21 of the Deadliest Warships The World Has Ever Seen
The Industrial Age of naval warfare did away with the varied craftsmanship of different shipyards, and introduced the idea of warship “classes.” A “class” refers to a series of vessels constructed to the same design specifications – a feat which was unimaginable before the Industrial Revolution. Read on to learn about 21 of the most lethal warship classes that have sailed the seas since then.
1. Turtle, Colonial America – The Turtle was the world’s first submersible with a documented use in military combat: during the REVOLUTIONARY WAR! She was built in 1775 (!), to be used for attaching explosive charges to harbored ships, specifically British Royal Navy vessels in North American Harbors during the war. President George Washington was doubtful of the submersible’s abilities when he saw the sketches, he provided funding for its building and testing. Unfortunately, all attempts to use the Turtle to attach explosive to the bottoms of British warships failed. She sank, and although claims of finding the Turtle were made, her final whereabouts are unknown. Several replicas can be found in museums worldwide, such as the Connecticut River Museum.
2. H. L. Hunley, Confederate States of America – This Civil-War era vessel was the first combat submarine that succeeded at what it was designed for: sinking a warship. Its barbed spar torpedoe was embedded into the hull of the Union Army’s USS Housatonic, and was detonated, sending the ship and and five of her crewmen to the bottom of the sea five miles offshore of Charleston. The H. L. Hunley itself sunk three times in her short career, taking 21 Confederate crewmen with her in all. She finally sank for good in 1864, after downing the Housatonic. She remained at the bottom somewhere in Charleston’s outer harbor until finally being raised in 1995. The H. L. Hunley is now on display at the Warren Lasch Conservation Center on the Cooper River in North Charleston, South Carolina.
3. Type U 31 Class Submarine, Imperial Germany – In the first year of World War I, or 1917, Germany decided that submarines needed to be used for naval warfare. Previously, the invention’s purpose was uncertain; but Imperial Germany put them to work in an attempt to drive the United Kingdom from the war. Eleven of the U-31s were built between 1912 and 1915. Each displaced 800 tons and had four 20-inch torpedo tubes – two fitted into the bow, two into the stern. Most vessels also had one or two 3.5 inch deck guns, later replaced by 4.1 inch guns. Type U 27 came before this class, and Type U 43 came after.
4. Kagero Class Destroyer, Imperial Japan – The Imperial Japanese Navy introduced the Kagero class of warships in 1941. The Kageros, eighteen in all, each had three twin turrets, holding 6 5-inch guns total. This was better gun power than all but France’s destroyers, which weren’t found in the Pacific, anyway. A Kagero’s torpedoes – called “Long Lances” or Type 93s – could go as far as 40,000 yards! Only one Tagero, Yukikaze, survived World War II. She took Chiang Kai Shek to Taiwan near the end of the Chinese Civil War, defended Taiwan from the Chinese. and finally was scrapped in 1970 after getting run aground.
5. Town Class Cruiser, United Kingdom – The Town Class Cruisers served in all important battles of World War II. Fighting for the British Royal Navy, each light cruiser had twelve six-inch guns, and displaced 12,000 tons. There were ten ships in the class total. The Town Class was divided into three sub-classes, with each sub-class adding on more weaponry: the Southampton, Gloucester, and Edinburgh classes. The vessels were designated as light cruisers by specifications set forth in the London Treaty. In World War II, the Town Class saw lots of infamous fighting action, such as the sinking of the German battleship Scharnhorst. Four Town Class ships were sunk in World War II; the remaining vessel fought in the Korean War. The ships were rebuilt heavily after the Second World War, and again after the Korean War. One Town Class, the HMS Belfast, has been a museum ship (part of the Imperial War Museum) moored on the Thames River near Tower Bridge since 1971.
6. Zumwalt-Class Destroyer, United States – The newest class of guided missile destroyers in the U.S. Navy, the Zumwalt-class had been born in response to the decline of America’s relations with Russia of late. There are three of them, intended for naval gunfire support. These are “stealth” ships – the first for the U.S. Navy – whose angled, flat features were designed to reduce detection by radar. Don’t think that “stealth” equals “small,” however: at displacement of 14,000 tons and 610 feet long, they are the largest destroyers in U.S. Navy history. Yet, they have the radar signature of a small fishing unit!
7. Kirov Battlecruiser, Russia – What are the Zumwalts up against? The Russian opponent is the Kirov, which has been around since the 1980s. They are nearly as long as the biggest World War II battleships from any nation, but weigh far less, at only 24 thousand tons. They can make speed of up to 32 knots – 2 knots more than the U.S.’s Zumwalts. Each Kirov carries 20 huge P-700 Granit anti-ship missiles.
8. Virginia Class Submarine, United States – This submarine, introduced to the U.S. Navy in summer 2015, is seven thousand eight hundred tons, 337 feet long, and cost $2 billion. It has 12 Tomahawk cruise missiles, and two MK48 torpedoes on each side. It’s made to keep approximately 135 sailors out at sea for long periods of time. Virginia Class vessels are replacing the older Los Angeles class submarines (see number 10,) and are expected to stay in service past 2060 (some may last through 2070, having a slightly different, updated design.) Each submarine is expected to make fourteen to fifteen deployments during its thirty-three year service life.
