the epic arms race of battleships between
Great Britain and Germany, the United States and Japan

When Britain first at Heav'n's command
Arose from out the azure main;
This was the charter of the land,
And guardian angels sang this strain;

Rule, Britannia! Britannia, rule the waves:
Britons never, never, never will be slaves.

[Rule Britannia, James Thompson;
music, Thomas Augustine Arne, 1740]

The first table below compares the building programs of Great Britain, Germany, the United States, and Japan in "Dreadnought," i.e. all big gun, battleships. The tradition of the Royal Navy had always been not to push innovation itself, which tended to devalue existing ships, but only to respond to innovations made by others. The lessons of the Battle of Tsushima between Russia and Japan in 1905, however, where long range fire had decided the battle, inspired the radical design of the British Dreadnought. Pre-Dreadnought battleships all had a main battery of four guns. The Dreadnought now had ten (though only a broadside of eight), and it was bigger and faster (21 knots, against 18).

In the 1890's Britain had acquired a number of competitors for its supreme status on the seas. Hitherto, France and Russia, followed by Italy, were Britain's main concern. In 1889, after some war scares over Russia, Britain had adopted a "two power standard," by which the Royal Navy should be at least as large as any other two navies (mainly meaning France and Russia).
Admiralty Arch, London, completed 1912; 2005
In 1890, however, Alfred Thayer Mahan's book, The Influence of Sea Power upon History, 1660-1783 was published, examining how the British used the Royal Navy to obtain control of the seas and establish the Pax Britannica dominance that they enjoyed in the 19th century. This inspired several states to invest more seriously in warships than they had previously, most significantly the (Mahan's own) United States, Japan, and Germany. Thus, the United States authorized its first three proper modern battleships in 1890 (BB1 Indiana, BB2 Massachusetts, and BB3 Oregon). No real hosility was behind the American effort, however, and it proceeded in a leisurely way, as only one more ship was authorized in 1892 (BB4 Iowa) and two more in 1895 (BB5 Kearsarge, the only battleship not named after a state but instead after the Union ship that had sunk the Confederate raider Alabama in the Civil War, and BB6 Kentucky).

Some real hostility was soon found in Germany, however. German advocates of naval power, like Admiral Tirpitz and Kaiser Wilhelm, who wanted to have a navy like his grandmother, Queen Victoria, got a serious building program launched in 1898. Then, because of German identification with and interference in the Boer War (1899-1902), this program was doubled in 1900, with a clearly hostile intent toward Britain. The naval race thus started was therefore only five years old when Britain, with the building of the Dreadnought, reset the whole process to zero. The British simply figured that they could build faster than the Germans, which they could. As it happened, the essential design shift, all big guns, had already been planned by the Americans, though the South Carolina ships were only built very slowly, not being finished until 1910. The Dreadnought iself was built in a year.

In Jane's Fighting Ships of 1906, Germany was still ranked as only fifth among naval powers. The United States was second, behind Britain, followed by France and Japan. Then Russia, Italy, and Austria were the sixth, seventh, and eighth of the major powers, respectively. Smaller navies (e.g. Spain, Turkey, Sweden, Brazil, etc.) were considered only "coastal defense" navies. By 1914, Germany had indeed vaulted to the second largest navy in the world. The United States was then third. Japan was on the verge of passing France to have the fourth largest navy, and Austria had a larger navy than either Russia or Italy. However, France, Austria, Russia, and Italy all had just four modern Dreadnoughts. Japan had two, was building two, and would soon have four advanced Kongo battlecruisers.

While the British could indeed outbuild the Germans, they stumbled through attempts at economy. The new Liberal government in 1905 cut back on battleship orders. By 1909 it was suddenly realized that the Germans were going to be building 10 Dreadnoughts against the 8 British ones that had been ordered up to then. The "We Want Eight" panic then ensued, and six battleships and two battlecruisers were ordered in the 1909 program. After that, the pace was kept up. Also British ships were consistently more heavily gunned than the Germans. The greatest step in that regard came in 1912. The idea of the battlecruiser was shelved for a while, and the Queen Elizabeth class was built as fast battleships, now with 15 inch guns. They became probably the best ships of World War I, and still quite serviceable in World War II.

The Germans meanwhile seemed to be losing interest. Of the class of ships they ordered with 15 inch guns, only the Bayern and Baden were completed, but not until after the Battle of Jutland in 1916 (two more were launched [marked "@"] but never even finished). When the War started in 1914, Britain pretty much had maintained the two power standard, and in Dreadnoughts (and battlecruisers) actually did have as many as those of Germany and the United States combined. The other powers were far behind.

In the War itself, the Germans, strangely, never seemed to have the will to venture their fleet, whose building had driven the previously aloof Britain into the arms of Germany's (and previously Britain's) enemies, France and Russia, in a battle where defeat would cost Germany little strategically but where victory could well win the War. At Jutland in 1916, the Germans were soundly outmaneuvered and devoted most of their efforts to getting away. In the end, all the ships built at such historic cost were scuttled where they were interned after the War, at the British base in Scapa Flow.

Battlecruisers are labelled "BC." Unlabeled ships are all battleships ("BB"). Japanese battleships are named after provinces, shû, , and battlecruisers (like armored cruisers) after mountains, yama, -- though these terms are not part of the ship names (except on a map of Japan). The suffix maru, , "circle," is commonly seen in the name of Japanese ships. But this is not used with warships. Note that three versions of the United States flag were used during this period:  It begins with 45 stars, changes to 46 in 1908, after with the admission of Oklahoma, and changes again, to 48 stars, in 1912 with the admission of New Mexico and Arizona.

There are several landmarks in the history of building a ship. A ship is (1) ordered, (2) laid down, (3) launched, (4) completed, and (5) commissioned. "Laid down" means, of course, that construction is started, as the keel is laid on the slipway. When the hull is complete enough for the ship to float, it is launched. Much of the construction of a ship is thus subsequent to launching. Once the ship is completed, it can be tested at sea. Not until the tests are completed is a ship "commissioned," which means it is accepted into active service, with a crew and commanding officer. A commissioned ship has a watch on duty at all times, in port or at sea. A ship that is laid up in reserve, with no crew, has been "decommissioned." The following table gives dates for (1) ordering and are thus part of a budgeted "program." The American ships, especially, were only completed very slowly.

The Original Dreadnought Arms Race



United States

190510 x 12inch guns

8 x 12inch guns
Invincible BC
Inflexible BC
Indomitable BC
BB 8 x 12inch guns
26 South Carolina
27 Michigan
190610 x 12inch guns

12 x 11inch guns

10 x 12inch guns
28 Delaware
190710 x 12inch guns
St. Vincent

12 x 11inch guns

8 x 11inch guns
Von der Tann BC
10 x 12inch guns
29 North Dakota
12 x 12inch guns


190810 x 12inch guns

8 x 12inch guns
Indefatigable BC
12 x 12inch guns

10 x11inch guns
Moltke BC
10 x 12inch guns
30 Florida
31 Utah

190910 x 12inch guns

10 x 13.5inch guns

8 x 13.5inch guns
Lion BC
Princess Royal BC
12 x 12inch guns

10 x12inch guns
Friedrich der Grosse

10 x11inch guns
Goeben BC
12 x 12inch guns
32 Wyoming
33 Arkansas
191010 x 13.5inch guns
King George V

8 x 13.5inch guns
Queen Mary BC

8 x 12inch guns
Australia BC
New Zealand BC
10 x 12inch guns
König Albert
Prinzregent Luitpold

10 x 11inch guns
Seydlitz BC
10 x 14inch guns
34 New York
35 Texas
8 x 14inch guns
Kongo BC

Hiei BC

191110 x 13.5inch guns
Iron Duke
Emperor of India

8 x 13.5inch guns
Tiger BC
10 x 12inch guns
Grosser Kurfürst

8 x 12inch guns
Derfflinger BC
10 x 14inch guns
36 Nevada
37 Oklahoma
12 x 14inch guns

8 x 14inch guns
Haruna BC

Kirishima BC

19128 x 15inch guns
Queen Elizabeth

10 x 12inch guns
Kronprinz Wilhelm

8 x 12inch guns
Lützow BC
12 x 14inch guns
38 Pennsylvania

19138 x 15inch guns
Royal Sovereign
Royal Oak

8 x 15inch guns

@ Württemberg
@ Sachsen

8 x 12inch guns
Hindenburg BC
12 x 14inch guns
39 Arizona
12 x 14inch guns

In this period the United States built slowly but steadily. Many of the American ships are familiar from the later Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor -- but even the American battleships that were later repaired after damage at that attack were too slow by the standards of World War II for fleet action. In these early days, Japan was still gearing up its technical expertise. The Kongo was ordered to be built in Britain as the last lesson for the Japanese in British techniques. Britain and Japan were, of course, allies during this period, as during World War I. The Dreadnoughts of France, Italy, Austria, and Russia ended up playing only secondary roles in the War. The Russian ships were isolated by the geography of the war, and the Austrian ships never were engaged in fleet actions in the Adriatic. Several ships that Britain was building for Turkey and other countries ended up being taken by the Royal Navy and used in the War (e.g. Erin and Agincourt), but these have not been included in the tables, since the British Government did not anticipate that Turkey would join the Axis or that any other ships would actually still be in British possession when the War started.

Once the War started, Germany didn't bother planning a lot of new construction, so it is now out of the picture. Britain brought Jackie Fisher back into the Admiralty, and he immediate began planning a group of battlecruisers, his brainchildren, as new construction. The Repulse and the Renown would become sensible enough battleships, but the other three ships planned were little more than vastly overgunned large cruisers. The Furious, the most grotesque of the three, was designed to carry only a two gun main battery, of 18 inch guns, the only time these were tried in a British ship -- it was completed with only one. It didn't work out very well, since firing the gun did more damage to the ship itself that most of the shots (as misses) would do to any enemy. There was, however, some logic to these ships. Since the lighter hulls could be built with a shallow draught, it was hoped to use them in shallow waters in the Baltic. Britain had sent squadrons of ships into the Baltic in the Napoleonic Wars, but this soon proved impractical in modern warfare (i.e. with submarines and aircraft).
World War I Construction and Programs


United States

19146 x 15inch guns
Repulse BC
Renown BC

4 x 15inch guns
Glorious CB-CV
Courageous CB-CV

2 x 18inch guns
one removed for
flight deck
Furious CB-CV
12 x 14inch guns
40 New Mexico
41 Mississippi
42 Idaho
12 x 14inch guns


19158 x 15inch guns
Hood CC
# Anson CC
# Howe CC
# Rodney CC
12 x 14inch guns
43 Tennessee
44 California
1916# = laid down,
not completed

@ = launched,
not completed

* = laid down,
completed as CV

§ = launched,
completed as CV

% = never laid down

8 x 16inch guns
45 Colorado
46 Maryland
@47 Washington
48 West Virginia

CC 10 x 14inch guns
*1 Lexington CC-CV
#2 Constellation CC
*3 Saratoga CC-CV
#4 Ranger CC
8 x 16inch guns

1917#49 South Dakota
#50 Indiana
#51 Montana
8 x 16inch guns
#5 Constitution CC
8 x 16inch guns

1918#52 North Carolina
#53 Iowa
#54 Massachusetts
8 x 16inch guns
#6 United States CC
10 x 16inch guns
§ Kaga -CV

@ Tosa

10 x 16inch guns
# Amagi CC

* Akagi CC-CV

1919# Atago CC

# Takao CC

1921% 4 CC's

% 4 BB's
10 x 16inch guns
% Kii

% Owari

% 11
% 12
19229 x16inch guns

8 x 18inch guns
% 13
% 14
% 15
% 16
The three light ships instead were used as the first experimental aircraft carriers ("CV"). "CB" is used for the three light battlecruisers, adopting the US navy designation for its "large cruisers," like the Alaska, in World War II. A third battlecruiser designation is used for the British 1915 program, "CC". This was used by the United States Navy for the great battlescruisers planned in 1916, but the British designs came first. The defects of previous battlecruiser design were supposed to be remedied by vastly scaling up the size of the ships. They would have the speed of battlecruisers but would otherwise be armed and protected like battleships, especially after taking into account the fate of three such ships at Jutland. Only one of the four ships ordered was ever finished, the Hood, which, like her less redesigned battlecruiser predecessors at Jutland, blew up and sank catastrophically while chasing the German battleship Bismarck. This was the end of the British wartime building program.

