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Line of battle

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Nicholas Pocock, The Battle of Copenhagen, 2 April 1801 (undated), Royal Museums Greenwich
Nicholas Pocock, The Battle of Copenhagen, 2 April 1801 (undated), Royal Museums Greenwich

The line of battle is a tactic in naval warfare in which a fleet of ships forms a line end to end. The first example of its use as a tactic is disputed—it has been variously claimed for dates ranging from 1502 to 1652. Line-of-battle tactics were in widespread use by 1675.

Compared with prior naval tactics, in which two opposing ships closed on one another for individual combat, the line of battle has the advantage that each ship in the line can fire its broadside without fear of hitting a friendly ship. This means that in a given period, the fleet can fire more shots. Another advantage is that a relative movement of the line in relation to some part of the enemy fleet allows for a systematic concentration of fire on that part. The other fleet can avoid this by manoeuvring in a line itself, with a result typical for sea battles since 1675: two fleets sail alongside one another (or on the opposite tack).

Early development

A contemporary depiction of the Battle of Öland between an allied Danish-Dutch fleet under Cornelis Tromp and a Swedish fleet. The Swedish ships were initially arrayed in line of battle, but became disorganized and were defeated. Copper engraving by Romeyn de Hooghe, 1676.
A contemporary depiction of the Battle of Öland between an allied Danish-Dutch fleet under Cornelis Tromp and a Swedish fleet. The Swedish ships were initially arrayed in line of battle, but became disorganized and were defeated. Copper engraving by Romeyn de Hooghe, 1676.

The first recorded mention of the use of a line of battle tactic is attested from 1500. The Instructions provided in 1500 by King Manuel I of Portugal to the commander of a fleet dispatched to the Indian Ocean suggests its use predated the written instructions. Portuguese fleets overseas deployed in line ahead, firing one broadside and then putting about in order to return and discharge the other, resolving battles by gunnery alone. In a treatise of 1555, The Art of War at Sea, Portuguese theorist on naval warfare and shipbuilding, Fernão de Oliveira, recognized that at sea, the Portuguese "fight at a distance, as if from walls and fortresses...". He recommended the single line ahead as the ideal combat formation.[1]

Line-of-battle tactics had been used by the Fourth Portuguese India Armada at the Battle of Calicut, under Vasco da Gama in 1502, near Malabar against a Muslim fleet.[2] One of the earliest recorded deliberate uses is documented in the First Battle of Cannanore between the Third Portuguese India Armada under João da Nova and the naval forces of Calicut, earlier in the same year. Another early, but different form of this strategy, was used in 1507 by Afonso de Albuquerque at the entrance to the Persian Gulf, in the first conquest of Ormuz. Albuquerque commanded a fleet of six carracks manned by 460 men, and entered Ormuz Bay, being surrounded by 250 warships and a 20,000 men army on land. Albuquerque made his small fleet (but powerful in its artillery) circle like a carrousel, but in a line end-to-end, and destroyed most of the ships that surrounded his squadron. He then captured Ormuz.

While it is well documented that Maarten Tromp first used it in the action of 18 September 1639[3] some have disputed this.[4] One of the first precise written instructions adopting the line of battle tactic were contained in the English Navy's Fighting Instructions, written by Admiral Robert Blake and his colleagues, and published in 1653.[5] Captains on both sides of the First Anglo-Dutch War appear to have experimented with the technique in 1652, possibly including Blake at the Battle of Dover.[4]

From the mid-16th century, the cannon gradually became the most important weapon in naval warfare, replacing boarding actions as the decisive factor in combat. At the same time, the natural tendency in the design of galleons was for longer ships with lower forecastles and aftercastles, which meant faster, more stable vessels. These newer warships could mount more cannons along the sides of their decks, concentrating their firepower along their broadside.

