Capital ship

Aircraft carriers form the main capital ships of most modern-era blue-water navies.
Battleships became the main form of capital ship after sailing vessels fell out of use, and remained so up to World War II. Shown is the German SMS Helgoland.
Ships of the line (of battle) were the capital ships of the era of sail. Pictured is the Spanish Santa Ana, a very large example with 112 guns.

The capital ships of a navy are its most important warships; they are generally the larger ships when compared to other warships in their respective fleet. A capital ship is generally a leading or a primary ship in a naval fleet.[1]

William S. Lind, in the book America Can Win (p. 90), defines a capital ship as follows: "These characteristics define a capital ship: if the capital ships are beaten, the navy is beaten. But if the rest of the navy is beaten, the capital ships can still operate. Another characteristic that defines capital ships is that their main opponent is each other."

There is usually a formal criterion for the classification, but it is a useful concept in naval strategy; for example, it permits comparisons between relative naval strengths in a theatre of operations without the need for considering specific details of tonnage or gun diameters.

A notable example of this is the Mahanian doctrine, which was applied in the planning of the defence of Singapore in World War II, where the Royal Navy had to decide the allocation of its battleships and battlecruisers between the Atlantic and Pacific theatres. The Mahanian doctrine was also applied by the Imperial Japanese Navy, leading to its preventive move to attack Pearl Harbor and the battleships of the U.S. Pacific Fleet.[2] The naval nature of the Pacific Theater of Operations, more commonly referred to as the Pacific War, necessitated the United States Navy mostly deploying its battleships and aircraft carriers in the Pacific. The war in Europe was primarily a land war; consequently, Germany's surface fleet was small, and the escort ships used in the Battle of the Atlantic were mostly destroyers and destroyer escorts to counter the U-boat threat.

Age of Sail

Before the advent of the all-steel navy in the late 19th century, a capital ship during the Age of Sail was generally understood as a ship that conformed to the Royal Navy's rating system of a ship of the line as being of the first, second, third or fourth rates:

  • First rate: 100 or more guns, typically carried on three or four decks. Four-deckers suffered in rough seas, and the lowest deck could seldom fire except in calm conditions.
  • Second rate: 90–98 guns.
  • Third rate: 64 to 80 guns (although 64-gun third-raters were small and not very numerous in any era).
  • Fourth rate: 46 to 60 guns. By 1756, these ships were acknowledged to be too weak to stand in the line of battle and were relegated to ancillary duties, although they also served in the shallow North Sea and American littorals where larger ships of the line could not sail.

Frigates were ships of the fifth rate; sixth rates comprised small frigates and corvettes. Towards the end of the Napoleonic Wars and into the late 19th century, some larger and more powerful frigates were classified as fourth rates.

Other Languages
العربية: سفن رئيسية
asturianu: Buque capital
bosanski: Kapitalni brod
español: Buque capital
français: Capital ship
한국어: 주력함
hrvatski: Kapitalni brod
Bahasa Melayu: Kapal utama
Nederlands: Kapitaal schip
日本語: 主力艦
română: Navă capitală
српски / srpski: Капитални брод
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Kapitalni brod
svenska: Capital ship
українська: Основні кораблі
中文: 主力艦