But just as the British were settling in to make do with what they had, the United States and Japan studdenly launched ambitious programs. Both had continued in 1914 and 1915 at the rate of their pre-war programs, but in 1916 the United States conceived a program of laying down 10 battleships and 6 great battlecruisers over three years and Japan looked ahead to 8 battleships and 8 battlecruisers over seven years. All the American ships and half the Japanese ones were at least laid down by the end of the War; but building proceeded very slowly and, when the war was over, it wasn't clear exactly what enemy all this building was directed at. Britain had to at least plan 4 more battleships and 4 more battlecruisers to keep up, but then all three powers got together at the Washington Naval Conference to stop an apparently pointless arms race before it went too far.

In 1921, then, it was decided that Britain, the United States, and Japan could maintain capital ships at a ratio of 5:5:3. Only 3 of the American and only 2 of the Japanese battleships would be finished, many old ships would be scrapped by Britain and the United States, and Britain would be allowed to build 2 new battleships to make up for the age of her remaining ships. In actual numbers, Britain ended up with 20 battleships, the United States 18, and Japan 10 (the same, actually, as Italy and France). (The London Naval Conference of 1930 brought the numbers into the precise ratio, with Britain and the United States left with 15 ships, and Japan with 9.) The United States and Japan could also take a couple of their battlecruiser hulls and finish the ships as aircraft carriers. Since one such Japanese hull, the Amagi, was hopelessly damaged in the great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, the Japanese substituted an incomplete battleship, the Kaga, to take its place.

In what promised to be an age of peace, this was a good deal at the time. There was lingering Japanese resentment, however, not just at their second class status in the capital ship ratio, but because the old Anglo-Japanese Alliance, of which the Japanese had been very proud, was abrogated. The ratio was really not too bad for Japan, but it was bad for Britain, which had three oceans to defend, not just two like the United States or one like Japan. Even so, few could have foreseen that battleships as envisioned in 1921 would no longer really be "ships-of-the-line" in World War II. When Billy Mitchell sank the hull of the incomplete battleship Washington with aerial bombs, it was a strong hint about the future (though he was wrong about the effectiveness of high altitude horizontal bombing). The future, indeed, lay with those battlecruiser hulls. The American ships had been planned on a vast scale, and the huge Lexington and Saratoga became the archetypes of the fast carriers of World War II. The British battleships of 1922, the Rodney and the Nelson, the only British battleships with 16 inch guns, ended up rather ugly and peculiar looking, largely because of Treaty limitations, and never got to distinguish themselves in decisive actions, except perhaps for the part of the Rodney in the final sinking of the German battleship Bismarck, on May 27, 1941.

A world planned without a threat from Germany in mind eventually got a threat from Germany back. Nothing like the naval race of 1905-1914, however, developed again. Hitler literally did not have the patience to wait for a new navy to get built. He was going to begin attacking as soon as his rebuilt army was ready. Pleas from the navy, even a plea from Mussolini to wait until after the 1940 Olympics in Rome, were ignored. During the Twenties, the German navy had designed some "pocket battleships," limited to 10,000 tons by Treaty, like heavy cruisers, but equipped with six 11 inch guns, heavier than any cruiser. These ships were supposed to be strong enough to destroy any cruiser but fast enough to outrun any battleship. The famous Admial Graf Spee, however, was not really fast enough (at 28 knots) to outrun all battleships, and she ended up badly enough damaged by British cruisers (the Exeter, Achilles, and Ajax), that her captain scuttled her off the River Plate on 17 December 1939. Other ships of the class (Admiral Scheer and the Deutschland, renamed Lützow) accomplished less. When Hitler got the limitations of the Versailles Treaty relaxed, scaled up versions of these ships were ordered, though this produced little more than the equivalent of the "large cruiser" ("CB") type (the Gneisenau & Scharnhorst). The proper battleships that Hitler then ordered, starting with the famous Bismarck, ended up as simply improved versions of the Bayern. None of these German ships were used for any purpose but to dart out, do some damage, and return to port. The Bismarck and the Scharnhorst were sunk at sea during such operations. All the other ships were sunk or damaged beyond repair in hiding or in port.

Germany's awakening, of course, set off everyone else. In the following table, the United States is now put at left, as the primary naval power. A large American building program was begun in 1936. Ten battleships were completed. Four of these, the Iowa Class, were the apotheosis of the Hood conception of the battleship:  Gigantic cruiser hulls with battleship armament and protection. The Iowas ended up getting recomissioned three times:  For the Korean War, for the Vietnam War, and during the 1980's. When recomissioned for Vietnam, they were by then flying the 50 star American flag, after the admission of Alaska and Hawaii in 1959. The most famous ship of the class, the Missouri, upon which the Japanese surrender was signed in 1945, now has been permanently berthed in Pearl Harbor. Two more Iowas were cancelled, and a further class of battleships, the Montanas, were never laid down. Indeed, Montana ended up as the only one of the 48 States that never had a battleship commissioned in its name. During the War, only the Washington and the South Dakota were sent into ship-to-ship surface actions, in the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal. Where the Iowas might have met their contemporary Japanese battleships, at the Battle of Leyte Gulf (October 23-26, 1944), they were drawn off by Admiral Halsey with the carrier group in the pursuit of the decoy Japanese carriers -- a gaff by Halsey, bitterly regretted by the battleship sailors, that put the Japanese among the vulnerable escort carriers (CVE's) east of Samar. At the same time, old American battleships were sinking old Japanese battleships at the Surigao Strait.

Britain only produced one class of new battleships. These only had 14 inch guns (16 inch guns, as on the Nelson, would not be available quickly enough), and one of them, the Prince of Wales, ended up ignominously sunk by Japanese torpedo bombers on 10 December 1941 -- a fate perhaps commensurable with that of her namesake, King Edward VIII. Other ships of the class played their part in surface actions against the Germans, but some of the classic surface actions of the War were still carried out by the old Queen Elizabeths from World War I, especially the Warspite. A smilar trend is discernable with the Japanese, who used their old Kongos for any surface actions. Two of them, the Hiei and the Kirishima ended up sunk off Guadalcanal. The new 1936 class of Japanese battleships, of which only two were completed, were probably the most daring design of the era. Not as fast as the Iowas, the Yamato and Musashi were nevertheless successful ships that mounted the largest naval guns ever:  The blast from the 18 inch guns was so powerful that all other structures on the ships had to be enclosed to avoid damage. However, both ships ended up sunk at sea by American aircraft. The only time that the Yamato ever even fired at other ships was at the escort carriers off Samar during Leyte Gulf. A third Japanese battleship, the Shinano, which had been finished as an aircraft carrier, was sunk at sea while being moved to complete its fitting out.

After cancelling another class of battleships, Britain built one last one, the Vanguard, with used 15 inch guns taken off the older ships. This is rather symbolic of the second class and hand-me-down status of British battleships, or all battleships, in World War II. Strategically, the aircraft carrier would become king. Battleships missed their chance for many surface actions because they were being held back for the more "serious" fleet actions that never occurred. The few glorious moments of battleships were born of desperation, both between the British and the Germans and between the United States and Japan.

None was so glorious, or successful, as the action of the Warspite on 13 April 1940 -- the Second Battle of Narvik. The Germans had landed at Narvik with transports and ten heavy destroyers. In the First Battle of Narvik, Captain Warburton-Lee led a destroyer flotilla in and sank two destroyers, with the loss of two and his own life. To clean out the others, the Warspite, battlescarred veteran of Jutland (and which would triumph in the Mediterranean at Matapan, 29 March 1941), was sent up the fjord (which I find cited as the Vestfjord or Ofotfjord) with nine destroyers under Admiral Whitworth. This is something that would have seemed inconceivable folly in World War I. It was the only time in either World War that a battleship was deliberately used against destroyers. In the narrow confines of a Norwegian fjord, with submarines about, it would almost have seemed like a suicide mission. Nevertheless, the Germans, even a German U-boat, were all sunk. This is an action little noted since, but there was never anything else quite like it. Subsequently in World War II, most of the classic surface battles were between cruisers. But that is another story.

World War II Construction and Programs

United States



19359 x 11inch guns
Gneisenau CB
Scharnhorst CB
19369 x16inch guns
55 North Carolina
56 Washington
10 x 14inch guns
King George V
Prince of Wales

8 x 15inch guns

193710 x 14inch guns
Duke of York (Anson)
Anson (Jellicoe)
Howe (Beatty)
9 x 18inch guns

# = laid down,
not completed

@ = launched,
not completed

* = laid down,
completed as CV

% = never laid

19389 x 16inch guns
57 South Dakota
58 Indiana
59 Massachusetts
60 Alabama

9 x 16inch guns
61 Iowa
62 New Jersey
63 Missouri
64 Wisconsin
9 x 16inch guns
# Lion
# Temeraire
9 x 18inch guns

1939% Conqueror
% Thunderer
1940#65 Illinois
#66 Kentucky

12 x 16inch guns
%67 Montana
%68 Ohio
%69 Maine
%70 New Hampshire
%71 Louisiana

CB 9 x 12inch guns
1 Alaska CB
2 Guam CB
@3 Hawaii CB
%4 Philippines CB
%5 Puerto Rico CB
%6 Samoa CB
8 x 15inch guns
* Shinano -CV

The Texas, North Carolina, Massachusetts, and Alabama are all preserved as monuments in their respective States. The Missouri is at Pearl Harbor, next to the Arizona. The New Jersey is across the Delaware River from Philadelphia at Camden, New Jersey. The Iowa is now in San Pedro, California; and the Wisconsin at Norfolk, Virginia, appearing, oddly enough, in a Geico insurance commercial. The only one of the American ships built for World War II, i.e. since 1936, to sink a Japanese battleship in battle, the Washington, was not preserved. Not a single British Dreadnought, not even the noble and victorious Warspite, was preserved as a monument or museum.

