A battleship is a large armored warship with a main battery consisting of heavy caliber guns. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries the battleship was the most powerful type of warship, and a fleet of battleships was vital for any nation which desired to maintain command of the sea. During World War II, aircraft carriers overtook battleships in power. Some battleships remained in service during the Cold War and the last were decommissioned in the 1990s.

The word battleship was coined around 1794 and is a contraction of the phrase line-of-battle ship, the dominant wooden warship during the Age of Sail.[1] The term came into formal use in the late 1880s to describe a type of ironclad warship,[2] now referred to by historians as pre-dreadnought battleships. In 1906, the commissioning of HMS Dreadnought heralded a revolution in battleship design. Following battleship designs, influenced by HMS Dreadnought, were referred to as "dreadnoughts".

Battleships were a symbol of naval dominance and national might, and for decades the battleship was a major factor in both diplomacy and military strategy.[3] The global arms race in battleship construction began in Europe, following the 1890 publication of Alfred Thayer Mahan's The Influence of Sea Power upon History, 1660–1783.[4] This arms race culminated at the decisive Battle of Tsushima in 1905;[5][6] the outcome of which significantly influenced the design of HMS Dreadnought.[7][8] The launch of Dreadnought in 1906 commenced a new naval arms race which was widely considered to have been an indirect cause of World War I.[9] The Naval Treaties of the 1920s and 1930s limited the number of battleships, though technical innovation in battleship design continued. Both the Allies and the Axis Powers deployed battleships during World War II.

The value of the battleship has been questioned, even during the period of their prominence.[10] In spite of the immense resources spent on battleships, there were few pitched battleship clashes. Even with their enormous firepower and protection, battleships were increasingly vulnerable to much smaller, cheaper ordnance and craft: initially the torpedo and the naval mine, and later aircraft and the guided missile.[11] The growing range of naval engagements led to the aircraft carrier replacing the battleship as the leading capital ship during World War II, with the last battleship to be launched being HMS Vanguard in 1944. Battleships were retained by the United States Navy into the Cold War for fire support purposes. The last U.S. battleships, USS Wisconsin and USS Missouri,[12] were decommissioned in 1991 and 1992, and finally stricken from the U.S. Naval Vessel Register in 2006 and 1995, respectively

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