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T4, R1, Prng 172: Tennessee Class (USA) vs Nagato Class (Japan)

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  • T4, R1, Prng 172: Tennessee Class (USA) vs Nagato Class (Japan)

    In your opinion, which of these two warship types was most significant, influential and/or effective?
    Feel free to apply those criteria as you please, along with any others you think appropriate.
    Note: Suggestions for some additional criteria are at the foot of this post.

    According to the criteria as you see and apply them, please vote for your preferred candidate in the attached poll.
    If your chosen criteria are significantly different from those suggested, telling us what they are and why you used them would be helpful.

    215: Tennessee Class

    The Tennessee class was two "super dreadnought" battleships; Tennessee and California. They were preceded in service by the New Mexico class (not included in this tournament) and as such, essentially developed from them. Key improvements were significant strengthening of below-waterline protection and increased elevation for their main guns, enabling engagement at longer ranges.
    Tennessee was laid down in May 1917 and commissioned in June 1920, while California's dates were October 1916 and August 1921 respectively.
    The Tennessees were 624ft (190.2m) long overall, with a beam of 97ft 5in (29.7m) and draft of 30ft 2in (9.2m). They displaced 32,300 long tons (32,818t) standard and 33,190 long tons (33,723t) at full combat load. Emergency loading allowed additional fuel and ammunition up to a maximum displacement of 37,948 long tons (38,557t), increasing draft to 34ft 9.875in (10.6 m).
    Initial crew strength for both ships was 57 officers and 1,026 enlisted men.

    The Tennessees had turbo-electric drive, with two generators using steam from 8 oil-fired water-tube boilers. The generators powered four electric motors, each driving a 3-bladed screw 14ft (4.3m) in diameter. The system was rated for a top speed of 21 knots, which was slightly exceeded in trials. Standard oil capacity was 1,900 long tons but in an emergency, some "voids" (suitable vacant spaces) in the hull could be used to increase this to a total in excess of 4,500 long tons. Normal maximum cruising range was 8,000nmi at 10 knots, falling to about 2,500nmi at 20 knots. However, if the voids were fully used, range more than doubled to about 20,500nmi at 10 knots and 9,700nmi at 18 knots.
    The ships' hulls featured a pronounced "clipper bow" (curving sharply forward towards the top) designed to reduce spray and "wetness" in high seas.

    Main armament was 12 x 14in (356m) /50 caliber Mark IV guns in four triple turrets on the centerline, superfiring fore and aft. For the first time with American triples, each barrel could elevate independently and they were modified to enable elevation to 30 degrees, extending maximum range up to 36,650 yards, depending on ammunition type. (The May/June 1916 Battle of Jutland provided a clear lesson on the value of long-range plunging fire.)
    For secondary armament there were 14 x 5in (127mm) /51 caliber guns; 10 in superstructure casemates amidships above the main deck and the remainder in open pivot mounts on the next deck up.
    Supplementary armament included 4 x 3in (76mm) /50 caliber Mark X AA guns. There were also 4 x 6pdr saluting guns, a single 3in Mark XI field gun and several machine guns for use by landing parties.
    The ships were fitted with 2 x 21in (533mm) submerged torpedo tubes, one per broadside.

    Protection included a main armored belt 18ft (5.5m) high, half of which was below the waterline at standard displacement. Its thickness varied from 13.5in (343mm) down to 8in (203mm). The thickest section, protecting vitals such as machinery and magazines, extended from the foremost to rearmost barbettes. Both ends of the main belts were connected and closed off by transverse armored bulkheads 13.5in thick. The upper armored deck, with a maximum thickness of 3.5in (89mm) connected the top edges of the main belts between the bulkheads. There was a second, lower armored deck 2.5in (64mm) thick, with extensions 3in (76mm) thick fore and 5in (127mm) aft, where it constituted the only horizontal protection.
    Main turrets had 18in (457mm) faces, 10in (254mm) sides, 9in (229mm) rears and 5in (127mm) roofs. Barbettes got a maximum thickness of 13in (330mm). The conning tower was given 16in (406mm) vertical armor with a 6in (152mm) roof. For the funnel uptakes, coamings 9in (229mm) thick were installed.
    To minimize flooding in the event of severe damage, these ships had full-length double bottoms combined with extensive compartmentalization. There were no less than 768 compartments below the waterline and another 180 above!