British Pre-Dreadnoughts

British Bibliography and Suggested Reading

The Sun Never Set on the British Empire

World War II Bibliography

The Battleship Kongō

Russian Battleships

United States Battleships and Other Ships Named After States

Dreadnoughts in Other Navies

The Treaty Cruisers

Advanced Japanese Destroyers of World War II

A Guadalcanal Chronology, 7 August 1942 - 6 March 1943

Waterline Models

Philosophy of History, Military History

Philosophy of History

Home Page

Copyright (c) 1999, 2001, 2004, 2007, 2012, 2017, 2023 Kelley L. Ross, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved

British Pre-Dreadnoughts

It is now almost hard to remember that there were decades of modern battleships before the advent of the revolutionary Dreadnought in 1905. The Dreadnoughts are so familiar from World War I and World War II that the earlier ships seem ancient, marginal, quaint, insignificant, and even farcical. Even the Dreadnought itself was obsolescent by World War I and was missing from the battle line at Jutland in 1916. The Pre-Dreadnoughts, and the Dreadnought itself, become a footnote in history. This is hardly right, since the Dreadnoughts were simply a scaled up version of existing technology, under the influence of the Battle of Tsushima in 1905, which was fought between fleets of existing Pre-Dreadnought battleships. The Dreadnought was a child of the Pre-Dreadnought experience. That in itself went through many phases. The first ironclad was the French Gloire, laid down in 1858 with a wooden hull, traditional architecture, and iron armor bolted onto the sides. Britain followed in 1859 with the impressive iron hulled Black Prince and Warrior. At first glance all these ships looked like traditional warships. However, they already were not only steam powered but shipped screw propellers, which were much less exposed in battle than were the paddle wheels briefly used. The British ships, which looked like gigantic frigates, and for number of guns qualified as no more than Third Rates, nevertheless from their size of guns and weight of broadside, let alone immunity to harm, were more powerful than any First Rate had ever been. Painted all black, without the white or yellow trim of the wooden ships, they were characterized as "the Black Snakes among the Hares" in the midst of the older ships.

For twenty years and more the design of battleships shifted back and forth between ships that mostly looked like traditional sailing ships and a wholly new conception of the warship that had appeared in 1862. The latter began with the U.S.S. Monitor, the design of John Ericsson, which was built in 90 days and appeared at Hampton Roads on 9 March 1862 to stop the Confederate ironclad Virginia, which had sunk two Union blockading ships the previous day. The Virginia itself was built on the scuttled and partially burned hull of the steam frigate Merrimack, cut down and rebuilt with an inward sloping armored casemate covering most of the length of the ship. It thus fired a conventional broadside but had no masts or rigging. The Monitor was something altogether different. It was a flat, low freeboard "raft," with nothing on the deck but a small pilot house and a large armored turret holding two guns. In battle, the turret was simply set to turn slowly around, removing the gun ports as targets while the guns were being reloaded. The battle was indecisive, although the Monitor inflicted more harm on the Virginia than it suffered, and otherwise kept the Confederates away from the wooden blockading ships. Soon enough, on 11 May, the Virginia was run aground and burned to prevent capture as Union troops moved to reoccupy the Norfolk Navy Yard. The Monitor only lasted a few more months, sinking in a gale off Cape Hatteras on 31 December 1862. This confirmed, as already would have been obvious, the limitations of the design. With little freeboard, the Monitor would be swamped by water in any kind of seaway. This was not a failing easily remedied. The turret was a massive structure, and it could not be carried very high off the water without endangering the stability of the ship. If such a ship could not be made more seaworthy, more traditional designs were going to be needed for ships that would need to patrol or go places on the open ocean. And at a time when steam engines were relatively unreliable and inefficient and, especially, where recoaling might not always be available on distant stations, the general form of the traditional sailing ship would need to be maintained. The "Monitor" became a type of ship, generally regarded as suitable for "coastal defense" -- a rather silly concept, since the best "coastal defense" is to sink the enemy's fleet before they get anywhere near your coast. Although the United States Navy officially regarded the Monitors as seaworthy, and demonstrated it with the voyage of the double turreted Miantonomoh to Europe in 1866-1867, life on the ship was more like what it would be later on a submarine, without the option of submerging below stormy waters. The British were not impressed with the living conditions or the health of the crew.

Meanwhile guns were getting bigger and more powerful. Soon, no ship would need to carry very many, but then it would be necessary to train them for maximum field of fire. Different navies began to put turrets on otherwise conventional looking ships. This was an awkward expedient, and the problem of low freeboard was still not solved. If the sides of the ship rose around the turrets, then their field of fire was restricted. And the weight could still endanger stability, as it did with the H.M.S. Captain, which capsized after little more than a month of service in 1870. With bigger and bigger guns, however, the old broadside arrangement was doomed. The British themselves produced the equivalent of twin turreted Monitors with ships like the Dreadnought, laid down in 1872 and completed in 1879. With a central superstructure and no sails, the Dreadnought was conceptually becoming a modern ship. Since much British Naval presence was in the Mediterranean, with calmer seas than the Atlantic, the drawbacks of the design could be accommodated. The Invincible, laid down in 1874 and completed in 1881, with two turrets midships, like the Captain, was the last British battleship completed with full masts and yards. But the designs were still unsatisfactory for all around seagoing warships.

The breakthrough was due to the French and the Italians. British naval policy all along had been to avoid introducing innovations themselves, so as not to render their own ships obsolete. But they were prepared to quickly match foreign innovations. The new idea in 1879 was the barbette, a fixed armored bulwark with the guns carried within on a turntable. This reduced weight considerably and didn't need anything like the machinery that was necessary to turn a whole armored box. The guns could be carried higher on a more conventional and seaworthy steamship. The gun position was otherwise open, but in the days before aircraft, this
Pre-Dreadnoughts, Barbettes & Turrets  
OrderNameMain BatteryTonnageSpeedBuilt
1880Collingwood4 x 12inch guns,
1881Imperieuse BBII4 x 9.2inch guns,
Warspite BBII1881-1888
1882the Admirals
Camperdown4 x 13.5inch
guns, barbettes
Benbow2 x 16.25inch
guns, barbettes
1883Anson4 x 13.5inch
guns, barbettes
1884Hero BBII2 x 12inch guns,
1885Sans Pareil2 x 16.25inch
guns, turret
Nile4 x 13.5inch
guns, turrets
the Royal Sovereigns
Empress of India4 x 13.5inch
guns, barbettes
Royal Oak1890-1894
Royal Sovereign1889-1892
Hood4 x 13.5inch
guns, last turrets
1890Barfleur BBII4 x 10inch guns,
with hoods
Centurion BBII1890-1894
1892Renown BBII12,35018
Full Pre-Dreadnoughts  
1893the Majestics
Majestic4 x 12inch guns
with hoods,
the modern
Prince George1894-1896
1896the Canopus Class
Canopus4 x 12inch guns
the Formidables
Formidable4 x 12inch guns
1898the London Class
Bulwark4 x 12inch guns
Prince of Wales1901-1904
1898the Duncan Class
Duncan4 x 12inch guns
1901the King Edward VII Class
King Edward VII4 x 12inch guns
New Zealand1903-1905
1904the Lord Nelson Class
Lord Nelson4 x 12inch &
10 x 9.2inch
1905Dreadnought10 x 12inch
guns, 5 turrets
Invincible BC8 x 12inch guns,
4 turrets
Inflexible BC1906-1908
Indomitable BC1906-1908
could be regarded as less of a drawback, and the higher position was better than a low one against plunging fire. At the same time, a drawback of the turret, that it could be jammed with a shot to the base, was avoided.

The British responded to the French and Italian barbette ships with the Collingwood, laid down in 1880. After two decades of experiments, with no more than one or two ships built at a time, often with ugly and unseaworthy results, we now get what looks like the first modern warship. Thus the table at left begins with the Collingwood. The Collingwood blossomed into a large class of battleships, the "Admirals," which continued to the Anson, laid down in 1883. Not all, however, were happy about the barbettes. An open tub to work the guns in the heat of battle did not seem like the best solution in the long run, as indeed it would not be. The Admirals are thus followed by a few more ships with turrets. It was even briefly suggested that some Admirals be finished with turrets. However, the auspices seemed to speak against the turrets when the turreted Victoria was accidentally rammed and sunk by the barbetted Camperdown on 22 June 1893. Barbettes were restored with the large Royal Sovereign class begun in 1889. Just one of these ships, the Hood, was built with turrets, now for the last time. Direct comparison was then possible between the Hood and her sister ships. There was little to favor the old type.

The solution to the shortcomings of the barbettes was soon at hand. An armored hood could be added to the turntable. This first appeared in First Class battleships with the Majestic class ordered in 1893. This now gets us the modern "turret" in its familiar form, as the ships themselves take on the classic aspect of fully developed Pre- Dreadnoughts, which would dominate design for the next ten years. British naval shipbuilding now began to hit its stride, turning out seven large homgeneous classes during the period. The development came in the form of larger ships, with larger secondary armament, culminating in the two Lord Nelsons, with a secondary battery of no less than ten 9.2 inch guns. It was almost immediately obvious that this was a bad idea. Although the ships were being built with rams, and it was expected that combat would be at close quarters, the Battle of Tsushima in 1905 showed otherwise. Since the modern guns could shoot further, they were shot further, and the battle was decided with long range gunnery. The Russians opened fire at 18 kilometers and the Japanese at 14. With a secondary battery of larger guns firing at the same targets as the main battery, it would be difficult to tell which shell falls had come from which guns. Also, to keep one's distance, or close it, speed would help. Thus, a new kind of ship was conceived in a new Dreadnought, with an all large gun battery, with a larger size to carry the weight at greater speed, and any secondary armament reduced to small guns indended, as originally, to repel attacks from torpedo boats. Eventually, the secondary battery would evolve into guns that could be used additionally, or exclusively, against aircraft.

Meanwhile, what the British had been worrying about changed also. In 1858, France had seemed like the threat and, with her ally Russia, continued to be so for several decades. In 1889, after some years of dithering, British not only ordered up the large Royal Sovereign class but adopted a "Two-Power Standard," that the Royal Navy should be at least as large as the next two largest navies combined. Britain had no difficultly keeping this up against France and Russia for the rest of the 19th Century. In the 1890's, however, some things began to change. Alfred Thayer Mahan's book, The Influence of Sea Power upon History, 1660-1783, in 1890, brought to everyone's attention how the British had achieved and conducted their naval supremacy. This led to new shipbuilding programs in several nations, particularly the United States and Japan. Here we see a ship built in Britain for Japan, the Mikasa, which was the flagship of Admiral Togo at Tsuhima. By then the Japanese were British allies. The Mikasa was ordered in 1896 and thus corresponds to the British Canopus class. It is the only pre-Dreadnought that survives afloat, as a monument at Yokosuka, Japan, formerly a Japanese, now an American, naval base.

No building program would be more fateful, however, than in Germany, which by the turn of the Century had set out to match Britain and soon appeared to have the industrial strength to do so. By World War I, Britain had been unable to keep up a Two-Power Standard against the United States and Germany, but it was only Germany that was a worry as a strategic enemy. In the end, it would be Britain at sea against Germany, with France, Russia, and Italy now (and then the United States itself) all as allies. As the British had previously said about the Italians, however, it looked like the Germans could build better ships than they could fight.

The data and history here are from British Battleships, "Warrior" 1860 to "Vanguard" 1950, A History of Design, Construction and Armament, by Oscar Parkes [Seeley Service & Co., London, 1957].


