AskDefine | Define battleship

Dictionary Definition

battleship n : large and heavily armoured warship [syn: battlewagon]

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. Large capital warship displacing tens of thousands of tons, heavily armoured and armed with big guns. Battleships are now obsolescent, replaced by smaller vessels with guided missiles.
  2. Non-functional rocket stage, used for configuration and integration tests.


  • Finnish: taistelulaiva
  • German: Schlachtschiff
  • Hungarian: csatahajó
  • Japanese: 戦艦
  • Russian: линейный корабль, линкор
  • Spanish: acorazado
non-functional rocket stage

Extensive Definition

A battleship is a large, heavily armored warship with a main battery consisting of the largest calibre of guns. Battleships are larger, better armed, and better armored than cruisers and destroyers.
Battleship design continually evolved to incorporate and adapt technological advances to maintain an edge. The word battleship was coined around 1794 and is a shortened form of line-of-battle ship, the dominant wooden warship during the Age of Sail. The term came into formal use in the late 1880s to describe a type of ironclad warship, now referred to as pre-dreadnought battleships. In 1906 the launching of HMS Dreadnought heralded a revolution in battleship design, and battleships constructed subsequently were referred to as dreadnoughts.
Battleships were a potent symbol of naval dominance and national might, and for decades the battleship was a major factor in both diplomacy and military strategy. The global arms race in battleship construction in the early 20th century was one of the causes of World War I, which saw a clash of huge battle fleets at the Battle of Jutland. The Naval Treaties of the 1920s and 1930s limited the number of battleships but did not end the evolution of design. Both the Allies and the Axis Powers deployed battleships of old construction and new during World War II.
Nevertheless, some historians and naval theorists question the value of the dreadnought. Apart from Jutland, there were few great dreadnought clashes. Despite their great firepower and protection, dreadnoughts remained vulnerable to much smaller, cheaper ordnance and craft: initially the torpedo and the naval mine, and later aircraft and the guided missile. The growing range of engagement led to the battleship's replacement as the leading type of warship by the aircraft carrier during World War II; battleships were retained by the United States Navy into the Cold War only for fire support purposes. These last battleships were removed from the U.S. Naval Vessel Register in March 2006.

The ship of the line

A ship of the line was a large, unarmoured wooden sailing ship on which was mounted a battery of up to 120 smoothbore guns and carronades. The ship of the line was a gradual evolution of a basic design that dates back to the 1400s, and, apart from growing in size, it changed little between the adoption of line of battle tactics in the early 17th century and the end of the sailing battleship's heyday in the 1830s. From 1794, the alternative term 'line of battle ship' was contracted (informally at first) to 'battle ship' or 'battleship'. — the first true steam battleship. Napoleon was armed as a conventional ship-of-the-line, but her steam engines could give her a speed of , regardless of the wind conditions: a potentially decisive advantage in a naval engagement. The introduction of steam accelerated the growth in size of battleships. France and the United Kingdom were the only two countries to develop fleets of wooden steam screw battleships, although several other navies made some use of a mixture of screw battleships and paddle-steamer frigates. These included Russia, Turkey, Sweden, Naples, Prussia, Denmark and Austria. By contrast, guns which fired explosive or incendiary shells were a major threat to wooden ships, and these weapons became widespread in the 1840s. In the Crimean War, the Russian Black Sea Fleet destroyed a flotilla of wooden Turkish ships with explosive shells at the Battle of Sinop in 1853. Later in the war, French ironclad floating batteries used similar weapons against the defenses at the Battle of Kinburn.

Iron armor and construction

The development of high-explosive shells made the use of iron armor plate on warships necessary. In 1859 France launched La Gloire, the first ocean-going ironclad warship. She had the profile of a ship of the line, cut to one deck due to weight considerations. Although made of wood and reliant on sail for most of her journeys, La Gloire was fitted with a propeller, and her wooden hull was protected by a layer of thick iron armor. Gloire prompted further innovation from the Royal Navy, anxious to prevent France from gaining a technological lead.
The superior armored frigate Warrior followed La Gloire by only fourteen months, and both nations embarked on a program of building new ironclads and converting existing screw ships of the line to armored frigates. Within two years, Italy, Austria, Spain and Russia had all ordered ironclad warships, and by the time of the famous clash of the USS Monitor and the CSS Virginia at the Battle of Hampton Roads at least eight navies possessed ironclad ships.]]
Navies experimented with the positioning of guns, in turrets (like the USS Monitor), central-batteries or barbettes, or with the ram as the principal weapon. As steam technology developed, masts were gradually removed from battleship designs. By the mid-1870s steel was used as a construction material alongside iron and wood. The French Navy's Redoutable, laid down in 1873 and launched in 1876, was a central battery and barbette warship which became the first battleship in the world to use steel as the principal building material.

