Ironclad warship facts for kids

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LaGloire
French ironclad La Gloire

An ironclad is a steam-propelled warship protected by iron or steel armor plates used in the early part of the second half of the 19th century. The ironclad was developed as a result of the vulnerability of wooden warships to explosive or incendiary shells. The first ironclad battleship, Gloire, was launched by the French Navy in November 1859. The British Admiralty had been considering armored warships since 1856 and prepared a draft design for an armored corvette in 1857; in early 1859 the Royal Navy started building two iron-hulled armored frigates, and by 1861 had made the decision to move to an all-armored battle fleet. After the first clashes of ironclads (both with wooden ships and with one another) took place in 1862 during the American Civil War, it became clear that the ironclad had replaced the unarmored ship of the line as the most powerful warship afloat. This type of ship would come to be very successful in the American Civil War.

Ironclads were designed for several roles, including as high seas battleships, coastal defense ships, and long-range cruisers. The rapid development of warship design in the late 19th century transformed the ironclad from a wooden-hulled vessel that carried sails to supplement its steam engines into the steel-built, turreted battleships and cruisers familiar in the 20th century. This change was pushed forward by the development of heavier naval guns (the ironclads of the 1880s carried some of the heaviest guns ever mounted at sea at the time), more sophisticated steam engines, and advances in metallurgy which made steel shipbuilding possible.

The quick pace of change meant that many ships were obsolete as soon as they were finished, and that naval tactics were in a state of flux. Many ironclads were built to make use of the ram or the torpedo, which a number of naval designers considered the important weapons of naval combat. There is no clear end to the ironclad period, but towards the end of the 1890s the term ironclad dropped out of use. New ships were increasingly constructed to a standard pattern and designated battleships or armored cruisers.

The ironclad

HMS Warrior Annunciator
Annunciator on HMS Warrior, first British ironclad warship, now in Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, Hampshire, UK

The ironclad became technically feasible and tactically necessary because of developments in shipbuilding in the first half of the 19th century. According to naval historian J. Richard Hill: "The (ironclad) had three chief characteristics: a metal-skinned hull, steam propulsion and a main armament of guns capable of firing explosive shells. It is only when all three characteristics are present that a fighting ship can properly be called an ironclad." Each of these developments was introduced separately in the decade before the first ironclads.

History

In 1592 Admiral Yi-Sun put armor plates on his "tortoise-ships". These protected the sides and top from bullets, arrows and fire. This allowed his small fleet to be victorious in several battles with the ese fleet. The first Western ironclad battleship, "Gloire", was launched by the French Navy in November 1859. The British Admiralty had been considering armored warships since 1856. They prepared a draft design for an armored corvette in 1857. In early 1859 the Royal Navy started building two iron-hulled armored frigates, and by 1861 had made the decision to move to an all-armored battle fleet. After the first clashes of ironclads (both with wooden ships and with one another) took place in 1862 during the American Civil War. It became clear that the ironclad had replaced the unarmored ship of the line as the most powerful warship afloat. This type of ship would come to be very successful in the American Civil War.

By the 1870s, ironclads were the main warships of the world's most powerful Navies. But the ironclad era only lasted about 50 years. By the 1890s most sailing ironclads had been replaced by modern battleships.

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Ironclad warship Facts for Kids. Homework Help - Kiddle Encyclopedia.