A Survey of the American "Standard Type" Battleship

by Joseph Czarnecki
Updated 01 February 2001

Between 1912 and 1917, the United States Navy produced twelve battleships of five classes, referred to collectively as “the Standard Type.”   Despite the implication of “cookie-cutter” production in the term, this remarkable series of ships was at once conservative and innovative.  Each small class incorporated a progressive series of improvements while retaining enough commonality for the individual ships to operate successfully as a homogeneous whole in the line of battle.

The first “Standard Type” battleship represented a radical departure with the past.  The Nevada (BB-36) class - a.k.a.  “Battleship 1912” - introduced the single-sleeve triple turret and “all or nothing” armor protection to dreadnought battleships.  She also set the physical pattern for later “Standard Type” ships with four turrets superimposed in pairs fore and aft, a 13.5” belt, an aggregate 4.5” of deck protection, massive turret faces (18” on the triples) and the adoption of oil fired boilers.  Perhaps the USN had sated its appetite for revolution temporarily with Nevada and her sister ship Oklahoma.  Certainly it bit off a large bite with these two vessels, although in a conservative holdover, USS Oklahoma (BB-37) received reciprocating triple expansion engines vice the turbines mounted in the Nevada.  This proved a mistake and made the Oklahoma the first “Standard Type” battleship that the USN desired to replace.

The second “Standard Type” battleship design was the Pennsylvania (BB-38) class - a.k.a.  “Battleship 1913 and Battleship 1914” - which actually represented a development of a scheme considered for “Battleship 1912.”  The Pennsylvania sported four triple, single sleeve turrets, vice Nevada’s two triples and two twins.  The increased displacement necessary to support the additional armament drove the ship’s size up from Nevada’s 575’ waterline length and 95’ beam, to 600’ at the waterline and 97’ in the beam, thus adding the last of the gross physical characteristics of the “Standard Type.”  USS Arizona (BB-39) was fitted as a normal line ship, but Pennsylvania received a special two-level conning tower to serve as the fleet flagship.  Both ships received turbines.  Beyond the 20% increase in firepower and moderate increases displacement and physical dimensions and the final abandonment of the triple expansion engine, the Pennsylvania's represented repeat Nevada's.

The New Mexico (BB-40) class - a.k.a.  “Battleship 1915” - was the third “Standard Type” design.  New features of this class were an extra half inch of deck armor, the “clipper bow” (largely cosmetic to the ship’s fighting qualities), removal of the 'midships secondary guns to a higher, drier position on the forecastle deck, and the introduction of the 14”/50 caliber gun in triple turrets with individual sleeves, vice the 14”/45 caliber weapon in a single sleeve of the previous classes.  USS Mississippi (BB-41) and USS Idaho (BB-42) represented repeat Pennsylvania’s beyond these features.  The New Mexico featured a new and radically different propulsion system, the turbo-electric drive (TED).  However, the design of the New Mexico does not appear to have benefited from the improvements in the internal compartmentation arrangement that TED would have normally permitted.  Later, during modernization, she was converted to conventional turbine propulsion similar to her sister ships.

The fourth “Standard Type” design was the Tennessee (BB-43) class - a.k.a.  “Battleship 1916.” Externally, the Tennessee was nothing more than a repeat New Mexico with the bow and stern casemates deleted, a more built-up superstructure and new fire control equipment represented externally by the provision of “fighting tops” on the heavier cage masts.  The only external clue to a significant internal change was the fitting of two thin funnels vice the normal single thick one.  Below decks the decision to adopt turbo-electric drive permitted a wholesale rearrangement and fine subdivision of the machinery spaces, while simultaneously narrowing them and permitting more space outboard for a new torpedo defense system (TDS).  This layered system of voids, liquid-filled tanks and thin armored bulkheads was the most significant improvement over the New Mexico design besides the improvement in fire control.

The fifth and last “Standard Type” design was the Colorado (BB-45) class - a.k.a.  “Battleship 1917.” The Colorado was a duplicate of the previous design in every respect except for the adoption of twin 16”/45 caliber individual sleeve turrets in place of the triple 14”/50 caliber units.  Sister ships USS Maryland (BB-46) and USS West Virginia (BB-48) were completed.  USS Washington (BB-47) was sacrificed to meet the limitations imposed by the Washington Naval Limitation Treaty and was later expended in ordnance tests which largely confirmed the quality of the design.

