Naval artillery
Naval artillery, or naval riflery, is artillery
Originally applied to any group of infantry primarily armed with projectile weapons, artillery has over time become limited in meaning to refer only to those engines of war that operate by projection of munitions far beyond the range of effect of personal weapons...

 mounted on a warship
A warship is a ship that is built and primarily intended for combat. Warships are usually built in a completely different way from merchant ships. As well as being armed, warships are designed to withstand damage and are usually faster and more maneuvrable than merchant ships...

 for use in naval warfare
Naval warfare
Naval warfare is combat in and on seas, oceans, or any other major bodies of water such as large lakes and wide rivers.-History:Mankind has fought battles on the sea for more than 3,000 years. Land warfare would seem, initially, to be irrelevant and entirely removed from warfare on the open ocean,...

. Naval artillery has historically been used to engage either other ships, or targets on land; in the latter role it is currently termed naval gunfire fire support. In the 20th century naval artillery also gained an anti-aircraft role.

The idea of ship-borne artillery dates back to the classical era. Julius Caesar
Julius Caesar
Gaius Julius Caesar was a Roman general and statesman and a distinguished writer of Latin prose. He played a critical role in the gradual transformation of the Roman Republic into the Roman Empire....

 indicates the use of ship-borne catapults against Britons ashore in his Commentarii de Bello Gallico
Commentarii de Bello Gallico
Commentarii de Bello Gallico is Julius Caesar's firsthand account of the Gallic Wars, written as a third-person narrative. In it Caesar describes the battles and intrigues that took place in the nine years he spent fighting local armies in Gaul that opposed Roman domination.The "Gaul" that Caesar...

. The dromon
The dromon was a type of galley and the most important warship of the Byzantine navy from the 6th to 12th centuries AD...

s of the Byzantine Empire carried catapults and fire-throwers. From the late Middle Ages onwards, warships began to carry cannon
A cannon is any piece of artillery that uses gunpowder or other usually explosive-based propellents to launch a projectile. Cannon vary in caliber, range, mobility, rate of fire, angle of fire, and firepower; different forms of cannon combine and balance these attributes in varying degrees,...

 of various calibres.

From the 16th century onward, the gun became the most important weapon at sea. Galleys were the first naval vessels to carry artillery powerful enough to sink ships and batter down outdated medieval fortress walls. Around the same time sailing warships began to carry an increasing number of guns, most of them on their broadside
A broadside is the side of a ship; the battery of cannon on one side of a warship; or their simultaneous fire in naval warfare.-Age of Sail:...

s. Initially, tactics of sailing ships were geared towards boarding, but as the number guns steadily increased throughout the 16th and 17th century, tactics changed. By the 1650s, the line of battle
Line of battle
In naval warfare, the line of battle is a tactic in which the ships of the fleet form a line end to end. A primitive form had been used by the Portuguese under Vasco Da Gama in 1502 near Malabar against a Muslim fleet.,Maarten Tromp used it in the Action of 18 September 1639 while its first use in...

 had developed as a tactic that could take advantage of the broadside armament. This method became the heart of naval warfare during the age of sail
Age of Sail
The Age of Sail was the period in which international trade and naval warfare were dominated by sailing ships, lasting from the 16th to the mid 19th century...

, with navies adopting their strategies and tactics in order to get the most broadside-on fire. This state of affairs continued into Napoleonic Wars
Napoleonic Wars
The Napoleonic Wars were a series of wars declared against Napoleon's French Empire by opposing coalitions that ran from 1803 to 1815. As a continuation of the wars sparked by the French Revolution of 1789, they revolutionised European armies and played out on an unprecedented scale, mainly due to...

, where the British Royal Navy met with success over its French opponents in part because of its ability to deliver faster fire from its cannon, directed into the heart of an enemy ship at close range.

