Battleships to Present Day


Is there any technical scenario which would enable battleships to remain an effective part of the world's naval fleets until the present? I'm thinking of maybe the development of even bigger guns with much longer ranges and sizes, coupled with some sort of earlier computer development leading to both an amazingly effective fire control system and some sort of 'smart' ammunition.

I mean lets say you have something with about twice the capacity of your average guided missile carrier. It is also able to deliver 2000 lb 'smart' projectiles about 65 miles inland at a rate of about 12 every 30 seconds, very cheap. Wouldn't that be useful?


Yeah a guided projectile is the only way but it would have to be developed in the 1950's at the latest and be beater and cheaper to operate then guided missles.

Battleship are just pass their time.
oh sure

Let's speed up just one technological development: ability to acquire and track surface and air radar contacts at larger distances with smaller platforms. Now it's easier to find and target naval vessels over the horizon but more dangerous to attack them, since they can better see you coming.
Do you want to use manned aircraft or unmanned weapons?

Subs are still great, of course, but they can't carry as many SSM's as a battleship. And battleships actually have a significant advantage over modern cruisers - they're much harder to sink.
Aside from survivability nothing has been mentioned that warrants keeping the battleship around - unfortunately. The guided missile and aircraft can carry and deliver payloads further than the battleship. Manning a battleship is the other reason there won't be too many around. Its a terrific manpower drain. So is an aircraft carrier, but the carriers flexible response is its best feature.

Large caliber guns aren't necessarily needed, particularly with advances in explosives. The 18in guns of the Yamato were more a threat to its crew than to the enemy. The closest modern equivalent to the battleship that I can think of was the short lived proposal of the arsenal ship. NHBL would be someone to involve in this discussion.
Actually, early guided missiles weren' that effective. The only reason why the Roma sunk was becasue the missile exploded its magezine. Another Italian battleship, I think it was the Vittorio Veneto or the Littorio (the rename the Italia) were hit by Fritz-X missiles, but didn't snik the ship. Also, the BB HMS Warspite and light cruiser USS Savanah were both hit by Fritz-X missiles, but didn't sink.

Aircraft weren't really that effective against battleships either. The KMS Tripitz had to have been attacks numereus times before being sunk, and it took other surface units to sink enemy capital ships, but the Yamamoto and Mushahi were both sunk unaided by aircraft. Another note, no American battleship was sunk by aircraft or by anything after the war. The Bismark was sunk using a mix of capital ships and aircraft, the Graf Speer was scuttled in South America. Battleships were used as AA platforms to protect the carriers.

All this comes from the Wells Borther's Battleship Index
A few battleship possibilities

