During the days of sailing navies, the line formed by ships of the line before joining battle with an enemy fleet. The methods used to do this were rigidly enforced in the British Navy, and by other navies, by the fighting instructions, and in the British Navy these remained inflexible until the introduction of the general chase signal in the mid-18th century. Since most conventional sailing warships could only bring their maximum weight of gunfire to bear when they fired on the beam or quarter, the usual line of battle was either line ahead—that is, each ship following in the wake of the one ahead of it—or quarter-line. Wind direction, the position of the sun, visibility, and so on, were always factors which influenced a fleet commander in his choice of where and how he formed his line of battle. See also warfare at sea.
Subjects: Maritime History.