9. Seawolf Class, United States – Only three Seawolf Class vessels were built; they are the predecessor to the John Warners, and they cost twice as much! They are the second most expensive submarine class ever commissioned, after France’s SSBN Triumphant class, at $3 billion apiece. There originally were meant to be 29 Seawolfs built, but that number dropped down to 12, and then 3, as the Cold War came to a close.
10. Los Angeles Class, United States – Also known as the 688 class, these vessels debuted in the U.S. Navy in 1976. 36 of the original class are still in service, but are nearing the end of the designated lifespan they were made for. 26 are already retired, having been laid up halfway through their projected service term because their midlife reactor refuelings were canceled.
11. Triomphant Class, France – The most expensive submarine class ever built, the Triomphant class cost $4 billion each to build. There are four of them. They entered service in 1997, 1999, 2004, and 2010, respectively. Each vessel carries 16 M45 SLBM or M51 SLBM Missiles, with sixteen submarine launched ballistic missile launching tubes. The home port for these submarines is Ile Longue, Brest, in Western Brittany.
12. Essex Class Aircraft Carrier, United States – USS Essex entered into service with the United States Navy in December 1942, during World War II. 24 of the ships were built in total. Each Essex displaced twenty eight thousand tons, and could carry 90 aircraft units. The offensive carry load was known as the “Sunday Punch”: 36 human fighters, 36 dive bombers, and 18 torpedoe bombers. There were long hull and short hull versions. Thirty-two of the ships were originally commissioned, but as World War II began winding down, 8 were canceled – two after construction had already begun on them. The USS Essexs continued to be the heart of the US Navy until the the 1970s. Many of them were used actively in the Cold War and Korean War. They were used in the Bay of Pigs Invasion and the Cuban Missile Crisis, as well as Quemoy and the Cuban Missile Crisis.
13. Queen Elizabeth Class Battleship, United Kingdom – The five Queen Elizabeths fought for Britain in both World Wars. These were the very first battleships to be armed with 15-inch guns. Three of them were majorly renovated and “modernized” (for the time) before entering the Second World War. By 1948, all of the Queen Elizabeths had been broken up in battle.
14. Forel, Russia – A midget submarine, meaning its weight is under one hundred fifty tons, the Forel was originally built experimentally as a private venture by a German, who hoped to attract a contract from the German Imperial Navy. The German navy was unimpressed … but the Imperial Russian Navy purchased the Forel in 1904. Intended for use in the Russo-Japanese War, Forel was never used in combat, but its acknowledged presence had a psychological effect on the enemy. It had two Whitehead Torpedoes.
15. SM U 20, Imperial Germany – The SM U-20, a Type U 19 vessel, changed the course of WWI dramatically by sinking the British ocean liner RMS Lusitania in 1915. There were 1,198 casualties. In its one and a half years of service, this class sunk approximately 35 enemy warships.
16. Chang Bogo Class, South Korea – This is a South Korean update of the Type 209 German diesel-electric attack submarines, the original version of which were designed by the German Navy in the ’60s. Versions of the Type 209 have successfully been exported to 13 countries. The South Korean variant is particularly notable, because South Korea freaks out much of the rest of the world. South Korea is the only other country besides Germany currently offering Type 209s for sale to other countries.
17. Prestonian Class Ocean Anti-Submarine Escort Frigate, Canada and Norway – These frigates were converted from River-class frigates of British design that were placed on mothballs at the end of World War II. The 21-vessel class served with the Royal Canadian Navy between 1953 and 1957, and with the Royal Norwegian Navy from 1956-1957.
18. Littorio Class Battleship, Italy – Three of the four battleships in this class were completed in time to serve in the Regia Marina, the Italian Navy. Each ship’s main battery comprised nine 381 mm L/50 Ansaldo 1934 guns, within three triple turrets. Their secondary battery consisted of twelve 6 inch L/55 Ansaldo Model 1934 guns within four triple turrets.
19. Minas Geraes Class Battleship, Brazil – These two battleships were built for the Brazilian Nvzy early on in the twentieth century. Completed in 1910, they instigated a South American naval arms race. They helped crewmen demand the abolition of corporal punishment in Brazil’s Navy, assisted the squandering of a revolt at Fort Copacabana, and served as harbor defense ships in Salvador and Recife during WWII (as they were too old to fight actively by then.)
20. Espana Class, Spain – These were three dreadnought battleships (the predominant type of battleship in the early 20th century) that the Spanish Navy built between 1909 and 1921. The two ships that remained after the Rif War, in which they supported Spanish ground forces in North Africa, ended up fighting on opposite sides of the Spanish Civil War, and were destroyed doing so (both in 1937.)
21. Evstafi Class Battleship, Imperial Russia – This pair of pre-dreadnought battleships were in service for the Imperial Russian Navy between 1911 and 1918. They were 379 feet long at the waterline, and had two pairs of 12-inch 40-calibre Pattern 1895 guns, four eight-inch 50-calibre 1905 guns, 12 6-inch 1892 45-caliber guns, 14 3-inch Canet Pattern 1892 50-calibre guns, and two 17.7-inch torpedo tubes….Whoa. The class fought in World War I.