5 Great Battleships of World War 2

During the interwar period, battleships remained the foremost naval ships. Aircraft carriers were then the new big thing in naval warfare, but they remained unproven until the Battle of Taranto in 1940. So, the world’s foremost navies expanded their fleets with bigger and stronger battleships than ever before throughout the 1930s as international tensions rose to boiling point. These were some of great battleships from the World War 2 period. 

1. The Yamato

Despite the devastating impact Japan’s carrier fleet had at Pearl Harbor, battleships were still important to the Imperial Japanese Navy. The IJN laid down the blueprints for five Yamato-class battleships during the 1930s, but only two of them got built. The Yamato was the original ship of its class that remains the largest battleship ever built. This was a battleship with a maximum displacement of 72,809 tons and a length of 863 feet. 

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The Yamato battleship in port
The Yamato battleship in port

Japan constructed the Yamato during the 1930s. The IJN commissioned the Yamato in 1941. With its main 18.1-inch guns, this battleship had some of the largest guns to be included on a warship. The Yamato was primarily designed to sink enemy battleships, and it was not so effective for aerial naval battles against aircraft carriers.

The Yamato was not actively involved in any operations during the first couple of years of the Pacific War. However, on a trip to Truk during 1943, the Yamato was hit by a torpedo fired by the U.S. submarine Skate. Despite leaking tons of water, the battleship remained afloat and reached Truk. There the IJN made the required repairs to the Yamato, and the ship was ready for further operations in 1944.

In 1944, the IJN deployed the Yamato for its first serious operations. First, the Yamato provided fleet support for the Battle of the Philippine Sea in 1944. However, the Yamato was not a primary target for the Americans as that was largey an aircraft carrier battle. Despite Japan’s defeat, the Yamato was able to withdraw from that battle.

Months later, the Americans targeted Leyte Island. To defend Leyte, the Japanese deployed much of their navy, including the battleship Yamato. During this battle, the Yamato was in the frontline and came under fire at the Sibuyan Sea. At the Battle off Samar, the Yamato fired its guns at the outnumbered U.S. fleet. During that battle, the U.S. Navy lost one carrier and three destroyers. The Yamato also withdrew after being bombed by American aircraft, and it retreated to port for repairs.

The Yamato was ready for action again in 1945. During this final year, the Americans were advancing toward the Japanese home islands. After Iwo Jima had fallen, Okinawa was the next target for the Americans. The IJN deployed the Yamato to defend Okinawa. Operation Ten-Go outlined how the Yamato would beach itself as a shore battery to defend Okinawa. 

However, Allied naval fleets intercepted the Yamato before it reached Okinawa. Hundreds of U.S. aircraft bombed the battleship. Those American planes sank the Yamato in April, 1945.

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2. The Bismarck

The Bismarck was the first Bismarck-class battleship Germany added to its navy during World War 2. The construction contract for the battleship was placed with the Blohm & Voss dockyard. It was there that the keel for the Bismarck was laid down in 1936. At that dockyard, the Bismarck’s hull was welded together. By 1938, the hull of the battleship was largely complete up to the upper deck.

During construction, armor steel was added to the battleship, such as KC, Wh and Ww steel alloys. The hull was divided with 22 watertight compartments, 17 of which were added to the citadel. The battleship was constructed with a steam propulsion plant, which included 12 steam-heated boilers that burnt fuel oil.

In early 1939, the Bismarck was floated for the first time. Thousands attended the Bismarck’s ceremony. Then it was clear that the Germans had constructed a battleship larger than any Royal Navy alternative. The Bismarck had a standard displacement of some 41,700 tons, but at full load it was more like 50,900. 

After the ceremony, the Bismarck still had to be fitted out. Various components, such as boilers, turrets and other parts, had to be fitted to the battleship. During the fitting out period an Atlantic bow was also added to the Bismarck which provided an alternative arrangement for its four cast steel anchors. Despite the emergence of war, construction continued as scheduled.

In 1940, the first of Bismarck’s 2,092 crew boarded the battleship. After the fitting out period, the battleship was added to the German navy. Then the Bismarck’s sea trials followed in which the ship reached up to 30 knots on the high seas. In 1941, dazzle camouflage, with black and white stripes, was painted on the battleship.

The Nazis deployed the Bismarck for its first, and only, operation in May 1941. Operation Rheinübung was the codename for the Bismark’s mission that targetted Allied Atlantic convoys. In response, the Royal Navy conducted a big operation to sink the Bismarck, which led to the Battle of  Denmark Strait. During that engagement, the Bismarck and its escort, Prinz Eugen, sank the HMS Hood. 

However, the Bismarck was not entirely unscathed after that battle. With its fuel tanks ruptured, Germany’s battleship aborted its original mission and headed to port in defeated France for repairs. The Royal Navy kept up the chase, and British carrier planes scored some direct torpedo hits at the Bismarck’s stern. Thereafter, it was a rudderless ship. A Royal Navy fleet of battleships and heavy cruisers finished off the Bismarck in a second engagement toward the end of May. 

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3. The Musashi

The Musashi was Japan’s second Yamato-class battleship that posed a considerable threat to the U.S. Navy. It was built at a construction yard in Nagasaki. During the construction period, the IJN carefully camouflaged the battleship to ensure that it was not detected by Allied reconnaissance planes. Ropes concealed the battleship from aerial photography and ensured that its construction went undetected.

