Most Important Battleship of WW 2
The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong… but time and chance happeneth to them all.
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.
As 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.
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.
In 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.
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.