The Pacific is by far the largest ocean. It is the Atlantic, however, where most important naval battles were fought. This is largely a reflection of the fact that China showed very little interest in either trade with the West and naval expansion. Chinese emperors did not saw little of value from outside their famulously wealthy domains. Their major concern was focus was a land problem--keeping the barbarians to the north out which resulted in the Great Wall. In contrast, several European countries as soon as technology permitted it, showed considerable interest in overseas trade and ultimately expansion. At first this largely meant access to the marvelous products of the East. As a result the countries of Western Europe fought countless sea battles in the Atlantic. In the 20th century, the outcome of thec two world wars would be dtermined by comtrol of the Atlantic sea lnes. And the largest naval war in history was fought in the vast Pacific. We know that armies came first because significant technological advances before navies could come into place. Battles cannot be fought from floating logs. None of the great river valley cultures, the beginning of civilizations, were notable for building large navies. The first great naval power was the Phoenecians. It is notable that great fleets were built from the two major Mediterranean peninsulas (Greece and Rome). Persia became a great naval power, but somehow failed to defeat the Greeks with a much smaller fleet. Athens and its fleet failed to defeat the Spartans, but it was not until the Romans built a fleet that they were able to defeat the Carthaginians. The center of Western history for two millenia was the Mediterranean. Europeans once outside the Mediterraneam clung largely to coastal waters, not daring to challenge the great unknown. The Arabs never challenged Byzantine mastery of the Mediterranean, but the Ottomans did and their mastery of naval arts finally enable them to take Constantinople. This set up a climatic 50-year struggle for mastery of the Mediterranean ending at Lepanto (1571). Lepanto marked not only the beginning of Ottoman decline, but also the largest, but last great battle of galleys. While a hugely important battle, the locus of European history had already shifted West to the Atlantic. The countries of Western Rurope had opened sea routes to Asia and vegun to collonize the Americas. Mastery of the Atlantic would be the cental issue in subsequent European history.
The Pacific is by far the largest ocean. It is the Atlantic, however, where most important naval battles were fought. This is largely a reflection of the fact that China showed very little interest in either trade with the West and naval expansion. Chinese emperors did not saw little of value from outside their famulously wealthy domains. Their major concern was focus was a land problem--keeping the barbarians to the north out which resulted in the Great Wall.
In contrast, several European countries as soon as technology permitted it, showed considerable interest in overseas trade and ultimately expansion. The first Western naval battles were fought in the Mediterranean, in part because of limits of naval technology and the fact that the locus of the Western world was around the Mediterranean. There were naval wars in the Mediterranean, but these were limited by the fact that Rome after defeating Carthage was so dominant. At first this largely meant access to the marvelous products of the East. As a result, the countries of Western Europe fought countless sea battles in the Atlantic. Thus for five centuries, the Alantic woukd be iun the words of one historian--'the cockpit of history'. Ultimately these battles would lead to the dominance of the British Royal Navy and in the 20th century, the allied U.S. Navy. In the 20th century, the outcome of the two world wars would be determined largely by control of the Atlantic sea lanes. The first important naval battle fought in the Pacific was Tsushima (1904) which marked the emergence of Japan as a world power. This, however, was only a minor prelude to the Pacific War. The largest naval war in history was fought in the vast Pacific. The last major war in the Mediterranean was Lepanto (1571) until World War II. Naval warfare in the Indian Ocean was limited because the Arabs were so domimnnt for an etended period and did not press technological innovation. This ended at Diu with the victory of the Eiropeans with modern technology (1509). There after, the warring countries in both the Indian and Pacific Oceans were Europeans who mostly fought their battles in the Atlantic.
Battles cannot be fought from floating logs. None of the great river valley cultures, the beginning of civilizations, were notable for building large navies. The first great naval power was the Phoenecians. It is notable that great fleets were built from the two major Mediterranean peninsulas (Greece and Rome). Persia became a great naval power, but somehow failed to defeat the Greeks with a much smaller fleet. Athens and its fleet failed to defeat the Spartans, but it was not until the Romans built a fleet that they were able to defeat the Carthaginians. The center of Western history for two millenia was the Mediterranean. Europeans once outside the Mediterraneam clung largely to coastal waters, not daring to challenge the great unknown. The Arabs never challenged Byzantine mastery of the Mediterranean, but the Ottomans did and their mastery of naval arts finally enable them to take Constantinople. This set up a climatic 50-year struggle for mastery of the Mediterranean ending at Lepanto (1571). Lepanto marked not only the beginning of Ottoman decline, but also the largest, but last great battle of galleys. While a hugely important battle, the locus of European history had already shifted West to the Atlantic. The countries of Western Rurope had opened sea routes to Asia and vegun to collonize the Americas. Mastery of the Atlantic would be the cental issue in subsequent European history.