The pre-dreadnought battleship

By the 1890s, there was an increasing similarity between battleship designs, and the type now known as the 'pre-dreadnought battleship' emerged. These were heavily armored ships, mounting a mixed battery of guns in turrets, and without sails. The typical first-class battleship of the pre-dreadnought era displaced 15,000 to 17,000 tons, had a speed of , and an armament of four guns in two turrets fore and aft with a mixed-caliber secondary battery amidships around the superstructure. However, it was not until the 1890s that the widespread adoption of steel construction and hardened steel armor meant that a turret-ship could combine heavy armament and protection with high speed and good seakeeping.
The slow-firing main guns were the principal weapons for battleship-to-battleship combat. The intermediate and secondary batteries had two roles. Against major ships, it was thought a 'hail of fire' from quick-firing secondary weapons could distract enemy gun crews by inflicting damage to the superstructure, and they would be more effective against smaller ships such as cruisers. Smaller guns (12-pounders and smaller) were reserved for protecting the battleship against the threat of torpedo attack from destroyers and torpedo boats.
The beginning of the pre-dreadnought era coincided with an attempt by Britain to re-assert her naval dominance. For many years previously, Britain had taken naval supremacy for granted. Expensive naval projects were criticised by political leaders of all inclinations. Turkey, Spain, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, Chile and Brazil all had second-rate fleets led by armored cruisers, coastal defence ships or monitors.
Pre-dreadnoughts continued the technical innovations of the ironclad. Turrets, armor plate, and steam engines were all improved over the years, and torpedo tubes were introduced. A small number of designs, including the American Kearsarge and Virginia classes, experimented with all or part of the 8-inch intermediate battery superimposed over the 12-inch primary. Results were poor: recoil factors and blast effects resulted in the 8-inch battery being completely unusable, and the inability to train the primary and intermediate armaments on different targets led to significant tactical limitations. Even though such innovative designs saved weight (a key reason for their inception), they proved too cumbersome in practice.

The Dreadnought era

In 1906, the revolutionary HMS Dreadnought, created as a result of pressure from Admiral John A. Fisher, made existing battleships obsolete. Combining an 'all-big-gun' armament of ten 12-inch (305mm) rifles with unprecedented speed and protection, she prompted navies worldwide to re-evaluate their battleship building programmes. While the Japanese had laid down an all-big-gun battleship (Satsuma) in 1904, and the concept of an all-big-gun ship had been in circulation for several years, it had yet to be validated in combat. Dreadnought sparked a new arms race, principally between Britain and Germany but reflected worldwide, as the new class of warships became a crucial element of national power.
Technical development continued rapidly through the dreadnought era, with step changes in armament, armor and propulsion. Ten years after Dreadnoughts commissioning, much more powerful ships, the super-dreadnoughts, were being built.

