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The Montana-Class Battleship Would Have Changed Everything

Iowa-class
An aerial starboard bow view of the battleship USS IOWA (BB 61) firing a 2,700-pound projectile from the barrel of a forward 16-inch gun during sea trials off the coast of Mississippi. The IOWA is scheduled to be recommissioned into the fleet on April 28, 1984, after completion of modernization/reactivation construction at Ingalls Shipbuilding, Pascagoula, Mississippi.

Battleships have always captured the public’s imagination. It must be the size of the vessel, with its mighty guns that belch fire and send shells the weight of a Volkswagen Beetle crashing into targets. 

The Montana-class battleship was going to be all that and more. With extra guns and more armor, these battle wagons were going to be special. But the U.S. Navy ultimately passed, and the Montana-class never became the keepers of the sea.

Montana-Class: Plans for a Five-Ship Class

The supersized Montana-class was meant to fight in the Atlantic and Pacific theaters of World War II. They were originally ordered in 1941. The first battleship planned would have been the USS Montana, followed by four others: the Ohio, the Maine, the New Hampshire, and the Louisiana. This formidable group of ships was to usher in an epic era of battleship dominance. They were the last battleships ever planned to join the fleet. Now, the USS Montana is the moniker given to a new, fast-attack nuclear-powered submarine that was just commissioned at the end of June.

The building of the Montana-class battleship would have been a triumph similar to the Block IV Virginia-class sub noted above. The battleships were planned to be bigger than the Iowa-class. They were an astounding 921 feet long, with a beam of 121 feet. The vessels would have displaced 71,000 tons in combat mode. 

The Montana-class had the same 16-inch skull-pounding guns as its predecessors, but now with extra triple-turrets to make for a total of 12 armor-piercing 16-inchers. The shells weighed 2,700 pounds. They could blast targets up to 23 miles away with their 12-sailor crew. The guns also had radar target acquisition. Don’t forget the secondary armaments: There would have been 20 five-inch deck guns.

The armor was improved over the Iowa-class, with thicker anti-torpedo bulkheads and 21,000 tons of protective steel. They were slightly slower than the Iowas, with a top speed of 28 knots because of the added firepower and armor.

There Were Some Problems

The Montanas were meant to be an answer to the Japanese Yamato battleship. The Yamato-class displaced 72,800 tons, and its sides had 16 inches of armor. It carried larger-caliber 18-inch guns. The Yamato was later sunk by American torpedo bombers during the Battle of Okinawa in 1945. 

The Montana-class had some downsides. They were too big to make it through the Panama Canal. They would have required a huge contingent of personnel to operate and maintain the ship – 2,355 enlisted sailors and commissioned officers. The ships might have been too slow to keep up with a carrier battle group.

Furthermore, aircraft carriers were deemed more essential to the Navy than battleships. The war was going to be fought with carrier-launched aircraft – fighters, torpedo bombers, and dive bombers. These proved to be more decisive during the war in the Pacific, especially after the Battle of Midway, during which carriers proved to be crucial. 

Battleships could also succumb to submarine-launched torpedoes. Two British warships were lost to Japanese submarines in 1941, and that worried the U.S. Navy. Ship-on-ship warfare, for which the Montana-class was designed, was becoming less of a factor on the seas. 

The battleships’ large crews also needed to be constantly trained and readied for battle. These sailors could instead be diverted to serving on carriers and tasked to learn flat-top operations, which were considered a more valuable skill. 

Iowa-Class

Iowa-class Battleship.

Montana-class

Iowa-class battleship. Image: Creative Commons.

The Montana program was therefore canceled in 1943. This was a predictable decision in hindsight. But what if the Navy had built only the USS Montana? This super battleship might have improved morale after Pearl Harbor. The ship could also have been used in future wars to bombard enemy positions and support ground troops. But it was just not meant to be. The Montana-class goes down as an interesting plan that stayed on the drawing board.

Bonus: Montana-Class Artist Concepts

Montana-class

Montana-class artist rendering.

Montana-class model.

Montana-class drawing.

Montana-class

Montana-class model.

Now serving as 1945’s Defense and National Security Editor, Brent M. Eastwood, PhD, is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer. You can follow him on Twitter @BMEastwood.

Written By

Now serving as 1945s New Defense and National Security Editor, Brent M. Eastwood, PhD, is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer.

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