How and why the “Standard Type” developed and how this differed from foreign practice

Although the USN’s General Board of senior and retired admirals pressed for battleship classes of four ships each with improved characteristics each year, a pacifist Congress routinely authorized a maximum of two ships per year and sometimes only one.  The only exception was in 1917, after war had been declared.  Authorizations were as follows:

“Battleship 1912:”  Two ships
“Battleship 1913:”  One ship
“Battleship 1914:”  One ship
“Battleship 1915:”  Two ships
“Battleship 1916:”  Two ships
“Battleship 1917:”  Four ships

While only two ships were authorized for “Battleship 1915,” three were in fact built, with the last a result of a monetary windfall for the USN in the sale of two predreadnoughts to Greece.  The increased authorization in 1917 was the start of a build-up toward participation in World War I, an initial step which exploited the latest design without having yet passed the bounds that marked the Standard Type.  In this authorization, the USN finally had a four-ship Class - only to see one sacrificed to the Washington Treaty five years later.

Certainly all navies operated under physical and fiscal constraints, but the US Navy was probably uniquely restricted compared to other powers during the dreadnought period.  Where the British were most constrained by physical and the Japanese by economic limitations, the United States was essentially economically and physically unlimited with respect to battleship construction (outside the need to pass the Panama Canal and into Hampton Roads).  All major constraints were actually exercised by the US Congress (through fiscal means) and the Executive Branch of the government through the Navy Secretary.  In this case, the Navy Secretary was Josephus Daniels, a man of high ideals but possessing little naval knowledge or experience.  Among those high ideals was temperance of habit, whether it was drinking alcohol, spending money or forms of aggrandizement - such as unrestrained growth of battleship designs.  Thus the “Standard Type” was “artificially” constrained.

The problems for Britain and Japan were different.  The British were severely limited by the size of their dockyards and by the depth of their ports.  They were also locked into a naval race with Germany, so numbers were the order of the day, as was the desire to “trump” the enemy qualitatively.  What resulted was a seven-ship run of essentially the original Dreadnought design, followed by three transition ships and then a run of twelve ships with a larger gun caliber but little real difference between the three classes (Orion, King George V and Iron Duke).  The British then increased caliber again and ran off a series of ten ships, consisting of five fast and five not so fast ships.  These ten ships of the Queen Elizabeth and Revenge classes formed the backbone of the Royal Navy’s battle line between the wars.  They represented a fixed state of design that ended in 1912.  The last class built, the Revenges, actually represented a slightly retrograde step when compared to the previous one.

Here truly was a “cookie-cutter” design approach, albeit with a reason; the need for numbers in the shortest possible time.  As for the three battlecruisers retained between the wars, these were holdovers of a dangerously flawed concept and consequently of questionable value.

The Japanese were handicapped by the low capacity of their economy and infrastructure which restricted their ability to support their ambitions.  Japan’s design philosophy was initially very haphazard and was based more on formula, tradition and “one-ups-manship” than a logical determination of needs and means.  After Tsushima, Japan essentially maintained a core force of four battleships and four armored cruisers, a “4-4 Fleet.”   So, the Kongo tetrad were intended as more powerful replacements for the four previous armored cruisers composing the IJN’s fast wing and the two Fuso’s and the two Ise's replaced earlier predreadnoughts.  In their particulars, all three classes represented incremental and largely insignificant “trumps” of contemporary foreign ships in regards to the main gun caliber and number of barrels.  Only the follow-on and superb Nagato design represented a coherent design philosophy intended to overcome superior foreign numbers through qualitative superiority.  Fortunately for the British and Americans, the rest of Japan’s “8-8-8 Program” ships were cancelled in 1922 as a result of the Washington Treaty.

The French and Italian navies produced their dreadnoughts from a largely "also ran" perspective and less advanced state of the art, despite the occasional novel or innovative feature.  The Italian ships were extensively rebuilt, but even so never rivaled the American, British or Japanese ships of the period.  The French vessels never benefited from a thorough reconstruction and were relatively poor designs from the beginning.

