The Iowa Class: The U.S. Battleships That Were So Powerful They Were Unretired 3 Times
The Second World War marked the end of the Age of Battleships. Aircraft carriers, with their flexible, long range striking power made battlewagons obsolete in a matter of months. American battleships, once expected to fight a decisive battle in the Pacific that would halt the Japanese Empire, were instead relegated to providing artillery support for island-hopping campaigns. Yet after the war America’s battleships would return, again and again, to do the one thing only battleships could do: bring the biggest guns around to bear on the enemy.
The U.S. Navy ended World War II with twenty-three battleships of all types. By 1947, the Navy had shrunk to peacetime levels that preserved half of the number of wartime aircraft carriers but cut the number of battleships on active duty to just four. Of the four remaining ships, all were members of the latest—and last—run of battleships, the Iowa class: Iowa, New Jersey, Missouri and Wisconsin. By the outbreak of the Korean War in June 1950, only one battleship, Missouri, remained on active duty.
On June 25, 1950, the forces of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, backed by the Soviet Union, invaded pro-American South Korea. The invasion triggered an intervention by the United States, and USS Missouri was sent to provide support for American forces. Although Missouri did not directly participate in the amphibious landing at Inchon, it did support the landing by bombarding nearby Samcheok, South Korea, in order to convince North Korean forces the invasion would take place there instead. Afterwards, Missouri traveled to the port of Busan, where it became the flagship of Vice Adm. A. D. Struble, Commander, Seventh Fleet.
Missouri continued to support the UN offensive into North Korea along the peninsula’s east coast, conducting bombardment missions in late October 1950 in the Chongjin, Tanchon and Wonsan areas. Afterwards, it used its vast number of antiaircraft guns, consisting of twenty five-inch guns, eighty forty-millimeter guns and forty-nine twenty-millimeter guns, to protect U.S. carriers from air attack. In December, after the Chinese entry into the war, Missouri provided naval gunfire cover for the U.S. Army’s X Corps, which, along with the First Marine Division, was evacuated by sea from Hunguam.
The Chinese intervention, and the realization that the Korean conflict would not be a short war, prompted the Navy to reactivate the remaining three Iowa-class battleships. New Jersey was activated on November 21, 1950 Wisconsin on March 3, 1950 and Iowa itself was reactivated on August 25, 1951. For the remainder of the war, the four battleships served in the naval gunfire support role, providing direct artillery support for ground troops, bombardment of specific enemy targets, and harassment and interdiction fire against enemy supply lines. Although the range of their sixteen-inch guns limited the battleships to targets within twenty miles of the Korean coastline, operating from both coasts that still put a quarter of the country under their guns.
The Korean War ended in 1953, but the U.S. Navy, fearing a return to hostilities, did not immediately send its battleships back to mothballs. Missouri was decommissioned in 1955, followed by New Jersey in 1957, and finally Ohio and Wisconsin in 1958.
In 1967, faced with rising tactical aircraft losses in the Vietnam War, the United States recommissioned USS New Jersey to provide firepower that didn’t risk losing pilots. By September 30, 1968, New Jersey was back in action, shelling North Vietnamese Army forces near the North/South Vietnam Demilitarized Zone. The battleship shelled coastal targets located by spotter aircraft from the aircraft carrier USS America, and supported the First and Third Marine Divisions. New Jersey’s Vietnam service would prove short, however, as the ship was decommissioned again the following year.
The 1980 election of President Ronald Reagan, who had run on the promise of a six-hundred-ship U.S. Navy, proved an opportunity to reactivate the four Iowa-class battleships yet again. All four Iowa-class battleships were upgraded with new combat systems, deleting many of the smaller five-inch guns, in order to accommodate sixteen Harpoon antiship missiles, thirty-two Tomahawk cruise missiles, and four Phalanx CIWS close-in weapon systems. Each ship retained its nine sixteen-inch guns—the new, modern Navy had no naval guns over five inches in diameter, and the big guns of the battleships would prove invaluable in the event of an amphibious landing.
The first ship to be reactivated—for the third time—was New Jersey. Returned to service in December 1982, within nine months it was back in action, supporting U.S. Marines acting as peacekeepers in Beirut, Lebanon. The 1983 bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut killed 241 peacekeepers. In retaliation New Jersey conducted two naval fire missions against Druze and Syrian forces in the region believed responsible for the attack. In 1987, Missouri and Iowa participated in Operation Earnest Will, the escorting of reflagged Kuwaiti tankers to protect them from Iranian attacks.
The battleships also conducted Cold War–oriented missions. In 1986, New Jersey became the first American battleship to enter the Sea of Okhotsk, considered the Soviet Union’s backyard and a bastion for the Soviet Navy’s ballistic-missile submarines.
By the late 1980s the Soviet Union was visibly on the decline, and starting in 1989 the Navy made plans to retire the battleships yet again. On August 2, 1990, Saddam Hussein invaded and occupied Kuwait, and in response a massive American sea, air and land force was sent to defend Saudi Arabia. While Iowa and New Jersey were in the process of being decommissioned, Missouri and Wisconsin were deployed to the Persian Gulf. During Operation Desert Storm, the campaign to liberate Kuwait, both battleships fired Tomahawk missiles at Iraqi targets and bombarded Iraqi ground forces. As the Missouri did during the Korean War, both battlewagons conducted naval fire missions to convince Iraqi forces an amphibious assault was imminent, tying up thousands of Iraqi Army forces that were forced to defend the coastline.
By 1992, all four battleships were again deactivated, and today they are museum ships in Hawaii, California, Virginia and New Jersey. Although there are frequent calls to return them to service, that seems unlikely: although their big guns are still useful, the ships require nearly two thousand crew each, making them expensive to operate. While theoretically possible to modernize and automate them, no serious study has been performed in how to adopt them to modern warfare. The four legendary ships Iowa, New Jersey, Missouri and Wisconsin will likely remain museums as long as they are afloat.
Kyle Mizokami is a defense and national-security writer based in San Francisco who has appeared in the Diplomat, Foreign Policy, War is Boring and the Daily Beast. In 2009 he cofounded the defense and security blog Japan Security Watch. You can follow him on Twitter: @KyleMizokami.
