Most Revolutionary Naval Vessel of the 20th Century

Watching the History channel today, and there was a claim it was the USS Nautilus. That’s fine, but I thought the Dreadnought would probably be a better choice.

After the Nautilus there were still conventional submarines (and still being built) but after Dreadnought all pre- Dreadnoughts were immediately obsolete.

I was trying to think of aircraft carriers but I can’t see one that immediately changed everything.


I’d say HMS Ark Royal (the original one), as it laid the blueprint for the modern aircraft carrier, but it didn’t change things overnight - aircraft technology had to catch up, of course.

HMS Dreadnought was a milestone in the history of the battleship, but as soon as Ark Royal was launched, dreadnoughts were on their own way to obsolescence.

Isn’t that like saying that the atomic bomb wasn’t important because we not only still use but still make conventional weapons?

I suppose we still make dumb bombs but even that is being overtaken- no longer will you thousands of bombers blowing up cattle.

RNATB_ I agree- the aircraft carrier did make a change in the construction of fleets but that may not have been evident with the Ark Royal- it was possibly only after Midway that it was realised the carrier was the queen of the seas. (Possibly Taranto or the Coral Sea).

Admittedly, it didn’t make much of an impact itself, but I was under the impression that everyone else cribbed their carrier designs from it - so the battle in the Pacific was being fought with giant Ark Royals.

I could be wrong on this - I’m a dabbler in military history, and I know much less about ships than I do about aircraft.

You want revolutionary? How about ships powered by the wind using rotating cylinders:

The idea was big in the 20s, then disappeared. But there’s some new interest in them, apparently

Yes, but what effect did it have on the fleets?

If you’re asking about the Flettner ships, then:

a.) You didn’t ask about most influential – you said revolutionary. In particular, you didn’t specify that it had to have influyence on fleets.

b.) As I say, it’s a technology that was developed, then dropped, and now looks as if it might be gaining a new life. Ask again in a few years, and maybe it will have had considerable influence on merchant or even military ships.

If you weren’t responding to me, my apologies, but I don’t understand what this has to do with my comment. I mentioned the atomic bomb v. conventional weapons not dumb bombs v. (I suppose) smart bombs.

EDIT: In short, my thoughts are summed up well by Cal’s comment:

So presumably you’re after a 20th century version of the Turbinia? That’s pretty tough, given the amount of evolution of 19th-century concepts that went on in the 20th century.

I would be inclined to say that the Type XXI u-boats were more revolutionary than the Nautilus - they made the switch to being all-underwater with only the occasional surfacing, and the Nautilus then started taking that principle to extremes.

I’d go for the Ark Royal or maybe the USS Long Beach - first all-missile ship (unless you want to go for the USS Gyatt as the first missle-equipped ship)

If we’re not sticking to strictly military ships I would say that the Trieste was pretty revolutionary. If we are I would go with the Ohio or the Enterprise/Nimitz (i.e., nuclear) carriers.

No, the 1917 version of the HMS Ark Royal was a seaplane carrier.

The first flush deck carrier was the HMS Argus, I think.

According to Wikipedia, the 1914 AR’s complement was five seaplanes and two deck aircraft.

The deck aircraft could not be recovered onboard. I think the pilots were expected to bail out (and get picked up after a swim), or fly to a land base.

Edit: The pattern that the future followed was the flush deck carrier, which the old Ark Royal was not.

As a former submarine officer, I’m probably biased, so take the following with a grain of salt.

I would go with the Nautilus. It was the first true submarine, freed from the necessity of having to surface or go to periscope depth in order to recharge the batteries.

(Note that the Nautilus still had the traditional V-shaped hull designed for cruising on the surface; the teardrop-shaped hull had to wait for the conventionally powered Albacore, and the Skipjack was the first sub to combine nuclear power with the teardrop hull optimized for underwater cruising. Nevertheless, it was the nuclear powered propulsion alone that accounted for the revolutionary aspect of the modern submarine.)

We have never had a major naval battle since the era of the modern submarine, but in a true no-holds-barred shooting war, submarines would finally come into their own. Once hostilities ensued, I figure that every surface combatant on both sides would be sunk in about 15 minutes. The only naval vessels left would be submarines.

Much of the conventional wisdom regarding submarines seems to still have the WWII-era fleet boats in mind (i.e. slow-running submarines hiding from destroyers, popping up to launch salvos of straight-running torpedoes). While there have been great advances in ASW (anti-submarine warfare) technology since WWII, the advantages gained by the submarine have far outstripped those. The first indication that a typical surface vessel would have that a hostile submarine is in the area is the large explosion. Modern torpedoes have homing capability, and modern subs do not have to view the target with a periscope or use active sonar. Modern nuclear submarines do not have to wait for their targets to get within range. Their range is unlimited, and they also have a great speed advantage. Finally, in being submerged continuously, they have the ultimate stealth advantage.

The Soviets/Russians and the Chinese realize this, which is why their naval efforts in recent decades have emphasized submarine construction. And the most effective defense against a modern submarine is another submarine.

The Falklands might fit that a little bit…

The USS Nautilus (the nuke one) was a good choice. Speaking from a military point of view that is. The Nautilus started an era of stealth ships limited in range only by the amount of food they can carry. It’s pretty hard to imagine a weapon system more deadly or more stealthy than a SSBN.

Can’t decide on one, but here’s my list in descending order:
[li]USS George Washington. A nuclear warhead ballistic missile submarine is WMD that you can’t realistically defend against. It made bomber fleets obsolete, and pretty much made land-based missiles outmoded.[/li][li]Nautilus. As others have said, a true submarine is a nightmare for a surface fleet. Submarines themselves revolutionized the rules of war. All the differences between “neutrals” and “combatants” disappeared.[/li][li]Argus - the first true aircraft carrier. Actually it’s hard to choose one particular vessel, but the idea of operating aircraft on the open ocean changed the way that navies fight and protect cargo.[/li][/ol]

The problem with giving this title to the Dreadnought is that she wasn’t nearly as clean a break with previous shps as the Nautilus was in terms of usage or capablilities. The later pre-Dreadnoughts were very nearly all-big-gun ships, for example, and the Dreadnought herself was not the first all-big-gun ship ordered (the USS South Carolina(BB-26) was designed earlier but construction proceded so slowly that Dreadnought beat her into the water). In other words, the idea was one whose time had come and was being implemented by multiple navies. Also, the deployment of dreadnoughts was essentially the same as other line-of-battle ships all the way back to the 16th century.

In contrast, not only was Nautilus ahead of her time (the earliest SSN in the Soviet Navy was launched 5 years later) but also she was capable of things that even the Type XXI boats weren’t, like traveling under the Artic ice pack or staying submerged until the food ran out. These are truly game-breaking capabilities.

Not a historian, but is there a case to be made for the first nuclear powered vessel?