Corvette: Map


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A corvette is a small, manoeuvrable, lightly armed warship, originally smaller than a frigate (2000+ tons) and larger than a coastal patrol craft or Fast Attack Craft (500 or less tons), although many recent designs resemble frigates in size and role. During the Age of Sail, corvettes were smaller than frigates and larger than sloops-of-war, usually with a single gun deck. Although almost all modern navies use ships smaller than frigates for coastal duty, not all of them use the term corvette (from the French corvair) or equivalent. The rank Corvette Captain derives from the name of this type of ship.

Sailing vessels

During the Age of Sail, corvettes were one of many types of smaller warships. They were very closely related to sloops-of-war. The role of the corvette consisted mostly of coastal patrol, fighting minor wars, supporting large fleets, or participating in show-the-flag missions. The British Navy began using small ships in the 1650s, but described them as sloops rather than corvettes. The first reference to a corvette was with the French Navy in the 1670s, which is where the term itself possibly originated. The Royal Navy did not use the term until after the Napoleonic Wars to describe a small unrated vessel similar to a sloop.

Most corvettes and sloops of the 17th century were around 40 to 60 feet (12 to 18 meters) in length and measured 40 to 70 tons burthen. They carried four to eight smaller guns on a single deck. Over time vessels of increasing size and capability were called corvettes; by 1800 they reached lengths of over 100 feet (30 m) and measured from 400 to 600 tons burthen. One of the largest corvettes during the Age of Sail was the American ship USS Constellationmarker, built in 1855; at 176 feet (54 m) long, she carried 24 guns. She was so large that some naval experts consider her a frigate.

Steam ships

Ships during the steam era became much faster and more maneuverable than their sail ancestors. Corvettes during this era were typically used alongside gunboats during colonial missions. Battleships and other large vessels were unnecessary when fighting the indigenous people of the Far East and Africa.

World War II

The modern corvette appeared during World War II as an easily built patrol and convoy escort vessel. The British naval designer William Reed drew up a small ship based on the single-shaft Smiths Dock Company whale catcher Southern Pride, whose simple design and mercantile construction standards lent itself to rapid production in large numbers in small yards unused to naval work. First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill, later Prime Minister, had a hand in reviving the name "corvette".

During the arms buildup leading to World War II the term "corvette" was almost attached to the Tribal class destroyer. The Tribals were so much larger than and sufficiently different from other British destroyers that some consideration was given to resurrecting the classification of "corvette" and applying it to them. This idea was dropped, and the term applied to small, mass-produced anti-submarine escorts such as the "Flower" class of World War Two.

The first modern corvettes were the Flower class (Royal Navy corvettes were named after flowers, and ships in Royal Canadian Navy service took the name of smaller Canadian cities and towns). Their chief duty was to protect convoys in the North Atlanticmarker and on the routes from the UK to Murmanskmarker carrying supplies to the Soviet Unionmarker.

The Flower-class corvette was originally designed for offshore patrol work, and was not ideal as an anti-submarine escort; they were really too short for open ocean work, too lightly armed for anti-aircraft defence, and little faster than the merchantmen they escorted, a particular problem given the faster German U-boat designs then emerging. They were very seaworthy and maneuverable, but living conditions for ocean voyages were appalling. Because of this the corvette was superseded in the Royal Navy as the escort ship of choice by the frigate, which was larger, faster, better armed and had two shafts. However, many small yards could not produce vessels of frigate size, so an improved corvette design, the Castle class, was introduced later in the war, some remaining in service until the mid-1950s.

The Royal Australian Navy built 60 Bathurst-class corvette, including 20 for the Royal Navy crewed by Australians, and 4 for the Royal Indian Navy. These were officially described as Australian Mine Sweepers, or as Minesweeping Sloops by the Royal Navy, and were named after Australian towns.

The Bird-class minesweepers or trawlers were referred to as corvettes in the Royal New Zealand Navy, and two, the Kiwi and Moa, rammed and sank a much larger Japanese submarine, the I-1, in 1943 in the Solomons.

Modern corvettes

Modern navies began a trend in the late 20th and early 21st century towards smaller, more maneuverable surface capability. Corvettes have a displacement between 540 and 2,750 long tons (550 and 2,800 metric tons) and measure 180–330 feet (55–100 meters) in length. They are usually armed with medium- and small-caliber guns, surface-to-surface missiles, surface-to-air missiles, and underwater warfare weapons. Many can accommodate a small or medium anti-submarine warfare (ASW) helicopter.

Current corvette classes

Many countries today operate corvettes; some include Swedenmarker, Germanymarker, Denmarkmarker, Italymarker, Indiamarker, Chinamarker, Israelmarker, Romaniamarker, Bulgariamarker, Polandmarker, Turkeymarker, Brazilmarker, Greecemarker, and Russiamarker. Countries that border smaller seas, such as the Baltic Seamarker or the Persian Gulfmarker, are more likely to build the smaller and more maneuverable corvettes.

Arguably, one of the most advanced corvettes in service today is the Swedish Navy's Visby class. It is the first operational warship to extensively utilize stealth technology.

The United States is developing a Littoral Combat Ship, which will be very similar to a corvette, but their larger hulls permit space for mission modules, allowing them to undertake tasks formerly assigned to specialist classes such as minesweepers or the anti-submarine Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigate.

The new Germanmarker Braunschweig class is designed to supplement Germany's fast attack craft and also incorporates stealth technology and land attack capabilities.

Turkey began construction on the first of twelve Milgem class stealth corvettes in July 2005. The lead ship, named TCG Heybeliadamarker, is scheduled to begin sea trials in October 2010. The design concept and mission profile of Milgem is similar to the LCS-1 Littoral Combat Ship of the United States. The first eight ships of the Milgem class will be classified as corvettes, while the last four will be named the F-100 class and will be classified as frigates. The F-100 class will be slightly larger in terms of dimensions and will be equipped with the Mk.41 VLS and ESSM, along with other additional systems for improved multi-role combat capabilities.

The Hellenic Navy has categorised the class as fast attack missile craft. A similar vessel is the Kilic-class fast attack missile craft of the Turkish Navy, which is classified as a corvette by Lürssen Werft, the German designer of the ship.

The Indonesian Navy will receive indigenously designed corvettes, called 104 M corvettes, in 2008. The corvette may be armed with the Chinese C-802 anti-ship missile, already installed in the locally-built FPB 57 class fast patrol boats.

See also

Further reading

  • The collection Three Corvettes by Nicholas Monsarrat recounts the writer's World War II experiences on corvettes, starting as an inexperienced small-boat sailor and ending as captain.
  • The novel The Cruel Sea also by Nicholas Monsarrat, which is about the life and death of a Flower-class corvette and the men in her, is regarded as one of the classic naval stories of World War II.
  • The two books The Corvette Navy and On the Triangle Run by James B. Lamb give an autobiographical and historical perspective of life on Royal Canadian Navy corvettes in World War II. The author served on them for 6 years from Halifax to the beaches of D-Day.


  1. In a class of their own: new corvettes take centre stage

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