Source: Wikimedia Commons
The FS Richelieu and FS Jean Bart were the last two French battleships. Both battleships were the largest ships ever built by the French. Two other ships were actually planned for the Richelieu Class, the Clemenceau, which was never completed, and the Gascogne, which was never laid out.
The Richelieu Class battleships were 813 feet 2 inches (247.85 meters) in length and had a displacement of 48,180 long tons (48,950 tons). The French built the Richelieu Class battleships to counter the Italian Navy under the leadership of dictator Benito Mussolini. Both the FMS Richelieu and FMS Jean Bart survived World War II and were decommissioned in the 1960s.
Did You Know?
The FMS Richelieu was under control of both the Allied and Axis powers during World War II, but surprisingly never managed to sink an enemy ship.
List of United States Navy ships named after US states
The table below is a list of United States Navy ships named after US states. The practice of naming commissioned ships for US states and territories dates back to the Continental Navy during the time of the American Revolution. The conventions for naming ships of the US Navy were made law in 1862
The vessels of the Navy shall be named by the Secretary of the Navy under direction of the President according to the following rule: Sailing-vessels of the first class shall be named after the States of the Union, those of the second class after the rivers, those of the third class after the principal cities and towns and those of the fourth class as the President may direct." - sec. 1531 (Title Thirteen, Chapter Six, of the U.S. Code)
A large majority of the ships named for states are battleships (BB), followed by submarines (SSN, SSBN & SSGN). The remainder are cruisers (ACR & CGN), monitors (BM) and patrol craft (SP) and an amphibious transport dock (LPD).
As of March 2021, thirty-seven ships currently in commission are named after US states and one is named after a territory. Eleven states and one territory have been announced as names for ships that are under construction or authorized. Two state names (Kansas and South Carolina) and four populated territories (American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, and the US Virgin Islands) are not currently planned for use.
The Virginia-class, which envisions a class size of 66 attack submarines, is the most recent class to use state names, with 28 of the active and announced boats being named after US states, thought that convention appears to have changed. The Ohio-class of ballistic missile submarines has 17 boats with state names, and the Seawolf-class (attack subs), the Columbia-class (missile subs) and the San Antonio-class of amphibious transport docks use one name each, for a total of 48.
24 photos revealing the striking changes to Army uniforms over the years
Posted On April 02, 2018 09:37:13
The Army has made substantial changes to its uniforms over the years, and this year is no exception.
In 1775, soldiers put together makeshift hunting shirts to distinguish themselves from the British at the Siege of Boston. Today, they wear sophisticated digital camouflage patterns that help them blend into the mountains of Afghanistan.
Here’s a look back at how Army uniforms have changed over time (This isn’t an exhaustive list. For a full, in-depth history, check out this great paper from U.S. Army History).
1. Not surprisingly, the blue Continental Army uniform adopted during the Revolutionary War was similar in style to the British red coat.
2. After a brief period of Army “uniform confusion” during 1812, the U.S. Army began issuing blue coats such as the ones below in 1813. These remained in service until about 1820, though a shortage of blue wool would lead some state militias and the service academies to use gray.
3. In 1821, the Army dropped the “tombstone” cap and replaced it with the “bell crown” cap for company officers and enlisted soldiers. The hole in the front was for a colored pompon, a feather-like device which would distinguish what branch of service the soldier belonged to, such as artillery or infantry.
Photo: Army Quartermaster Museum
4. Also in that year, Army regulations introduced the use of epaulettes and shoulder wings, which were “generally used to designate the soldier’s rank or some other aspect of status,” according to the Army Quartermaster Museum.
5. This is what a typical artillery sergeant would look like in 1836.
6. In 1847, non-commissioned officers were authorized to display chevrons on both sleeves, above the elbow.
7. There were significant changes to the uniform to come in 1851, which would stick with the Army for years to come. Soldiers began wearing the “frock” coat, and colored accents distinguished among branches: blue meaning infantry and red for artillery, for example.
8. Changes to come in 1858 and 1860 would define the look of Union soldiers during the American Civil War. This period saw the adoption of brass branch insignia and different hats, although the various regulations of state militias, substitute items, and homemade garments make it hard to nail down the “typical” uniform of the day.
9. According to the Army History Division, the period between the 1870s to 1880s saw a lack of uniformity amongst soldiers, due to a uniform shortage and changes to regulations that some despised.
10. During the Spanish-American war of 1898, soldiers were issued khaki uniforms for the field.
11. Soldiers in World War I wore similarly-styled uniforms, though they were olive drab in color. They also wore spiral puttees around their legs.
12. The U.S. also purchased hundreds of thousands of “Brodie helmets” from the British for Army troops fighting in Europe.
Photo: Library of Congress
13. Soldiers in World War II wore olive drab uniforms in the field, along with their newly-designed M1 helmets.
14. There were also a variety of specialty items introduced, such as cold weather flying jackets for members of the Army Air Force, or coats made specifically for airborne troops.
15. Prior to World War II, soldiers only wore marksmanship badges, ribbons and service medals. But during and after the war, a number of new specialty awards and badges were created for parachutists, aviators, and infantrymen.
16. Between the 1940s and 1970s, there were big changes to Army rank structure. Staff sergeants were eliminated in 1948 and made sergeants, only to be brought back ten years later. In 1954, the Army created the Specialist rank, with different levels that could be obtained, although these were later phased out.
17. In 1952, The Army would adopt its olive green shade utility uniform, which would see use in the wars in Korea and Vietnam.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons
18. During the Korean war, some units directed soldiers to sew white name tapes and/or “U.S. Army” onto their uniforms, though it was never universal. In 1953, the Secretary of Army made the wearing of “U.S. Army” official on uniforms, as a result of negotiations for the end of hostilities with the North Koreans.
19. While most soldiers in Vietnam wore the standard olive drab uniform, some specialized units — like long range reconnaissance patrol members — were given the ERDL pattern, although some used a tiger stripe pattern that local south Vietnamese forces had been wearing.
Tigerstripe uniform (foreground) and ERDL pattern (background), in use by US forces in Vietnam c.1969 (Photo: US Army Heritage and Education Center)
20. In 1981, the Army adopted its woodland camouflage battle dress uniform. It would become the main field uniform of the Army and the other services until the mid-2000s.
