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1 A strengthened or armoured projection from a warship's bow used to disable or sink an enemy ship by ramming it. The rowed war galleys of the Mediterranean were fitted with a sharp spike in their bows for this purpose. The ram as a naval weapon disappeared during the age of sail but made its reappearance when steam propulsion was adopted by the world's navies. The best-known case of the ram being used successfully was when the Austrian ironclad Ferdinand Maximilian rammed and sank the Italian battleship Re d'Italia at the battle of Lissa in 1866. This success, allied to certain disasters in peacetime manoeuvres when ships were sunk after being accidentally rammed—for example, the Vanguard and Iron Duke in 1875 and the Victoria and Camperdown in 1893—prolonged the life of the ram far beyond its use as a practicable weapon in warfare at sea, and most ironclads built up to the beginning of the 20th century were fitted with ram bows. The word was also used to describe a warship whose offensive power was centred mainly on its ram, a type extensively built by both sides in the American Civil War of 1861–5. During the 1860s both the French and British navies built warships specifically for ramming, and the British continued to build such ships until 1884. See also bulbous bow.

2 As a verb, an operation of war by which an attempt to sink an opponent by ramming it is made. During both world wars a number of warships, particularly submarines, were sunk by being rammed. The word generally indicates a conscious act to sink an enemy, and although occasionally used for the purpose, does not properly cover the sinking of a vessel through an accidental collision.

Subjects: Maritime History.

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