    Drawings showing Tennessee in 1922 (top) and California in 1941*.
    (*Unlike most American battleships of their era, the Tennessees did not lose their lattice masts until their rebuilds following the Pearl Harbor attack.)


    Both ships spent their peacetime careers in the Pacific region and they had time for some goodwill visits to various countries. Serious activities included fleet training exercises. In particular, joint training with the Marine Corps would prove to be very useful for the Pacific "island hopping campaign" in WW2. Exposure of potential issues was another benefit. It became clear that the battleships of the 1920s were too slow to operate at full effectiveness with aircraft carriers. This helped to prompt development of faster battleships to be built in the 1930s.

    Among notable early events was the first night aircraft launch in history, when Lieutenant Dixie Kiefer took off from USS California on 11 November 1924. Another was the assistance rendered by crews from both ships, when they went ashore to assist with relief following the 1933 Long Beach earthquake.
    During the 2nd Sino-Japanese War in 1940, President Roosevelt ordered the Battle Force to relocate to Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, in an effort to deter further aggression. Modernization work for the ships - scheduled for 1940-41 - was cancelled, as the situation with Japan was nearing crisis and the fleet needed to be maintained at a high state of readiness. Nevertheless, the Japanese achieved complete surprise when they attacked the fleet at Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941. Both of the Tennessee class ships were anchored in Battleship Row. Tennessee was moored inboard of battleship West Virginia and shielded from torpedo attacks as such, so her damages were relatively minor. California was much more seriously damaged and 98 men were killed or wounded. Despite great efforts to prevent her sinking, she finally settled into the mud as her hull slowly filled with water over 2 - 3 days. After being freed from Battleship Row, Tennessee steamed to the Puget Sound Navy Yard, where her initial modernization began. California was raised in mid 1942 and also taken to Puget Sound, her full rebuild beginning in October. By then, Tennessee was repaired to serviceable condition but was then also reconstructed to the same standard.

    On returning to service, both ships would participate in numerous combat actions. Tennessee's rebuild was completed first and she rejoined the fleet in May 1943, in time to support the Aleutian Islands campaign. Afterwards, she deployed to the central Pacific, participating in the Battle of Tarawa in November, followed by the battles of Kwajalein and Eniwetok in early 1944.
    By this stage, California's rebuild had been completed and after trials, both she and Tennessee continued to serve to the end of WW2. They invariably performed well; although by the later stages of the war, Japanese naval power had declined very considerably. In October 1944 as part of an Allied fleet, they helped to defeat a Japanese force consisting of two old battleships, one heavy cruiser and four destroyers. This was in Surigao Strait during the Battle of Leyte Gulf. Only one Japanese destroyer escaped. The fight was quite one-sided but it is significant as being the last battleship engagement in history!
    Tennessee and California had been involved in many of the major campaigns and battles involving US Naval forces in the later part of the Pacific War; often together but sometimes separately. After the war, they were decommissioned and assigned to reserve. In March 1959, both were stricken from the register and sold for scrap.

    Tennessee after her 1942-43 rebuild


    California engaging Yamashiro, Surigao Strait, Battle of Leyte Gulf, October 1944


    The Tennessee class represented a logical and progressive step in the development of American battleships. As such, they were well designed and stoutly built. Generally, they performed yeoman service and functioned very well. If we are to point to one significant deficiency in performance, it would be their 21 knot maximum speed. Peacetime training had demonstrated that they were too slow to operate to best effect with aircraft carriers. However, this was addressed with the considerably faster North Carolina class, beginning service before US entry into WW2.

