A corvette is a small warship. It is traditionally the smallest class of vessel considered to be a proper (or "rated") warship. The warship class above the corvette is that of the frigate, while the class below was historically that of the sloop-of-war.
The modern roles that a corvette fulfills include coastal patrol craft, missile boat and fast attack craft. These corvettes are typically between 500 and 2,000 tons. Recent designs of corvettes may approach 3,000 tons and include a hangar to accommodate a helicopter, having size and capabilities that overlap with smaller frigates. However unlike contemporary frigates, a modern corvette does not have sufficient endurance nor seaworthiness for long voyages.
The rank "corvette captain", equivalent in many navies to "lieutenant commander", derives from the name of this type of ship. The rank is the most junior of three "captain" ranks in several European (e.g., France, Spain, Italy, Croatia) and South American (e.g., Argentina, Chile, Brazil, Colombia) navies, because a corvette, as the smallest class of rated warship, was traditionally the smallest class of vessel entitled to a commander of a "captain" rank.
During the Age of Sail, corvettes were one of many types of warships smaller than a frigate and with a single deck of guns. 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 English 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 may be where the term originated. The French Navy's corvettes grew over the decades and by the 1780s they were ships of 20 guns or so, approximately equivalent to the British Navy's post ships. The British Navy did not adopt the term until the 1830s, long after the Napoleonic Wars, to describe a small sixth-rate vessel somewhat larger than a sloop.
Most corvettes and sloops of the 17th century were 40 to 60 ft (12 to 18 m) in length and measured 40 to 70 tons burthen. They carried four to eight smaller guns on single decks. Over time, vessels of increasing size and capability were called "corvettes"; by 1800, they reached lengths of over 100 ft (30 m) and measured from 400 to 600 tons burthen.
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
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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 antisubmarine escorts such as the Flower class of World War II. (Royal Navy ships 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 throughout the Battle of the Atlantic and on the routes from the UK to Murmansk carrying supplies to the Soviet Union.
The Flower-class corvette was originally designed for offshore patrol work, and was not ideal when pressed into service as an antisubmarine escort. It was shorter than ideal for oceangoing convoy escort work, too lightly armed for antiaircraft defense, and the ships were barely faster than the merchantmen they escorted. This was a particular problem given the faster German U-boat designs then emerging. Nonetheless, the ship was quite seaworthy and maneuverable, but living conditions for ocean voyages were challenging. As a result of these shortcomings, 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, with some remaining in service until the mid-1950s.
The Royal Australian Navy built 60 Bathurst-class corvettes, including 20 for the Royal Navy crewed by Australians, and four for the Indian Navy. These were officially described as Australian minesweepers, 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, Kiwi and Moa, rammed and sank a much larger Japanese submarine, I-1, in 1943 in the Solomon Islands.
In Italy, the Regia Marina, in dire need of escort vessels for its convoys, designed the Gabbiano-class corvette, of which 29 were built between 1942 and 1943 (out of 60 planned); they proved apt at operations in the Mediterranean Sea, especially in regards to their anti-air and anti-submarine capability, and were so successful that the class survived after the war into the Marina Militare Italiana until 1972.
Modern navies began a trend in the late 20th and early 21st centuries of building corvettes geared towards smaller more manoeuvrable surface capability. These corvettes have displacements between 500 and 3,000 long tons (510 and 3,050 t) and measure 180–420 ft (55–128 m) in length. They are usually armed with medium- and small-calibre guns, surface-to-surface missiles, surface-to-air missiles (SAM), and anti-submarine weapons. Many can accommodate a small or medium anti-submarine warfare helicopter, with the larger ones also having a hangar. While the size and capabilities of the largest corvettes overlap with smaller frigates, corvettes are designed primarily for littoral deployment while frigates are ocean-going vessels by virtue of their greater endurance and seaworthiness.
Most countries with coastlines can build corvette-sized ships, either as part of their commercial shipbuilding activities or in purpose-built yards, but the sensors, weapons, and other systems required for a surface combatant are more specialized and are around 60% of the total cost. These components are purchased on the international market.
Current corvette classes
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Many countries today operate corvettes. Countries that border smaller seas, such as the Baltic Sea or the Persian Gulf, are more likely to build the smaller and more manoeuvrable corvettes, with Russia operating the most corvettes in the world.
