Armed merchantman

An armed merchantman is a merchant ship equipped with guns, usually for defensive purposes, either by design or after the fact. In the days of sail, piracy and privateers, many merchantmen would be routinely armed, especially those engaging in long distance and high value trade.

HMS Alcantara and SMS Greif dueling at close range during the action of 29 February 1916

In more modern times, auxiliary cruisers were used offensively as merchant raiders to disrupt trade chiefly during both World War I and World War II, particularly by Germany.

While armed merchantmen are clearly inferior to purpose-built warships, sometimes they have scored successes in combat against them. Examples include East Indiamen mimicking ships of the line and chasing off regular French warships in the Battle of Pulo Aura in 1804, and the German auxiliary cruiser Kormoran sinking the Australian light cruiser HMAS Sydney in their battle in 1941, although Kormoran was also destroyed and had to be scuttled.


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