WWII Battleships
WWII Battleships
WWII Battleships
WWII Battleships

May 15, 2001-February 8, 2002



The following is a small collection of thoughts on the best equipment, etc. For now, I have started with some thoughts on the Best Battleship. If the writing seems a bit scattered or choppy here and there, it is because I have cribbed these notes from some of my own posts in one of my favorite debate forums.


May 15, 2001-January 6, 2002. Updated Deember 11, 2002

Narayan Sengupta

What was the best battleship of WWII (actually built) and why? Vote for best all-around battleship. Think about it this way, which one would you entrust your life to and/or which battleship would you want to be on board in a one-on-one battle against any other enemy battleship?

Some of the contendors would be:

  1. Bismarck Class (Bismarck, Tirpitz)
  2. Yamato Class (Yamato, Musashi)
  3. Richelieu Class (Richelieu, Jean Bart)
  4. Iowa Class (Iowa, New Jersey, Wisconsin, Missouri)
  5. Vanguard Class (Vanguard)
  6. Littorio Class (Littorio, Impero, Vittorio Veneto, Roma)
  7. King George V Class (King George V, Prince of Wales, Howe, Anson)
  8. South Dakota Class (South Dakota, Alabama, Indiana, Massachusetts)
  9. Kongo Class (Kongo, Haruna)
  10. Scharnhorst Class (Scharnhorst, Gneisenau)

I took the easy way out and voted for the Iowas. The battleship Richelieu would have been my second choice though it and its sister (or brother?) Jean Bart were used in just about the most negligable fashion possible. On the other hand, the French fleet did have an indirect impact on the war leading to a lot of politicking and maneouvering (sp?) and the German invasion of southern France. But this isn't about influence. So I vote for the Iowas: fast, reliable, good sensors, good range, good armor, good firing range, 9 x 16" and probably the best AA of any battleship (not counting the Alaska battlecruisers or the Vanguard battleship). I think the Iowa class battleships were the all-around best battleships and the ones that I would put my life in the most.

I think that the battleship Bismarck (or Tirpitz) would have gotten trounced by the Iowa. Some of the facts which make me feel that way include: 9 x 16 vs. 8 x 15, better armor, modern design (Bismarck was based on WWI battleship design), better speed and better sensors.

For that matter, Richelieu might have had aquited herself well too, at least against the Bismarck. But I don't think that she would have managed against the Iowa.

Before you all lambast me for my Richelieu vs. Bismarck, consider that the Richelieu beats the Bismarck on firing range, turret armor, deck armor, and to the best of my memory, comes close or matches on AA, speed and armor belt. Bismarck would have killed the Richelieu in a suprise engagement (a la Prince of Wales and Hood) because of the superior training of the German naval crews.

Having said that, the Richelieu seems to have been a good design, as did the preceeding Dunkerques. And yet their combat record is very weak for the most part. They were never engaged on the high-seas versus other capital ships. Both of the Richelieus did see combat versus other battleships or battlecruisers. In the case of the Richelieu, 95% complete, she saw combat at Dakar and fended off the Hood and other Force H ships and shot down something between 9 to 16 (depending on the source) aircraft used against her in strikes. The Jean Bart, 77% complete at the fall of France, however, was hit quite hard when attacked by the USS Massachusettes, and did not land any hits on the enemy vessel. One might say that there were extenuating circumstances since only one turret was working and the ship was sitting at anchor in port, but even then, if the Jean Bart was as good as she looked on paper, it seems like she should have done at least some cursory damage to the Massachusetts. Eric Courtial wrote to me to advise me of the following: Jean Bart's armor and bulkhead were not fully installed (an aircraft launched bomb penetrated four decks without exploding); the fire director was not installed, so the ship was firing by sight akin to shooting a rabbit with a gun when the rabbit is at 8 miles of your position; the 380mm turret was the only turret of all the ship (153mm and 100mm gun were not installed at this point, so there were no other guns)!

Also the design of putting all of the big guns fore seems to have been a great idea if persuing an enemy unit, but not if the ship was on the retreat. I always wondered how that would have worked on the high-seas.

And note that the best battleship isn't just limited to BB vs. BB action. How would the Bismarck stand up to air attacks? The record shows that not very well. Iowa class had excellent AA.

