The Post Treaty Super Dreadnought Battleships: Introduction

Line Drawing of the German H-39 Class Battleship

Note: This is the introductory article for a series of 8 articles on the classes of battleships built or planned by the major powers following the expiration of the Second London Naval Treaty. A previous series of articles dealt with the battleships constructed in compliance or close compliance with the treaty. This series will cover the Japanese Yamato Class, the British Lion Class and the Vanguard, the German Bismarck Class and H39 Class, the Soviet Sovyetskiy Soyuz Class and the American Iowa and Montana classes.

Model of the Montana Class

All of these ships were designed and built or designed in the late 1930s and early 1940s and with the exception of the Sovietetskiy Soyuz Class built on each navy’s experience. The Japanese had constructed no treaty battleships in the 1930s so the Yamato’s were the first battleships constructed by Japan since the Nagato Class which had been completed in the 1920s and the incomplete Tosa Class.

The Bismarck

The Second London Naval Treaty of 25 March 1936 was signed by France, Britain and the United States. Japan walked out on the conference and the Italians did not sign because of the outcry that their invasion of Abyssinia had evoked.  The treaty called for ships to have a standard displacement of no more than 35,000 tons and main armament of 14” guns, a reduction in size of armament from the previous London and Washington treaties. When the Japanese pulled out and the Italians refused to sign the United States invoked the escalator clause which permitted them to disregard treaty limitations.

USS Iowa lead ship of the Iowa class

The Americans who invoked only the armament part of the clause on the North Carolina and South Dakota classes but took full advantage of it to construct the 45,000 ton Iowa class. The Montana Class of 65,000 tons mounting twelve 16” guns and protection proof against that type of shell. Those ships were never laid down but will be covered in this series of articles.

Line Drawing of the Lion Class

The British Royal Navy planned the Lion Class which was in essence an enlargement of the King George V Class armed with nine 16” guns.  The Lion class of which 4 ships were to built was cancelled early in the war and only one further battleship the 44.500 ton HMS Vanguard would be completed by the Royal Navy but not until 1946.

HMS Vanguard

The Germans, who were not a signatory to the treaty but had an agreement with Britain to limit their total naval tonnage to 35% of Britain’s had build the Scharnhorst Class Battlecruisers in the mid 1930s and began the Bismarck Class the largest capital ships completed in Europe. These were to be followed by the H39, H41, H42, H43 and H44 classes ranging in displacement from 56,444 tons to 131,000 tons with armament ranging from eight 16” to eight 20” guns. Only two of the H39’s were laid down and cancelled while in the early stages of construction and I will only discuss the H39 class in this series.

Sovyetskiy Soyuz Class

The Soviet Union which was never a signatory to any of the naval treaties and had not built a battleship since the First World War planned the massive Sovyetskiy Soyuz Class which would have displaced 58,220 tons and mounted nine 16” guns. The four initial ships of the class but were never completed.


The Japanese Yamato Class, the largest battleships ever constructed of 69,998 tons standard displacement armed with nine 18” guns, the largest main battery ever installed on battleships were the largest capital ships built before the second generation of U.S. Navy super carriers.

The first article I write will be about the Bismarck Class and that will appear later this week.



Filed under History, Military, Navy Ships

10 responses to “The Post Treaty Super Dreadnought Battleships: Introduction

  1. John Erickson

    For your sake and sanity, Padre, you’ve made a good choice to stick with just the H-39 variant of the H-class. By the time of the H-44, the main armament and armour had proceeded to ridiculous levels, while for some inexplicable reason, the secondary and extremely vital AA armament were not increased from H-39 (or from Bismarck, for that matter). Besides the tremendous amount of materiel the later H classes, especially H-44, would have consumed (which the Germans could ill afford), the size of these monsters would have dwarfed any shipyards available to the Germans – indeed, one plan put forth was to seal off a Norwegian fjord to serve as a drydock! Best to leave these flights of fancy off your lists for now.
    Then again, if you want an “H-44 vs. US Tillman Max Battleships” debate for another time, I can get you some beautiful drawings! 😉

  2. Sion Liscannor

    I would like to second John Erikson’s comment above. The ‘H’ battleship programme had more fantasy than fact to it, and was on a par with the absurd ‘Reichspurbahn’ – Hitler’s dream of a 3 metre gauge super railway to link the cities of the Reich. A great symbol for megalomaniacs, but something that made no economic sense.
    The ‘H’ battleships were the product of keeping a team of designers employed throughout the war (who I suppose went on designing ever bigger battleships, as it was more fun than a posting to the Eastern front).
    The H series made no sense – neither economically, nor in terms of their foreseen deployment. But this was generally true of German naval building during the Nazi era – with the sole exception of the U boat programme. Germany’s geographic situation and lack of overseas bases made a large navy an impracticable proposition, and as in WW1 Germany eventually reduced its construction to U-boats.

