Warship Definitions

World War 1 Naval Combat

World War 1 Naval Combat

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Below is an outline of the different types of warship that served in world War 1. It should be noted that these are not formal and there can be quite a bit of blurring between types for certain ships but hopefully it does give a general idea of what the different types were.


The name is derived from line of battle ships and they were the most powerful and usually largest warship type designed to fight other large warships. Emphasis was usually on heavy armament and armour protection with only a modest speed.

Dreadnought Battleships
Named after the British battleships HMS Dreadnought which unlike previous battleships had a main armament of uniform gun type and a light secondary armament primarily for defence against torpedo craft.

Pre-Dreadnought Battleships
A term used to describe battleships built before HMS Dreadnought that had a mixed armament usually of 4 main guns and a heavy secondary armament.  By the time of WW1 many no longer served with the main battle-fleet as they were too weak and slow to fight with Dreadnought battleships and were relegated to secondary roles such as shore bombardment and coast defence.

Semi-Dreadnought Battleships
A term sometimes used to describe the last generation of pre-Dreadnought battleships that had a heavy intermediary gun battery (usually 8-10 inch guns) as well as the normal main and secondary guns.


Jack-of-all-trades warships that were considered the smallest type capable of sustained independent operations. Sizes varied from quite small to, in some cases, as large or larger than battleships. Speed was important for most cruisers whilst armament and protection varied considerably. Roles were many and including trade protection, scouting, showing the flag, police work, patrol, raiding, leading destroyer flotillas and supporting battleships in a fleet action.

Originally a type of large and powerful armoured cruiser designed for similar roles - trade protection, scouting, support the battle-line.  As large as battleships and with a similar main armament, although slightly fewer guns, they had much weaker armour but high speed.  As time went on they became more like fast battleships and less like large cruisers.

Armoured Cruisers
Large cruisers capable of most cruiser roles.  The name is derived from the usage of belt armour in the ships, a feature that had not been practical until the 1890s when new armour types were developed which were light enough to make belt armour of useful thickness practical in a cruiser.  The type were superseded by the battlecruiser although many served in WW1

Protected Cruisers
Cruisers that lacked belt armoured but relied on a curved armoured deck to protect the vitals of the ship. 

Scout Cruisers
Small, fast cruisers many to act as flotilla leaders for destroyers and to act as scouts.

Light Cruisers
Originally light armoured cruisers indicating the use of belt armour in smaller cruisers.  The term was later used to cover most small and medium cruisers.

First/Second/Third Class
Certain roles such as trade protection or colonial police work required a large number of ships that didn't need to be the most powerful types possible. Because of this often the quality of a warship with designated by calling them first, second or third class. First class was the best but most expensive.


A shortening of the original name for this type which was Torpedo Boat Destroyer (TBD). Originally a larger, faster type of torpedo boat with more emphasis on gun armament and less on torpedo and designed to destroy torpedo boats. By the end of WW1 were used for many roles including screening larger warships against enemy torpedo craft (including submarines), convoy escort, patrol, offensive torpedo attacks etc.

Torpedo Boats

Originally small fast torpedo carrying craft. Mainly superseded by destroyers by the end of WW1.


A warship used for coastal bombardment. They were slow, lacked protection, were armed with a few large guns and had a shallow draught. Not suitable of fighting against other warships.

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