I can think of several ways to keep battleships around and in service into the early 21st century (or bring them back) in different roles.
1. If one or more major powers considers it likely that an invasion of a hotile beach may be needed, or that sites near the coast may need to be dealt with severely, they could be kept around for naval gunfore support. The USN still has 2 in reserve (Iowa and Wisconsin) but I'd be surprised to see them take to the seas again. The navy also has the right to reclaim 6 others that are museum ships, althought one is approaching the century mark.
In addition, a battleship can be downright intimidating in a way that a carrier can't. One look says, "Danger, I'm the baddest thing on the block."
Also, if bombardments are needed often, a battleship's shells are much cheaper than missiles, and its opperations don't result in lost aircraft. A casualty-sensitive military, where 2 or 3 planes lost is a cause for public outcry, would find this handy.
Also, remember--an airstrike drops its load and goes away. You've got some time before they can come back. If some enemy troops survive, they can start shooting again. With a battleship off shore, any enemys that call attention to themselves are only about a minute away from a 16" shell or 9.
2. Had there been no major wars after World War One, the tempo of military technology may have slowed. Without proof in battle, the battleship would still be around, IMHO, but with missiles as well as guns, and deck armor that would be scarey. The military mind is slow to discard a weapons system until it's proven that it is, in fact, useless.
3. By the 1960's, one reason that there was no need for battleships was simple--no one besides the USN had them. A battleship's purpose is to neutralize an enemy's battleships and secure the sea. With no enemy battleships, carriers can do this as well (and no one had a carrier force that could threaten the USN. I suspect that if a potential enemy had battleships, the USN would retain them as well. Those ships are hard to sink, and a carrier would have to secure control of the sky to do it. Carriers were often sunk in the face of enemy combat air patrols, but the battleships that were sunk by air power did not have effective air cover. I'd expect the fast battleship/carrier combined battlegroup to be in business. The battleship provides AA defence at first, then the battleship goes in harm's way after the enemy's air is reduced.
4. I worked on a "Return of the Battleship" story a while ago, but my focus turned elsewhen, ands it sits on my hard drive for now. I expect to come back to it eventually.
The basic premise is simple. There is a breakthrough in laser technology that leads to a few imeadiate results. Lasers become militarily useful at modest power ranges. They can punch a hole in a thin skinned missile or aircraft, and are deadly accurate. More power is unlikely in the near future, but may happen.
As a result, missiles can't attack well defended targets--fleets with a laser AA cruiser or two, well protected land targets, etc.
A large shell, however, has much solider construction. A laser hit simple won't be enough to damage it. The big gun is back...
And with the return of the big gun comes the return of heavy armor. Sounds like a battleship to me.
Incidently, the new lasers lead to workable fusion power.
5. Another possibility is more limited, and quite unlikely, but concievable to me. Suppose the South American nations resumed their rivalry after WWII? They almost start an arms race, but can't afford it, and agree to no new construction for a period of time. Their old battleships get modernized again and again. When the treaty lapses, none of them want to start a new arms race, and so keep the old ships up. (Perhaps Chile is allowed to buy one of the 12" Italian battleships to even things up, or perhaps simple gets a surplus American cruiser to compensate for the Ciliean ship's bigger guns.)
This continues to the present day.
Incidently, Margeret Thatcher would have to be very careful if Argentina had two fully modernized battleships available for the Falklands...
There's a few spur of the moment thoughts.
Disagree at least in part, David

"The guided missile and aircraft can carry and deliver payloads further than the battleship."

Then why do modern navies have SSM mounts on cruisers and destroyers? Land-based missiles are inferior to sea-based when you need the strike to occur rapidly.

ALM are better that way but it still takes a while to get a squadron of heavy bombers to where you want them. And it's harder to protect large, flying missile platforms, especially if detection technology is better.

Agree that battleships are a serious manpower drain. That's why American CG's are so small now.
The new generation of US destroyers and cruisers show that a tremendous amount of manpower can be saved by automation. A modern battleship in my opinion would most likely follow along two lines:

1. A reincarnation of the 'pocket' battleships of Germany, or probably most directly the British monitors of the Great War and the Second World War. The main armament would be a dual or triple turret of 12in guns, conventionally fired. Perhaps one or two 5in guns and a mess of VLS missiles.

2. The adoption of railguns could permit a turretless battleship. The main armament, perhaps three 12in (or greater) guns would be buried in the deck firing upward. Not quite like the old Vesuvius. When firing a deck hatch, that on a ballistic submarine, pops open and the guns fire in rapid succession. The shells are laser guided in flight to their target.

Expense is what is going to keep the modern descendents of the battleships in the lower end of the scale, we'll not see anything along the lines of the Yamato.

One possible POD that could work in our favor is the US Navy continueing the development of the 8in gun during the 1960s.
Von Braun

1937 Von Braun is experimenting with solid rocket fuel, among his staff is a naval gunnery officer. The naval officer realizes that this could be used to launch naval shells.

1938- a seperate research group is set up

1941- Bismark is launched. instead of gunpowder it uses rocket shell guns,
using radar the Bismark sinks the Hood, from forty miles [IIRC OTL 15 miles] away before the Hood had even gone to Battle stations. The British manage to sink the Bismark, But the increased range allows the Bismark to sink more British Ships first.

US & GB launch major esponiage offense to get plans for German Gun.

1944- USS Iowa {first of Class} is Launched Uses new radar guided Rocket shell Guns, Range has been increased to 65 miles

1953 - Korea - USS New Jersy uses New Rocket Shell with 120 mile range

1967- USS Iowa in Vietman Uses 180 mile shells

1991- USS Pennsylvania in Persian Gulf, Bombards Bagdad
Railgun armed BBs.....