United States Battleships and Other Ships Named After States

Japanese Battleships

Russian Battleships

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United States Battleships
and Other Ships Named After States

I have not yet begun to fight.

John Paul Jones, action against HMS Serapis, 23 September 1779

Don't give up the ship.

James Lawrence, action against HMS Shannon, 1 June 1813, mortally wounded; flag of Oliver Hazard Perry.

Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.

David Glasgow Farragut, Battle of Mobile Bay, 5 August 1864

You may fire when ready, Gridley.

George Dewey to Flag Captain Charles Vernon Gridley,
Olympia, Battle of Manila Bay, 1 May 1898

Well, stand by, Glenn, here they come.

Willis Augustus Lee to Flag Captain Glenn Davis, Naval Battle of Guadalcanal,
14 November 1942, identifying a Japanese force on radar

Turn on the lights.

Marc Mitscher, Battle of the Philippine Sea, 20 June 1944,
planes returning as darkness falling

Abandon? Hell, we’re still afloat!

Leslie E. Gehres, Commanding Officer, USS Franklin (CV-13), 19 March 1945, after order, from Vice Admiral Marc Mitscher, to "prepare" to abandon ship

The modern battlefleet of the United States Navy began in 1886 when Congress authorized two "armored vessels." These would be the Texas and the Maine. The Maine was slightly longer, narrower, and lighter, and so at first was called an "armored cruiser" and given the hull number ACR-1. Soon, however, both ships were designated "second-class battleships." As such they never did have hull numbers, since the type was soon abolished (the first Texas is indicated below as "ACR-0"). The British had learned that first-class battleships become second-class battleships with just the passage of a little time. The most important thing that happened to either ship was the sinking of the Maine in Havana harbor on 15 February 1898.
War II
Maine [note]ACR-1,
New YorkACR-2BB-34LPD-21
West VirginiaACR-5BB-48SSBN-736
South DakotaACR-9BB-49BB-57
North CarolinaACR-12BB-52BB-55SSN-777
MontanaACR-13BB-51BB-67The Abyss
Alabama [note]BB-8BB-60SSBN-731
New JerseyBB-16BB-62
Rhode IslandBB-17SSBN-740
New HampshireBB-25BB-70SSN-77
South CarolinaBB-26CGN-37
North DakotaBB-29
New MexicoBB-40
War II
Puerto RicoCB-5
Although this was evidently from an internal explosion, it was used as a casus belli for the Spanish-American War. A monument to the Maine stands at the south-west corner of Central Park in New York City, on Columbus Circle.

The States are listed here in the order in which the ships are initially ordered and numbered, first with armored cruisers and second as battleships. The last three names used, Oklahoma, Arizona, and New Mexico, were also the last of the 48 States to be admitted to the Union. By then, three names had already been reused, Maine (ACR-1 & BB-10), New York (ACR-2 & BB-34) and Pennsylvania (ACR-4 & BB-38). Ships that were ordered but then cancelled are shown in italics on a white background. In U.S. Navy practice, the hull numbers were not reused (unlike Royal Navy "pennant" numbers), even for ships whose construction was cancelled.

The ship with the first battleship hull number was the Indiana (BB-1). This was authorized in 1890, just two years after the armored cruiser New York (ACR-2) was authorized. Thereafter, all armored cruisers and battleships were named after States, except two. Those were the Brooklyn (ACR-3) and the Kearsarge (BB-5), which are included in the table for completeness (marked with "*"). The Brooklyn, named after the sister city of New York, was perhaps a companion for the ship of that name -- which thus was ambiguous as the name of both State and City.

The Kearsarge, on the other hand, was named after the Union Civil War vessel that had sunk that the famous Confederate commerce raider Alabama. If battleships were going to be named after States, it stood to reason that there would soon be an Alabama again, this time in the United States Navy -- and "soon" would be BB-8. In an era when feelings over the Civil War could still run high, it looks like many in Congress did not want an Alabama in the Navy without a Kearsarge. On the other hand, it is noteworthy that by the 1930's, when the next Alabama (BB-60) was ordered, the South had been romanticized enough that no corresponding Kearsarge accompanied it (though CV-33 was eventually given that name, after CV-12, originally to be the Kearsarge, was renamed after the lost Hornet, CV-8).

Coincidentally, the Kearsarge and Alabama are also commemorated by geographical features in California. The Alabama Hills lie just west of Lone Pine in the majestic Owens Valley. Named by Southern miners, this was countered by Northerners with the Kearsarage Pass in the Sierra Nevada just to the north, above the town of Independence. The Alabama Hills, a pleasant drive north of Los Angeles, have frequently been seen in movies, on television shows, and even in commercials -- while there is nothing particularly distinctive or photogenic about the Kearsarge Pass.

The ship names in white are those of the battleships that were among the 16 members of the Great White Fleet that sailed around the world, 1907-1909 -- the hulls were in fact painted white, with the upper works in buff. These colors can still be seen on the cruiser Olympia at Philadelphia.

This voyage was an extraordinary undertaking, and now it is hard to imagine such a fleet of battleships proceeding without escort ships like destroyers -- which did exist (DD-1, the Bainbridge, was commissioned in 1902) but apparently were not integrated into all the operations of a peacetime fleet (probably because of limited range). Indeed, even at the time we might have expected a screen of cruisers, which had replaced frigates as the "eyes of the fleet" and would have been indispensable in wartime. The fleet was accompanied by some support ships, the refrigerator ship Glacier, the supply ship Culgoa, the repair ship Panter, the hospital ship Relief, and the yacht Yankton (for ceremonial occasions).

The only other long voyage like this had been that of the Russian Baltic Fleet on its way to the fateful battle of Tsushima in 1905. The Great White Fleet, to say the least, had a better time, with a happier result. Indeed, one purpose of the voyage was to see if it was possible for a battle fleet to undertake a long voyage and arrive, unlike the Russian fleet, ready for battle. This was an important issue for American strategic needs, since only thus could outlying American possessions, like Hawaii and the Philippines, be defended. The result, as it happened, was encouraging. The fleet in many ways returned in better shape than it had left, even with fewer engineering casualties than normal. In those days, of course, an injured sailor could not be helicoptered out. A consciousness of their isolation apparently rendered the sailors more careful, more self-reliant, and ultimately more efficient. The commander of the fleet, Rear Admiral Charles S. Sperry, concluded that the Navy Yard was more hazardous to the ships than an extended voyage. The Russians, to be sure, had not had the advantage the Americans did of friendly ports along the way, with leisurely layovers, and they were hoping to refit in Vladivostok before battle -- which is exactly why the Japanese wanted to intercept them at Tsushima.

The Great White Fleet left Hampton Roads on 16 December 1907. Sailing around Cape Horn, it arrived in San Francisco, after some stops in South America, on 6 May 1908. Here the Maine and Alabama were detached, for mechanical problems, and replaced by the Nebraska and Wisconsin. (After repairs, the Maine and Alabama completed a circumnavigation on their own and returned home on 20 October 1908.) Meanwhile, after a side trip to Seattle, the main fleet sailed to Hawaii, arriving in Honolulu 16 July 1908. From there, the voyage actually continued directly to New Zealand and Australia, stopping in Auckland (9 August), Sydney (20 August), Melbourne (29 August), and Albany (in Western Australia, 11 September).

Half a million people greeted the arrival of the fleet in Sydney, even though at the time the population of the city was only 600,000. Nothing quite like this had ever happened Down Under. This visit was at the express invitation of the Prime Minister of Australia, Alfred Deakin, who was unhappy with the relative neglect shown to Australian defense by Great Britain. Australian worries and complaints in this respect would only grow, and when World War II arrived, Britain had few naval resources available for the defense of Australia. The United States Navy would then step in instead. The visit of the Great White Fleet was thus a profound portent of the future. From Australia, the fleet moved on to Manila (2 October 1908).

In its passage to Japan the fleet was hit (12-13 October) by one of the most powerful typhoons within memory. The fleet was scattered, ships were damaged, and one man was lost overboard, but no ships were sunk. It is interesting to compare this experience with the typhoon that hit the United States Third Fleet on 18 December 1944. Ships were lost in that memorable event, although no capital ships. Although from an earlier era of shipbuilding, and all but forgotten as mere Pre-Dreadnoughts, the ships of the Great White Fleet proved the strength of their construction and the seamanship of their crews in the face of just about the worst that the Pacific Ocean can do.

At the time, however, it seemed an event of ill omen, since there was worry about the reception the fleet would receive in Japan. Public opinion in Japan was unhappy about the settlement negotiated by Teddy Roosevelt that ended the Russo-Japanese War (the Japanese Government had not publicly admitted that it was out of money and desperate for peace), some provocative things had been said by the Australians about Japan, and the whole Japanese fleet had put to sea, so there was some worry that the Japanese might take the arrival of the Great White Fleet as a casus belli. Since Japan was an ally of Britain, Germany offered to support the United States in any conflict and even moved some warships into support positions. Fortunately, the Japanese Government had no interest in conflict, and the fleet's arrival came off as intended -- a good will visit.

After visiting Japan (18 October) and China (29 October), the next stops were Columbo, in Ceylon (13 December), and, by way of the Suez Canal (3 January 1909), Gibraltar (30 January-6 February). In the extraordinary photographs of the White Fleet in Gibraltar Harbor, above and below, we see how conspicuous are the American ships in contrast to the darkly painted British (above) and Russian ships (below). The British cruiser Devonshire is all but invisible against the breakwater. The Tsessarevitch was a veteran of the Russo-Japanese War. In that war, Britain, allied with Japan, gave no help to Russia or her fleet. The presence of Russian ships at Gibraltar thus bespeaks the new alliances, of Britain with France and Russia, in anticipation of trouble from Germany. Unfortunately, the Russian fleet again would be at a strategic disadvantage in World War I, and would have no role to play. Japanese ships would eventually join the Allied fleet in the North Sea, but Russian ships could exit neither the Baltic Sea, controlled by Germany, nor the Black Sea, past Constantinople.

From Gibraltar, the fleet arrived home on 22 February 1909, after 42,227 miles. President Roosevelt, with just a month left in office, greeted the fleet with the tribute:  "This is the first battle fleet that has ever circumnavigated the globe," which was true. Now, in larger historical perspective, we might not think of sixteen ships as much of a battle fleet. However, these were indeed battleships, of the kind (Pre-Dreadoughts) that had just fought at Tsushima, more in number than the entire battleship fleet of Japan in World War II (twelve ships), and the real peculiarity is just that they would sail alone. That would have been no problem with sailing ships, but now it seems unimaginable without escorts and a fleet train. Modernity, indeed, was catching up.

The Dreadnought was already in commission at the time, with American Dreadnoughts on order. Immediately after the voyage, the Great White Fleet ships were painted gray (Admiral Sperry had wanted to do that during the voyage, because of worries over actual combat with Japan, but his requests for authorization were denied), and the charming Victorian gold scrollwork was removed from their bows and sterns. A true era of war rather than display was at hand.

By World War I, the armored cruiser had been abandoned as a type. When, after a fashion, it was revived, as the "heavy cruiser" under the regime of the Treaty Cruisers, with CA hull numbers, these were considered cruisers proper and were given city names like other cruisers (unlike Japanese heavy cruisers, which continued to receive battlecruiser mountain names).