These foreign patterns were not ones that the burgeoning and aggressively navalist USN wished to emulate.  The USN did not wish to be saddled with long-term production of obsolete designs in order to achieve sufficient numbers (due to the low yearly Congressional appropriations), nor did it desire to produce a slew of potentially incompatible “uniques” to achieve qualitative improvement.  Instead, the USN sought a progressive, planned expansion to world-class status.  Thus a practical solution evolved, spurred on by Daniels’ personal views and Congress’ parsimony.  This solution involved a design series in which certain general Characteristics were largely frozen while progressive improvements in fire power and fire control were implemented.  As a result, dimensions, speed and protection remained largely static throughout the run of the Standard series.  This decision to hold certain characteristics static had several ramifications, some positive and some negative (at least in the crystal clarity of hindsight).

The ramifications of the General Board’s pursuit of the “Standard Type” concept:

Throughout its run, the “Standard Type” design concept produced a ship of 21 knots maximum speed with roughly a 700-yard tactical diameter at that speed.  This made the “Standard Type” ships compatible with the earlier Wyoming and New York Classes and gave the US an interwar period battle line of completely homogeneous handling characteristics.  By contrast, the battle lines of the other two large contracting powers of the Washington Treaty were something of a hodgepodge:
Britain Japan
Nelson (2) - 23 knots Nagato (2) - 25 knots
Hood (1) - 31 knots Ise (2) - 25.3 knots
Renown (2) - 30.7 knots Fuso (2) - 22.5 knots
Revenge (5) - 23 knots Kongo (4) - 30 knots
Queen Elizabeth (5) - 23.5 knots

While tactically coherent, the US battle line ended up being several knots slower than its chief rivals, a point of constant retrospective criticism.  As a matter of individual performance, the US designs were certainly outclassed by individual foreign designs in speed, however, the US ships were never intended to operate singly or as separate formations by class.  As a matter of the collective whole known as the battle line, the difference was not so great.  A British or Japanese admiral had to operate his Line at its fastest common speed (23 or 22.5 knots respectively, assuming all ships are in good repair), or separate a portion of his line to allow it to exploit its superior speed.  In doing so, he would violate the principle of Concentration of Force while potentially gaining a positional advantage.  If he failed in his coordination or timing, he risked either the faster or slower wing being engaged separately and defeated in detail by a consolidated USN line.  If a British or Japanese admiral chose keep his ships concentrated, the 1.5 to 2 knot speed advantage was hardly decisive nor even necessarily capable of allowing him to “dictate the range” given the other dynamics that influence maneuver in battle.  In practice, any battle line could be slower than its theoretical maximum common speed.  USS Oklahoma at times dragged the US battle line down to 19 knots, but the RN and IJN were hobbled by their “dogs” as well.  The British “R” class ships in particular were badly maintained after their final refits in the mid-1930s and the Japanese Fuso class were perennially handicapped by their cramped machinery arrangement.  Nothing could predict which fleet might be having a “bad machinery day” in battle, but in that regard USN ships enjoyed an enviable reputation for reliable machinery.

Although the General Board desired greater speed, it chose to forego speed in favor of commonality of protection and firepower when unable to accommodate it without negatively impacting those other factors.  Why was the USN willing to accept this seemingly gross disadvantage?  The answer lies in the major influence exerted by the writings of the USN’s homegrown naval strategy theorist, Alfred Thayer Mahan.  Mahan contended that the opposing fleet is the center of gravity of the enemy's sea power.  If Mahan was correct, and sea power was best and most certainly secured by destruction of the opposing fleet, then the enemy had to seek an engagement with the US fleet and destroy it to achieve victory.  As the USN had no desire to avoid an engagement, high speed was not seen as essential.  The USN also had no need of speed to pursue an enemy and force an engagement.  Advancing on and seizing objectives was expected to flush the enemy out and force him to come out, give battle and be destroyed.  If he failed to do so, his position and that of his fleet would continue to erode to the advantage of the US.  To this perspective, speed truly was a disposable asset.  Sacrificing speed only became a “mistake” in hindsight.  The interwar period produced unforeseen advances in propulsion technology and the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor changed the initial calculus of force in the Pacific.  In the new environment, small squadron actions and not major fleet clashes decided campaigns, making individual ship speed of more relative value.

