Battleship versus Aircraft carrier: Out of ammo edition

Credit for inspiration for this post, as well as for some of the text of this post, goes to bucketybuck for :

Who would be the likely winner in the following scenario:
Two ships only, one Iowa class battleship against one Nimitz class aircraft carrier. No support ships of any type. The battleship starts ten miles away from the carrier and has one objective, search and destroy. Both ships are moving at less than one knot, and pointed directly at one another.

The action takes place in the middle of waterworld, there is no land to run to. Also, the aircraft carrier does not have any aircraft on board. It’s ship against ship.

The only ammunition available to the occupants of either vessel is that ammunition normally used in small arms; that is to say, pistols, shotguns or rifles.

aircraft carrier turns around and runs away, keeping near to the battleship but far enough away that any conceivable maneuver (i.e. to have the carrier heading in any angle at any possible speed) is possible without bringing battleship into small arms range

once battleship has run out of fuel (which will be years before the carrier, assuming it’s nuclear) then sit nearby battleship, awaiting storm of decent magnitude (may take a few years)

after storm sinks battleship (and maybe you could help this along by doing the right things with the carrier to barge the battleship, not sure exactly what these would be) then machine gun survivors in water


Iowa-class battleship
Speed: 31 knots (36 mph; 57 km/h)
14,890 miles (23,960 km) @ 15 knots (17 mph; 28 km/h)
11,700 miles (18,820 km) @ 20 knots (23 mph; 37 km/h)
2,700 officers and men (WWII, Korea)
1,800 officers and men (1980s)
Draft: 36 ft (11 m) maximum
Nimitz-class aircraft carrier
Speed: 30+ knots (56+ km/h; 35+ mph)
Range: Unlimited distance; 20-25 years
Ship’s company: 3,200
Air wing: 2,480
Maximum navigational: 37 ft (11.3 m)
Limit: 41 ft (12.5 m)

Top speeds are about equal
Nimitz has unlimited range
Nimitz has 3x the crew of the Iowa

Nimitz - best bet is to lead the Iowa on a merry chase until it runs out of fuel and then board her.

Iowa - best bet is to disable the Nimitz props and then ram it or leave it disabled.

What if a battleship gets in range of a carrier before the carrier can launch aircraft? The carrier launches and the planes arrive at the Iowa-class ship just as it starts opening up on the carrier.

Who likely wins?


Let’s say the ships have 1 week to dispatch their enemy before the aliens who arranged this battle destroy both ships.

The deck of a carrier is much higher above the water than the deck of a battleship. Therefore, the multitude of sailors on a carrier can swing down onto the battleship with their cutlasses and swarm their opponents. The sailors on the battleship would have to climb ladders to get onto the carrier, meaning they could not give the carrier the bum’s rush.

Carrier wins. Yaaar.

The carrier will probably survive the first salvo, and there won’t be a second one.

The whole premise is there is no ammo for the guns and no planes. Why change the scenario before we’ve even worked through the OP?

The battleship can do like old-time Superman enemies. Run out of ammo, throw your gun at him.

First, we’ll need to construct a giant catapult…

Assuming no-one ran away, the contest would be settled by ramming. I’d give the battleship the advantage, as being smaller it presumably has a smaller turning radius and better acceleration. My tactic would be to ram the rear of the other ship, to damage the screws and rudders. Once it is disabled, it would be a case of T-boning it several times, to flood enough compartments to sink it. These ships can stay afloat with the bow section completely smashed, they have enough reserve buoyancy amidships.

It’s notoriously difficult to deliberately ram a target that has retained motive power.

True, but how else can it be settled? I suppose I’m assuming a captain would make a mistake before the engines broke down or the fuel ran out.

Why? With infinite room to maneuver the aircraft carrier captain just has to keep moving away from the battleship until it runs out of fuel. The carrier can go for much longer than the battleship. Although the top speeds are technically classified, I believe the CVN also has higher top speed than the battleship.

A game of chess is not won on the first move. Neither side would be “running away” but would be looking for an advantage. Maybe the weather, maybe a mistake by the other’s captain.

With only small arms on board, a crew of 5,680 will defeat a crew of 1,800 if they meet face-to-face.

Ramming is a risky tactic. Both vessels can be damage beyond repair. Damaging your bow will greatly reduce your speed and if you failed to disable the steering of your opponent, they will run rings around you and pick off your crew at will.

The top speed of USS Nimitz is thought to be about 31.5 knots, a little slower than an Iowa class battleship. If that’s true, the Nimitz can’t escape.

Small arms will do nothing against the armoured sections of the ships.

A littel slower by what, 1 knot? That means that the Iowa would be able to ram it at a speed of 1 knot, maybe scratching some paint.

Why sink the ship when you can kill the crew?

Not if you run into the props - which is what you’ll be pointed right at if Nimitz tries to run.

You can’t kill the crew, because they are sitting behind armour.

The crews won’t be “face-to-face” if there are steel walls between them. If the intention is to capture the other vessel, then this will be settled by “boots on the deck”.

Having a higher deck gives the Nimitz crew an advantage to shoot down on the Iowa. The deck height advantage would also allow the much larger Nimitz crew to swing down to the Iowa’s deck, Errol Flynn-style, if the Iowa closed to ramming distance. Yes, it’s dangerous but I’m assuming this is a life and death struggle and volunteers will be available on both sides. Advantage Nimitz.

Still looking for that all important advantage, the top speed of the ships would be based on reasonably calm water and weather. Even powered ships struggle in heavy seas. With a taller bow, the Nimitz could ride over waves that would break onto the deck of the Iowa and bury it’s bow. In heavy seas, the Nimitz would have a speed advantage.

The OP doesn’t specify this.

Yes, the weather could change the equation. The Iowas are wet ships, so Nimitz could probably outrun her in a heavy sea.

Ignorance fought, thanks.