Ah, battleships: is there anything more majestic than a set of sixteen-inch guns rising up in the air, ready to ejaculate a set of armor-piercing shells deep into whatever target happens to be nearby? There’s also speed, armor, maneuverability, and fire control, but we all know it really just comes down to the big guns. From 1880 to 1941 they were the most powerful ships to sail the waves and the pride of every navy.
They sparked an arms race which heavily contributed to the outbreak of World War I. Then in just a few years they vanished, replaced by aircraft carriers and submarines. Follow Duffel Blog as we take a look back on the history of the battleship.
Duffel Blog writer Dark Laughter contributed to this article.
USS Maine (1898)
The USS Maine was America’s second commissioned battleship. Ordered in 1886, launched in 1890 and commissioned in 1895, she was both over budget and obsolete by the time she entered service, setting a precedent for every Navy project since.
In 1898 she made her decisive contribution to victory in the Spanish-American War by exploding at anchor in Havana.
Battle of Tsushima (1905)
When war broke out between Japan and Russia in 1904, the Russian Baltic Fleet sailed halfway around the world, more than 18,000 nautical miles to link up with the Russian Pacific Fleet.
Defying all the odds, and with no friendly ports en route, the fleet successfully made the journey to the Pacific in seven months without losing a single ship. Then it was promptly sunk by the Japanese in an afternoon.
Battleship Potemkin (1905)
Although she saw minimal action, the Russian battleship Potemkin is famous for both the unsuccessful 1905 mutiny which partially contributed to the Russian Revolution and its portrayal in the 1925 silent film “The Battleship Potemkin” by Sergei Eisenstein… none of which you’ve heard of.
HMS Invincible (1916)
The early 20th century saw the development of the “battlecruiser,” which had the armament of a battleship but not its protection. Relying solely on speed, it was basically the equivalent of walking up to Tito Ortiz while thinking: “What if I just hit him as hard as I can and then run?”
Here’s one of them, HMS Invincible, not living up to her name during the Battle of Jutland. She exploded and sank in just ninety seconds, with the loss of all but six of her crew, including Rear Admiral Horace Hood.
HMS Hood (1941)
How’s this for irony? Here’s the battlecruiser named for Admiral Hood keeping up the tradition. Still can’t tell the difference between a battlecruiser and a battleship?
Neither could the Royal Navy, which deployed her against the battleship Bismarck in 1941, where she promptly exploded and sank in just three minutes with only three survivors.
Battleship Bismarck (1941)
In case the previous picture gave you the impression that battleships were actually effective, here’s a depiction of the Bismarck sinking in flames about a week after sinking the Hood.
She was described as a “Nazi Super-Battleship” by executives at the History Channel and World War II-era comic book writers. She is now thought to have been scuttled by her own crew, because… fuck your canoe!
HMS Barham (1941)
Here’s HMS Barham, a Queen Elizabeth-class “super dreadnought”, once described by Jane’s Fighting Ships as “the most successful type of capital ship yet designed.” Today she is best known for the footage of her destruction after being torpedoed by a German submarine in November 1941, shown above in Movietone News, and shown below in the 1989 music video for the Red Hot Chili Peppers cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground”.
Pearl Harbor (1941)
After the Japanese sank or damaged eight U.S. battleships at Pearl Harbor in December 1941, the Navy took up the rallying cry of “Remember Pearl Harbor.”
Like the USS Maine, this event reinforced the relevance of the battleship’s role in galvanizing the American public for war by blowing up at anchor.
Battleship Yamato (1945)
Built in complete secrecy, armed with nine 18-inch guns, and displacing over 70,000 tons when fully loaded, the Japanese Yamato-class battleships were the largest battleships ever built.
Although beloved by both anime fans and military historians with small genitalia, neither ever sank another warship and both were destroyed by aircraft.
Did we mention how big they were?
Operation Crossroads (1946)
After World War II the U.S. Navy found a new use for its battleships by using them as targets in atomic testing to see how they would blow up at anchor in World War III.
Simultaneously their guns were sent into action at Hawthorne, Nevada as millions of disposable razor blades.
In the late Sixties, Milton Bradley created the game Battleship, which introduced the catch phrase “You sank my battleship” to the general public.
It is still the shortest and most accurate history of the battleship to date.
Kirov-Class Battlecruiser (1974)
The battleship enjoyed a brief renaissance starting in the mid-70s with the construction of the Soviet Kirov-class battlecruisers, which upgraded their propulsion with nuclear engineering.
Here’s one of them today, the Admiral Lazarev, rusting away at a pier.
USS New Jersey (1984)
In the early 1980s, the Navy reactivated all four of its Iowa-class battleships, first to support NATO and later to support Tom Clancy novels and Steven Seagal movies.
Here the USS New Jersey supports the Navy’s surface warfare budget by firing on the Lebanese coast in 1984.
USS Iowa (1989)
After an explosion in the USS Iowa‘s number two turret in April 1989 killed 47 sailors, the Navy had a choice between admitting the accident was caused by over-ramming a set of outdated highly-volatile powder bags or blaming everything on a supposedly suicidal-homosexual sailor.
Guess which one they went with?
In 2012, Universal Pictures released the film Battleship, which argued that battleships would regain their relevance in the event of an alien invasion. At least that’s what we think it said. All we remember is that the guy from True Blood dies pointlessly and gets the Navy Cross while the guy who saves the planet only gets the Silver Star.
It was nominated for seven Golden Raspberries and currently has a 34% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.