A further criticism of the speed of the Standards is in regards to their suitability as carrier escorts.  As aviation and carriers assumed the lead role in naval warfare, high speed became of value for battleships in order for them to accompany carriers.  However, this retrospective complaint about escorting carriers is fallacious in regards to the era in which these battleships were designed.  Carriers simply did not exist at that time and anticipating this sort of future need would have verged on clairvoyance.  Furthermore, sacrificing protective and offensive qualities to achieve higher speeds with 1912-1917 technology would have demanded major design changes.  Seeking speed for its own sake, or as its own form of “protection” in the 1912-1917 era would have most likely have proven as catastrophically foolish for the USN as it did for the RN.  It would also, through the usual course of design compromise, have deprived this series of ships of their best characteristics.

Armor and Underwater Protection:

“Standard Type” armor protection was held virtually static during the long construction period of these ships.  In the context of the period of their design, the “Standard Type” vessels were very advanced and defined the state of the art with their “all or nothing” scheme and “raft body” buoyancy standard.  The USN had anticipated the need to design for long-range gunfire engagements eight years before Jutland made the need obvious to other nations’ designers.  Thus it could afford to “rest on its laurels” during this period and invest the modest permitted tonnage increases in firepower and fire control rather than improved protection.  However, this is not to say that improving protection was a neglected area.  Regarding torpedo protection, the last two Classes of the series were certainly the most advanced in the world at the time of their introduction, and the older ships were comprehensively updated when reconstructed.  The Nevada, Pennsylvania and New Mexico class ships all received an upgrade of their horizontal protection.  In fact, only the USN’s decision not to rebuild the last two “Standard Type” classes before World War Two prevented the entire series from being brought up to contemporary standards.

Again, the series cannot be faulted for the advance of time and technology.  Only the inexorable growth of torpedo warhead weight and explosive power compromised the outstanding torpedo defense system pioneered in the Tennessee Class.  But against contemporary weapons, the Colorado Class USS Washington held up well when expended in ordnance tests in 1924, surviving three days in a seaway after two 400-pound torpedo warheads and three 1000-pound bomb warheads were detonated against the TDS.  During these tests, the hulk suffered only a five degree list.

Main Gun Armament:

Although the General Board sought a ship armed with ten 16” guns as early as “Battleship 1913,” it was forced into a more gradual improvement in weight of fire over time.  This statistical measure is often distorted by theoretical maximum rates of fire which disregard the leveling effect of flight time and spotting on long range gunfire.  Taking these factors into account, a comparison between the two 15-ship interwar battle lines breaks out as follows:

Royal Navy
18 x 16” + 100 x 15”  16,326 kg + 87,500 kg = 103,826 kg

US Navy
24 x 16” + 124 x 14” + 12 x 12”  22,848 kg + 78,749 kg + 4,728 kg = 106,316 kg

The US and British lines are virtually equivalent, and the “Standard Type” ships alone weigh in with a broadside of 94,489 kg.  This is despite the individual caliber advantage enjoyed by most of the British ships.  The relative lightness of the US 14” guns versus the 15” carried by the contemporary British ships boils down to the similar debate about the number of barrels versus the broadside weight commonly encountered in arguments about the relative value of 8”- and 6”-gunned 10,000 ton cruisers.  More barrels imply a theoretically greater likelihood of a hit, while heavier weapons theoretically promise more effective individual hits.  In the case of cruisers, the actual performance in action between the two calibers appears to have been equivalent.  This would imply that the same would hold true for battleships.

While the common elevating gear of the 14”/45 triple turret, and the reputed “dispersion problems” of the 14”/50 gun have received much retrospective attention, neither of these factors appears to have hampered the ships’ shooting in the slightest during World War Two, possibly but not certainly due to the introduction of later Marks of the gun in the 1930s.  Less remarked upon and certainly not as obvious to external view were the two great and often overlooked strengths of the “Standard Type” ships’ fire control systems:  Gyroscopic stabilization and the Ford Mark I analog fire control computer.  A more readily apparent strength is the provision of two equal-height masthead fire control positions.  Finally, nowhere is there any recorded complaint of these ships’ shooting in comparison to newer vessels beyond that attributed to the newer fire control equipment found in later ships.