In the 1960s, the Portuguese Navy designed the João Coutinho-class corvettes as multi-role small frigates intended to be affordable for a small navy. The João Coutinho class soon inspired a series of similar projects – including the Spanish Descubierta, the German MEKO 140, the French A69 and the Portuguese Baptista de Andrade – adopted by a number of medium- and small-sized navies.
The United States is developing littoral combat ships, which are essentially large corvettes, their spacious hulls permitting 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 Israeli Navy operates three Sa'ar 5-class corvettes. Built in the U.S. to an Israeli design, they each carry one helicopter and are well-armed with offensive and defensive weapons systems, including the Barak 8 SAM, and advanced electronic sensors and countermeasures. They displace over 1,200 tons at full load.
The new German Navy Braunschweig class is designed to replace Germany's fast attack craft and also incorporates stealth technology and land attack capabilities. The Israeli Navy has ordered four Sa'ar 6-class corvettes, a more heavily armed version of the type, deliveries commenced in 2019.
Turkey began to build MİLGEM-class corvettes in 2005. The MİLGEM class is designed for anti-submarine warfare and littoral patrol duty. The lead ship, TCG Heybeliada, entered navy service in 2011. The design concept and mission profile of the MİLGEM class is similar to the Freedom class of littoral combat ships of the United States.
Finland has plans to build four multi-role corvettes, currently dubbed the Pohjanmaa class, in the 2020s as part of its navy's Project Squadron 2020. The corvettes will have helicopter carrying, mine laying, ice breaking, anti-aircraft and anti-ship abilities. They will be over 100 metres (330 ft) long and cost a total of 1.2 billion euros.
The Greek Navy has categorised the class as fast attack missile craft. A similar vessel is the Kılıç-class fast attack missile craft of the Turkish Navy, which is classified as a corvette by Lürssen Werft, the German ship designer.
In 2004, to replace the Ardhana class patrol boat, the United Arab Emirates Ministry of Defence awarded a contract to Abu Dhabi Ship Building for the Baynunah class of corvettes. This class is based on the CMN Group's Combattante BR70 design. The Baynunah class is designed for patrol and surveillance, minelaying, interception and other anti-surface warfare operations in the United Arab Emirates territorial waters and exclusive economic zone. The lead ship was launched on June 25, 2009. Sea trials commenced in January 2010.
- Algerian National Navy operates four Djebel Chenoua-class corvettes and three Nanuchka-class corvettes.
- Argentine Navy operates six Espora-class corvettes and three Drummond-class corvettes.
- Bangladesh Navy operates four Jiangdao-class corvettes ordered from China, and two modified Castle-class patrol vessels, purchased from the United Kingdom, which was upgraded to guided-missile corvettes.
- Bangladesh Coast Guard operates four Minerva-class corvettes purchased from Italy.
- Brazilian Navy operates two Inhaúma-class corvettes, three Amazonas-class corvettes, and a single Imperial Marinheiro-class corvette.
- Bulgarian Navy operates two Pauk-class corvettes and a single Tarantul-class corvette.
- People's Liberation Army Navy operates 72 Jiangdao-class corvettes.
- Republic of China Navy operates two Tuo Chiang-class corvettes and eleven Ching Chiang-class corvettes.
- Colombian National Navy operates a single Donghae-class corvette and a single Pohang-class corvette, both purchased from South Korea.
- Cuban Revolutionary Navy operates a single Pauk-class corvette.
- Ecuadorian Navy operates six Esmeraldas-class corvettes.
- Egyptian Navy operates four Gowind-class corvettes, two Descubierta-class corvettes purchased from Spain, and a single Pohang-class corvette purchased from South Korea.
- Navy of Equatorial Guinea operates a single Bata-class corvette.
- French Navy operates six D'Estienne d'Orves-class avisos.
- German Navy operates five Braunschweig-class corvettes.
- Indian Navy operates seven Veer-class corvettes, three Khukri-class corvettes, four Kora-class corvettes, one Abhay-class corvette, and four Kamorta-class corvettes.
- Indonesian Navy operates 14 Parchim-class corvettes purchased from Germany after the German reunification, three Fatahillah-class corvettes, three Bung Tomo-class corvettes, and four Diponegoro-class corvettes.
- Israeli Navy operates three Sa'ar 5-class corvettes and four Sa'ar 6-class corvettes.
- Islamic Republic of Iran Navy operates two Bayandor-class corvettes and a single Hamzeh-class corvette.
- Iraqi Navy operates two Assad-class corvettes.
- Korean People's Army Naval Force operates four Sariwon-class corvettes, two Nampo-class corvettes, and one Amnok-class corvette.
