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Drawing of the Japanese Yamato in her final configuration before she was sunk in 1945.

A battleship is a large armored warship with a main battery consisting of heavy caliber guns. As they were the largest, best-armed and most heavily armored ships in a fleet, battleships were used to attain command of the sea and represented the apex of a nation's naval power from the late nineteenth century until World War II. With the rise of air power, notably aircraft carriers, battleships were no longer able to establish naval superiority, and so all have been withdrawn from active service. The related battlecruiser, a successor to the armored cruiser, shared the very large main armament, general size, and cost of a battleship of the same generation, but they traded armor or firepower for higher speed.

Battleship design evolved to incorporate and adapt technological advances to maintain an edge. The word battleship was coined around 1794 as a contraction of the phrase line-of-battle ship, the dominant wooden warship during the Age of Sail. It came into formal use in the late 1880s to describe a type of ironclad warship, but these are now referred to as "pre-dreadnoughts". In 1906, the launch of HMS Dreadnought heralded a revolution in battleship design. Later designs that were influenced by this ship were referred to as "dreadnoughts". Battlecruisers were developed around this time by the British First Sea Lord Jackie Fisher. They were envisioned as being more effective armored cruisers, able to destroy any normal cruiser while being able to outrun any ships capable of sinking them.

By 1910, so-called "super-dreadnoughts" were entering service. In the four years between Dreadnought and the first super-dreadnoughts, the Orion class, displacement had increased by 25% and weight of broadside had doubled. Many battlecruisers and battleships of all varieties served in the First World War, most notably in the Battle of Jutland. None were built between the Nelsons of the early 1920s and the Dunkerques of the early 1930s due to various treaties, but quite a few battleships were constructed shortly before or during World War II. The last, HMS Vanguard, was commissioned just after the war, in 1946.

From this time on, most battleships and all battlecruisers were decommissioned and broken up. France's Jean Bart and Turkey's Yavuz were the last to be scrapped. However, members of the American Iowa class lasted until 1992 to aid troops with fire support; four were deployed in Korea, one in Vietnam, and two to Iraq. Nine battleships exist today as museum ships; eight from the United States, and Japan's Mikasa. (more...)


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Washington steaming at high speed in Puget Sound during post-overhaul trials, 10 September 1945

The North Carolina class was a series of two fast battleships, North Carolina and Washington, built for the United States Navy in the late 1930s and early 1940s. The navy was originally uncertain whether the ships should be fast enough to counter the Japanese Kongō class, which was believed by the United States to be capable of 26 knots (30 mph; 48 km/h), or should sacrifice speed for additional firepower and armor. The Second London Naval Treaty's requirement that all capital ships have a standard displacement of under 35,000 long tons (35,560 metric tons (t)) meant that the desired objectives could not be fully realized within the treaty limits, and the navy considered over fifty designs before one was chosen. Towards the end of this lengthy design period, the General Board of the United States Navy declared that it was in favor of design "XVI-C", which called for a speed of 30 knots (35 mph; 56 km/h) and a main battery of nine 14-inch (356 mm)/50 caliber Mark B guns. The board believed that such ships could fulfill a multitude of roles, as they would have enough protection to be put into a battle line while also having enough speed to escort aircraft carriers or engage in commerce raiding. However, the acting Secretary of the Navy authorized a modified version of a different design, "XVI", which in its original form had been rejected by the General Board. This called for a 27-knot (31 mph; 50 km/h) ship with twelve 14-inch rifles in quadruple turrets and protection against guns of the same caliber. In a major departure from traditional American design practices, "XVI" accepted lower speed and protection in exchange for maximum firepower. After construction had begun, the United States, concerned over Japan's refusal to commit to the caliber limit of the Second London Naval Treaty, invoked the "escalator clause" of that pact and increased the caliber of the class' main armament; nine 16-inch (406 mm)/45 Mark 6 caliber guns replaced the twelve 14-inch guns of the original design.

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photograph of Tōgō in full dress uniform with elaborate epaulettes, a sash, and cuff insignia

Gensui Marquis Tōgō Heihachirō, OM, GCVO (東郷 平八郎, Tōgō Heihachirō), (27 January 1848 - 30 May 1934) of the Imperial Japanese Navy was nicknamed "Nelson of the East". One of Japan's greatest naval heroes, he fought in the Anglo-Satsuma, Boshin, First Sino-Japanese, and Russo-Japanese wars. After some skirmishes at age 16, he attended the Royal Naval Academy and Old Royal Naval College before returning as a Japanese naval officer. Rising to success aboard the Japanese cruiser Naniwa, he would rise in the ranks and command the Japanese Naval War College, Sasebo Naval Arsenal, Combined Fleet, and serve as Chief of the Navy General Staff. In 1914, he tutored Crown Prince Hirohito, the future Shōwa Emperor, and would receive many honors in his retirement, such as the Orders of the Chrysanthemum, Paulownia Flowers, Sacred Treasure, Golden Kite 1st Class, and the Tōgō Shrine built after his death. In 1958, Admiral Chester W. Nimitz financed the restoration of the Japanese battleship Mikasa, Tōgō's flagship.

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The Japanese battleship Ise with after her 1935 conversion. Sustaining considerable losses at the Battle of Midway, the Japanese navy converted some of its oldest battleships to aircraft carriers, including the Ise class. The two aft 356 mm (14 in) gun turrets were replaced by a small flight deck and hangar to launch a squadron of aircraft. Note the distinctive pagoda mast.
Credit: Imperial Japanese Navy photo

The Japanese battleship Ise with after her 1935 conversion. Sustaining considerable losses at the Battle of Midway, the Japanese navy converted some of its oldest battleships to aircraft carriers, including the Ise class. The two aft 356 mm (14 in) gun turrets were replaced by a small flight deck and hangar to launch a squadron of aircraft. Note the distinctive pagoda mast.

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