In the World Wars (I & II) should battleships have been used more aggressively?

When looking at both WWI and WWII we see that battleships were usually kept well back from danger and rarely used to do what, presumably, they were meant to do…beat the crap out of the opposing navy.

Certainly in WWII they were vulnerable to planes and, while true, they did not sail alone and had protection and were very resilient. Anytime we see a battleship in WWII go down it takes a massive effort (Yamato, Bismarck).

Would it have made sense to form robust fleets around these ships and use them at the outset rather than let them rust in port? Yamato (the biggest battleship ever built) only came out to fight at the end of the war…so bad was the situation I do not think she had enough fuel to even get back home whatever happened. During most of the war I think people in the Japanese navy called her “Hotel Yamato”.

Why build such a massively expensive and powerful weapon to only let it rot and do nothing?

Would it be a blow to lose the ship? Sure! Does that make less sense than spending the incredible cost and effort to make it only to let it do nothing?

in WW1 Britain used their pre-dreadnoughts aggressively at the Dardanelles, and they learned they could be sunk without much trouble.

In WW2, especially the Pacific, the older ones were fuel hogs. The USN kept ALL of their pre-Treaty BBs on the west coast because they used too much fuel. Japan had much less fuel and even their two modern BBs had relatively inefficient propulsion (lower temp/ pressure steam, screws less deep).

When Germany used them aggressively, they were sunk. Note Tirpitz’s ‘hide with pride’ longevity.

The Royal Navy and Regia Marina made reasonable use of them, but even then they were a detriment when trying to use carriers. The RN would tether carriers to slow battleships, which lessened their effectiveness. And the reason carriers won out was their much greater targeting and attacking range. Guns could maybe reach the horizon, and ship’s radar and lookout had a bit more range. Aircraft could find and attack- or avoid- at hundreds of miles distance. As carriers developed better and better abilities in worse weather, the reasons to use battleships were reduced.

Most battleships were built or under construction before this became understood by the builders.

So, if the lesson is that your ships suck, you can’t win with them and they cost an ungodly fortune (truly crippling cost even for a powerful nation) then why build them?

Do you think any battleship “earned” its cost in terms of performance in defending the country they were made to defend?

Maybe the Iowa class as an artillery platform used to assault islands in the Pacific.

Different reasons for different combatants during different wars. Are you aware that battleships were used extensively for shore bombardment during WWII?

Yeah…see the last sentence in the post just above yours.

I took that as more of an add on to the question than an observation. Given how you’ve asked the question(s) in the OP it’s not really clear what your starting point is.

WWI, for instance, is fairly straight forward. The Brits would have been happy to face the German Navy in open battle, fleet on fleet, because they had more battleships. Since the Germans could count just as well as the British, they generally wanted to avoid a full-on fleet action. Jutland came about because the Brits found out the German fleet was going to try and make it out of harbor, and was able to use this intelligence to meet them. Not surprisingly, the German fleet didn’t press on after it found out the British were waiting for them.

It takes two to tango, and WWI came about before Germany could build a fleet to match the British. So for the most part, it didn’t try to. Using its battleships more aggressively would have been a fine way to lose them, at which point the British fleet wouldn’t have had to devote itself so extensively to bottling up the a German fleet and would have had greater freedom throughout.

Institutional inertia. Decisions were being made by admirals who had started their careers in an era when battleships were dominant. It took a while for a new group of officers to rise through the ranks and reach a level where they were deciding building priorities.

Ironically, we may be in the middle of another such situation. There are signs that aircraft carriers are just as outmoded today as battleships were eighty years ago. But the current crop of admirals all rose through the ranks in a carrier-centric navy and they’re as locked into their mindset as their predecessors were.

One author, who admittedly was arguing the case against battleships, said that the most useful function battleships provided in WWII was transporting fuel. They were essentially the equivalent of really well-armored oil tankers.

Of course, their use in this role didn’t justify the cost of building them for that purpose.

It doesn’t seem to me that even in this regard they “earned” their cost compared to building smaller more flexible ships.