The Washington Naval Treaty of 1921 saw the cancellation of a number of battleships that had been ordered. New battleships would not be planned until 1936, when the naval treaties expired and Germany and Japan began to build up their own navies. Ten such modern battleships were built, but seven others that had been ordered were cancelled. BB-71 would be the last battleship hull number assigned, to a Louisiana whose keel was never even laid down. The only one of the 48 states never to have a battleship commissioned in its name is Montana. There was, however, a ship named for the State:  the very last armored cruiser, ACR-13, was the Montana. Otherwise, we see many States that have had no ship since the Pre-Dreadnoughts:  Oregon, Illinois, Vermont, Kansas, and Minnesota.

A type of ship rather like the armored cruiser was the "large cruiser" of World War II (CB). These ships were intended as counterparts to German cruisers like the Scharnhorst, but there ended up being really no particular mission for them. Only two were completed. Uniquely, the ships were named after Territories of the United States. Two such Territories, of course, subsequently became States, Alaska and Hawaii. One of the completed "large cruisers" was the Alaska (CB-1).

The ship names in red are those of the battleships that were at Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941. All were sunk or damaged.

At right we see the explosion that broke the back of the Arizona. This is a frame of the movie film that actually caught the event, shot from the USS Solace (AH-5) hospital ship, although the film was black-and-white and this image seems to have been colorized. Noteworthy is that the movie was taken from the starboard side of the Arizona, with the rear mast on the left. The full movie of the explosion is often shown reversed, as though from the port side, with the rear mast on the right. Even after the error of the reversal was widely reported, the movie is still commonly shown wrong.

The ships that were moored inboard of other battleships, the Tennessee and Maryland, were damaged the least. The Pennsylvania received moderate damage but was already in drydock. The California, Nevada, and West Virginia all sank but without significant structural damage. They were raised and returned to service. The Oklahoma rolled over and was only righted and raised with considerable time and trouble. It might have been returned to service, but the delay in raising it meant that it would have been ready too late in the War. So it was never returned.

The Utah was not even raised since it was only being used as a target ship. Japanese pilots had been warned that it was not an active warship and so was not a suitable target. It was sunk anyway. Preparations were made to raise the Arizona, but then it was discovered that internal explosions had broken the back of the ship. She was left in place, with most of her dead aboard, and became a Memorial to the attack. Surviving crew members can still request burial on the ship.

The ships that returned to service were mainly used for shore bombardment in amphibious landings. Many of them, however, participated in one memorable surface action. The Battle of Surigao Strait, 24-25 October 1944, part of the larger Battle for Leyte Gulf, 24-26 October, saw the Maryland, West Virginia, Tennesse, California, and Pennsylvania from Pearl Harbor, together with the Mississippi, sink the Japanese battleships Fuso and Yamashiro.

Of the battleships built before the 1930's, i.e. before the North Carolina, BB-55, only one survives afloat. That is the battleship Texas, BB-35, which is moored on public display at the San Jacinto Battlefield outside Houston, Texas. A ship like the Texas is shown on the reverse (at right) of the series 1918 Federal Reserve Bank Note $2 bill. The note is consequently known as the "Battleship $2 bill." For many years, it was not clear whether the ship was intended to be the Texas or its sistership, the New York. Recently the Bureau of Printing and Engraving announced that the ship was supposed to be the New York. Why it was necessary to wait more than 70 years to do this, especially when the announcement would then look like a political snub against Texas, is not clear. Nevertheless, the Texas is the only battleship of its era that survives afloat anywhere in the world.

With the end of new battleships, the first new ship laid down with a State name was the California, launched 22 September 1971. This was originally classified as a nuclear powered frigate, DLGN-36, but then redesignated a nuclear powered guided-missile cruiser, CGN-36, in 1975. Six such ships were completed, CGN-37 to CGN-41, the California and Virginia classes. The next class of cruisers, however, beginning with the Ticonderoga, CG-47, was mostly given what had previously been aircraft carrier names, i.e. names of battles. What would have been further Virginias, CGN-42-46, were cancelled. At the same time, a suitable new type was found to name after States:  nuclear ballistic missile submarines.

These had at first been named after Presidents (e.g. the George Washington, SSBN-598) and other figures (e.g. the Patrick Henry, SSBN-599), but the Ohio (SSBN-726) class, ordered in 1974, began to be named after States -- recent aircraft carriers have come to be named after Presidents. Naming the submarines after States is suitable, since each of these ships contains, of course, enough firepower to sink dozens of complete battleship fleets. Indeed, they are strategic battleships, whose weapons could decide the outcome of whole wars. The hull numbers, however, are still in the traditional sequence of submarine hull numbers. As it happened, the Arkansas, last of the State cruisers, was launched in October 1978, while the Ohio was launched in April 1979. The only exception to the State names in the class has been SSBN-730, originally to be the Rhode Island but renamed for Senator Henry M. Jackson, who had been a great friend of the military. Rhode Island was reassigned SSBN-740.

The Virginia class of cruisers are now coming to be decommissioned, and their names are already assigned to new submarines, the Virginia, SSN-774, class of attack submarines. We get a new anomaly, however. The name New York is now to be assigned, in commemoration of the 9/11 attacks, to an amphibious transport dock ship, LPD-21. Why this was thought appropriate, I have not seen. Some new submarines, e.g. Connecticut, SSN-22, are now beginning new hull numbers -- and traditional submarine names, e.g. Seawolf, SSN 21. SSBN's 726 through 729 have been re-designated as SSGN's, i.e. "guided-missile" rather than "ballistic-missile" submarines.

Athough Montana continues to be snubbed, even for submarines, its name was given to the nuclear ballistic missile submarine in James Cameron's 1989 movie, The Abyss. The crew on the film, including Cameron himself, frequently wore USS Montana caps on the shoot -- when they weren't actually under water. This Montana was supposed to be SSBN-741, but there really is such a ship, the Maine. Since the Montana sinks in the movie, perhaps the number 741 was picked because the original Maine had sunk.

Information on the Great White Fleet has largely been derived from "The Rebirth of the Fleet" by James R. Reckner and "TR's use of PR to Strengthen the Navy" by Lori Lyn Bogle, in Naval History of December 2007 [U.S. Naval Institute, Volume 21, Number 6, pp.16-31], and from "'Wallowin' in a Typhoon Before Morning'" by Patrick McSherry, in Naval History of October 2008 [Volume 22, Number 5, pp.26-31]. The extraordinary images of the Great White Fleet in Gibraltar Harbor are from "What T.R. Hath Wrought," by Eugene B. Canfield, Naval History of December 2002 [Volume 16, Number 6 pp.38-39].

United States Ships Named After Rivers


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United States Ships Named After Rivers

Modern United States warships, built since the 1890's, mostly have had very specific systems of naming, i.e. battleships named for States, cruisers for cities, etc. Aircraft carriers were long named for battles (and now increasingly for Presidents), but there were always some exceptions, starting with the traditional, i.e. pre-modern, ship names that were used for the 1916 battle cruisers,
River Names
Side-Wheel FrigatesCommissioned
Side-Wheel SloopsCommissioned
Screw Driven FrigatesCommissioned
San Jacinto1852
Screw Driven SloopsCommissioned
names like Ranger and Constitution. A few later carriers continued the tradition of historic ship names, like the Enterprise and Essex. These older ships names are suggestive of traditional British ship naming, which went for auspicious (Invincible) and evocative (Hercules) names without very much systematic intent.

The earliest set of systematic names for American ships, however, was one that later fell into relative disuse. That was to name ships after rivers. Such names, it is true, were later used for Oilers (AO), but these were auxiliaries, not warships. In the table at left are the unarmored steam warships that were still in service in the Civil War, all commissioned between 1841 and 1858, or that were ordered and laid down during the Civil War, although sometimes not commissioned until some years afterwards [Warships of the Civil War Navies, Paul H. Silvestone, Naval Institute Press, 1989]. Several of these are also names of States and have been given to battleships, and one was even also the name of a battle and was given to an aircraft carrier (San Jacinto, CVL 30). Others, even the most famous, like the Merrimack (which was torched and scuttled at Norfolk, to be raised by the Confederates and fitted out as the ironclad Virginia), only turn up as Oilers (AO 37), or Gasoline Tankers (Wabash, AOG 4; Susquehanna, AOG 5).

The screw driven frigates like the Merrimack were the finest ships of their type and their day. While the earlier Constitution was the finest ship of its type, it was nevertheless just a heavy frigate, and could not have withstood combat with a ship-of-the-line. The Merrimack, however, although rated a frigate, did not have comparable ships-of-the-line to contend with. It was supreme in its day. Thus, when the British built the first iron and armored steam warships, the Warrior and the Black Prince (completed in 1861 and 1862, respectively), they were essentially large iron and armored frigates. They were at first classified as Third Rate ships because of the number of their guns, but it was quickly realized that this was ridiculous. Compared to the older sailing ships, they were said to be "black snakes among the hares."

Other early ships were named for lakes (Saranac). The Civil War navy continued the tradition of all these kinds of names, including some that may not have been seen since, either was warships or auxiliaries, like the Monongahela (a steam sloop commissioned in 1863). Since many cities share names with rivers, we might expect some of the old river names to turn up in cruisers. Sometimes yes, but other times the old names still only turn up in smaller ships, e.g. the World War II Sacramento (PG 19) was only a gunboat, and the Passaic (AN 87) only a "net laying" ship.

It is a shame that such great historic American ship names ended up relegated to secondary or non-existent roles. It may be natural enough to want to name important ships after cities and States, whose political support for naval appropriations can then be solicited, but these solicitations could as easily have focused on the geographical region of the river (e.g. western Connecticut for the Housatonic River). This loss seems especially sad when the cities in an area often have English names (e.g. Waterbury, New Haven), while the local rivers have American Indian names (Naugatuck, Quinnipiac). Civil War ships often seem deliberately named to show off native American nomenclature, e.g. the Monitors Miantonomoh, Tonawanda, Passaconaway, Quinsigamond, etc. The Pushmataha, a sister-ship of the Contoocook, was named after a famous chief of the Choctaw Nation (d.1824). The evident relish for this, and for natural features, did not persist into the modern era, unlike the Imperial Japanese Navy, which always named light cruisers after rivers (and armored cruisers, battle cruisers, and heavy cruisers after mountains).

There are several landmarks in the history of building a ship. A ship is (1) ordered, (2) laid down, (3) launched, (4) completed, and (5) commissioned. "Laid down" means, of course, that construction is started, as the keel is laid on the slipway. When the hull is complete enough for the ship to float, it is launched. Much of the construction of a ship is thus subsequent to launching. Once the ship is completed, it can be tested at sea. Not until the tests are completed is a ship "commissioned," which means it is accepted into active service, with a crew and commanding officer. A commissioned ship has a watch on duty at all times, in port or at sea. A ship that is laid up in reserve, with no crew, has been "decommissioned." The table above gives dates for (5) commissioning.

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Dreadnoughts in Other Navies

Britain, Germany, and the United States were the principal participants in the Dreadnought race, with Japan close behind. Other navies, however, built or purchased such ships. In Europe, these were France, Italy, Austria, Russia, Spain, and Turkey. There was also an independent battleship race in South America between Brazil, Argentina, and Chile. Because of its role in World War II, Japan has been dealt with both above and separately. Russian battleships are given here but have also been dealt with separately because of the importance of the Russo-Japanese War for naval history. Turkey will be considered below.



