Fire ship

File:Loutherbourg, Spanish Armada.jpg
Defeat of the Spanish Armada, 1588-08-08 by Philippe-Jacques de Loutherbourg, painted 1796, depicts Drake's fire ship attack on the Spanish Armada.

A fire ship is a ship that is deliberately set on fire and collided with an enemy ship in order to destroy it.

Warships of the age of sail were highly vulnerable to fire. With seams caulked with tar, ropes greased with fat, and holds full of gunpowder, there was little that would not burn. Accidental fires destroyed many ships, so fire ships presented an especially terrifying threat.

With the wind in exactly the the right direction a fire ship could be cast loose and allowed to drift onto its target, but in most battles fire ships were equipped with skeleton crews to steer the fire ship onto the target (the crew were expected to abandon ship at the last moment and escape in the ship's boat). Fire ships were most devastating against ships at anchor or otherwise restricted in movement. At sea, a well-handled ship could evade a fire ship and disable it with cannon fire.

Notable fire ship attacks include:

See also