U.S. Army National Guard soldiers wear BDUs in woodland camouflage during a July 2000 field training exercise in Yavoriv, Ukraine. (Photo: US Air Force)
21. There were also desert-colored versions that soldiers used during Operation Desert Storm in 1991, and the Post-9/11 conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.
22. Following the Marine Corps’ adoption of a digital-style uniform, the Army introduced its Army Combat Uniform (ACU) in 2004, which was used in Iraq and Afghanistan.
23. In 2010, soldiers headed to Afghanistan were issued Operation Enduring Freedom Camouflage Patter (OCP) uniforms, better known as “multicam.”
U.S. Army soldiers in May 2011, wearing the ACU in the Universal Camouflage Pattern, along with its replacement Multicam pattern (second from left) in Paktika province, Afghanistan. (Photo: Spc. Zachary Burke)
24. In July, the Army started its transition to the Operational Camouflage Pattern, which the Sgt. Maj. of the Army admits will lead to mixed uniform formations over the slow process. “We will still be the most lethal fighting force the world has even known even if our belts don’t match for the next few years,” he told CNN.
BONUS: There were many uniforms not mentioned here, due to the huge diversity of items and stylings that the Army has gone through over the years. If you’d like to see a very in-depth look at army uniforms and weaponry, check out this paper from the U.S. Army’s History Division.
NOW: This video shows 240 years of Army uniforms in under two minutes
The Great White Fleet
At the dawn of the 20th century, naval power was the ultimate expression of national pride. Perhaps the single greatest expression of American naval power during this period was the world cruise of the Great White Fleet. Authorized by President Roosevelt, against the wishes of Congress, 16 battleships of the United States Navy, led by their flagship, the USS Connecticut, spent over a year circling the globe. In addition to its massive public relations value, it served the important purpose of allowing the fleet to train as a cohesive unit on extended operations at sea. As seen in this photo, they departed Hampton Roads on December 16, 1907, steaming past an exuberant Roosevelt on his presidential yacht, the USS Mayflower. As they made their way south around South America, enormous crowds gathered to welcome the visually striking white and buff painted ships of the American fleet. Soon, other port cities were clamoring for a stop. Over the next year, the Great White Fleet made its way through Asia, the Middle East, and the Mediterranean. It arrived home at Hampton Roads on Washington's Birthday 1909, where Roosevelt met them with great fanfare. They had steamed nearly 45,000 miles, and visited 6 continents. American naval prestige was soaring.
Top 10 Biggest Battleships of All Time
Battleships were the largest warships that utilized gun based weaponry as their main armament. Hundreds of feet in length and displacing tens of thousands of tons, their size allowed them to carry the largest guns and the thickest armor. While battleships are massive weapons, some were larger than others. We sought out the largest of them all and ranked them according to displacement to determine the top 10 biggest battleships of all time.
Without further delay, let’s dive in!
10. King George V Class (45,360 Long Tons)
- Laid Down: July 20, 1937 (King George V: July 29, 1936)
- Commissioned: April 14, 1942 (King George V: October 1, 1940)
- Length: 745′ (227m)
- Beam: 103′ 2″ (31.5m)
- Displacement: 42,600 Long Tons (Full Load: 45,360 Long Tons)
The five battleships of the King George V class kick off our list at the number ten spot. The King George V class were the largest and most powerful of the British dreadnoughts that were in service during the Second World War.
During the inter-war period (Between World Wars I and II), the world’s naval powers were limited to battleships of no more than 35,000 tons. The Royal Navy went incredibly far to ensure that the King George V class abided by the treaty and even equipped them with 14″ guns in an effort to get other nations to follow suit. Armed with ten 14″ guns, the King George Class might seem weak. However, the five battleships of this class were incredibly well protected with armor that was second only to the Yamato class. In addition their 14″ guns were powerful and they were capable of 28 knots. The ships grew as the war went on and by 1945, the surviving ships were displacing over 45, 000 long tons.
9. Littorio Class (45,485 Long Tons)
- Laid Down: September 18, 1938 (Littorio: October 28, 1934)
- Commissioned: June 14, 1942 (Littorio: May 6, 1940)
- Length: 790′ (240.7m)
- Beam: 108′ (32.9m)
- Displacement: 40,992 Long Tons (Full Load: 45,485 Long Tons)
The number nine spot on our list belongs to the Littorio class battleships of the Regia Marina. The dreadnoughts of this class were the largest, fastest, and most powerful battleships of the Italian Navy. We will focus on Roma, the third ship of the class, as she was slightly longer and heavier than her two sisters.
During the inter-war period, Italy had 70,000 tons allotted to them for new battleship construction. Though Italy tried to develop two ships of 35,000 tons, they ultimately decided to build two battleships of 40,000 tons, ignoring the treaty. The first two ships, Littorio and Vittorio Veneto, were laid down in the mid 1930s. Armed with nine powerful 15″ guns and capable of speeds of 30 knots, the Littorio class were among the most powerful battleships of their day. Two more ships, Roma and Impero, were later authorized with only Roma being completed. Roma was built to a modified design featuring an improved bow and additional light anti-air guns.
8. Nagato Class (45,950 Long Tons)
- Laid Down: August 28, 1917
- Commissioned: November 25, 1920
- Length: 738′ (225m)
- Beam: 113′ 6″ (34.6m)
- Displacement: 32,200 Long Tons (Full Load: 45,950 Long Tons)
The number eight spot on our list belongs to a battleship that put on more weight over her career than any other ship featured on the list. The Japanese Nagato class were among the largest battleships at the time of their commissioning and grew to rival new battleships launched over two decades later.
When first entering service, the two Nagato class battleships were the most powerful battleships afloat and the first to mount 16″ guns. With a speed greater than 25 knots and carrying eight 16.1″ guns, they were formidable warships. The Nagato class were originally 708′ (215.8m) long with a beam of 95′ (29m). They were modernized several times with the most substantial between 1934 and 1936. During this modernization, the ship was enlarged and grew to almost 46,000 tons. Nagato and her sister Mutsu served into World War II. Though Mutsu was lost due to an accident, Nagato became the only battleships to survive the war.
