My world operates under a few assumptions, and changes to those assumptions are outside of the scope of this question:

  • Aircraft are not considered to be any threat to warships, and due to some treaties and influential people, their development has not progressed (Weapons that would be effective against ships are largely forbidden). However, aircraft are utilized significantly as scout/recon/targeting craft and are essential in that role.
  • Nuclear anything doesn't exist. I'll be exploring this in future questions. No nuclear power, no nuclear weapons, etc.
  • There was no equivalent to the Washington Naval Treaty or other treaty limiting the size of battleships. Some battleships have become quite large, with very big guns.
  • Missiles and rockets are forbidden from being used as weapons.

The world exists in a largely Late 40s, Early 50s technology setting, with some later 50s things thrown in. As this is a fictional world (Settled by space refugees who weren't able to maintain technology, some centuries ago), I'm not locked down to a date. If something wasn't researched until the 60s but could be achieved with 40s-50s equipment and methods, I'm not going to toss it out because it's "Too late"

With these in mind, What post-World War II technologies, equipment, or other advances would be essential or extremely beneficial to include on a battleship built during the designated time period?

I'm not particularly looking for incremental advantages, such as "Better Radar" or "Improved gun barrels" - I'm looking more for things that were game changers, such as the initial introduction of Radar to warships.

  • 7
    $\begingroup$ Might be a hard question to answer as the influences you list here are nearly 100% opposite of what our timeline sees...by the Early 50's, aircraft have proved dominant over old battleship tactics (in particular, torpedo bombers), so much of the technology developments moved away from battleships and towards air/anti air control of the seas. $\endgroup$
    – Twelfth
    Commented Jan 23, 2018 at 22:32
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Heck, I'd secretly build bombers. Then first strike the enemy ships and ask them what they expect to do about it. $\endgroup$
    – ShadoCat
    Commented Jan 23, 2018 at 22:40
  • 13
    $\begingroup$ "banned by treaty" is another term for "developed in secret". No one actually takes that seriously and indeed several pre WW2 battleships were built that well exceeded the limits of the Washington Treaty. The Nazis develop rockets secretly. It's inconceivable that post WW2 airpower would not be recognized as a naval threat. Indeed the entire reason for Pearl Harbor and Taranto attacks was that naval planners had realized from after WW1 that airpower was a lethal threat to any ship, battleships included. So the premise of your ideas makes no sense to me. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 23, 2018 at 23:20
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ @StephenG "Banned by Treaty" in this particular case is also "Banned by country with enough military might to enforce said treaty." I realize and acknowledge this is a bit of a stretch, but no more so than a thousand other good stories. Frankly, I'm getting annoyed at having to explain this for every single one of my questions. $\endgroup$
    – Andon
    Commented Jan 24, 2018 at 4:47
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Get as annoyed as you want. If you don't explain things like this in the question we can't mind read. You want people to stop asking then stop leaving out the important bits (like a dominant military power that can enforce a treaty agreement over all parties). Your scenario begs the obvious question of who or what stops the dominant power from breaking the rules. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 24, 2018 at 4:53

9 Answers 9


Guided munitions

Put a GPS tracker and a few fin stablilizers on your main battery weapons, and they will never miss again. Even if GPS is too advanced, there are several alternatives. There were missiles with TV guided warheads and laser guided bombs. The way that AEGIS surface to air missiles work is that a special targeting radar illuminates each target in a certain frequency. The missile homes in on the reflection of that frequency. The same principle would work for a surface to surface engagement. This seems like the best option of the ones I mentioned (better than GPS for moving targets), although the radar would have to be on the tower to illuminate at the 30km+ range of the big guns.

TV, laser, and radar guided munitions were all tested one way or another before the Vietnam War, so by the late 1960s at the latest. Most of them could be reasonably achievable with 1950s technology. In any case, any sort of guidance on the shells would be a big improvement.

Cavitation rounds

Battleships are most vulnerable under the water line. The quickest kills of WWII often came when rounds missed short and hit ships 10 feet below the surface. In the modern fleet, by far the most damaging weapon is the heavy torpedo. By guiding itself underneath a large ship's keel and then exploding, the force of the explosion makes a vapor bubble many tens of feet across. The sudden formation of the bubble will often crack a ship in half. An ADCAP torpedo, for instance, exploding in the correct place will sink a 10,000 ton Spruance-class Destroyer with one hit.

A 16" gun can fire a round with three times more hit-power than an ADCAP. Design the shell to miss short, ballistically travel under the opposing ship, then explode. Once you have guided munitions that you can reasonably expect to hit the water just short of a moving Battleship, these weapons are feasible. With a 1500 lb+ explosive, I wouldn't doubt the ability to break a 50,000 ton battleship in two with one well placed shot.


Honestly, the economics of this gun are such that you can't have battleships. There is no point laying down a 50,000 ton ship that can be killed with one shot. In this scenario, you no longer need armor, since it does no good against cavitation rounds, and you don't need triple emplacements since your shots are guided.