The origin of Dreadnought

In the first years of the 20th century, several navies worldwide experimented with the idea of a new type of battleship with a uniform armament of very heavy guns.
General Vittorio Cuniberti, the Italian Navy's chief naval architect, articulated the concept of an all-big-gun battleship in 1903. When the Regia Marina did not pursue his ideas, Cuniberti wrote an article in Jane's proposing an "ideal" future British battleship, a large armored warship of 17,000 tons, armed solely with a single caliber main battery (twelve 12-inch guns), carrying belt armor, and capable of 24 knots (44 km/h).
The Russo-Japanese War provided operational experience to validate the 'all-big-gun' concept. At the Yellow Sea and Tsushima, pre-dreadnoughts exchanged volleys at ranges of 7,600–12,000 yd (7 to 11 km), beyond the range of the secondary batteries. It is often held that these engagements demonstrated the importance of the gun over its smaller counterparts, though some historians take the view secondary batteries were just as important as the larger weapons. Satsuma also retained triple-expansion engines, though her sister ship Aki, completed in 1911, used turbines.
As early as 1904, First Sea Lord Sir John A. "Jackie" Fisher had been convinced of the need for fast, powerful ships with an all-big-gun armament. If Tsushima influenced his thinking, it was to persuade him of the need to standardise on 12 inch guns.
It was to prove this revolutionary technology that Dreadnought was designed in January 1905, laid down in October 1905 and sped to completion by 1906. She carried ten 12 inch guns, had an 11-inch armour belt, and was the first large ship powered by turbines. She mounted her guns in five turrets; three on the centerline (one forward, two aft) and two on the wings, giving her at her launch twice the broadside of anything else afloat. She retained a number of 12-pound (3-inch, 76 mm) quick-firing guns for use against destroyers and torpedo-boats. Her armor was heavy enough for her to go head-to-head with any other ship afloat in a gun battle, and conceivably win.
Dreadnought was to have been followed by three Invincible-class battlecruisers, their construction delayed to allow lessons from Dreadnought to be used in their design. While Fisher may have intended Dreadnought to be the last Royal Navy battleship, In 1906, the Royal Navy owned the field with Dreadnought. The new class of ship prompted an arms race with major strategic consequences. Major naval powers raced to build their own dreadnoughts to catch up with the United Kingdom. Possession of modern battleships was not only vital to naval power, but also, as with nuclear weapons today, represented a nation's standing in the world.

World War I

The First World War was an anticlimax for the great dreadnought fleets. There was no decisive clash of modern battlefleets to compare with the Battle of Tsushima. The role of battleships was marginal to the great land struggle in France and Russia; and it was equally marginal to the First Battle of the Atlantic, the battle between German submarines and British merchant shipping.
By virtue of geography, the Royal Navy could keep the German High Seas Fleet bottled up in the North Sea with relative ease. Both sides were aware that, because of the greater number of British dreadnoughts, a full fleet engagement would likely result in a British victory. The German strategy was therefore to try to provoke an engagement on their terms: either to induce a part of the Grand Fleet to enter battle alone, or to fight a pitched battle near the German coastline, where friendly minefields, torpedo-boats and submarines could be used to even the odds. The first two years of war saw conflict in the North Sea limited to skirmishes by battlecruisers at the Battle of Heligoland Bight and Battle of Dogger Bank and raids on the English coast. In the summer of 1916, a further attempt to draw British ships into battle on German terms resulted in a clash of the battlefleets in the Battle of Jutland: an indecisive engagement.
In the other naval theatres there were no decisive pitched battles. In the Black Sea, engagement between Russian and Turkish battleships was restricted to skirmishes. In the Baltic, action was largely limited to the raiding of convoys, and the laying of defensive minefields; the only significant clash of battleship squadrons there was the Battle of Moon Sound at which one Russian pre-dreadnought was lost. The Adriatic was in a sense the mirror of the North Sea: the Austro-Hungarian dreadnought fleet remained bottled up by the British and French blockade. And in the Mediterranean, the most important use of battleships was in support of the amphibious assault on Gallipoli.
The course of the war also illustrated the vulnerability of battleships to cheaper weapons. In September 1914, the potential threat posed to capital ships by German U-boats was confirmed by successful attacks on British cruisers, including the sinking of three British armoured cruisers by the German submarine U-9 in less than an hour. Sea mines proved a threat the next month, when the recently commissioned British super-dreadnought Audacious struck a mine. By the end of October, the British had changed their strategy and tactics in the North Sea to reduce the risk of U-boat attack. While Jutland was the second and last major battleship engagement in history(the first being Tsushima), the German plan for the battle relied on U-boat attacks on the British fleet. ; and the escape of the German fleet from the superior British firepower was effected by the German cruisers and destroyers closing on British battleships, causing them to turn away to avoid the threat of torpedo attack. Further near-misses from submarine attacks on battleships and casualties amongst cruisers led to growing paranoia in the Royal Navy about the vulnerability of battleships. By October 1916, the Royal Navy had essentially abandoned the North Sea, instructing the Grand Fleet not to go south of the Farne Islands unless adequately protected by destroyers.
The German High Seas Fleet, for their part, were determined not to engage the British without the assistance of submarines; and since the submarines were needed more for raiding commercial traffic, the fleet stayed in port for the remainder of the war. Other theatres equally showed the role of small craft in damaging or destroying dreadnoughts. The two Austrian dreadnoughts lost in 1918 were the casualties of torpedo boats and of frogmen. The Allied capital ships lost in Gallipoli were sunk by mines and torpedo, while a Turkish pre-dreadnought was caught in the Dardanelles by a British submarine.