7.South Dakota Class (46,200 Long Tons)
Specifications (South Dakota)
- Laid Down: July 5, 1939
- Commissioned: March 20, 1942
- Length: 680′ (207.3m)
- Beam: 108′ 2″ (32.97m)
- Displacement: 35,000 Long Tons (Full Load: 46,200 Long Tons)
Coming in at number seven on our list we have the South Dakota class battleships of the United States Navy. These warships were originally designed to be smaller and more compact than the North Carolina class battleships. However, they were still large enough to be ranked among the largest battleships of all time.
Though the United States was happy with its North Carolina class battleships, they did not like the fact that its armor was incapable of resisting its own 16″ guns. Seeking a better protected design, the South Dakota class were born. Featuring the same nine 16″ guns and 27 knot speed of the North Carolina class, the South Dakota were more compact. This allowed armor to be better concentrated over the vitals, improving protection. Four ships of the class were built, serving throughout the Second World War. As the war went on, the weight of additional anti-aircraft weaponry and equipment caused the ships to grow, eventually displacing over 46,000 tons at full load.
Honorable Mention. HMS Hood (46,680 Long Tons)
- Laid Down: September 1, 1916
- Commissioned: May 15, 1920
- Length: 860′ 7″ (262.3m)
- Beam: 104′ 2″ (31.8m)
- Displacement: 42,670 Long Tons (Full Load: 46,680 Long Tons)
Making a special appearance on our list is HMS Hood of the Royal Navy. Though officially classified as a battlecruiser, at the time of her commissioning, Hood had battleship levels of armour protection. For two decades she remained the largest warship in the world, earning her the nickname “Mighty Hood”.
Developed in 1915 as an improved version of the Queen Elizabeth class battleships, the Admiral class (Of which Hood belonged) would have been faster and better protected. However, they were soon redesigned into even larger ships featuring a powerplant that was vastly more powerful. However, the need for materials elsewhere saw the cancellation of three ships of the class and only one, Hood, would be completed. Hood would become the largest warship in the world, featuring eight powerful 15″ guns and a high speed of 32 knots on a deep load displacement of 46,680 tons.
6. North Carolina Class (46,700 Long Tons)
Specifications (North Carolina)
- Laid Down: October 27, 1937
- Commissioned: April 9, 1941
- Length: 728′ 9″ (222m)
- Beam: 108′ 4″ (33m)
- Displacement: 35,000 Long Tons (Full Load: 46,700 Long Tons)
Though they proceeded the South Dakota class battleships, the two ships of the North Carolina class were larger, earning them the number six spot on our list. North Carolina and her sister, USS Washington, were the first ships of the final generation of United States battleship design.
The United States began developing the North Carolina class back in 1935. Development was chaotic, with several dozen proposals being examined in an effort to remain within treaty limits. The final design was for a battleship capable of 27 knots with twelve 14″ guns and armour to resist 14″ shells. However, the ships were designed to be able to swap the 14″ guns out for nine larger 16″ guns in the event Japan refused to sign the Second London Naval Treaty. Eventually, the escalator clause allowing the larger 16″ guns was put into effect and the North Carolina class were built with the more powerful 16″/45 naval guns. With the more powerful guns, the North Carolina class were one of the more potent designs during World War II.
5. Richelieu Class (48,180 Long Tons)
Specifications (Jean Bart)
- Laid Down: December 12, 1936 (Richelieu: October 22, 1935)
- Commissioned: May 1, 1955 (Richelieu: July 15, 1940)
- Length: 813′ (248m)
- Beam: 116′ (35.5m)
- Displacement: 35,000 Long Tons (Full Load: 48,180 Long Tons)
The Richelieu class battleships of the Marine Nationale had an interesting history. Richelieu was able to see service during World War II while Jean Bart was largely a floating gun battery. Though Jean Bart was launched in 1940, she would not see her final completion until 15 years later. The long years of modification resulted in a radically different ship than her sister, making her grow to the fifth largest battleship on our list.
France went to great lengths to ensure the Richelieu class fit within the treaty requirements. Several features of the class, from the all-forward arrangement of her eight 15″ guns housed in two quadruple turrets to her internal sloped armor belt, were designed to reduce weight. However, the lessons of World War II led to substantial modification to Jean Bart before her completion. She received more powerful anti-aircraft guns and the latest electronics. Bulges were fitted to her, increasing her beam from 108′ to 113′. These modifications caused her displacement to increase to an impressive 48,180 tons, making her one of the largest battleships ever built.
4. HMS Vanguard (51,420 Long Tons)
- Laid Down: October 2, 1941
- Commissioned: May 12, 1946
- Length: 814′ 4″ (248.2m)
- Beam: 108′ (32.9m)
- Displacement: 44,500 Long Tons (Deep Load: 51,420 Long Tons)
Number four on our list is represented by HMS Vanguard, the last battleship of the Royal Navy as well as the last battleship to ever be launched. Fast, well armed, and extremely well protected, Vanguard is easily one of the best battleships ever to sail the sea.
Knowing the threat of the newest German and Japanese battleships, the Royal Navy had already designed the powerful Lion class battleships. However, it soon became apparent that they could not be launched in time, leaving the Royal Navy at a disadvantage. It was decided to take a modified Lion class hull and equip it with left over 15″ guns from World War I to produce a battleship that would be available sooner. However, the ship would not be completed until after World War II due to revised designs and the shuffling of material elsewhere. Though Vanguard as an ad-hoc design, she was incredibly powerful, featuring an excellent combination of speed, firepower, and armor that put her above a vast majority of more well-known battleships.
For more information on HMS Vanguard, check out these links:
3. Bismarck Class (51,800 Long Tons)
- Laid Down: November 2, 1936 (Bismarck: July 1, 2936)
- Commissioned: February 25, 1941 (Bismarck: August 24, 1940)
- Length: 823′ 6″ (251m)
- Beam: 118′ 1″ (36m)
- Displacement: 42,200 Long Tons (Full Load: 51,800 Long Tons)
Coming in at third place we have the Bismarck class battleships of the German Kriegsmarine. However, its not the famous Bismarck that represents the class, but her sister Tirpitz. Modifications made to her during the war increased her displacement until she became the largest battleship used by a European country.
