A gunboat is a naval watercraft designed for the express purpose of carrying one or more guns to bombard coastal targets, as opposed to those military craft designed for naval warfare, or for ferrying troops or supplies.
In the age of sail, a gunboat was usually a small undecked vessel carrying a single smoothbore cannon in the bow, or just two or three such cannons. A gunboat could carry one or two masts or be oar-powered only, but the single-masted version of about 15 m (49 ft) length was most typical.[ when? ] Some types of gunboat carried two cannons, or else mounted a number of swivel guns on the railings.
The small gunboat had advantages: if it only carried a single cannon, the boat could manoeuvre in shallow or restricted areas – such as rivers or lakes – where larger ships could sail only with difficulty. The gun that such boats carried could be quite heavy; a 32-pounder for instance. As such boats were cheap and quick to build, naval forces favoured swarm tactics: while a single hit from a frigate's broadside would destroy a gunboat, a frigate facing a large squadron of gunboats could suffer serious damage before it could manage to sink them all. For example: in the Battle of Alvøen (1808) during the Gunboat War of 1807–1814, five Dano-Norwegian gunboats defeated the lone frigate HMS Tartar. Gunboats used in the Battle of Valcour Island (1776) on Lake Champlain during the American Revolutionary War were mostly built on the spot, attesting to the speed of their construction.
All navies of the sailing era kept a number of gunboats on hand. Gunboats saw extensive use in the Baltic Sea during the late 18th century as they were well-suited for the extensive coastal skerries and archipelagoes of Sweden, Finland and Russia. The rivalry between Sweden and Russia in particular led to an intense expansion of gunboat fleets and the development of new gunboat types. The two countries clashed during the Russo-Swedish war of 1788–90, a conflict that culminated in the massive Battle of Svensksund in 1790, in which over 30,000 men and hundreds of gunboats, galleys and other oared craft took part. The majority of these were vessels developed from the 1770s and onwards by the naval architect Fredrik Henrik af Chapman for the Swedish archipelago fleet. The designs, copied and refined by the rival Danish and Russian navies, spread to the Mediterranean and to the Black Sea.
Two variants occurred most commonly:
Many of the Baltic navies kept gunboats in service well into the second half of the 19th century. 22 m (72 ft) Russian gunboats off Turku in southeast Finland in 1854 during the Crimean War. The Russian vessels had the distinction of being the last oared vessels of war in history to fire their guns in anger.British ships engaged larger
Gunboats played a key role in Napoleon Bonaparte's plan for the invasion of England in 1804. Denmark-Norway used them heavily in the Gunboat War. Between 1803 and 1812 the United States Navy had a policy of basing its navy on coastal gunboats, experimenting with a variety of designs. President Thomas Jefferson (in office: 1801–1809) and his Democratic-Republican Party opposed a strong navy, regarding gunboats as adequate to defend the United States' major harbors. They proved useless against the British blockade during the War of 1812.
With the introduction of steam power in the early 19th century, the Royal Navy and other navies built considerable numbers of small vessels propelled by side paddles and later by screws. Initially, these vessels retained full sailing rigs and used steam engines for auxiliary propulsion.
The British Royal Navy deployed two wooden paddle-gunboats in the Lower Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River during the Rebellions of 1837 in Upper and Lower Canada. The United States Navy deployed an iron-hulled paddle gunboat, USS Michigan, to the Great Lakes in 1844.
Von der Tann became the first propeller-driven gunboat in the world. Conradi shipyards in Kiel built the steam-powered 120 long ton s (120 t ) gunboat in 1849 for the small navy of Schleswig-Holstein. Initially called "Gunboat No. 1", Von der Tann was the most modern ship in the navy. She participated successfully in the First Schleswig War of 1848–1851.
