Coastal defence ships (sometimes called coastal battleships or coast defence ships) were warships built for the purpose of coastal defence, mostly during the period from 1860 to 1920. They were small, often cruiser-sized warships that sacrificed speed and range for armour and armament. They were usually attractive to nations that either could not afford full-sized battleships or could be satisfied by specially designed shallow-draft vessels capable of littoral operations close to their own shores. The Nordic countries and Thailand found them particularly appropriate for their island-dotted coastal waters. Some vessels had limited blue-water capabilities; others operated in rivers.
The coastal defence ships differed from earlier monitors by having a higher freeboard and usually possessing both higher speed and a secondary armament; some examples also mounted casemated guns (monitors' guns were almost always in turrets). They varied in size from around 1,500 tons to 8,000 tons.
Their construction and appearance was often that of miniaturized pre-dreadnought battleships. As such, they carried heavier armour than cruisers or gunboats of equivalent size, were typically equipped with a main armament of two or four heavy and several lighter guns in turrets or casemates, and could steam at a higher speed than most monitors. In service they were mainly used as movable coastal artillery rather than instruments of sea control or fleet engagements like the battleships operated by blue-water navies. Few of these ships saw combat in the First World War, though some did in the Second World War. The last were scrapped in the 1970s.
Navies with coastal defence ships serving as their main capital ships included those of Belgium, Ecuador, Finland, Greece, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, Thailand, and the British colonies of India and Victoria. Some nations which at one time or another built, bought, or otherwise acquired their own front-line capital ships, such as Argentina, Austria-Hungary, Brazil, China, Germany, Russia, and Spain, also deployed this type of warship, with Russia using three at the Battle of Tsushima in 1905.
Apart from specially built coastal defence ships, some navies used various obsolescent ships in this role. The Royal Navy deployed four Majestic-class battleships as guardships in the Humber at the start of the First World War. Similarly, the U.S. Navy redesignated the Indiana and Iowa classes as "Coast Defense Battleships" in 1919. Such ships tended to be near the end of their service lives and while generally considered no longer fit for front-line service, they were still powerful enough for defensive duties in reserve situations.
This type of vessel has always been categorized differently by different countries, due to treaties, differences in judgments related to design or intended roles, and also national pride. In the United Kingdom the Scandinavian ships were known as "coast defence ships". The Germans called these ships Küstenpanzerschiff ("coastal armoured ship"). The Danes referred to their ships as Kystforsvarsskib ("coast defence ship") and Panserskib ("armoured ship"). In Norway they were referred to as Panserskip ("armoured ship"). The Dutch called their ships Kruiser ("cruiser"), Pantserschip ("armoured ship") or Slagschip ("battleship"). The Swedish term for these ships was initially 1:a klass Pansarbåt ("1st class armoured boat") and later Pansarskepp ("armoured ship"). Note however, that the German Panzerschiffen of the Deutschland class were not designed as coastal defense ships but as high seas raiders.
As an example of the profusion of terms and classifications which often contradicted each other, the 1938 edition of Jane's Fighting Ships lists the Swedish Pansarskepps of the Sverige class as battleships.
The Swedish Pansarskepp were an outgrowth of the earlier Swedish adoption of the monitor and were used for similar duties.
The Pansarskepp or Pansarbåt, with the notable exception of the Sverige class, were relatively small vessels with limited speed, shallow draft, and very heavy guns relative to the displacement. They were designed for close in-shore work in the littoral zone of Scandinavia, and other countries with shallow coastal waters. The aim was to outgun any ocean-going warship of the same draft by a significant margin, making it a very dangerous opponent for a cruiser, and deadly to anything smaller. The limitations in speed and seaworthiness were a trade-off for the heavy armament carried. Vessels similar to the Swedish Pansarskepp were also built and operated by Denmark, Norway, and Finland, all of which had similar naval requirements.
The Sverige-class ships differed in several ways from the classical coastal defence ship, having heavier armament as well as better speed and armor (while still being small enough to operate and hide in the archipelagos and shallow waters off Sweden). The main difference was to be noted in their tactical doctrine and operations. Unlike other coastal defence ships the Sverige-class formed the core of a traditional open-sea battle group (Coastal Fleet), operating with cruisers, destroyers, torpedo boats, and air reconnaissance in conformance with traditional battleship tactics of the time. This “mini-battle group” had no intention of challenging the superpowers in blue-water battles, but rather were to operate as a defensive shield to aggression challenging Swedish interests and territory. Based on the doctrine that one needs a battle group to challenge other battle groups, this force intended to form a problematic obstacle in the confined and shallow Baltic and Kattegat theatre, where traditional large warships would be limited to very predictable moving patterns exposing them to submarines, fast torpedo craft, and minefields. It has been suggested that the Sverige-class ships were one reason why Germany did not invade Sweden during World War II. Such speculation appeared in Warship Magazine Annual 1992 in the article 'The Sverige Class Coastal Defence Ships,' by Daniel G. Harris. This could be said to have been partly confirmed in the post war publication of German tactical orders, and of scenarios regarding attacking Sweden. The problems of maintaining an army in Sweden without sea superiority were emphasized, and the lack of available suitable units to face the Swedish navy was pointed out (“Stations for battle”, Insulander/Olsson, 2001). Summarizing the question of effectiveness for the Sverige-class, it is likely that despite a good armament they would have been too small, slow, and cramped (from both a habitability and essential ship's stores standpoint), along with having insufficient range, to perform adequately against any traditional battlecruiser or battleship in a blue-water scenario; however, if correctly used in their home waters and in a defensive situation, they would probably have presented a major challenge for any aggressor.
