19th century and also the number of guns in largest ships. In later 17th century over 50 warships per side (including many ships of the line) were engaged in naval battles. In later 18th century and early 19th century the number of warships decreased to around 20 warships per side. But in later 19th century and at the end of 19th century just a very small number of warships were engaged in naval battles. Also the number of guns in largest warships had evolved from 80/over 100 guns to 8 guns.

Which were the reasons of the declining of big naval battles in terms of number of warships involved as well as the number of guns that warships had?

Ships were getting bigger I think, and guns were also. The Monitor only had 2 guns, but they 11 inch Dalgren, equivent to around 150 pounder, twice the size of the HMS Victory largest guns. And it could aim them.ina way the guns of the Victory could not. The Monitor successfully fought the CSS Virgin to a draw, despite the Virginia having far more guns. Mounted on a rotating turret, it could aim its guns in a way that the Virginia could not. Fewer, more effective guns were better than more less effective guns.

The largest ship of the British navy in the 17th century was the Sovereign of the Seas at 1668 tons burthen. The 18th century HMS Victory was 2,142 burthen, ships were.larger. The USS Olympia, one of the protected cruisers at the Battle of Manilla Bay, had a displacement of 5,700 tons, much larger than the HMS Victory displacement mass of 3,500 tons.

So guns get bigger, more powerful, more accurate and fewer in numbers.

Ships get larger, fewer number, faster (end of the 19th century. First iron class were slow.)
 
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sparky

Ad Honorem
Jan 2017
3,847
Sydney
#6
the iron clads were very difficult to sink with gunnery alone ,
this led to the re-invention of ramming by steam powered vessels
the whole mass of the ship would simply breach the hull
this was the design of Charles Ellet and proved most efficient
United States Ram Fleet - Wikipedia

the CSS Virginia resorted to ramming to sink the USN frigate Cumberland
this led to international interest and the Battle of Lissa between Italy and Austria was fought by ramming
Battle of Lissa (1866) - Wikipedia


by the 1880 great progress in naval gunnery and the complete discarding of sails allowed turrets to be installed on the top deck and made the tactic obsolete
 

Bart Dale

Ad Honorem
Dec 2009
7,095
#7
the iron clads were very difficult to sink with gunnery alone ,
this led to the re-invention of ramming by steam powered vessels
the whole mass of the ship would simply breach the hull
this was the design of Charles Ellet and proved most efficient
United States Ram Fleet - Wikipedia

the CSS Virginia resorted to ramming to sink the USN frigate Cumberland
this led to international interest and the Battle of Lissa between Italy and Austria was fought by ramming
Battle of Lissa (1866) - Wikipedia
Ramming was rather a failure and was an example of an idea that looked too on paper but in reality wasn't, yet stupidly persisted for a long time. The Virginia almost sank as a result of her ramming, and her ram broke off in the process , hardly most successful n my book. The Virginia would have been better served by using her guns.

Even when successful, the ramming ship usually damaged itself. The Kaiser was as damaged as the ship it hit, and it they crews had concentrate on using their gun effectively, they would have been better off. The Acona could have blasted the unarnoured Kaiser but they forgot to load the shots in their cannons, because they were no doubt too busy trying to ram the boat.

by the 1880 great progress in naval gunnery and the complete discarding of sails allowed turrets to be installed on the top deck and made the tactic obsolete
No, raming never worked well, and better results would have been achieved if the ships had concentrated on using their guns more effectively. Good captains usually managed to avoid getting rammed, and the ramming ship often exposed itseld to gunfirs. Even when successful, the ramming ship usually suffered some damage.as well.