Britain built a large number of wooden screw-gunboats during the 1850s, some of which participated in the Crimean War (1853–1856), Second Opium War (1856–1860) and Indian Mutiny (1857–1859). The requirement for gunboats in the Crimean War was formulated[ by whom? ] in 1854 to allow the Royal Navy to bombard shore facilities in the Baltic. The first ships the Royal Navy built that met this requirement were the Arrow-classgunvessels. Then in mid-1854 the Royal Navy ordered six Gleaner-classgunboats followed later in the year by an order for 20 Dapper-classgunboats. In May 1855 the Royal Navy deployed six Dapper-class gunboats in the Sea of Azov, where they repeatedly raided and destroyed stores around its coast. In June 1855 the Royal Navy reentered the Baltic with a total of 18 gunboats as part of a larger fleet. The gunboats attacked various coastal facilities, operating alongside larger British warships from which they drew supplies such as coal.
Gunboats experienced a revival during the American Civil War (1861–1865). Union and Confederate forces quickly converted existing passenger-carrying boats into armed sidewheel steamers. Later, some purpose-built boats, such as USS Miami, joined the fray. They frequently mounted 12 or more guns, sometimes of rather large caliber, and usually carried some armor. At the same time, Britain's gunboats from the Crimean War period were starting to wear out,[ citation needed ] so a new series of classes was ordered. Construction shifted from a purely wooden hull to an iron–teak composite.
In the later 19th century and early 20th century, "gunboat" was the common name for smaller armed vessels. These could be classified, from the smallest to the largest, into river gunboats, river monitors, coastal-defense gunboats (such as SMS Panther), and full-fledged monitors for coastal bombardments. In the 1870s and 1880s Britain took to building so called "flat-iron" (or Rendel) gunboats for coastal defence. When there would be few opportunities to re-coal, vessels carrying a full sailing rig continued in use as gunboats; HMS Gannet, a sloop preserved at Chatham Historic Dockyard in the United Kingdom, exemplifies this type of gunboat.
In the United States Navy, these boats had the hull classification symbol "PG", which led to their being referred to as "patrol gunboats". They usually displaced under 2,000 long tons (2,000 t), were about 200 ft (61 m) long, 10–15 ft (3.0–4.6 m) draught and sometimes much less, and mounted several guns of calibers up to 5–6 in (130–150 mm). An important characteristic of these was the ability to operate in rivers, enabling them to reach inland targets in a way not otherwise possible before the development of aircraft. In this period the naval powers used gunboats for police actions in colonies or in weaker countries, for example in China (see e.g. Yangtze Patrol). This category of gunboat inspired the term "gunboat diplomacy". With the addition of torpedoes they became "torpedo gunboats", designated by the hull classification symbol "PTG" (Patrol Torpedo Gunboat).
In Britain, Admiral Fisher's reforms in the 1900s saw the disposal of much of the gunboat fleet.A handful remained in service in various roles at the start of World War I in 1914. The very last in active service were two of the second Brambleclass which survived until 1926, carrying out river patrols in west Africa.
In the circumstances of World War I (1914–1918), however, the Royal Navy re-equipped with small 625-long-ton (635 t), shallow-draught gunboats (12 ships of the Insect-class) with sufficient speed to operate in fast-flowing rivers and with relatively heavy armament. During the war and in the post-war period, these were deployed in Romania on the Danube, in Mesopotamia on the Euphrates and Tigris, in northern Russia on the Northern Dvina and in China on the Yangtze. In China, during anarchic and war conditions, they continued to protect British interests until World War II; other western Powers acted similarly.
More and larger gunboats were built in the late 1930s for the Far East. Some sailed there; others were transported in sections and reassembled at Shanghai.
Most British gunboats were based initially in East Asia. When war with Japan broke out, many of these vessels withdrew to the Indian Ocean. Others were given to the Republic of China Navy (such as HMS Sandpiper, which was renamed Ying Hao) and some were captured by the Japanese.
Some were later redeployed to the Mediterranean theatre and supported land operations during the North African campaign, as well in parts of Southern Europe.
