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Thread: How many battleships were built?

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    In Memoriam/Battleship Enthusiast Defense Professional USSWisconsin's Avatar
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    How many battleships were built?

    I have been looking at battleships very closely for about 7 years now (with many years of earlier study at a more causual pace), and have been trying to count them, I have identified 421. The early days of battleships ~1870 make this hard, since many of these ships don't fit in a battleship definition:

    Battleship Definition: Steam powered, steel hulled ship at least 9000 tons displacement (for a few export predreadnoughts, 8000 tons, ~1% of all ships). Guns of 10" bore or larger. Heavy armor, offering protection from the guns carried. There were many types of battleships, they are:

    Predreadnought: The first true battleship type, emerging in the 1870's with two to six heavy guns of 10” or greater, over 9000 tons displacement (several small export battleships were below this, but were classed as battleships), armor of 8” or greater. The typical predreadnought bristled with intermediate, secondary and tertiary gun batteries. A few early ships were built with auxiliary sails, but these ships all had steam power as their primary propulsion, and the sails were eventually removed from all of them. Most used reciprocating steam engines, only a few final examples, produced during the dreadnought era, had turbine propulsion.
    Dreadnought: The first modern battleship type, emerging about 1906: eight to fourteen 12” guns (11” on some German ships), over 15,000 tons. armor of 7” or greater, speed 20 knots or greater. Intended to be an all big gun ship, large numbers of 3”-6” guns were added to the ships as anti-torpedo boat defense. Turbine propulsion was introduced to battleships with this type, though many used reciprocating engines. These ships were built to use coal, and most were scrapped by the Washington treaty.
    Battlecruiser: Like a dreadnought but with greater speed at the expense of reduced armor and or armament, First Sea Lord Jackie Fisher named this type. Frequently carrying fewer and or smaller guns, the British Invincible class (1908) was the first ship to carry this description. One of the rarer types of warship, used only by Britain, Germany, and Japan, only built for about 14 years.. Initially conceived as powerful scouts for a battle fleet, they also proved to be deadly cruiser killers and commerce raiders. Most examples used turbine propulsion and could make at least 25 knots, giving them a 5 knot speed advantage over contemporary battleships, and many battlecruisers could make over 30 knots. The name battlecruiser fell into political disrepute after the Battle of Jutland, and only a few examples were completed after that, many others were canceled or converted to aircraft carriers. The heavy British losses at Jutland proved be be more attributable to ammunition handling practices, than armor deficiencies, but the type had been condemned by the press, and the name was no longer fashionable. Superseded by the fast battleship which eliminated her basic weaknesses while retaining her strengths. The term is used by many authors to describe ships built after 1930, which are what I call light battleships. Germany built the difficult to classify “pocket battleships” in the 1930's and these may be considered to be the last battlecruisers.
    Super Dreadnought: Second generation modern battleship, eight to twelve guns of 13.4” or greater, speed of 20 to 24 knots, displacement over 20.000 tons. The first of these was the HMS Orion class (1912), which still used coal. Liquid fuel (oil) was introduced with this type, and antiaircraft weapons were introduced. The examples that survived the treaties were later converted to fast battleships or reclassified as “slow” or “old” battleships though this was not the official terminology. In spite of being eclipsed by newer ships of much greater displacements, they remained battleships, not light battleships.
    Fast Battleship: Like super dreadnought but with speed of 25 knots or greater, in WWII the speed requirement increased to to 27 knots, with many ships making over 30 knots. The first of these were the Queen Elisabeth Class (1915). Fast battleships all burned fuel oil, rather than coal. This was the final type of battleship to be built, and these ships were in production for 34 years and served longer than any other type of battleship, Most fast battleships carried very heavy antiaircraft batteries, guns ranged from 14” to 18.1” with 15” and 16” the most common sizes.
    Light Battleship: Smaller guns, 11” -13", like a fast battleship, often called battlecruisers by observers, but these ships had better protection than most WWI battlecruisers. The most powerful example was the French Strasbourg with 13” guns, the 11” gun Scharnhorst was another defining example. This is a ship type including only three classes of completed ships, and includes the USN 12” gun Alaska class large cruiser, which carried more armor than some WWI dreadnoughts, though she was not as well protected as her contemporaries. This is the rarest type of battleship, with a production run of about 10 years and only six examples completed. Counted as fast battleships for statistical analysis purposes.
    Coastal Defense Ship: A small but powerful armored ship, generally built for smaller navies, similar to a predreadnought battleship but smaller, similar to a cruiser in size. These ships were generally slow, short ranged and poorly equipped for operations on the open sea, but their shallow draft, heavy armor and big guns could present a serious threat to most other ships capable of operating in shallow coastal waters, and these same shallows could serve as a refuge from larger vessels like seagoing battleships and cruisers. As torpedo bombers became effective, the need for this type of vessel diminished, since they couldn't hide from enemy aircraft in the shallows, and the coast could be defended by a nation's own aircraft. They played a very minor role in the 20th century naval warfare, the few examples that saw combat primarily conducted shore bombardments and served as antiaircraft platforms. This category is a sort of catch-all for post ironclad warships that are more heavily armed and armored than a cruiser but too small to be battleships. Some predreadnoughts were also reclassified as coastal defense ships after they were obsolete as battleships. Not counted as battleships in statistical analysis.

