Ironclads were designed for several roles, including as high seas battleships, coastal defense ships, and long-range cruisers. The rapid development of warship design in the late 19th century transformed the ironclad from a wooden-hulled vessel that carried sails to supplement its steam engines into the steel-built, turreted battleships and cruisers familiar in the 20th century. This change was pushed forward by the development of heavier naval guns (the ironclads of the 1880s carried some of the heaviest guns ever mounted at sea at the time), more sophisticated steam engines, and advances in metallurgy which made steel shipbuilding possible.
The quick pace of change meant that many ships were obsolete as soon as they were finished, and that naval tactics were in a state of flux. Many ironclads were built to make use of the ram or the torpedo, which a number of naval designers considered the important weapons of naval combat. There is no clear end to the ironclad period, but towards the end of the 1890s the term ironclad dropped out of use. New ships were increasingly constructed to a standard pattern and designated battleships or armored cruisers.
Full text: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ironclad_warship
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