Battleship, cruiser and destroyer ; what is the difference?

SniperSquad

New Member
Hi. I am often confused when I try to understand the differences between a battleship, a cruiser, a destroyer, a frigate and a corvette. Are there more categories?

Can you explain me why we use them, how we can recognize them and what are their pros and cons?

Thanks for your help!
 

chis73

Active Member
Well it's something of a minefield, as the nomenclature has both changed over time, and different countries can have different names for the same class of ship or the same name as a different class of ship in another navy. There aren't any hard and fast rules. If anything there is perhaps a political trend to class a ship as a lower type to make it sound less offensive (ie. most current frigates could easily be classed as destroyers 20 years ago, and some modern destroyers would pass for cruisers).

Battleship = a large capital ship, well armoured and designed mainly for surface-to-surface, fleet-on-fleet action but were used for shore bombardment as well. Evolved from the age of sail Line-of-Battle ship, through the Pre-Dreadnought, Dreadnought, Super-Dreadnought and Fast Battleship phases. Started becoming obsolescent after WWII. I don't think there are any still in service in any navy.

Cruiser = originally designed for long-range reconnaissance and trade (ie convoy) protection duties detached from the main fleet. In the age of sail, a Frigate would have had the Cruiser role. Various sub classes - Scout / Light / Heavy / Protected / Armoured / Battle. Around WWII, started being used as Fleet Task Group units with specialist roles (ie. Anti-Aircraft). Currently, a Cruiser is a large vessel (usually 10000t+) usually with a specialist role in a Task Group. May have Flag Officer command facilities.

Destroyer = started out as Torpedo Boat Destroyer, fast relatively short ranged vessel that operates with and protects the Capital ships in a Fleet or Task Group. Usually operated in flotillas (ie. as a group), often with a Leader (with command facilities onboard). Evolved their own offensive capabilities with torpedo volleys in WWI - WWII. Nowadays, generally an all-rounder (good anti-air, anti-sub & anti-surface) or a specialist (ie air warfare particularly) guided-missile ship, usually 5000t-10000t.

Frigate = name brought back during WWII to describe a convoy escort. Usually smaller, slower & cheaper than a destroyer, and often specialised (ASW particularly). Used to be 2000t - 5000t, but lately have been getting larger (Type 26 is nearly 9000t). The trend is to now call ships frigates that would have been destroyers 20 years ago (some navies have been doing this a long time eg France). Other names for Frigates include Destroyer Escort, Ocean Escort

Corvette = in WWII, a small coastal escort (ie Flower class). Nowadays, a smallish vessel (maybe 2000t or less), with the armament of a frigate, but short ranged. Favoured by states that only have a small area to protect.

There are many other classes - minesweepers, sloops, patrol boats, OPVs, carriers - to name but a few.


Sorry, that's probably not the greatest explanation in the world, but I hope it helped.

Chis73
 

Redlands18

Well-Known Member
Hi. I am often confused when I try to understand the differences between a battleship, a cruiser, a destroyer, a frigate and a corvette. Are there more categories?

Can you explain me why we use them, how we can recognize them and what are their pros and cons?

Thanks for your help!
You may also come across the term Battlecruiser, which was a ship the size and Firepower of a Battleship but was a lot Faster due to thinner Armour. They were designed to act as heavily armed Scouts for the main battle fleet, unfortunately they had a propensity for blowing up when going toe to toe with similarly Armed Ships. Of the 12 the RN built, three, Invincible, Indefatigable and Queen Mary blew up at Jutland and a 4th, the Hood blew up in the Denmark strait while fighting the Bismarck.
You may hear the Russian Navy Kirov class being referred to as a Battlecruiser, its not. It’s actually closer in concept to a Battleship then a Battlecruiser. But officially referred to as a Cruiser.
 

John Fedup

The Bunker Group
I think Chris’s explanation is right on. WRT destroyers I really think pollies have tried to eliminate this classification by coming up with new names to appease their base support. For example, the RCN’s T-26 is the Canadian Surface Combatant (CSC) ship. At roughly 7,000 tons it is 2000 tons more displacement than the RCN’s Iroquois destroyers from the late 1970s. The current Halifax frigates are about the same, 5000 tons. Pollies here refer to it as the future frigate or CSC.

