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The Montana Class Battleship: The Pinnacle of US Battleship Design

The Montana Class Battleship: The Pinnacle of US Battleship Design

Battleships / World War 2

Model of the Montana class

In the annals of naval history, the Montana-class battleships stand as a testament to the zenith of US battleship design during World War II.

Moreover, conceived as a more powerful version than the Iowa class, the Montanas became envisioned to be slower. However, far more formidable in terms of size, armor, and firepower.

Model’s conception of the Montana (BB-67—BB-71) class whose construction was cancelled on 21 July, 1943. This model depicts the ship fitted with a heavy battery of anti-aircraft guns, as would have been the case had she been completed.
1940 study plan, BB-65 Scheme 4 (BB 65-4)
One variant of the fast BB 65-8 design scheme from 1940

Though five of these leviathans were authorized for construction, the tides of war and shifting priorities led to their cancellation in favor of faster, more versatile Essex-class aircraft carriers and additional Iowa-class battleships. Not a single keel of the Montana class was laid down, yet their legacy persists as the might-have-been giants of the sea.

The Montana class was designed to be a powerhouse, with plans for twelve 16-inch Mark 7 guns distributed across four turrets. This was a step up from the Iowa class, which was armed with nine guns of the same caliber. The absence of treaty restrictions, which had previously limited battleship designs, allowed for a more ambitious approach, endowing the Montanas with an unprecedented level of anti-aircraft capability and a thicker suit of armor. These battleships would have been the most colossal and formidably armed vessels in the US Navy, with the potential to match Japan’s Yamato-class in displacement.

Initial designs for the Montana class began prior to America’s involvement in World War II, with Congress approving the first two ships in 1939. The devastating attack on Pearl Harbor and the subsequent success of carrier combat in the Pacific shifted the naval strategy away from traditional battleships. As a result, the Navy pivoted towards the construction of carriers and other critical warships, leading to the cancellation of the Montana class.

Despite the Iowa class being further along in construction and urgently required for operations with the Essex-class carriers, these battleships were the last to be commissioned by the US Navy, marking an end of an era.

USS Iowa

During the interwar years, the US Navy found its rival in the Japanese Imperial Navy. The Washington Naval Treaty of 1922 had given the US a numerical advantage, but as Japan defied the treaty’s limits, the US responded with a rearmament program, starting with the South Dakota class in 1938. The breakdown of treaty constraints led to the ambitious plans for the Montana class, unfettered by previous limitations.

The proposed Montana-class ships were a result of extensive design studies that considered various armaments and protections. The final design boasted an impressive suite of weapons and a sophisticated armor layout that would have provided robust protection against the most potent shells of the era.

Despite never having sailed the seas, the Montana-class battleships remain a symbol of the peak of battleship design—a floating fortress that could have altered the course of naval warfare had they been realized.

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