Ships after the Steam Revolution and Ironclads
Vessels were still built of wood and carried ever greater spreads of sails, but by the end of the eighteenth century the first experiments were being made with steam propulsion, a method that would free ships from being reliant on the wind and eventually, once the steam engine reached a degree of perfection, enable ships to make faster passages along more direct routes.
The Industrial revolution ushered in other changes, such as the use ofiron, and later steel, in shipbuilding.
Laughed off by the conservative-minded, not least those in high naval office, the smoky, clanking ships were taken up first by the merchant marine, who wanted to shorten journey times.
The new steam propulsion and the new materials provided by the industrial revolution, especially iron plate in mass quantities, wrought more change in the 50 years between 1800 and 1850 than all the developments of the previous 500 years.
Yet in the 1850s a full-rigged ship with the wind behind her could still overtake the average packet steamer.
By the mid-1800s the new technologies of the industrial revolution had begun to pick up speed. Marine engineering, based on the twin innovations of the steanl engine and metal construction, prospered, and new developments in the field followed one upon another.
More efficient machinery and stronger, lighter construction translated into faster ships.
In spite of these dramatic developments, the sailing ship continued to play a major role in world commerce.
In the 1860s the fast clipper ship appeared, intended for service in the tea, wool and grain trade. The general cargo sailing vessel still prospered amongst the burgeoning steamship fleets; even as late as 1900 well over one third of aU merchant ships, 10m tons out ofa worldwide fleet of24m tons, were sailing ships.
By 1932 there were still nearly 3000 merchant sailing ships 111 regular service.
Although early attempts to build iron hulled warships were not successful, the new technologies accelerated warship development. Until 1860, major warships were still built of wood; some of the steam-powered ships carried over 120 guns on three decks. In the late 1850s a major change took place with the laying down of Dupuy de Lome's splendid creation
Claire which, although it had a wooden hull, was completely covered in iron armour able to resist the guns of the period
In the 1860s, the broadside ironclad frigates replaced the wooden-hulled two- and three-decker line-of-battle ships, and were soon in turn replaced by turreted ships. As guns became more powerful so armor grew thicker which, because of weight limitations, was restricted to protecting the vitals.
Capital ships now carried a mixed armament of larger, quick firing guns: fewer in number, but by their rapid fire increasing the number of rounds fired per minute.
Machinery and boilers developed rapidly.
As engines became more reliable and economical so sail power was dispensed with. Boiler power continued to increase, leading to the triple expansion engine with its good economy.
Liquid fuel in the shape of oil began to be used in the 1890s and the turbine first appeared, marking a major step in engineering.
The locomotive torpedo was also adopted by all navies.
During this period the submarine slowly evolved, and with the development of the battery by 1900, became a practical weapon. By the turn of the twentieth century the battleship had reached its peak, but by 1906 the all-big-gun Dreadnought was on the scene and, like the Warrior before her, immediately eclipsed existing capital ships, thus heralding another new era.
HMS Dreadnought made all other warships obsolete overnight, and led to a naval construction race that contributed to the outbreak of World War I.
It was a time of innovation, a period that saw the debut of the battle cruiser, a hybrid warship that was to make its mark on the sea battles of the twentieth century.
The years that led up to World War 1 witnessed Great Britain's naval supremacy challenged first by Germany and then Japan, but at the end of flat conflict the German High Seas Fleet had ceased to exist and the principal maritime powers were Britain, Japan and the United States.