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Naval Firepower Of The Ages
Battleships and Aircraft Carriers

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BattleshipA battleship is a large, heavily-armored warship with a main battery consisting of the largest caliber of guns. They are larger, better-armed and better-armored than cruisers.

Battleships have evolved a great deal over time, as designs continually adapt technological advances to maintain an edge. The word battleship was coined around 1794 and is a shortened form of line of battle ship, the dominant warship in the Age of Sail. The term came into formal use in the late 1880s to describe a developed type of ironclad warship, and by the 1890s design had become relatively standard on what is now known as the pre-Dreadnought battleship. In 1906, HMS Dreadnought heralded a revolution in battleship design, and for many years modern battleships were referred to as dreadnoughts.

As much as a type of war vessel, battleships constituted a potent symbol of national might and naval domination. For decades, the numbers and abilities of battleships were a major factor in diplomacy and military strategy. The global arms race in battleship construction in the early 1900s was a significant factor in the origins of World War I, which saw a clash of huge battlefleets at the Battle of Jutland. The construction of battleships was limited by the Naval Treaties of the 1920s and 1930s, but battleships both old and new were deployed during World War II.

Despite this record, some historians and naval theorists question the value of the battleship. Aside from Jutland, there were few great battleship clashes. And despite their great firepower and protection, battleships remained vulnerable to much smaller, cheaper ordnance and craft: initially the torpedo and mine, and later aircraft and the guided missile. The growing range of engagement led to the battleship's replacement as the leading type of warship by the aircraft carrier during World War II, being retained into the Cold War only by the United States Navy for fire support purposes. These last battleships were removed from the U.S. Naval Vessel Register in March 2006.

With the decommissioning of the last Iowas, no battleships remain in service (including in reserve) with any navy worldwide. A number are preserved as museum ships, either afloat or in dry-dock. The USA has a large number of battleships on display. USS Massachusetts, North Carolina, Alabama, New Jersey, Wisconsin, Missouri, and Texas. Missouri, and New Jersey are now museums at Pearl Harbor and Camden, N.J. respectively. Wisconsin is a museum (at Norfolk, Va.), and was recently removed from the Naval Vessel Register. However, pending donation, the public can still only tour the deck, since the rest of the ship is closed off for dehumidification. The only other true battleship on display is the Japanese pre-Dreadnought Mikasa. A number of ironclads and ships-of-the-line are also preserved, including HMS Victory, Warrior, the Swedish Vasa, the Dutch Buffel and Schorpioen, and the Chilean war trophy, Huáscar. The earliest ancestor of the battleship still on display is the sixteenth-century English war vessel Mary Rose. Go to the Battleship page.

Aircraft Carriers

AirCraft Carriers
Photo: USS Ronald Reagan

An aircraft carrier is a warship designed to deploy and in most cases recover aircraft, acting as a sea-going airbase. Aircraft carriers thus allow a naval force to project air power great distances without having to depend on local bases for staging aircraft operations. They have evolved from wooden vessels used to deploy a balloon into nuclear powered warships that carry dozens of fixed and rotary wing aircraft.

Balloon carriers were the first ships to deploy manned aircraft, used during the 19th and early 20th century, mainly for observation purposes. The 1903 advent of fixed wing airplanes was followed in 1910 by the first flight of such an aircraft from the deck of a US Navy cruiser. Seaplanes and seaplane tender support ships, such as HMS Engadine, followed. The development of flat top vessels produced the first large fleet ships. This evolution was well underway by the mid 1920s, resulting in ships such as the HMS Hermes, Ho-sho-, and the Lexington class aircraft carriers.

World War II saw the first large scale use and further refinement of the aircraft carrier, spawning several types. Escort aircraft carriers, such as USS Barnes, were built only during World War II. Although some were purpose built, most were converted from merchant ships, and were a stop-gap measure in order to provide air support for convoys and amphibious invasions. Light aircraft carriers, such as USS Independence represented a larger, more "militarized" version of the escort carrier concept. Although the light carriers usually carried the same size air groups as escort carriers, they had the advantage of higher speed as they had been converted from cruisers under construction rather than civilian merchant ships.

Wartime emergencies also saw the creation or conversion of other, unconventional aircraft carriers. CAM ships, like the SS Michael E, were cargo carrying merchant ships which could launch but not retrieve fighter aircraft from a catapult. These vessels were an emergency measure during World War II as were Merchant aircraft carriers (MACs), such as MV Empire MacAlpine, another emergency measure which saw cargo-carrying merchant ships equipped with flight decks. Battlecarriers were created by the Imperial Japanese Navy to partially compensate for the loss of carrier strength at Midway. Two of them were made from Ise class battleships during late 1943. The aft turrets were removed and replaced with a hangar, deck and catapult. The heavy cruiser Mogami concurrently received a similar conversion. This "half and half" design was an unsuccessful compromise, being neither one thing nor the other. In addition the superstructure and the turbulent airflow it generated made landing even more hazardous than usual. Submarine aircraft carriers, such as the French Surcouf, or the Japanese I-400 class submarines which were capable of carrying 3 Aichi M6A Seiran aircraft. The first of these were built in the 1920s, but were generally unsuccessful at war. Modern navies that operate such ships treat aircraft carriers as the capital ship of the fleet, a role previously played by the battleship. The change, part of the growth of air power as a significant part of warfare, took place during World War II. This change was driven by the superior range, flexibility and effectiveness of carrier-launched aircraft.

Following the war, the scope of carrier operations continued to increase in size and importance. The Supercarrier, typically displacing 75,000 tonnes or greater has been the pinnacle of carrier development since their introduction. Most are powered by nuclear reactors and form the core of a fleet designed to operate far from home. Amphibious assault carriers, such as USS Tarawa or HMS Ocean, which serve the purpose of carrying and landing Marines and operate a large contingent of helicopters for that purpose. They have a secondary capability to operate VSTOL aircraft. Also known as "commando carriers" or "helicopter carriers".

Lacking the firepower of other warships, carriers by themselves are considered vulnerable to attack by other ships, aircraft, submarines or missiles and therefore travel as part of a carrier battle group (CVBG) for their protection. Unlike other types of capital ships in the 20th century, aircraft carrier designs since World War II have been effectively unlimited by any consideration save budgetary, and the ships have increased in size to handle the larger aircraft: The large, modern Nimitz class of United States Navy carriers has a displacement nearly four times that of the World War II-era USS Enterprise yet its complement of aircraft is roughly the same, a consequence of the steadily increasing size of military aircraft over the years. Go to the Carrier page.

From Wikipedia

All images in this battleship / aircraft carrier web pages are public domain. These images are a work of a sailor or employee of the U.S. Navy, taken or made during the course of the person's official duties. As a work of the U.S. federal government, the image is in the public domain.

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