Untold Stories

Biggest Battleships of All Time

Battleships were the largest warships that utilized gun based weaponry as their main armament. Hundreds of feet in length and displacing tens of thousands of tons, their size allowed them to carry the largest guns and the thickest armor.

Without further delay, Bazzup Untold Stories dives you in!

10. King George V Class (45,360 Long Tons)

biggest battleships of all time

Specifications (Anson)
  • Laid Down: July 20, 1937 (King George V: July 29, 1936)
  • Commissioned: April 14, 1942 (King George V: October 1, 1940)
  • Length: 745′ (227m)
  • Beam: 103′ 2″ (31.5m)
  • Displacement: 42,600 Long Tons (Full Load: 45,360 Long Tons)

The five battleships of the King George V class kick off our list at the number ten spot. The King George V class were the largest and most powerful of the British dreadnoughts that were in service during the Second World War.

During the inter-war period (Between World Wars I and II), the world’s naval powers were limited to battleships of no more than 35,000 tons. The Royal Navy went incredibly far to ensure that the King George V class abided by the treaty and even equipped them with 14″ guns in an effort to get other nations to follow suit. Armed with ten 14″ guns, the King George Class might seem weak. However, the five battleships of this class were incredibly well protected with armor that was second only to the Yamato class. In addition their 14″ guns were powerful and they were capable of 28 knots. The ships grew as the war went on and by 1945, the surviving ships were displacing over 45, 000 long tons.

9. Littorio Class (45,485 Long Tons)

top 10 biggest battleships

Specifications (Roma)
  • Laid Down: September 18, 1938 (Littorio: October 28, 1934)
  • Commissioned: June 14, 1942 (Littorio: May 6, 1940)
  • Length: 790′ (240.7m)
  • Beam: 108′ (32.9m)
  • Displacement: 40,992 Long Tons (Full Load: 45,485 Long Tons)

The number nine spot on our list belongs to the Littorio class battleships of the Regia Marina. The dreadnoughts of this class were the largest, fastest, and most powerful battleships of the Italian Navy. We will focus on Roma, the third ship of the class, as she was slightly longer and heavier than her two sisters.

During the inter-war period, Italy had 70,000 tons allotted to them for new battleship construction. Though Italy tried to develop two ships of 35,000 tons, they ultimately decided to build two battleships of 40,000 tons, ignoring the treaty. The first two ships, Littorio and Vittorio Veneto, were laid down in the mid 1930s. Armed with nine powerful 15″ guns and capable of speeds of 30 knots, the Littorio class were among the most powerful battleships of their day. Two more ships, Roma and Impero, were later authorized with only Roma being completed. Roma was built to a modified design featuring an improved bow and additional light anti-air guns.

8. Nagato Class (45,950 Long Tons)

Specifications (Nagato)
  • Laid Down: August 28, 1917
  • Commissioned: November 25, 1920
  • Length: 738′ (225m)
  • Beam: 113′ 6″ (34.6m)
  • Displacement: 32,200 Long Tons (Full Load: 45,950 Long Tons)

The number eight spot on our list belongs to a battleship that put on more weight over her career than any other ship featured on the list. The Japanese Nagato class were among the largest battleships at the time of their commissioning and grew to rival new battleships launched over two decades later.

When first entering service, the two Nagato class battleships were the most powerful battleships afloat and the first to mount 16″ guns. With a speed greater than 25 knots and carrying eight 16.1″ guns, they were formidable warships. The Nagato class were originally 708′ (215.8m) long with a beam of 95′ (29m). They were modernized several times with the most substantial between 1934 and 1936. During this modernization, the ship was enlarged and grew to almost 46,000 tons. Nagato and her sister Mutsu served into World War II. Though Mutsu was lost due to an accident, Nagato became the only battleships to survive the war.

7.South Dakota Class (46,200 Long Tons)

top 10 biggest battleships of all time

Specifications (South Dakota)
  • Laid Down: July 5, 1939
  • Commissioned: March 20, 1942
  • Length: 680′ (207.3m)
  • Beam: 108′ 2″ (32.97m)
  • Displacement: 35,000 Long Tons (Full Load: 46,200 Long Tons)

Coming in at number seven on our list we have the South Dakota class battleships of the United States Navy. These warships were originally designed to be smaller and more compact than the North Carolina class battleships. However, they were still large enough to be ranked among the largest battleships of all time.

