Help support TMP

"Ship classes and roles" Topic

12 Posts

All members in good standing are free to post here. Opinions expressed here are solely those of the posters, and have not been cleared with nor are they endorsed by The Miniatures Page.

For more information, see the TMP FAQ.

Back to the WWII Naval Discussion Message Board

Back to the Naval Gaming 1898-1929 Message Board

Back to the SF Discussion Message Board

919 hits since 5 Jul 2012
©1994-2014 Bill Armintrout
Comments or corrections?

Brummie Lad05 Jul 2012 4:25 p.m. PST

Hi all!

Pardon my ignorance in relation to this, but would someone be able to help me to understand what the different classes of ship are, and what their primary roles are please?

I don't really play space or naval games, and my reading on the matter is limited to that which is provided on Wikipedia and the Star Trek Memory Alpha site!

I know the names of the different classes, such as cruisers, destroyers, etc, but if you could tell me what their actual roles are (both in "real life" and from a gaming perspective) it would be greatly appreciated!



dragon605 Jul 2012 5:10 p.m. PST

I'm sure someone will come along and do a better job but, for now:

Battleship = line of battle ship dating back to Ships of the Line, I suppose Anglo Dutch wars? Certainly the Napoleonic Wars were the ultimate Line of Battle Ships. But a ship capable of dealing and withstanding the ultimate damage.

Cruiser = just as it says. A long range cruising ship for scouting and used for distant colonial protection. Of course the Washington and London treaties changed things by outlawing the construction of battleships. Heavy Cruisers, a class that comes from those treaties, were armed with the largest guns allowed by treaty, 8 inch, and armoured as best as possible within the limits of the treaties. Some nations cheated. The Italian Zaras, and pretty much all Japanese Heavy Cruisers, all German WW2 capital ships, cruisers to battleships (Germany was not actually a signature to the treaties but broke the treaty with the UK that allowed their navy).

In the London treaty Heavy Cruisers were no longer allowed, so nations built the ultimate "light" cruisers. They were just as large as the Heavy Cruisers, 10,000 tons, but were allowed only a maximum of 6.1 inch guns. Japan built the Mogamis with 15 X 6.1 so the Americans followed with the Brooklyns with 15 X 6 inch. The UK, reluctantly, built Lt Cruisers with 12 X 6 inch. Reluctantly because the UK wanted more cruisers to safeguard the sea lines.

Destroyer comes from Torpedo Boat Destroyer so best we look at Torpedo Boats first.

Torpedo Boats were small warships carrying the ultimate weapon of their time, Whitehead Fiume self propelled torpedoes. The boogy man of the late 19th century.

Torpedo Boat Destroyers were developed to hunt down and sink Torpedo Boats. They were larger and much better armed and eventually took the role of the Torpedo Boats.

These Torpedo Boats were not like the German Schnellbootes or UK MTB or American PT boats but much larger.

Aircraft carriers carried aircraft

Submarines were submersible ships, originally more like surface ships that could escape detection by submersing but later becoming adapt at attacking from beneath the waves.

Destroyer escorts, sloops, corvettes were, by WW2, more or less anti-submarine vessels. Some were more capable in a surface role some were very focused on hunting submarines. Today the Frigate class take these roles.

Farstar Inactive Member05 Jul 2012 6:10 p.m. PST

The SF space fleet terms draw heavily on the wet naval definitions, often without the interference of physics or consistency.

Some rules/settings will use both "battleship" and "dreadnought". SFB uses Dreadnoughts (DN) as the largest of the common hulls, with Battleships (BB) as the rare superships. Traveller, on the other hand, uses the BB as the big line-of-battle ship designator and reserves "Dreadnought" for the newest and scariest BB design. Both are line of battle job descriptions.

Cruisers are typically a bit smaller and built with more endurance while remaining heavily armed for their size. In many SF settings they retain the non-battle job of cruising, patroling, exploring-in-force, and showing the flag.

Ships that meld the battleline ratios with the long-range operations ratios will be termed battlecruisers, armored cruisers, heavy cruisers, etc, depending on setting, fleet, and whim.

The smallest of the ships that qualifies for the Cruiser's multi-talented job description will be the Light Cruiser.

Destroyers, Frigates, and modifications of both terms are deemed a bit too small to the sharp end of any fleet. These two designations are also where real specialization appears, based on weaponry loads, specific missions within a fleet, and other factors. Most SF games make the Destroyer larger than the Frigate, and most games use the two as the boundary between "capital" ships and non-capital; where that boundary lands is still variable (above, below, or between the two) but the boundary is almost always associated with these two classes.

Most SF games I've seen relegate Corvettes to "chaff" status. SFB only uses the term for local Police ships, for example.