I stand by the Iowa beating the Bismark; I would give the Iowa odds of about 4:1. That doesn't mean that the Iowa might not get hurt or beaten up badly a la Bon Homme Richard and Serapis, but in the end, John Paul Jones' spirit would be rather happy.

Here is why:

The issue of 16" vs. 15" main armament isn't just about one inch. It's about 10,000 lbs. of extra weight in the broadside (24,000 lbs. vs. 14,000). Quantifying it further, the Iowa is putting 72% more weight into the air starting from almost three miles further out against an enemy whose armor that is generally 20% to 40% thinner (granted except in the belt).

Iowa was had a 3+ knot advantage in speed, had better AA (throw weight almost 500% more), a deeper underwater armor belt (the battleship Bismarck was critically hit by the PoW underwater), had better radar (and radar trumps optics), about 12% more throw weight in secondary armament, and a combat radius that was more than 50% greater than the German.

The Iowa could shoot and maneuver because of its fire control systems which the Bismarck couldn't.

Would the Bismarck been upgraded during the war? Unlikely except for perhaps some cosmetic stuff like a better radar and perhaps more AA since the Germans didn't have the resources to even finish their one almost finished fleet carrier. But the Tirpitz was the "improved" Bismarck, and still didn't do that well.

While it is true that a single 15" shell from the Bismarck sunk the Hood, luck is, well, luck. But using the logic of a lucky hit making one class of battleship better than another, all battleships should have been equiped only with floating mines as primary armament since those too have been used to sink ships. But the chances of a lucky hit are mitigated by aforementioned factors.

What about measuring the Bismarck's ability to hold off air attacks? The Bismarck had a really hard time holding off six Swordfish flying at about 150 mph in lousy weather. If they could do that kind of damage, what would first line aircraft have done? Iowa class ships stood up to real massed air attacks in good weather. [This is true not just of the Bismarck, but of all of the pre-war designs. Only battleships designed around 1939 and later, or upgraded in 1941 or later, seemed to have been able to hold their own against air attacks.]

Some denigrate the Iowa's design as flawed because it was "narrow to fit through the Panama Canal", but the Bismarck was designed to fit through the Kiel Canal. Still, I will grant that Bismarck was a more stable gun platform. On the other hand, it was also a wider (and thus much better) target.

The 3+ knot difference could also help the Iowa class vessel get away from her enemy if things were to go badly. The Bismarck wouldn't have that option.

Would I be calm in this hypothetical engagement? Heck no, I'm a rational man. I would be just as nervous in an Iowa facing a Bismarck as I might be in a Tiger facing a Sherman. On paper, it looks like it should be no contest, but you never know since the Sherman could get a lucky hit.

Still, in the end, there are some whose faith in the Bismarck appears to be centered around luck. But if all you need is luck in a naval battle, you wouldn't even need the Bismarck. Just arm your fleet with as many destroyers (Maas class?) as your enemy has (South Dakota) battleships (ceteris parabis) and let us know how you do!

While the Prince of Wales and its sisters have been criticized, it was the PoW whose three 14" shells made the Bismarck start to turn around for Brest.

German defensive capability was very good for short range engagements. But the same KGV and Rodney classes that you have cited as being so bad are the same ones that brought down the Bismarck. PoW, not even having done her preliminary cruises yet, and with only four of her guns in action put three 14" shells into the Bismarck. KGV and Rodney destroyed all offensive capability and rendered the Bismarck useless. How many hits did the battleship Bismarck get with her vaunted 15s in 41 minutes of combat? 0.

The Bismarck's data and control centers were above the (very thin) armored top deck, which is what led to her being rendered useless by KGV and Rodney. Didn't the Graf Spee kind of get in trouble for the same reason? If the German vessels hadn't been so tightly based on the Baden class, then they may have fixed these weaknesses.

Bismarck was good in short range level firing combat, but very weak in longer-range plunging fire defense or AA defense.

  1. Shell weight isn't "everything" is true.
  2. A 500 lb. bomb can sink a battleship is also true.
  3. The Iowa wouldn't be a guaranteed winner is also true.
  4. Luck can be a factor is also true.
  5. And also, implicitly, crew training, leadership and tactics are relevant factors is also true.

But most of these factors also favor the Iowa.

