SciFi Saturday – Ship Abbreviations

I thought it would be useful to have an abbreviation for each of the different ship types in the Star Frontiers: Knight Hawks boardgame rules. Consider the following:
  • VF: Fighter
  • VS: Assault Scout
  • FF: Frigate
  • DD: Destroyer
  • MM: Minelayer
  • CL: Light Cruiser
  • CA: Heavy Cruiser
  • CV: Assault Carrier
  • BB: Battleship
  • SS: Space Station
I didn't make any of these up; they're just taken from U.S. Navy abbreviations circa WWII (from which, of course, our space combat games take many of their thematic sensibilities; and re-purposing the SS designation). See source here.

Edit: The designator for Frigate was changed (from DL to DE) based on discussion in the comments.

Edit (9/18/13): I've changed it again -- Frigates now use the designation FF. While they weren't coded this way by the U.S. Navy in WWII (U.S. frigates then being larger than destroyers, and coded DL "destroyer leader"), the FF for smaller frigates matches: (1) every *other* navy in the world, (2) the U.S. navy post-1975 reclassification (link), (3) the Knight Hawks game itself, and (4) it's obviously easier to remember. Just don't confuse it with FF for forward-firing weapons.


  1. Not sure why the site is wrong, but FF is what they are currently using for Frigates, I believe it stands for Fast Frigate; perhaps originally slower frigates used the DL designation. I know for a while DL stood for Destroyer Leader. I worked at the Bainbridge prototype, the Bainbridge was originally DLGN-25 (Destroyer Leader Guided Nuclear), later re-classified as CGN-25, Guided Missile Cruiser Nuclear
    Fighters use F, like F-16. During WWII, some used P for Pursuit (which I like better), like P-51, but others used F. The Y in front of the F mean Prototype, ie the YF-22 will become the F-22 when it is no longer a prototype. Of course, if the fighter never makes it out of prototype stage it never loses the Y part of the designation.

    1. Thanks, that's good information! That site is definitely for WWII-era parlance, which I used intentionally. I know there was a major classification switch in 1975 (link). It's a good point about the fighters, I guess the VF-classification is really for a whole fighter squadron (link).

  2. Funny I made a comment about VF being for a whole squadron, but I looked at it again and saw YF for some reason.

  3. You know, the other interesting thing is how DL stands for Destroyer Leader, which the U.S. also called "frigate" but was larger than a normal destroyer (1950-1975). What all the other navies called frigate was indeed smaller than a destroyer, but in WWII the U.S. called those a Destroyer Escort (DE). So maybe arguably a better designator for Frigates here would be DE.


    1. I was going to mention something about that, but did not have time to look into it. I think they called the smaller destroyers, destroyer lights, and then later they split the designation between frigates, slower ships (and generally smaller) that could only do convoy duty, due to their speed; and called the faster ones, that could maybe do fleet duty as well, Destroyer Escorts DE; but it has been a couple decades since I have done serious reading about WWII, so I’m probably mixing them all up. Personally I like the name frigate much better than Destroyer Light. Destroyer Escort is more evocative too. I think the Destroyer Leader designation was very short lived and was meant to be a larger ship with Flag Quarters, better sensor and communication gear etc. They also had Heavy/Attack Carriers then as well CVA’s weird 70’s stuff that was jettisoned for more tradition terms.

  4. So based on this discussion, I've gone in and changed the Frigate designation from DL (destroyer leader) to DE (destroyer escort). I do think that's a better descriptor, since the DL types were (1) actually larger than destroyers, (2) used after the WWII era we're using for the theme (1950's), and (3) used only in very small numbers.

    I'm maintaining the VF/VS designator because (1) it seems like at an early point they really were meant for individual airships, although later used for squadrons, and (2) maintains the connection to CV for carriers. See General Order No. 541 (1920):


    Big thanks to Thiles!