  3. Val

    Most German designs were fantasy paper designs only, similer to the tillman ideas. The Lion designs are complex and fascinating, and come to an end in the 50s. An early WW2 messes the program up. The Iowas and Yamatos are the first ships to match the I3, K’s, G3, and N3 board approved and final detailed ship designs of the interwar period, some 20 years on. The No.13 was a fair try to have a go at competing with the RN.

    • Val

      In repling to myself. The I3 really has no equal. I’m guessing by the time that design comes about for building in the late 20s early 30s as the next logical ship, machinery weights comes down, along with other technologies that can be incorporated, making this ship very devastating. Leagues ahead of any other Country.

  4. Sion Liscannor

    In this review of the Post Treaty ‘Superbattleships’ I would like to draw a distinction between battleships that were designed and built after the expiry of the treaty (all of which exceeded limitations the treaty had imposed) and a sub-class of battleships that deserve to be distinguished as ‘super’ as they represent a substantial leap forward in respect of tonnage/armament/armour and other specifications. The ships of the German Bismarck class in this respect were post-treaty, but were not ‘super’; the German H39+++ classes were all ‘super’. The Japanese Yamato class, the US Iowa and Montana classes, and the Soviet Sovyetskiy Soyuz were also ‘super’.

    The Royal Navy is conspicuously absent from the list of ‘super’ battleship builders. This is surprising, if you consider that the RN before the First World War inspired a dreadnought-building race, and by varying finesses (both diplomatic and technical) contrived to keep qualitatively ahead of its opponents. In the 1930’s and throughout the years of World War Two, the RN showed very little commitment to battleship construction. The KGV’s were built within London Treaty limits, and were distinctly inferior to ships built by other navies in the period. As for HMS Vanguard – she was no more than a refinement of the KGV design, and was built largely to make use of the 4×15 inch twin turrets that had been in storage since the battlecruisers Courageous and Furious had been converted to carriers.

    It is not possible to explain the RN’s lack of interest in battleships solely by reference to political factors (adherence to Treaty limitations etc). The fact is that the British Admiralty (influenced perhaps by its elaborate testing of battleship hulls to destruction during the 1920’s) had become deeply skeptical about the value of battleships. There were, of course, divisions of opinion within the Admiralty, and there was always a pro-battleship lobby, but the skeptics had the final word. It is well summed up by the Director of Naval Construction in 1944, at which time yet another improved version of the Lion class was being debated. The DNC pointed out that each new battleship design required ever thicker armour, bigger guns, more extensive anti-aircraft capacity, and increased tonnage – but that none of these ‘improvements’ significantly increased the offensive capability of the ship.’

    That judgement effectively put an end to the battleship era.

    • Sion Liscannor

      Correction: Above should read ‘4×15 inch twin turrets that had been in storage since the battlecruisers Courageous and Glorious had been converted to carriers.’

  5. N A I M A

    You forgot the Italian UP41 project on wich the Soviet Sovetsky Soyuz Ship was based on .

  6. N A I M A

    You forgot the Italian Battleship Up41 on wich the Sovetsky Soyuz was planned on and studied over .

  7. Val

    It should be pointed out, that under the new standard program, RN battleships would be increasing in size, and latter designs of Lions (not related to the original Lions , but nanpother design altogether were very big, and some designs were in the 1000s of feet in lenght and around 100,000 tons. The Lions designs after the first Lions were super Battleships form then on, and I guess with a program unaffected by war, these sized ships were earmarked for around 1941-42. The I3, G3, and N3 and recently discovered lengthened N3, the Original O3 design, (not to be confused with O3 for Nelson design) were certainly Super Battleships, if one commentator says the Iowas, Montanas and Yamatos were Super Battleships. What ever that daft term means. I guess bigger ships are Superdooper Battleships, or Mega, or Giga!

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