In ASW and anti-air they obviously were inferior to other ships.

Maybe it was randomness due to a small sample size, but when there was ship to ship surface combat the battleship only fared around its price tag compared to destroyers who could send out torpedoes, so that wasn’t a reason to build them as opposed to more flexible destroyers.

And they weren’t vastly superior at shore bombardment, oddly enough. The destroyers could be in several places at once supporting several bombardment points for the same price.

I don’t know enough about all of the ship to shore actions to know if the battleship ever was useful at eliminating heavy fortifications which the destroyers couldn’t touch but I don’t think this very specialized function would justify their existence.

The thing to remember ultimately is that battleships were direct descendants of 18th and 19th century wooden ships of the line. There had been an evolutionary process that entire time that refined/morphed the 74 gun 3rd rate into the Iowa class. It was punctuated by fairly large watershed moments- the adoption of steam, the adoption of armor, all big gun armament, and the use of radar.

So as a result, that was basically how they were intended to be used- essentially to line up and fight it out with other battleships, Trafalgar-style. And with the corresponding casualties.

But where a single 74 wasn’t that much of an investment relative to the entire British naval budget of say… 1808, a single battleship was a huge investment in a nation’s 1925 naval budget. And it was shown in WWI that they were vulnerable to other much cheaper systems- torpedo boats and submarines.

There were capital ship engagements in WWI between battleships- the Battle of Jutland being the largest and most famous. And they ended pretty much how you’d expect- bloody and somewhat inconclusive, since battleships were both heavily armed and armored.

So we ended up in WWII with a situation where the battleships were considered some combination of too valuable and too vulnerable to really use as the core of a naval fleet. It is true that there were some surface actions where battleships fought each other- the naval battles around Guadalcanal had a handful of American battleships fighting a handful of Japanese battleships, and later in the war, the Battle of the Surigao Strait, where US battleships defeated Japanese ones.

But for the most part, early war events had shown that battleships were generally horribly vulnerable to aerial attack- Pearl Harbor, the sinking of the Marat, the damage to the Bismarck by torpedo-bombers, etc… so commanders were reluctant to use them outside of their own protective aerial cover.

Eventually, the Japanese battleships were sunk piecemeal by aerial attacks, and the US ones were relegated to the role of shore bombardment for amphibious assaults.

To answer the question directly- they DID use them in WWI, only to find out that they were more vulnerable to other sorts of weapons when outside their own fleets (i.e. without destroyers), and in WWII, they were too vulnerable to air, submarine, torpedo boat and destroyer attacks to be used outside of a major fleet action. But in both wars, they were colossally expensive, and therefore weren’t used as much as you might have thought, especially after early-war examples of the utility of naval aviation/aircraft carriers,

I think one of the biggest reasons was speed. They were extremely slow and if a battleship was a part of the fleet that meant the entire fleet was slow. They were great for defense so you wanted at least a few defending key ports. But they were terrible at escorting other craft or quickly responding to anything outside of gun range so they weren’t useful for much else.

The Iowa-class was designed specifically to keep pace with carriers. Not only were they still not used, they were cut off short of the planned total and were not followed by another class of battleship.

Fundamentally, by WWII, the battleship was obsolete as the centerpiece of fleet on fleet engagement. They were relegated to a support role, and even in that required their own extensive support. One might as well ask why cavalry wasn’t used more aggressively during WWII. Not that a bunch of fast-moving horse-mounted soldiers couldn’t have some advantage over a comparably sized force of just infantry (I mean, worse case scenario, they can just dismount and fight as infantry as a great many WWI-era cavalry did), but that advantage was sufficiently marginalized by WWII as not to make them worth the cost of even having for those rare special occasions when a cavalry force might come in handy.

Same goes with battleships. It’s easy to imagine a scenario in which a heavily armored ship with a lot of close-in firepower could be useful, but even in WWII, such instances where a battleship specifically was needed—as opposed to a cruiser or a destroyer—were few and far between enough that they weren’t worth building.