Though the United States was happy with its North Carolina class battleships, they did not like the fact that its armor was incapable of resisting its own 16″ guns. Seeking a better protected design, the South Dakota class were born. Featuring the same nine 16″ guns and 27 knot speed of the North Carolina class, the South Dakota were more compact. This allowed armor to be better concentrated over the vitals, improving protection. Four ships of the class were built, serving throughout the Second World War. As the war went on, the weight of additional anti-aircraft weaponry and equipment caused the ships to grow, eventually displacing over 46,000 tons at full load.

Honorable Mention. HMS Hood (46,680 Long Tons)

top 10 biggest battleships of all time

  • Laid Down: September 1, 1916
  • Commissioned: May 15, 1920
  • Length: 860′ 7″ (262.3m)
  • Beam: 104′ 2″ (31.8m)
  • Displacement: 42,670 Long Tons (Full Load: 46,680 Long Tons)

Making a special appearance on our list is HMS Hood of the Royal Navy. Though officially classified as a battlecruiser, at the time of her commissioning, Hood had battleship levels of armour protection. For two decades she remained the largest warship in the world, earning her the nickname “Mighty Hood”.

Developed in 1915 as an improved version of the Queen Elizabeth class battleships, the Admiral class (Of which Hood belonged) would have been faster and better protected. However, they were soon redesigned into even larger ships featuring a powerplant that was vastly more powerful. However, the need for materials elsewhere saw the cancellation of three ships of the class and only one, Hood, would be completed. Hood would become the largest warship in the world, featuring eight powerful 15″ guns and a high speed of 32 knots on a deep load displacement of 46,680 tons.

6. North Carolina Class (46,700 Long Tons)

top 10 biggest battleships of all time

Specifications (North Carolina)
  • Laid Down: October 27, 1937
  • Commissioned: April 9, 1941
  • Length: 728′ 9″ (222m)
  • Beam: 108′ 4″ (33m)
  • Displacement: 35,000 Long Tons (Full Load: 46,700 Long Tons)

Though they proceeded the South Dakota class battleships, the two ships of the North Carolina class were larger, earning them the number six spot on our list. North Carolina and her sister, USS Washington, were the first ships of the final generation of United States battleship design.

The United States began developing the North Carolina class back in 1935. Development was chaotic, with several dozen proposals being examined in an effort to remain within treaty limits. The final design was for a battleship capable of 27 knots with twelve 14″ guns and armour to resist 14″ shells. However, the ships were designed to be able to swap the 14″ guns out for nine larger 16″ guns in the event Japan refused to sign the Second London Naval Treaty. Eventually, the escalator clause allowing the larger 16″ guns was put into effect and the North Carolina class were built with the more powerful 16″/45 naval guns. With the more powerful guns, the North Carolina class were one of the more potent designs during World War II.

5. Richelieu Class (48,180 Long Tons)

biggest battleships of all time

Specifications (Jean Bart)
  • Laid Down: December 12, 1936 (Richelieu: October 22, 1935)
  • Commissioned: May 1, 1955 (Richelieu: July 15, 1940)
  • Length: 813′ (248m)
  • Beam: 116′ (35.5m)
  • Displacement: 35,000 Long Tons (Full Load: 48,180 Long Tons)

The Richelieu class battleships of the Marine Nationale had an interesting history. Richelieu was able to see service during World War II while Jean Bart was largely a floating gun battery. Though Jean Bart was launched in 1940, she would not see her final completion until 15 years later. The long years of modification resulted in a radically different ship than her sister, making her grow to the fifth largest battleship on our list.

France went to great lengths to ensure the Richelieu class fit within the treaty requirements. Several features of the class, from the all-forward arrangement of her eight 15″ guns housed in two quadruple turrets to her internal sloped armor belt, were designed to reduce weight. However, the lessons of World War II led to substantial modification to Jean Bart before her completion. She received more powerful anti-aircraft guns and the latest electronics. Bulges were fitted to her, increasing her beam from 108′ to 113′. These modifications caused her displacement to increase to an impressive 48,180 tons, making her one of the largest battleships ever built.

4. HMS Vanguard (51,420 Long Tons)

top 10 biggest battleships

  • Laid Down: October 2, 1941
  • Commissioned: May 12, 1946
  • Length: 814′ 4″ (248.2m)
  • Beam: 108′ (32.9m)
  • Displacement: 44,500 Long Tons (Deep Load: 51,420 Long Tons)

Number four on our list is represented by HMS Vanguard, the last battleship of the Royal Navy as well as the last battleship to ever be launched. Fast, well armed, and extremely well protected, Vanguard is easily one of the best battleships ever to sail the sea.