Throughout the 1930s, the German Navy had examined several battleship designs that remained within treaty limits. However, they eventually decided to build a much more balanced and traditional design that exceeded 40,000 tons. Two ships were built, Bismarck and Tirpitz. Featuring eight 15″ guns and exceptionally strong armor, they were the most powerful battleships in Europe at the time o their launch. Though Bismarck was lost early in the War, Tirptiz soldiered on as a fleet in being, quietly spending her time in Norway. She received new equipment and weaponry during this time, making her grow until she displaced over 2,300 more tons than her sister.
2. Iowa Class (57,540 Long Tons)
- Laid Down: June 27, 1940
- Commissioned: February 22, 1943
- Length: 887′ 3″ (270.43m)
- Beam: 108′ 2″ (32.97m)
- Displacement: 45,000 Long Tons (Full Load: 57,540 Long Tons)
The last battleships completed by the United States Navy, the Iowa class battleships were larger, faster, and more heavily armored than all previous US dreadnoughts. Their impressive displacement of over 57,000 long tons nets them the second place spot on our list.
Designed to counter the fast battleships of the Japanese Kongo Class, the Iowa class were designed with an emphasis on high speeds in addition to armour and firepower. Capable of speeds greater than 32.5 knots, the Iowa class needed to be larger in order to accommodate the huge power plant and greater freeboard. Armor was similar to the proceeding South Dakota class, though the firepower was enhanced through the use of nine 16″/50 guns, a more powerful model compared to those aboard the earlier dreadnoughts. Designed for a standard displacement of 45,000 long tons, as time went on the ships got ever heavier due to more weaponry and electronics. Eventuall, their displacement grew to over 57,000 long tons. In addition to their size and speed, the Iowa class are known for their long service lives. The ships served on and off until the early 1990s, well past the age of the battleship.
1. Yamato Class (71,659 Long Tons)
- Laid Down: March 29, 1938 (Yamato: November 4, 1937)
- Commissioned: August 5, 1942 (Yamato: December 16, 1941)
- Length: 862′ 10″ (263m)
- Beam: 121′ 1″ (36.9m)
- Displacement: 64,000 Long Tons (Full Load: 71,659 Long Tons)
Finally, number one! This position is filled by the battleships that remain the largest of their type, the mighty Yamato class. Being the battleships that were designed to be larger and more powerful than any other, it should come as no surprise that the Yamato class reign supreme as the largest battleships ever built.
These leviathans were designed to outgun and outlast all competition. To do this, they carried nine massive 18.1″ (460mm) guns and 16″ (410mm) of belt armour. Even with the large guns and thick armor, the battleships were relatively fast with speeds exceeding 27 knots. Only two battleships of this class, Yamato and Musashi, were completed. A third ship, Shinano, was later completed as an aircraft carrier. Like her sisters, she was also the largest of her kind and was not surpassed until the super-carriers first arrived years later. With a full load displacement equal to that of two treaty battleships, the Japanese Navy made no attempt to abide by the rules, producing a powerful battleship that certainly will never be surpassed in size.
There you have it, the top 10 biggest battleships of all time. If you want to check out more great articles, follow Navy General Board on Social Media! Check us out on the platforms below!
Ranked: 5 Most Powerful Battleships In All of History
Key Point: It's not just about technical specs—human leadership can make or break a battleship.
More From The National Interest:
Ranking the greatest battleships of all time is a tad easier than ranking naval battles. Both involve comparing apples with oranges. But at least taking the measure of individual men-of-war involves comparing one apple with one orange. That's a compact endeavor relative to sorting through history to discern how seesaw interactions shaped the destinies of peoples and civilizations.
Still, we need some standard for distinguishing between battlewagons. What makes a ship great? It makes sense, first of all, to exclude any ship before the reign of Henry VIII. There was no line-of-battle ship in the modern sense before England's "great sea-king" founded the sail-driven Royal Navy in the 16th century. Galley warfare was quite a different affair from lining up capital ships and pounding away with naval gunnery.
One inescapable chore is to compare ships' technical characteristics. A recent piece over at War Is Boring revisits an old debate among battleship and World War II enthusiasts. Namely, who would've prevailed in a tilt between a U.S. Navy Iowa-class dreadnought and the Imperial Japanese Navy's Yamato? Author Michael Peck restates the common wisdom from when I served in mighty Wisconsin, last of the battleships: it depends on who landed the first blow. Iowas commanded edges in speed and fire control, while Yamato and her sister Musashi outranged us and boasted heavier weight of shot. We would've made out fine had we closed the range before the enemy scored a lucky hit from afar. If not, things may have turned ugly.
Though not in so many words, Peck walks through the basic design features that help qualify a battleship for history's elite -- namely guns, armor, and speed. Makes sense, doesn't it? Offensive punch, defensive resiliency, and speed remain the hallmarks of any surface combatant even in this missile age. Note, however, that asymmetries among combat vessels result in large part from the tradeoffs naval architects must make among desirable attributes.
Only sci-fi lets shipwrights escape such choices. A Death Star of the sea would sport irresistible weaponry, impenetrable armor, and engines able to drive the vessel at breakneck speed. But again, you can't have everything in the real world. Weight is a huge challenge. A battleship loaded down with the biggest guns and thickest armor would waddle from place to place. It would make itself an easy target for nimbler opponents or let them run away. On the other hand, assigning guns and speed top priority works against rugged sides. A ship that's fleet of foot but lightly armored exposes its innards and crew to enemy gunfire. And so forth. Different navies have different philosophies about tradeoffs. Hence the mismatches between Yamato and Iowa along certain parameters. Thus has it always been when fighting ships square off.
But a battleship is more than a machine. Machines neither rule the waves nor lose out in contests for mastery. People do. People ply the seas, and ideas about shiphandling and tactics guide their combat endeavors. Great Britain's Royal Navy triumphed repeatedly during the age of sail. Its success owed less to superior materiel -- adversaries such as France and the United States sometimes fielded better ships -- than to prolonged voyages that raised seamanship and gunnery to a high art. Indeed, a friend likes to joke that the 18th century's finest warship was a French 74-gun ship captured -- and crewed -- by Royal Navy mariners. The best hardware meets the best software.