    Here are my numbers for discussion, does anyone have any comments or corrections to offer?
    Last edited by USSWisconsin; 25 Mar 10, at 17:19.

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    Defense Professional Dreadnought's Avatar
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    I believe I heard a figure of somewhere around 175 from all nations built since Dreadnought first appeared.
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    You can get copies of the various Conway's volumes and make an exact count. I don't suggest you spend any time trying to engineer precise definitions; they always turn out to be more trouble than they're worth. After all, the first fast battleship of the dreadnought period was the Dreadnought. And there were fast battleships before that as well. Might as well content yourself looking at capital ships with big guns, and let it go at that.

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    In Memoriam/Battleship Enthusiast Defense Professional USSWisconsin's Avatar
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    That is very close to my numbers, there were about 242 predreadnoughts

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    In Memoriam/Battleship Enthusiast Defense Professional USSWisconsin's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tiornu View Post
    You can get copies of the various Conway's volumes and make an exact count. I don't suggest you spend any time trying to engineer precise definitions; they always turn out to be more trouble than they're worth. After all, the first fast battleship of the dreadnought period was the Dreadnought. And there were fast battleships before that as well. Might as well content yourself looking at capital ships with big guns, and let it go at that.
    Thanks, I have used Conways and a bunch of other sources. There have been fast battleships at each point in time, but once it was all said and done, the fast battleship was considered to be the final type by most authors. I understand that there are always exceptions and things that don't fit with definitions like these, the Tennessee class armored cruisers for instance - clearly not battleships - but they might be called that according to most definitions.

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    Defense Professional RustyBattleship's Avatar
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    If you really want to get picky, you have to understand the definition of the word "Battleship". It comes from the days long before Fulton invented the first steam engine.

    Naval Battle strategy in those days depended upon establishing a "Line of Battle Ships" with the intent of "crossing the T" of the enemy's "Line of Battle Ships". They were usually the largest ships with the most (muzzle loading) cannons on board. Or the largest cannons. Or a combination of both. Sinking the enemy ships depended upon how many big balls of iron could be punched through their hulls in as short a time as possible.

    So I guess a good start would be the Spanish Armada.

    Seriously, sometimes we get way too technical and definitive in some items. Such as understanding the latest Health Care Bill passed by Congressmen who don't have to pay into it. I know I get too picky at times and have to stop myself and search for a PRACTICAL starting point and ending point.

    However, I do object (often VERY vocally) at news reporters showing a new Destroyer or Frigate and calling it a "Battleship". "Warship" is more encompassing of any size ship built to go into battle regardless of size or sophistication of its weaponry.

    So, in my mind the true Battleships of what I'm used to working on originated in the early part of the 20th century with the pre-dreadnoughts and ended with the decommissioning of the Iowa class Battleships.
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    Defense Professional Dreadnought's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by RustyBattleship View Post
    If you really want to get picky, you have to understand the definition of the word "Battleship". It comes from the days long before Fulton invented the first steam engine.