190912 x 12inch guns
Dante Alighieri
191012 x
12inch guns
Jean Bart
13 x 12inch guns
Conte di Cavour
Giulio Cesare
Leonardo da Vinci
12 x 12inch guns
Viribus Unitis
Prinz Eugen
Szent István
191210 x
13.4inch guns
13 x 12inch guns
Caio Duilio
Andrea Doria
19318 x
13inch guns
Dunkerque BC
Strasbourg BC
Austria loses access to the Ocean after World War I
19348 x
15inch guns
Jean Bart
9 x 15inch guns
Vittorio Veneto
Austria annexed to Germany, 1938
The Allies of World War I included France, Italy, and Russia. In World War II, France was occupied for most of the War by Germany (1940-1944), Austria had been annexed by Germany (1938), and Italy fought with the Axis, until surrendering in 1943 and then coming under German and Allied occupation. French, Italian, and Austrian battleships are show in the table at right, Russian below. France and Italy had both been, or been seen as, naval rivals of Britain. Italy was an ally of Germany and Austria, but then entered World War I against Austria. Austria had not been a significant naval power except in relation to Italy. Behind Italy in Dreadnoughts, Austria was completely outmatched in World War I against Italy and France together. There were no fleet actions, but the Szent István was sunk by Italian motor torpedo boats in 1918. When the War was over, the Viribus Unitis was taken over by Yugoslavia but was then sunk by the Italians. Italy and France took over the Tegentthoff and Prinz Eugen, respectively, but both ships were disposed of in the early twenties.

Although France was an Ally in World War II, her ships suffered some of the same misfortunes as those of Italy, one of the Axis. That is because of the French surrender to Germany in 1940. Of the earlier class of ships, the France had been lost in 1922, the Courbet and Paris escaped to Britain in 1940, and the Jean Bart, renamed Océan, was scuttled in Toulon in 1942 when the Germans moved to occupy all of France. These older ships were no longer considered for fleet action -- the Courbet was sunk to make a breakwater for an artificial harbor during the Normandy invasion in 1944, and the Paris was just used as an accommodation ship in Britain. Of the Provence class, the Lorraine was interned in Alexandria harbor by the British in 1940, later to be used by the Free French in 1943, the Bretagne was sunk at Mers-el-Kebir in 1940 when the British opened fire on the French fleet to prevent its falling into the hands of the Germans or Italians, and the Provence, also damaged at Mers-el-Kebir, was then scuttled, like the Océan, at Toulon, to be raised by the Germans and used as a battery. When World War II started, France had two new ships ready, the battlecruiser-like Dunkerque and Strasbourg. Both ships were at Mers-el-Kebir, with the Strausbourg escaping during the action. Nevertheless, both ships ended up scuttled at Toulon. France also had launched two new battleships by the surrender in 1940, the Richelieu and Jean Bart. Both ships were incomplete but were able to sail to North Africa, to Dakar and Casablanca, respectively. The Richelieu fired on the British and Free French trying to land at Dakar in 1940. The Jean Bart fired on the Americans landing near Casablanca in November 1942. The Richelieu, finally with the Free French, sailed to New York in 1942, was completed, and operated with the Royal Navy starting in 1943. The Jean Bart was only taken in hand and completed after the War.

Of the older Italian ships, the Dante Alighieri was scrapped in 1928, and the Leonardo da Vinci, after being sunk by an explosion in 1916, in 1923. The Conte de Cavour was sunk during the daring British air raid on the anchorage at Taranto in 1940. The Caio Duilio was torpedoed at Taranto and beached, but raised and returned to service. The Guilio Cesare and the Andrea Doria escaped Taranto and survived the war -- the former was turned over to the Soviet Union in 1948, the latter scrapped in 1957-58. The new Italian battleships Vittorio Veneto and Littorio were not operational until 1940. The Vittorio Veneto escaped from Taranto, but the Littorio was sunk. Later, the Vittorio Veneto was somewhat damaged by British torpedoes at the Battle of Cape Matapan in 1941. When Italy surrendered in 1943, she was interned by the British in the Bitter Lakes in Egypt -- then turned over to the British in 1946. The Littorio, repaired after Taranto, was renamed Italia in 1943 and was bombed by the Germans while sailing to internment in Malta, just to be scrapped when the War was over. Two other ships of the same class were launched, but only the Roma was completed, in 1942. She was then sunk by the Germans in 1943. Thus, both Italy and France in World War II had ships sunk by their own (erstwhile) Allies. A sad record for ambitious navies.

Baltic Fleet
12 x 12inch guns
Gangut, Soviet Oktyabrskaya Revolutsia
Poltava, Soviet Mikhail Frunze
Sevastopol, Soviet Parizhskaya Kommuna
Petropavlovsk, Soviet Marat
1912# = laid down,
not completed

@ = launched,
not completed

12 x 14inch guns
@ Borodino BC
@ Navarin BC
@ Kinburn BC
@ Izmail BC

Black Sea Fleet
12 x 12inch guns
Imperatrica Maria
Imperatrica Ekatarin II
Imperator Alexander III
# Imperator Nikolai I
The division of the Russian Navy into Baltic and Black Sea Fleets is evident here. The Baltic battleships completed in time for World War I were bottled up by the Germans and could not operate with the Allied fleets. The class of Borodino battlecruisers was never completed. The ships did have various adventures during the Russian Civl War and in World War II but, of course, still never participated in any fleet actions.

The Black Sea battleships were laid down to counter the Turkish battleship, the Reshadieh, which had been ordered from Britain. With Turkish loyalty shifting to Germany, the British retained the ship for themselves; but then the German Goeben made its way to Constantinople and subsequently operated as a unit of the Turkish Navy. This kept Russian forces off the Black Sea until the Imperatrica Maria and her sisters entered service later in the War. This delay gravely hampered Russian strategic objectives, which were directed at the Straits. And then, when the ships were available and Russian forces were making headway against the Turks, the Revolution ended the whole project. The Baltic Battleships, after some adventures, ended up sunk (Imperatrica Maria, 1916, and Imperatrica Ekatarin II, 1918) or scrapped by the Soviets (Imperator Alexander III, 1926).

8 x 12inch guns
Jaime I
Alfonso XIII
Spain built one class of Dreadnoughts but was not part of any European war in the 20th century, so the ships are listed separately at right. The España ran aground and was abandoned in 1923. The remaining ships saw some action in the Spanish Civil War. The Alfonso XIII was renamed España after the King was overthrown in 1931. It was sunk in 1937. The Jaime I was damaged and then scrapped in 1939.



12 x 12inch guns
Minas Gerais
São Paolo
12 x 12inch guns
10 x 14inch guns
Almirante Latorre
Almirante Cochrane
14 x 12inch guns
Rio de Janeiro
The South American Dreadnought race was one of the most senseless wastes of resources in world history, though it is testimony to the rivalries, and the resources at the time, of the countries involved. They could not, however, build their own ships. The Brazilian and Chilean ships were built in Britain, the Argentine in the United States. Brazil began the competition and then, when Argentina responded, ordered a third ship. The fact that the ships were not being built in South America ended up as a factor in their history. When World War I started, the British were ready to appropriate or purchase the foreign ships that were building in Britain. Three of the South American ships thus ended up, at least temporarily, in the Royal Navy. The Minas Gerais, São Paolo, Rivadavia, and Moreno spent their entire service with Brazil and Argentina. The countries never in fact came to blows. The Minas Gerais was scrapped in 1954, but the São Paolo sank at sea while being towed to Italy in 1951. The Argentine ships were scrapped by 1957.



14 x 12inch guns
Rio de Janeiro
Sultan Osman IAgincourt
The fate of the Rio de Janeiro is the most curious of the South American ships. After the launch of the ship that would have the largest battery of big guns ever put on a battleship (14 guns, in 7 turrets), Brazil thought better of it and sold the ship to Turkey. While it was still completing, however, World War I began, and it became clear that Turkey was not going to be one of the Allies. So Britain took over the ship, which was, of course, building in Britain. Renamed by the Turks, the ship ended up as the Agincourt, serving through the War and finally scrapped in 1922.


10 x 13.5inch guns


10 x 11inch guns
Goeben BC
Yavuz Sultan Selim


10 x 14inch guns
Almirante Latorre
*Almirante Cochrane
*Eagle CV
Turkey was already building its own battleship in Britain, and it got taken over like the Agincourt. Rename Erin, the ship served until scrapped in 1921. But Turkey did not go without its own Dreadnought. When World War I began, the German battlecruiser Goeben was in the Mediterranean. It sought refuge at Constantinople and then was turned over the Turkey -- although it remained crewed and commanded by the Germans. As such, it drove the Russians from the Black Sea, until modern Russian battleships were completed later in the War. Renamed Yavuz Sultan Selim, and then just Yavuz ("Grim," Selim's epithet) in 1936, the ship survived on display until 1972. That it was then scrapped, the only remaining ship of the German pre-war Dreadnought program, now seems as great a tragedy as if a Tryannosaurus rex skeleton were destroyed.

The two Chilean battleships were completing in Britain when World War I started. Both were purchased for the Royal Navy, but only one was completed for Wartime service, the Almirante Latorre, renamed Canada. After the War, the ship was sold back to Chile, and served under her original name until scrapped in 1959. There was another opportunity for wartime service, since the United States offered to buy the ship after Pearl Harbor, but Chile refused. The other ship, the Almirante Cochrane, was left incomplete until 1917 and then was finished as an aircraft carrier. Renamed Eagle, the ship was then one of the pioneering ships of naval aviation. She met her end ferrying aircraft to Malta in World War II, sunk by a German submarine (U-73) in August, 1942.

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The Treaty Cruisers

Heavy Cruisers, Jûjun[yokan], [] &
Light Cruisers, Keijun[yokan], []



Teikoku kaigun no dentōtaru yasen ni hisshō
o kishite teki o kōgeki sen to su.

Kaku-in reisei ni zenryoku o tsukuse.

Let us go forward to certain victory in the traditional night attack of the Imperial Navy.

Let each one of us calmly do our utmost.

Vice Admiral Gun'ichi Mikawa, 三川 軍一 (1888-1981),
Battle of Savo Island, August 9, 1942

The term "Treaty Cruisers" refers to the cruisers built under the treaty restrictions of the Washington Naval Treaty of 1921 and the London Naval Treaty of 1930. In both treaties the maximum tonnage for cruisers was set at 10,000 tons. The maximum size gun for a cruiser under the Washington Treaty was 8 inches and under the London Treaty 6 inches.

Since the Japanese, especially, felt unfairly limited by the Washington Treaty, they immediately began planning ships right up to the treaty limits. Not only that, but they began designing them like little battleships, with enclosed turrets. But the ships still had torpedoes, ready for close action surface fights, especially at night. Their first ships mounted six guns, but after four of those, they began mounting ten guns, all in double turrets, which became the standard outfit for Japanese heavy cruisers. These were beautiful, elegant ships; and the Ashikaga cut a fine figure at the coronation of King George VI in 1937.

