USS "Constellation", a later United States Navy sloop-of-war named after the original frigate.

In the 18th and the earlier part of the 19th centuries, a sloop-of-war was a small sailing warship (also known as one of the escort types) with a single gun deck that carried anything up to eighteen cannon. As the rating system covered all vessels with 20 guns and above, this meant that the term "sloop-of-war" actually encompassed all the unrated combat vessels including the very small gun-brigs and cutters. In technical terms, even the more specialised bomb vessel were classed as sloops-of-war, and in practice these were actually employed in the sloop role when not carrying out their specialized functions.

In later years the type evolved; in World War II sloops were specialized convoy-defence vessels, with anti-aircraft and anti-submarine capability.


A sloop-of-war was quite different from a civilian or mercantile sloop, which was a general term for a single masted vessel rigged like what we would today call a gaff cutter (but usually without the square topsails then carried by cutter-rigged vessels), though some sloops of that type did serve in the 18th century British Royal Navy, particularly on the Great Lakes of North America.

In the first half of the 18th century, most naval sloops were two-masted vessels, usually carrying a ketch or a snow rig. A ketch had main and mizzen masts but no foremast, while a snow had a foremast and a main mast but no mizzen.

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.

Brig sloop

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 invariably only three in that period).

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.


A sloop-of-war was smaller than a sailing frigate and 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". Until 1794 the master and commander strictly speaking held the permanent rank of lieutenant, and reverted to that rank when he gave up command of the sloop-of-war; in 1794 the rank of commander was created.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.


In the second half of the 19th century, successive generations of naval guns became larger and with the advent of steam-powered sloops, both paddle and screw, by the 1880s even the most powerful warships had fewer than a dozen large calibre guns.

In the Royal Navy, the sloop evolved into an unrated vessel with a single gun deck and three masts, two square rigged and the aftermost fore-and-aft rigged (corvettes had three masts, all of which were square-rigged). Steam sloops had a transverse division of their lateral coal bunkers ["War-Ships. A Text-Book on The Construction, Protection, Stability, Turning, etc., of War Vessels", E. L. Attwood M.Inst.N.A, Longmans Green and Co., 1910] in order that the lower division could be emptied first, to maintain a level of protection afforded by the coal in the upper bunker division along the waterline.


During the First World War, the sloop rating was revived by the British Royal Navy for small warships not intended for fleet deployments. Examples include the Flower classes of "convoy sloops", those designed for convoy escort, and the Hunt classes of "minesweeping sloops", those intended for minesweeping duty.

The Royal Navy continued to build vessels rated as sloops during the interwar years. These sloops were small warships intended for colonial "gunboat diplomacy" deployments, surveying duties and to act during wartime as convoy escorts. As they were not intended to deploy with the fleet, sloops had a maximum speed of less than convert|20|kn|km/h|0. A number of such sloops, for example the "Grimsby" and "Kingfisher" classes, were built in the interwar years. Fleet minesweepers such as the "Algerine" class were rated as "minesweeping sloops". The Royal Navy officially dropped the term "sloop" in 1937, although the term remained in widespread and general use.

World War II

During the Second World War, 37 ships of the "Black Swan" class were built for convoy escort duties. However, the warship-standards construction and sophisticated armaments of the sloop of that time did not lend themselves to mass production, and the sloop was supplanted by the corvette, and later the frigate, as the primary escort vessel of the Royal Navy. Built to mercantile standards and with (initially) simple armaments, these vessels, notably the Flower and River classes, were produced in large numbers for the Battle of the Atlantic. In 1948 the Royal Navy reclassified its remaining sloops and corvettes as frigates (even though the term sloop had been officially defunct for nine years).

Notable sloops

*Perhaps the most famous sloop was the HMS "Resolution", in which Captain James Cook made his second and third Pacific voyages. Cook called the Resolution "the ship of my choice", and "the fittest for service of any I have seen."

*HMS "Beagle", a "brig-sloop", is famous as the ship in which Charles Darwin sailed around the world between 1831 and 1836.

*In 1804 Commodore Sir Samuel Hood, commissioned Diamond Rock, a small island south of Fort-de-France in Martinique, as HM Sloop-of-War "Fort Diamond", following his establishment of a fortified garrison on the rock.

*In 1805, HMS "Pickle" brought back news of the British victory at the Battle of Trafalgar.

*In 1805 Lord Cochrane commanded HMS "Speedy", a brig-sloop of 14 guns, through a series of famous exploits in the Mediterranean. The "Speedy" served as the inspiration for the fictional Jack Aubrey's first command, the "Sophie".

*In 1813, HMS "Racoon" was dispatched to Fort Astoria at the mouth of the Columbia River during the War of 1812 to seize the post, which as it turned out had already been sold to the North-West Company; the fort was renamed by the ship's Captain Black as Fort George.

*In 1949, HMS "Amethyst", a "Black Swan" class sloop of the Royal Navy became involved in an international incident when she became trapped in the Yangtze River by Communist Chinese shore batteries. She made a famous escape on 30 July 1949, later turned into a feature film .

ee also

* Rating system of the Royal Navy




* Rodger, N.A.M. "The Command of the Ocean, a Naval History of Britain 1649-1815", London (2004). ISBN 0-713-99411-8
* Bennett, G. "The Battle of Trafalgar", Barnsley (2004). ISBN 1-84415-107-7

External links

* [ Royal Navy Sloops] from - history and pictures from 1873 to 1943.

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  • Sloop of war — Sloop Sloop, n.[D. sloep, of uncertain origin. Cf. {Shallop}.] 1. (Naut.) A vessel having one mast and fore and aft rig, consisting of a boom and gaff mainsail, jibs, staysail, and gaff topsail. The typical sloop has a fixed bowsprit, topmast,… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Sloop-of-War — Sloop Sørvágur, îles Féroé : un sloop au premier plan. Au temps de la marine à voile, le sloop déformation anglophone de chaloupe, ou plus exactement le sloop of war, désignait en Angleterre, les navires plus petits que les frégates, armés… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Sloop-of-war — Sloop Sørvágur, îles Féroé : un sloop au premier plan. Au temps de la marine à voile, le sloop déformation anglophone de chaloupe, ou plus exactement le sloop of war, désignait en Angleterre, les navires plus petits que les frégates, armés… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • sloop of war — n. Historical 1. a sailing vessel mounting from 10 to 32 guns 2. later, a small war vessel, having guns mounted on one deck only …   English World dictionary

  • sloop of war — sloop′ of war′ n. mil an armed sailing vessel, smaller than a frigate, having cannons on only one deck • Etymology: 1695–1705 …   From formal English to slang

  • sloop of war — Corvet Cor vet (k?r v?t), Corvette Cor*vette (k?r v?r ), n. [F. corvette, fr. Pg. corveta or Sp. corbeta, fr. L. corbita a slow sailing ship of burden, fr, corbis basket. Cf. {Corbeil}.] (Naut.) A war vessel, ranking next below a frigate, and… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • sloop of war — noun a sailing or steam warship having cannons on only one deck • Hypernyms: ↑warship, ↑war vessel, ↑combat ship * * * 1. : a vessel rigged as a ship or as a brig or as a schooner and mounting from 10 to 32 guns 2. : a warship larger than a… …   Useful english dictionary

  • sloop of war — Date: 1704 a small warship with guns on only one deck …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • sloop of war — (formerly) a sailing or steam naval vessel having cannons on only one deck. [1695 1705] * * * …   Universalium

  • sloop of war — n. small warship having guns on one deck only …   English contemporary dictionary

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