- Republic of Korea Navy operates seven Pohang-class corvettes.
- Libyan Navy operates a single Nanuchka-class corvette.
- Royal Malaysian Navy operates six Kedah-class corvettes, two Kasturi-class corvettes, and four Laksamana-class corvettes.
- Mexican Navy operates three Sierra-class corvettes.
- Royal Moroccan Navy operates a single Descubierta-class corvette.
- Nigerian Navy operates two Jiangdao-class corvettes, ordered from China.
- Royal Norwegian Navy operates six Skjold-class corvettes.
- Royal Navy of Oman operates three Khareef-class corvettes, and two Qahir-class corvettes.
- Peruvian Navy operates six PR-72P-class corvettes and two Pohang-class corvettes donated from South Korea.
- Philippine Navy operates three Jacinto-class corvettes purchased from the United Kingdom, two Pohang-class corvettes purchased from South Korea, and a single Malvar-class corvette.
- Polish Navy operates a single Gawron-class corvette and a single Kaszub-class corvette.
- Portuguese Navy operates one João Coutinho-class corvette and one Baptista de Andrade-class corvette.
- Romanian Naval Forces operates three Tarantul-class corvettes, two Admiral Petre Bărbuneanu-class corvettes, and two Rear-Admiral Eustațiu Sebastian-class corvettes.
- Russian Navy operates 20 Grisha-class corvettes, eight Nanuchka-class corvettes, 21 Tarantul-class corvettes, six Parchim-class corvettes, three Buyan-class corvettes, ten Buyan-M-class corvettes, three Karakurt-class corvettes, seven Steregushchiy-class corvettes (classed as frigates by NATO), a single Gremyashchiy-class corvette (also classed as a frigate by NATO), and two Bora-class corvettes.
- Russian Coast Guard operates a single Pauk-class corvette.
- Royal Saudi Navy operates two Al Jubail-class corvettes, and four Badr-class corvettes.
- Republic of Singapore Navy operates six Victory-class corvettes.
- Spanish Navy operates two Descubierta-class corvettes.
- Swedish Navy operates five Visby-class corvettes, two Göteborg-class corvettes, and two Stockholm-class corvettes.
- Royal Thai Navy operates three Khamronsin-class corvettes, one Ratanakosin-class corvette, and two Tapi-class corvettes.
- Turkish Naval Forces operates five Burak-class corvettes and four Ada-class corvettes.
- Turkmen Naval Forces operates two Tarantul-class corvettes and a single Turkmen-class corvette.
- Ukrainian Sea Guard operates a single Pauk-class corvette.
- United Arab Emirates Navy operates six Baynunah-class corvettes, two Muray-Jib-class corvettes, and a single Abu Dhabi-class corvette.
- Vietnam People's Navy operates 12 Tarantul-class corvettes, and two Pohang-class corvettes purchased from South Korea.
- Yemeni Navy operates two Tarantul-class corvettes.
- Royal Australian Navy decommissioned its last Bathurst-class corvette in 1960.
- Belgian Navy returned both its Flower-class corvettes to the United Kingdom in 1944.
- Royal Canadian Navy decommissioned all its Flower-class corvettes and Castle-class corvettes in 1945, following World War II.
- Chilean Navy decommissioned its last Flower-class corvette in 1967.
- Royal Danish Navy decommissioned its last Niels Juel-class corvette in 2009.
- Dominican Navy decommissioned its last Flower-class corvette in 1979.
- Finnish Navy decommissioned its last Turunmaa-class corvette in 2002.
- Volksmarine sold all of its 16 Parchim-class corvettes to Indonesia in 1992.
- Border Police of Georgia decommissioned its two Grisha-class corvettes in 1995.
- Hellenic Navy decommissioned its last Flower-class corvette in 1952.
- Irish Naval Service decommissioned its two Peacock-class corvettes in 2022.
- Italian Navy decommissioned its last Minerva-class corvette in 2019.
- Lithuanian Naval Force decommissioned both its Grisha-class corvettes in 2009.
- Royal Netherlands Navy decommissioned its last Bathurst-class corvette in 1958.
- Royal New Zealand Navy decommissioned both its Flower-class corvettes in 1948.
- South African Navy decommissioned its lone Flower-class corvette in 1967.
- Royal Navy decommissioned its last Peacock-class corvette in 1996.
- Ukrainian Navy last Grisha-class corvette Vinnytsia was sunk in Ochakiv in 2022.