Until the mid-17th century, the tactics of a fleet were often to "charge" the enemy, firing bow chaser cannon, which did not deploy the broadside to its best effect. These new vessels required new tactics, and "since ... almost all the artillery is found upon the sides of a ship of war, hence it is the beam that must necessarily and always be turned toward the enemy. On the other hand, it is necessary that the sight of the latter must never be interrupted by a friendly ship. Only one formation allows the ships of the same fleet to satisfy fully these conditions. That formation is the line ahead [column]. This line, therefore, is imposed as the only order of battle, and consequently as the basis of all fleet tactics."[6]

The line-of-battle tactic favoured very large ships that could sail steadily and maintain their place in the line in the face of heavy fire. The change toward the line of battle also depended on an increased disciplining of society and the demands of powerful centralized government to keep permanent fleets led by a corps of professional officers. These officers were better able to manage and communicate between the ships they commanded than the merchant crews that often comprised large parts of a navy's force. The new type of warfare that developed during the early modern period was marked by a successively stricter organization. Battle formations became standardized, based on calculated ideal models. The increased power of states at the expense of individual landowners led to increasingly larger armies and navies.[7]

A ship that was powerful enough to stand in the line of battle came to be called a ship of the line of battle, or line of battle ship. In time this became shortened to battleship.[8]

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Battle of Öland

Battle of Öland

The Battle of Öland was a naval battle between an allied Danish-Dutch fleet and the Swedish navy in the Baltic Sea, off the east coast of Öland on 1 June 1676. The battle was a part of the Scanian War (1675–79) fought for supremacy over the southern Baltic. Sweden was in urgent need of reinforcements for its north German possessions; Denmark sought to ferry an army to Scania in southern Sweden to open a front on Swedish soil.

Cornelis Tromp

Cornelis Tromp

Cornelis Maartenszoon Tromp, Count of Sølvesborg was a Dutch naval officer who served as lieutenant-admiral general in the Dutch Navy, and briefly as a general admiral in the Royal Danish Navy. Tromp fought in the Anglo-Dutch Wars and the Scanian War. His father was Lieutenant Admiral Maarten Tromp.

Manuel I of Portugal

Manuel I of Portugal

Manuel I, known as the Fortunate, was King of Portugal from 1495 to 1521. A member of the House of Aviz, Manuel was Duke of Beja and Viseu prior to succeeding his cousin, John II of Portugal, as monarch. Manuel ruled over a period of intensive expansion of the Portuguese Empire owing to the numerous Portuguese discoveries made during his reign. His sponsorship of Vasco da Gama led to the Portuguese discovery of the sea route to India in 1498, resulting in the creation of the Portuguese India Armadas, which guaranteed Portugal's monopoly on the spice trade. Manuel began the Portuguese colonization of the Americas and Portuguese India, and oversaw the establishment of a vast trade empire across Africa and Asia. He was also the first monarch to bear the title: By the Grace of God, King of Portugal and the Algarves, this side and beyond the Sea in Africa, Lord of Guinea and the Conquest, Navigation and Commerce in Ethiopia, Arabia, Persia and India.

Broadside (naval)

Broadside (naval)

A broadside is the side of a ship, or more specifically the battery of cannon on one side of a warship or their coordinated fire in naval warfare, or a measurement of a warship's maximum simultaneous firepower which can be delivered upon a single target. From the 16th century until the early decades of the steamship, vessels had rows of guns set in each side of the hull. Firing all guns on one side of the ship became known as a "broadside". The cannon of 18th-century men of war were accurate only at short range, and their penetrating power mediocre, which meant that the thick hulls of wooden ships could only be pierced at short ranges. These wooden ships sailed closer and closer towards each other until cannon fire would be effective. Each tried to be the first to fire a broadside, often giving one party a decisive headstart in the battle when it crippled the other ship.

Fernão de Oliveira

Fernão de Oliveira

Fernão de Oliveira, sometimes named Fernando de Oliveira or Fernando Oliveira, was a Portuguese grammarian, Dominican friar, historian, cartographer, naval pilot and theorist on naval warfare and shipbuilding. An adventurous humanist and renaissance man, he studied and published the first grammar of the Portuguese language, the Grammatica da lingoagem portuguesa, in 1536. He was an early critic of slavery and the slave trade.

4th Portuguese India Armada (Gama, 1502)

4th Portuguese India Armada (Gama, 1502)

The 4th Portuguese India Armada was assembled in 1502 on the order of King Manuel I of Portugal and placed under the command of D. Vasco da Gama. It was Gama's second trip to India. The fourth of some thirteen Portuguese India Armadas, it was designed as a punitive expedition, targeting Calicut, to avenge the travails of the 2nd Armada and the massacre of the Portuguese factory in 1500. A feeling of vengeance drove the expedition.