In one of my favorite discussion boards, one person's defence rested on using the South Dakota (vs. the modernized Kirishima) as a proxy for the Iowa. I don't feel that using a proxy is all too relevant, but for those who might insiste, then I would note the following. I did read that SoDak took 40 hits from 3 vessels (5", 8", and one (1) 14"). Most passed harmlessly through her, though her electrical systems were temporarily disabled and many of her sensors were damaged, but there was no damage up to that point that would have led to her getting sunk. The one 14" that hit her is credited with doing nothing significant and of barely being felt. This is hardly "once a ship starts taking hits from a gun as massive as a 14", 15" or 16" gun. ... damage WILL BE INCURRED and it WILL HURT". The very similar (if you're still using the idea of proxies) Washington then defeated the Japanese singlehandedly.

If you still insist on using a proxy, then let us use the Scharnhorst in place of the Bismarck. Scharnhorst was brutally decimated (without the factor of a lucky shot a la Hood) and then sunk by the Duke of York. It was no contest, and the Scharnhorst didn't score a single hit on the Duke of York. She was done in by better (useage of) radar, bigger guns, and more throw weight. Before you say that the Scharnhorst wasn't the same as the Bismarck, the Bismarck was as much an enlarged Scharnhorst as the Iowa was an enlarged South Dakota. In both cases, all of the armor thicknesses, etc., match almost exactly. And the spread in displacement is about the same between the two Germans as it is between the two Americans.

Also note that South Dakotas and Iowas repeatedly held off air attacks without significant damage. One of the South Dakota or Iowas held off 29 "modern" bombers/torpedo planes at once and in another attack did take a 500 lb. bomb. The number of deaths from the 500 pound bomb? 1 person killed.

While you may argue that the Swordfish hit on the Bismarck was luck, Bismarck, Scharnhorst, and Gniesenau were all disabled by underwater hits, the latter by mines. So I think that this is another example of weakness rather than just luck.

On another note, aside from the one lucky hit on the thin decked, un-modernized Hood (and there is one school of academics who say the earlier fires started by the Prinz Eugen doomed the Hood), the entire operational history of the Bismarck is credited with exactly six more hits from her 15" guns, all on the Prince of Wales. And none is credited with any significant damage. This is hardly "once a ship starts taking hits from a gun as massive as a 14", 15" or 16" gun. ... damage WILL BE INCURRED and it WILL HURT". The fact that s/he wasn't able to get a 15" hit while Rodney and others pounded her in the final battle attests to the fallability of "the Bismarck's excellent gun platform in calm or rough seas with it's extremely broad beam?"

What about the Bismarck (or Tirpitz)?

The Bismarck was my favorite as a child. But that was a subjective choice, not an objective one. Objectively, defense of the Bismarck cannot be sustained. Bismarck supporters will state things such as:

"It is CLEAR that the Bismarck (and all German capital ships) had very superb optic range finders, second to none, including the allies." Of course those superb optical range finders (and radar) were unable to spot the British cruisers just six and seven miles away respectively.

The like heavy armor belts, but don't realize that the Yamato and the Iowa had far thicker armor belts.

They like speed but don't realize that the Iowa had a significant advantage over the Bismarck.

They mention that the Iowa was designed to fit through the Panama Canal but forget to mention that the Bismarck was designed to fit through the Kiel Canal.

They like the one or two stats that are to the advantage of the Bismarck, but then neglect to mention that the Yamato is better in both of those stats.

They like the one or two stats that are to the advantage of the Bismarck, but then will say that "every stat you relly on thats printed on paper gets thrown out the window as soon as the first one ton shell smacks your admiral's bridge! "

They say that stats that show the Bismarck to be clearly inferior ships are "minor statistics (this ship has 1mm thicker armor, so clearly it's better)" though in fact the figures are 25 times greater than that and show margins of 5% to 400% difference.

They make statements such as "[the Iowas] were NOT designed to be end-all-be-all capital ship destroyers!" without ever being able to back them up.

They also forget that while the Bismarck was good at battleship versus battleship combat, as were the Iowas and the Yamatos, only the Bismarck was poor in AD - the only antidote to the most important killer of battleships. Perhaps they don't know that battleships were only involved in combat against each other three times during this greatest of all wars, and that Axis ships were on the receiving end all three times?

