Role of the Battleship in WWII

The first modern battleship had its inception with the launching of HMS Dreadnought by Great Britain in 1906. HMS Dreadnought was the world’s first all big-gun, fast, heavily armoured capital ship and her launching made all the major ships in all other navies obsolete. Her design features  were rapidly copied by other navies and by 1914 the modern big gun heavily armoured battleship dominated naval warfare.

Battleships fought their first and only decisive action of World War I in the Battle of Jutland in May 1916. Although the British fleet won the day and forced the Germans to retire to the safety of their ports, the German design and construction of battleships was shown to be superior. After the Battle of Jutland the Germans never again risked their battleships in open conflict with His Majesty’s fleet but turned instead to unrestricted submarine warfare.

After the end of WWI the battleship continued to dominate naval strategy. In an effort to reduce the expenditures required to fund new battleships the United States, Britain, France, Japan and Italy agreed to a moritorium on new battleship construction in 1922 at the Washington Naval Conference. As a result of this agreement, new American battleships in construction were broken up and scrapped. No new battleships were built until 1936 when the USS North Carolina was authorized by Congress.

During these years the nature of naval power was changing as a result of the perfection of the airplane and the introduction of a new capital ship utilizing this new weapon – the aircraft carrier. Supporters of air power argued that the battleship as the principal capital ship of the navy was obsolete because of the long reach of naval aircraft. This view was strengthened early in WWII when the British carried out a carrier strike on the Italian battle fleet at Taranto on November 11, 1940. Subsequent Japanese carrier strikes on the American battle-fleet at Pearl Harbor and on the British ships HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse confirmed the new order of naval Strategy.

While the rise of the aircraft carrier forever altered naval strategy it did not totally eclipse the importance of the battleship. In both the Atlantic and the Pacific, old American battleships carried out extensive bombardments on enemy held shores while new generations of fast American battleships escorted aircraft carriers and provided them with a dense thicket of antiaircraft fire when necessary. Both old and new American battleships saw heavy service during the war providing cover for other ships and eventually bombarding the Japanese home islands in 1945. When the war in the Pacific ended on September 2, 1945, the surrender of the Japanese was signed on board the battleship USS Missouri anchored in Tokyo Harbor. Although replaced by the aircraft carrier as the principal capital ship of the navy, the battleship saw important and useful service during WWII and contributed to the eventual American victory.

Loss of Historic Integrity

The USS Missouri was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972 because she was the site of the signing of the instrument of Japanese surrender in WWII and because she was the last battleship completed by the United States.

USS Missouri

In 1984s Navy began the reactivation of USS Missouri. The ship was moved from her port in Bremerton, Washington, to Long Beach, California. The modernization of USS Missouri involved the complete alteration of the historic fabric of the ship. When USS Missouri emerged from her refit and joined the Navy as an active ship she no longer represented a WWII Iowa class battleship. USS Missouri was a modern navy ship designed in the 80s and became an active part of the fleet.

As detailed in the United States Department of the Interior (National Park Service) Report OMB No. 1024-0018 (Exp. 10-31-84) it is written…” Due to the loss of historic integrity USS Missouri cannot be recommended for designation as a National Historic Landmark).

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