A casemate, sometimes rendered casement, is a fortified gun emplacement or armored structure from which guns are fired. originally a vaulted chamber in a fortress.

Origin of the term

The word comes from the Italian casamatta, the etymology of which is uncertain.

Some theorize that casamatta comes from casa, Italian for house, and matto, Italian for mad, but in this case meaning fake; casamatta seems to have been a common nickname given to a medieval siege machine called gatta, which had the appearance of a house.
Others (Devic) think that it comes from the Arabic word kasaba, transliterated to kasbah
A kasbah or qassabah is a type of medina, Islamic city, or fortress .It was a place for the local leader to live and a defense when a city was under attack. A kasbah has high walls, usually without windows. Sometimes, they were built on hilltops so that they could be more easily defended...

, the word that originated the Spanish
Spanish language
Spanish , also known as Castilian , is a Romance language in the Ibero-Romance group that evolved from several languages and dialects in central-northern Iberia around the 9th century and gradually spread with the expansion of the Kingdom of Castile into central and southern Iberia during the...

 word for fortress: alcazaba.
Menagio theorised it came from the Greek
Greek language
Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages. Native to the southern Balkans, it has the longest documented history of any Indo-European language, spanning 34 centuries of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the majority of its history;...

 word for pit, khasma, the plural of which is khasmata.
Hensleigh Wedgwood
Hensleigh Wedgwood
Hensleigh Wedgwood was a British etymologist, philologist and barrister, author of A Dictionary of English Etymology. Wedgwood was the fourth son of Josiah Wedgwood II and Elizabeth Allen...

 thought that it came from the Spanish casa and matar, making a casemate a house in which killing happens.
Others take matto in its archaic Italian meaning of dark, equivalent to the English matt, as in opaque, making a casamatta a dark house. Casematte were also used as military prisons, making use of their lack of light to add to the punishment. This explanation seems to be the most agreed upon.

Land fortification

A casemate was originally a vaulted chamber usually constructed underneath the rampart
Defensive wall
A defensive wall is a fortification used to protect a city or settlement from potential aggressors. In ancient to modern times, they were used to enclose settlements...

. It was intended to be impenetrable and could be used for sheltering troops or stores. With the addition of an embrasure
In military architecture, an embrasure is the opening in a crenellation or battlement between the two raised solid portions or merlons, sometimes called a crenel or crenelle...

 through the scarp face of the rampart, it could be used as a protected gun position. In the early 19th Century, the famous French military engineer Baron Haxo
François Nicolas Benoît, Baron Haxo
François Nicolas Benoît, Baron Haxo was a French Army general and military engineer.-Biography:He was born at Lunéville and entered the Engineers in 1793....

, designed a free-standing casemate that could be built on the top of the rampart. Casemates built in concrete were used in the Second World War to protect coastal artillery
Coastal artillery
Coastal artillery is the branch of armed forces concerned with operating anti-ship artillery or fixed gun batteries in coastal fortifications....

 from air attack.

Casemate ironclads (American Civil War)

The American Civil War
American Civil War
The American Civil War was a civil war fought in the United States of America. In response to the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States, 11 southern slave states declared their secession from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America ; the other 25...

 saw the use of casemate ironclads: armored steamboats with a very low freeboard
Freeboard (nautical)
In sailing and boating, freeboardmeans the distance from the waterline to the upper deck level, measured at the lowest point of sheer where water can enter the boat or ship...

 and their guns on the main deck ('Casemate deck') protected by a sloped armoured casemate, which sat on top of the hull. Although both sides of the civil war used casemate ironclads, the ship is mostly associated with the southern confederacy
Confederate States of America
The Confederate States of America was a government set up from 1861 to 1865 by 11 Southern slave states of the United States of America that had declared their secession from the U.S...

