A Brief History
On July 15, 1815, Emperor Napoleon I of the French surrendered to the British aboard the HMS Bellerophon. We have previously used this historic occasion to commemorate 10 ships that had nifty, martial sounding names that seemed likely to inspire their crews. (We have also noted goofy ship names in the past, “June 5, 1829: 10 Goofy Names for Ships“.) Today we name 10 More Ships with Cool Names since we certainly did not get all the good ones the first time. What ship names would you add to the list? (As previously noted, the British are undeniably the best at dreaming up cool names for ships!) Question: Why do we not see even 1 single navy in the world naming a ship “Tyrannosaurus Rex?”
This sailing vessel is the yacht that Ted Hood and Ted Turner led to Victory in the America’s Cup race in 1974 and 1977 respectively. The name exemplifies the courage of sailors that go head to head with he mighty sea, a seemingly one-sided fight, but one taken gladly and with élan. This wonderful ship name leads one to understand the nature of its crew. Turner is no stranger to good names for ships, for another racing sailboat of his was named Tenacious, another great ship name! Courageous is a “12-meter class yacht” although actually 20 meters long with an aluminum hull and a displacement of 25.45 tons and was launched in 1974.
2. HMS Terror.
How apropos! Built in 1813 as a “bomb ship” armed primarily with mortars for high angle bombardment of shore installations, the Terror took part in the War of 1812 including participating in the famous bombardment of Fort McHenry that spawned the American National Anthem (aka “Star Spangled Banner”). Terror spent over a decade laid up until needed to reinforce the British Mediterranean fleet but was damaged and refitted as a Polar Exploration vessel. It was in this capacity that ship really lived up to her name! In 1845 the ship had been refitted with the addition of a steam engine and embarked on what is known as The Franklin Expedition to search for a Northwest Passage around North America, a sea route from the Atlantic to the Pacific. The perils of sailing in Arctic waters became clear when the ship was iced in and her entire crew eventually died, a saga recounted in the made for television mini-series The Terror in 2018, based on the 2007 book of the same name. The other ship on the doomed Franklin Expedition was the not so cool named Erebus.
3. HMS Superb.
You know you are on a good ship when the very name says so! A Dreadnaught type battleship, Superb was launched in 1907, commissioned in 1909 in time to serve during World War I, and then decommissioned in 1920, her short life indicative of the rapid pace of battleship technology that took place shortly after Superb entered service. With a length of 526 feet and a displacement of only 18,500 tons with a speed of 21 knots, this Bellerophon Class battleship could not stand up to the more modern battleships being commissioned only a few years later, ships that were better armored, better armed, faster and bigger. The main battery of Superb was 5 twin 12 inch gun turrets, with maximum armor belt thickness of 10 inches and maximum turret armor thickness of 11 inches. The armored decks were only 4 inches thick (maximum) which would make her highly vulnerable to long distance plunging fire from newer battleships. This edition of HMS Superb was the 8th ship in the Royal Navy to bear that superlative name. Superb fought at the Battle of Jutland in 1916, firing a total of 54 main gun rounds, including several claimed hits on a German ship. Never again firing guns in anger, Superb was reduced to duty as a target ship in 1922, a sad end to what had been a “superb” ship!
4. HMS Conqueror, HMS Thunderer.
These 2 leviathans were both Orion Class battleships, all 4 of that class of ships being commissioned in 1912 in time for World War I. Somewhat bigger and badder than the Bellerophon Class of battleships, these ships were 581 feet long and displaced 22,000 tons. They had marginally thicker armor, and could only make the same 21 knot top speed of their predecessors. Their main battery of 5 twin 13.5 inch guns were an improvement, and gave some credibility to the name given to HMS Thunderer. Unfortunately, Conqueror never conquered anything, although she did accidentally ram her sister ship, the HMS Monarch, in 1915. At the Battle of Jutland, Conqueror fired 57 rounds of her 13.5 inch battery, with no known hits on enemy ships. In 1922 Conqueror was sold for scrap, never firing her guns in anger after Jutland. Thunderer only thundered during the Battle of Jutland, firing a total of 37 main gun rounds with no known hits on the enemy. Decommissioned in 1922 to become a training vessel, she was sold for scrap in 1926. Although these 2 mighty battleships certainly had great names, they did not accomplish much during their short careers.