War developed first on land, as far as we can tell conflicts betweern neighboring city states over land. This occured at babout the same time as writing, so there vis a gistoricl record. Ar the time boats of any size let alone ships did not exist. And to fightba naval war, ;atforms are needed. War at sea did not appear until long distance commerce developed. First we needed ships and once ships were developed, we then have the platforms ior wageing war. Early land wars were usually about land, but as commerce developed controling trade routes also became important. And this became the main reason for naval battles. The naval battles oi the ancient world were fought withn galleys--meaning shipd powerv by banks of rowers. Thrroughout the ancient era (Mesopotamia, Ancient Persia, Ancient Greece and the Roman Empire), warships were always galleys. And with the galleys, the ship itself was the main weapon, galleys had massive neral rams at ther vbow, which were used tonram opposing galleys. Notice we are only talking about the Mediteranean world. There does not seem to be the same development of baval war fare in othrer world civiilizatiion centers (Chuna, India, and the Americas). There does not seem to have been a great deal of of vessel specialization. This would not change for two milennium. The man pwered galleys were finally replaced with thevage of sails (15th century). Sail greatly expanded the range od voyages, making possibe the European voyages of discovery. And with sail power, the ship is no longer the actual weepon. The ship is transformed into a platform to engage with the same weapons used in land warfare. And those weapons soon became primarily artillery. And along with sail power we have a flowering of vessel types. Basically we have slow, lumbering but powerful ships-of-the-line and the weak, but fast frigates. Other vessel types appeared. The industrail Revolution brought first iron-clads and then steel-hulled ships power by first coal, and then oil and eventually nuclear power. And with steel ships and poewerful engines we have the even greater specialization of ships.
The predecessor of the modern battleship was the ancient and medieval galley. Next was the ship-of-the-line in the age of sail. And finally we have the powerful modern battleship. The galleys (biremes, triremes, and quinqueremes) powered by men--long banks of oarsmen, The ship itself was the weapon. They were were long, narrow vessels with a powerful metal ram at the bow. This was used to ram and batter a hole in enemy ships. The ram was supplemented by Greek fire and catapults along with the arrows and swords of armned men on the galleys, but the main weapon was the ram.
The Age of Sail brought about ship-of the-lines which had weapory consisting of cannons which fired solid shot. This was the ships that still shot it out until well after Trafalgur (1805) which left the Royal Navy dominamt at sea for the rest of the century. British Naval doctrine was to have a fleet superior to the two next largest navies. This was possible becuase of the walth from Britain's vast colonial empire and the fact that Britain began the Industrial Revilution, the Royal Navy playing a not incomsiderable role. Naval engineering and ordinamv had not changed appreciablt since the advent of the age of sale (16th century). Major changes followerd Tafalgar. First propulsion began to change from sail to steam enginrs and eventually the steam tubine. Second weaponty changed from cose quarteres cannon to rifeled naval artillert that could engage the eneny at distance. Third the ordinance changed from solid shot to exploding shells. Fourth armor was added. Initiall iron cladding of wooden ships and then steel hull construction. With these changes, the ship-of-the line by thetrurn-of the 20th century was trandformed into the nodern battle ship. And as other countries industrailized, other counties begain building battleship fleets, because naval doctrine of the day equated battkeships with naval power. They were the super weapins if tge day. And as they were very expebsive, only major industrial countries had the technolog band financing to build them. France, Spain, and the Dutch had traditionally been Britain's main rivals. This changed in the 20th century as the Dutch and Spain had dropped out of the naval arms race, but three new competitors energed, all rising industrial powers: America, Germany, and Japan. Early battleships were slow, ponderous monstocities bristling with artiller of many calib=bers. This was transforned by HMS Dreadnought. It was an innovation in naval design. Its armament was primarily big guns. long range naval rifles. It had centralized fire control. And it hads powerful steam turnine engines which despite the massive size gave it great speed. Dreadnought was still coal fired, butbsoon after Britain ans America shifted to oil. Germny did not because it had no important domestic source of oil and unlike the British did not control the seas, aloowing it to import in times of crisis. Dreadnought had an unintended consequence, it not oinly made the battleships of oposing navies obsolete, it made the Royak Navy's huge fleet of pre-Dreadnoughts obsolete. This eased the task of other countries to catch up to the British Royal Navy. They did not have to build ships to match the entire