    General characteristics (Initial)

    Displacement – 32,300 long tons (standard); 33,190 long tons (full combat)
    Length – 624ft (190.2m) (overall)
    Beam – 97ft 5in (29.7m)
    Draft – 30ft 2in (9.2m)
    Propulsion – Turbo-electric, 2 generators, 4 motors, 8 boilers,
    Maximum speed:
    21 knots
    Range at 10 knots
    8,000nmi with 1,900 long tons of oil (standard load)
    20,500nmi with emergency maximum load
    Primary – 12 x 14in (356m) /50 caliber Mark IV guns
    Secondary – 14 x 5in (127mm) /51 caliber guns
    Supplementary – 4 x 3in (76mm) /50 caliber Mark X AA guns
    Torpedo tubes - 2 x 21in (533mm) submerged
    Belt – 13.5in (343mm) (max)
    Decks – 3.5in (89mm) and 2.5in (64mm)
    Turrets - 18in (457mm) (max)
    Barbettes - 13in (330mm) (max)
    Conning tower – 16in (406mm) vertical; 6in (152mm) roof
    Bulkheads – 13.5in (max)
    Complement – 57 officers and 1,026 enlisted men

    200: Nagato Class

    The Nagato class was a pair of Japanese "super dreadnought" battleships named Nagato and Mutsu. They were preceded by the Ise class and followed by the Yamato class. Nagato was laid down in August 1917 and Mutsu in June 1918, entering commission in November 1920 and October 1921, respectively.
    Overall length was 215.8m (708ft), with a beam of 29.02m (95ft 3in) and draft of 9.08m (29ft 9in). The ships displaced 32,720t (32,200 long tons) at standard load and 39,116t (38,498 long tons) at full load.
    A distinctive feature was the seven-legged mast, designed for accurate range-finding and survivability under shellfire. It had a thick central leg large enough to contain an elevator to the foretop.
    Initial crew strength was 1,333 officers and enlisted men.

    The Nagatos had 4 steam turbines, each driving a 4.19m (13ft 9in) diameter screw. 21 water-tube boilers produced the steam, 15 of them being oil fired with the remaining 6 using coal sprayed with oil. There was stowage for 1,600 long tons (1,626t) of coal and 3,400 long tons (3,455t) of oil. This enabled a range of 5,500nmi at 16 knots. Designed maximum speed was 26.5 knots, with both ships reaching 26.7 knots in trials. When the Negato class entered service, the US Navy believed their maximum speed to be 23 knots at most. They did not learn of the true speed until about 1937.

    The Nagato class was first with a main armament larger than 15in (381mm), being fitted with 8 x 41cm (16.1in) /45 3rd Year Type naval gun. Numbered 1 - 4 from front to rear, the hydraulically powered turrets gave the guns an elevation of −2 to +35 degrees, for a maximum range of about 30,200m. Rate of fire was about 2 rounds per minute.
    Secondary armament was 20 x 50-caliber 14cm (5.5in) 3rd Year Type naval guns, mounted in casemates on the uppers sides of the hull and in the superstructure.
    Initial anti-aircraft defense was provided by 4 x 40-caliber 3rd Year Type 3in (76mm) AA guns in single mounts.
    The ships were fitted with 8 x 53.3cm (21in) torpedo tubes, 4 per broadside; two above water and two submerged.

    Nagato and Mutsu had waterline armor belts extending from #1 to #4 turret barbettes. The lower strake was 305mm (12in) thick, 2.7m (8ft 10in) high and tapered to 100mm (3.9in) at its bottom edge. The upper was 1.7m (5ft 7in) high and 229mm (9in) thick. Of the combined 4.4m (14ft 5.23in) height, about 1.77m (5ft 10in) was below the waterline at standard load.
    The turrets had 305mm (12in) faces, 190 - 230mm (7.5 - 9.1in) sides and 127 - 152mm (5 - 6in) roofs and their barbettes a maximum of 305mm. The conning tower sides were given 369mm (14.5in) of armor.
    Main deck armor was 3 layers of HTS (high-tensile steel) totaling 70mm (2.76in) thickness, connected to the upper strake of belt armor. The lower deck had a flat portion 25mm (1in) thick with another two layers of HTS the same thickness above it. The combined thickness of 75mm (2.95in) sloped downwards at the sides where it met a short horizontal portion connecting to the main armored belts and adjoining bulkheads. Below that it sloped back inward, curving vertically down to the double bottom. The structure as a whole created watertight compartments extending 3.05m (10ft) inward from the sides of the ship. (For anyone who finds this description confusing - and you probably won't be alone - the first linked article covering Nagato class battleship has a nice cross-sectional drawing.) The outermost voids were designed to allow the explosive force of a torpedo's warhead to dissipate as much as possible while the oil tank was supposed to stop any fragments from penetrating the innermost longitudinal bulkhead protecting the ships' vital areas.