One cites that "the allied navy got thier rear ends whooped" by the Japanese at Guadalcanal, when, in fact, the Japanese were the ones who lost a battleship. Maybe he didn't mean the battleship versus battleship shootout at the Guadalcanal Coral and meant the overall results of the battle? No, that would be wrong too since the Japanese lost two battleships versus none for the US.

They mention facts, such as:

"The ship is FAR NARROWER then any other battleship in it's [sic] class and age." In fact, it isn't though it is narrower than the Yamato.

"Shooting down a single Catalina at extreme range above the clouds?" even though the Catalina came to within 500 yards.

Mention what a stable gun platform the Bismarck was, but never mentions that it had 41 full minutes of combat to land even a single hit on the KGV or the Rodney, but wasn't able to do so - because it wasn't stable enough.

"[the Alaska's are] bigger then the Scharnhorst class of Battlecruisers in displacement." The Scharnhorst class did displace more than the Alaska.

"A 50,000 ton monster, and the largest ever launched from a European dockyard..." The Vanguard was a tad larger.

Some would point to the South Dakota class as being a performance proxy for the Iowa. They forget that the South Dakota shot down 26 planes in one day alone and 64 aircraft total. Or that the Iowa was 25% bigger, had 50% again more horsepower, had adjusted side plates, weren't compromised by the Washinnton Treaty, had important modifications to the protection system including four longitudinal torpedo bulkheads, even more AA, more heavily armored decks, a larger deck area that meant less interference in firing arcs of AA and other weapons, etc.

The Iowas had something like 60-80 x 40 mm and 49-60 x 20 mm (the lesser numbers being for the flagship Iowa), which was more than the South Dakotas (24-32 x 40 mm and 30-56 x 20 mm) and more than the Bismarck (16 x 37 mm and 12 x 20 mm). No question that the Iowa was preceded by the South Dakota, but the Bismarck was preceded by the Scharnhorst, so I think that using one as a proxy for the other is equally unvalid. BTW, the more I think about it, the South Dakota looks like it was more impressive than the Bismarck, certainly when one looks at its accomplishments. :)

They also forget that the South Dakota class never took any significant damage in spite of being in combat for several years in a row (versus a few days for the Bismarck) and suffered a grand total of 38 deaths in her worst day. The total deaths on the four South Dakotas and four Iowas was probably under 100 in spite of significantly more operational and combat experience. The total deaths on just the Scharnhorst and the Bismarck was over four thousand. I don't even know what the figures were for the other two ships of those same two classes.

And if the SDs are proxies for the Iowa, then what about the Scharnhorsts being proxies for the Bismarcks. That doesn't bode well for the Bismarcks.

So the defenders of the Bismarck get their facts wrong (perhaps not intentionally), write off the relevant as irrelevant, make up statistics, argue by the seat of their pants, and stil they say that the Bismarck was the greatest battleship ever built.

Bismarck did have an excellent armor belt, one that was well suited to defend against short range direct fire common in WWI. But that kind of combat was rather obsolete during WWII, when most battleships were sunk from above, not in short-range direct fire.

Celebrants of the Bismarck class also raise an excellent point about relative armor percentages favoring the Bismarck, yet the Bismarck classes' the hull is only one-half the weight of the Iowas. And that overall, when one adds armor to the hull, the Iowa is 10% greater. So that implies that the Iowa class is still stronger. Then there is the way the armor was angled which also favors the Iowa. The Bismarck also didn't have the "all or nothing" armor scheme used by every other modern battleship built starting in the late 30s by the nations that had experience with sinking WWI hulks to learn and understand what would work the best. The armor deck was lower than in other contemporary vessels leaving ship's communication and data systems exposed - one of the reasons the Bismarck was ravaged so badly during her final 41 minute shoot-out where she neglected to get a hit.

In fact, there is little to indicate that its one success, sinking the 21 year old previous generation Hood was anything but a fluke since there was nothing approaching a repeat of that in spite of other opportunities. And even that hit is as questionable and subject to debate (much as the way the Bismarck sank) since many attribute the sinking of the Hood in part or fully to the Prinz Eugen.

Interestingly all four of the German battleships/battlecruisers were disabled from below in spite of their armor belts and three were disabled from above as well.