The waekness of SSMs and ASMs are they can be shot down by ship based surface to air missles. I've often toyed with the idea of heavily armored ships deploying railguns. I suspect that they could be developed to the point where they have the range of anti-ship missles, and there is no way you are going to be able to shoot down something moving that fast, meaning that active defence is out, leaving armor as the main defence. Early ships might only have one or two mounts, but when other countries start to acquire them, one will see more mounts added as beattles will be determined by who can swap the other with fire first.

As a matter for a science fiction story, I've often thought this would be a great premise.
There is no conceivable way that BBs could still be around short of a very major POD that retards technology.

Battleships are not any more invulnerable to modern weapons than any other ship. One modern torpedo under the keel would do the trick. There is no possible justification for sinking that much money into a single platform that does not perform any task that much smaller ships perform.

Take Iowa as an example. 9 16" guns. When are you ever going to need 9 16" guns? 20 5" guns. Ditto. Belt armor? 33 kn speed for a bombardment ship?

The only useful service they can provide is shore bombardment, and this would be better handled by a cheap arsenal ship. At the very most, some sort of montor with a large gun or two.

I love battleships above all other ships, but they're history.
I think it could all be changed by chance and tactical factors.

What if carriers were never shown to have the ability to sink battleships?

What if battleships had been shown to be effective naval weapons?

Imagine that Kaiser Wilhelm has decided to be hyper-agressive with the High Seas Fleet. The battleships constantly sortie and attempt to draw the grand fleet into battle. More battlecruiser raids, etc. Jutland goes as OTL, but in 1917 the germans sortie again and manage to draw away a small part of the brit battle line and defeat it in detail before being driven back to port.

Then, in 1918, the "suicide sortie" actually goes through. Instead of being scuttled at scapa flow, the High Seas Fleet is pounded under the guns of British and American battleships in the third battle of the north sea. The armistice comes soon after.

Although having nothing to do with the end of the war (militarily) the third battle of the north sea is seen as being a "war ending" victory. Battleships aren't seen as expensive weapons that sit in port and rust. On the contrary, most people see it as "germany lost it's battleships, then gave up"

Battleship admirals hold sway in all world navies, carriers are used as fleet scouts.

In world war 2, the japanese attack on pearl harbor takes place, but beacuse of different naval attitudes, the battle line is at sea training, while the carriers sit at port (who needs to train scouts much, anyways?)

The japanese attack hits the carrier fleet hard, and the US battle line sails out to engage the japanese with too few carriers to actually use as a strike force.

The pacific war, although containing many battles fought only with carriers, still has battleships play a large role. Leyte gulf turns into the final charnel house, as the Japanese combined fleet sails to meet the US. In a climactic battle-line engagement, the Yamato and Musashi, as well as the vast majority of the Japanese battle-line is sunk under the guns of US battleships, and under constant harassing attack by carriers (esp. the Musashi, which suffered a crippling engine hit from carrier aircraft before being hunted down and sunk after the battle by the USS Iowa).

After the war, it looks as if battleships are on the way out- until the invention of:

The heavy anti-ship cruise missile
The anti-aircraft missile

In a modern-day extension of this: the sea is full of heavy surface combatants a la the russian Kirov class. Carrier aircraft are second-rate compared to air force jets (the US navy would be using phantoms in Iraqi Freedom), and huge guided missile ships sail the seas. Antiship missiles are bigger and badder, and tactical concepts have switched away from the "battle-line" to the "battle-web", a cold war tactic where linked groups of NATO guided-missile battleships would manuver to engage their Soviet opponents in the north atlantic.

So it's not really a question of technology, just tactics and politics. The battleship can stay around for a while, you just need to have the right attitude.
Actually, carrier aircraft are second-rate to

air force jets in OTL. Their ranges and, especially, their attack payloads are much smaller. They are there for the same reason as sea-launched SSM's -- location, location, location.

I don't understand the extent of the opposition to battleships. We can mount the same weapons on a BB as on a 1980's era Virginia class CGN, say, only far more of them. The ship is much tougher to sink, due to all-steel construction. The problem is cost, both to build and maintain and to man. We'd need larger militaries from a different geopolitical situation. It might also be helpful if the naval arms competition was multi-sided. A submarine and air threat to the maritime states isn't likely to keep BB around.
Political reasons

a) the world war (s) didn´t take place, or at last without so much enthusiasm on either sides, leading to less technological advances due to lesser spending at least in this purely military matter.

b) arising from different political alliances, the (british) control of the seas is not really contested, so nobody feels inclined to waste much ressources on
other developments in naval affairs.