The inter-war period

As early as 1914, the British Admiral Percy Scott predicted that battleships would soon be made irrelevant by aeroplanes. By the end of World War I, aeroplanes had successfully adopted the torpedo as a weapon. A proposed attack on the German fleet at anchor in 1918 using the Sopwith Cuckoo carrier-borne torpedo-bomber was considered and rejected—but it was not long before such a technique was adopted.
In the 1920s, General Billy Mitchell of the United States Army Air Corps, believing that air forces had rendered navies around the world obsolete, testified in front of Congress that "1,000 bombardment airplanes can be built and operated for about the price of one battleship" and that a squadron of these bombers could sink a battleship, making for more efficient use of government funds. This infuriated the U.S. Navy, but Mitchell was nevertheless allowed to conduct a careful series of bombing tests alongside Navy and Marine bombers. In 1921, he bombed and sank numerous ships, including the "unsinkable" German World War I battleship Ostfriesland and the American pre-dreadnought Alabama.
Although Mitchell had required "war-time conditions", the ships sunk were obsolete, stationary, defenseless and had no damage control. The sinking of Ostfriesland was accomplished by violating an agreement that would have allowed Navy engineers to examine the effects of various munitions: Mitchell's airmen disregarded the rules, and sank the ship within minutes in a coordinated attack. The stunt made headlines, and Mitchell declared, "No surface vessels can exist wherever air forces acting from land bases are able to attack them." While far from conclusive, Mitchell's test was significant because it put proponents of the battleship against naval aviation on the back foot.


The Royal Navy, United States Navy, and Imperial Japanese Navy extensively upgraded and modernized their WWI-era battleships during the 1930s. Among new features were tower height and stability such that optical rangefinder equipment for gunnery control could be used, deck plating was increased especially around turrets against plunging fire and aerial bombing, anti-aircraft weapons added. Some British ships received a large block superstructure nicknamed the "Queen Anne's castle", such as in the Queen Elizabeth and Warspite, which would be used in the new conning towers of the King George V fast battleships. External bulges were added to improve both buoyancy to counteract weight increase and provide underwater protection against mines and torpedoes. The Japanese rebuilt all of their battleships, plus their battlecruisers, with distinctive "pagoda" structures, though the Hiei received a more modern bridge tower that would influence the new Yamato battleships. Bulges were fitted, including steel tube array to improve both underwater and vertical protection along waterline. The U.S. experimented with tripod and later caged masts, though after Pearl Harbor some of the most severely damaged ships such as West Virginia and California were rebuilt to a similar appearance to their fast battleship contemporaries. Radar, which was effective beyond visual contact and was effective in complete darkness or adverse weather conditions, was introduced to supplement optical fire control.
Even when war threatened again in the late 1930s, battleship construction did not regain the level of importance which it had held in the years before World War I. The "building holiday" imposed by the naval treaties meant that the building capacity of dockyards worldwide was relatively reduced, and the strategic position had changed. The development of the strategic bomber meant that the navy was no longer the only method of projecting power overseas, and the development of the aircraft carrier meant that battleships had a rival for the resources available for capital ship construction. In Germany, the ambitious Plan Z for naval rearmament was abandoned in favour of a strategy of submarine warfare supplemented by the use of battlecruisers and Bismarck-class battleships as commerce raiders. In Britain, the most pressing need was for air defenses and convoy escorts to safeguard the civilian population from bombing or starvation, and re-armament construction plans consisted of five ships of the King George V class. It was in the Mediterranean that navies remained most committed to battleship warfare. France intended to build six battleships of the Dunkerque and Richelieu classes, and the Italians two powerful Littorio-class ships. Neither navy built significant aircraft carriers. The U.S. preferred to spend limited funds on aircraft carriers until the South Dakota class. Japan, also prioritising aircraft carriers, nevertheless began work on three mammoth Yamato class ships (although one of these was later completed as a carrier). In April 1937, España ran onto a mine laid by friendly forces, and sank with little loss of life. In May 1937, Jaime I was damaged by Nationalist air attacks and a grounding incident. The ship was forced to go back to port to be repaired. There she was again hit by several aerial bombs. It was then decided to tow the battleship to a more secure port, but during the transport she suffered an internal explosion that caused 300 deaths and her total loss. Several Italian and German capital ships participated in the non-intervention blockade. On May 29 1937, two Republican aircraft managed to bomb the German pocket battleship Deutschland outside Ibiza, causing severe damage and loss of life. Admiral Scheer retaliated two days later by bombarding Almería, causing much destruction, and the resulting Deutschland incident meant the end of German and Italian support for non-intervention.