In late 1941 the US Navy's Yangtze Patrol boats based in China were withdrawn to the Philippines or scuttled. Following the US defeat in the Philippines most of the remaining craft were scuttled. However, USS Asheville survived until being sunk in action during the Battle of Java in 1942.
During the 1930s, the Soviet Navy began developing small armoured river-boats or "riverine tanks": vessels displacing 26 to 48 tons, on which the turrets of tanks were mounted.
Three classes, numbering 210 vessels, saw service between 1934 and 1945:
With crews of 10 to 20 personnel, riverine tanks displaced 26 to 48 tons, had armour 4–14 mm thick, and were 23 to 25 metres long. They saw significant action in the Baltic and Black Seas between 1941 and 1945.
US riverine gunboats in the Vietnam War, included Patrol Boats River (PBR), constructed of fiberglass; Patrol Craft Fast (PCF), commonly known as Swift Boats, built of aluminum; and Assault Support Patrol Boats (ASPB) built of steel. U.S. Coast Guard 82-foot Point-classcutters supplemented these US Navy vessels. The ASPBs were commonly referred to as "Alpha" boats and primarily carried out mine-sweeping duties along the waterways, due to their all-steel construction. The ASPBs were the only US Navy riverine craft specifically designed and built for the Vietnam War.All of these boats were assigned to the US Navy's "Brownwater Navy".
A torpedo boat is a relatively small and fast naval ship designed to carry torpedoes into battle. The first designs were steam-powered craft dedicated to ramming enemy ships with explosive spar torpedoes. Later evolutions launched variants of self-propelled Whitehead torpedoes.
A corvette is a small warship. It is traditionally the smallest class of vessel considered to be a proper warship. The warship class above the corvette is that of the frigate, while the class below was historically that of the sloop-of-war. The modern types of ship below a corvette are coastal patrol craft, missile boat and fast attack craft. In modern terms, a corvette is typically between 500 tons and 2,000 tons, although recent designs may approach 3,000 tons, which might instead be considered a small frigate.
A monitor was a relatively small warship which was neither fast nor strongly armored but carried disproportionately large guns. They were used by some navies from the 1860s, during the First World War and with limited use in the Second World War. During the Vietnam War they were used by the United States Navy. The Brazilian Navy's Parnaíba is the last monitor in service.
An ironclad is a steam-propelled warship protected by iron or steel armor plates used in the early part of the second half of the 19th century. 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. The British Admiralty had been considering armored warships since 1856 and prepared a draft design for an armored corvette in 1857; in early 1859 the Royal Navy started building two iron-hulled armored frigates, and by 1861 had made the decision to move to an all-armored battle fleet. After the first clashes of ironclads took place in 1862 during the American Civil War, it became clear that the ironclad had replaced the unarmored ship of the line as the most powerful warship afloat. This type of ship would come to be very successful in the American Civil War.
A warship or combatant ship is a naval ship that is built and primarily intended for naval warfare. Usually they belong to the armed forces of a state. As well as being armed, warships are designed to withstand damage and are usually faster and more manoeuvrable than merchant ships. Unlike a merchant ship, which carries cargo, a warship typically carries only weapons, ammunition and supplies for its crew. Warships usually belong to a navy, though they have also been operated by individuals, cooperatives and corporations.
The Finnish Navy is one of the branches of the Finnish Defence Forces. The navy employs 2,300 people and about 4,300 conscripts are trained each year. Finnish Navy vessels are given the ship prefix "FNS", short for "Finnish Navy ship", but this is not used in Finnish language contexts. The Finnish Navy also includes coastal forces and coastal artillery.
A patrol boat is a relatively small naval vessel generally designed for coastal defence duties. There have been many designs for patrol boats. They may be operated by a nation's navy, coast guard, police force or customs and may be intended for marine or estuarine or river environments. They are commonly found engaged in various border protection roles, including anti-smuggling, anti-piracy, fisheries patrols, and immigration law enforcement. They are also often called upon to participate in rescue operations. Vessels of this type include the original yacht, a light, fast-sailing vessel used by the Dutch navy to pursue pirates and other transgressors around and into shallow waters.