    Naval Battle strategy in those days depended upon establishing a "Line of Battle Ships" with the intent of "crossing the T" of the enemy's "Line of Battle Ships". They were usually the largest ships with the most (muzzle loading) cannons on board. Or the largest cannons. Or a combination of both. Sinking the enemy ships depended upon how many big balls of iron could be punched through their hulls in as short a time as possible.

    So I guess a good start would be the Spanish Armada.

    Seriously, sometimes we get way too technical and definitive in some items. Such as understanding the latest Health Care Bill passed by Congressmen who don't have to pay into it. I know I get too picky at times and have to stop myself and search for a PRACTICAL starting point and ending point.

    However, I do object (often VERY vocally) at news reporters showing a new Destroyer or Frigate and calling it a "Battleship". "Warship" is more encompassing of any size ship built to go into battle regardless of size or sophistication of its weaponry.

    So, in my mind the true Battleships of what I'm used to working on originated in the early part of the 20th century with the pre-dreadnoughts and ended with the decommissioning of the Iowa class Battleships.
    *Definately Agreed with that one Mr. L. It makes me laugh when you see any other ship in the media and instantly its a "battleship" when nothing could be further from the truth in the true sense of the term. This is not meant to take away from any naval force or ship but it just shows the general rational of todays media and press.

    I thought they all had fact checkers before they can print or air. Obviously when it comes to reporting on Naval activity they apparently skip that theory altogether.
    Last edited by Dreadnought; 26 Mar 10, at 13:14.
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    Defense Professional Dreadnought's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ytlas View Post
    Ok, so after reading the last two posts, just because it's gray, has guns and floats on water, it's not necessarily a "Battleship." It has to be really large, really fully of big guns, floats on water, and has to be built after cRusty was born, to be a "Battleship."
    IMO, The battleships era would start with the Pre Dreadoughts anywhere between 1850 and 1900. When true steel plate armor came of age instead of cellulose belts etc. Like all ship questions they open themselves to inuendo when we consider "ships of the line" throughout the late 18 & 19 century. They didn't have armor so to speak but they did carry alot of guns, yet they we not painted gray. All open to interpitation I figure.

    I think what does it is the way the press uses the word "battleship". IMO they are meaning a warship. To me though there is no other definition then heavy armor, large, fast for its size and the biggest guns it can carry and capable of upclose slugging it out with ships of comparible size, speed armor and guns. When electronics didnt completely overtake physical manpower aboard for many of the ships functions and weaponry.

    Im also pretty sure that someone much older then myself or Rusty would have a different definition of the word as well. All in how you use the word I suppose.
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    In Memoriam/Battleship Enthusiast Defense Professional USSWisconsin's Avatar
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    Rusty and Dreadnought, Thank you

    Quote Originally Posted by Dreadnought View Post
    *Definately Agreed with that one Mr. L. It makes me laugh when you see any other ship in the media and instantly its a "battleship" when nothing could be further from the truth in the true sense of the term. This is not meant to take away from any naval force or ship but it just shows the general rational of todays media and press.

    I thought they all had fact checkers before they can print or air. Obviously when it comes to reporting on Naval activity they apparently skip that theory altogether.
    Rusty and Dreadnought
    I am in complete agreement, I have heard myself repeating much what you both have said here (the news media calling a destroyer or even a submarine a battleship...). I am excited to be studying this subject with such experience and knowledge within my reach. Rusty your book on the LANSY is an inspiration, though I started this endeavor before I saw it, I have been trying to improve my work based on the way you handled your subject.

    Here is my summary of the prelude to the battleship. The name battleship, in its present context, was coined by the British to describe HMS Colossus (1886) and applied to older ships after that - Like HMS Devastation (1873), -- the year ships were commissioned. My book is now pushing 400 pages and it is about half done, I think it will neeed to be several volumes when it is done.

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    If we use a term dependent on "when all is said and done," it will hopelessly obscure the analogous developments of an earlier period, even though they were equally significant--they just didn't happen to be last. So what good is the distinction? The last battleships were indeed the last battleships...does that tell us anything?
    I do think the steel-hull criterion is broad enough to be useful. The introduction of metal armor might be seen as more revolutionary, especially by the ironclad fans.