Safe to say all navy classifications seem to be suffering from obesity. The Zumwalt destroyer at 15,000 tons is a good example. Bigger is probably justified, the nomenclature needs some adjectives like medium and heavy if the term destroyer is too offensive for the pollies.
 

kato

The Bunker Group
Verified Defense Pro
The trend is to now call ships frigates that would have been destroyers 20 years ago (some navies have been doing this a long time eg France).
Technically all French escort ships postwar (... other than the cruisers) have carried D-markings, were reported to NATO as destroyers and were internally called "First Rank frigates" (which has always designated destroyers) or "Squadron Escorts".

Frigates in France in the sense that other NATO navies used the designation were the aviso-escorteurs.
 

Terran

Active Member
In the modern era the parlance is played fast an loose. I mean the Japanese call their carriers Destroyers. The Russian Carrier is actually an Aircraft carrying Cruiser. Some Navies operate one class as a Destroyer others as a Frigate and a third as a Corvette. US Burke class could be classed as a Guided Missile Cruiser and Zumwalt is even bigger yet both are Destroyers. Some of this is due to things as arbitrary as meeting treaty. Others are simply the way that navy thinks. The definitions change so often it’s hard to keep up. The latest versions of ships seem to have dropped the whole scheme for acronyms.

Classifications for the Second World War and First World War were more clear. Yet also more types.
Destroyer Escorts, Armored Cruiser, Merchant Cruiser, ecta. Before that you had Monitors and iron clads then you get back to the age of sail.
 

spoz

The Bunker Group
Technically all French escort ships postwar (... other than the cruisers) have carried D-markings, were reported to NATO as destroyers and were internally called "First Rank frigates" (which has always designated destroyers) or "Squadron Escorts".

Frigates in France in the sense that other NATO navies used the designation were the aviso-escorteurs.
Not quite true in international terms - the La Fayettes for example carry F pennant numbers so they are NATO designation frigates; and certainly in the past their frigates have been numerous. However, there is no doubt that they are moving in that direction.
 

Redlands18

Well-Known Member
Not quite true in international terms - the La Fayettes for example carry F pennant numbers so they are NATO designation frigates; and certainly in the past their frigates have been numerous. However, there is no doubt that they are moving in that direction.
And to further confuse the issue are the FREMMs, it literally stands for European Multi Purpose Frigate but the French Ships carry a D pennant and the Italian Ships a F pennant.
 

Mikeymike

New Member
I always thought different countries used different definitions where that definition is flexible depending on role and politics. This is also tricky with language differences.

For example, Australia uses Destroyers for the Anti-Air focused role while using Frigate for the Anti-sub focused role. Combination of what role they are focused on and political, in that the Future Frigate (Hunter Class) are replacing what are currently defined as frigate even though they are the same size or larger than the Hobart Class Destroyer. This is similar to Canada where the CSC is replacing mostly frigates so is therefore referred to as Future Frigates.

Another example is Finland where the new Pohjanmaa class is referred to by the government as corvettes even though in other countries it could be referred to as a frigate at 3,900 tonnes. The commander of the Finnish navy puts this down to "A frigate generally refers to a vessel capable of operating in oceanic conditions, while a corvette refers to a vessel capable of operating in conditions such as the Baltic Sea, near the coast and on the coast."

Think what is more important is the role and capabilities of the ship and whether it does what is required by the respective navy/country. This is particularly important as every country has different priorities due to their respective needs/requirements. For example the needs of Italy and France differ in regards to the European Patrol Corvette program as they want to do different things with them and therefore it is likely they will get different variants. This can also be seen in the differences between all the versions of the FREMM class where France, Italy, US, Morocco and Egypt all have different variations that fit their respective needs and will be called different things in different navies.
 