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On the November 1, 1940, the Musashi battleship was launched. Only a few attended the ceremony, which was somewhat limited to ensure that the battleship remained undetected. This battleship had a displacement of approximately 72,800 tons and a crew of about 2,400. It had a heavy armament assortment and could carry up to seven aircraft, which were largely for reconnaissance.

The Musashi joined the Imperial Japanese Navy in 1942. Only then was its fitting out and sea trials entirely complete. After entering service, it became one of the flagships of the IJN in 1943.

In Feb. 1944, the IJN sent the Musashi to the Palau Islands. It transported troops, munitions, and fuel supplies to the region. After delivering its supplies to Palau, the battleship sailed back to home ports. However, en route it was intercepted by U.S. submarines, which fired a few torpedoes at the battleship. Minor flooding of the battleship followed, but it remained afloat and continued toward Kure at a reduced speed for repairs.

The Musashi had not provided notable support for the IJN’s naval battles, but that changed when the Allies began to land at Leyte in the Philippines. To hold the Philippines, Japan deployed most of its navy to defeat the U.S. Seventh Fleet, which was transporting thousands of Marines to Leyte. The Musashi sailed to the Philippines as part of the Center Force, which included the Yamato.

That fleet sailed into the Sibuyan Sea in October. However, U.S. aircraft spotted the Center Force. The Musashi was among the foremost targets for the planes, which dropped a multitude of torpedoes and bombs. A wave of anti-aircraft fire from the Center Force could only down a few of the aircraft, and without air support the Musashi’s cover was somewhat limited. The orders were given to abandon ship as it flooded with water and capsized. 

4. The Tirpitz

The Tirpitz was another of the Bismarck-class battleships constructed during the 1930s. This was the largest battleship built for the German navy. The Tirpitz was the centerpiece of the Baltic Fleet, and it provided some naval support for coastal bombardments.

The German navy designed the Tirpitz to have a displacement of 45,950. However, the standard displacement of the battleship was more like 42,900 metric tons. When fully loaded, the Tirpitz had a displacement tonnage of 50,300. The full tonnage of the battleship would later be expanded to 53,500 tons. As such, the Tirpitz had a higher overall tonnage than the Bismarck.

In 1936, the building contract for the Tirpitz was placed with the Kriegsmarinewerft shipyard. There they laid the keel of the battleship. About 90 percent of the Tirpitz had a welded construction. The Tirpitz’s armor-plate was primarily built with Krupp steel. The battleship’s hull was gradually constructed up until 1939.

Then they floated the ship for the first time. Unlike the Yamato-class battleships, there was little secrecy for the Tirptiz’s ceremony. Thousands of Germans flocked to the Kriegsmarinewerft shipyard as ship’s massive hull was slowly slipped into the water. When the Tirpitz was waterborne, the tugs brought the vessel to a standstill.

The Tirpitz entered the German navy in February 1941, but it never went head-to-head with any Allied fleets. After the Bismarck’s demise, however, Britain mounted a few operations to annihilate the Tirpitz. A Royal Navy midget submarine operation inflicted considerable damage on the battleship in 1943. 

The Tirpitz still remained intact by 1944. Russian bombers attacked the Tirpitz in February 1944. Not until November 1944, however, did the Allies completely finish off the battleship when a squadron of RAF Lancaster bombers bombed it. The Tirpitz capsized after the Lancaster’s Tallboy bombs ravaged the battleship. 

5. The USS Missouri

The USS Missouri was the last great battleship ever built for the U.S. Navy. It was laid down in early 1941, before the Pearl Harbor airstrike, and entered active service in 1944. By then, battleships were less essential to the U.S. Navy as its aircraft carriers started to boss the seas after the Battle of Midway in 1941. 

Nevertheless, the USS Missouri was still important to U.S. naval operations around the Japanese home islands in 1945. This was a gigantic battleship with a maximum displacement of 55,710 tons that measured 887 feet in length. Its primary 16-inch guns had a range of about 24 miles, which made the ship ideal for naval coastal bombardments. With those guns, the Missouri pounded the coastlines of Okinawa and Iwo Jima to pave the way for amphibious landings. 

The historical significance of the Missouri in World War 2 was further elevated when it entered Tokyo Bay in August 1945. On September 2, 1945, Japanese representatives boarded the Missouri to sign the final surrender documents of World War 2. With Japan surrendering aboard the battleship, the Pacific War and wider world war came to a close. 

However, the Missouri was among the few U.S. battleships to continue active wartime service beyond the 1940s. The U.S. Navy deployed the Missouri for operations in the Korean War in the 1950s. During that war, it bombarded communist positions in Korea. 

The Americans decommissioned the Missouri after the Korean War, but President Reagan restored the battleship to active service in the 1980s. The USS Missouri was still a part of the U.S. Navy when the Gulf War erupted in 1990. During that war, the Missouri fired Tomahawk missiles at enemy targets in the Gulf. 

The U.S. Navy decommissioned the USS Missouri for the second time at Long Beach in 1991. Thereafter, the ship was transferred to Pearl Harbor where it remains. Today, the Missouri is a museum ship at Pearl Harbor that is a lasting monument to the Allied victory in World War 2. 

Those battleships were undoubtedly among the greatest naval ships of their era. They were battleships of unprecedented scale with formidable armaments. Yet, it was ultimately aircraft carriers that had the most decisive impact in the naval battles of World War 2. Thus, the battleship age of naval history largely came to a close during the 1940s as the Cold War began.

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