As the US realized as early as the concept design work for "Battleship 1912," increasingly long-range gunfire had become the standard of surface combat.  Although some nations had begun to follow a gradual trend toward increasing gun elevations and longer ranges, most did not embrace the idea of hitting at ranges that would require increased deck protection until the Battle of Jutland made the necessity painfully obvious.  The US began armoring to meet this threat with "Battleship 1912" and by "Battleship 1916" had increased main gun elevation to 30 degrees, a feature comprehensively backfitted to earlier classes upon reconstruction despite Treaty misgivings.  The British never did completely backfit their ships, although the Japanese embraced the concept in the Nagato class and backfitted their earlier ships when Nagato's stablemates died on the conference table.

Without the abrupt and artificial disruption of the design process represented by the Washington Treaty of 1922, all nations’ designers would probably have pursued appropriate design goals in subsequent classes.  However, the treaty froze the existing fleets in a status quo arrangement marred only by the British Nelsons.  As a result, this treaty left the US with a distinct advantage in having a battle line which enjoyed 12 ships designed to a long range combat standard, vice two each for Britain and Japan and none for France or Italy.  Moreover, the experience of designing the "Standard Type" ships to exacting standards, packing as much into the limited dimensions, tonnage and cost that Congress and Secretary Daniels would allow, left the USN designers ideally positioned to design ships in the tonnage-restricted post-treaty years.

How “Standard Type” war performance justified the General Board’s choices:

Evaluating the performance of the “Standard Type” is frustrating.  None of these ships ever managed to take a heavy shell hit in battle.  Similarly, none of them suffered a heavy bomb hit or a torpedo hit in the heart of the torpedo defense system except while berthed in an unprepared peacetime condition at Pearl Harbor.  Even then, unprepared in harbor, the ships displayed some grace.  Maryland’s anti-aircraft gunners fought back early and well, the Tennessee held up to heavy bomb hits, the California sank only due to her unprepared condition, and the West Virginia sank in a salvageable condition due to her inherent design features and their prompt exploitation by a sharp damage control crew.  Nevada managed to get underway and nearly sortie despite a considerable pounding.

Only Oklahoma and Arizona turned in truly unsatisfactory performances, but even these must be qualified.  Oklahoma suffered between seven and nine torpedo hits in rapid succession in an unprepared state, something only (perhaps) Yamato and Musashi could have withstood.

Arizona’s forward magazines exploded (exact cause not known with certainty to this day) but these may have been touched off by black powder for aircraft catapults unwisely stored in proximity to the forward main magazines.  Was this a design failing, or procedural one?  Vessels of similar vintage in foreign service fared much more poorly.  Warspite was seriously damaged when struck by one German bomb and near-missed by a second one off Crete in 1941.  She suffered extensive damage and flooding, causing her to be sent to the USA’s Puget Sound Naval Shipyard for repairs.

This damage could be considered similar to numerous Kamikaze hits sustained by “Standard Type” ships (including Nevada once, New Mexico twice, Mississippi twice, Idaho once, Tennessee once, California once, Colorado twice, Maryland twice and West Virginia once), all of which were largely shrugged off as all of the “Standards” remained in the battle zone for extended periods before departing for repairs.  There was also Warspite’s subsequent encounter with a German guided missile-bomb (FX1400) which hit midships and left the ship drifting helplessly.  Warspite was left permanently lamed and with X-turret inoperative.  By contrast, Maryland's Kamikaze hit in way of her forward magazines was thoroughly repaired and a second that dished the roof of Turret #3 did not effect the main armament, and the roof armor was easily replaced upon return to port.

The final insult to Warspite’s honored hull came in the form of an influence mine, which left her permanently “bent.”  In this regard, Pennsylvania performed as badly when hit by a torpedo off Okinawa and was similarly written off with minimal repairs.