Note that Japanese heavy cruisers, like battlecruisers, are named after mountains. Thus, if the name is found on a map of Japan, it will be followed by the character , which in Japanese will be pronounced yama, san, or zan. Light cruisers are named after rivers, for which the character will be , pronounced kawa or gawa. The very last Japanese cruiser should be named after a river, which could be the Sakawa (), containing "river" as part of the name; but the actual name of the ship is written , with a final character that doesn't exist in Chinese, and is read nioi in Japanese. How that character comes to be read "kawa" or "wa" is a good question, although things like this are not unusual in Japanese. The first character can be read "shu" or "sake" -- the name appears to mean the "fragrance of sake." Although the Mogami class were refitted as heavy cruisers, with 8 inch guns, they retained the river names of light cruisers (e.g. named after the Mogamigawa). Similarly, although the Tone class were completed as heavy cruisers, they had been ordered as light cruisers and also retained the river names of light cruisers (e.g. named after the Tonegawa). The suffix maru, , "circle," is commonly seen in the name of Japanese ships. But this is not used with warships.

Treaty Cruisers by launch dates



United States
1925Furutaka CA

Kako CA

1926Aoba CA

Kinugasa CA

Berwick CA
Cornwall CA
Cumberland CA
Kent CA
Suffolk CA
1927Myoko CA

Nachi CA

Australia CA
Canberra (1) CA
Devonshire CA
London CA
1928Ashigara CA

Haguro CA

Shropshire CA
Sussex CA
Norfolk CA

York CA
1929Dorsetshire CA

Exeter CA
Pensacola CA-24
Salt Lake City CA-25

Northampton CA-26
Chester CA-27
Houston (1) CA-30
1930Atago CA

Maya CA

Takao CA

Louisville CA-28
Chicago (1) CA-29
Augusta CA-31
1931Chokai CA

Leander CL
Indianapolis CA-35
1932Orion CL
Achilles CL
Portland CA-33
1933Neptune CL
New Orleans CA-32
Astoria (1) CA-34
Minneapolis CA-36
Tuscaloosa CA-37
San Francisco CA-38
1934Mogami CL

Suzuya CL

Mikuma CL

Ajax CL
Sydney CL
Perth CL
Hobart CL

Arethusa CL
Galatea CL
1935Penelope CL
Quincy (1) CA-39
1936Kumano CL

Aurora CL

Newcastle CL
Southampton CL
Birmingham CL
Glasgow CL
Sheffield CL
Vincennes (1) CA-44

Brooklyn CL-40
Philadelphia CL-41
Boise CL-47
1937Tone CA

Liverpool CL
Manchester CL
Gloucester CL
Savannah CL-42
Nashville CL-43
Honolulu CL-48

Wichita CA-45
1938Chikuma CA

Belfast CL
Edinburgh CL
Phoenix CL-46
St. Louis CL-49
Helena (1) CL-50
1939Dido CLAA
Euryalus CLAA
Naiad CLAA
Phoebe CLAA
Bonaventure CLAA
Hermione CLAA

Fiji CL
Kenya CL
Mauritius CL
Nigeria CL
1940Sirius CLAA
Charybdis CLAA
Cleopatra CLAA
Scylla CLAA

Trinidad CL
Gambia CL
Jamaica CL
1941Agano CL

Argonaut CLAA

Bermuda CL

Uganda CL
Newfoundland CL
Atlanta (1) CLAA-51
Juneau (1) CLAA-52
San Diego CLAA-53
San Juan CLAA-54

Cleveland CL-55
Columbia CL-56
1942Noshiro CL

Yahagi CL


Oyodo CL

Bellona CLAA
Black Prince CLAA
Diadem CLAA
Royalist CLAA
Spartan CLAA

Ceylon CL
Baltimore CA-68
Boston CA-69

Oakland CLAA-95
Reno CLAA-96

Montpelier CL-57
Denver CL-58
Amsterdam CL-59
Santa Fe CL-60
Birmingham CL-62
Mobile CL-63
Miami CL-89
1943Swiftsure CL
Minotaur CL
Superb CL
Canberra (2) CA-70
Quincy (2) CA-71

Vincennes (2) CL-64
Pasadena CL-65
Biloxi CL-80
Houston (2) CL-81
Vicksburg CL-86
Astoria (2) CL-90
Wilkesbarre CL-103
1944Sakawa CL

Defence CL
Pittsburgh CA-72
St. Paul CA-73
Columbus CA-74
Bremerton CA-130
Fall River CA-131
Macon CA-132
Los Angeles CA-135
Chicago (2) CA-136

Flint CLAA-97
Tucson CLAA-98

Springfield CL-66
Topeka CL-67
Providence CL-82
Duluth CL-87
Oklahoma City CL-91
Little Rock CL-92
Amsterdam CL-101
Portsmouth CL-102
Atlanta (2) CL-104
Dayton CL-106
1945Tiger CL
Blake CL
Helena (2) CA-75
Oregon City CA-122
Albany CA-123
Rochester CA-124
Toledo CA-133

Juneau (2) CLAA-119
Spokane CLAA-120

Galveston CL-93
Fargo CL-106
Huntington CL-107
1946Fresno CLAA-121

Manchester CL-83
1947Worcester CL-144
Roanoke CL-145
Britain and the United States soon responded in kind to the Japanese. The British never mounted more than eight guns in their main batteries. They were much more concerned about numbers of ships than the Japanese, since they had three oceans to worry about and several major dependencies, Canada, India, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand, for whom Britain was still largely responsible for defense. Thus, after several cruisers with eight guns, newer ones with only six were built.

The United States at first responded with ten guns, like the Japanese, but then settled into nine guns in three triple turrets, which became standard thereafter. Since the United States did not have the international defense commitments of Britain in the 1920's, the American response to Japan was more leisurely; and the American ships, although ordered in a timely fashion, were completed rather slowly. Thus, although the first American Treaty Cruiser was not launched until 1929, the ships were ordered and designed several years earlier.

More troubling than this delay was one feature of American doctrine. The new cruisers were left without torpedo tubes. This was the effect of what was called the "gun club" in the U.S. Navy, the dominant group who thought that long range gunfire would dominate naval actions. This did not take into consideration the conditions of night combat. Or the fact that aircraft, not guns, would dominate day battles. Ship to ship actions in World War II would tend to be at night. Darkness and uncertainty would put a premium on tactics for close action, and torpedoes could be decisive in those circumstances. The Japanese and British devoted considerable effort to night training (though the British don't seem to have been aware of the Japanese training, even though it had been Japanese doctrine since 1904), and the Japanese also devoted considerable effort to developing first rate torpedoes. American torpedoes, on the other hand, were riddled with defects which insufficient testing did not uncover until long after the War had started. This was especially bad for American submarines, many of which may have been lost because of dud torpedoes -- for a long time the Bureau of Ordinance (BuOrd) simply didn't believe the complaints of the submarine commanders, who in turn ignored pronouncements from the Bureau.

The London Naval Treaty of 1930 imposed the 6 inch gun limit on new cruisers, without altering the maximum tonnage. This introduced the distinction between a "heavy cruiser" (CA), with 8 inch guns, and a "light cruiser" (CL), with 6 inch guns. The American abbreviation for "heavy cruiser," CA, seems to be derived from the "armored cruisers" of the turn of the century, which is revealing, since American armored cruisers were named like battleships -- this puts the "heavy cruisers" in a branch of the battleship tradition, as they should be, since, in effect, the Treaty Cruisers replaced the pre-World War I Dreadnought race. American Treaty Cruisers, however, were now named, like proper cruisers, after cities.

Again, the Japanese designed ships right up to the treaty limits, mounting 15 six inch guns on the 10,000 ton Mogami's. The American Brooklyn class matched this, but the British decided not to go as far. The Japanese ships, however, would not remain "light" cruisers. Once Japan decided not to renew the London Treaty, plans were immediately begun to replace the triple 6 inch turrets on the Mogami's with double 8 inch turrets. This converted the ships into heavy cruisers comparable to the earlier Myoko's and Atago's. The now surplus triple 6 inch gun turrets were then placed on the Yamato class super-battleships. A small class of "light cruisers" like the British ones was also designed, but these ships were finished, during the war, too late to participate in the early battles.

A unique type of ship built by Britain and the United States were the anti-aircraft cruisers, like the British Dido and the American Atlanta. The Dido mounted ten 5.25 inch guns and the Atlanta no less than sixteen 5 inch guns. Since the 5 inch type guns did become the standard high altitude anti-aircraft weapon, these could be valuable ships for their designed purpose. However, in the fighting off Guadalcanal, the United States Navy felt so short of ships, that the Atlanta and the Juneau were both sent into surface action against Japanese ships in the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal (11/13/1942), with tragic results: The Atlanta was sunk in ship to ship action and the Juneau was sunk by a Japanese submarine after the battle. The Juneau blew up and sank so quickly, most of the crew died, including the famous five Sullivan Brothers. The only Japanese ships comparable to the anti-aircraft cruisers were a class of anti-aircraft destroyers, the Akizukis, with eight 3.9 inch guns.

In the early days of the Pacific War the United States Navy paid dear for its deficiences in doctrine and armament. The Battle of Savo Island, a brilliant surprise attack in the dead of night by Japanese Admiral Mikawa, was the worst naval defeat in U.S. history. Three American cruisers were sunk, along with the Canberra of the Royal Australian Navy. Although the Japanese campaign on Guadalcanal headed down hill after the commitment of U.S. battleships in the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, the Japanese continued to have the advantage in night battles in the Solomons until well into the New Georgia campaign -- the losses of cruisers helped convince the "gun club" to let the destroyer commanders practice their torpedo tactics. Increasing American air dominance, and the attrition of Japanese forces, later eliminated such surface actions, except for the desperate Japanese attack in the Battle for Leyte Gulf.

Only the United States launched and completed substantial numbers of cruisers after 1941. This was mostly too late for the Solomons campaign, but it is a good indication of the overwhelming strength exerted by America that made the last couple years of the War so one sided. Most of these ships simply screened the carrier groups that took one Japanese island after another and then punished the Japanese homeland until the surrender.

There are several landmarks in the history of building a ship. A ship is (1) ordered, (2) laid down, (3) launched, (4) completed, and (5) commissioned. "Laid down" means, of course, that construction is started, as the keel is laid on the slipway. When the hull is complete enough for the ship to float, it is launched. Much of the construction of a ship is thus subsequent to launching. Once the ship is completed, it can be tested at sea. Not until the tests are completed is a ship "commissioned," which means it is accepted into active service, with a crew and commanding officer. A commissioned ship has a watch on duty at all times, in port or at sea. A ship that is laid up in reserve, with no crew, has been "decommissioned." The table gives dates for (3) launching.

