Dead Warship: 5 Ways to Sink a Monster Battleship

Dead Warship: 5 Ways to Sink a Monster Battleship

Michael Peck

History, Asia

Your guide to killing the ultimate warship.

To be fair, battleships were not easy targets for subs: they were fast—at least compared to a creaky cargo ship—and tended to be protected by a screen of destroyers.

What’s the best way to sink a battleship? Put a hole in it.

Easier said than done. Yet for all their vast hulls, big guns and thick armor plates, these titans of the sea have proven quite mortal since their debut in the early years of the twentieth century. More than a hundred battleships and pre-dreadnoughts have succumbed to various causes, according to one vigorously sourced list.

So here are the top five ways in which battleships die. Note: some cases are ambiguous. For example, the Bismarck was damaged by a torpedo launched by British Swordfish aircraft, which slowed the German battleship until the Royal Navy’s battle fleet caught up and sank the Bismarck with gunfire. So should credit for the kill be shared?

1. Aircraft.

The most prominent killer of battleships has been the airplane, or at least since 1939. The warning sign was the 1940 British air strike (the Swordfish torpedo bomber again) on the Italian fleet moored at Taranto harbor, which sank or damaged three battleships. The message was loud and clear when Japanese carrier-based aircraft sunk or crippled eight U.S. battleships at Pearl Harbor. And just in case that message wasn’t heeded, Japanese land-based torpedo bombers sunk the British capital ships Prince of Wales and Repulse a few days after Pearl Harbor.

It was later the turn of the Japanese battleship force to be pummeled from the air: the superbattleships Musashi and Yamato were sunk by U.S. carrier planes. The German battleship Tirpitz was relentlessly pounded for years by the Royal Air Force until it finally capsized from British blockbuster bombs.

Given the vulnerability of battleships to aircraft, it’s a wonder that more weren’t sunk by airpower. The reason more weren’t is that Second World War navies became very cautious about sailing battlewagons within range of enemy airpower in daylight, unless under plentiful air cover.

2. Surface ships

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