Both Barham and Malaya suffered single torpedo hits that put them out of action for three months at a time.  In contrast, Maryland suffered a single torpedo hit in June 1944.  After transiting from Saipan to Pearl Harbor before being repaired, Maryland was back in action in August 1944.  The Barham suffered three torpedo hits in rapid order at sea in November 1941, capsized, exploded and sank.  Oklahoma’s loss at Pearl Harbor was largely analogous, although the American ship was caught in peacetime condition.  Royal Oak suffered three torpedo hits in rapid order in Scapa Flow in October 1939 and capsized, most closely approximating the conditions of Oklahoma’s later loss, but again without the excuse of being caught in peacetime condition.  Resolution suffered a single torpedo hit and was left drifting and helpless in September 1940.  This strike was in the widest part of the anti-torpedo blister, and not in way of the propeller shafts like the Pennsylvania, giving Resolution little excuse for having to be towed to port.  Similarly, Ramillies was hit by a single Japanese mini-sub torpedo and suffered flooding of the forward magazines, as well as losing all electrical power.  The ship required a month’s worth of repairs for her condition to be sufficiently stabilized before she could leave Diego Suarez for more permanent repair work.  By contrast, Maryland departed Saipan within hours of her torpedo hit, bound for Eniwetok for inspection of the damage and Pearl Harbor for repairs.

Repulse’s battlecruiser speed proved inadequate to save her from torpedo attack, although the slow “Standard Type” ships dodged a number of torpedoes with their small tactical diameters (including Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Maryland), a factor which is usually considered to be more important in regards to torpedo evasion than speed.

The theoretical weakness of "all or nothing" armoring to having "soft" (unarmored) areas torn up by light and medium caliber hits to a sufficient enough degree to reduce the ship's combat efficiency was disproved by wartime experience.  Several of the Standards sustained multiple hits from shore batteries, most particularly the Colorado off Tinian.  She suffered 22 medium caliber hits from a shore battery, which peppered the starboard side forward from the superstructure to the bow.  Minor fires were ignited and the blister holed, but no degradation occurred to the ship's fighting efficiency.  The armored box, barbettes, turrets, conning tower and critical buoyancy compartments remained inviolate.  The “Standard Type” armor scheme of "all or nothing" thus proved its validity.  In contrast, the theoretical weakness of an incremental armoring scheme to heavy shellfire was dramatically proven with Hood's loss.

The Japanese record is worse.  The redesignated former battlecruisers of the Kongo class performed miserably.  The Kongo apparently sank from progressive fire or flooding due to two torpedo hits.  Hiei was rendered sufficiently combat ineffective by medium and light caliber shells to be further assaulted by aircraft and eventually scuttled.  Kirishima attempted to face a true battleship, was blasted into a blazing ruin by heavy and light caliber hits and sank off Savo Island.  Haruna succumbed to a dozen bomb hits and / or near misses in harbor and settled to the bottom.  The only real analog for her situation was Nevada which had also been torpedoed in the same region as three bombs struck and additionally suffered a aviation gasoline explosion in that area at Pearl Harbor.

Fuso broke in half, capsized and sank in a full battle-ready condition from only two torpedo hits.  Even the unready Oklahoma required three hits to start her over, and the California went down from two only because she was prematurely abandoned and lacked any semblance of watertight integrity at Pearl Harbor.  Yamashiro took four torpedoes and sustained bombardment from 14” and 16” shells to sink, but still lost the services of three turrets from a single one of those torpedo hits.  In contrast, “Standard Type” ships tended to remain in action with their fighting qualities unimpaired, Pearl Harbor and the Pennsylvania’s Okinawa episode aside.  Both Ise and Hyuga went the way of the Haruna.

The Nagato suffered bomb damage in the Sibuyan Sea, which casts some doubt on her protective scheme.  Although her reconstruction beefed up protection over and around the magazines, the rest of her protection remained of the earlier incremental protective scheme.  Two bombs struck the Nagato, one knocking out Turret #4 and the other penetrating a boiler room.

By comparison, the Tennessee at Pearl Harbor suffered a bomb hit to Turret #3’s roof, which broke up the weapon and prevented a detonation.  Both Tennessee and Maryland suffered Kamikaze hits that penetrated the main deck in way of the machinery spaces and forward magazines respectively, but neither lost the services of engines or armament.  A Kamikaze hit to Maryland’s Turret #3 roof off Okinawa dished the armor, but failed to penetrate.

