Learning Pearl Harbor: What are Battleship Classes?

May 08, 2018
by Jason Alghussein

On the morning of December 7, 1941, there were seven battleships moored along Battleship Row with an eighth nearby in dry dock. The USS Nevada (BB-36), USS Oklahoma (BB-37), USS Pennsylvania (BB-38), USS Arizona (BB-39), USS Tennessee (BB-43), USS California (BB-44), USS Maryland (BB-46), and USS West Virginia (BB-48) were all battleships of the US Navy, but there were distinctions between them. Every naval vessel belongs to a class, named after the first of its type. These are the battleship classes that were present at Pearl Harbor at the time of the attack.

One of the most common ways of differentiating among battleships is by class. In this instance, class refers to the type of battleship, including Nevada, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Colorado-classes. Each class has its own specifications, tweaking the general design of the battleship to include new or different features.


Battleship classes: USS Nevada (BB-36)

USS Nevada (BB-36)

Composed of Nevada and Oklahoma. Nevada-class vessels were the first battleships to implement the “all or nothing” armor scheme. This method of armoring a battleship involved providing ample protection to more vital areas of the ship while leaving other, less important sections more vulnerable.

Following the New York-class, Nevada-class ships were more capable of fighting at much longer ranges. They were the first of battleships to be able to do so. They utilized oil-fired propulsion and were generally considered the prototype of the modern battleship.




Overall Length: 575’

Displacement: 27,900 tons

Speed: 23.6 mph

Original Armament: 10 x 14” 45 caliber guns; 21 x 5” 51 caliber guns, 2 x 3” 50 caliber AA guns, 2 or 4 x 21” torpedo tubes.

Armament after 1920s Refit: 10 x 14” 45 caliber guns, 12 x 5” 51 caliber guns, 8 x 5” 25 caliber guns, 8 x 1.1” AA guns

USS Nevada Armament (1942): Replaced 5” 25 caliber and 5” 51 caliber guns with 16 x 5” 38 caliber guns, 32 x 40 mm Bofors AA gun, 40 x 20 mm Oerlikon cannons


Battleship classes: USS Pennsylvania (BB-38)

USS Pennsylvania (BB-38)

Pennsylvania and Arizona made up the Pennsylvania-class of battleships. The two vessels were also designed with the “all or nothing” armor scheme in mind. Pennsylvania-class battleships were the second series of “Standard-type” battleships in the US Navy.

Introduced in the First World War, Pennsylvania-class battleships were primarily used in World War II and featured many improvements on the prior class. Improved steam turbines increased shaft horsepower and slightly increased speed from its predecessor. As for firepower, Pennsylvania-class battleships were outfitted with two 14” 45 caliber guns on top of the armament carried over from its predecessor.



Overall Length: 600’

Displacement: 29,626 tons

Speed: 24.60 mph

Armament: 12 x 14” 45 caliber guns, 22 x 5” 51 caliber guns, 4 x 3” 50 caliber AA guns, and 2 x 21” torpedo tubes.


Battleship classes: USS Tennessee (BB-43)

USS Tennessee (BB-43)

After the Pennsylvania- and New Mexico-classes came the Tennessee-class. Comprising Tennessee and California, this class modified the New Mexico design to increase the durability of its underwater armor. After the Battle of Jutland, overall battleship design was reconsidered to account for a need for better underwater protection. The Tennessee-class of battleships were also outfitted with a fire-control system in their main and secondary batteries.

Tennessee-class battleships were the first to have a cage mast that supported fire-control tops, no secondary gun casemates, and twin funnels. Tennessee-class battleships were capable of firing at distances of 10,000 yards more than the previous standard range.



Overall Length: 600”

Displacement: 33,723 tons

Speed: 24 mph

Armament: 12 x 14” 50 caliber guns, 25 x 5” 51 caliber guns, 2 x Mark 15 21” torpedo tubes


Battleship classes: USS Colorado (BB-45)

USS Colorado (BB-45)

The youngest of the battleship classes represented at Pearl Harbor at the time of the Japanese attack, the Colorado-class was introduced in 1921 with the commissioning of the USS Colorado (BB-45). Maryland and West Virginia were moored along Battleship Row in Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, while the class's namesake Colorado was undergoing overhaul on the US West Coast.

Other than improved firepower, the Colorado-class was very similar to its predecessor.





Overall Length: 624” 3’

Displacement: 32,600 tons

Speed: 24 mph

Armament: 8 x 16” 45 caliber Mark 1 guns, 12 or 14 x 5” 51 caliber guns, 2 x 21” torpedo tubes, 8 x 5” 25 caliber guns

Later Battleship Classes

Battleship classes: USS Iowa (BB-61)

USS Iowa (BB-61)

In total, the US Navy introduced 22 different battleship classes, with the last one being the Montana class that was planned but never built.

The last battleships to be built and commissioned into service belonged to the Iowa class, made up of the USS Iowa (BB-61), USS New Jersey (BB-62), USS Missouri (BB-63), and USS Wisconsin (BB-64).

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