World War II

Main article: Battleships in World War II
German battleships — obsolete pre-dreadnoughts — fired the first shots of World War II with the bombardment of the Polish garrison at Westerplatte; and the final surrender of the Japanese Empire took place aboard a United States Navy battleship, the USS Missouri. Between those two events, it became clear that aircraft carriers the new principal ships of the fleet, and battleships had an auxiliary role, if any at all.
Battleships played a part in major engagements in Atlantic, Pacific and Mediterranean theatres; in the Atlantic, the Germans used their battleships as independent commerce raiders. However, clashes between battleships were of little strategic importance. TheBattle of the Atlantic was fought between destroyers and submarines, and most of the decisive fleet clashes of the Pacific war were determined by aircraft carriers.
In the first year of the war, armored warships defied predictions that aircraft would dominate naval warfare. Scharnhorst and Gneisenau surprised and sank the aircraft carrier Glorious off western Norway in June 1940. This engagement marked the last time a fleet carrier was sunk by surface gunnery. In the Attack on Mers-el-Kébir, British battleships opened fire on the French battleships harboured in Algiers with their own heavy guns, and later pursued fleeing French ships with planes from aircraft carriers.
The rest of the War saw many demonstrations of the maturity of the aircraft carrier and its potential against battleships. The British air attack on the Italian naval base at Taranto sank one Italian battleship and damaged two more. The same Swordfish torpedo bombers played a crucial role in sinking the German commerce-raider Bismarck.
On December 7, 1941 the Japanese launched a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. Within a short time five of eight U.S. battleships were sunk or sinking, with the rest damaged. The Japanese had neutralized the U.S. battleship force in the Pacific region through an air attack, and thereby proven Mitchell's theory, showing the vulnerability of major warships lying at anchor, as at Taranto. The American aircraft carriers were out to sea, however, and evaded detection. They in turn would take up the fight, eventually turning the tide of the war in the Pacific. The sinking of the British battleship Prince of Wales and her escort, the battlecruiser HMS Repulse further demonstrated the vulnerability of a battleship to air attack, in this case while at sea without air cover. Both ships were on their way to assist in the defense of Singapore when they were caught by Japanese land-based bombers and fighters on December 10 1941.
At many of the crucial battles of the Pacific, for instance Coral Sea and Midway, battleships were either absent or overshadowed as carriers launched wave after wave of planes into the attack at a range of hundreds of miles. Battleships in the Pacific ended up primarily performing shore bombardment and anti-aircraft defense for the carriers. Even the largest battleships ever constructed, Japan's Yamato class, which carried a main battery of nine 18-inch (457 millimetre) guns and were designed as a principal strategic weapon, were never given a chance to show their potential.