Knowing the threat of the newest German and Japanese battleships, the Royal Navy had already designed the powerful Lion class battleships. However, it soon became apparent that they could not be launched in time, leaving the Royal Navy at a disadvantage. It was decided to take a modified Lion class hull and equip it with left over 15″ guns from World War I to produce a battleship that would be available sooner. However, the ship would not be completed until after World War II due to revised designs and the shuffling of material elsewhere. Though Vanguard as an ad-hoc design, she was incredibly powerful, featuring an excellent combination of speed, firepower, and armor that put her above a vast majority of more well-known battleships.

3. Bismarck Class (51,800 Long Tons)

biggest battleships of all time

Specifications (Tirpitz)
  • Laid Down: November 2, 1936 (Bismarck: July 1, 2936)
  • Commissioned: February 25, 1941 (Bismarck: August 24, 1940)
  • Length: 823′ 6″ (251m)
  • Beam: 118′ 1″ (36m)
  • Displacement: 42,200 Long Tons (Full Load: 51,800 Long Tons)

Coming in at third place we have the Bismarck class battleships of the German Kriegsmarine. However, its not the famous Bismarck that represents the class, but her sister Tirpitz. Modifications made to her during the war increased her displacement until she became the largest battleship used by a European country.

Throughout the 1930s, the German Navy had examined several battleship designs that remained within treaty limits. However, they eventually decided to build a much more balanced and traditional design that exceeded 40,000 tons. Two ships were built, Bismarck and Tirpitz. Featuring eight 15″ guns and exceptionally strong armor, they were the most powerful battleships in Europe at the time o their launch. Though Bismarck was lost early in the War, Tirptiz soldiered on as a fleet in being, quietly spending her time in Norway. She received new equipment and weaponry during this time, making her grow until she displaced over 2,300 more tons than her sister.

2. Iowa Class (57,540 Long Tons)

top 10 biggest battleships

Specifications (Iowa)
  • Laid Down: June 27, 1940
  • Commissioned: February 22, 1943
  • Length: 887′ 3″ (270.43m)
  • Beam: 108′ 2″ (32.97m)
  • Displacement: 45,000 Long Tons (Full Load: 57,540 Long Tons)

The last battleships completed by the United States Navy, the Iowa class battleships were larger, faster, and more heavily armored than all previous US dreadnoughts. Their impressive displacement of over 57,000 long tons nets them the second place spot on our list.

Designed to counter the fast battleships of the Japanese Kongo Class, the Iowa class were designed with an emphasis on high speeds in addition to armour and firepower. Capable of speeds greater than 32.5 knots, the Iowa class needed to be larger in order to accommodate the huge power plant and greater freeboard. Armor was similar to the proceeding South Dakota class, though the firepower was enhanced through the use of nine 16″/50 guns, a more powerful model compared to those aboard the earlier dreadnoughts. Designed for a standard displacement of 45,000 long tons, as time went on the ships got ever heavier due to more weaponry and electronics. Eventuall, their displacement grew to over 57,000 long tons. In addition to their size and speed, the Iowa class are known for their long service lives. The ships served on and off until the early 1990s, well past the age of the battleship.

1. Yamato Class (71,659 Long Tons)

top 10 biggest battleships of all time

Specifications (Musashi)
  • Laid Down: March 29, 1938 (Yamato: November 4, 1937)
  • Commissioned: August 5, 1942 (Yamato: December 16, 1941)
  • Length: 862′ 10″ (263m)
  • Beam: 121′ 1″ (36.9m)
  • Displacement: 64,000 Long Tons (Full Load: 71,659 Long Tons)

Finally, number one! This position is filled by the battleships that remain the largest of their type, the mighty Yamato class. Being the battleships that were designed to be larger and more powerful than any other, it should come as no surprise that the Yamato class reign supreme as the largest battleships ever built.

These leviathans were designed to outgun and outlast all competition. To do this, they carried nine massive 18.1″ (460mm) guns and 16″ (410mm) of belt armour. Even with the large guns and thick armor, the battleships were relatively fast with speeds exceeding 27 knots. Only two battleships of this class, Yamato and Musashi, were completed. A third ship, Shinano, was later completed as an aircraft carrier. Like her sisters, she was also the largest of her kind and was not surpassed until the super-carriers first arrived years later. With a full load displacement equal to that of two treaty battleships, the Japanese Navy made no attempt to abide by the rules, producing a powerful battleship that certainly will never be surpassed in size.


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