In the Vietnam War, the Mobile Riverine Force (MRF), initially designated Mekong Delta Mobile Afloat Force, and later the Riverines, were a joint US Army and US Navy force that comprised a substantial part of the brown-water navy. It was modeled after lessons learned by the French experience in the First Indochina War and had the task of both transport and combat. The primary base was at Đồng Tâm Base Camp, with a floating base at the base of the Mekong River. It played a key role in the Tet Offensive.
Operation Sealords was a military operation that took place during the Vietnam War.
River monitors are military craft designed to patrol rivers.
The term brown-water navy or riverine warfare refers in its broadest sense to any naval force capable of military operations in river or littoral environments, especially those carrying heavy sediment loads from soil runoff or flooding. It originated in the United States Navy during the American Civil War, when it referred to Union forces patrolling the muddy Mississippi River, and has since been used to describe the small gunboats and patrol boats commonly used in rivers, along with the larger "mother ships" that supported them. These mother ships include converted World War II-era Landing Crafts and Tank Landing Ships, among other vessels.
The Romanian Navy is the navy branch of the Romanian Armed Forces; it operates in the Black Sea and on the Danube. It traces its history back to 1860.
A river gunboat is a type of gunboat adapted for river operations. River gunboats required shallow draft for river navigation. They would be armed with relatively small caliber cannons, or a mix of cannons and machine guns. If they carried more than one cannon, one might be a howitzer, for shore bombardment. They were usually not armoured. The fictional USS San Pablo described in Richard McKenna's The Sand Pebbles is an example of this class of vessel, serving on the US Navy's Yangtze Patrol. Stronger river warships were river monitors.
The Royal Thai Navy, Thailand's naval warfare force, was established in 1906. It was modernised by the Admiral Prince Abhakara Kiartiwongse (1880–1923) who is known as the father of the Royal Navy. Its has a structure that includes the naval fleet, Royal Thai Marine Corps, and Air and Coastal Defence Command. The RTN headquarters is at Sattahip Naval Base.
A motor gunboat (MGB) was a small, mid-twentieth century high-speed military vessel armed, in contrast to the physically similar motor torpedo boats (MTBs), with a mix of guns instead of torpedoes. Their small size and high speed made them difficult targets for German E-boats, though, like these opponents, they were limited by heavy weather, when they did not provide a stable enough platform to aim the guns. The large number of guns meant the crew was relatively large, numbering as high as thirty men on the largest boats.
Coastal Forces was a division of the Royal Navy initially established during World War I, and then again in World War II under the command of Rear-Admiral, Coastal Forces. It remained active until the last minesweepers to wear the "HM Coastal Forces" cap tally were taken out of reserve in 1968.
Flat-iron gunboats were a number of classes of coastal gunboats generally characterised by small size, low freeboard, the absence of masts, and the mounting of a single non-traversing large gun, aimed by pointing the vessel. They acquired their nickname from the physical similarity with the flat iron used for ironing clothes during the 19th century.
The Humaitá-class gunboat was a two-unit class of riverine gunboats designed by Paraguayan naval engineer José Bozzano and built in Genoa, Italy, for the Paraguayan Navy from 1928 to 1931. The warships played a key role as fast armed transports during the Chaco War with Bolivia.
The Dnieper Flotilla is the name given to the various naval flotillas on the Dnieper River. These were particularly active in four conflicts: the Russo-Turkish wars of 1735–39 and 1787–92, the Russian Civil War, and World War II.
The Romanian Danube Flotilla is the oldest extant naval force on the Danube, dating since 1860, when the Romanian Navy was founded. It saw service during most of the wars involving Romania, and was the most powerful river naval force in the world during the Interwar period.