Brummie Lad06 Jul 2012 2:20 a.m. PST

Wow, excellent. Thank you so very much for those detailed responses.

So, in gaming terms, how are the different classes used? Do certain types get bonuses against others? Do the smaller classes have no chance against larger ones? Do smaller ones get a "maneuverability bonus" against larger classes, making them more difficult to hit due to their size and speed?

I've been watching Dominion War episodes of Star Trek lately, so my questioning is based with this in mind grin

Lion in the Stars Supporting Member of TMP06 Jul 2012 2:26 a.m. PST

In order of bigness (most scifi types use the US terminology):

Corvette: typically the smallest ship-type, more on the order of a Coast Guard cutter than an actual warship.

Frigate: A small escort ship, generally too small to actually stand and fight.

Destroyer: the smallest warship that can really 'play' in the line of battle, generally heavily armed and fast, but not able to take a hit.

Cruiser: A ship big enough to operate off by itself for 'show the flag' missions.

Battleship: the big boys. When the battleships come out to play, it's serious business. Battleships are heavily armed and well-protected.

arngrimson06 Jul 2012 3:12 a.m. PST

It depends on the rules that you use.

Usually Corvette/Frigate/Destroyers are faster moving and more maneuverable. But only take a hit or two; can cause some damage used as a swarm attack to Capital Ships (mainly Battleships/Dreadnoughts)

Capital Ships slower take and deal lots of damage.

Carriers mainly fast lightly armed for self protection main role is to launch fighters, which is the carriers strike arm rather than guns/missiles.

Then there are ships like Escort Frigates these ships mainly help to protect the Capital Ships.

Personal logo Klebert L Hall Supporting Member of TMP06 Jul 2012 6:15 a.m. PST

Battleships are designed to sink other warships, generally with gunfire. Gunfire shore support and strike are secondary missions. Antiaircraft escort for carriers became an important role during WW2. Primary armament was large caliber guns, though some also had a few torpedoes.

Battlecruisers were basically faster (sometimes) battleships with considerably reduced protection. Originally designed as scouts for the main battle line.

Cruisers were generally scouts and independent or small squadron patrol vessels. Political considerations between the world wars made them also take on the role of a sort of junior class Battleship, as the BBs were now to few to be everywhere they might be wanted, and too valuable to risk lightly. Coastal gunfire support was a secondary mission. Some cruisers also became antiaircraft escorts. Primary armament was generally a mix of medium caliber guns and torpedoes.

Destroyers were the smallest ships expected to participate in fleet engagements. Their primary roles were to kill/screen other destroyers to prevent them from making torpedo attacks on larger ships, to make torpedo attacks on larger ships when possible, antisubmarine warfare, and to form the outer "picket line" antiaircraft defense of a task group. They also did shore support, with less "amazing kaboom" than their larger companions, but often with much greater responsiveness and accuracy. Main weapons were torpedoes, backed by small caliber (4-5 inch) guns.

Pretty much everything smaller than that (destroyer escorts, frigates, sloops, etc) were antisubmarine craft of one sort or another for convoy protections and local ASW patrol. These designations changed after WW2. They had some AA weapons, too, and a couple light guns.

I figure you know what carriers are.

Seaplane tenders were mobile base and support units for recce flying boats and floatplanes. Japan had a few floatplane fighters for local defense, too.

Subs are long-endurance raiders/scouts/ambushers that attack from underwater, with torpedoes. Generally in WW2 they had some deck guns too, for surfaced attack on merchants/weakly armed targets.

Battleships and Battlecruisers had speeds generally in the 25-35 knot range in WW2.

Cruisers in the 30-35 knot range.

Destroyers in the 35-40 knot range.

Destroyer escorts and smaller in the 15-30 knot range.

Subs were lucky to make 20 knots on the surface, generally slower submerged.

Carriers generally in the 25-35 knot range, except escort carriers, which were slower.

If you have further/more specific questions, ask away.

Ghostrunner06 Jul 2012 6:40 a.m. PST

Of note, if you're really not familiar with the history/nomenclature:

Line of Battle Ships (which carried the most guns and were designed to operate in a gun line formation during large battles) became 'Battleships' in the late 19th century.

Battleships after the ironclad era were metal-hulled, steam driven monsters that had guns of every size crammed anywhere they would fit.

In 1906, England built HMS Dreadnought. Besides her larger size, all of her primary guns were the same size (12" in 5 twin turrets). This was revolutionary for several reasons, primarily in that now all the turrets could share fire control data, and a 'broadside' was at max firepower any time the enemy was in range.

Many people referred to Battleships with this kind of unified main battery as 'Dreadnoughts', as opposed to earlier designs with mix-and-match batteries ('pre-Dreadnoughts')

Enter sci-fi and Franz Joseph, who wrote a technical manual in the early 1970s based on the original Star Trek series.