The new ship of the line will look very different. It will be faster and more maneuverable, and carry just one or two single barreled large caliber (14"+) mounts. With guided munitions and very long range (accurate at 35+ km), battles will be a 'first one to fire wins' kind of thing. Electronic warfare or other way to disrupt targeting now become the most important thing to a battle.

In real conclusion, since I know you want real battleship on battleship violence, you can't have guided munitions. I hope I have convinced you.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ GPS seems a little far fetched for 50s tech, even 60s tech, but semi-guided rounds seem plausible - To the point of maybe being experimental tech. Cavitation rounds fall under the same thing, so these ships would be truly cutting-edge technology of the time. I'm going to contest the "First one to fire wins" claim, since battleship main guns can have 90+ seconds of air time - Both ships would probably fire, and both ships would probably be sunk. Losing proposition to both sides. $\endgroup$
    – Andon
    Commented Jan 24, 2018 at 4:42
  • $\begingroup$ @Andon on that note (and only slightly off topic): Mutually Assured Destruction. Could make for "fun" politics. Your super battleships might be able to replace nukes in this regard, especially if they make up the majority of the navies. $\endgroup$
    – jaxad0127
    Commented Jan 24, 2018 at 5:36
  • $\begingroup$ @Andon, that's what I also thought, the OP is talking about 50's technology, I think GPS was fully accurate at 90's or so? (correct me I'm probably wrong). But I think If GPS was capable at that year they would've had homing rockets on planes. $\endgroup$
    – Mr.J
    Commented Jan 24, 2018 at 6:01
  • $\begingroup$ Guided (missle) amunitions get guided via a wire that get's draged behind the missle. A missle can work with several kilometers of wire behind cause it can steer. a Shell would simply start to tumble. You need massiive fins to counteract this. Wich slows the shell further down. Now you have to add a Rocket engine to counteract the drag. Oh wait, now you have not a shell but a missle.... $\endgroup$
    – m.fuss
    Commented Jan 24, 2018 at 8:33
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ There was pidgeon and bat guidance in WWII as well, just need to find a way to shove a pidgeon in a shell, have it survive the firing and profit. $\endgroup$
    – Bas Jansen
    Commented Jan 25, 2018 at 11:30

One of the big ones would be gas-turbine and diesel propulsion systems, developed starting in the late 40s and started seeing widespread use in the 1960s. Gas-turbines (essentially jet engines used to power a propeller) have an excellent power-to-weight ratio. This leads to better acceleration at the cost of poor efficiency at low power output. Many ships also carry a secondary propulsion system (usually diesel) for more efficient cruising.

The advances in propulsion mean faster warships than the WWI-era dreadnoughts if you limit size, or the ability to propel larger warships if not, even in light of a lack of nuclear steam-turbine engine option.

While aircraft ultimately superseded battleships in our timeline, battleships in yours would also need proximity naval mine safeguards, in addition to the mines themselves.

Radio also became a feasible means of ship-to-ship and ship-to-land communication and navigation during the early part of the 20th century, accelerated by WWII development for military use. While "better radio" is sort of outside what you're looking for, "reliable radio" is definitely something that wasn't feasible in the infancy of the technology, but later became available in the 30s and 40s.


In the absence of missiles, one of the significant "game changers" would be the research and development of a railgun or coilgun. Magnetically propelled projectiles are seen as the next step in projectile weapon evolution and rightfully so. For example, the one being developed by the US Navy supposedly can fire sabot multiple times faster than the speed of sound, giving it roughly the same destructive potential as a modern Tomahawk missile for the fraction of the price per-shot. Imagine a fragile tungsten dart slamming into the side of your ship with as much force and accuracy as a missile. That would be utterly devastating against any vessel geared towards a more conventional gun fight.

Obviously your new age battleships would undoubtedly have larger and more numerous railguns than the currently planned Zumwalt-class destroyer. Alternatively, railgun armed submarines would be deadly predators, capable of briefly surfacing before perforating an unwary foe with hypersonic projectiles. Chemical propellants, while quite advanced, can't even hold a candle to magnetic weaponry in an old-fashioned ship-on-ship gunfight.

While the means of production might be a bit of a stretch for a 50's era setting, it's not inconceivable. I believe even Germany was playing with the idea during WWII, though the project like to many others never made it very far. Might make an interesting "wonder weapon" concept for your setting.

