What Is a Warship? Definition, Meaning and Concept

A warship is any ship designed primarily with combat in mind, as distinguished from merchant ships, transport ships, and recreational boats. They generally have some degree of built-in offensive capability, and are also designed to take more damage than other ship classes. They may also be designed to be more maneuverable than merchant ships. During times of active warfare, merchant ships may be armed to function more like warships, to supplement an army and defend themselves to transport goods safely. In general, a warship is part of a larger national Navy, although in some cases an individual or large business entity may own a warship or a group of warships for their own personal purposes.

In the distant past, the great fleets of Greece, Persia, and Rome consisted of groups of a galley-type warship. These ships were quite cumbersome and relied heavily on their own weight as a weapon, ramming other ships. The battles consisted of the ships being moved into close quarters, where the crews could attack each other with hand-held weaponry. An exception to this was for a brief period in the Hellenistic era, lasting until about the 2nd century BC. C., when catapults were used to attack from ship to ship. After they fell out of use, missile attacks were not widely seen again until about the 16th century.

By the 16th century, the warship had evolved significantly. They were now sailing ships, much faster, much more manoeuvrable, and equipped with cannons that could be quickly reloaded and fired to devastate other ships and attack fortifications on land. By the mid-17th century, the warship had evolved to truly devastating proportions, with large warships carrying dozens of cannon and massive sea battles taking place regularly.

By the 19th century, things had changed once again. The warship now became a steam-powered vehicle, and instead of firing cannon they began to use explosive shells. With the explosion of shells came the need for more advanced armor, leading to the introduction of metal armor. The warship had been converted to iron armor, and the guns were placed in rotating turrets, allowing a smaller number of guns to be aimed much more accurately without the ship having to be turned into a target.

In 1906, the British Navy launched the Dreadnought, a massive, heavily armored, steam-powered warship equipped exclusively with large cannons for attacking other ships from great distances. This warship was largely impervious to earlier designs, with every other national navy releasing their own versions of the modern warship within a few years. At the same time, a faster, more maneuverable, but less armored type of warship called a battlecruiser was developed.

World War II also saw great development of the warship. The submarine, which had really been developed during the First World War, came into its own with the German U-Boat, which proved brutally effective in shutting down shipping lines. The aircraft carrier was also developed during this time, acting as a mobile launching field for air strikes, allowing enemies to strike decisively and with the element of surprise.

In the modern era, there are seven main groups of warships: the destroyer, cruiser, frigate, corvette, submarine, aircraft carrier, and amphibious assault ship, as well as the now largely defunct battleship class. The majority of ships used by navies today are of the destroyer class, though these distinctions have increasingly become blurred, as the ships are loaded with weaponry intended to assault the air, sea, and land. As mines and torpedoes have also become less of a problem, armor has also been significantly reduced on the modern warship, leading to sleeker, less protected ships.