Royal Navy, only the new British Dreadnoughts. Here the major such rivals were America and Germany. And although it was not in Germany's interest the Kaiser who since boyhood has envied his Grandmother's fleet was interested in doing just that. When World War I war broke out, America and Germany had a more modern fleet than Britain. Even so, the Germans could not overcome the numerical superority of the British fleet which it showed at Jutland (1916). This meant that the British battleships effectivelly enforced a naval blockade on Germany that over time had a major impact on the War. Three new types of ships emerged at about the same time as Dreadnought. The first two was destroyers and submarines. They were made possible because of the emergence of a new weapoon-- the torpedo. This gave these samall inexpensive ships the capability to sink battleships. While only one major fleet engagement was fought during the War subs and destoyers along with other escorts fought it out at sea for the 4 years of the War. It was not the battleships of the German High Seas Fleet that was a major challenge to Britain--it was the U-boats. The major powers after the War decidedv to limit naval construction to avoid another costly arms race (1922). Although the Japanese were offended, it was actually to theirv advantage becuse it helped them catch up with America and Britain. It also led to cheating by Germany and Japan--leading to the massive German and Japanese battleshios: Bimarck and Terpitz and Yamato and Musachi. All of these massive battleships would fall prey to aircraft, mostly carrier aircraft. Another new ship type emerged at the end of World War I--the aircraft carrier which made the battleship obsolete, although this was not fully understood and resisted by the big-gun admirals until after Pearl Harbor (1941). As a resuly, battleships did play a role in World War II. Battleships fought it out off Europe, largely because of the definciencies of British naval avition. Germany dismissed the U.S. Navy in World War I and paid a price. Germany mafe the same mistake in World War II and paid an even greater price. In the Pacific it was carrier warfare that decided the issue. Japanese carriers achieved a brilliant victory at Pearl Hatbor, but in the end mostly damaged the largely obsolete battleships at Pearl. While the Japanese began with an advantage, they were soon overwhealmed by the emense industrial power of the United States abnd the resulting torrent of Essex class carrriers and advanced aircraft that poured out of American shipyards and factories. Battleships played a role in Pacific War, nut not the central role That Amrerican and Japanese admirals expected.
The aircradt carrier was one of the revolkutiinary new ship classes that appeared at the turn of the 20th century. It was the perfection of the torpedo that made srstriters and submarines possible. It was of course the the invention of the airplane by the Wright Brothers brothers (1903) that mnade the aircraft carrier possible. The original Wrught Flyer was a fragil craft, but in only a few years nabies were experimenhting nwith flying aircraft off shios (1909). Aircradt played a role in World War I, but the development of the aircraft carrier had not reached a stage of creating a weapon system of any importance. It would not have affected the inland battle fields--Eastern or Western fronts. Varroiers could have assisted in the U-boat campaign, but planes were only achieving needed capabilities by the end of the War. During the inter-War era, the development of the aircraft carrier and naval aviatiin was limited by a general desire for peace vand the resistance of the nug0gun admirals that dominated all navies. Ironically, one decelopment that aided naval aviation was the Washingron Naval Limitations Talks (1921-22). The limitations on battleshio condstruction meantbthat several hulls unserconstruction or in service had to be scarpped. This mean that the American and British navie had hulls that had to be either scrapped or converted to carriers. Only three countries (America, Britain, and Japan) pursued naval aviation in the inter-War era. All three developing operational carrier forces. The Bri=tish, hoiwever failed to develop modern carrier aircradt. Fortunhately for the British, the Germans never comoleted the one carrier it began to build. Unlike World War I, carriers olayed a major role in World War II, especially in the Pacific. The Japamese failed to find the American carriers at Pearl, but they had the best aircraft, pilots, and carrier operations. They lost that advantage at Midway and thus their string of victories ended (June 1942). Ajmerica's ability to sdtrike back was limited, but this cganged dramtocally as the new Essex class carriers and advances aircradty began reaching bthe Fleet. Carriers were not bas imprtant in the Alantic, primarily because the British had osolete carrier aircradt. They duid play ba role in the Medurarranean condlict and jeep (esciort carriers) played an imortant role in defeating the U-boat menace. After the War, many carriers were duiscommisioined. Naval stratehists devated the viavility of the carrier as a a viable shio tyoe orveven the tole of ythe Bavy in the future. The carrier played a rolr in Kirea and Bietnam and prohecting American power in many small crises.