So the Bismarck's greatest asset appears to be that it was hard to sink in short range combat. And yet, it was relatively easy to disable and to put out of action.

I have quoted some other pro-Bismarck/anti-Iowa counter-points raised by my friends.

"the North Carolina was hit with one torpedo and was put out of action for months with a gigantic hole in its hull."

My sources say that you are correct. The much smaller Washington Treaty 35K ton North Carolina was put out of action for under three months. It also suffered a 5.5 degree list that was corrected in just six minutes.

"The Bismarck was hit with a few torpedos and was still moving around quite nicely except it couldn't steer."

Yes, but this led to its death. The North Carolina was hit by a torpedo and made it back.

"It is theoretically possible that a cruiser with 8" guns could put enough holes in an Iowa Class battleship to sink it"

The only knowledge I have of an American battleship being hit by 8" guns was the Kirishima and the Washington. Kirishima put 26 8" shells into the American ship, damaging the upper works, killing 38 Americans, but "her watertight integrity remained untouched".

"You could shoot the Bismarck (WWI design or not) all day long with 8" guns and you would never sink it."

Yes, but you reduce it to a floating hulk pretty easily, as happened. In her final battle, she absorbed an impressive number of hits, but never delivered a single one herself. In 41 minutes of combat, the Bismarck was unable to land a SINGLE hit against two "inferior" ships.

"the most impressive, beautiful and powerful battleship in the history of mankind was so shamefully put to an end"

The Bismarck was impressive, beautiful and powerful. But IMHO not the most in any of these categories. My nominations:

  1. Impressive: Yamato
  2. Beautiful: Richelieu, Littorio
  3. Powerful: Yamato, Iowa, South Dakota

"Say the Bismarck was constructed and operated by England or the USA, and the Iowa was built and operated by Germany... now which ship do you say survives the war?!?!?"

Moot point, but I agree with you. The results would have seen the German ship at the bottom of the ocean. Nonetheless, the Iowa was still a better ship all-around. But here is my version of what would happen if that switch were to have happened:

  1. Range: twice that of the Yamato at 12,000 miles @ 18 knots
  2. Refuel: could refuel and did refuel other ships
  3. Speed: 2-3 knots faster than any potential rival
  4. Firepower: Throw-weight per minute exceeded any other battleship ever built - almost double that of the Bismarck
  5. AA:
  6. Longetivity: Perhaps the oldest weapons systems still in use, after almost 60 years.
  7. Rudders: Two, to prevent the lucky rudder hit that sealed the fate of several other ships, including the Bismarck.
  8. Ship: Iowa Bismarck
  9. Gun range: 42345 38880
  10. Shell Weight: 2700 1764
  11. Guns: 9 8
  12. Size: 16" 15"
  13. Steam range: 12000 at 18 knots vs. 9280 at 16 knots

For the Bismarck to sink was a Phyrrhic victory without the victory part.

How would the Bismarck have fared were it in American hands and with the Iowa in German hands is an excellent hypothetical question. The best way to examine this might be by swapping the Iowa for the Bismarck during the drama that was the maiden and final voyage of the Bismarck or just by comparing the two and how the two ships would have come out of key events.


1. Bismarck misses three opportunities to top off for fuel.
1. Iowa doesn't need to top off fuel, and can actually top off other ships.


2. Suffolk spots Bismarck at seven miles. Reports location.
2. Iowa spots Suffolk at 24 miles and either evades it or blows it out of the water.**
3. Norfolk spots Bismarck at six miles about an hour and a half later.
3. Iowa spots Norfolk at 24 miles and either evades it or blows it out of the water.**


4. Bismarck fires on Hood starting at 14 miles. Bismarck or Prinz Eugen scores a critical hit. Hood sinks.
4. Iowa fires on Hood starting at 18 miles. Iowa or Prinz Eugen scores a critical hit. Hood sinks.
5. 3 x 14" rounds from the Prince of Wales. One goes right through Bismarck. Bismarck has to slow enough to help seal her fate.
5. 3 x 14" rounds from the Prince of Wales. All or nothing armor belt probably minimizes hit on Iowa. But let's say it doesn't. With a two knot advantage over the Bismarck, Iowa doesn't have to slow down as much.
6. Bismarck forced to head to Brest because of small sailing range.
6. Iowa has many options because of its 50% greater sailing range.
7. Nine WWI style Swordfish biplanes score minor hit on Bismarck.
7. Nine WWI style Swordfish biplanes shot down by massed AA from most heavily defended battleship in the world.


