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A man-of-war is an armed naval vessel. The term is usually applied to a sailing ship armed with cannon, rather than a galley.

The man-of-war was developed in the Mediterranean in the 15th century from earlier roundships with the addition of a second mast to form the carrack. The 16th century saw the carrack evolve into the galleon and then the ship of the line.

Over the centuries the designation of the different rates of man-of-war changed, though the rating depended primarily on the number of guns carried.

Ships of the Line:

  • A first-rate man-of-war is armed with 100 or more guns (as many as 120) on three decks. First-rate vessels carried over 850 crew and displaced in excess of 2,000 tons. It takes six years and around 6,000 trees - mostly oak - to build a first-rater.
  • A second-rate man-of-war carries 90 guns with two or three gun decks. Second-rate vessels displaced about 2000 tons, carrying a crew of 750. Being smaller than first-rate vessels, lighter guns were carried on their middle and upper decks. It takes over 2,000 oak and elm trees to build a second-rate man of war.
  • A third-rate man-of-war carries 50-80 guns (with 74 being common) with two or three gun decks, a crew of 500 to 650 and displacing 1,300–1,600 tons.

Ships below the Line:

  • A fourth-rate carried 50-58 guns on two gun decks, 320 to 420 crews, displacing about 1,000 tons and usually termed a frigate.
  • A fifth-rate carried 30-48 guns. The larger ships are small two-deckers, the smaller ones the ‘one and a half-deckers’ of 32 guns or thereabouts. Tonnage ranged from 700 to 1450 tons, with crews of 250 to 300 men.
  • A sixth-rate only 20-28 guns, crewed about 150 and measured between 450 and 550 tons. Usually sixth-rates were small frigates or sloop-of-war.

Other ships are termed unrated. A sloop is not usually rated as a man-of-war.

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