Cruiser history is somewhat cimplicated by the fact that the term 'cruise' for centuries until the late-19th cenntury was a function or mission rather than a type of ship. Navies used thevterm cruise with a range of meanings. During the Age of Sail, the term cruise wasgenrrally used to describe missiiojs. such as scouting, commerce protection, or raiding. These were missions in nwhich spped was important and for which slow, plodding ships-of-the line were ill suited. The ships fufilling these roles were figates and sloops. A sloop was essentially a small frigate. The frigate was smaller and less heavily armed, but faster than a ship-od-the line. It was not until after the mid-19th centuries tat thevtrm cruiser beganb to be vused as a type of ship. In the U.S,. Navy the first use was the armored cruisers ordered (1870s), but not actually built until later. The Brittish began buiklding battle cruisers, meaning fast ships with battkleship biguns, but with weak armor to achirve speed. As the sizev of battleships increased, the cruiser emerged as a destinct smaller vessel type with smalle vguns than a battleshipm but larger vthan a destroyer. Speed which was the key to figates as fast nattleships were built with powerful engines. Cruisers could be quite varies and eventially became classified as light band heavy cruisers. The German World War II pocket battle ships were basically heavy cruisers, albeit wuth heacier vgunbs, but lighter armor. The Washington Naval Treaty placed a formal limit on cruisers (1922). They were defined as warships of up to 10,000 tons displacement carrying guns no larger than 8 inches in calibre. Heavy cruisers had 8-inch guns, while those with guns of 6.1 inches or less were light cruisers. After World War II, the battleship became obsolete which meant that the cruiser is now the largest and most most powerful surface ship beyond the aircraft carrier. The role of the modern cruiser varies deoending on the design of the ship and the national navy, Thev orimary dunctiin is a platform for missles. imcluding air defense and shore bombardment using cruise missles.
Destroyers and other escort craft first appeared in World War I, although precursors date back to the late-19th century. They had light guns, but armed with torpedoes they could destroy much larger ships like cruisers and do great damage to battleships. The United States and Britain built large numbers of destroyers in World War I,in part to deal with the U-Boat threat. The U.S. Navy did little to improve destroyer technology after Woirld War I. The Japanese on the other hand built a substantial fleet of modern destroyers. The German built a small, but excellent destroyer force. With the outbreak of World War II, the British suddenly needed destroyers. The British Royal Navy needed destroyers and covettes in large numbers, both for fleet operations and escorts in the Battle of the Atlantic. The United States provided mothballed destroyers in the Destroyers for Bases deal. American destroyers were used for an undeclared war in the North Atlanic before America entered the Wr. The Royal Canadian Navy of mostly destroyers and corvdttes was virtually built from the ground up to escort the Atlantic convoys. The Japanese introduced their 'special type' destroyers more than a decade before the War began. They were thus at ghe time the Pearl Harbor attack oropelled America into the Pacific War, the most modern and largest destroyers in the Pacific and played an important role in early Japanese victories, both in the Dutch East Indies and the Solomons. The Germans had some excellent destroyers, but most were lost in the invasion of Norway which subsequently weakened the Kreigsmarine's ability to support the planned Operation Sea Lion invasion. The American answer was the Fletcher-class destroyer. They began reaching the fleet after Midway (June 1942). It was a large flush-deck 2,100-tonner. It rapidly became the back bone of the American destroyer fleet in both the Pacific and Atlantic. The Fletchers evebn plsyed z key role in the D-Day landings. The most important naval campaign of the War was fought in the North Atlantic against the German U-boats which were defeated by a combined effort of the U.S. Navy , the British Royal Navy, and the Royal Canadian Navy. Destroyer esorts were developed for convoy duty and jeep carriers provuide air cover in the mid-ocean gap. By World War II they were multiple purpose ships doing patrol and escorts duties. All of navies had destroyers. The initinal idea of protecting capital ships and convoys was greatly expanded. The United States in addituin to the Fletchers deployed large numbers of destroyer escorts which played an important role as pickets protecting major fleet operations.
An entirely new class of ship rapidly developed--the landing ship. Many new vessel types emerged during the War, including PT-boats and a variety of landing craft. Ships like the Landing Ship Tant (LST), better known as Large Slow Targets revolutionized amphibious operations.