The Dutch used their armoured ships mainly to defend their interests overseas, in particular their colonial possessions in the West Indies (the islands of the Netherlands Antilles) and the East Indies (primarily, modern Indonesia). For this reason the ships had to be capable of long-range cruising, providing artillery support during amphibious operations, and carrying the troops and equipment needed in these operations. At the same time, the ships had to be armed and armoured well enough to face contemporary armoured cruisers of the Imperial Japanese Navy (the Netherlands' most likely enemy in the Pacific), and as such they were expected to act as mini-battleships rather than strictly as coastal defence vessels.
The last Dutch pantserschip, HNLMS De Zeven Provinciën, was built in 1909 as a stop-gap measure while the Dutch Admiralty and government contemplated an ambitious fleet plan comprising a number of dreadnought battleships. This ambition was never realized due to the outbreak of the First World War. The Second World War put an end to a similar project to obtain fast capital ships in the late 1930s with German assistance.
Prior to the Second World War, the Dutch had relegated all the surviving pantserschips to secondary duties. The Axis powers, who seized some of the ships following the conquest of the Netherlands, converted several to serve as floating anti-aircraft batteries and subsequently utilized some as block ships.
The navies of the following countries have operated coastal defence ships at some point in time.
Media related to Coastal defence ships at Wikimedia CommonsBjørgvin-class coastal defence ship
The Bjørgvin-class coastal battleships were ordered by Norway in 1912 to supplement the older Eidsvold and Tordenskjold-class coastal defence ships. The two ships laid down were compulsorily purchased by the Royal Navy when World War I broke out, and classified as monitors. The British government paid Norway £370,000 as compensation for each ship.Eidsvold-class coastal defence ship
The Eidsvold class was a class of coastal defence ships, two of which were built for the Royal Norwegian Navy in 1899 by Armstrong Whitworth. The class consisted of two ships, HNoMS Eidsvold and HNoMS Norge. Locally they were referred to as panserskip (lit.: armoured ship).Evertsen-class coastal defence ship
The Evertsen class or Kortenaer class was a class of coastal defense ships of the Royal Netherlands Navy. The class comprised Evertsen, Piet Hein and Kortenaer.Finnish coastal defence ship Ilmarinen
Ilmarinen was a Finnish Navy Panssarilaiva ("Armored ship"; a coastal defence ship by British classification). The unit was constructed at the Crichton-Vulcan shipyard in Turku, Finland, and named after the mythological hero Ilmarinen from the Finnish national epic, the Kalevala. Ilmarinen was the flagship of the Navy from 1 May 1933 until her demise on 13 September 1941.Finnish coastal defence ship Väinämöinen
Väinämöinen was a Finnish coastal defence ship, the sister ship of the Finnish Navy's flagship Ilmarinen and also the first ship of her class. She was built at the Crichton-Vulcan shipyard in Turku and was launched in 1932. Following the end of the Continuation War, Väinämöinen was handed over to the Soviet Union as war reparations and renamed Vyborg. The ship remained in Soviet hands until her scrapping in 1966.HNoMS Norge
HNoMS Norge was a coastal defence ship of the Eidsvold-class in the Royal Norwegian Navy. Built by Armstrong Whitworth at Newcastle on Tyne, she was torpedoed and sunk by German destroyers in Narvik harbour on 9 April 1940.HNoMS Tordenskjold
HNoMS Tordenskjold, known locally as Panserskipet Tordenskjold, was a Norwegian coastal defence ship. She, her sister ship, Harald Haarfagre, and the slightly newer Eidsvold class were built as a part of the general rearmament in the time leading up to the events in 1905. Tordenskjold remained an important vessel in the Royal Norwegian Navy until she was considered unfit for war in the mid-1930s.Herluf Trolle-class coastal defence ship
The Herluf Trolle class was a class of coastal defence ships of the Royal Danish Navy. The class comprised Herluf Trolle, Olfert Fischer and Peder Skram.Koningin Regentes-class coastal defense ship
The Koningin Regentes class was a class of coastal defence ships of the Royal Netherlands Navy. The class comprised Koningin Regentes, De Ruyter and Hertog Hendrik.List of battleships
The list of battleships includes all battleships built between 1859 and 1946, listed alphabetically.
The boundary between ironclads and the first battleships, the so-called 'pre-dreadnought battleship', is not obvious, as the characteristics of the pre-dreadnought evolved in the period from 1875 to 1895.
