List of frigate classes of the Royal Navy

This is a list of frigate classes of the Royal Navy of the United Kingdom (and the individual ships composed within those classes) in chronological order from the formal creation of the Royal Navy following the Restoration in 1660. Where the word 'class' or 'group' is not shown, the vessel was a 'one-off' design with just that vessel completed to the design. The list excludes vessels captured from other navies and added to the Royal Navy.

All frigates built for the Royal Navy up to 1877 (when the Admiralty re-categorised all frigates and corvettes as "cruisers") are listed below. The term "frigate" was resuscitated in World War II and subsequent classes are listed at the end of this article, but the individual ships within those classes are not listed in this article.

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The frigate before 1660

The initial meaning of frigate in English/British naval service was a fast sailing warship, usually with a relatively low superstructure and a high length:breadth ratio - as distinct from the heavily armed but slow "great ships" with high fore- and after-castles. The name originated at the end of the 16th century, the first "frigats" being generally small, fast-sailing craft, in particular those employed by Flemish privateers based on Dunkirk and Flushing. Subsequently the term was applied to any vessel with these characteristics, even to a third-rate or fourth-rate ship of the line.

In this list, the term is restricted to fifth rates and sixth rates which did not form part of the battlefleet (i.e. were not ships of the line); many of the earliest ships described as English frigates, such as the Constant Warwick of 1645, were third-rate or fourth-rate ships of the line and thus are not listed below. As the Royal Navy was not officially created until 1660, vessels from the preceding (Commonwealth) era are only included where they survived past 1660. Prizes taken from enemy naval forces and added to the Royal Navy are also excluded.

Fifth rate-frigates before 1660

Fifth rates were essentially two-decked vessels, with their main battery on the lower deck and a lesser number of guns of lesser power on the upper deck (as well as even smaller guns on the quarter deck).

Sixth-rate frigates before 1660

Sixth rates were single-decked vessels, with a battery on the (single) gun deck, and usually some lesser guns on the quarter deck.

Frigates from 1660 to 1688

Fifth-rate frigates 1660 to 1688

Sixth-rate frigates 1660 to 1688

Frigates from 1688 to 1719

For ships before the 1745 Establishment, the term 'class' is inappropriate as individual design was left up to the master shipwright in each Royal dockyard. For other vessels, the Surveyor of the Navy produced a common design for ships which were to be built under a commercial contract rather than in a Royal Dockyard. Consequently, the term 'group' is used as more applicable for ships built to similar specifications (and to the same principal dimensions) but to varying designs.

Fifth-rate frigates 1688 to 1719

The Navy Board ordered sixteen of these vessels between 1705 and 1711 as 42-gun vessels. The remaining pair - Looe and Diamond - were not ordered but rather the Navy Board purchased them on the stocks from the shipbuilder who had commenced building them "on spec". All the vessels were armed under the 1703 Guns Establishment with a main battery of 9-pounder guns. Under the 1716 Guns Establishment, a 40-gun ship with a main battery of 12-pounder guns superseded the 42-gun ship. Hence, the last six of the ships listed below were completed as 40-gun ships.

Sixth-rate frigates 1688 to 1719

Before the "true" sail frigate came into being in the 1740s, the equivalent was the single-deck cruising vessel of the sixth rate, armed with either 20, 22 or 24 guns, which established itself in the 1690s and lasted until the arrival of the new "true" frigates. Before 1714, many small sixth rates carried fewer than 20 guns, and these have been excluded from this list. For over half a century from the 1690s, the main armament of this type was the 6-pounder gun, until it was replaced by 9-pounder guns just prior to being superseded by the 28-gun sixth-rate frigate.

Frigates from 1719 to 1750

For ships before the 1745 Establishment, the term 'class' is inappropriate as individual design was left up to the master shipwright in each Royal dockyard. For other vessels, the Surveyor of the Navy produced a common design for ships which were to be built under a commercial contract rather than in a Royal Dockyard. Consequently, the term 'group' is used as more applicable for ships built to similar specifications laid down in the Establishments but to varying designs. However, from 1739 almost all Fifth and Sixth Rates were built under contract and were thus to a common class.

Fifth-rate frigates 1719 to 1750

All thirteen were rebuilds of earlier 40-gun ships (the Torrington and Princess Louisa were renamed when rebuilt from the former Charles Galley and Launceston respectively), although the Anglesea and Adventure were authorised as 'Great Repairs' rather than as rebuildings.

Sixth-rate frigates 1719 to 1750

Two nominally 24-gun ships - the Lyme and Unicorn - were built in 1747-1749 with twenty-four 9-pounders on the upper deck but also carried four smaller guns on the quarter deck; the pair were designated as 24-gun ships (disregarding the smaller guns) until 1756, when they were re-classed as 28-gun frigates. However other 24-gun and 20-gun ships continued to be built, with twenty-two or twenty 9-pounder guns on the upper deck.

44-gun fifth rates from 1750 – by class

Those fifth rate ships were not frigates in a stricter sense, being two-deckers, but they were mostly used in the same way, e.g. convoy protection. In addition they were too small to sail in the line of battle. Thus they are listed here. In the middle of the 18th century, those ships had a more powerful armament than the frigates at that time (these were 9 and 12 pdr equipped), that consisted of 18 pdrs on the gun deck. Later in the century, with the advent of the 18 pdr frigate (the first British 18 pdr armed frigate, HMS Flora (36), was launched in 1780), those ships became obsolete and ceased to being built in 1787, when the last one, HMS Sheerness, was launched. Many continued to serve until after the end of the Napoleonic Wars, most of them as troop- or storeships.