8. Bismarck doesn't realize it has broken free of British radar tracking.
8. Iowa realizes it has broken free of British radar tracking.


9. Bismarck, low on fuel, slows to 20 knots, falling closer and closer to her hunters.
9. Iowa, not hampered by low fuel and with a higher speed sails at 30-33 knots, outrunning her hunters.
10. Catalina spots Bismarck. Bismarck's location reported.
10. Catalina may spot Iowa, but Iowa shoots it out of the sky. Still, Iowa gets reported.
11. Fifteen Swordfish attack Bismarck, hit rudder and cripple ability to steer.
11. Fifteen Swordfish attack Iowa and get shot down by massed AA from most heavily defended battleship in the world. Even if they do get a hit on the rudder, Iowa is designed to steer independently on either rudder since they are not lined up along the same line as the Bismarck's are. And American damage control parties and methods are the best in the world.


12. The really slow Rodney catches up with and fires on the Bismarck. Rodney damages self.
12. The really slow Rodney falls further and further behind the Iowa. Rodney damages self.
13. The KGV catches up and fires on the Bismarck.
13. The KGV falls further and further behind the Iowa.
14. KGV and Rodney attack Bismarck for 41 minutes. Bismarck doesn't score a single hit. Bismarck sinks.
14. Assuming they still meet, Iowa outranges both KGV and Rodney, strikes first, and gets damage in first getting its punches in faster, further and harder than the Bismarck ever could. And with more and better armor, it could also absorb any possible hits better than the Bismarck as well.

So in a terrific example of the (f)utility of an all-around battleship, it appears that the Iowa would have survived any number of problems that plagued the Bismarck.

Just for fun, let's examine the career of the Iowa if it were to have been through what the Tirpitz went through: 9/22/43
1. British X-craft used to damage Tirpitz
1. British X-craft used to damage Iowa


2. Tallboys delivered by 36 Lancasters used to sink Tirpitz plunging through 1.2 - 4.7 inch thick armor decks.
2. Iowa, with more and better AA than Bismarck, Tirpitz, Scharnhorst and Gniesenau combined, turns away 36 Lancasters. 12 inches (yes, 12 inches!) of armored decks would also help defend any bombs would destroy any other ship.

**I don't know the exact range of American radar at this time, but it was better than that of any of its counterparts.

Which is the best battleship? The Iowa. The only rebuttal to all of the "Iowa camp" points appears to be the South Dakota and luck. Am I missing anything?

Ultimately, debating "The Iowa versus the Bismarck: Which was better?" has me landing on the side of the Iowa. The Iowa was faster, had longer steaming range, more horsepower, more firepower, more guns, bigger shells, more belt armor, more deck armor, thicker barbettes, better radar, more recent design, better AA, more AA, and was pretty much better than the Bismarck in every way by huge margins of up to 200%.

The Mighty Yamato

December 11, 2002

Why not mention the Yamato more in the above topic? The Yamato was a fine ship. It was beautiful and graceful, with an elegance of line that belied the massive top-heaviness visually inherent in the design. Its 9 x 18.1" guns were the ultimate weapons of any battleship. Its 29,000 pound single volley throw-weight was almost exactly double that of the Bismarck, giving a sense of scale of how much greater the Japanese super-ship was compared to its German counterpart. I would give someone else's right arm to have seen it with my own eyes. Like the Bismarck, I have been fascinated by it in my younger days. And maybe it was the best battleship in the world. Its statistics are certainly very impressive, and I don't know of any battleship that could easily have defeated it, or perhaps defeated it at all, in a duel.

Nonetheless, the idea of battleship versus battleship combat is almost moot since the primrary cause of death or damage to battleships was from the air. After that, it might have been from beneath the sea. Few ships were sunk or shot up in battleship versus battleship (or battlecruiser) combats. And in most of those cases the "inferior" Allied vessels won.

So the bugaboo of battleships was not other battleships: it was the aircraft. And though Yamato was heavily defended, it was not defended as well as comparable American battleships, and, indeed, both of the Yamatos were sunk from the air. A third Yamato, the Shinano, converted into an aircraft carrier during construction, was sunk from below by a submarine.