During the 19th century naval artillery increased in size and power. The advances in metallurgy and chemistry meant that it was possible to build heavier guns, each firing an explosive shell rather than solid shot. Ships started to carry a smaller number of heavy, long-ranged guns rather than dozens of cannon. This trend began in the 1840s and accelerated after the invention of the ironclad warship
Ironclad warship
An ironclad was a steam-propelled warship in the early part of the second half of the 19th century, protected by iron or steel armor plates. The ironclad was developed as a result of the vulnerability of wooden warships to explosive or incendiary shells. The first ironclad battleship, La Gloire,...

 around 1860, with some ironclads carrying extremely heavy, slow-firing guns of calibres up to 16.25 inches. These guns were the only weapons capable of piercing the ever-thicker iron armour on the later ironclads; however given their slow rate of fire and the great difficult of handling them, it is perhaps unlikely that they would ever have scored a hit.

The introduction of the quick-firing gun
Quick-firing gun
A quick-firing gun is an artillery piece, typically a gun or howitzer, which has several characteristics which taken together mean the weapon can fire at a fast rate...

 in the 1890s served to reverse this trend to an extent. The pre-dreadnought battleships of this period relied as much on their quick-firing secondary battery (typically of 6 inches in calibre) as they did on their main armament (typically 12 inches in calibre). However the improved rate of fire and range of the heavy guns meant that battleships switched to an "all-big-gun" armament, beginning with HMS Dreadnought
HMS Dreadnought (1906)
HMS Dreadnought was a battleship of the British Royal Navy that revolutionised naval power. Her entry into service in 1906 represented such a marked advance in naval technology that her name came to be associated with an entire generation of battleships, the "dreadnoughts", as well as the class of...

, launched in 1906. Dreadnought set the tone for battleships of the rest of the 20th Century; while the calibre of heavy guns increased (to as far as 18.1 inches in the Japanese Yamato class) the basic principle remained the same. Smaller ships, for instance cruiser
A cruiser is a type of warship. The term has been in use for several hundreds of years, and has had different meanings throughout this period...

s and destroyer
In naval terminology, a destroyer is a fast and maneuverable yet long-endurance warship intended to escort larger vessels in a fleet, convoy or battle group and defend them against smaller, powerful, short-range attackers. Destroyers, originally called torpedo-boat destroyers in 1892, evolved from...

s, made use of smaller-calibre weapons which were also found on battleships as the secondary armament.

After World War II, the guided missile
Guided Missile
Guided Missile is a London based independent record label set up by Paul Kearney in 1994.Guided Missile has always focused on 'the underground', preferring to put out a steady flow of releases and developing the numerous GM events around London and beyond....

 began to replace the naval gun as the principal surface-to-surface weapon, at the same time as the rise of the aircraft carrier
Aircraft carrier
An aircraft carrier is a warship designed with a primary mission of deploying and recovering aircraft, acting as a seagoing airbase. Aircraft carriers thus allow a naval force to project air power worldwide without having to depend on local bases for staging aircraft operations...

 meant that the surface combatant itself became less important. After 1945 no new ships were begun using heavy guns, though a small number of battleships and cruisers continued in service. The United States Navy's Iowa class battleship
Iowa class battleship
The Iowa-class battleships were a class of fast battleships ordered by the United States Navy in 1939 and 1940 to escort the Fast Carrier Task Forces which would operate in the Pacific Theater of World War II. Six were ordered during the course of World War II, but only four were completed in...

s were retained in service until the early 21st century, in large part because of their unparalleled fire support capabilities. Today many destroyers and frigate
A frigate is any of several types of warship, the term having been used for ships of various sizes and roles over the last few centuries.In the 17th century, the term was used for any warship built for speed and maneuverability, the description often used being "frigate-built"...

s carry a single gun of 3 inches to 5 inches in calibre which is capable of a mixture of fire-support, anti-surface and anti-air fire missions, but it is not regarded as the principal weapon system. Otherwise, the principal role of naval artillery is for short-ranged anti-air and anti-missile defence, for instance with the popular 20mm Phalanx CIWS
Phalanx CIWS
The Phalanx CIWS is an anti-ship missile defense system. It is a close-in weapon system and was designed and manufactured by the General Dynamics Corporation, Pomona Division...


See also

  • 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....

  • Naval artillery in the Age of Sail
    Naval artillery in the Age of Sail
    Naval artillery in the Age of Sail encompasses the period of roughly 1571-1863: when large, sail-powered wooden naval warships dominated the high seas, mounting a bewildering variety of different types and sizes of cannon as their main armament. By modern standards, these cannon were extremely...

  • List of naval guns
  • List of artillery

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