AskDefine | Define ramming

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ramming See ram

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  1. present participle of ram

Extensive Definition

In warfare, ramming is a technique that was used in the air, sea and land combat. The term originated from battering ram, which is a siege weapon used to bring down fortifications by hitting it with force, of which the momentum of the ram being sufficient to damage the target. Thus, in warfare ramming refers to hitting a target by running oneself into the target.


Already in 750 BCE the main striking force of the Assyrian army was the corps of horse-drawn, two-wheeled chariots. Their mission was to smash their way through the ranks of enemy infantry. As siege weapons they used battering rams. The Chinese had been using the ram for warships since the Spring and Autumn Period (722 BC-481 BC), as recorded in the Yue Jue Shu (Lost Records of the State of Yue), compiled and edited in 52 AD by Yuan Kang during the Han Dynasty. The ancient Greeks used their trireme vessels for ramming as well.

Air warfare

Ramming in air combat is a last-ditch tactic that was used when all else had failed. The ramming pilot could use his entire aircraft as a ram or he could try to destroy the enemy's controls using the propeller or wing to chop into the enemy's tail or wing. Ramming took place when a pilot ran out of ammunition yet was still eager to destroy an enemy, or when his plane had already been damaged beyond saving. Most ramming occurred when the attacker's aircraft was economically, strategically or tactically less valuable than the enemy's, such as by pilots flying obsolescent aircraft against superior ones or by single-engine aircraft against multiple-engine bombers. Defenders rammed more often than invaders.
A ramming attack was not considered suicidal in the same manner as kamikaze attacks — the ramming pilot stands a chance of surviving, though it was very risky. Sometimes the ramming aircraft itself could survive to make a controlled landing, though most were lost due to combat damage or the pilot bailing out. Ramming was used in air warfare in the first half of the 20th century, in both World Wars and in the interwar period. In the jet age, as air combat speeds increased, instances of ramming became rare. It was too risky. Russian pilots, however, are still trained to perform ramming attacks.


Three types of taran attacks were made:
  • Using the propeller to go in from behind and chop off the controls in the tail of the enemy aircraft. This was the most difficult to perform, but it had the best chance of survival.
  • Using the wing to cut off the wing or tail of the enemy aircraft. Some Soviet aircraft like the Polikarpov I-16 had wings strengthened for this purpose.
  • Direct ramming was the easiest to perform, but also the most dangerous.

Early science fiction

Presaging the 20th century air warfare ramming actions, Jules Verne imagined an apparent aerial attack made by a heavy flying machine with a prominent ram prow against a nearly defenseless lighter-than-air craft in his science fiction work Robur the Conqueror, published in 1886. H. G. Wells, writing in 1899 in his novel The Sleeper Awakes, has his main character, Graham, ram one of the enemy's aeroplanes with his flying apparatus, causing it to fall out of the sky. A second enemy machine ceases its attack, afraid of being rammed in turn.

World War I

The first known instance of ramming in air warfare was made over Zhovkva by the Russian pilot, Pyotr Nesterov on September 8, 1914, against an Austrian plane. That incident was fatal to both parties.

Spanish Civil War

Ramming () was used in the Spanish Civil War. On the night of November 27-28, 1937 Soviet pilot Evgeny Stepanov flying a Polikarpov I-15 shot down one SM.81 bomber near Barcelona and emptied the rest of his bullets into another. The second SM.81 continued to fly, so Stepanov resorted to using the left leg of his Chaikas undercarriage to ram the bomber, downing the plane.

World War II


The first taran attack in World War II was carried out by the Polish pilot, Lt. Col. Leopold Pamuła with his damaged PZL P.11c on September 1, 1939, over Łomianki near Warsaw. (Taran is also a Polish word.)

Soviet Union

In World War II, ramming became a legendary technique of VVS pilots against the Luftwaffe, especially in the early days of the hostilities in the war's Eastern Front. In the first year of the war, most available Soviet machines were considerably inferior to the German ones and the taran was sometimes perceived as the only way to guarantee the destruction of the enemy. Trading an outdated fighter for a technologically advanced bomber was considered economically sound. In some cases, pilots who were heavily wounded or in damaged aircraft decided to perform a suicidal taran attack against air, ground or naval targets. In this instance, taran becomes more like an unpremeditated kamikaze attack (see Nikolai Gastello).
Nine rammings took place on the very first day of the German invasion of the Soviet Union, one within the first hour. At 04:25 hours on June 22, 1941 Lt. I. I. Ivanov drove his Polikarpov I-16 into the tail of an invading Heinkel He 111. Ivanov didn't survive but was posthumously awarded the gold star, Hero of the Soviet Union. Lieutenant Boris Kobzan survived a record four ramming attacks in the war. Alexander Khlobystov made three. Seventeen other Soviet pilots were credited with two successful ramming attacks. About 200 taran attacks were made by Soviets between the beginning of Operation Barbarossa and the middle of 1943, when enough modern aircraft had been produced to make the tactic obsolete (even if Russian fighter pilots were still trained to perform it). However, Evgeny Stepanov stated in an interview that more than 580 taran attacks were made by VVS pilots in WWII.

United Kingdom

On 15 September 1940, Flight Sergeant Ray Holmes of No. 504 Squadron RAF used his Hawker Hurricane to destroy a Dornier Do-17 bomber over London by ramming but at the loss of his own aircraft (and almost his own life) in one of the defining moments of the Battle of Britain. Holmes, making a head-on attack, found his guns inoperative. He flew his plane into the top-side of the German bomber, cutting off the rear tail section with his wing and causing the bomber to dive out of control. The German crew were killed in the crash, while the injured Holmes bailed out of his plane and survived. As the R.A.F. did not practice ramming as an air combat tactic, this was considered an impromptu manoeuvre, and an act of selfless courage.


