Although the constant threat of war hung over Warrior during her first commission (1861 - 1864), and there were further scares throughout her career, the ship's guns were never used in anger.
When Warrior was launched she was met with mixed reaction, some commentators crediting the first Iron-hulled armoured warship with the ability to defeat the enemy fleet single handedly, whilst others were less complimentary.
The truth will never be known, but by comparing Warrior to her probable opponents, conclusions may be drawn.
In any naval action the role of a ship is to strike the enemy with more devastating blows than those received over a given period. The hitting capability depended upon: the number, calibre and layout of the guns; the stability of the ship as a gun platform, and the height of the gun port sill above the waterline; the effective range of engagement and rate of fire; the weight, terminal velocity and nature of projectiles; and the efficiency of the gun crews in loading, and firing the weapon accurately.
Equally important was tactical mobility of the ship; at greater ranges speed was important, as the range decreases the ability to turn quickly and tightly becomes paramount.
Whilst the power of the guns was utilised in both offensive and defensive situations, the protection provided by armour and watertight sub-division in an iron hull was vastly superior to that afforded by a wooden hull.
With all the above taken into consideration, more often than not it was the morale of the crew that was the deciding factor in any engagement
In 1863 the Controller of the Navy reported that the French Ironclad fleet, viewed by the Admiralty as the most likely adversary, consisted of Gloire, Normandie, Invincible and Couronne who combined 148 guns, 130 of which were behind armour. The British fleet of Warrior, Black Prince, Defence andResistance mounted 116 guns, 80 of which were behind armour. Warrior and Black Prince's superior speed was countered by the slower Defence andResistance. Whilst the higher gunport sills of the British ships would provide an advantage in the Atlantic, once in smoother waters this edge would disappear, added to this the French ships were armoured from end to end and had greater manouevaerability. Impinging upon this advantage was the fact that only Couronne had an iron hull and the French 55lb guns were substantially inferior to the British guns in terms of armour penetration. On balance, the Controller conceded that individual power was on the Royal Navy's side, but emphasised the "Compactness and homogenous qualities of the French ships".
With the outbreak of hostilities in the American Civil War the situation became serious enough for Warrior or Black Prince to be stationed to the North American Squadron. The Federal government backed down, but it may be worth examining the fighting capabilities of the latest Union ship, the Monitor.
Launched in 1862 with an overall length of 172 feet, Monitor weighed in at a little over 900 tons, or 1/10th of Warrior's displacement. Armour plating consisted of between 2 & 4 inches for the hull, and 8 inches for the gun turret. The ship was armed with 2 11inch smooth bore guns that had a practical rate of fire of one round every 7 minutes. Monitor had an extraordinary low freeboard, a mere 6 inches, and with a speed of perhaps 5 knots she could not hope to make headway in an open sea.