That's why in the end, debating Jane's Fighting Ships entries -- lists of statistics -- for Iowa, Yamato, and their brethren from other times and places fails to satisfy. What looks like the best ship on paper may not win. A ship need not outmatch its opponents by every technical measure. It needs to be good enough. That is, it must match up well enough to give an entrepreneurial crew, mindful of the tactical surroundings, a reasonable chance to win. The greatest battleship thus numbers among the foremost vessels of its age by material measures, and is handled by masterful seamen.
But adding the human factor to the mix still isn't enough. There's an element of opportunity, of sheer chance. True greatness comes when ship and crew find themselves in the right place at the right time to make history. A battleship's name becomes legend if it helps win a grand victory, loses in dramatic fashion, or perhaps accomplishes some landmark diplomatic feat. A vessel favored (or damned) by fortune, furthermore, becomes a strategic compass rose. It becomes part of the intellectual fund on which future generations draw when making maritime strategy. It's an artifact of history that helps make history.
So we arrive at one guy's gauge for a vessel's worth: strong ship, iron men, historical consequence. In effect, then, I define greatest as most iconic. Herewith, my list of history's five most iconic battleships, in ascending order:
Bismarck. The German Navy's Bismarck lived a short life that supplies the stuff of literature to this day. Widely considered the most capable battleship in the Atlantic during World War II, Bismarck sank the battlecruiser HMS Hood, pride of the Royal Navy, with a single round from her main battery. On the other hand, the leadership's martial spirit proved brittle when the going got tough. In fact, it shattered at the first sharp rap. As commanders' resolve went, so went the crew's.
Notes Bernard Brodie, the dreadnought underwent an "extreme oscillation" in mood. Exaltation stoked by the encounter with Hood gave way to despair following a minor torpedo strike from a British warplane. Admiral Günther Lütjens, the senior officer on board, gathered Bismarck crewmen after the air attack and "implored them to meet death in a fashion becoming to good Nazis." A great coach Lütjens was not. The result? An "abysmally poor showing" in the final showdown with HMS Rodney, King George V, and their entourage. One turret crew fled their guns. Turret officers reportedly kept another on station only at gunpoint. Marksmanship and the guns' rate of fire -- key determinants of victory in gunnery duels -- suffered badly.
In short, Bismarck turned out to be a bologna flask (hat tip: Clausewitz), an outwardly tough vessel that shatters at the slightest tap from within. In 1939 Grand Admiral Erich Raeder lamented that the German surface fleet, flung into battle long before it matured, could do little more than "die with honor." Raeder was righter than he knew. Bismarck's death furnishes a parable that captivates navalists decades hence. How would things have turned out had the battlewagon's human factor proved less fragile? We'll never know. Doubtless her measure of honor would be bigger.
Yamato. As noted at the outset, Yamato was an imposing craft by any standard. She displaced more than any battleship in history, as much as an early supercarrier, and bore the heaviest armament. Her mammoth 18-inch guns could sling 3,200-lb. projectiles some 25 nautical miles. Armor was over two feet thick in places. Among the three attributes of warship design, then, Yamato's designers clearly prized offensive and defensive strength over speed. The dreadnought could steam at 27 knots, not bad for a vessel of her proportions. But that was markedly slower than the 33 knots attainable by U.S. fast battleships.
Like Bismarck, Yamato is remembered mainly for falling short of her promise. She provides another cautionary tale about human fallibility. At Leyte Gulf in October 1944, a task force centered on Yamato bore down on the transports that had ferried General Douglas MacArthur's landing force ashore on Leyte, and on the sparse force of light aircraft carriers, destroyers, and destroyer escorts guarding the transports from seaward assault.
Next ensued the immortal charge of the tin-can sailors. The outclassed American ships charged Yamato and her retinue. Like Lütjens, Admiral Takeo Kurita, the task-force commander, appeared to wilt under less-than-dire circumstances. Historians still argue about whether he mistook Taffy 3, the U.S. Navy contingent, for a far stronger force lost his nerve or simply saw little point in sacrificing his ships and men. Whatever the case, Kurita ordered his fleet to turn back -- leaving MacArthur's expeditionary force mostly unmolested from the sea.
Yamato met a quixotic fate, though less ignominious than Bismarck's. In April 1945 the super battleship was ordered to steam toward Okinawain company with remnants of the surface fleet, there to contest the Allied landings. The vessel would deliberately beach itself offshore, becoming an unsinkable gun emplacement until it was destroyed or its ammunition was exhausted. U.S. naval intelligence got wind of the scheme, however, and aerial bombardment dispatched Yamato before she could reach her destination. A lackluster end for history's most fearsome battlewagon.
Missouri. Iowa and New Jersey were the first of the Iowa class and compiled the most enviable fighting records in the class, mostly in the Pacific War. Missouri was no slouch as a warrior, but -- alone on this list -- she's celebrated mainly for diplomatic achievements rather than feats of arms. General MacArthur accepted Japan's surrender on her weatherdecks in Tokyo Bay, leaving behind some of the most enduring images from 20th-century warfare. Missouri has been a metaphor for how to terminate big, open-ended conflicts ever since. For instance, President Bush the Elder invoked the surrender in his memoir. Missouri supplied a measuring stick for how Desert Storm might unfold. (And as it happens, a modernized Missouri was in Desert Storm.)
Missouri remained a diplomatic emissary after World War II. The battlewagon cruised to Turkey in the early months after the war, as the Iron Curtain descended across Europe and communist insurgencies menaced Greece and Turkey. Observers interpreted the voyage as a token of President Harry Truman's, and America's, commitment to keeping the Soviet bloc from subverting friendly countries. Message: the United States was in Europe to stay. Missouri thus played a part in the development of containment strategy while easing anxieties about American abandonment. Naval diplomacy doesn't get much better than that.
