ship of the line

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line of battle



Robert Blake (1599—1657) naval and army officer


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A warship of the days of sailing navies which carried a sufficiently large gun armament to lie in the line of battle. Until the time of the First Dutch War (1652–4), fleets of warships did not fight in formation, each ship sailing into battle with the purpose of finding an enemy vessel she could engage in single combat. The first attempt to make a fleet fight in formation was made by Robert Blake at the battle of Portland in 1653, but the line of battle as such did not emerge until the Second Dutch War (1665–7), when fleets were more rigidly controlled by their admirals. And because a ship's guns of those days had no means of being trained, but could only fire through their gunports at right angles to the fore-and-aft line of the ship, the line of battle had obviously to be in the line ahead formation, with each ship following in the track of the next warship ahead. This formation was rigidly laid down in the fighting instructions issued to all admirals and captains of ships, and governed the conduct of all British ships in action until the introduction of the general chase signal in the mid-18th century gave the admiral in command a degree of flexibility. See also rate; warfare at sea.

Subjects: Maritime History.

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