5. HMS Revenge.
No confusion about the mission of this lead ship of the Revenge Class of Dreadnaught battleships! Commissioned in 1916 just before the Battle of Jutland, the 4 twin 15 inch gun main armament clearly outclassed the battleships previously named on this list. With a length of 620 feet and displacement of 30,000 tons, the Revenge could make a top speed 2 knots faster than her predecessors (23 knots) and boasted 13 inches of armor at her waterline armor belt and as much as 13 inches of armor on her turrets. Serving all the way until 1948, Revenge was upgraded during her career to better repel aerial attacks and survive torpedo strikes and was fitted with radar in 1941. Revenge was pretty active at the Battle of Jutland, firing 102 main gun rounds and 87 rounds from her secondary 6 inch battery, scoring several hits with both caliber guns. Revenge even fired a torpedo during the battle, a fairly unusual event for a battleship, although without getting any known hit. During World War II Revenge was used to transport British gold reserves to Canada, where she accidentally rammed and sunk a Canadian Navy trawler in 1940. Later Revenge conducted boarding operations on a pair of French Navy ships (battleship and cruiser) to seize them to prevent their use against the Royal Navy by the Vichy French. During the boarding a Revenge crewman was shot and killed by a French officer, and the French officer was in turn shot and killed in revenge! Revenge participated in shore bombardment, but by 1943 was considered fit only for reserve duty. Her guns were removed as replacements for newer battleships and for bombardment “monitors” used at D-Day (Normandy) in 1944. She was scrapped in 1948.
6. USS Seawolf.
This American submarine is the 4th US Navy sub to bear the name Seawolf, a good aggressive sounding dangerous name befitting a ship that is intended to go on the hunt for other ships. This particular submarine is designated SSN-21 and is the lead ship of the class bearing her name. Commissioned in 1997, this 353 foot long ship is still in service, capable of 25 knots submerged and 18 knots on the surface. Powered by a nuclear reactor, Seawolf has 8 torpedo tubes that can fire a total of 40 torpedoes or missiles or alternately be used to launch up to 100 naval mines. She is considered a “fast attack” submarine, a fitting designation for a predatory named ship. Seawolf has a crew of 15 officers and 101 men as well as shore based support personnel. She is capable of diving to depths exceeding 800 feet. The Seawolf Class was intended to number 29 subs, but due to the end of the Cold War only 3 of these highly capable ships have been built. The other 2 ships of the class have the much less intimidating names USS Jimmy Carter and USS Connecticut.
This time we are referring to the French ship by this name, a ship commissioned in 1861 and decommissioned in 1872. An armored frigate, the Invincible was built on a wooden hull with iron plate armor protecting the freeboard portions of the vessel. Equipped with both sails and a steam engine, Invincible could make a respectable 13 knots. With 1 gun deck and 36 rifled muzzle loading guns of 6.5 inch caliber, she was moderately well armed for her size (253 feet long and 5650 tons) though she was later refitted with a larger gun armament of 6 breech loading 9.4 inch caliber guns with a secondary battery of 2 breechloading 7.6 inch caliber guns. These larger guns would have made her a serious threat to other ships, and her 4.7 inch thick wrought iron armor over 30 inches of wood could resist most likely cannon attacks. Alas, Invincible did not live up to her excellent name, as this early version of an ironclad ship had a fatal flaw that had nothing to do with her design. The wood used to build Invincible was not properly seasoned and although the ship never saw combat, she was done in by rotting timbers, leading to her short active career and scrapping in 1876. When first commissioned, Invincible and her 2 sister ships may well have been “invincible,” but this cool named ship never got a chance to live up to her name. Other ships in naval history have been named “Invincible,” an optimistic name unlikely to prove realistic in actual combat.