, the north more relying on turreted monitor
Monitor (warship)
A monitor was a class of relatively small warship which was neither fast nor strongly armoured but carried disproportionately large guns. They were used by some navies from the 1860s until the end of World War II, and saw their final use by the United States Navy during the Vietnam War.The monitors...

s. The most famous naval battle of the war was the duel at Hampton Roads
Battle of Hampton Roads
The Battle of Hampton Roads, often referred to as either the Battle of the Monitor and Merrimack or the Battle of Ironclads, was the most noted and arguably most important naval battle of the American Civil War from the standpoint of the development of navies...

 between the Union
Union (American Civil War)
During the American Civil War, the Union was a name used to refer to the federal government of the United States, which was supported by the twenty free states and five border slave states. It was opposed by 11 southern slave states that had declared a secession to join together to form the...

 turretted ironclad USS Monitor
USS Monitor
USS Monitor was the first ironclad warship commissioned by the United States Navy during the American Civil War. She is most famous for her participation in the Battle of Hampton Roads on March 9, 1862, the first-ever battle fought between two ironclads...

 and the Confederate
Confederate States of America
The Confederate States of America was a government set up from 1861 to 1865 by 11 Southern slave states of the United States of America that had declared their secession from the U.S...

 casemate ironclad
Casemate ironclad
The casemate ironclad is a type of iron or iron-armored gunboat briefly used in the American Civil War. Compared to the traditional ironclad warship, the casemate ironclad does not have its cannons in an armored gun deck, but instead has a casemate structure on the main deck housing the guns...

 CSS Virginia
CSS Virginia
CSS Virginia was the first steam-powered ironclad warship of the Confederate States Navy, built during the first year of the American Civil War; she was constructed as a casemate ironclad using the raised and cut down original lower hull and steam engines of the scuttled . Virginia was one of the...

 (built from the scuttled remains of the Merrimack
USS Merrimack (1855)
USS Merrimack was a frigate and sailing vessel of the United States Navy, best known as the hull upon which the ironclad warship, CSS Virginia was constructed during the American Civil War...


Casemate ships (1864-1880)

"Casemate ship" was an alternative term for "central battery ship" (UK) or "center battery ship" (US). The casemate (or central battery) was an armoured box the full width of the ship protecting many guns. The armoured sides of the box, were the sides of hull of the ship. There was an armoured bulkhead at the front and read of the casemate, and a thick deck protecting the top. The lower edge of the casemate sat on top of ship's belt armour. Some ships, such as the Alexandra
HMS Alexandra (1875)
HMS Alexandra was a central battery ironclad of the Victorian Royal Navy, whose seagoing career was from 1877 to 1900. She spent much of her career as a flagship, and took part in operations to deter Russian aggression against Turkey in 1878 and the bombardment of Alexandria in 1882.-Background:At...

 (laid down 1873), had a two-storey casemate.

Single casemates (1889 onwards)

A "casemate" was an armoured room in the side of a warship, from which a gun would fire. A typical casemate held a 6-in gun, and had a 6" front plate (forming part of the side of the ship), with thinner armour plates on the sides and rear, with a protected top and floor, and weighed about 20 tons (not including the gun and mounting). Casemates were similar in size to turrets; ships carrying them had them in pairs: one on each side of the ship.

The first battleships to carry them were the British Royal Sovereign class
Royal Sovereign class battleship
The Royal Sovereign class was a class of pre-dreadnought battleships of the British Royal Navy. The class comprised seven ships built to the same design: HMS Royal Sovereign, , HMS Ramilles, HMS Repulse, HMS Resolution, HMS Revenge, and HMS Royal Oak, and a half-sister built to a modified design: ....

 laid down in 1889. They were adopted as a result of live-firing trials against HMS Resistance
HMS Resistance (1861)
HMS Resistance was the second and last ship of the Defence class to be commissioned. She served in the English Channel from 1862 to 1864, and was then posted to the Mediterranean, where she was the first British ironclad to see service...

 in 1888. Casemates were adopted because it was thought that the fixed armour plate at the front would provide better protection than a turret, and because a turret mounting would require external power and could therefore be put out of action if power were lost - unlike a casemate gun, which could be worked by hand. The use of casemates enabled the 6-in guns to be dispersed, so that a single hit would not knock out all of them. Casemates were also used in protected and armoured cruisers, starting with the 1889 Edgar class
Edgar class cruiser
The Edgar-class was a nine-ship class of protected cruiser built around 1891 for the Royal Navy.-Design:Crescent and Royal Arthur were built to a slightly modified design with a raised forecastle and a pair of 6 inch guns replacing the forward 9.2 inch gun, and are sometimes considered a...