- United States Navy decommissioned all its Flower-class corvettes in 1945 following World War II.
- National Navy of Uruguay decommissioned its lone Castle-class corvette in 1975.
- Bolivarian Navy of Venezuela decommissioned its last Flower-class corvette in 1962.
- Yugoslav Navy returned its lone Flower-class corvette to the United Kingdom in 1949.
- Algerian National Navy will receive three Steregushchiy-class corvettes from Russia and six Jiangdao-class corvettes from China.
- Republic of China Navy is planning to build 11 more Tuo Chiang-class corvettes.
- Egyptian Navy is will commission three more Gowind-class corvettes.
- Finnish Navy is currently planning to build four Pohjanmaa-class corvettes.
- French Navy is a partner nation in the European Patrol Corvette project.
- German Navy is building an additional five Braunschweig-class corvettes.
- Hellenic Navy is a partner nation in the European Patrol Corvette project. Greece is also planning on receiving a number of Themistocles-class corvettes, a variant of the Israeli Sa'ar 72 class. Greece has also ordered three Gowind 2500-class corvettes from France.
- Indian Navy has begun research into its NGC (Next-Gen Corvette) project. (India is also working on 12 Anti Submarine Warfare Corvettes - ASW-SWC corvettes)
- Indonesian Navy is currently building a single "presidential and guided-missile corvette" named KRI Bung Karno and planned to be delivered by February 2023.
- Israeli Navy is currently building an additional two Sa'ar 6-class corvettes. Israel is also planning a number of new Sa'ar 72-class corvettes.
- Italian Navy is leading the development of the European Patrol Corvette in a joint project with other European Union partners.
- Pakistan Navy has ordered four Ada-class corvettes from Turkey.
- Philippine Navy purchased an additional Pohang-class corvette from South Korea, but is awaiting transfer due to lack of funding. The Philippines have also ordered two new corvettes from Hyundai.
- Qatari Emiri Navy is building four Doha-class corvettes.
- Spanish Navy is a partner nation in the European Patrol Corvette project.
- Romanian Naval Forces has ordered four Gowind-class corvettes.
- Russian Navy is currently building corvettes in six separate classes, including: the Karakurt-class, Buyan-M-class, Bykov-class, Steregushchiy-class, Gremyashchiy-class and Derzky-class (the latter three classed as frigates by NATO).
- Ukrainian Navy has ordered an unspecified number of Ada-class corvettes from Turkey.
- United Arab Emirates Navy has ordered two Gowind-class corvettes.
- ARA Uruguay, 1874 steam and sail barque, Buenos Aires, Argentina
- HMAS Castlemaine, 1941 Bathurst-class corvette, Williamstown, Victoria, Australia
- Brazilian corvette Imperial Marinheiro 2, 1955 Imperial Marinheiro-class corvette, Porto Velho, Brazil
- Solimões, 1955 Imperial Marinheiro-class corvette, Belém, Para, Brazil
- HMCS Sackville, 1941 Flower-class corvette, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada
- HMAS Whyalla, 1941 Bathurst-class corvette, Whyalla, South Australia, Australia
- Karjala, 1968 Turunmaa-class corvette, Turku, Finland
- Hiddensee, 1984 Tarantul-class missile corvette, Fall River, Massachusetts, US
- INS Khukri (P49) will be preserved in Diu, India
- HTMS Maeklong in Samut Prakan Province, Thailand.
- ROKS Pohang, a Pohang-class corvette in Pohang, South Korea.
- ROKS Jinhae, a Pohang-class corvette in Jinhae, South Korea.
- ROKS Cheonan, a Pohang-class corvette, was sunk by a North Korean submarine on March 26, 2010, and later raised, is on display in Pyeongtaek, South Korea.
- RFS Tamboviskiy Komsomolets, a Tarantul-class corvette in Kronstadt, Russia.
- Hans Beimler, 1986 Tarantul-class corvette in Peenemünde, Germany.
- List of corvette classes
- List of corvette and sloop classes of the Royal Navy
- List of corvettes of the Second World War
- List of Escorteurs of the French Navy
- Corvette 31, a sailboat named in honour of the warship class.
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- 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 (1951), also by Nicholas Monsarrat, 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.
- James B. Lamb's two books, The Corvette Navy and On the Triangle Run, give an autobiographical and historical perspective of life on Royal Canadian Navy corvettes in World War II. The author served on them for six years from Halifax to the beaches of D-Day.