Mikasa. Admiral Tōgō Heihachirō's flagship is an emblem for maritime command. The British-built Mikasa was arguably the finest battleship afloat during the fin de siècle years, striking the best balance among speed, protection, and armament. The human factor was strong as well. Imperial Japanese Navy seamen were known for their proficiency and élan, while Tōgō was renowned for combining shrewdness with derring-do. Mikasa was central to fleet actions in the Yellow Sea in 1904 and the Tsushima Strait in 1905 -- battles that left the wreckage of two Russian fleets strewn across the seafloor. The likes of Theodore Roosevelt and Alfred Thayer Mahan considered Tsushima a near-perfect fleet encounter.
Like the other battleships listed here, Mikasa molded how subsequent generations thought about diplomacy and warfare. IJN commanders of the interwar years planned to replicate Tsushima Strait should Japan fall out with the United States. More broadly, Mikasa and the rest of the IJN electrified peoples throughout Asia and beyond. Japan, that is, proved that Western imperial powers could be beaten in battle and ultimately expelled from lands they had subjugated. Figures ranging from Sun Yat-sen to Mohandas Gandhi to W. E. B. Du Bois paid homage to Tsushima, crediting Japan with firing their enthusiasm for overthrowing colonial rule.
Mikasa, then, was more than the victor in a sea fight of modest scope. And her reputation outlived her strange fate. The vessel returned home in triumph following the Russo-Japanese War, only to suffer a magazine explosion and sink. For the Japanese people, the disaster confirmed that they had gotten a raw deal at the Portsmouth Peace Conference. Nevertheless, it did little to dim foreign observers' enthusiasm for Japan's accomplishments. Mikasa remained a talisman.
Victory. Topping this list is the only battleship from the age of sail. HMS Victory was a formidable first-rate man-of-war, cannon bristling from its three gun decks. But her fame comes mainly from her association with Lord Horatio Nelson, whom Mahan styles "the embodiment of the sea power of Great Britain." In 1805 Nelson led his outnumbered fleet into combat against a combined Franco-Spanish fleet off Cape Trafalgar, near Gibraltar. Nelson and right-hand man Admiral Cuthbert Collingwood led columns of ships that punctured the enemy line of battle. The Royal Navy crushed its opponent in the ensuing melee, putting paid to Napoleon's dreams of invading the British Isles.
Felled on board his flagship that day, Nelson remains a synonym for decisive battle. Indeed, replicating Trafalgar became a Holy Grail for naval strategists across the globe. Permanently drydocked at Portsmouth, Victory is a shrine to Nelson and his exploits -- and the standard of excellence for seafarers everywhere. That entitles her to the laurels of history's greatest battleship.
Surveying this list of icons, two battleships made the cut because of defeats stemming from slipshod leadership, two for triumphs owing to good leadership, and one for becoming a diplomatic paragon. That's not a bad reminder that human virtues and frailties -- not wood, or metal, or shot -- are what make the difference in nautical enterprises.
James Holmes is Professor of Strategy at the Naval War College and coauthor of Red Star over the Pacific. The views voiced here are his alone.
This article first appeared last year.
Image: IJN Mikasa, Yokohama. 6 April 2012. San Diego Air and Space Museum.
Battleships : United States battleships, 1935-1992
Ch. 1. Introduction -- Ch. 2. The North Carolina Class -- Ch. 3. The South Dakota Class -- Ch. 4. The Iowa Class -- Ch. 5. The Montana Class -- Ch. 6. The Alaska Class -- Ch. 7. Return of the Dreadnought -- Ch. 8. Conclusion -- App: A. President Roosevelt and His Navy -- App: B. Representative Battleship Arrangement -- App: C. Battleship and Battlecruiser Guns -- App: D. Preliminary Designs of North Carolina and South Dakota
Part of a three-volume set on the world's battleships, this book provides a comprehensive history of all U.S. Navy battleships and battlecruisers built, designed, or projected built since the early 1930s. It covers their design and construction, operational careers, and eventual disposition. Complete plans are presented for many classes as well as extensive technical data covering their characteristics and performance, information that is sometimes hard to find and often
contradictory. The operational careers of the ships are chronicled in detail. Incidents that challenged a ship's design adequacy, particularly from the standpoint of damage resistance, are discussed. Originally published in 1976 with the subtitle U.S. Battleships in World War II, the book has undergone significant revision. Not only has it been brought up to date with the addition of a new chapter covering the Iowa-class reactivation through 1992, but the book now
includes revelations uncovered in newly accessible material. The authors offer a complete description and analysis of the tragic turret explosion aboard the USS Iowa in April 1989, with conclusions that differ from those widely reported by the media and from those officially presented by the Navy. In an appendix, they bring to light for the first time the full extent of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's involvement in the shaping of the U.S. fleet and credit him with
influencing the design, construction, and deployment of battleships and battlecruisers built during his administration. For example, they cite Roosevelt as the individual responsible for the speed and endurance of the Alaska-class battleships and the design and construction of the Alaska-class battlecruisers and for controlling the number, general characteristics, gunnery, and anti-aircraft armament of other classes as well. In addition, this massive work now offers
information about the secret development of accurate long-range major-caliber gunfire control in the period before World War II, the proposed conversion of the Iowa and Alaska ships to aircraft carriers, and the twin-skeg problems encountered by battleships. Ship histories have been updated to include details about the service of the four reactivated Iowa battleships and their recent retirementsAccess-restricted-item true Addeddate 2011-05-16 16:08:40 Bookplateleaf 0010 Boxid IA138713 Boxid_2 CH114401 Camera Canon EOS 5D Mark II City Annapolis, Md. Donor bostonpubliclibrary Edition Rev. and updated ed. External-identifier urn:oclc:record:1028652426 Extramarc Columbia University Libraries Foldoutcount 0 Identifier battleshipsunite00garz Identifier-ark ark:/13960/t78s5qg1g Isbn 1557501742
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America's (Almost) Super Battleships: 65,000 Tons of Terror
The United States almost built what arguably would have been the king of all battleships. Alas, it was not to be.
In the early 1940s, the U.S. Navy still expected to need huge, first rate battleships to fight the best that Japan and Germany had to offer. The North Carolina, South Dakota, and Iowa class battleships all involved design compromises. The Montanas, the last battleships designed by the U.S. Navy (USN), would not.