While the Shinano was sunk from below, I should add that it was sunk while still incomplete, without water tight doors or pumping equipment installed, and sailed on at high-speed for seven more hours before sinking. Incredible. In this sense, all of the Yamatos were incredible.

I also think that in the early part of the war, a night-fight would have belonged to the Japanese, with their superior optics and excellent training.

I am a big believer in force multipliers. French tanks, so great on paper, were often terrible in real life because they were hampered by things like one-man turrets, low fuel capacity and a lack of radios. Why not build one less tank if it means being able to afford radios for 50 of them? These would make the 50 far superior as a fighting force than 51 tanks without radios. Similarly, the Yamato, with better radar might have been a great contender, but then again, going back to strategic considerations, such as insufficient air cover, it doesn't look like the fate of the Yamato would have been changed even with better radar or other force multipliers. But those force multipliers would have made the Yamato rank higher, and perhaps rank highest, in my quest to find the greatest all-around battleship of all time.

I think that of all of the enemy ships that would have been the most threat to an Iowa class, it would have been the Yamatos. In spite of the most advanced armor system in the world, the Yamato's armor was significantly thicker than any other battleship ever built - upto 25 inches in places, such as along the turrets. I am not knowledgable enough to ascertain whether or not the quality of the Iowa's armor was sufficient to offset the advantage in thickness the Yamato had.

So I visualize the Iowa versus Yamato as something of a Cassius Clay versus Mohammed Ali fight: speed and power versus armor and power. The biggest advantage the Iowa would have had would in a one on one fight would be in being able to choose to fight or retreat and the ability to fire faster and from further out and with more precision.

I see the Iowa winning only by disabling the Yamato's C3I stuff the way the Bismarck was disabled. But like the Bismarck, I see the Yamato as being extremely hard to sink by another battleship. But I'm not sure either way.

At close range, it would have been tragically fascinating to see these two leviathans pound it out. I see both sides taking huge losses.

Yamato's guns could also do incredible damage to the Iowa's upper works easily disabling it as well.

The Montana vs. Yamato would be interesting, but then we have to get the other hypothetical ships involved, such as the French, Russian, German, and, of course, Japanese ships involved too.

More Thoughts

It would be interesting to do some full regression analysis and see what factors contribute the most to battleships surviving in real combat and being effective in being all-around vessels. It almost seems like firepower is not all that important compared to AD.

Bismarck13 and Hellcat and others have raised some excellent points. Indeed, I agree that the Bismarck (class) was a great ship. It was subjectively my favorite battleship for my entire childhood. But better than the Iowa (class) (or the Yamato or the Vanguard)? No. The greatest battleship in a one on one fight? No. The greatest battleship overall. No.

Please read Robert Veenenberg Battleship Comparison right here.



  1. http://pub131.ezboard.com/fjpspanzersfrm19.showMessage?topicID=552.topic
  2. "Illustrated Guide to Battleships and Battlecruisers", John Jordan
  3. "Clash of Titans", Walter J. Boyne
  4. "Fleets of World War II", Richard Worth
  5. "Warships", David Miller
  6. "Jane's Fighting Ships of World War II"
  7. "Atlas of World War II", Richard Natkiel
  8. "Navy & Empire", James Stokesbury
  9. "The United States Navy", Edward L. Beach

A Comparison of Naval Firepower

February 8, 2002

Narayan Sengupta

Just for fun, here is a table that I have compiled from various sources, but primarily (98%) from the excellent "Fleets of World War II" by Richard Worth. If you haven't read it and you are a WWII naval buff, then I very highly recommend it - it is the most interesting book I have ever read on the subject. It is far better than any of the Jane's guides that I have seen. Richard Worth's book is relatively new. I just bought it two weeks ago at my local Barnes & Nobles.

I have sorted the ships by the Shell Weight per Minute. If you thought that the Bismarck was going to be on the top (or rather at the bottom) of this list, then guess again. The winner is.... the Montana. Okay, the Montana was never built. The winner of the ships that were... Well, you'll just have to look and see for yourself.