As they can be considered as reduced versions of battleships, coastal defence ships (sometimes also referred to as coastal defence battleships) are included in the list.List of coastal defence ships of World War II
"Coastal defence ship" is a catchall category for warships with overlapping characteristics and duties, grouped here for purposes of concision and comparison. They included ships variously called coastal defence ships, coastal battleships, German Küstenpanzerschiff, Kystforsvarsskib, Panserskip; the Dutch Kruiser, Pantserschip and Slagschip; and the Swedish 1:a klass Pansarbåt and Pansarskepp.
Coastal defence ships were cruiser-sized shallow-draft vessels capable of close to shore littoral and riverine operations. Some had limited blue-water capabilities. Coastal defence ships differed from earlier monitors by having a higher freeboard and usually both higher speed and secondary armament. Their construction and appearance was similar to miniaturized pre-dreadnought battleships. They carried heavier armour than cruisers or gunboats of equivalent size, were typically equipped with a main armament of two or four heavy and several lighter guns in turrets or casemates, and could steam at a higher speed than most monitors.In service they were mainly used as movable coastal artillery rather than instruments of sea control or fleet engagements like the battleships operated by blue-water navies. Apart from specially built coastal defence ships, some navies used various obsolescent ships in this role. The Royal Navy deployed four Majestic-class battleship as guardships in the Humber at the start of the First World War. Similarly, the U.S. Navy redesignated the Indiana and Iowa classes as "Coast Defense Battleships" in 1919. Such ships tended to be near the end of their service lives and while generally considered no longer fit for front-line service, they were still powerful enough for defensive duties in reserve situations.The List of ships of World War II contains major military vessels of the war, arranged alphabetically and by type. The list includes armed vessels that served during the war and in the immediate aftermath, inclusive of localized ongoing combat operations, garrison surrenders, post-surrender occupation, colony re-occupation, troop and prisoner repatriation, to the end of 1945. For smaller vessels, see also List of World War II ships of less than 1000 tons. Some uncompleted Axis ships are included, out of historic interest. Ships are designated to the country under which they operated for the longest period of the World War II, regardless of where they were built or previous service history.
Click on headers to sort column alphabetically.Monarch-class coastal defense ship
The Monarch class was a class of three coastal defence ships, built by Austria-Hungary at the end of the 19th century. The Monarchs were the first ships of their type to utilize turrets. The class comprised three ships: SMS Monarch, SMS Wien, and SMS Budapest, each armed with four 240 mm (9 in) L/40 guns in two turrets and capable of 15.5 knots (28.7 km/h; 17.8 mph) at full speed. Budapest was fitted with slightly more modern and powerful engines, giving her a top speed of 17.5 knots (32.4 km/h; 20.1 mph).
Monarch was launched on 9 May 1895, Wien on 7 July 1895, and Budapest just over a year later on 24 July 1896. The ships saw very little service during World War I in the V Division of the Austro-Hungarian fleet. Budapest and Wien took part in the bombardment of Italian positions along the Adriatic coast in 1915 and 1917, but the three battleships went largely inactive for the remainder of war.
In 1917, Wien was struck by Italian torpedoes and sank in her home port of Trieste. The remaining two ships were ceded to Great Britain following the end of the war and were scrapped between 1920 and 1922.Oden-class coastal defence ship
The Oden class was a class of coastal defence ships of the Swedish Navy. The class comprised Oden, Niord and Thor.Rijkswerf (Amsterdam)
The Rijkswerf (Dutch: State shipyard) in Amsterdam was a Dutch shipyard that build a significant amount of warships for the Royal Netherlands Navy.Svea-class coastal defence ship
The Svea class was a class of coastal defence ships of the Swedish Navy. The class comprised Svea, Göta and Thule.Sverige-class coastal defence ship
The Sverige-class coastal defence ships were a class of coastal defence ships that, at the time of introduction, were the largest ships to serve in the Swedish Navy. Their design was completely new and was influenced by the ships of the time. Their armament consisted of four 283 mm (11 in)/45 cal. Bofors guns in two turrets and eight 152 mm (6 in) Bofors guns in one double and six single turrets. During the Second World War they were the backbone of the Swedish Navy.Thonburi-class coastal defence ship
The Thonburi class was a class of coastal defence ships of the Royal Thai Navy. It consisted of two ships built by Kawasaki and delivered in 1938, HTMS Thonburi and HTMS Sri Ayudhya.Tordenskjold-class coastal defence ship
The Tordenskjold class of coastal defence ships was ordered by Norway as part as the general rearmament in the time leading up to the events in 1905 - when Norway broke out of the union with Sweden - the two ships in the class (Tordenskjold and Harald Haarfagre) remained the backbone (alongside the slightly newer Eidsvold class) of the Royal Norwegian Navy until they were considered 'unfit for war' in the mid-1930s.Äran-class coastal defence ship
The Äran class was a class of coastal defence ships of the Swedish Navy. The class comprised Äran, Wasa, Tapperheten and Manligheten.
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