    Mutsu under way, October 1921


    On commencement of service, the Nagato class ships spent considerable time in routine exercises and Nagato frequently served as a flagship. They had occasional diversions, such as in 1923 when they both assisted with humanitarian relief after the Great Kanto earthquake. There were two main re-fit/upgrade periods; the first from 1923-25 and the second from 1933-36. There was also brief participation in the opening phase of the Second Sino-Japanese war, which began in 1937.

    Early work included rebuilding the fore funnel to prevent smoke interference to the bridge and fire control systems. This was unsuccessful but other changes - such as removal of the above-water torpedo tubes and the fitting of additional AA armament in 1926 - made good sense. The above-water torpedo tubes were removed and three additional 76mm AA guns were positioned around the base of the foremast. In 1932, these were replaced by 8 x 40-caliber 12.7cm (5in) Type 89 dual-purpose guns in four twin-gun mounts. Not long afterwards, 2 x twin-gun mounts for Vickers 2pdr light AA guns were added.
    The 1933-36 rebuilds were more comprehensive: Superstructures were substantially changed to include the distinctive pagoda mast. There were new oil-fired boilers and lighter, more efficient turbines were installed. The original screws were swapped out for 4.3m (14ft 1in) units. Armor over the machinery and magazines was increased by 38mm (1.5in) on the main deck and 25mm (1in) on the upper deck. Torpedo bulges 13.5m (44ft 3in) high and 2.84m (9ft 4in) deep were added.
    New, better protected main gun turrets were installed. Face armor was 460mm (18in), sides 280mm (11in) and roofs 230-250mm (9-10in). The gun mounts were modified for elevation to +40 degrees, increasing maximum range to 37,900m. Finally, in 1941 the torpedo bulges' uppermost compartments were filled with sealed steel crushing tubes and barbette protection was enhanced with 100mm (3.9in) plates above the main deck and 215mm (8.5in) plates below it.
    In the post-reconstruction trials, the Nagatos reached a speed of 25 knots. Additional fuel oil was stored in the bottoms of the torpedo bulges, increasing capacity to 5,560 long tons (5,650t) and range to 8,560nmi at 16 knots.
    Crews had increased to 1,368 in 1935 and by 1944, would be about 1,730.

    Upon war with the USA, Nagato and Mutsu were in home waters and their first sortie was in late May 1942, to participate in the Battle of Midway. However, they were a long distance from the Japanese carriers and saw no action. After returning home, Nagato stayed until the following year but Mutsu sortied in August to support the Guadalcanal campaign. She participated in the Battle of Eastern Solomons, returning home in January 1943. In June, while peacefully at anchor in home waters, there was a catastrophic explosion from Mutsu's #3 turret magazine. She broke in half and foundered. Her crew of 1,474 men was aboard, along with 153 visiting cadets. Only 353 of the crew and 13 cadets could be saved.
    In August 1943, Nagato deployed to Truk and later, to Lingga island. During the Battle of the Philippine Sea in June 1944, she was assigned as carrier escort but was not damaged by air attacks. Following this, she returned home for refit and repair. In October, she was in a group of Japanese warships at the Battle of Leyte Gulf and sustained some bomb hits but no critical damage. On October 25, her group fought a substantial portion of the American force and she claimed some hits on an enemy cruiser (actually a destroyer). Nagato's own damage was relatively light, with 38 crewmen killed and 105 seriously wounded.
    After this, she returned to Japan and due to lack of fuel was first converted into a floating AA battery, then reassigned as a reserve ship. In July 1945, she sustained more bomb hits but again, was not critically damaged. Captured on August 30, Nagato became the only Japanese battleship to survive the war.