Italian ships probably fared the worst.  At Taranto, Conte di Cavour sank from a single torpedo hit abreast the forward magazines, which completely flooded the forward section of the ship.  During this same action, Caio Duilio suffered an almost identical hit to Conte di Cavour with almost identical results, being returned to service only by virtue of sinking in shallower water than Conte di Cavour.  Similarly hit at Pearl Harbor, the Nevada was in no danger of foundering until several bomb hits augmented the torpedo damage to her bow.

French ships of the “Standard Type” vintage also performed poorly.  Paris suffered a single bomb hit forward at Le Havre and suffered to much the same extent as Nevada did from her torpedo hit at Pearl Harbor.  Bretagne blew up after a mere four 15” hits at Mers el-Kebir.  Provence caught fire, flooded and sank from similar punishment during this same engagement.  The French ships can be forgiven for being caught in their unfortunate position by their erst-while ally, but not for any unpreparedness as the action occurred only after the tension had simmered for hours.

How the South Dakota (BB-49) Class design relates to the “Standard Type”

The South Dakota (BB-49) design is often identified as a “Standard Type” ship and taken as proof of the ultimate folly of “Standard Type” conservatism.  Although Norman Friedman properly describes this design as the ultimate development in the series beginning with Nevada to actually be committed to metal, I contend it is not, however, an example of the “Standard Type.”  While its lineage is obvious when examining the external appearance and in various internal features, it departs seriously from the guiding principles that drove the “Standard Type:”  Commonality and constrained size.  From the Nevada to the Pennsylvania, the type increased in dimensions by 25’ of length at the waterline, 2’ of beam and 3,900 tons displacement.  From the Pennsylvania to the New Mexico the increase was 600 tons but the dimensions remained fixed.  From the New Mexico to the Tennessee, displacement increased 300 tons, and was the same from the Tennessee to the Colorado.  However, from the Colorado to the South Dakota, displacement leapt 10,600 tons, length vaulted 60’ and beam expanded 9’.  Where previously no class included both a change of gun and an increase in number of guns, the South Dakota did both.  Furthermore, it incorporated an entirely new secondary gun.  To top things off, the General Board wanted another two knots out of the design.  Meeting all these requirements led to a perverse failure to increase the scale of protection.  Moreover, the South Dakota was not designed within the same fiscal and dimensional constraints as imposed on the Nevada through Colorado designs by Secretary of the Navy Daniels and Congress.  Designed to a different standard, under different conditions, and with far different results, the South Dakota class can be considered the ill-designed successors of the “Standard Type” and certainly kin, but not members of the immediate family any more so than would be the New Yorks.

Final reflections:

Although far from perfect, the “Standard Type” ships were neither a mistake nor a millstone to the USN and their war records hold up better than many of their foreign contemporaries.  Only a little slower than most of their rivals, they took their enemies’ best shots, proved they could dish it out in return and were still standing at the end.

Only Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Arizona could be counted out of the “Standard Type” line-up at war’s end.  The first and last were sunk at Pearl Harbor and deemed unworthy of salvage, indeed in Arizona’s case it was impossible.  The Pennsylvania was damaged beyond worthwhile repair by a torpedo hit to the screws that wrecked three of four propeller shafts, something no ship of any era could contend with successfully.

Of Britain’s interwar battle line, four ships were sunk (Barham, Royal Oak, Repulse and Hood), one was in foreign livery (Royal Sovereign as Archangelsk - August 1944), six were out of service (Warspite - February 1945, Valiant - February 1945, Malaya - October 1944, Revenge - January 1944, Resolution - October 1943, and Ramillies - January 1945), one was preparing to leave service (Queen Elizabeth - August 1945), one was so worn out she was virtually static in Scapa Flow (Rodney - November 1944) and only two remained active (Renown and Nelson).

Of Japan’s interwar battle line, only Nagato survived, all others having perished to US fire except Nagato’s sister - ship Mutsu, which unexplainably suffered a magazine explosion in harbor in June 1943.

Of Italy’s older ships, one had been sunk, salvaged and never successfully returned to service (Conte di Cavour), one had been removed from service (Guilio Cesare - December 1942) and two were immobilized and effectively removed from service for lack of fuel (Caio Duilio and Andrea Doria - March 1942).

