When was the U.S. Navy at its most powerful?

“Most powerful” defined as you see fit - for me, it’d be some combination of firepower and capacity for force projection around the globe. The Navy at the end of the Civil War was large, but it was almost entirely (understandably enough) built for riverine and coastal warfare. The USN had lots of ships at the end of WWII, but they were very unsophisticated compared to what we have today. The Reagan-era 600-ship Navy was bigger than it is today, but weapons technology has made some strides in the past 20-some years.

What do you think?

Wouldn’t you say it’s now, in terms of force projection? I suppose it depends on what you’re planning to fight - my understanding (which is not very sophisticated) is that much of the modern Navy supports the carrier fleet and that’s what we project force with; that the idea of a Navy that carries out ship to ship warfare is pretty much obsolete. Is that the case?

If you’re talking pure destructive power - I’d say the 14 active Ohio class SSBNs, each carrying 24 Trident II nuclear missiles, gives an answer of “1997 to present.”

Most powerfull? The modern navy.

Most Powerfull for it’s time? I’d be tempted to give the late-WWII Navy the nod. The number of ship we had in service was staggering as we fought a two-front World War.


If you take nukes out of the equation, then late WW2 wins both. As Stalin once noted, quantity has a quality all its own.

Also because it was the most powerful in comparison to anyone it could face at that time. I 've read that if the battle of Midway had occurred in 1944 instead of 42, the USN would have brushed the IJN aside as a matter of course.

Do you really think so? Anti-ship wise, I think the current fleet could sink the entire WW2 fleet without a single loss - between modern subs, anti-ship missiles, and modern aircraft, the WW2 fleet couldn’t even get within their own engagement range of current ships.

Force projection too - there’s plenty of non-nuclear ordnance on modern carriers that can range pretty far inland. Much further than battleship guns.

Most powerful for the time? At the end of WWII, no question in my mind. We had just finished defeating two of the worlds great powers (with help), one a great naval power, all from across the ocean. Japan had one of the most powerful navys in the world in 1941. In 1945, on the other side of the globe, we could brush aside any naval resistance with ease. Sounds like the most powerful navy too me.

Most powerful ever? Today’s Navy. We have continued for 60 years with WWII as the benchmark, as if we might have to fight everyone on earth at any moment, with continuous technological upgrades. The rest of the world has kind of given up the race.

Ah, but if we don’t take nukes out of the equation, then when does the '40s-era Navy get maximum bonus points for being the only nuke-throwing navy on the planet?

Even without nukes, now. A cruise missile has around 1000km range, and when you pair that with satellite tracking, boom.

Thanks for the note, Elendil’s Heir.

Most powerful for the time, now; even considering how gigantic the USN was at the end of WWII. Here’s the wiki on the number of warships each country currently possesses. Note the USN is easily as large as all of the other countries’ navies put together, never mind the qualitative differences in favor of the USN. The networking between platforms today, that is pretty much an effective monopoly of the U.S. (and maybe U.K. forces), is an even greater multiplier.

(Yes, other countries have satellites and networked forces too, but I don’t see their capability having the resiliency of the U.S’s, should the various U.S. armed forces decide to remove said capability. No, I don’t have a cite, other than to point to the example of Iraq during Desert Storm and OIF. The ability of the U.S. to form an electronic order of battle through various SIGINT measures and then neutralize said order of battle is profoundly effective, and largely unpublicized.)

If and when submarines and drones ever start talking to each other effectively, e.g., if a submarine becomes capable of taking the feed from an AWACS or an emplaced hydrophone array and synthesizes that input with the feed from its own sensors…look out. Hey, when you spend several trillion dollars (the 2010 budget allocation for the Department of the Navy was $150 billion, excluding the USMC.) over 65 years (counting from NSC-48 to the present), you tend to get something flashy…

Here is a link to, among other things, the Royal Navy’s size in 1945. And here is the USN’s assessment of its own strength in August 1945. I doubt apples are being compared to apples, but here’s my quick n dirty comparison between the RN and USN, 1945: (The formatting’s going to suck, sorry.)

Carriers (rolling CVEs into CVs): RN: 58; USN: 99.
Battleships/Capital Ships: RN: 5; USN: 23.
Cruisers: RN: 35; USN: 72
Destroyers: RN: 277; USN: 377.
Submarines: RN: 178; USN: 232.

Again, these aren’t broken out further by quality/age/effectiveness. I don’t have the time to go through some of, e.g., Dunnigan and Nofi’s quantification’s of relative military power for the period, but I submit to you all that I think today’s USN is more of a relative world-beater than the USN of 1945.

Here’s where it gets tricky. I don’t know how the smaller escorts: DE’s, frigates, corvettes, are being labeled. The USN link breaks out an additional 361 frigates and 1201 patrol craft. The RN link doesn’t. I still think the qualitative differences between the USN of today vs. everyone else trumps the large, vast number of support ships the USN had back then, even if you count the giant number of vessels operated by the Army as USN power.

I’d say the modern navy. Not just because it has the most modern technology (although that is a major factor) but also because of its comparative advantage.

The United States Navy is number one in the world. And nobody is number two.

The USN could most likely defeat every other navy in the world combined.

Completely agree with this post. I doubt the 1945 USN would even have a clue that something was wrong until stuff started exploding all around them. Especially if you attacked them at night. The BB’s would be difficult to sink with contemporary SSM’s—though I imagine you’d easily get them mission-killed—and might require 2000 lb LGBs or torpedoes. Italian battleships were sunk by German ASMs (the Fritz-X) in 1943. They damned near sunk HMS Warspite too. As good as the Iowas were, they aren’t going to survive multiple e.g. BLU-109/116s. (Or whatever the USN equivalent LGB is.)

Thanks, everybody, and thanks especially for that analysis, Gray Ghost.

Anchors aweigh!

I hadn’t heard of those before. Ouch - pretty effective, for their day. Here’s a memorable pic: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:USS_Savannah_(CL-42)_is_hit_by_a_German_guided_bomb,_off_Salerno,_11_September_1943.jpg

Heck, the subs alone could take out every WWII ship - even an Iowa isn’t going to like 2 or 3 Mark 48s slamming into its keel. The only limiting factor would be how many torpedoes each sub carries. And nothing back then could even locate, much less shoot back at, a modern sub.

In terms of absolute power, the modern U.S. Navy wins easily. Even without nukes or other special weapons, they have the ability to reach out and touch somebody pretty much anywhere on the planet and the ability to make it very difficult for anybody to hit them back. They’ve got Tyson’s punching power and Ali’s elusiveness.

No other force on Earth could pull off the Bin Laden raid.

What does “most powerful for its time” mean? Relative to all other navies put together? Relative to the next most powerful navy? Relative to what would theoretically have been possible given the technology of its day?

I wasn’t attempting to “pit” the WWII fleet against the modern fleet.

But considering that the WWII ships were “modern combatants of their time” the same way that modern ships are “modern combatants of their time,” then the 833 surface warships comprising the U.S. Navy of 8/16/1945 is certainly more powerful in 1945 than the 122 surface warships of 9/30/2011 are in 2012.

So the U.S. Navy of 1945, comprised of 833 modern, and in most cases newly-built and fresh out of the yard warships, was IMO more powerful relative to its time than the modern U.S. Navy is to its time.

But in terms of raw destructive combat power, then yes: the modern U.S. Navy smokes the 1945 Navy in a few days, with the limiting factor being the amount of on-board munitions and the time it takes to UNREP after the magazines are emptied; it takes a while to sink 833 ships.