    Nagato at anchor, c 1924


    Mutsu in 1942 (top) and Nagato in 1944


    The Nagato class ships look well thought out and soundly built. They reflect continued and consistent Japanese determination to maintain their hard-won status as one of the leading naval powers. Although their armor was not as thick as on (for example) their American opponents in this pairing, their guns - though fewer - were substantially larger. Taken as an overall package and as a design "stepping stone", in most aspects Nagato and Mutsu seem to have been at the very least on par with contemporary rival designs built by the other leading naval powers.

    General characteristics (Initial)

    Displacement – 32,720t (standard); 39,116t (full load)
    Length – 215.8m (708ft) (overall)
    Beam – 29.02m (95ft 3in)
    Draft – 9.08m (29ft 9in)
    Propulsion – 4 x steam turbines, 4 screws, 21 boilers
    Maximum speed:
    26.5 knots
    Range at 16 knots:
    5,500nmi with 3,400 tons of oil & 1,600 of coal
    Primary – 8 x 41cm (16.1in) /45 3rd Year Type naval guns
    Secondary – 20 x 50-caliber 14cm (5.5in) 3rd Year Type naval guns
    Supplementary – 4 x 40-caliber 3rd Year Type naval guns (AA)
    Torpedo tubes - 8 x 53.3cm (21in); 4 per side, 2 above & 2 submerged
    Belt – 305mm (12in) (max)
    Decks – 70 - 75mm (2.76 - 2.95in)
    Turrets 305mm (12in) (max)
    Barbettes - 305mm (max)
    Conning tower – 369mm (14.5in) (vertical armor)
    Complement – 1,333 officers and enlisted men.

    So, what's your answer this time?
    Do you think the Tennessee class should make it to the next round?
    Or should it be the Nagato class?
    YOUR vote could make the difference!

    Suggested additional criteria you might wish to consider, along with any others you deem appropriate.
    (Note: Some of these could be considered already covered by Significant, Influential and Effective)

    Which warship type ...
    • was the best?
    • was the greatest?
    • was the most widely used?
    • had the greatest longevity in service?
    • was the most versatile?
    • represented the best value for the cost/effort invested ("bang for the buck" in today's language)?
    • was the easiest to operate?
    Any other criteria you have applied (please tell us what they were).
    215: Tennessee class (USA)
    200: Nagato class (Japan)
    Last edited by panther3485; 11 Aug 20, 12:41.
    "Chatfield, there seems to be something wrong with our bloody ships today!"
    Vice Admiral Beatty to Flag Captain Chatfield; Battle of Jutland, 31 May - 1 June, 1916.

  • #2
    The Japanese Nagato's profile with its distinctive "pagoda" superstructure made it easy to identify without silhouette cards.
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    • #3
      Went Japanese here for the 16" guns.
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      • #4
        Once again I like both ships. I think the 12-14" guns on Tennessee hit a little harder.

        Pruitt, you are truly an expert! Kelt06

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        • #5
          Originally posted by Surrey View Post
          Went Japanese here for the 16" guns.
          Originally posted by Pruitt View Post
          Once again I like both ships. I think the 12-14" guns on Tennessee hit a little harder.
          According to the table linked below, the difference in overall weight of broadside is so close as to be negligible:

          Tennessee class - 18,000 lb (8,165 Kg)
          Nagato class - 17,992 lb (8,161 Kg)

          If you own a horse, I reckon it could just about make up the difference with a decent crap.