. and retrofitted to the 1888 Blake class
Blake class cruiser
The Blake class was a two-ship class of first-class protected cruiser built around 1890 for the Royal Navy.-Service:The two ships were obsolete by the outbreak of the First World War, and served as depot ships...

 during construction.

In the pre-dreadnought generation of warships, casemates were placed initially on the main deck, and later on the upper deck as well. Casemates on the main deck were very close to the waterline. In the Edgar class, the guns in the main deck casemates were only 10 feet (3 m) above the waterline. Casemates that were too close to the waterline or too close to the bow (such as in the 1912 Iron Duke class dreadnoughts
Iron Duke class battleship
The Iron Duke-class was a group of four dreadnought battleships built for the British Royal Navy before the First World War. The class comprised four ships: , , , and...

) were prone to flooding, making the guns ineffective.

Armoured vehicles

During World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

, most purpose-built German Wehrmacht
The Wehrmacht – from , to defend and , the might/power) were the unified armed forces of Nazi Germany from 1935 to 1945. It consisted of the Heer , the Kriegsmarine and the Luftwaffe .-Origin and use of the term:...

 and Soviet Red Army
Red Army
The Workers' and Peasants' Red Army started out as the Soviet Union's revolutionary communist combat groups during the Russian Civil War of 1918-1922. It grew into the national army of the Soviet Union. By the 1930s the Red Army was among the largest armies in history.The "Red Army" name refers to...

 tank destroyers and self-propelled guns (like the Wehrmacht's Sturmgeschütz III
Sturmgeschütz III
The Sturmgeschütz III assault gun was Germany's most produced armoured fighting vehicle during World War II. It was built on the chassis of the proven Panzer III tank...

) essentially had turretless, armored steel casemates mounted onto (or built integrally into) conventional main battle tank chassis to carry heavier, forward firing guns—the German vehicles were dubbed Jagdpanzer
Jagdpanzer , German for "hunting tank", is a name given to German self-propelled anti-tank guns.It typically refers to anti-tank variants of existing tank chassis with a well-armoured casemate fixed superstructure, mounting an anti-tank gun with limited traverse in the front, and usually classed by...

 and Panzerjäger
Panzerjäger was a branch of service of the Wehrmacht during the Second World War which were the anti-tank arm-of-service who operated anti-tank artillery, and made exclusive use of the tank destroyers which were also named Panzerjäger...

 respectively, while their Soviet counterparts all bore an "SU-" or "ISU-" prefix, with the "SU-" prefix an abbreviation for Samokhodnaya Ustanovka in Russian, or "self-propelled installation" in their designations, much like the U.S. Army's designation for self-propelled artillery, and American tank destroyer
Tank destroyer
A tank destroyer is a type of armored fighting vehicle armed with a gun or missile launcher, and is designed specifically to engage enemy armored vehicles...

s, as a "Gun Motor Carriage".

Civil engineering

In civilian use a casemate may be a tunnel cut into a rock face with armour
Armour or armor is protective covering used to prevent damage from being inflicted to an object, individual or a vehicle through use of direct contact weapons or projectiles, usually during combat, or from damage caused by a potentially dangerous environment or action...

ed doors, used for storing volatile goods. In civilian architecture the term is also used to describe a hollow molding, used mostly in a cornice
Cornice molding is generally any horizontal decorative molding that crowns any building or furniture element: the cornice over a door or window, for instance, or the cornice around the edge of a pedestal. A simple cornice may be formed just with a crown molding.The function of the projecting...

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