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    In Memoriam/Battleship Enthusiast Defense Professional USSWisconsin's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tiornu View Post
    If we use a term dependent on "when all is said and done," it will hopelessly obscure the analogous developments of an earlier period, even though they were equally significant--they just didn't happen to be last. So what good is the distinction? The last battleships were indeed the last battleships...does that tell us anything?
    I do think the steel-hull criterion is broad enough to be useful. The introduction of metal armor might be seen as more revolutionary, especially by the ironclad fans.
    I am trying to look back on the steel (and iron) steam battleships as a completed story, I beleive with the current understanding of battleships it is challenging but possible to explain the whole story. The bigger story really got started around 1860 with ships like the French Le Gloire and HMS Warrior, and the US Monitor a couple years later, but earlier examples existed, like the floating batteries of the Crimean War, and Fulton's Demelogos (lacked iron armor), the Korean Turtle Ships (lacked steam power). Everyone's explaination will be different, but a good explaination is still worth striving for. The HMS Swiftsure and Triumph were fast battleships of the predreadrought period, with some faster predreadnoughts, like the French Danton class, built after dreadnought, and often called semi-dreadnoughts at the time. To me a fast battleship is a 1930's design type battleship with a few older ships like the Queen Elizabeth's fitting this description.

    I appreaciate the insights these discussions bring, and I know I don't know enough about these ships, with help from you and others I will learn about my current misconceptions and understand better. I hope to weed out the things I currently beleive that are wrong and end up with something that makes sense and is interesting, and is not inaccurate. I have no doubt that some facts, details, and interesting parts will be overlooked.

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    I think you'll do fine whether you start with the ironclads or with the steel-hulled ships. Personally, I think the later ships with their turrets are a better fit with what people have in mind when they picture a battleship. If you start with ironclads, you have the sticky issue of monitors. Are these really capital ships? Certainly the monitors that saw extensive service in the World Wars were not capital ships. There aren't a lot of tough calls if we start with the later ships. The one that leaps to mind is the Japanese armored cruisers of the Ibuki and Tsukuba classes. They fit my definition--capital ships with big guns--but I personally would choose to keep out any pre-dreadnought armored cruisers. But as long as you lay out your criteria at the outset, whatever criteria they may be, no one's going to have any big complaint.

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    In Memoriam/Battleship Enthusiast Defense Professional USSWisconsin's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tiornu View Post
    I think you'll do fine whether you start with the ironclads or with the steel-hulled ships. Personally, I think the later ships with their turrets are a better fit with what people have in mind when they picture a battleship. If you start with ironclads, you have the sticky issue of monitors. Are these really capital ships? Certainly the monitors that saw extensive service in the World Wars were not capital ships. There aren't a lot of tough calls if we start with the later ships. The one that leaps to mind is the Japanese armored cruisers of the Ibuki and Tsukuba classes. They fit my definition--capital ships with big guns--but I personally would choose to keep out any pre-dreadnought armored cruisers. But as long as you lay out your criteria at the outset, whatever criteria they may be, no one's going to have any big complaint.
    Thanks, I wouldn't count the Ibuki and Tsukuba classes as battleships either, and the earlier ironclads are just part of the background for the actual battleships I was counting, I started with the predreadnoughts, in the 1870s.

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    I would go with starting around 1870 after the loss of the 'masted' turret ship HMS Captain . A proper definition of a battleship post 1870 in my mind should be . Ocean going without sails above 6500 tons (that disposes of tricky definitions for monitors and ironclads) with belt or citadel armour . Guns mounted in armoured barbettes or turrets of a caliber not less than 10" with belt armour not less than 6".Stick to these basic criteria and you wont go wrong . I think HMS Devastation 1873 would be a very good starting point for a history of what we would visualise as being the start of the modern battleship era.

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    Defense Professional RustyBattleship's Avatar
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    For a nicely done thumbnail history of American Battleships, try to find a copy of Max R. Newhart's book titled "American Battleships". Also try to get the 9th edition that included some contributions I made to it.

    You may be able to find it on one of the book selling web sites.
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