          That said, I guess a lot really depends on how good/accurate your gunnery is?
          I also imagine that a single hit from a 16.1 inch shell is likely to do more damage than a 14 inch shell of the same basic type? (Right now, I'm feeling too lazy to look that up as well.)
          Last edited by panther3485; 04 Sep 20, 06:13.
          "Chatfield, there seems to be something wrong with our bloody ships today!"
          Vice Admiral Beatty to Flag Captain Chatfield; Battle of Jutland, 31 May - 1 June, 1916.


          • #6
            Originally posted by panther3485 View Post

            According to the table linked below, the overall weight of broadside is so close as to be negligible:

            Tennessee class - 18,000lb (8165Kg)
            Nagato class - 17,9921b (8,161Kg)


            You could almost make up the difference with a decent crap.
            OK, two or three very decent craps.
            All things being equal bigger guns shoot further, have greater penetration, are more accurate and do more damage. That's why the 12 14" gun Tennessee class were succeeded by the 8 16" gun Colorados.
            "To be free is better than to be unfree - always."


            • #7
              Originally posted by Surrey View Post

              All things being equal bigger guns shoot further, have greater penetration, are more accurate and do more damage. That's why the 12 14" gun Tennessee class were succeeded by the 8 16" gun Colorados.
              True; and as far as they reasonably could designers were adding heavier armor too. This was, of course, a natural escalation and battleships themselves (especially after the practical demise of the Washington treaty) got bigger to deal with it all. At least, so my reading thus far tells me.

              Last edited by panther3485; 04 Sep 20, 08:16.
              "Chatfield, there seems to be something wrong with our bloody ships today!"
              Vice Admiral Beatty to Flag Captain Chatfield; Battle of Jutland, 31 May - 1 June, 1916.


              • #8
                It pains me that I had to vote for the Nagato, since the Tennessee was my favorite WW2 BB. It has to do with meeting a former crewman and also seeing this very powerful picture when I was a child.
                However the 16in guns and higher speed made me vote for the Nagatos.


                • #9
                  I chose Japanese based on gun and speed over armour and range. May have made a mistake.

                  While the Nagato's shell is around 50% greater in weight, thus greater explosive effect, the US shell fires just as far, and actually has better penetration. The Tennessee is able to sink the Nagato before the latter can come into striking distance.

                  US 14" :
                  Jap 16" :
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                  • #10
                    Good observational skills, there, Nick!
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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Jose50 View Post
                      Good observational skills, there, Nick!
                      Thank you.
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                      • #12
                        When I look at the Tennessee-class BBs I see it influencing the design of the Iowa-class BBs .


                        • #13
                          So far, 6 votes to the first candidate and 7 to the second.
                          This one could be a nail biter to the finish, methinks.
                          When the time comes, I'll consider my vote here VERY carefully ....
                          ... (not that I'll be careless with the other polls).
                          "Chatfield, there seems to be something wrong with our bloody ships today!"
                          Vice Admiral Beatty to Flag Captain Chatfield; Battle of Jutland, 31 May - 1 June, 1916.


                          • #14
                            As the US discovered with the follow on 16" Colorado class, the Tennessee class with 12 14" was a better armament combination. The extra gun size bought at the loss of a quarter of the number of tubes was a mistake. More tubes, at that difference means the Tennessee will be on target first most likely and from there it's all downhill. Nagato's larger guns make next to zero difference.

                            In secondary armament, the Tennessee has the advantage of the guns being a deck higher. The Nagato retains the casemate battery that is low in the ship and wet in a seaway. This also represents something of a protection and damage control issue as it both gives openings in the hull and breaks up the hull armor (where it exists) above the main belt.

                            Tennessee has a big advantage in deck armor over Nagato so it is better protected against long range fire.

                            As rebuilt (note both Tennessee's were thoroughly rebuilt while their half-sister Colorado class only W. Virginia got a rebuild and only because she was sunk at Pearl Harbor) there's no contest. The two Tennessee class were thoroughly modern battleships after that with the exception of speed making them a generation ahead of the Nagato's.

                            That Mutsu suffered the only non-combat magazine detonation of a battleship doesn't speak well of the classes design in this respect either.

                            Tennessee wins.


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