Sloop-of-War

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Royal Navy Sloop of War circa 18th century.

A Sloop-of-War in the Royal Navy was a warship with a single gun deck that carried up to eighteen guns. The rating system covered all vessels with 20 guns and above; thus, the term sloop-of-war encompassed all the unrated combat vessels, including the very small gun-brigs and cutters. In technical terms, even the more specialised bomb vessels and fire ships were classed as sloops-of-war, and in practice these were employed in the sloop role when not carrying out their specialised functions. They were used from the 18th century and most of the 19th. In general, a sloop-of-war would be under the command of a Master and Commander rather than a Post Captain, although in day-to-day use at sea the commanding officer of any naval vessels would be addressed as "captain".

Types of Sloop's of War

Ship Sloop

The first three-masted (i.e. "ship rigged") sloops appeared during the 1740s, and from the mid-1750s most new sloops were built with a three-masted (ship) rig. The third sail afforded the sloop greater mobility and the ability to back sail.

Brig Sloop

HMS Beagle Brig Sloop launched in 1820

In the 1770s, the two-masted sloop re-appeared in a new guise as the brig sloop, the successor to the former snow sloops. Brig sloops had two masts, while ship sloops continued to have three (since a brig is a two-masted, square-rigged vessel, and a ship is a square-rigger with three or more masts, though never more than three in that period).

In the Napoleonic period, Britain built huge numbers of brig sloops of the Cruiser class (18 guns) and the Cherokee class (10 guns). The brig rig was economical of manpower (important given Britain's chronic shortfall in trained seamen relative to the demands of the wartime fleet) and, when armed with carronades (32-pounders in the Cruizers, 18-pounders in the Cherokees), they had the highest ratio of firepower to tonnage of any ships in the Royal Navy (albeit within the short range of the carronade). The carronades also used much less manpower than the long guns normally used to arm frigates. Consequently, the Cruizer class were often used as cheaper and more economical substitutes for frigates, in situations where the frigates' high cruising endurance was not essential. A carronade-armed brig, however, would be at the mercy of a frigate armed with long guns, so long as the frigate manoeuvered to exploit its superiority of range. The other limitation of brig sloops as opposed to post ships and frigates was their relatively restricted stowage for water and provisions, which made them less suitable for long-range cruising. However, their shallower draught made them excellent raiders against coastal shipping and shore installations.

Bermuda Sloop

A 1831 painting of a three-masted Bermuda sloop of the Royal Navy, entering a West Indies port.

The Royal Navy also made extensive use of the Bermuda sloop, both as a cruiser against French privateers, slavers, and smugglers, and also as its standard advice vessels, carrying communications, vital persons and materials, and performing reconnaissance duties for the fleets. Bermuda sloops were found with gaff rig, mixtures of gaff and square rig, or a Bermuda rig. They were built with up to three masts. The single masted ships, with their huge sails, and the tremendous wind energy they harnessed, were demanding to sail, and required large, experienced crews. The Royal Navy favoured multi-masted versions as it was perennially short of sailors, at the end of the 18th century, and such personnel as it had, particularly in the Western Atlantic (priority being given to the continuing wars with France for control of Europe), received insufficient training. The longer decks of the multi-masted vessels also had the advantage of allowing more guns to be carried.

Classification

Originally a sloop-of-war was smaller than a sailing frigate and was (by virtue of having too few guns) outside the rating system. In general, a sloop-of-war would be under the command of a Master and Commander rather than a post captain, although in day-to-day use at sea the commanding officer of any naval vessels would be addressed as "captain".

A ship sloop was generally the equivalent of the smaller corvette of the French Navy (although the French term also covered ships up to 24 guns, which were classed as post ships within the sixth rate of the British Navy). The name corvette was subsequently also applied to British vessels, but not until the 1830s.

American usage, while similar to British terminology into the beginning of the 19th century, gradually diverged. By about 1825 the United States Navy used "sloop-of-war" to designate a flush-deck ship-rigged warship with all armament on the gun deck; these could be rated as high as 26 guns and thus overlapped "third-class frigates," the equivalent of British post-ships. The Americans also occasionally used the French term corvette