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Most Important Battleship of WW 2

March 3, 2009

The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong… but time and chance happeneth to them all.

Eccesiastes 9:11

Still keeping with our theme of “New Wars”, we journey back to the last great war at sea for some historical lessons.

In lists of battleships most favored in the Second World War, when the mighty dreadnoughts ended their reign as capital ship, are familiar factors including size (“The Biggest“), speed (“the fastest“), armament, (“most dangerous“), or even “all of the above“. My own list would include which battleship was the most crucial toward winning the war against the Axis Powers, the German, Japanese, and Italian Navies.

uss_west_virginia_28bb-4829_1944_7As a whole, it is surprising how essential the old battleships from the last war became. American ships salvaged from Pearl Harbor were rebuilt with modern anti-aircraft weapons, and updated senors with radar, then sent back into the fight, especially as shore bombardment vessels in the Atlantic as well as Pacific Theaters. Not only in this support role, but it was the old ships which conducted the last surface action involving gun-armed  battleships in history, the The Battle of Surigao Strait on 25 October of 1944, while Admiral Lee’s fast battleship force including the mighty Iowa’s chased shadows with Admiral Halsey.

The British Royal Navy put their collection of 15 inch gun ships from the great War to good use. In the Atlantic, the unmodernized Revenge class escorted convoys to ward off German raiders. Ramillies performed shore bombardment duties during the Normandy landings in 1944. The 5 Queen Elizabeth’s were also well-used, especially in the Mediterranean Theater. Most famous was HMS Warspite, serving in numerous and legendary sea battleships as Narvik, Cape Matapan, Crete, Salerno, and the Normandy landings.hms_warspite2c_indian_ocean_1942

Oddly enough, the world’s largest battleship was also perhaps the most useless. the 70,000 ton Japanese Yamato and her sister Musashi was considered too valuable to risk in the crucial early stages of the war in the Pacific. During the tide turning battle of Guadalcanal, she might have made the most difference, but was kept safely back in the rear areas, for the presumed later showdown in home waters.

Likewise was the famed American dreadnoughts, the 4 Iowas, relegated to carrier escorts and shore bombardment by the time they entered service. At 45,000 tons, these were the largest and fastest US battleships, as well as the last ever built. Arguably they provided greater service to their nation throughout the extent of the Cold War, as they were called to duty for each major conflict of that era to provide shore bombardment duties, the last commissioned examples of a lost era.

uss_north_carolina_bbIn the early stages of the war, after the aircraft carrier had proved its dominance, but before there were enough to make a difference, the battleship had ample opportunities to engage in the surface actions in which it excelled. The USS North Carolina, USS Washington, and USS South Dakota, the first of the Treaty ships to enter American naval service, were essential in wearing down the Japanese fleet at Guadalcanal., often in the company of a single aircraft carrier, and in one crucial night action, without naval air support.

Holding the line longer than the US Fast Battleships were the British King George V class. Though not the largest, fastest, and with its 14 inch cannon definitely not the most heavily armed, the 5 KGV’s were there for England when they were need most. Rather a mediocre class (though its 15 inch armor was the heaviest of any in the war), mainly because its main armament was slightly less capable than contemporary vessels. While Britain planned to equip these fine looking vessels with 16 inch, or 15 inch cannon, the pre-war leadership that placed their faith in treaties to prevent war sabotaged these sensible efforts.

