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"Crossing the T" is a naval tactic that goes back to the day of sail. At this time, due to poor communications, battle groups would sail in the fighting column formation. This allowed the flagship to lead a battle group that stretched for miles by a simple "follow me." The goal of the fighting column was to maneuver your line of ships across the bow of your opponent, forming a T. This allowed you to bring all your flank guns to bear on the enemy while they could only return fire with the smaller bow guns. This tactic was used well into WWI and WWII, including the decisive Battle of Jutland and the battle for the Coral Sea.

Today the Fighting Column and "Crossing the T" are alive only in Naval history books, with modern weapons such as the 688 submarine, Harpoon anti-ship missiles and aircraft carriers most battles take place from great distances, the opposing forces almost never see each other.

Back to Jane's Military History Nodes

The ships at the top of the T (those 'crossing') have the advantage. This is because all the main guns of all of their ships (in the older days of sail, a full broadside) can engage the ships in the bottom of the T which are sailing directly into the guns in a line. The advantages are:

  • Broadside. As noted, all the guns of the crossing flotilla can bear on target (or all the guns of the relevant broadside) whereas the guns of the bottom of the T can't bear at all (or in the case of more modern turreted weapons, perhaps half of them can, and only a few ships have unrestricted views of the target).
  • Relative motion. The ships sailing towards the line, at the bottom ('targets' hereafter) have a target that is crossing left to right or right to left relative to their gunfire at a speed they do not control and must estimate. The firing flotilla has a target that is advancing directly towards its guns, ergo is stationary in the gunsights at the moment of firing.
  • Evasive maneuvers. Any evasive maneuvers by the target flotilla will increase the silhouette it presents to the enemy, whereas evasive maneuvers by the firing flotilla will decrease the silhouette it presents.

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