Origins of the Design:
The interwar system of naval treaties allowed the United States to restart battleship construction in the late 1930s. The first designs (the North Carolina and South Dakota classes) complied with the restrictions of the treaties, which limited battleship size to 35,000 tons. An escalator clause kicked in after Japan failed to renew its treaty obligations, allowing the construction of the 45,000 Iowa class, which would use the extra displacement to carry slightly heavier guns, and more importantly to add five knots of speed.
The fast, slim Iowas class ships, however, diverged from the historical practice in battleship construction in the United States. Unlike their counterparts in other countries, U.S. battleship admirals preferred to sacrifice speed for firepower and protection. The USN never built any battlecruisers (although it intended to do so after World War I), and initially expected its replacement battleships to sail at 23 knots, four knots slower than any foreign contemporary. The USN bumped that to 28 when it realized foreign navies were building ships that could make closer to 30 knots. The Iowas could make 33 knots (at least on paper) because the USN wanted battleships that could escort its new fast carriers.
The Montanas didn’t drop all the way back to 23, but they did represent a step back to the precedent established by the North Carolina and South Dakota classes. They displaced 18,000 tons more than the Iowas, but spent that displacement on armor and main battery, rather than on speed. Crucially, the USN made the decision to build them too large to pass through the Panama Canal, which Japanese designers of the time had believed was a hard ceiling on the size of U.S. battleships.
The five names selected were Montana, Ohio, Maine, New Hampshire, and Louisiana. Of these, the last four recycled names from pre-dreadnought battleships, all of which had been scrapped after World War I. The first, Montana, recycled a name that was originally intended for the first South Dakota class of battleships, which were cancelled in the wake of the Washington Naval Treaty. Apart from Hawaii, Montana is the only state never to have an operational battleship named in its honor.
How They Stacked Up:
In appearance the Montanas were very similar to the Iowa class, with the biggest visible differences coming in size and main armament. The Montanas would have carried 12 16”/50 guns in four triple turrets, and would have displaced about 65,000 tons. They were to carry 16” belt armor and 9” deck armor, a substantial increase on the Iowas. However, they could only make 28 knots. The secondary armament was largely the same as the Iowas (and the preceding battleship classes), but with more deck space they could eventually have carried a heavier anti-aircraft armament.
The Montanas would have outclassed anything the British, French, or Italians had even conceived of building. The most obvious opponent for the Montanas were the Japanese Yamatos. The Montanas would have been slightly faster than the Yamatos, with a much heavier broadside. The 16”/50 weapons had greater penetrating power than the Japanese 18.1” gun, giving the U.S. ships a significant advantage. Advances in radar fire control and range finding would also have worked to the benefit of the U.S. ships.
However, it’s worth noting that the Yamatos commissioned in 1942, before the scheduled keel laying of Montana. Even given the exceptionally fast construction schedule of U.S. warships in World War II, Montana would have entered service some three years after the Yamatos, make comparison imprecise. Moreover, the notional follow-on battleships (“Super Yamato” and “Super Duper Yamato,” as they are colloquially known) would have substantially exceeded the Montanas in size and armament.
Apart from the Japanese, the only serious competitors in the “super-battleship” weight class were the Soviet Sovetsky Soyuz class, and the German H-39 class. Both of these types were nearly as large as the American and Japanese ships, and carried 16” guns. However, both the Soviet and German designs had major deficiencies, and in the Soviet case industrial shortcomings meant that the ships would have suffered from big operational problems. In any case, the arrival of war led to the cancellation of every super-battleship class except for the first two Yamatos.
The Decision Not to Build:
By mid-1942, U.S. naval authorities concluded that aircraft carriers would contribute more to victory in the Pacific than battleships. The battleships currently under construction (six of the Iowa class, closely following the four South Dakotas) would provide an ample insurance policy against Japanese battleship construction, while also serving as an effective carrier escort force.
The USN also devoted resources to the Alaska class, a group of six “large cruisers,” “battlecruisers,” or “light battleships,” depending on your preference. While these ships could not contribute as much to the line of battle as Montana, they could conduct shore bombardment, carrier escort, and surface warfare missions much more cheaply.
The Montanas had little to contribute. Slower than the Iowas, but carrying roughly the same anti-aircraft armament, they could not perform the carrier escort mission any more effectively. They would, however, take up material and yard space dedicated to carriers and escort ships. Consequently, since the USN determined that it would struggle to find a job for the Montanas even if they entered service before the war ended, it decided to cut bait, even before the keels of the ships were laid.
However, the Montana hull design became the foundation for the Midway class aircraft carrier, the first of which entered service immediately following the end of hostilities. The ships of the Midway class would serve for most of the Cold War, with the last retiring in the 1990s.
What Might Have Been:
The Montanas would have been immensely powerful ships, probably more powerful than their Japanese (or German, or Soviet) counterparts. Battleship combat was an inherently risky endeavor. Nearly every salvo has a chance of getting a lucky hit that strikes a magazine, sending the victim to the bottom in minutes. Nevertheless, the Montanas would have been the favorites in any scrum they could throw more weight, hit harder, and hit more accurately than any of the competitors.
The only question is who they would have fought. HIJMS Yamato sank under a barrage of bombs and torpedoes two months before the projected completion date of USS Montana. The German and Soviet ships didn’t make it much farther than the Montanas, although Stalin nursed the idea of building super-battleships into the 1950s.
Had the U.S. built the Montanas, they likely would have had similar post-war careers to those of the South Dakotas. Because of their speed, the Iowas were more useful at every job except fighting other battleships. Having built the ships in the late 1940s, the USN would have sold them for scrap in the early 1960s.
The Final Salvo:
The Montanas were designed to fight a different World War II than the one that happened. Had they begun to enter service in 1945, they would have joined an armada of twelve modern battleships, against much smaller expected Japanese construction. The howls of battleship aficionados notwithstanding, the U.S. Navy made the right choice when it cancelled the ships in favor of more useful vessels.
Robert Farley, a frequent contributor to TNI, is author of The Battleship Book. He serves as an assistant professor at the Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce at the University of Kentucky. His work includes military doctrine, national security, and maritime affairs. He blogs at Lawyers, Guns and Money and Information Dissemination and The Diplomat.