The >Motor Torpedo Boat (MTB) was a new class of naval vessels which appeared in the run up to Wlorld War II. MTB was the designtion given by the British Royal Navy to fast torpedo boats. The 'motor' in the MTB designation referred to the gasoline (petrol) engines which were used rather than the steam turbines or reciprocating steam enginesused on larger naval ships. MTBs were small craft and thus called boats rather than ships. In some ways they replaced gunboats, but actually were radically differnt as hey were not equipped with artilleru, but did have guns. But they we true naval vessels because they had the offensive punch to take on even major naval vessels. The destroyer had been created before World War I as way of delivering torpedoes in a naval battle. This gave a very small, but highly maneuverable assettg the capability of destroying a major enemy target, even a capital ship. The MTB took this a step further. The MTB was essentially a torpedo launcher without a ship attached, although the additions of guns allowed it to serve many other purposes such as patrol and interdiction. The potential of the MTB was shown when German E-Boats encounteted American landing craft traoning for D-Day. The best known MTBs were the American Patrol, Torpedo (PT)-boats in the Pacific. Unlike the Royal Navy nesination, the U.S, Navy used a hull frather than engine clasifucation. With the damage to the Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor, the U.S. Navy had to adopt innovative tactics, and for some time one of the few resources was a hanful of PT-boats in the Ohilippines. They were dployed in greater numbers in the Solomons and played a critical role there before the arrival of larger ships. They were, however, highly vulnerable craft. PT-boats were made of plywood. his made them easy to build, a huge advantage in the first year of the War, but very vulnerable. One historian describes what happend to the nost famous PT-boat of the War--the PT-109 commaznded by furure president John F. Kennedy. "The [Japanese] destoyer struck the PT near the forward machine gunstation and sliced throuhh the boat at a sharp angle. The sound of cracking wood suddenly pierced through the night. The starboard side of the 109 was sheared off from a point near the forward torpedo tube all the way aft, and one of the engines was knocked away. Flanes shot through the air in a brilliant explosion as the boat's high octane gasoline ignited from a ruptured fuel tank." [Domagalski]
There were experiments with submarine craft as early as the Rrvolutionary War and againin the American Civil War. These were not true submnarinesm but rather surface craft which could submerge. This cvontinued to be the case during both world wars. Only with the turn-of-the 20th cenhtury did the sinmarine become a viable ship type. This is because the torpedo was finally developed as an effective weapn. Onoly with the torpedo did a weapon exist that coukld bevdelivered wheb tge sub was underwater and at some distance. Most major navies began adding subnarines to their fleets. Subs had the ability to destroy large surface craft, but were relativeky slow and had limited ranges which limited their ability to participate in fleet actions. It soon became apparenrt that submaines were well suited to procecute a commerce war against a country which had a large navy, even a dominant navy. This of course almost by definition meant that German U-boats would attempt to cut Britain's Atlantic lifelines. Ultimately the German U-voat campaign failed. British technoloogy (sonar) and the convoy system defeated the U-boats. The main achuevement of the U-boats was to bring the Inited Stres into the War (1917). Ironically this would bring the U.S. Navy and secveral hundred destroyers and other escorts into the War. The American cdesriyers began arriving in only a few weeks (May 1917). In would take the American Expeditionary Force (AED) a year to be createdv and go intio action in France (April 1918). Improvements were made in the inter-War er, but the technology reamimned basically the same. Again the Germans in a href="/essay/war/ww2/tech/nav/ship/w2tns-sub.html">World War II began to cut Britains sea lifelines. And again technology combined with air cover defeated the Germans. The Americans not only could nuild ships faster than gthat the Germans could sink them, bur with the British and Cabadians mnade crewing the U-boats the most dangerous service of Wirld War II. The only effective sunmarine campaign of the War was conducted by the Amerivans who got off to a sloe start, pru=imarily bcuse theur toroedies often did not explode. Once that definciency was corrected, American submariners at great cost cut off the war industries of the Home Islands from the vital materials of the conquered Southern Resource Zone. The Japanese had a substantial submarine force of their own. In contrast to the Americans, the Japanese ignored German advise about a Pacific commerce war and focused on sinking war ships. They had some success, mostly in 1942, but aftewards Japanese subs were largely wasted by being used to deliver pitifully small quantities of supplies to isolated island garisons.
Cargo vessels are not normally consideees mikitary vessels. Normamlly a countrty just used existing cargo vessels to keep their economies functioning. Thus the ability to sustain the war effort was based on the continuing acvtility for the merchnat marine to functtion. Actually in war time a larger merchant marine was reuired. And this was escpecially the case of World War II because the war was fought over great distances and the duration of the War. Thrughout the War, the largest constraint on the Western Allies was the availablilirt of shipping. A major problem for the British Desert Army as that nmost of its equipment and supplies had to sail around the Cape of Good Hope. This was a major problem for the Pacufic War. It took theree times the dshipping to deliver supplies to Amerivan foirces in the Pacific, compared to the European theater because of the distannces involved. This and the lisses to the German raiders andv U-boats sifnificantky affected te Allioed war effort. And thus the Liberty Ships played a major role in the war effort.
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