Warship terminology for a better understanding of our wreck dives

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Since the creation of the first wooden ships, governing  the oceans and seas has been crucial for a country’s development in order to establish fast trade routes between its different territories and with distant countries. Among the European countries, Spain was the first naval power, then United Kingdom.

At the beginning of World War II, England dominated the Atlantic  and North Sea waters, allowing great commercial and supply routes with the United States. However, Germany decided to challenge the UK’s maritime supremacy, so it began a naval arm race to develop the largest and most powerful ships. USA and Japan also entered in this competition.

By the middle of the 20th century, battleships and aircraft carriers were the pride of every armada. Besides these, the great maritime powers had destroyers for the attack of coastal zones and the naval war.

A ”warship” is a ship that is built primarily for naval warfare. Designed to withstand damage from an attack, they are usually fast and easy to maneuver.  They typically carry only weapons, ammunition and supplies for the crew.

As wreck divers, it’s always very useful to understand the type of shipwreck we are diving and its purposes during a war. Below are some of the main warship categories.

Aircraft carrier

Equipped with a full length flight deck, aircraft carriers are naval vessels with the ability to deploy and recover aircrafts. They are critical military assets as they allow naval forces not to depend on landbased stage areas to project air power worldwide. Its flight deck is also used to arm aircrafts.

Since their inception at the beginning of the 20th century, aircraft carriers have progressed on the type of aircrafts they are able to carry. From wooden ships used to deploy balloons to nuclear-powered warships that carry various strike aircrafts; fighter planes as well as helicopters, just to mention a few.

To facilitate short take offs and landings, due to the short length of the flight deck, airspeed over the deck is increased by turning the ship into the wind. Catapult flush with the flight deck helps in launching aircraft; for landing, aircraft are fitted with retractable hooks that engage transverse wires on the deck, breaking them to a quick stop.

There are very few diveable aircraft carrier wrecks in the world: USS Saratoga, in Bikini Atoll is said to be the best one.


Battleships are the largest and most heavily armed warships. They have evolved from sailing wooden warships in the 18th century, to ironclad warships in the XIX century and finally to dreadnoughts in the 20th century.

They were both the symbol of naval dominance and a major factor in both diplomacy and military strategy for decades. However, their value started to be questioned when torpedoes, naval mines and guided missiles showed their weakness in WWII.  This resulted in the replacement of a battleship by the aircraft carrier as the leading capital ship of the naval forces.

Example of battleship wrecks: USS Arkansas,  in Bikini Atoll.


Cruisers are warship with many roles but its main one is to cruise the world and show the flag to represent overwhelming force that can be brought to bear far from home. They are ships that can operate independently to interdict enemy commerce and to protect the battle line against enemy scout cruisers.

There are different types of cruisers:

– Protected cruisers had an armoured deck to offer protection for vital machine parts from fragments caused by exploding shells above

– Armoured cruisers had a belt armour made out of thick iron or steel  on much of the hull to protect the warship from shellfire

– Light cruisers are mainly scout cruisers intended to operate far in front of the battle line to locate the enemy and report its position as well as patrol lines of commerce against raiders.

During WWII, cruisers became bigger and capital ships in the fleet. After the obsolescence of the battleship, cruisers became the largest and most powerful warships, after the aircraft carriers.

Example of cruiser wrecks: Prinz Eugen and the Sagawa, both in Bikini Atool.


Destroyers are fast and long endurance warships built to escort larger vessels and protect them against smaller powerful short range attackers, such as torpedo boats, submarines and aircrafts.

Nowadays, they are the largest surface combatants operated by most navies, even though in the 19th century, they were light vessels with little endurance for unattended ocean operations.

Example of destroyers wrecks: USS Lamson, USS Anderson, both in Bikini Atool, Fumitsuki (Japan) in Truk Lagoon, Samidare in Palau


The frigate is a warship, designed to operate in naval and anti-submarine warfare missions, although it may have systems to act as a support vessel on other missions.

The term frigate is previous to the steam navigation and to steal armoured ships of the second half of the 19th century. In the 18th century, the frigates were lighter sailing boats than the line of battle ships . Their mission was to patrol and escort , they were rated ships of at least 28 guns, carrying their principal armaments upon a single deck, while ships possessed two or more continuous decks bearing batteries of guns.

Not used in the last third of the 19th century, in World War II, the term of frigate was reused to rename ships smaller than the destroyer, and while the destroyer increased its size and assumed more roles, the frigate remained specialised in fighting against submarines.


First designed in the 19th century, submarines are large-crewed vessels capable of independent operation underwater. Submarines were first widely used during World War I.

Their main military duties are to attack enemy ships, submarines and territories, provide aircraft carrier protection, blockade running, ballistic missile submarines as part of a nuclear strike force,  exploration of enemy territories  and covert insertion of special forces.

Most large submarines contain a cylindrical body with hemispherical ends and a vertical structure, usually located in the middle, which houses communications and sensing devices as well as periscopes.

Submarines range from small autonomous examples and one- or two-person vessels that operate for a few hours, to vessels that can remain submerged for six months.

Example of submarine wrecks: I-169 in Truk lagoon, USS Pilotful in Bikini Atool , USS Apagon in Bikini Atool

Explore warship wrecks and many more in Truk Lagoon, Palau and Bikini with WWDAS. Contact us today! [button color=”#f9f5f5″ background=”#a01a43″ size=”large” src=”/contact-us/”]Contact us![/button][/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]


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