France’s ships suffered the most inglorious fates.  One was scuttled as a seawall (Courbet - June 1944), one was removed from service (Paris - July 1940), one was sunk by an ally (Bretagne - July 1940), one was scuttled to prevent capture (Provence - November 1942) and only one was still in service (Lorraine).

Of the remaining “Standard Type” battleships, the Nevada, New Mexico, Mississippi, Idaho, Tennessee, California, Colorado, Maryland and West Virginia were still in service at war’s end.  Nevada was soon expended along with the ruined Pennsylvania as target ships.  New Mexico and Idaho were quickly retired into reserve status and shortly thereafter scrapped while Mississippi was converted to a gunnery and missile test and training ship and actively served for another decade.  The last five battleships were placed into reserve where they remained until disposed of in 1959, thus outlasting their every rival, including Nelson and Rodney as well as newer ships such as the Vittorio Veneto's and the King George V’s.


"U.S. Battleships: An Illustrated Design History" by Friedman.

"Kaigun" by Evans and Peattie.

"Battleships of World War II" by Whitley.

"Battleships and Battle-Cruisers 1884-1984: A Bibliography and Chronology" by Smith.

"British Battleships of World War One" by Burt.

"Battleships and Battle Cruisers 1905-1970" by Breyer.

Comparision of the Standards with previous US Battleships

It is interesting to compare the last two battleship classes that preceded the Nevada.   The hull form of the Wyoming and New York classes is greatly dissimilar to the Standards.  These two classes were essentially "flush decked" although deck height reduced aft.  Forward they featured a "ram" bow.  Amidships the internal arrangements were disrupted by amidships magazines.  Overall they were generally shorter and less broad in original condition (but not drastically, particularly in comparison to the Nevada class).

The Standards universally featured a 60% forecastle and a 40% quarterdeck arrangement to their weather decks, with the step at the mainmast.  The first four (of the Nevada and Pennsylvania classes) still had "ram" bows and were somewhat wet forward, but the latter eight (New Mexico, Tennessee and Colorado classes) had a "clipper" bow which improved the situation somewhat.

All the Standards had a "football" overhead profile, where the pre-Standards had something of a lozenge shape with more of a parallel midsection for a ways.

In protection there is no comparison.  As built the pre-Standards were virtually without horizontal protection, whereas the Standards were designed with long-range combat in mind and carried (for the period--1912-1917) the heaviest horizontal protection fitted--a 3.5" armored deck and a 1.5" splinter deck below it.  Also the Standards uniformly carried a 13.5" belt, and 18" turret faces (excepting the 16" faces on the twins aboard Nevada and Oklahoma).  The places of maximum thickness of all of these were concentrated around vital spaces according to the "all or nothing" principle, again well ahead of their rivals.

The pre-Standards were armored on the "incremental" scheme inherited from the pre-Dreadnought era when fighting was conducted at shorter ranges.  The Wyoming class had an 11" lower belt, a useless 6.5" upper belt, 12" turret faces, and no more than 3" of horizontal protection.  The New York class had a 12" lower belt, a useless 6.5" upper belt, 14" turret faces, 4" turret roofs, and no more than 3" horizontal protection elsewhere.

Torpedo protection in the Wyoming and New York classes was pathetic, consisting of nothing more than the double-bottom extended up the side and a narrow void space outboard of a coal bunker (which can't really be counted because its inboard bulkhead is pierced by scuttles).  The Nevada and Pennsylvania class Standards had as a minimum a two-layer void system with armored torpedo bulkheads, although these were not of much greater effectiveness.  The New Mexico class had a three-layer void system that was of greater depth, but it still provided only marginal protection.  Only the last two designs, the Tennessee and Colorado class ships, had a highly advanced TDS which was again ahead of its time (1915).

Both the Wyoming and New York classes suffered from having amidships magazines between their boiler rooms and engine rooms, necessitating running steam lines through the magazine area and making proper cooling of the magazines difficult.  These magazines also represented a third highly explosive region of the ship, vice only two (fore and aft) in the Standards.

After reconstruction some of the pre-Standards' ills were somewhat ameliorated, but they were always second-line ships when compared to the Standards.


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