Still, the King George V and her sisters were good enough, for the battles in the early war. Even luckless Prince of Wales which was defeated by the German Bismarck and sank by Japanese aircraft, served its purpose by being there when its government called. This class was often all that stood in the way of German raiders in the North Atlantic until adequate naval aircraft entered service. Despite inadequacies in the design which proved of little consequence in their fighting abilities, the KGV’s were the right battleships at the right time and get our vote for the Most Important Battleship of World War 2.prince_of_wales_in_singapore

The lessons we get from these latter-day dreadnoughts for our New Wars, should be self-evident. Weapons need  not be the best science can produce, nor do they have to be brand new of the assembly line. They need not be the biggest, fastest, or carry the most weapons. They just need to be there, on call when their services is required, not on some future plans for wars we may never fight. Whether they are 50 year-old B-52 bombers, 30 year-old A-1o attack planes, or newer army Strykers, or Navy Super Hornets, these are today on the frontline, keeping freedom secure, even though they may not be the newest or the most expensive in America’s arsenal. But they get the job done.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. June 4, 2014 4:03 am

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  2. Mike Burleson permalink*
    December 22, 2009 1:26 pm

    James, I love the “Cherrytree class” (cut down by Washington, get it?)! Think they could have stood up to almost any of the modern battleships then in service, except perhaps Iowa and Yamato.

    Here is an older article I wrote for the now defunct Navy Review Newsletter:

    Two of the oddest warships ever built were the British battleships HMS
    Nelson and HMS Rodney, built shortly after World War One. Not only were
    they the first capital ships constructed after the Washington Naval
    Treaty, but carried many ingenious innovations and compromises to keep
    below the required 35,000 ton limit for battleships. They were dubbed
    the Cherrytree class by the press after they were “cut down” from a post
    war design for a 48,000 ton battlecruiser.

    The challenge for the naval architects of the day was to combine the
    best speed, armor, and firepower in the smaller design. They
    accomplished this by positioning all 3 main 16-inch gun turrets forward
    the bridge. This enabled the new ships to utilize the American style
    “all or nothing” armor, at the same time saving weight and increasing
    protection. The 14 inch armor belt was sloped, and an extra “water
    protection” was carried by shipping 2000 tons of sea water in the hull.

    Critics also called them “Nelsol” and “Rodnol” for their resemblance to
    naval oilers. In fact, they were well built ships, conceived with the
    lessons of the previous war, including the Battle of Jutland, in mind.
    The Cherrytrees’ appearance didn’t cause them to be under-appreciated by
    the Royal Navy in WW2. They distinguished themselves well on all fronts,
    along the Atlantic Run, chasing the battleship Bismark, the Malta
    convoys, and late in the war with the Far Eastern Fleet against Japan.
    With the age of the battleships over, both were scrapped in 1948.

  3. James Daly permalink
    December 22, 2009 11:18 am

    I agree the KGV class saw pretty sterling service. As a wildcard, I think Nelson and Rodney deserve honourable mentions too.

  4. Mike Burleson permalink*
    August 19, 2009 4:38 am

    Thanks Maurice! I envy you seeing those old ships!

  5. Maurice Andrews permalink
    August 19, 2009 3:51 am

    Most Important Battleship? How about the pre-dreadnought MIKASA? Or the magnificent USS TEXAS? I plump for these two as you can visit both.Personally my vote goes to the TEXAS I spent a memorable day with two buddies down in her belly on our own 4 hour tour. Another really old Warship to visit is the Greek GEORGE AVEROFF a 1900s armoured Cruiser.

  6. Mike Burleson permalink*
    August 13, 2009 3:09 pm

    Good point Mike. These BBs helped turn the tide in the Pacific War.

  7. Mike permalink
    August 13, 2009 2:53 pm

    My vote would be for the USS Washington BB-56, from what I read she sank the Japanese Battleship Kirishima and the Destroyer Ayanami during the Battle of Guadalcanal. It is stated that this action turned the tide of the battle to the US. These Japanese ships were escorting 24 troop ships headed for Guadalcanal. It was an amazing performance by the Washington and her crew.

  8. Mike Burleson permalink
    May 25, 2009 6:45 am

    My personal favorite as well, Alex! Choosing the KGVs was a matter of logic, considering the danger posed by the large German surface raiders early in the war. By the time the Americans came in the war, there were enough carriers around to give the battlewagons a break.

  9. May 24, 2009 11:45 pm

    I plug for Warsprite – she was certainly the most used and served pretty much the full war



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