First Battle of Cannanore

First Battle of Cannanore

The First Battle of Cannanore was a naval engagement between the Third Portuguese Armada under João da Nova and the naval forces of Calicut, which had been assembled by the Zamorin against the Portuguese in order to prevent their return to Portugal.

3rd Portuguese India Armada (Nova, 1501)

3rd Portuguese India Armada (Nova, 1501)

The Third Portuguese India Armada was assembled in 1501 upon the order of King Manuel I of Portugal and placed under the command of João da Nova. It was small compared to other armadas of the same type and was formed for commercial purposes. Nonetheless, it engaged in the first significant Portuguese naval battle in the Indian Ocean. The Third Armada discovered the uninhabited islands of Ascension and Saint Helena in the South Atlantic Ocean. Some speculate that it was the first Portuguese armada to reach Ceylon.

João da Nova

João da Nova

João da Nova was a Portuguese-Galician explorer of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans at the service of Portugal. He is credited as the discoverer of Ascension and Saint Helena islands.

Kozhikode

Kozhikode

Kozhikode, also known in English as Calicut, is a city along the Malabar Coast in the state of Kerala in India. It has a corporation limit population of 609,224 and a metropolitan population of more than 2 million, making it the second largest metropolitan area in Kerala and the 19th largest in India. Kozhikode is classified as a Tier 2 city by the Government of India.

Afonso de Albuquerque

Afonso de Albuquerque

Afonso de Albuquerque, 1st Duke of Goa was a Portuguese general, admiral, and statesman. He served as viceroy of Portuguese India from 1509 to 1515, during which he expanded Portuguese influence across the Indian Ocean and built a reputation as a fierce and skilled military commander.

Carrack

Carrack

A carrack is a three- or four-masted ocean-going sailing ship that was developed in the 14th to 15th centuries in Europe, most notably in Portugal. Evolved from the single-masted cog, the carrack was first used for European trade from the Mediterranean to the Baltic and quickly found use with the newly found wealth of the trade between Europe and Africa and then the trans-Atlantic trade with the Americas. In their most advanced forms, they were used by the Portuguese for trade between Europe and Asia starting in the late 15th century, before eventually being superseded in the 17th century by the galleon, introduced in the 16th century.

Effective use

A French squadron forming line of battle circa 1840. Drawing by Antoine Morel-Fatio.
A French squadron forming line of battle circa 1840. Drawing by Antoine Morel-Fatio.

The line of battle was marked by tactical rigidity and often resulted in indecisive engagements. Fleet commanders sometimes met with greater success by altering or abandoning the line of battle outright by breaking the enemy line and moving through it (e.g. Four Days Battle, Battle of Schooneveld, Battle of Trafalgar), by trying to cut off and isolate part of the enemy's line while concentrating a stronger force on it (e.g. Battle of Texel, Battle of the Saintes), or by trying to "double up" the enemy's ships (e.g. Battle of Beachy Head, Battle of the Nile).

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Battle of Schooneveld

Battle of Schooneveld

The Battles of Schooneveld were two naval battles of the Franco-Dutch War, fought off the coast of the Netherlands on 7 June and 14 June 1673 between an allied Anglo-French fleet commanded by Prince Rupert of the Rhine on his flagship the Royal Charles, and the fleet of the United Provinces, commanded by Michiel de Ruyter.

Battle of Trafalgar

Battle of Trafalgar

The Battle of Trafalgar was a naval engagement between the British Royal Navy and the combined fleets of the French and Spanish Navies during the War of the Third Coalition of the Napoleonic Wars (1803–1815).

Battle of Texel

Battle of Texel

The naval Battle of Texel or Battle of Kijkduin took place off the southern coast of island of Texel on 21 August 1673 between the Dutch and the combined English and French fleets. It was the last major battle of the Third Anglo-Dutch War, which was itself part of the Franco-Dutch War (1672–1678), during which Louis XIV of France invaded the Republic and sought to establish control over the Spanish Netherlands. English involvement came about because of the Treaty of Dover, secretly concluded by Charles II of England, and which was highly unpopular with the English Parliament.

