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Capital Ship – From about mid 1800’s to mid 1900’s the steam powered battleship were the Capital Ships of the period. A Capital Ship is a leading or primary ship in a naval fleet, ship(s) that would fight in a naval battle. Prior to that, battleships were sailing ships. In World War II, the aircraft carriers was the Capital Ships of the period but not necessarily called battleships. Later, other ships such as nuclear submarines and guided missile ships may be Capital Ships. Who knows what future Capital Ships will be?


HMS Victory, Nelson's ship at Battle of Trafalgar (1805), now a museum in England, one hundred and four 32 pound guns


USS Constitution - War of 1812 ship, now a museum in Boston, forty four 18 pound guns.

The ships used to fight naval battles and maintain control of sea lanes varied as technology advanced. Early sailing ships used short range cannons firing cannon balls at each other at close range. Later naval battles were fought with steam powered “big gun” battleships fighting enemy ships using “big guns” at great distances. Example statistics – a 12 inch gun will fire a 1000 pound projectile 10 miles. a 16 inch gun will fire a 2000 pound projectile 20 miles The mid 1800 to mid 1900 battleships were heavily armored, up to about 13 inches as protection against projectiles.


Model of French ironclad Glorie  (1859), 4.7 inch armor plate over wooden hull. Built post Crimean War.


French ship Napoleon (1850), first purpose built steam battleship, ninety guns. Wood hull.

Clash of Titans – Highlights of several naval battles for command of sea lanes is indicated below. Many of the battles influenced design of future battleships.

     Battle of Trafalgar – 1805 – Sailing ship naval battle fought by England (Lord Nelson) with French and Spanish ships over who controlled sea lanes. Decisively won by England.

    Crimean War – 1853 to 1856 – Fought by British and French against Russia mostly in the Black Sea over commercial interests in the Middle East and religious freedom in the Ottoman Empire (current day Turkey)

     Battle of Yellow Sea and Tsushima – 1904 to 1905 - Russia vs Japan.  Russia wanted an ice free port on the Korean peninsular. Japan wanted control over that part of the world. Ended in a sea battle involving battleships and the defeat of Russian battleship fleet.

     Battle of Jutland – 1916 – Germany tried to break a British blockade that kept a German surface fleet locked in port thus preventing Germany from using its battleships against ocean trade. Ended with the British maintaining the blockade.


Civil War battle between USS Monitor (turret) and CSS Virginia (1862).

USS Indiana BB1 (1895) Steel hull, 2 tripple expansion steam engines, 2 propellers, 15 knots speed. Armament - 2 twin 13 inch guns. Armor - hull 5 inch, turret 15 inch. Built by Cramps Shipyard in Philadelphia.


USS Texas BB35 (1912) 2 propellers, triple expansion steam engines, 21 knots. Armament - ten 14 inch guns. Armor - 10 - 12 inch over hull.


USS Idaho BB42 (1919)  Four steam turbines, four propellers, 21 knots. Armament - twelve 14 inch guns. Armor - 8 - 13 inch over hull. Shown bombarding Okinawa in 1945. Built by New York Shipyard, Camden NJ.

Examples of Technological Changes in Battleships


1820 -1823 The invention of exploding shells and the gun to fire them made wood hull vulnerable, forcing naval ships to adopt armored plating. Heavy armor requires more powerful steam engines.

1840 use of propeller

1862 The civil war battle of USS Monitor with CSS Virginia forced the designer to add steel armor. Most battleships after about 1895 used all steel hulls, big guns and heavy armor.

1905 Japanese victory over Russian fleet of ships in the Battle of Tsushima caused naval war strategist to rethink battleship design. The rethink resulted in “all big gun” (greater than 12 inch guns) design leading to the British building HMS Dreadnought. During the battle smaller guns on battleships were less effective than bigger guns.

1941 Japanese battleship Yamato commissioned with three triple 18 inch guns and 16 inch belt armor. Sunk in 1945 during the battle of Okinawa by aircraft attack. Eighteen inch guns were the biggest guns used in battleships.

1927 Aircraft Carrier USS Saratoga (NY Shipyard) one of the first aircraft carriers. By the start of World War II, it was recognized that “big gun” ships were vulnerable to aircraft attack and the arms race in battleships stopped or at least slowed. Battleships were still useful as picket ships for defense of task force ships and shore bombardment for military invasions. Battleship New Jersey was last used in active service for shore bombardment during Desert Storm 1991.

Guided Missile Ships – Some of the latest combat ships use guided missiles for offensive and defensive armament with AEGIS combat systems controlling the missiles.

HMS Dreadnought (1906) Steam turbines, 4 propellers, 21 knots. Armament - Five twin 12 inch guns. Armor - 4 - 11 inch over hull.


Battleships produced by New York Shipyard

     BB21 USS Kansas 1907 and BB25 USS New Hampshire 1908 - Both were 465 feet long, 76 feet wide. 2- triple expansion steam engines, 2 propellers, coal fired, 18 knots speed. Armament - 12 inch guns. Armor - 6 inch belt. Both scrapped - Washington Naval Conference.

     BB27 USS Michigan 1909 - 452 feet long, 80 feet wide. 2 - tripple expansion steam engines, 2 propellers, coal fired, 18 knot speed. Armament - eight 12 inch guns. Armor - 8 to 12 inch belt. Scrapped - Washington Naval Conference.

     BB31/AG16 USS Utah 1911 - 521 feet long, 88 feet wide, 4 turbines, 4 propellers, coal fired with superheat, 21 knot speed. Armament - ten 12 inch guns. AG designation is target ship per London Naval treaty. Sunk as part of Atomic bomb test.

     BB33 USS Arkansas 1912 - 562 feet long, 93 feet wide, 4 turbines, 4 propellers, coal fired water tube boilers, 20 knot speed. Sunk as part of Atomic Bomb test.

     ARA Moreno (Argentina) 1915 - 594 feet long, 98 feet wide, geared turbine, 3 propellers, 22 knot speed. Armament - twelve 12 inch guns. Armor - 10 to 12 inch belt.

     BB37 Oklahoma 1916 - 583 feet long, 95 feet wide, 2 triple expansion steam engines, 2 propellers, 20 knots speed. Armament - four 14 inch guns, 2 float planes. Sunk at Pearl Harbor December 1941.

     BB42 USS Idaho 1919 - 624 feet long, 97 foot beam, 4 turbines, 4 propellers, 21 knot speed. Armament - twelve 14 inch guns. Armor - 8 to 13 inch belt. At signing of Japanese surrender August 1945.

     BB45 USS Colorado 1923 - 624 feet long, 97 foot beam, 21 knot speed. Armament - eight 16 inch guns. Armor - 8 to 13 inch belt. Scrapped in 1959.

     BB47 USS Washington - Scrapped - Washington Naval Conference before completion.

     BB57 USS South Dakota 1942 - 680 feet long, 108 foot beam, 4 turbines, 4 propellers. Armament - nine 16 inch guns. Armor - 12 inch belt.


World War II battles were mostly fought with aircraft from aircraft carriers. USS Saratoga CV3 1927

You might also be interested in:

Future battles - fought with nuclear submarines?


Washington Naval Conference

Japanese battleship Tosa scrapped

USS Indianapolis


USS Indianapolis during World War II and its sinking by enemy submarine.

Smiling Young Man

NS Savannah


Launching of the first commercial nuclear ship NS Savannah.

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