SniperSquad

New Member
  • Thread Starter Thread Starter
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Wow, thanks guys for the explanations. I have other questions:

- What is a WRT destroyer exactly?
- If a destroyer is a short-range ship that accompany a fleet, how is it going to be refuelled?
 

Terran

Active Member
In Modern meaning, at least for the USN, a modern Destroyer is a Long range high speed escort surface warship meant to support convoy or task forces. They are armed for multiple threat missions. ASW, ASuW, AA and missile strike are all in their arsenal.

In WW2/WW1 they would have been Cruiser classes. That era’s Destroyer classes were fast torpedo attack ships.
 

alexsa

Super Moderator
Staff member
Verified Defense Pro
In Modern meaning, at least for the USN, a modern Destroyer is a Long range high speed escort surface warship meant to support convoy or task forces. They are armed for multiple threat missions. ASW, ASuW, AA and missile strike are all in their arsenal.

In WW2/WW1 they would have been Cruiser classes. That era’s Destroyer classes were fast torpedo attack ships.
I think that is not strictly correct either noting the different class of escort used in WWII. the simple fact is that the terms have been used differently by different countries. As an example Iran call a very small Frigate a Destroyer .... and we call the 8800 tonne full load AA, ASuW and ASW capable Hunter Class ... a frigate!!!

Lest face it, the term frigate originally applied to a warship that provided a scouting role but was also intended for commerce protection. These vessels (including some larger sloops) were also referred to as cruisers.

The term destroyer came out of the term Torpedo Boat Destroyer intended to protect the fleet from the proliferation of torpedo boats (not to be confused with MTB's) adopted in the late 1800's. this vessel then evolved into a gun and torpedo armed vessel that replaced the classic torpedo boat.

WWI saw their role expanded to escort and ASW duties. They essentially became a multi-role warship. The need for escorts then the reintroduction of the term corvette (the Flower and Castle Class being an example) which were optimised for a single function such as ASW. This led to the reintroduction of the term Frigate for the vessels that followed them. In this case there were still optimised for a single role noting some were actually AA ships not ASW platforms.

And now we have all these terms being used interposed on each other for the same role. Our DDG's and the Navantia F-100 series being a case in point. You will go mad trying to rationalise this stuff. I am happy with the idea that vessel with a primary AA role are destroyers but the lines are very blurred.
 

Terran

Active Member
That’s why I said at least for the USN.
for some Navies it’s a Catch all term in others it’s the biggest ships they got. It’s a fast and loose game.
 

spoz

The Bunker Group
- If a destroyer is a short-range ship that accompany a fleet, how is it going to be refuelled?
They refuel from specialist ships (AOs or AORs) which accompany the task group, or occasionally from larger ships such as carriers which have spare capacity. There is a lot more to this than that - a good place to start research would be to google “underway replenishment”.
 

kato

The Bunker Group
Verified Defense Pro
In WW2/WW1 they would have been Cruiser classes.
Realistically virtually all current frigate and destroyer classes in most navies fill the various roles that cruisers did up until WW2, with about the same level of diversification.

A largish, agile and mobile vessel with medium, but capable armament that either
- is used in various roles in combat support of capital assets
- sorties as groups, with diversified capability sets, to cover a wider warfare spectrum in mutual support
- or is used as a single item only in a specialized role that tends to go towards scouting/presence/reconnaissance.
 

CJR

Member
To kick off with a potentially excessive history lesson... The start of what ultimately led to the modern classifications really kicks off with the codification of line of battle tactics during the various Anglo-Dutch Wars of the 1600s. The outcome of this was the development of two major categories, ships for the line of battle, thus, Ships of the Line, Battleships, and ships for scouting, screening, acting as a presence in secondary theaters, protecting and raiding trade, these latter ships normally had to be able to remain at sea and cruise, thus Cruiser (or using a frequent archaic spelling cruizier).

