Tuesday, 18 September 2018

US Standard-Type Battleships 1941-45 (2): Tennessee, Colorado, and Unbuilt Classes

Certain warships fascinate me, either because of their quirkiness, the raw power they seem to project, or their balance and beauty. Amongst the battleships that fall into this category of fascinating warships are the American Tennessee-class (USS Tennessee and USS California) and Colorado-class (USS Colorado, USS Maryland, and USS West Virginia) battleships.

The two classes are very similar to look at, especially in profile, and the main difference is their main armament. The Tennessee-class were armed with twelve 14-inch guns whilst the Colorado-class carried eight 16-inch guns. Both classes were built with cage masts (an American invention that was supposed to be less vulnerable to shells from enemy ships and to better able to absorb the shock caused by the firing of the ship’s heavy guns; they proved to be easily damaged in bad weather, to suffer from vibration when the ship was steaming at high speed, and to whip about when the ship’s guns were fired.) and two thin funnels that looked too small for the ships they were fitted to.

Their propulsion system was also unusual and used steam turbines that turned electric generators which – in turn – powered electric motors. This was intended to eliminate the problems associated with gearing the turbines so that they could be used to directly power the ship. This arrangement also made them more economic to operate at cruising speed and potentially increased their overall steaming range. When cruising, all the electric motors could be used to power the ship even if only one set of steam turbines was in use. (It is worth noting that many modern ships use diesel-electric propulsion for the same reasons.)

The two classes served in the US Pacific fleet, and except for the USS Colorado, they were all damaged during the attack on Pearl Harbour. As a result, three of the ships – USS California, USS Tennessee, and USS West Virginia – were extensively re-modelled and ended up looking like the much more modern South Dakota-class (1939) battleships.

Mark Stille’s US STANDARD-TYPE BATTLESHIPS 1941-45 (2): TENNESSEE, COLORADO, AND UNBUILT CLASSES tells the story of these two ship classes as well as the unbuilt South Dakota-class (1920) battleships and the Lexington-class battle cruisers.

Before and after reconstruction: The Tennessee-class

USS California (1930s).
USS Tennessee (1943).
Before and after reconstruction: The Colorado-class

USS Colorado (1932).
USS West Virginia (1944).

US STANDARD-TYPE BATTLESHIPS 1941-45 (2): TENNESSEE, COLORADO, AND UNBUILT CLASSES was written by Mark Stille, illustrated by Paul Wright, and published in 2015 by Osprey Publishing (ISBN 978 1 4728 0699 4) as part of their New Vanguard series (No.229).


  1. Am I correct in thinking these were a reaction to the RN 15" ships - for Navy War Plan Red? A war against Great Britain and Canada

    1. Geordie an Exiled FoG,

      I think that the basic design evolved from that used in the previously-built classes (Nevada-class, Pennsylvania-class, and New Mexico-class) and was intended to counter potential threats in the Pacific and Atlantic. The move to 16-inch guns from 14-inch seems to have been motivated by the fact that both the UK and Japan were known to be working on battleship designs with larger calibre guns.

      All the best,



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