The Japanese also practiced ramming, both by individual initiative and by policy. Individual initiative was involved in the bringing down of a lone B-17 Flying Fortress The Flying Swede on May 8, 1942 by a Nakajima Ki-43 fighter plane. After three of the Japanese fighters had each made two attack passes without decisive results, the bomber's pilot, Major Robert N. Keatts, made for the shelter of a nearby rain squall. Loath to let the bomber escape, Sgt. Tadao Oda executed a head-on ramming attack. Both aircraft were destroyed with no survivors. Sergeant Oda was posthumously promoted to lieutenant for his sacrifice.
Starting in August 1944, several Japanese pilots flying Kawasaki Ki-61 fighters engaging B-29 Superfortresses found that ramming the very heavy bomber was a practical tactic. From that experience, in November 1944 a "Special Attack Unit" was formed using Ki-61s that had been stripped of most of their weapons and armor so as to quickly achieve high altitude. Three successful, surviving ramming pilots were the first recipients of the Bukosho, Japan's equivalent to the Victoria Cross or Medal of Honor, an award which had been inaugurated on 7 December 1944 as an Imperial Edict by Emperor Hirohito. Membership in the Special Attack Unit was seen as a final assignment; the pilots were expected to perform ramming attacks until death or serious injury stopped their service.


Several rammings () were performed by Bulgarian fighter pilots defending Sofia against Allied bombers in 1943 and 1944. The first one to do so was Senior Lieutenant (posthumously elevated to Captain) Dimitar Spisarevsky on December 20, 1943.


Late in World War II, Sonderkommando Elbe used ramming to try and restore the Luftwaffe to its former glory. Strategically, the operation was a failure. Although some pilots succeeded in destroying bombers, the skies were still controlled by the Allies.

Vietnam War

During the Vietnam War, Vu Xuan Thieu, a North Vietnam pilot, is said to have rammed his Mig-21 into an American B-52, accounting for the second loss of a B-52 to an enemy interceptor (the first one was shot down by Pham Tuan). Thieu subsequently crashed, however, the reason for his crash is disputed. He might have been downed by the fireball of the destroyed B-52.


In 1981 a Soviet Su-15 fighter jet rammed an Iranian CL-44 reconnaissance plane which intruded USSR airspace, resulting in the crash of both aircraft. There have been at least three other Soviet ramming attacks between the early 1970s and 1988.

Ground warfare

(See Battering ram.)

Sea warfare

The ram was commonly used in antiquity, and was an important part of the armament of the galleys of Imperial Rome. Its first recorded use in modern times between major warships, however, was in the American Civil War, at the battle of Hampton Roads, when the armoured Confederate warship Virginia rammed the Union frigate Cumberland, sinking her almost immediately.
Another significant success of the ram in wartime was at the battle of Lissa, between Italy and Austria. The Italian ironclad Re d'Italia had been damaged aft by gunfire, and had no rudder. Lying helpless in the water, she was struck amidships by the Austrian Ferdinand Max, the flagship of the Austrian Commander-in-Chief Admiral Tegetthoff. The Austrian ship retreated unharmed as the Italian vessel rolled over and sank.
During the War of the Pacific, the Peruvian ironclad Huáscar repeatedly rammed the Chilean corvette Esmeralda, sinking the wooden steam- and wind-powered ship.
During World War I, HMS Dreadnought rammed and sunk German submarine U-29. In World War II, naval ships often rammed other vessels, though this was often due to circumstances, as it could cause considerable damage to the attacking ship. The damage that lightly constructed destroyers took from the tactic led to it being officially discouraged by the Royal Navy from early 1943, after the HMS Hesperus was dry-docked for three months following sinking U-357 in December 1942 and HMS Harvester was torpedoed and sunk following damaging her propellers during the ramming of U-444 in March 1943.
During anti-submarine action, ramming was an alternative if the destroyer was too close to the surfaced submarine for her main guns to fire into the water. The tactic was used by the famous British anti-submarine specialist, captain Frederic John Walker from December 1941 to the end of the war.
Superannuated British destroyer HMS Campbeltown was disguised as a German ship for the purpose of ramming the lock gates of the U-boat base at St. Nazaire on 28 March 1942. A large explosive time bomb charge in the bow of the ship exploded the next day, putting the dock out of commission for five years.
PT-109 was rammed and crushed by a Japanese destroyer, though the incident was at night and the PT-boat was idling to avoid detection, making it doubtful the destroyer's actions were intentional.
HMS Glowworm rammed the German cruiser Admiral Hipper in a famous act of desperation.
In 1988 two US naval ships, destroyer Caron and cruiser Yorktown, were lightly rammed by Soviet Mirka II class light frigate (FFL 824) and Krivak I class frigate Bezzavetny (FFG 811) inside contested Soviet territorial waters in the Black Sea, near the port of Foros. None of the ships involved suffered significant damage.
During the "Cod Wars" between Britain and Iceland, unarmed trawlers found themselves opposed by Icelandic Coastguard vessels and converted trawlers. As well as Royal Navy coastguard vessels, Britain sent large, ocean-going tugs and lightships to protect them and there were numerous ramming incidents against both sides, sometimes with very serious consequences.


ramming in Czech: Taran
ramming in Spanish: Taran
ramming in French: Taran
ramming in Polish: Taranowanie
ramming in Russian: Таран (воздушный)
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