Moving through the 1600s and 1700s, in Britain this became formalized into a rating system from 6th Rate (generally carrying 20-30 carriage-mounted guns on a single gun deck) to 1st Rate (100 or more carriage-mounted guns on three gun decks). 5th and 6th Rates (often called Frigates) served mainly in the cruiser role, while 4th Rates and up formed the line of battle. And as an added complication you also had unrated ships, vessels commanded by officers of a rank below Captain... Within this category lay Sloops of War, Corvettes Brigs and various forms of gunboat, with SoWs and Corvettes often falling into the cruiser role. Large SoWs and Corvettes could often match the weaker 6th rates for firepower. As time moved on (mid-1700s to early-1800s) the line of battle concentrated onto the 3rd Rate (64 guns and up, most famously the 74s) and above, and the 4th Rate SoLs (50-60 guns) was initially relegated to station flagships for secondary theaters then (1810s and onwards) replaced with 50-gun frigates.

Then through the 1840s, 50s and 60s came steam power, shells guns, rifled guns and armour. This threw the old rating system into confusion... For instance HMS Warrior, despite being the most powerful ship afloat when launched in 1860, was labelled a frigate since she carried 40 guns on a single gun deck.

The 1860s, 70s and 80s saw rapid improvements in tech with iron giving way to steel, better engines, effective turrets, bigger guns, reliable breach loading guns, displacement of black powder with the first smokeless powders, the first QF medium caliber guns, etc. etc. etc.. Needless to say, this rapid tech advancement saw all sorts of weird, wonderful and plain batshit ideas tested out (often turning from revolutionary to obsolete before the ship left the slipway...). The names, Frigate, Sloop (of War) and Corvette generally fell out of fashion, to be replaced with Cruiser. This is also the era when Torpedo Boats crop up, first armed with spar torpedoes (a lump of bang on the end of a stick...), and later with the first "modern" self propelled torpedoes.

1880s and 1890s things settled down a bit. There was still major advancements going on but not to the same extent of rendering ideas obsolete before they touched water. Battleships stabilized on the "classic" Pre-Dreadnought design with a mixed main armourment split between heavy guns (typically 11in and grater) in two turrets with few 7-10in guns mounted in casemates, plus a secondary battery of 4-6in. Cruisers developed into three categories, unarmoured light/scout cruisers carrying 4-6in guns, protected cruisers with a low-set armoured deck covering the vitals and 4-6in guns, and armoured cruisers with a thick armoured belt and carrying an 8-10in main battery and a 4-6in secondary battery. Artillery development outran the protected cruiser and the type went out of style by 1900, replaced by "light" cruisers with a thin armored belt. Special torpedo boat destroying vessels (hence, Destroyers) were developed to screen the battle line against torpedo attack.

Then came Dreadnought and the uniform heavy main battery with guns of 11in and up mounted in 4-7 turrets with the intermediate 8-10in guns gone and the secondary armourment of 3in-6in guns specialized as an anti-torpedo-boat/destroyer weapon.. Spinning off from this you got the Battlecruiser, mostly intended to take the place of the armoured cruiser.

Then 1910s and WW1. "Fast" Battleships merging the Battleship and Battlecruiser roles started to come about, initially in the Queen Elizabeth class (though, speed fell short at 24ish knots rather than the desired 26ish knots), but didn't really come together properly until HMS Hood (and even then she was a bit weak on the armour side...). Destroyers got larger. Sloops came back but as the name for an convoy escort and minesweeper.

Then came the naval treaties of the 1920s and 30s. Battleship development was mostly frozen until 1935ish and number were heavily cut back, shifting expectations away from wars being decided by The Next Trafalgar (TM). The old armoured cruiser went bye-bye replaced with the treaty light (guns < 6.1in, displacement not exceeding 10,000 tons) and heavy (guns <8.1in, displacement not exceeding 10,000 tons) cruisers. Sloops took on an AA escort and colonial presence (see also, the Avisos of France and so on) roles in addition to ASW and minesweeping, but became a bit too bespoke for mass production.

