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battleship,large, armored warship equipped with the heaviest naval guns. The evolution of the battleship, from the ironclad warship of the mid-19th cent., received great impetus from the Civil War. By 1872 the French were building iron and steel warships, and in 1876 the British started construction of two all-steel war vessels. Developments continued to improve speed, fortification, accuracy of armament, and size. The H.M.S. Dreadnought, which was completed in 1906, was the first modern battleship and introduced the "all-big-gun" class of warship. It was armed with ten 12-in. (30.5-cm) guns and was powered by steam turbines, which developed a speed of 21 knots. The battleship became the major capital unit in modern navies, although there was only one fleet engagement of battleships in World War I and no fleet engagements in World War II. However, with the development of new aerial tactics, such as dive bombing, and the introduction (1941) of aircraft carriers as the major unit of a naval attack force, battleships became nearly obsolete. The fate of the battleship as a major weapon in modern warfare was sealed on Dec. 7, 1941, when Japanese carrier-borne aircraft attacked the U.S. navy's battleships at Pearl Harbor, sinking or badly damaging all eight. Shortly after the Korean War the last battleships of the British and American navies were decommissioned. The U.S. navy, during part of the Vietnam War, used one battleship, the New Jersey, for shore bombardment and antiaircraft defense. The four Iowa-class battleships were recommissioned in 1980s; all were again decommissioned by 1992.
See S. Breyer, Battleships and Battle Cruisers, 1905–1970 (tr. 1973) and Battleships of the World (1980).
(1) Ship of the line, or line-of-battle ship, in the sailing fleet of the 17th to mid-19th centuries; large, three-masted warships with two and three gun decks. They had from 60 to 135 guns mounted in lines along the sides and crews of up to 800 men. They fought in a wake column (battle line), which is how they received the name, which, by tradition, was passed on to ships of the steam-powered navy.
(2) Battleship in the steam-powered armored navy, one of the basic classes of the largest surface artillery ships, designed to destroy ships of all classes in battle at sea and to deliver powerful artillery strikes against targets on shore.
Battleships appeared in many of the world’s navies to supplant early forms of armor-clad ships after the Russo-Japanese War of 1904–05. At first they were called dreadnoughts. In Russia this class of battleship was established in 1907. Battleships were used in World War I. By the start of World War II battleships had a standard displacement of 20,000–64,000 tons and were armed with up to 12 turret guns of the main caliber (280–460 mm), up to 20 torpedo-defense, antiaircraft, or multipurpose artillery guns with calibers of 100–127 mm, and up to 80–140 small-caliber automatic antiaircraft cannon and large-caliber antiaircraft machine guns. The traveling speed of the battleships was 20–35 knots (37–64.8 km/hr) and wartime crews included 1,500–2,800 men. The side armor was up to 440 mm thick, and the weight of all the armor was up to 40 percent of the total weight of the ship. Battleships had one to three aircraft on board and catapaults for launching them. During the war, because of the increased role of naval aviation (especially carrier-based) and submarine forces and the loss of many battleships to aviation and submarines, these ships lost their importance. After the war all navies scrapped almost all their battleships.
B. F. BALEV