A rebel cruiser withers under the barrage of an Imperial Star Destroyer. It is outmatched, and the raid has failed. The captain gives the order to route power to shields and engines, and turns to withdraw. It's the moment the commander of the ISD has been waiting for. Weapons fire begins to pour onto the aft sections of the rebel cruiser, turbolasers and ion cannons set its shields flaring. They flicker, strain, then fail entirely.
What happens next?
Now the ship begins to take damage.
In the real world of course, nothing has hitpoints. This makes trying to write something like a warship taking damage more difficult than it might seem on the surface, because it's not really enough to say 'well it's been shot six times so now it explodes.' Which isn't to say sometimes ships don't simply just explode (looking at you, HMS Hood) but even in those situations there's specific reasons as to WHY it happened.
A modern ocean-going vessel is an incredibly complex piece of machinery and electronics wedded together and built upon thousands of years of acquired human knowledge. They are designed to operate a specific task, which for the vast majority of ships on the sea is to carry stuff from point A to point B in the most efficient (not necessarily the fastest) way possible.
One of the most important concepts in ship design is known as ‘compartmentalization’, which most people should have at least a passing familiarity with thanks to the movie Titanic. The big sealing doors that failed so remarkably in the movie (and in real life, of course) are early example of that concept.
But warships are built in a fundamentally different fashion. The ENTIRE ship is compartmentalized, and designed in such a way so sections of a vessel are balanced against each other. If a ship is holed below the waterline back aft, and the resulting list threatens to swamp engines or generators, the forward section can be deliberately flooded to balance things out. And so on.
Now this is all because flooding, as the Norwegian Navy learned to their staggering embarrassment a couple months ago, will sink a ship. In space of course you don't really have to worry about water intruding into a sealed compartment, but you do have to worry about vacuum, and more specifically, keeping it away from where anything that wants to live or breathe is. So something like compartmentalization is still going to be a thing. Here’s why.
A turbolaser bolt strikes the rebel cruiser on a weakened section. Turbolasers do damage in two ways, the first is kinetic impact, the second is a sudden massive energy release as the charged particle field that surrounds the bolt dissipates. So you have an impact, and then an explosion. Against a ship using armor only, this is essentially equivalent to the effect of a HEAP round, where the shot pierces armor and then erupts in an explosion. There’s a reason people in Star Wars use shields.
Internal damage is what kills ships. Power lines are severed. Control consoles are wrecked. Maybe the shot hits a generator room, or strikes tibanna gas storage, or hits a ordnance magazine, causing a secondary explosion. These are all mechanical effects, shutting down systems and damaging equipment.
Or it strikes a controlling station, killing or injuring crew. Key stations on any ship are going to be whatever the central control center is, on modern ships known as ‘CIC’ or the ‘Combat Information Center.’ Canon Star Wars ships tend to have large bridges in the WW2 style, but if you’re facing anything made by myself or most of other prominent fleeters, then you can safely assume it’s an internal CIC. Other stations include the main engineering control room, a navigation bridge/station, and the main reactor control. Casualties here don’t strictly damage equipment, but make monitoring and operations much more difficult.
There’s other, less dramatic impacts as well. Water pipes can get damaged (any ship will have significant water making capability for its crew, and pipes to pump it around where needed. Also, firefighting) leading to internal flooding. Magazines that are damaged likely have safety backups to prevent internal explosions, but it will still cause the ammo to be unavailable.
It’s also possibl3 to have basically no adverse effects from even a significant hit. A shot that penetrates into a berthing or recreation room might kill some off-duty personnel but besides a hull breach (quickly sealed off by compartmentalization there’s no real lasting effects.
All of the above are likely to happen multiple times to a ship under serious attack, the gradual accumulation of serious damage (critical effects, if you will) with comparatively non-serious damage (general hull breaches, armor damage, and internal stability) are what eventually leads to the death of a vessel.
This need not be a lengthy process, though when you’re talking about two ships of equal size it usually is. To use the ill-fated HMS Hood as an example, a plunging shot penetrated deck armor and detonated inside a fully loaded magazine. This caused a cascading explosion that blew the ship apart and sunk it, extremely quickly, killing nearly everyone onboard.
Alternatively you have the German Battleship Bismarck which was sunk over the course of something like 20 hours. It had previously been damaged, with loss of a fuel tank and a flooded boiler room (limiting top speed and power available), and was gradually worn down, with a notable torpedo strike on its rudder (preventing it from maneuvering) and hits that took out turrets, caused fires, and saw intrusive flooding, eventually leading to the scuttling of the ship.
So now we go back to our earlier example. Outgunned and outmatched, the rebel cruiser seeks to flee, but knows that turning tail is a receptive for disaster, as it means pointing its now un-shielded rear to the Star Destroyer. It begins to accelerate, diverting power to engines, seeking to blow past its opponent and then engage its hyperdrive. Shots begin to penetrate the weakened forward armor savaging the nose of the ship and damaging turrets and other weapons emplacements. With the fire from the rebel cruiser weakening, the Imperial Destroyer can shift more power to weapons and engines, and it turns to bear more heavily on the injured cruiser. A lucky shot penetrates into a capacitor station, the resulting energy release sees a number of thrusters flare and go dark, causing the cruiser to ‘list’ as its maneuver drives struggle to correct the sudden ship in thrust. Multiple hull breaches have seen a number of crew casualties, and have prevented damage control teams from rapid movement across the ship, slowing its ability to correct critical damage. Finally the destroyer is able to target the main propulsion thrusters themselves, taking several offline as missiles and heavy turbolaser blasts disable and destroy ion coils and fuel reserves.
The cruiser begins to drift, and an immobile ship is a doomed ship. It is the beginning of the end. But death is slow to overtake any ship.
This has gone on long enough, and I think that damage control and such will necessitate another blog post. There is a LOT that can be said about this subject, so if anybody reading this has any questions please ask and I’ll try and address them in a later post.