For decades, the battleship was the symbol of a nation’s naval might. These vessels were hundreds of feet long, displaced tens of thousands of tons, bristled with massive guns, and were sheathed with the thickest armor. Within the battleship class, some were larger than others.
The modern armored ship dates from the ironclad warships of the Civil War era. The United States flexed its maritime muscle in 1907-1909, when President Theodore Roosevelt sent the so-called Great White Fleet of 16 American battleships around the world. It was the largest and most powerful flotilla to ever circle the globe. (Today, these are the largest navies in the world.)
Starting in the late 19th century, the British and German empires were locked in a naval arms race that culminated in 1916 with the inconclusive Battle of Jutland during World War I (one of the biggest naval battles of all time).
In the aftermath of that war, the world’s most powerful nations tried to limit the size of fleets, restricting capital ships (battleships and battlecruisers) and battleships to exceed a displacement of 35,000 tons and guns with no more than a 16-inch caliber.
Following violations of the treaty by the French, Italians, and Japanese in the mid-1930s, it was allowed to lapse in 1936, and battleships reached their zenith during World War II – with legendary ships such as Germany’s pair of Bismarck-class vessels and Japan’s two titanic 71,659-ton Yamato-class ships, the largest battleships ever constructed by far.
The battleship eventually surrendered its naval preeminence to aircraft carriers and amphibious warships after World War II. The United Kingdom’s HMS Vanguard, commissioned in 1946, was the last battleship ever built by any nation.
24/7 Tempo consulted sources including Navy General Board, Largest.org, Militaryfactory, Militarymachine, and PearlHarbor to compile a list of the biggest battleships in history, using displacement tonnage as a measure. Note that with three exceptions, the list is ordered not by individual ship but by battleship class, each class including two or more ships with different names. The exceptions are the U.K.’s HMS Agincourt, HMS Hood, and HMS Vanguard.
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