Treaties passed away in the late 1930s and then WW2... Fast Battleships came into their own. Cheap ASW escorts were developed and named Corvettes (single screw, famously the Flower class, mostly a whale chaser redesigned for naval use, initally intended for coastal ASW but then France fell...) or Frigates (twin screw, see River class, mostly a cheaper and more mass producible sloop, intended for high seas ASW), as Sloops had become too bespoke and expensive. Destroyers (the 1949 vintage Daring class Destroyers weren't much lighter than a 1915 vintage C lass Cruiser...) and Cruisers (the extreme case being the Alaska class... exceeding the size of many WW1 Battleships) got larger.

Hitting the mid to late 1950s most Battleships and (gun) Cruisers went out of service as a combination of lack of opposite numbers; high performance all weather attack aircraft; lighter nuclear weapons; the first reliable PGMs and nuclear attack submarines made the cost vs capability equation unfavorable for "big" gun surface combatants.

Then cue a period of more naming anarchy as missiles come. The poms go for Destroyer for AA and GP combatants (Counties onwards) with Frigates being ASW escorts, Cruiser mostly disappears apart from the increasingly decrepit Tiger class and an attempt to convince Treasury that the Invicible class aren't really carriers. The US went Frigate/Destroyer Leader for their large missile armed vessels (normally fitted to act as flagships), destoyer for smaller missile armed combatants, and destroyer escorts for the ASW role corresponding to the poms' frigates... until the 1975 reclassification in response to a "cruiser gap" with the USSR. Then Frigate/DLG -> Cruiser, Destroyer -> Destroyer and Destroyer Escort -> Frigate...
 
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Yama

New Member
Realistically virtually all current frigate and destroyer classes in most navies fill the various roles that cruisers did up until WW2, with about the same level of diversification.
Yes, ppl often say there aren't really any cruisers, but most modern warships fill the old cruiser role and are effectively those and all 'destroyer/frigate/whatever' -designations are just political window dressing. It was somewhat different during Cold War, when proper multirole warships were rare and there were many single-role vessels (ASW, ASuW, AAW) with only self-defense abilities in other categories.

In the 19th century, first-line warships generally did not need escorts. The main weapon was the gun and battleship had the most guns, most armour, and could take care of itself. Then some unsportsmanlike people invented the torpedo (and mines) and suddenly big bad battleship was vulnerable to a weapon which could be carried by a tiny vessel. So you needed other tiny vessels to protect your battleship from this threat. At first, these escort vessels could be tiny as naval battle was expected to be fought close to coast and friendly bases, probably in good weather. Then various developments happened (greater range for big warships, wireless, aerial recon), and it was realized that the escort vessel had to be able to go everywhere the battleships go and soon they weren't so tiny anymore. And nowadays, we mostly have surface combatants with general purpose armament and concept of 'escort' is somewhat different again.
 

swerve

Super Moderator
Dead right. Consider, for example, the German F125, optimised for long endurance & low intensity operations. What else could it be but a colonial cruiser? No colonies to cruise, of course, but I'm sure we can come up with a revised name to fit modern circumstances. Intervention cruiser?
 

kato

The Bunker Group
Verified Defense Pro
Dead right. Consider, for example, the German F125, optimised for long endurance & low intensity operations. What else could it be but a colonial cruiser? No colonies to cruise, of course, but I'm sure we can come up with a revised name to fit modern circumstances. Intervention cruiser?
"Colonial cruiser" was a propaganda term in Germany even back then. Any ship that served on duty in the colonies could be coloquially termed that, even if it otherwise wasn't a cruiser by classification. Most ships coloquially called that were actually gunboats and other smaller classes. It is also somewhat a derogatory term both back then and today - a ship that can't defend itself against other ships and is only good for bombarding people who do not have the means to fight back.

The formal term in the German Navy was "Stationskreuzer" - denoting a cruiser serving in "station service" (i.e. at the overseas stations instead of in the battle fleet). France at the time used the exact same term in "cuirasse stationnaire".

Ships specifically built for "station service", in particular after the turn of the century, were usually called "Auslandskreuzer" (overseas cruisers) in the German Navy to denote their specialization in the same way that the "colonial" was tagged onto ship classes in anglo- and francophone countries.
 
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