Military reasons

c) one Prince of Wales+Repulse scenario,possibly in the 20s or 30s, which goes the other way around, whith a carrier force attacking a modern BB is butchered, first the attacking air group, later the carriers themselves, so everybody "knows" :"Stupid affair, these carrier things".
Well, no Great War would certainly be a benefit. The 1922 Washington Conference was held particularly to order to head off another arms race that no nation could afford fiscally. However, the fact that a million dollar battleship can be sunk by a thousand dollar torpedo isn't going to be lost on some. It certainly wasn't lost on Sir John Fisher in the early 1900s and he was advocating the deployment of far more torpedo boats and submarines than dreadnoughts.
I really wouldn´t think that nobody would notice flaws and weaknesses of the BBs especially if the guys have about 90 years to look at them, but I think they would have been accepted and efforts would be made to compensate them: destroyer escorts and the like.

The financial aspect:
If we put up a polititical stable situation, like the 1900´s Great Powers without late-coming countries with aggresive naval agendas (or aggressive looking /annoying) agendas like the German naval building program,
the cost of maintaining the fleets and replacing the older hulls would possibly forbid the introduction of a new and expensive main naval asset, as it would set everybody back to zero, like with the introduction of the dreadnought.
As a battleship lover, I still think they can project long-range gunfire and maintain station in hostile (3rd world) environments better than any other ship. However, I must admit that this a very specialized task which does not need a ship with 9-16" guns, a compliment of 2000, and a 33kt speed. A 20,000 ton armored monitor armed with a single 3x16" gun turret and appropriate close-in antiship and AA defenses would do just fine - and a lot better than a modern DD or "cruiser".

To have BB's survive into the present day as true capital ships, you'd have to have at least two fairly major POD's: (1) either no WW1 or no Washington Treaty and (2) the development of efficient airplanes being retarded by 10 years or so. If, for example, the dreadnought building race had continued into the early 1930's, accompanied by the late introduction of only small and lightly built aircraft with no established doctrine for their use, the possibility exists that aircraft carriers as offensive weapons would not have evolved as in OTL. In WW2, battleships sunk or crippled at sea by aircraft were usually operating singly or in small groups, with minimal escort. One wonders, however, what success a strikeforce of 50 Fairey Swordfish might have had against a steaming battlefleet consisting 10 Yamato/Bismarck/Iowa equivalents with a CA/CL and DD screen.
I find it amazing that you can ignore the development of technology on warship types. What was the basic component of the battle fleet 100 years before Dreadnought? The wooden SoL. Modern weapons systems simply render battleships a non-starter. They would be prohibitively expensive both to build and run, and their role can be taken on by smaller ships of which you can build a great number for the cost of one BB. BBs just aren't that defensible anymore - as I said, one modern torp is all that's needed to sink one. Carriers were well on the way to replacing BBs even before WWII, and aircraft and subs are still going to develop, not to mention missile technology.
When does a battlesjip stop being a battleship? after WW2 there were plans to convert them to assault ships. Remove guns behind tower thus freeing space for Marines. Keep guns in front of tower to aid them in landings. Is this still a battleship?

I don't think anyone is saying the battleship as the principal sea control capital ship still makes sense. Certainly this role has been overtaken by the aircraft carrier, and to some extent even the SSN. You are also right that they are probably too expensive to maintain for the limited coastal bombardment purpose they still do excell at.

However, I still submit that if the development of aircraft had been retarded, navies of the early-mid 20th century would still have sunk their national fortunes into them. No matter what Fisher might have said, destroyers, submarines, and torpedo boats would never have become capital ships - they lack the endurance and sea-keeping qualities of larger ships. Cruisers would have all the disadvantages and none of the advantages of BB/BC's as capital ships. I think it is entirely possibile that the age of the A/C carrier could have been skipped altogether with a fairly minor POD - with battleships ruling the seas until the nuclear-powered SSN and landbased A/C and missles rendered them obsolete.