I have calculated Naval Attack values based on 1 minute throw weight of each vessel's primary battery.

e.g. Iowa has 9 (16") guns x 2700 lbs x 2/minute (30 second average fire cycle)=48600 lbs per minute (SWPM). Its naval attack is 21. This ship had the best ammunition and fire control and radar of any battleship, but is rated well below the Bismarck and equal to the Scharnhorst with only 44% of the SWPM. This recalibration will reduce the very evident bias in favor of the German units, decrease naval attack strengths in general, thus drawing out naval battles. I am adjusting on a slightly imperfect linear scale for playability. Otherwise the Iowa would have a naval attack of 40 and the Maas 2. The smaller ships could be squadrons instead of individual ships, which would make their values more meaningful.

I then added 3 to the NA values of each DD with torpedoes (mainly because they were coming out with NAs of 1 or 2).

I have also included quite a few projected classes of ships. We all know about the H class vessels that Germany had planned for Hitler's Z Plan. But there is only one nation that ever came close to a Z Plan, and that was the US. Still, just about every nation had projected bigger and better battleships. So you'll see that I have included from Germany two of the H class ships (there were four different ones) and the O class, the Alsace from France (Richelieu plus another four 15" guns), the Japanese 797 class and the monstrous Soviet Sovietsky Soyuz.

My main goal here is to give credence to the fact that German ships are overrated. Granted, the tabular values below may be incorrect (as may Richard Worths' numbers or his sources), radar and night optics or crew training or ammunition quality or crew training and many other factors are not taken into consideration. But even some of those favor the non-German crews.

My personal favorite battleships, the French Richelieus, came up rather suspect regarding their firepower based on the numbers below. In fact, the King George V class, with its smaller guns and much smaller shell weight ends up with a greater SWPM because of its much better Fire Cycle.

the bottom line result is that the Repulse (Renown Class, I think) should be rated at 16 versus 23 for the Bismarck. What's surprising is that the KGV comes out (high) as a 21, which I wouldn't have guessed. The Hood comes out low at 20. The Richelieu comes out really low at 19 (yikes!). Iowa is a 32, and Yamato is only marginally better with her full fire-power from guns that are a full 2" wider on rated a 33.

  • Guns=Number of guns in the primary battery
  • Shell Weight=Shell weight in pounds
  • Fire Cycle=Firing cycle in seconds
  • Shell Weight per minute=(Guns*Shell Weight*60)/Fire Cycle
  • Surface Vessel Firepower Comparison
    ClassNbr. of GunsShell WeightFire CycleShell Weight/Min.
    Navigatorri 6 52 10 0
    Ataksuki 6 51 6 0
    Storozhevoi 4 81 10 234
    Maas 5 62 5 3720
    Condottieri 8 105 12 4200
    Kuma 7 84 8 4410
    Fletcher 5 55 3 5500
    Nurnberg 9 100 8 7200
    Krasny Krim 15 81 10 7290
    Zara 8 276 16 8280
    La Gallissoniere 9 119 8 8568
    Porter 8 55 3 8800
    Suffren 8 295 14 10489
    Hipper 8 269 12 10760
    County 8 256 11 11171
    Takao 10 250 13 11538
    Kirov 9 215 10 11610
    Brooklyn 15 130 7 16714
    Tribal 8 59 5 16970
    Marat 12 1038 40 18684
    Dunkerque 8 1235 31 19123
    Le Fantasque 5 90 5 21879
    Scharnhorst 9 728 17 23125
    Renown 6 1938 30 23256
    Renown 6 1938 30 23256
    Littorio 9 1951 45 23412
    O 6 1764 25 25402
    Richelieu 8 1949 32 29235
    Richelieu '44 8 1949 32 29235
    Nelson 9 2048 38 29491
    Hood 8 1920 30 30720
    Vanguard 8 1938 30 31008
    KG V 10 1590 30 31800
    KG V '45 10 1590 30 31800
    Bismarck 8 1764 25 33869
    H39 Battleship 8 2271 31 35164
    Lion 9 2375 30 42750
    Alsace 12 1949 32 43852
    797 Battleship 6 4400 35 45257
    H44 Battleship 8 4400 45 46933
    South Dakota 9 2700 30 48600
    Iowa 9 2700 30 48600
    Yamato 9 3219 35 49665
    Yamato '43 9 3219 35 49665
    Sovietsky Soyuz 9 2443 25 52769
    Montana Battleship 12 2700 30 64800



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