This is another title in the fine range of Images of War series. The series stands on the careful selection of rare archive images, but each title is more than a photo essay. There is crisp text to support the image selection in telling the story. In this issue, there are some excellent colour images with the mainly monochrome selection. Enthusiasts and model makers are very well served by the image selection, but this is a very affordable book that is very useful to the younger reader, or anyone wishing to develop knowledge in this area of warfare and technology.
NAME: Images of War, Battleships of the United States Navy, rare photographs from wartime archives
AUTHOR: Michael Green
PUBLISHER: Pen & Sword
BINDING: soft back
GENRE: Non Fiction
SUBJECT: American Civil War, USS Monitor, Main Class, WWII, World War Two, Second World War, battleships, capital ships, armoured ships, naval artillery, Pearl Harbour, new-build, 16 in gun, missiles, anti-aircraft guns
DESCRIPTION: This is another title in the fine range of Images of War series. The series stands on the careful selection of rare archive images, but each title is more than a photo essay. There is crisp text to support the image selection in telling the story. In this issue, there are some excellent colour images with the mainly monochrome selection. Enthusiasts and model makers are very well served by the image selection, but this is a very affordable book that is very useful to the younger reader, or anyone wishing to develop knowledge in this area of warfare and technology.
The book covers USN battleships from early battleships, through Dreadnoughts and Super Dreadnoughts, to the final Fast Battleships. For a Navy that was first to build steam-powered armoured battleships with turret guns, the USN failed to build the finest examples of capital ships. The Civil War Monitor was a very low freeboard armoured vessel with a single turret, mounting 10 in muzzle-loading guns. It did fight the first battle between steam armoured battleships, when it engaged the CSN Virginia. It was an indecisive engagement in coastal waters and neither vessel was well-suited to operation in deeper water, leaving the duty of line of battle to wooden sailing ships little advanced from the first vessels commissioned by the new United States of America. The first ships were large frigates, designed to attack pirates, rather than true line-of-battle-ships in the class of European warship employed in the 1805 Battle of Trafalgar. Even the Maine of 1886 was really a second class battleship or armoured cruiser. Like most other navies, the USN operated armoured ships with a selection of guns in various calibres, until the launch of the revolutionary British HMS Dreadnought. For its day, Dreadnought was a very fast ship with a main armament in a number of identical two-gun turrets, with consistent armour. Overnight, Dreadnought rendered every other battleship obsolete and started an arms race.
The USN then began to commission “Dreadnoughts” and followed the general design trend, but USN battleships were not the most powerful, or even good blue water vessels. Perhaps the challenge was in identifying how the ships would be used, or against which other navies.
US battleships rarely offered sleek lines or good sea-keeping, relative to the British, French and German equivalents. There were several ‘American’ features, such as the unusual circular cross section lattice masts that looked as though they were topped with a garden shed. Part of the challenge was that the USN did not have experience of fighting this class of vessel and even WWI did not change this because the Germans remained in port after the Battle of Jutland and the US entered the war close to its end.
Not much changed in the years between the World Wars. USN battleships were at best competent and none could really be considered inspiring designs, although guns, turrets and gun aiming steadily improved.
When the Japanese destroyed a large percentage of US battleships in the Pearl Harbour attack, the US had the opportunity to build replacements that were significant advances. The final USN vessels of the Iowa Class were attractive ships with 16 in guns, spotter aircraft, fleet speed and radar. They were still smaller gunned by the Japanese super battleships with their 18 in guns, but the time of the naval big gun was already passing. As with the British Royal Navy, the USN strength was already in aircraft carriers and carrier planes.
After WWII, several navies continued to keep battle ships in service, but primarily as a display of naval power, ceremonial ships that were not expected to face other battleships. The Iowa Class was to continue on in service, operate in Vietnam War and in the 1990/91 Gulf War. By this stage, the main guns still offered effective shore bombardment weapons, augmented by cruise missile batteries and retaining a reduced complement of anti-aircraft guns.
The author has provided an interesting history of USN battleships and the rare photographs illustrate the development of the type during the first half of the 20th Century. Even in the final class, the USN had not matched British design. The KGV Class outperformed the Iowa Class as ships and the war emergency HMS Vanguard, built quickly, cheaply and armed with old guns landed from battleships converted to aircraft carriers, was a far better sea-keeper, able to operate in conditions that the Iowas could not. Considering how well the USN did in the specification and operation of its destroyers, cruisers and carriers, perhaps the conclusion is that it never took the battleship to its heart.