Since the Enterprise (Constellation-class) was the only type of Federation Starship (of any real size) seen in the series, FJ extrapolated some other designs to flesh out the fleet.

A fan favorite was the up-sized (compared to the Enterprise) ship with 3 warp engines and more weapons, which he called a 'Dreadnought'. This could be that since the Starfleet was both a military and scientific/diplomatic organization, having a class called 'Battleship' would be a little inappropriate to some.

Star Fleet Battles (arguably the first sci-fi wargame that was a commercial success) was based on FJ's manual, and set 'Dreadnoughts' as the largest class of ships… at first. Later on, power creep being what it is, SFB introduced a Klingon Battleship as a 'what-if' ship. Eventually, all races, including the Federation, got Battleship designs bristling with guns.

So, therefore, a lot of current gamers (even ones only vaguely familiar with SFB or Star Trek) place the category of Dreadnought somewhere between Cruiser and Battleship, even though historically, Dreadnought is a more or less generic term applied to the Battleships that were built in the WW1 era or later.

Ghostrunner06 Jul 2012 6:54 a.m. PST

So, in gaming terms, how are the different classes used? Do certain types get bonuses against others? Do the smaller classes have no chance against larger ones? Do smaller ones get a "maneuverability bonus" against larger classes, making them more difficult to hit due to their size and speed?

I've been watching Dominion War episodes of Star Trek lately, so my questioning is based with this in mind

I guess question #1 that determines a lot of this in a setting, is what is the baseline damage-to-defense ratio in your game setting?

For instance: Age of Sail had a rather low damage-to-defense ratio. Two vessels could stand off at close range (within small arms range), exchanging broadsides for an hour, and neither vessels would sink (sinking sailing vessels outright in combat was actually pretty rare).

Modern age naval battles: One hit and you're done in many cases. A moderate sized cruise missile will obliterate 70% of the ships classes in current service, and even a Carrier could be put out of action with a single well-placed hit. Now, it's all about active defense measures (jamming, chaff, and defensive fire) to prevent that single hit.

Most space games that I've tried generally go for a WW1-WW2 level, which is somewhere in between.

Star Trek seemed to have fairly low damage-to-defense ratios between enemies of similar technology, up until DS9. Then we got to see ships up to cruiser size that were blown apart by (apparently) a single hit. Keep in mind, though that they wouldn't be able to show 3 hours of ships chipping away at each other's shields.

I'd recommend looking a a few different rule sets to see what's out there, and find a system you like.

Full Thrust is free for download. There are many others either free or available for download for pretty small costs.

Farstar Inactive Member06 Jul 2012 9:40 a.m. PST

Do certain types get bonuses against others? Do the smaller classes have no chance against larger ones? Do smaller ones get a "maneuverability bonus" against larger classes, making them more difficult to hit due to their size and speed?

In games where movement either is explicitly water-based or is based on wet naval movement models, ships will have some form of "turn mode" that sets how quickly they can change facing and direction of travel. Space games shouldn't use this model but often do anyway. SFB, BFG, and Silent Death are in this category, among others.

In games where high tech sensors are acknowledged, the ability to be anywhere and on nearly any facing is often the only advantage the smaller ships get. They may also get an advantageous shift when they are a target, but this isn't always the case. SFB, for example, assumes no advantage beyond the extra maneuverability.

By the same token, SFB's damage system also gives the larger ships less advantage with weaponry. The little ships carry the same guns the big guys do, just fewer of them. This means that wolf packs are quite viable in SFB. Compare this to Firestorm Armada (FA), for example, which uses a more abstract damage mechanism of thresholds and criticals; You must point a lot of guns at the big ships in FA to have any reasonable chance of even scratching them, and you must do so all at once. Wolf pack tactics are thus much less effective in FA. FA is one of the games that inflicts a straight up penalty to hit the small hulls, though (unless the firer is also a small hull) so the return fire is also at a disadvantage.

Gunfreak Supporting Member of TMP06 Jul 2012 10:13 a.m. PST

This is the definition I use

Fighter small ship deplyed from carrier ships

Corvettes, small fast basicly big fighters with a little more power behind them

Frigates, verious types like torpedo frigates, flak frigats often medium sized ships built for special pruposes

Cruisers relativly big ships, often heavly armord, some cruisers are also light fighter carriers, some are anti planet ships, some are just semi big ships ladend with as much firepower they can fit on them.

Capital ships, this can be huge battleships, they can be super gun platfoms, or big fighter carriers.

Lentulus06 Jul 2012 10:50 a.m. PST

This article, for all the tongue-in-cheek, is quite well thought out.


Sorry - only trusted members can post on the forums.