Why the Navy Phased Out Battleships

September 20, 2017

During the war in the Pacific, the US Navy relied heavily on battleships to fight off the Imperial Japanese Navy. In fact, it was an attack on these impressive war machines that was effectively the reason why we went to war. So why did the Navy decide to cease production and deployment of these mighty vessels?

The answer may actually be a lot simpler than one may think…

December 7th, 1941

USS Arizona oil leaking on Battleship Row

Battleship Row, December 7, 1941

The importance of America’s battleships came into sharp focus on December 7th, 1941, when the Japanese flew into Pearl Harbor and launched their devastating assault. The strategic value of the battleships was clear, being the main targets of the Japanese striking force. The eight ships moored at Battleship Row were prime targets for Japan’s fighters and bombers, and though two—the USS Arizona (BB-39) and the USS Oklahoma (BB-37)—were irreparably lost during the attack, the other six were returned to service and went on to play major roles in the war that followed.

It’s arguable that one of the most important ships of World War II was a battleship, the USS Missouri (BB-63). She took part in multiple battles in the Pacific, but her greatest achievement was serving as the site for Japan’s final surrender.

Battleships served the United States well before, during, and after World War II, but on March 31st, 1992, the last battleship, the Missouri, was decommissioned and the entire concept of the battleship was dropped and replaced – but why?

The Decreasing Efficiency of Battleships

USS Zumwalt (DDG-1000)

In their prime, battleships were some of the most efficient war machines afloat, but as time wore on and technology advanced, designs for far more efficient vessels became prevalent. Take the Zumwalt-class destroyer, a concept ship that saw the first of 32 planned commissions in 2016. Though the Zumwalt (DDG-1000) may be costly to build, operating the ship comes at an incredible advantage over battleships.

Where an Iowa-class ship like the Missouri needed upwards of 2,000 sailors, the Zumwalt-class only requires a crew of fewer than 150. Besides the pay for each sailor, far less provisions are needed. But beyond manpower, there’s another very important factor when we consider how wars are fought these days.

Where enemies once had to mostly face each other in battle, lobbing unguided shells at one another, newer weaponry has a much smaller margin of error. A shell fired from one of these ships has a much higher probability of hitting its target, which of course is the whole point of naval warfare. Less munitions would go to waste and, once again, the costs would decrease.

When you factor in the added costs of having to repair outdated equipment, and the training hours for the crew of these massive vessels, it becomes clear why you won’t see American battleships patrolling the waters these days. Once a massive benefit to the US Navy, battleships have become a relic of past conflicts and a reminder of the brave men who once served aboard them.

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