In discussing shipbuilding today, there’s a cautionary line that goes “You fight the war with the fleet you have, not the fleet you want or need.” Although WWII saw massive shipbuilding in the US, the story of the first couple years of the war was very much in line with that: the US Navy had to make do with the ships it had on December 7, 1941. Less the ones that got lost along the way.

Even the lead ship of the famed Essex-class of carriers was already well into production before the war started. It’s somewhat of a myth that the US Navy didn’t see the virtue of aircraft carriers until after Pearl Harbor. The reality, as evidenced by the shipbuilding plans for CVs vs BBs, is that the shift to a carrier-based fleet was already underway.

Interesting, I didn’t know that. I’m less familiar with the Allied’s technology vs the Axis as I find the latter most intriguing. Italy & Japan’s battleships were much slower.

Not even close to being true. My dad served on the battleship USS Maryland that was built in 1920 and received 6 battle stars for his service with Navy on board his ship. They were key to taking heavily fortified atolls like Guadalcanal, Saipan and Okinawa. Battleships fire took out the command center on Okinawa early on and made the Japanese defense unorganized and ineffective. They were key to taking back the Philippines.

My dads ship was reported sunk at Pearl Harbor and came back. It was torpedoed in the bow and reported sunk, but was able to return to San Francisco for repair by sailing backward for over a thousand miles. The ship was hit by a kamikaze attack at Okinawa the killed all the men in turret number 1 and injured most of the men in turret number 2 (dad was one of them).

The ship was repaired and went back to Okinawa to prepare for the invasion of Japan when the A-Bomb was dropped. On VJ day all the ships at Okinawa were ordered to fire at will into the open sea to deplete the ammunition that would not be necessary, dad said it was better than any 4th of July celebration ever.

I have no idea where you got your information from, but several other US battleships fought in every battle of the Pacific.

The Axis nations, particularly Germany, but to a lesser extent the Japanese, were good at coming up with harebrained schemes to develop “super weapons,” some of which they actually built. They were, apparently, lousy at fielding military forces suitable to win a war. I suppose we should be grateful for that. But then if they had been less bankrupt from a strategic perspective, there never would have been a war to begin with. So it’s hard to decide whether one should be glad that they were so stupid, effectively defeating themselves, or saddened, that so many died as a consequence of their stupidity.

What would be the point of sailing backwards? It’s the same engines doing the work in either direction. And if the hull has a hole in it, the water is going to come in regardless of which direction the ship is moving.

Also, the Maryland was struck by bombs, not torpedoes. The distance between Pearl Harbor and San Francisco is about 2400 miles. Which really isn’t relevant because the Maryland sailed to and was repaired at Puget Sound, not San Francisco.

It’s not just about the water getting in (or not) but about the stress on the hull acting against the sea. If the bow has sustained severe damage (or been lost completely, as has happened more than once in the annals of naval history), steaming in reverse is the way to go until what remains has been reenforced or some other kind of temporary repair has been made. Because, unlike the Titanic, or even better designed (compared to Titanic) contemporary cruise ships, warships then and now are much more compartmentalized. An entire section of the ship really can sheer off (such as the bow), and yet the ship still remain afloat due to watertight doors and compartments. But those doors and interior bulkheads are not designed to hold back the sea while moving through the water.

USS New Orleans had such a temporary bow installed after the Battle of Tassafaronga, for instance (and had to steam stern first to get it).

It did sail not from Pearl to get repaired. It was damaged by a torpedo in another encounter. By going backwards water flowed rearward from the torpedo strike on the bow and raised the bow just enough to keep her afloat I guess. I can recommend the book “The Last Big-Gun Naval Battle-The Battle of Surigao Strait” if you want more details. Dad passed away 19 years ago or I would ask him. He never spoke of his service until the last few years of his life.
This is what happened to us in the Red Sea, we had to steam in reverse for a few hundred miles until we could be sure that collision bulkhead was holding, turned out the damage was only to the compartment in front of the collision bulkhead but it did mean that when we went forward that we lost a huge amount of efficiency - our wake was at least twice the usual width.

I’ve seen a smile like that before!

Reminds me of the atom bomb.