A Definitive Guide To The Carrack Warship

Key Point: A carrack warship was a robust, heavily armed sailing vessel from the 14th to 16th centuries, measuring around 120 to 140 feet in length with multiple masts.

In this article, we will be taking a look at the Carrack warship. You will see its origins, how it was used, and why it was one of the key naval weapons of its era. So, as always before we continue I will give you the main takeaway of the entire article. Then we will explore this naval weapon in greater detail.

So … What is the Carrack ship?

The Carrack was a type of ship that originated in the Mediterranean during the 14th century and was widely used in the Age of Discovery. It was a large, three-masted vessel with a high forecastle and sterncastle. It was typically armed with heavy guns and had a capacity for cargo and crew that allowed it to undertake long voyages. The carrack was an important ship type that played a significant role in the exploration and expansion of European powers during the 15th and 16th centuries.

That was the key takeaway of the entire article. Now, let’s explore its origin in a little more detail.

The Origin of The Carrack Ship

The Carrack ship originated in the Mediterranean during the 14th century. It was a large, three-masted vessel with a high forecastle and sterncastle. The Carrack was an evolution of the earlier medieval ship designs, and it combined elements of both the galley and the cog.

Some people might confuse the carrack with the galleon. But while the galleon was similar in some ways to the Carrack, it had a longer and narrower hull, a lower forecastle, and it was more focused on firepower than on cargo capacity.

The Carrack was a significant ship type during the Age of Discovery. Since it played a vital role in the expansion of European powers during the 15th and 16th centuries. Its size and capacity made it suitable for long voyages, and its heavy weapons made it a formidable force in naval warfare.

Who Used It?

The carrack was a European invention. Thus was mostly used by European powers during the Age of Discovery and partly during the Age of Sail. That said pirates and privateers were known to use Carracks since they famously used any ship they could get their hands on.

What Replaced The Carrack?

The Carrack ship was replaced by newer ship designs such as the galleon and the ship of the line as newer ship models eventually made the Carrack obsolete. So, by the late 16th and early 17th century the use of the Carrack ship simply stopped.

That was the short history lesson on the Carrack ship. Now, let’s take a look at its dimensions.

Dimensions And Crew Size

Here are the dimensions of an average Carrack:

Length: 120 to 140 feet, Width: 40 to 50 feet, Draft (depth): 20 to 25 feet

These dimensions allowed the carrack to carry significant amounts of cargo and crew on long voyages. Speaking of the crew. Let’s talk about the average crew size as well.

Crew Size

A typical carrack would have a crew of around 250 to 300 men. Although some larger carracks could carry up to 500 or more crew members. The crew of a carrack was made up of a diverse group of people, including sailors, soldiers, merchants, and craftsmen. Let’s see what the job of each of them was.

Sailors: Responsible for navigating the ship, handling the sails and rigging, and performing other necessary tasks to keep the ship moving.

Soldiers: Responsible for defending the ship from attacks

Merchants: Responsible for overseeing the cargo and ensuring that it was properly loaded and unloaded at each port of call.

Craftsmen: Responsible for repairing and maintaining the ship and its equipment.

How Fast Could It Go?

A well-designed and well-maintained carrack was able to sail at speeds of up to 8 or 9 knots, or approximately 9 to 10 miles per hour, under favorable conditions. Honestly, its speed was far from impressive, but for a ship of its size, it was good enough.

Now, let us proceed to how the Carrack was used in battle.

The Carrack In Naval Battles

Because of its size and strength, the Carrack was well-suited for engaging in close-range combat with enemy ships. And was thus often used in fleet actions and large-scale naval battles.

It was equipped with a variety of weapons to help it succeed in battle. Most carried a large complement of cannons, ranging in size from small swivel guns to massive, long-range siege guns. These cannons were typically mounted on the gun deck of the ship, which was located below the main deck and provided a lower, more stable platform for firing the heavy guns.

They carried more than guns though. They also carried a range of smaller weapons to help repel boarders and engage in hand-to-hand combat. These might include muskets, pistols, swords, and pikes, as well as various types of grenades and other explosives.

These small arms were used to repel enemy soldiers trying to board the ship. Since that was a popular tactic back in the day.

In Conclusion

Thank you for taking the time to read this article. I hope you learned a thing or two. If you wish to continue learning about naval weapons from history I suggest you take a look here at my article on the Cutter ship. And why it was basically the fastest ship of the era.

Or you can take a look at my article on the Brigantine warship. What was it, how it was used, and if it was even that effective? You can see more here.

Take care!

Source: “The Age of the Galley: Mediterranean Oared Vessels Since Pre-Classical Times” by Robert Gardiner