8. RMS Titanic.
We have heard the name of this ill-fated liner so often it is possible to forget how cool the name of the doomed ship was. “Titanic” evinces the image of an enormous and mighty vessel, which the RMS Titanic, both commissioned and sunk in 1912, certainly was. Doomed to sink on her maiden voyage when she blundered into an iceberg while sailing entirely too fast for conditions, the ship thought to be unsinkable sunk less than 3 hours after hitting the iceberg. Built to be the essence of luxury and grandiosity, her name conveyed the idea of her immense grandeur, fitting for the biggest ship on the oceans at the time, with a length of 892 feet and a displacement of over 52,000 tons. Over 1500 people died in the tragedy of her single voyage, due in large part to the fact that at that time ships were not required to carry lifeboats sufficient to accommodate all passengers. An enduring lesson learned from Titanic is that ANY ship can sink, the “unsinkable” myth is just not true, even if the ship has a cool name!
9. USS Alligator.
A total of 4 US Navy ships have borne the name, Alligator, and the one we are discussing was built in 1862, the first US Navy submarine. (The famous Turtle of the American Revolution was built before there was a US Navy or a United States, for that matter.) Gators are big, nasty, and dangerous, a fitting description for a ship of war. All 4 of the USN Alligators were ships of the 19th Century, which is a shame because this is a great name for a ship that can attack above or below the water (submarine) like a real alligator, or an amphibious ship designed to land Marines on a beach. USS Alligator was a small submarine compared to today’s leviathans, only 47 feet long and 4 feet 6 inches in diameter, made of iron and equipped with small, circular glass windows. She was powered by her crew of 12 turning a hand powered crank to drive a rear mounted propeller, giving the sub a submerged speed of 4 knots, an improvement over the original paddle powered design. This innovative vessel was built with multiple watertight chambers despite her small size, and air was supplied via 2 hoses attached to floats that would bob along the surface of the water. The method of attack used by Alligator was to have a diver leave the sub while submerged, taking a naval mine with him and attaching it to an enemy vessel, then returning to the Alligator. Thus, Alligator was the first submarine designed for the underwater deployment and recovery of divers. The mines would be detonated by electric means from inside the Alligator via copper wires leading from a battery on the sub to the mine. The US Navy demanded the sub be ready for trials only 40 days after the contract was accepted! Reality took over, and it was to be 180 days before the Alligator was launched. The novelty of having a submarine available with no appropriate tactics developed caused numerous abortive attempts to use the Alligator in combat, and prior to ever being used in anger the sub was lost in a storm while being towed to South Carolina to attack Charleston Harbor in April of 1863.
10. Bass-ette Hound.
Pleasure craft owned by private parties often get names derived from an inside joke about the person or his family, or on a pun of some sort designed to be funny. Sometimes privately owned boats or ships are named to reflect something about the owner’s political views, life views, physical attributes, philosophy of life, or whatever. The US Navy gets a lot of dull, uninspiring names for ships from the names of politicians, cities, states and the like, but private boat owners are under no such limitation. Thus, when the author bought a new Four Winns 17 foot fishing boat in 1999, the possibilities for picking a cool name were limitless. Although we realize our readers may not care about the author’s preference for naming his boat, it is the idea of “What would you name your boat?” in order to give it a cool name that we are aiming at here. Obviously, the name we picked was based on the fact that we owned 2 Basset Hounds at the time, and the play on words between these lovable dogs and pursuing game fish.
Question for students (and subscribers): What kind of ingenuity would you use to pick a cool boat name? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
Your readership is much appreciated!
For more information, please see…
Bishop, Chris. Ships: The History and Specifications of 300 World-Famous Ships. Amber Books Ltd, 2017.
Gill, Anton. Titanic: Building the World’s Most Famous Ship. Lyons Press, 2011.
The featured image in this article, Napoleon on Board the Bellerophon, exhibited in 1880 by Sir William Quiller Orchardson, is a faithful photographic reproduction of a two-dimensional, public domain work of art. The work of art itself is in the public domain for the following reason: This work is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author’s life plus 100 years or fewer. This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published (or registered with the U.S. Copyright Office) before January 1, 1924.
You can also watch a video version of this list on YouTube.