For more than fifty years, a country's naval might was measured by the number of Capital Ships it possessed and no Capital Ship was more valued than a battleship. A country's maritime prestige was measured by a sole parameter, the number of battleships in its navy. Many countries devoted huge portions of their national defense budgets to the building of one or two of these sea going behemoths. In their early days a battleship was of the size and displacement of a modern destroyer, approximately 6,000 tons and within the brief period of but fifty years evolved into immense gargantuans displacing 80,000 to 90,000 tons when fully armed and manned. Then, when at their zenith for speed, size, and armament, they became obsolete and very soon thereafter extinct, much like the dinosaurs.
Even today if one were to ask a citizen of a country with an impressive naval history, to name a great ship in their country's past, you would hear names like Hood, Bismarck, Prince of Wales, Yamato, Arizona, and Iowa. Though without a doubt it was the aircraft carriers that were decisive and carried the day in World War II, it is the battleships that are far better remembered. The memories that are stirred when these great names are mentioned create images of awesome monsters slugging it out, much like heavyweight boxers, toe to toe and eye to eye. Battleships were capable, even before the advent of radar, of firing 2,000 pound projectiles at targets as far as twenty miles away, with as much deadly accuracy as a modern laser guided missile.
These vessels of majesty and destiny inspired hundreds of books and movies, recalling the great confrontations, acts of power, devastation, and horrific loss of life, which was embedded in the history of the dreadnoughts. Dreadnought was a generic name for battleship. It was derived from the HMS Dreadnought launched in 1906, by the British Navy, and was the first all big gun battleship. This set in motion the great naval arms race that was to ensue for the next 40 years.
The mere mention of the Hood or Arizona, creates mental images of unparalleled destruction, huge ships destroyed by a single direct hit, with near complete loss of life. The Bismarck was a ship that would not be sunk, no matter how many direct hits the British inflicted upon her. The Bismarck finally succumbed to a massive torpedo attack, against its lesser protected lower hull. The Nevada was the only battle ship to fire its boilers and make steam at Pearl Harbor. It lived to survive the atomic bomb tests Able and Baker at Bikini Atoll, refusing to accept its destiny until it was felled by naval gunfire superior to its armament.
Of all the great Naval Powers, no nation ever achieved more success with their battleships, than the United States did. While the United States did not build the biggest of the battleships, it certainly built the best and manned them with superior crews. With the advent of radar, the United States Navy became the master of night time gunnery action. The United States is the only naval power of the Dreadnought Era to have never lost a battleship to the fire of an enemy battleship. What follows is a brief history and chronology of The American Navy's Battleships.