The Cold War

After World War II, several navies retained battleships, but it became clear that they were not worth the considerable cost. During the war it had become clear that battleship-on-battleship engagements like Leyte Gulf or the sinking of the Hood were the exception and not the rule, and that engagement ranges were becoming longer and longer, making heavy gun armament irrelevant. The armor of a battleship was equally irrelevant in the face of a nuclear attack, and nuclear missiles with a range of or more could be mounted on the Soviet Kildin class destroyer and Whiskey class submarine by the end of the 1950s. The remaining battleships met a variety of ends. USS Arkansas and Nagato were sunk during the testing of nuclear weapons in Operation Crossroads in 1946. Both battleships proved resistant to nuclear air burst but vulnerable to underwater nuclear explosions. The Italian Giulio Cesare was taken by the Soviets as reparations and renamed Novorossiysk; she was sunk by a German mine in the Black Sea on 29 October 1955. The two Andrea Doria class ships were scrapped in 1956. The French Lorraine was scrapped in 1954, Richelieu in 1968 and Jean Bart in 1970. The United Kingdom's four surviving King George V class ships were scrapped in 1957, and Vanguard followed in 1960. All other surviving British battleships had been scrapped in the late 1940s. The Soviet Union's Petropavlovsk was scrapped in 1953, Sevastopol in 1957 and Oktyabrskaya Revolutsiya (back under her original name, Gangut, since 1942) in 1956-7. Brazil's Minas Gerais was scrapped in Genoa in 1953, and her sister ship São Paulo sank during a storm in the Atlantic en route to the breakers in Italy in 1951. Argentina kept its two Rivadavia class ships until 1956 and Chile kept Almirante Latorre (formerly HMS Canada) until 1959. The Turkish battlecruiser Yavuz (formerly Goeben, launched in 1911) was scrapped in 1976 after an offer to sell her back to Germany was refused. Sweden had several small coastal defense battleships, one of which, Gustav V, survived until 1970. The Soviets scrapped four large incomplete cruisers in the late 1950s, whilst plans to build a number of new Stalingrad-class battlecruisers were abandoned following the death of Joseph Stalin in 1953. The three old German battleships Schleswig-Holstein, Schlesien, and Hessen all met similar ends. Hessen was taken over by the Soviet Union and renamed Tsel. She was scrapped in 1960. Schleswig-Holstein was renamed Borodino, and was used as a target ship until 1960. Schlesien, too, was used as a target ship. She was broken up sometime between 1949 and 1956.
The Iowa class battleships gained a new lease of life in the U.S. Navy as fire support ships. Shipborne artillery support is considered by the U.S. Marine Corps as more accurate, more effective and less expensive than aerial strikes. Radar and computer-controlled gunfire could be aimed with pinpoint accuracy to target. The U.S. recommissioned all four Iowa class battleships for the Korean War and the New Jersey for the Vietnam War. These were primarily used for shore bombardment, New Jersey firing seven times more rounds against shore targets in Vietnam than she had in the Second World War.
As part of Navy Secretary John F. Lehman's effort to build a 600-ship Navy in the 1980s, and in response to the commissioning of Kirov by the Soviet Union, the United States recommissioned all four Iowa class battleships. On several occasions, battleships were support ships in carrier battle groups, or led their own battleship battle group. These were modernized to carry Tomahawk missiles, with New Jersey seeing action bombarding Lebanon in 1983 and 1984, while Missouri and Wisconsin fired their 16 inch (406 mm) guns at land targets and launched missiles in the Gulf War of 1991. Wisconsin served as the TLAM strike commander for the Persian Gulf, directing the sequence of launches that marked the opening of Operation Desert Storm and fired a total of 24 TLAMs during the first two days of the campaign. This will most likely be the last combat action ever by a battleship. The primary threat to the battleships were Iraqi shore based surface-to-surface missiles; Missouri was targeted by two Iraqi Silkworm missiles, with one missing and another being intercepted by the British destroyer HMS Gloucester.
All four Iowas were decommissioned in the early 1990s, making them the last battleships to see active service. USS Iowa and USS Wisconsin were, until fiscal year 2006, maintained to a standard where they could be rapidly returned to service as fire support vessels, pending the development of a superior fire support vessel. The U.S. Marine Corps believes that the current naval surface fire support gun and missile programs will not be able to provide adequate fire support for an amphibious assault or onshore operations.


With the decommissioning of the last Iowas, no battleships remain in service (including in reserve) with any navy worldwide. A number are preserved as museum ships, either afloat or in dry-dock. The U.S. has a large number of battleships on display: USS Massachusetts, North Carolina, Alabama, New Jersey, Wisconsin, Missouri, and Texas. Missouri and New Jersey are now museums at Pearl Harbor and Camden, New Jersey, respectively. Wisconsin is a museum (at Norfolk, Virginia), and was recently removed from the Naval Vessel Register; however, pending donation, the public can still only tour the deck, since the rest of the ship is closed off for dehumidification. The only other true battleship on display is the Japanese pre-Dreadnought Mikasa.