Battle of the Saintes

Battle of the Saintes

The Battle of the Saintes, also known as the Battle of Dominica, was an important naval battle in the Caribbean between the British and the French that took place 9–12 April 1782. The British victory was considered their greatest over the French during the American Revolutionary War.

Battle of Beachy Head (1690)

Battle of Beachy Head (1690)

The Battle of Beachy Head was a naval battle fought on 10 July 1690 during the Nine Years' War. The battle was the greatest French tactical naval victory over their English and Dutch opponents during the war. The Dutch lost six ships of the line and three fireships; their English allies also lost one ship of the line, whereas the French did not lose a vessel. Control of the English Channel temporarily fell into French hands but Vice-Admiral Tourville failed to pursue the Allied fleet with sufficient vigour, allowing it to escape to the River Thames.

Battle of the Nile

Battle of the Nile

The Battle of the Nile was a major naval battle fought between the British Royal Navy and the Navy of the French Republic at Aboukir Bay on the Mediterranean coast off the Nile Delta of Egypt from the 1st to the 3rd of August 1798. The battle was the climax of a naval campaign that had raged across the Mediterranean during the previous three months, as a large French convoy sailed from Toulon to Alexandria carrying an expeditionary force under General Napoleon Bonaparte. The British fleet was led in the battle by Rear-Admiral Sir Horatio Nelson; they decisively defeated the French under Vice-Admiral François-Paul Brueys d'Aigalliers.

Weaknesses

The main problem with the line of battle was that when the fleets were of similar size, naval actions using it were generally indecisive. The French in particular were adept at gunnery and would generally take the leeward position to enable their fleet to retire downwind while continuing to fire chain-shot at long range to bring down masts. Eventually so many vessels in a line would be damaged that they would be forced to retire for repairs while the French took few casualties and very little damage.

Doubling

If the opposing fleets were of similar size, a portion of the line might be overwhelmed by focused gunfire of the entire enemy line by doubling. Ships breaking through the enemy line would act in concert with others remaining on the original side to simultaneously engage both sides of a portion of the enemy fleet while the broadsides of the remainder of the enemy line were unable to engage.[9]

Age of Steam and later developments

For a period in the late 19th century, naval tactics became chaotic, as ironclad warships were introduced. One school of thought held that ironclads were effectively invulnerable to gunfire, so ramming became a popular method of attack, such as at the Battle of Lissa and the Battle of the Yalu River. Another held that naval battles would only be decided by an assault on an enemy fleet in port. Ships built according to these doctrines tended to mount a handful of guns which could fire ahead or all-round, rather than broadside. The fleets of these periods tended to use the line of battle less.

However, as ramming fell out of fashion, the logic of the line of battle returned, and was used in the Battle of Tsushima (1905), the Battle of Jutland (1916) and finally in the Battle of Surigao Strait (1944).

During World War II the development of aircraft carriers meant that gun engagements were no longer decisive. This meant there was no rationale for using a line-of-battle formation. In modern naval warfare, a carrier battle group generally deploys in a circular formation with the highest-value units in the centre, accompanied closely by anti-aircraft escorts, with anti-submarine escorts surrounding the formation at a distance of tens of miles.

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Ironclad warship

Ironclad warship

An ironclad is a steam-propelled warship protected by iron or steel armor plates, constructed from 1859 to the early 1890s. The ironclad was developed as a result of the vulnerability of wooden warships to explosive or incendiary shells. The first ironclad battleship, Gloire, was launched by the French Navy in November 1859 - narrowly pre-empting the British Royal Navy.

Battle of Lissa (1866)

Battle of Lissa (1866)

The Battle of Lissa took place on 20 July 1866 in the Adriatic Sea near the Dalmatian island of Vis and was a significant victory for an Austrian Empire force over a numerically superior Italian force. It was the first major sea battle between ironclads and one of the last to involve deliberate ramming. The Italian navy fired roughly 1450 shots during the engagement, but failed to sink any Austrian ship while losing two ironclads.

Battle of the Yalu River (1894)

Battle of the Yalu River (1894)

The Battle of the Yalu River was the largest naval engagement of the First Sino-Japanese War, and took place on 17 September 1894, the day after the Japanese victory at the land Battle of Pyongyang. It involved ships from the Imperial Japanese Navy and the Chinese Beiyang Fleet.

