A battleship is a large armored warship with a main battery consisting of heavy caliber guns. As they were the largest, best-armed and most heavily armored ships in a fleet, battleships were used to attain command of the sea and represented the apex of a nation's naval power from the late nineteenth century until World War II. With the rise of air power, notably aircraft carriers, battleships were no longer able to establish naval superiority, and so all have been withdrawn from active service. The related battlecruiser, a successor to the armored cruiser, shared the very large main armament, general size, and cost of a battleship of the same generation, but they traded armor or firepower for higher speed.
Battleship design evolved to incorporate and adapt technological advances to maintain an edge. The word battleship was coined around 1794 as a contraction of the phrase line-of-battle ship, the dominant wooden warship during the Age of Sail. It came into formal use in the late 1880s to describe a type of ironclad warship, but these are now referred to as "pre-dreadnoughts". In 1906, the launch of HMS Dreadnought heralded a revolution in battleship design. Later designs that were influenced by this ship were referred to as "dreadnoughts". Battlecruisers were developed around this time by the British First Sea Lord Jackie Fisher. They were envisioned as being more effective armored cruisers, able to destroy any normal cruiser while being able to outrun any ships capable of sinking them.
By 1910, so-called "super-dreadnoughts" were entering service. In the four years between Dreadnought and the first super-dreadnoughts, the Orion class, displacement had increased by 25% and weight of broadside had doubled. Many battlecruisers and battleships of all varieties served in the First World War, most notably in the Battle of Jutland. None were built between the Nelsons of the early 1920s and the Dunkerques of the early 1930s due to various treaties, but quite a few battleships were constructed shortly before or during World War II. The last, HMS Vanguard, was commissioned just after the war, in 1946.
From this time on, most battleships and all battlecruisers were decommissioned and broken up. France's Jean Bart and Turkey's Yavuz were the last to be scrapped. However, members of the American Iowa class lasted until 1992 to aid troops with fire support; four were deployed in Korea, one in Vietnam, and two to Iraq. Nine battleships exist today as museum ships; eight from the United States, and Japan's Mikasa. (more...)
SMS Von der Tann was the first battlecruiser built for the German Kaiserliche Marine, as well as Germany's first major turbine-powered warship. At the time of her construction, Von der Tann was the fastest dreadnought-type warship afloat, capable of reaching speeds of more than 27 knots (50 km/h). Built by Blohm + Voss in Hamburg, Von der Tann was designed in response to the British Invincible class. While the German design had slightly lighter guns—28 cm (11 in), compared to the 30.5 cm (12 in) Mark X mounted on the British ships—Von der Tann was faster and significantly better-armoured. She set the precedent of German battlecruisers carrying much heavier armour than their British equivalents, albeit at the cost of smaller guns. The ship participated in a number of fleet actions during the First World War, including the Battle of Jutland, where she destroyed the British battlecruiser HMS Indefatigable. Von der Tann was hit several times by large-calibre shells, but the damage was quickly repaired and the ship returned to the fleet in two months. Following the end of the war in 1918, Von der Tann, along with most of the High Seas Fleet, was interned at Scapa Flow pending a decision by the Allies as to the fate of the fleet. The ship met her end when the fleet was scuttled in 1919 to prevent them falling into British hands. The wreck of Von der Tann was raised in 1930, and scrapped at Rosyth from 1931 to 1934.
Günther Lütjens (25 May 1889 - 27 May 1941) was a German admiral whose military service spanned almost three decades, most well known for his actions during World War II, especially his command of the Operation Rheinübung sortie. Joining the Kaiserliche Marine in 1907, he served aboard the SMS Freya, Elsass, and König Wilhelm, then commanded several torpedo boats until the end of World War I, earning the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross. In 1921, he joined the Reichsmarine, serving in and eventually commanding the 3rd Torpedo Boat Flotilla and Karlsruhe. In 1936, Lütjens was appointed Chief of Personnel of the Kriegsmarine, then assigned as Führer der Torpedoboote the next year.
When World War II erupted, he was Commander of Scouting Forces in Operation Weserübung, notably the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau (using the latter as his flagship), then promoted to Commander of Battleships and third Flottenchef. Rheinübung originally planned for all four battleships (Bismarck, Scharnhorst, Gneisenau, and Tirpitz) to make a raid into the Atlantic, but ultimately sailed with only Bismarck and Prinz Eugen on 19 May, 1941. On 24 May, his ships were intercepted by HMS Hood and HMS Prince of Wales at the Battle of the Denmark Strait, in which Hood was famously sunk. Furious at the loss of their most powerful ship, the Royal Navy began a dogged pursuit that ultimately sunk the Bismarck and killed Lütjens on 27 May. The German destroyer Lütjens (D185), lead ship of the Lütjens-class destroyers of the modern German Navy, would be named for him.