The Cruiser Olympia

Renamed U.S. Cruisers

U.S. Light Aircraft Carriers and Lost Carriers



The Battleship Kongō

Russian Battleships

Advanced Japanese Destroyers of World War II

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The Treaty Cruisers, Note;
Renamed U.S. Cruisers

Lost Cruisers with New US Ships Named for Them
ship (1 & 2)(1) lostbattle
Canberra (1) HMAS-CA (2) CA-709/8/42Savo Island
Chicago (1) CA-29 (2) CA-13630/1/43Rennell Island
Houston (1) CA-30 (2) CL-811/3/42Java Sea
Astoria (1) CA-34 (2) CL-909/8/42Savo Island
Quincy (1) CA-39 (2) CA-719/8/42Savo Island
Vincennes (1) CA-44 (2) CL-649/8/42Savo Island
Helena (1) CL-50 (2) CA-756/7/43Kula Gulf
Atlanta (1) CLAA-51 (2) CL-10413/11/42Guadalcanal
Juneau (1) CLAA-52 (2) CLAA-11913/11/42submarine
Northampton (1) CA-26 (2) CA-125
(2) redesignated CLC-1
Lost US Cruiser without New Ship Named for Her
in the World War II Era
Indianapolis (1) CA-35 (2) SSN-69729/7/45submarine
Almost all the American ships sunk in the earlier days of World War II later reappeared in the War as brand new ships that had been given the names of the lost ones.

This also included a new Canberra, even though the original Canberra was not an American ship to begin with. But the United States Navy felt responsible for the loss of the Canberra, which might have been salvaged after the Battle of Savo Island if all the forces had not cleared out in fear of what the Japanese might do next. The Australians weren't quite sure why the Canberra, badly damaged by the Japanese, had to actually be sunk by the Americans.

The replacement for the Northampton, sunk at the Battle of Tassafaronga, was finished as a "Tactical Command Ship" (CLC) and not commissioned until 1953. The Indianapolis was lost too late in the War (with a large part of her crew famously eaten by sharks) to have a new ship immediately named for her. The next Indianapolis was a Los Angeles class nuclear submarine launched in 1977.

Of these eleven ships, only two were not lost in the Solomons. This is a very good clue to the ferocity of the fighting in those waters.

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The Treaty Cruisers, Note;
U.S. Light Aircraft Carriers and Lost Carriers

Light Cruisers completed as Light Aircraft Carriers
launchCruiser CLLight Carrier CVL
1942Amsterdam CL-59Independence CVL-22
Tallahassee CL-61Princeton (1) CVL-23
New Haven CL-76Belleau Wood CVL-24
1943Huntington CL-77Cowpens CVL-25
Dayton CL-78Monterey CVL-26
Fargo CL-85Langley (2) CVL-27
Wilmington CL-79Cabot CVL-28
Buffalo CL-99Bataan CVL-29
Newark CL-100San Jacinto CVL-30
In the list of cruisers above, quite a few hull numbers are missing from the American series. Some of these were simply cancelled because they were not going to be needed (e.g. CL-84, CL-88, CL-94, CL-108-118, CA-126-129, CA-137-138, CA-140-143, CL-146-147, CA-149-153, CL-154-159), but another significant group was completed as aircraft carriers, soon called "light" aircraft carriers (CVL). The table at left shows the original names for the light cruisers, and then the names and numbers for the completed light carriers. The carrier numbers fit into the sequence of full sized aircraft carriers -- in between the Essex class ships Boxer (CV-21) and Bon Homme Richard (CV-31). The Langley (CVL-27) was the second of that name, the first having been CV-1. These ships carried two air squardrons, of fighters and torpedo bombers, as opposed to the larger fleet carriers, which carried three air squadrons, of fighters, dive bombers, and torpedo bombers.

Task Force 58
Philippine Sea
TG 58.1
Hornet (2) CV-12
Yorktown (2) CV-10
Belleau Wood CVL-24
Bataan CVL-29
3 CA, 2 CL, 10 DD
TG 58.2
Bunker Hill CV-17
Wasp (2) CV-18
Monterey CVL-26
Cabot CVL-28
3 CL, 12 DD
TG 58.3
Enterprise CV-6
Lexington (2) CV-16
San Jacinto CVL-30
Princeton CVL-23
1 CA, 4 CL, 13 DD
TG 58.4
Essex CV-9
Langley (2) CVL-27
Cowpens CVL-25
4 CL, 14 DD
TG 58.7
"Battle Line"
7 BB, 4 CA, 13 DD
Task Force 38
Leyte Gulf
TG 38.1
Hornet (2) CV-12
Wasp (2) CV-12
Cowpens CVL-25
Monterey CVL-26
Cabot CVL-28
3 CA, 15 DD
TG 38.2
Intrepid CV-11
Hancock CV-19
Bunker Hill CV-17
Independence CVL-22
2 BB, 5 CL, 17 DD
TG 38.3
Essex CV-9
Lexington (2) CV-16
San Jacinto CVL-30
Princeton CVL-23
Langley (2) CVL-27
4 BB, 4 CL, 14 DD
TG 38.4
Franklin CV-13
Enterprise CV-6
San Jacinto CVL-30
Belleau Wood CVL-24
1 CA, 1 CL, 12 DD
This class, all commissioned between January and December 1943, particpated in all the actions in the last years of World War II. Although just slightly larger than escort carriers (CVE's), 10,622 tons to 8,200 tons, and carrying 30 planes to 28, their performance was substantially superior, making 31 knots against only 19 for the CVE's. This meant that they could run with the fleet carriers, while the CVE's were for convoys and support duties. Thus, at the Battle of the Philippine Sea, the Princeton (CVL-23) served in Task Group 58.3 with her sistership San Jacinto (CVL-30), the durable Enterprise (CV-6), and the Essex class carrier Lexington (CV-16). At the Battle for Leyte Gulf, the Princeton served in Task Group 38.3 with her sistership Langley (CVL-27), the Essex (CV-9) itself, and the Lexington again, the flagship of Vice Admiral Marc Mitscher, commander of Task Force 38. Task Forces 58 and 38 were the fast carrier strike forces of the Central Pacific fleet, and were in fact the same force, called "58" when considered part of Vice Admiral Raymond Spruance's 5th Fleet, and "38" when part of Admiral William Halsey's 3rd Fleet. One Task Group like 38.3, with four carriers, was similar in power to the entire Japanese Strike Force at the Battle of Midway; but Task Force 38 (or TF 58) contained four such groups (38.1, 38.2, 38.3, 38.4), with 17 (15 for TF 58 at the Philippine Sea) fast carriers, 9 heavy, 8 light.

Unlike the CVE's, some CVL's continued to operate after the War, in some cases even into the 60's. Only one was sunk in battle, the Princeton, which was hit by a bomb on 24 October 1944, during the Battle for Leyte Gulf. As with the renamed cruisers, the name of the Princeton was immediately given to a new carrier, CV-37, which was originally supposed to be the Valley Forge. Since this renaming had also been done with the other U.S. aircraft carriers that had been lost in the early days of the war, the following table is included with that information. Losses of escort carriers (CVE's) are not considered. Their names, like the St Lo (CVE-63, sunk at Leyte Gulf, 25 October 1944), or the Liscombe Bay (CVE-56, torpedoed by the I-175, 24 November 1943), do not seem to have been passed on.

Lost Carriers with New US Ships Named for Them
ship (1 & 2)(2) original name(1) lostbattle
Langley (1) CV-1 (2) CVL-27Fargo2/27/42aircraft
off Java
Lexington (1) CV-2 (2) CV-16Cabot 5/8/42Coral Sea
Yorktown (1) CV-5 (2) CV-10Bon Homme Richard 6/7/42Midway
Wasp (1) CV-7 (2) CV-18Orsikany 9/15/42submarine
Hornet (1) CV-8 (2) CV-12Kearsarge10/27/42Santa Cruz
Princeton (1) CVL-23 (2) CV-37Valley Forge10/24/44Leyte Gulf

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Philosophy of History, Military History

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Copyright (c) 1999, 2000 Kelley L. Ross, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved

The Cruiser Olympia

Docked on the Delaware River at Philadelphia is the oldest steel-hulled warship afloat. It is the last warship of its kind and its generation above water. This is the cruiser Olympia, the flagship of Commodore George Dewey at the Battle of Manila Bay in 1898. Dewey telling his Flag Captain, "You may fire when you are ready, Gridley," is one of the memorable statements in American naval history.

The keel of the Olympia was laid down on 17 June 1891. The ship was launched on 5 November 1892 and commissioned in 1895. It saw service until 1922, just after bringing the remains of the Unknown Soldier of World War I back from Europe. When hull numbers were introduced, it was designated C6, i.e. the sixth cruiser.

This unique, living piece of naval history has been in danger of being destroyed. It has not been drydocked in many years and was in need of millions of dollars of repairs. If the hull was not tended to, in 2010 the estimate was that it would sink at its moorings within three years. While billions of federal dollars are sloshing around for the stupidest of purposes, the Olympia was an orphan -- even as the recently installed battleship New Jersey lies directly across the river at Camden. Indeed, I visited Honolulu in November 2009 to visit the battleship Missouri, only to find that it was itself drydocked for maintenance!

This was a naval history emergency. The Olympia was threatened with being scrapped or towed out and sunk as an "artificial reef." Yet, as an artifact of its time and events, it is nearly the equal in significance to the Missouri, and much greater than the New Jersey. Its obscurity and neglect is certainly due to there being no veterans left of the Spanish-American War. That is ancient history. But ancient history is precisely what needs preserving.

After my visit to the Olympia in 2010, when I took the photograph at left, money was raised for repairs, and much was done for the ship lying at anchor. It still needs to be dry-docked for work on the hull, but the crisis seems to have passed for the moment.

I was back on the ship in April 2019, when I took many photographs in good sunlight, such as the one at right. They have given the ship a good look, and the areas below decks are nicely presented for visitors. For some reason the pilot house was wrapped up, but visitors have access to the bridge -- which still looks like a "bridge," an open walk spanning the deck -- and where Commodore Dewey stood is marked with brass footprints, whose left foot I show, suitably, at left.

There was no armored conning tower on this ship, as on battleships, which officers didn't like anyway:  Everyone stood in the open at the Battle of Tsushima in 1905, as the officers did here, where there was no room for them in the pilot house. Later ships would at least have an enclosed bridge, which was made part of a superstructure.

On the Olympia there is another bridge aft, over an extra set of wheels -- right where they would have been on a sailing ship -- in case the main bridge was destroyed in battle. That bridge and wheels are shown in the photo below. There are three wheels in case the power fails and the strength of more than one helmsman is needed to control the rudder. This is where sailing ships were commanded, so that the officers could see the sails as they looked ahead. Without sails, the better position for command was, of course, forward. This rear position, however, the Quarter Deck, was preserved for ceremonial functions, although later a symbolic "Quarter Deck" could be elsewhere on the ship, as where the Japanese Surrender was signed on the battleship Missouri in 1945. On the Olympia, this rear position features an actual bridge across the deck, without pilot house. This is a pure example with the pure meaning of what a "bridge" originally meant.

The white hull and buff works preserve the look of the pre-World War I United States Navy, such as distinguished and named the Great White Fleet that sailed around the world. All the ships then went gray, as they have remained since the eve of that War.

The February 2011 issue of Naval History magazine contains an article mentioning the Olympia's plight and describing the Battle of Manila Bay (p.32). In the editorial "On Our Scope" (p.4), the editor of the magazine, Richard G. Latture, cites an e-mail that I wrote to him about the danger to the Olympia. He includes the reference to my visit in November 2009 to the Japanese battleship Mikasa, a contemporary of the Olympia, which itself is in no danger of neglect.

Philosophy of History, Military History

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Copyright (c) 2010, 2011, 2019, 2020 Kelley L. Ross, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved