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Second World War at Sea:
Modern American Battleships

By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
December 2013

Like the other naval powers, the United States halted battleship construction during the 1920s and most of the 1930s. The first modern American battleships, the two North Carolina class, entered service in 1941 but did not become combat-ready until 1942. North Carolina went to the Pacific theater, and her sister Washington followed after brief service with the Royal Navy’s Home Fleet.

North Carolina came off the drawing board with two alternate designs, one with twelve 14-inch guns in three quadruple turrets, and one with nine 16-inch guns in three triple turrets.

North Carolina had been designed to resist 14-inch shellfire. The next class of American battleship, the South Dakotas, had improved protection. Their speed was no greater than North Carolina. One of these (South Dakota herself) appeared in SOPAC. All four of them are present in Leyte Gulf, in their late-war configurations (with very heavy anti-aircraft armament).

In 1938, the United States invoked the “escalator clause” of the 1936 London Treaty allowing the maximum size of battleships to rise from 35,000 to 45,000 tons. Rumors said the Japanese had begun building 46,000 ton battleships; in reality the Yamato class displaced well over 60,000 tons.

American designers produced a ship with some marked advantages over the much larger Yamato. The Iowa class were as fast as cruisers, in order to be able to run down the Japanese Kongo-class battlecruisers. They had new-model 16-inch guns, with 50-caliber barrels (meaning the barrel was 50 times as long as it was wide), compared to 45-caliber in North Carolina and South Dakota.

Four Iowa-class ships were completed during the war, serving in the Pacific as fast carrier escorts. They were reactivated for the Korean War, and one of them (New Jersey) saw action on the gun line off Vietnam. Missouri, slated to join her there, suffered repeated machinery breakdowns.

In the 1980s all four were modernized with missiles and electronic warfare gear and re-joined the fleet, with New Jersey shelling Lebanon in 1983 and two of her sisters bombarding Iraq in 1991, the last time a battleship would ever fire her guns in earnest. All four now serve as museum ships, officially available for re-activation but unlikely to see further service.

Two additional Iowa-class ships, Illinois and Kentucky, were begun in 1942 but neither was completed, despite some outlandish plans to complete Kentucky as a missile ship during the Cold War.

With their high speed (only a handful of ships in the series are faster, and those are much smaller, like the Italian Capitani Romani class cruisers or British Abdiel class fast minelayers), their heavy armor and large number of hull boxes, and massive firepower (equal to the Japanese Yamato-class superbattleships), these are the most powerful warships represented in the Second World War at Sea series. Players will of course want to try them against the mighty Japanese super-ships in tactical combat.

Some of the Navy’s admirals did not like the Iowa design at the time, however, and longed to return to the South Dakota’s concepts of greater protection at the cost of speed. The Montana class was designed to provide armor sufficient to stop the newest shells for the 16-inch/50-caliber rifle. They would have carried twelve 16-inch guns in four turrets (early designs show three turrets with four guns each).

Five of the monstrous ships — 60,500 tons, compared to 48,000 for the Iowa class — were ordered in July 1940; part of the same program included the last two Iowa-class ships. None of the Montana class had been laid down when President Roosevelt ordered them cancelled in April 1942 and resources redirected to more useful warships.

Official Navy view of Montana

As completed, the Montana class would have reverted to the South Dakota’s speed of 27 knots. They would have been slightly longer than the Iowa class, and this huge size would have allowed the emplacement of massive numbers of anti-aircraft weapons. Thus, Montana has the largest anti-aircraft factor in the Second World War at Sea series. She has more firepower than an Iowa (though because of the diminishing returns evident in this game series, a 33% increase in number of gun barrels is not matched in gunnery factors) and is even tougher to sink, with the largest number of hull boxes seen in the game series as well.

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