Sail frigates from 1750 – by class

Following the success of the Lyme and Unicorn in 1748, the mid-century period saw the simultaneous introduction in 1756 both of sixth-rate frigates of 28 guns (with a main battery of twenty-four 9-pounder guns, plus four lesser guns mounted on the quarterdeck and/or forecastle) and of fifth-rate frigates of 32 or 36 guns (with a main battery of twenty-six 12-pounder guns, plus six or ten lesser guns mounted on the quarterdeck and/or forecastle).

The American Revolution saw the emergence of new fifth rates of 36 or 38 guns which carried a main battery of 18-pounder guns, and were thus known as "heavy" frigates, while the French Revolutionary War brought about the introduction of a few 24-pounder gun armed frigates. In the 1830s, new types emerged with a main battery of 32-pounder guns.

9-pounder armed post ships

After 1750, the official Admiralty criteria for defining a frigate required a minimum battery of 28 carriage-mounted guns, including such guns which were mounted on the quarterdeck and forecastle. The smaller Sixth Rates, of frigate-type construction, but carrying between 20 and 26 guns, were categorised by the Admiralty as "post ships", but were often described by seagoing officers as "frigates" even though this was not officially recognised. The post ships, generally of 20 or 24 guns, were in practice the continuation of the earlier Sixth Rates. The Napoleonic War era post ships were later re-armed with (many being completed with) 32-pounder carronades instead of 9-pounder guns; after 1817 most of the survivors (except the Conway class) were re-classified as sloops.

9-pounder armed frigates

Although previously rated as 24-gun ships (when their 4 quarter-deck-mounted 3-pdrs were not included in the count, the Unicorn and Lyme were redefined as 28-gun frigates from 1756. The Lowestoffe and Coventry class frigates which followed were virtual copies of them, with slight improvements in design. Further 28-gun Sixth Rates, similarly armed with a main battery of 24 x 9-pounder guns (and with 4 smaller carriage guns on the quarterdeck) continued to be built to evolving designs until the 1780s.

12-pounder armed frigates

Almost all of the following were 32-gun type (armed with 26 x 12-pounder guns on the upper deck and 6 smaller guns on the quarter-deck and forecastle); one class (the Venus class of 1757-58) had 36 guns (with 26 x 12-pounder guns on the upper deck and 10 smaller guns on the quarter-deck and forecastle).

18-pounder armed frigates

In general, the following were either 36-gun type (armed with 26 x 18-pounder guns on the upper deck and 10 smaller guns on the quarter-deck and forecastle) or 38-gun type (with 28 x 18-pounder guns on the upper deck and 10 smaller guns on the quarter-deck and forecastle); however, one class of smaller ships had just 32 guns (with 26 x 18-pounder guns on the upper deck and just 6 smaller guns on the quarter-deck and forecastle).

24-pounder armed frigates

32-pounder armed frigates

The following three classes were begun as sailing frigates, but all were completed as screw-driven steam frigates.

19th century steam frigates

During the 1840s, the introduction of steam propulsion was to radically change the nature of the frigate. Initial trials were with paddle-driven vessels, but these had numerous disadvantages, not least that the paddle wheels restricted the numbers of guns that could be mounted on the broadside. So the application of the screw propellor meant that a full broadside could still be carried, and a number of sail frigates were adapted, while during the 1850s the first frigates designed from the start to have screw propulsion were ordered. It is important to remember that all these early steam vessels still carried a full rig of masts and sails, and that steam power remained a means of assistance to these vessels.

In 1887 all frigates and corvettes in the British Navy were re-categorised as 'cruisers', and the term 'frigate' was abolished, not to re-emerge until the Second World War, at which time it was resurrected to describe a totally different type of escort vessel.

Paddle-driven frigates

Although iron hulls were used for some warships in the 1840s, almost all the paddle frigates were wooden-hulled. The exception was the ill-fated Birkenhead.

Screw-driven frigates

In the mid-1840s, the Admiralty ordered four iron-hulled, screw-driven frigates from specialist shipbuilders; however, the Admiralty then rapidly lost faith in the ability of iron hulls to stand up to combat conditions, and all four (Greenock, Vulcan, Megaera and Simoom) were converted while under construction into troop transports, although the Greenock was promptly sold for commercial use.

Following this unsuccessful experiment, though iron hulls were used for some warships in the 1840s, almost all the screw frigates below were wooden-hulled. The exceptions were the final three below - Inconstant, Shah and Raleigh - which had iron hulls.

Modern frigates – by class

The term 'frigate' was revived during World War II for a new type of escort vessel and has been employed continuously since that period. Note that, unlike the previous sections, no lists of the individual ships comprising each class are shown below the class names; the individual vessels are to be found in the articles on the separate classes.

Sail frigates - alphabetically

Note that frigate names were routinely re-used, so that there were often many vessels which re-used the same names over the course of nearly two centuries. To distinguish between vessels bearing the same name, the following list affixes the launch year (in parenthesis) of the frigate to the name; however, for vessels captured or purchased by the Royal Navy, the year of acquisition is shown instead of the launch date.

Reference sources

See also

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