Battle of Tsushima

Battle of Tsushima

The Battle of Tsushima, also known as the Battle of Tsushima Strait and the Naval Battle of Sea of Japan in Japan, was a major naval battle fought between Russia and Japan during the Russo-Japanese War. It was naval history's first, and so far the last, decisive sea battle fought by modern steel battleship fleets and the first naval battle in which wireless telegraphy (radio) played a critically important role. It has been characterized as the "dying echo of the old era – for the last time in the history of naval warfare, ships of the line of a beaten fleet surrendered on the high seas".

Battle of Jutland

Battle of Jutland

The Battle of Jutland was a naval battle fought between Britain's Royal Navy Grand Fleet, under Admiral Sir John Jellicoe, and the Imperial German Navy's High Seas Fleet, under Vice-Admiral Reinhard Scheer, during the First World War. The battle unfolded in extensive manoeuvring and three main engagements, from 31 May to 1 June 1916, off the North Sea coast of Denmark's Jutland Peninsula. It was the largest naval battle and the only full-scale clash of battleships in that war. Jutland was the third fleet action between steel battleships, following the Battle of the Yellow Sea in 1904 and the Battle of Tsushima in 1905, during the Russo-Japanese War. Jutland was the last major battle in history fought primarily by battleships.

Aircraft carrier

Aircraft carrier

An aircraft carrier is a warship that serves as a seagoing airbase, equipped with a full-length flight deck and facilities for carrying, arming, deploying, and recovering aircraft. Typically, it is the capital ship of a fleet, as it allows a naval force to project air power worldwide without depending on local bases for staging aircraft operations. Carriers have evolved since their inception in the early twentieth century from wooden vessels used to deploy balloons to nuclear-powered warships that carry numerous fighters, strike aircraft, helicopters, and other types of aircraft. While heavier aircraft such as fixed-wing gunships and bombers have been launched from aircraft carriers, these aircraft have not successfully landed on a carrier. By its diplomatic and tactical power, its mobility, its autonomy and the variety of its means, the aircraft carrier is often the centerpiece of modern combat fleets. Tactically or even strategically, it replaced the battleship in the role of flagship of a fleet. One of its great advantages is that, by sailing in international waters, it does not interfere with any territorial sovereignty and thus obviates the need for overflight authorizations from third-party countries, reduces the times and transit distances of aircraft and therefore significantly increase the time of availability on the combat zone.

Carrier battle group

Carrier battle group

A carrier battle group (CVBG) is a naval fleet consisting of an aircraft carrier capital ship and its large number of escorts, together defining the group. The CV in CVBG is the United States Navy hull classification code for an aircraft carrier.

Anti-aircraft warfare

Anti-aircraft warfare

Anti-aircraft warfare, counter-air or air defence is the battlespace response to aerial warfare, defined by NATO as "all measures designed to nullify or reduce the effectiveness of hostile air action". It includes surface based, subsurface, and air-based weapon systems, associated sensor systems, command and control arrangements, and passive measures. It may be used to protect naval, ground, and air forces in any location. However, for most countries, the main effort has tended to be homeland defence. NATO refers to airborne air defence as counter-air and naval air defence as anti-aircraft warfare. Missile defence is an extension of air defence, as are initiatives to adapt air defence to the task of intercepting any projectile in flight.

Anti-submarine warfare

Anti-submarine warfare

Anti-submarine warfare is a branch of underwater warfare that uses surface warships, aircraft, submarines, or other platforms, to find, track, and deter, damage, or destroy enemy submarines. Such operations are typically carried out to protect friendly shipping and coastal facilities from submarine attacks and to overcome blockades.

Source: "Line of battle", Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, (2022, November 27th), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Line_of_battle.

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Notes
  1. ^ Parker 2008, p. 125.
  2. ^ Parker 1996, p. 94.
  3. ^ Prud’homme van Reine 2001, p. 417.
  4. ^ a b Corbett 1905, p. 85.
  5. ^ Corbett 1905, pp. 99–104.
  6. ^ Mahan 1890, pp. 115–116.
  7. ^ Glete 1993, p. 176.
  8. ^ ""battleship, n."". OED Online. Oxford University Press. September 2022. Retrieved 25 November 2022. (subscription may be required or content may be available in libraries that are in the UK)
  9. ^ Keegan 1989, p. 277.
Sources

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