Battleships in strategy and doctrine


Battleships were the embodiment of sea power. For Alfred Thayer Mahan and his followers, a strong navy was vital to the success of a nation, and control of the seas was vital for the projection of force on land and overseas. Mahan's theory dictated that the role of the battleship was to sweep the enemy from the seas. While the work of escorting, blockading and raiding might be done by cruisers or smaller vessels, the presence of the battleship was a potential threat. (This came to be known as a "fleet in being".) Mahan went on to say victory could only be achieved by engagements between battleships (which came to be known as the "decisive battle" doctrine in some navies), while guerre de course (developed by the Jeune Ecole) could never succeed.
Mahan was highly influential in naval and political circles throughout the age of the battleship,


While the role of battleships in both World Wars reflected Mahanian doctrine, the details of battleship deployment were more complex. Unlike the ship-of-the-line, the battleships of the late 19th and early 20th centuries had significant vulnerability to torpedoes and mines, weapons which could be used by relatively small and inexpensive craft. The Jeune Ecole school of thought of the 1870s and 1880s recommended the placing of torpedo boats alongside battleships; the boats would hide behind the battleships until gun-smoke obscured visibility enough for them to dart out and fire their torpedoes.) So for most of their history, battleships operated surrounded by squadrons of destroyers and cruisers. The North Sea campaign of the First World War illustrates how, despite this support, the threat of mine and torpedo attack, and the failure to integrate or appreciate the capabilities of new techniques, seriously inhibited the operations of the Royal Navy Grand Fleet, the greatest battleship fleet of its time.

Strategic and diplomatic impact

The presence of battleships had a great psychological and diplomatic impact. Similar to possessing nuclear weapons today, the ownership of battleships served to enhance a nation's force projection. In September 1983, when Druze militia in Lebanon's Shouf Mountains fired upon U.S. Marine peacekeepers, the arrival of USS New Jersey stopped the firing. Gunfire from New Jersey later killed militia leaders.

Value for money

Battleships were the largest and most complex, and hence the most expensive warships of their time; as a result, the value of investment in battleships has always been contested. As the French politician Etienne Lamy wrote in 1879, The construction of battleships is so costly, their effectiveness so uncertain and of such short duration, that the enterprise of creating an armored fleet seems to leave fruitless the perseverance of a people. The Jeune Ecole school of thought of the 1870s and 1880s sought alternatives to the crippling expense and debatable utility of a conventional battlefleet. It proposed what would nowadays be termed a sea denial strategy, based on fast, long-ranged cruisers for commerce raiding and torpedo boat flotillas to attack enemy ships attempting to blockade French ports. The ideas of the Jeune Ecole were ahead of their time; it was not until the 20th century that efficient mines, torpedoes, submarines, and aircraft were available that allowed similar ideas to be effectively implemented.
The determination of powers such as the German Empire to build battlefleets with which to confront much stronger rivals has been criticised by historians, who emphasise the futility of investment in a battlefleet which has no chance of matching its opponent in an actual battle.


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battleship in Arabic: سفينة حربية
battleship in Bosnian: Bojni brod
battleship in Czech: Bitevní loď
battleship in Danish: Slagskib
battleship in German: Schlachtschiff
battleship in Estonian: Lahingulaev
battleship in Spanish: Acorazado
battleship in Persian: رزم‌ناو
battleship in French: Cuirassé
battleship in Galician: Acoirazado
battleship in Korean: 전함
battleship in Croatian: Bojni brod
battleship in Italian: Nave da battaglia
battleship in Hebrew: אוניית מערכה
battleship in Hungarian: Csatahajó
battleship in Malay (macrolanguage): Kapal perang
battleship in Dutch: Slagschip
battleship in Japanese: 戦艦
battleship in Polish: Pancernik
battleship in Portuguese: Couraçado
battleship in Russian: Линейный корабль
battleship in Slovak: Bojová loď
battleship in Serbian: Бојни брод
battleship in Finnish: Taistelulaiva
battleship in Swedish: Slagskepp
battleship in Thai: เรือประจัญบาน
battleship in Vietnamese: Thiết giáp hạm
battleship in Chinese: 战列舰
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