frigate (frĭgˈĭt) [key], originally a long, narrow nautical vessel used on the Mediterranean, propelled by either oars or sail or both. Later, during the 18th and early 19th cent., the term was applied to a very fast, square-rigged sailing vessel carrying 24 to 44 guns on a single flush gun deck. Frigates were employed by the European naval powers in large numbers as commerce raiders and for blockade duty. In the United States before the War of 1812, Joshua Humphreys designed a number of frigates superior to any other vessels of their class in speed and armament. With the introduction of steam and steel warships in the middle of the 19th cent., frigates as a class of warship passed out of use. However, during World War II frigates were reintroduced by the British as a form of antisubmarine escort larger than a corvette and smaller than a destroyer. Destroyer-type ships called frigates are important combat vessels today; however, there is no clearcut uniform distinction between a frigate and a destroyer. Modern frigates are often armed with antisubmarine weapons and guns; many are missile-armed and some are nuclear-powered. The nuclear-powered frigate U.S.S. Truxtun, launched in 1964, was the largest destroyer-type ship ever built.
See F. Dorovan, The Tall Frigates (1962); J. Henderson, The Frigates (1970); Jane's Fighting Ships (pub. annually since 1897).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.