Battleship Dream Match: What if Japan and America’s Best Battleships Slugged It Out?

Battleship Dream Match: What if Japan and America’s Best Battleships Slugged It Out?

Robert Farley

Security, Asia

If Japan had made different operational decisions in 1941 and 1942, then the possibility of a major battleship engagement might have offered. Such a fight probably would have favored the Americans but would have been a near thing, and would have seen a dreadful toll in men and ships.

Fast aircraft carriers dominated the opening battles of the Pacific War, from the attack on Pearl Harbor to the Battle of Midway. In part because of the demonstrated lethality of these ships, and in part because of the devastation of much of the U.S. fleet in the opening days of the war, battleships on either side played little role in the conflict. Not until the night battles of Guadalcanal would battleships have a decisive impact.

But what if the Imperial Japanese Navy and the U.S. Pacific Fleet had fought in the way that many had expected, with contending battle lines? Planners during much of the interwar period expected such an engagement, although the details of where, when, and how it would be fought varied over time. If the Pacific War had turned out differently, what might such an engagement have looked like in 1942?

The Fleets: 

At the beginning of the war, the United States Navy had eight “standard type” battleships at Pearl Harbor, another (USS Colorado) refitting at Puget Sound, and three more (the New Mexico class) in the Atlantic. In addition, North Carolina and Washington had just entered service as the fleet’s first fast battleships. The U.S. Navy also had three older battleships (New York, Texas, and Arkansas) although these were not generally regarded as fit for line of battle service.

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