  • $\begingroup$ From what I'm reading about railguns/coilguns, they were developed a lot earlier than I expected - But, as with modern versions, require tremendous amounts of power. Could work as a concept/experimental/theoretical device though. $\endgroup$
    – Andon
    Commented Jan 24, 2018 at 4:52
  • $\begingroup$ @Andon since you are assuming much larger battleships than in our world, including a power plant might not be a problem… $\endgroup$
    – Holger
    Commented Jan 24, 2018 at 8:17
  • $\begingroup$ Maybe? One estimate was a single WWII-designed German anti-aircraft railgun would require enough power to "Light half of Chicago" - I'm having a hard time finding out just how much that actually is, but I don't think a non-nuclear powerplant capable of producing such energies would be small or cheap. Certainly not impossible, but not quite ship-of-the-line status. $\endgroup$
    – Andon
    Commented Jan 25, 2018 at 0:02
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Andon Yeah, it's very unlikely that such a weapon would be fielded en masse unless the nation fielding them has made significant strides in electrical engineering. The currently under construction Zumwalt-class destroyer, the Lyndon B. Johnson, is capable of generating about 78MW of power with its non-nuclear turbine engines, which is supposedly more than enough to power the single 5-inch railgun projected to be mounted aboard it. I believe that particular weapon system requires 25MW-32MW in order to charge it. Not impossible for 50's tech, but it would be quite a challenge to pull off. $\endgroup$
    – DMQ
    Commented Jan 25, 2018 at 8:30

Given the rather strange constraints, the best sort of combination of late WWII era technology and scouting aircraft would be to fit battleships with smoothbore cannon firing aerodynamic shells.

The Germans developed the "Peenemünde Arrow Shells" as a side effect of rocket research, and used with the K-5 railway cannon. K5's modified to fire "arrow shells" could reach ranges of 150km, an incredible increase in range.

enter image description here

Peenemünde Arrow Shells

Obviously, firing at a target 100km away has a multitude of issues, so a very tight coupling of forward observer to the battleship is needed. The ship will have to have a forward observer which can get into place quickly, operate in the naval environment and be capable of protecting itself if needed. A jet powered seaplane can fulfill the bill, and one 1950 era design, the Saunders Roe SR A1 seems like an ideal fit.

enter image description here

Saunders Roe SR A1

This aircraft is obviously navalized, small enough to carry on board a battleship and launched off a turret catapult if necessary, and if it had been developed into a two seater, could fulfill the role of forward observer or scout very easily.

Combined with some of the other observations (such as using gas turbines and diesel engines to power the ship), a battleship capable of finding and attacking targets at very extreme ranges would be a viable weapons system. To put it in perspective, the USN is currently researching 64MJ electromagnetic railguns with a view to shelling targets up to 200km inland, and these sorts of attacks would only be viable with a UAV or other aircraft to spot the targets and provide fire corrections.

Edit to add:

A ship laid out along these lines might resemble this real life ship, with the long range cannon in turrets up front and the aircraft hanger/catapult arrangements in the stern:

enter image description here

HMS Nelson


The one tech that might be allowed in your tight constraints would be advances in computers and radar so that the big gun's shells could be guided on the way down. If they could home in on ships, then you could fire over the horizon and still have a decent chance of getting a hit.


Being able to stay at sea, without resupply, for longer than everyone else. This is a game changer. It transforms brown water navies into blue water navies and gives regional powers global reach. We can see it today; there are perhaps two countries capable of independently projecting top-tier power anywhere in the world for a sustained period (the US and France), with another few working on it (a few specific examples; the UK once it sorts out its naval air power again, China working on naval air power and in the last decade has transformed their logistical support navy to allow global deployment, Russia trying to become a serious naval power again, India ever advancing their naval ability). Some nations have tried and failed in recent years. To do it, you need a navy with global reach.

Technologies that were heavily improved in the years following WWII that massively improved the reach of warships:


Post WWII, the US put a lot of effort into desalination research. If you can make more freshwater, faster, for drinking, cooking, cleaning, cooling and freshwater-hungry maintenance tasks, you can extend the amount of time your ship can stay at sea without resupply. This extends the range of your ship, extends the logistic reach, just makes everything better. Ships that have to return to port every week are very limited in deployment; they need stronger logistics chains, they're more vulnerable to disruption, they need friendly ports, and so on.

Food preservation and compacting.

Similar advantages to being able to make freshwater. The more food you can carry, and the longer it lasts, the longer you can go without resupplying food. Freezer technology, preservatives, processing food to increase nutritional density. The technology of food preservation came on enormously in that time period.

Medical advances, and medical technology advances.

Crew get injured and sick. If you have to return an injured crew member to port, or transfer to another ship, it could be a very big deal. The vessel may have to effectively take time out from its primary mission to meet a support vessel to transfer crew. Even if you don't do that, you're now a sailor short; you'd need to meet another ship or return to port anyway to replace that sailor, or continue at reduced capacity. The ability to keep your crew alive and healthy makes an enormous difference.

Also, communications. The ability to communicate quickly, reliable, securely and in large quantity with a vessel is genuinely transformative. Communications technologies came on enormously in the period in question. If you, and not your opponent, can talk to your warships anywhere in the world quickly and securely, and they can talk back to you, you have the advantage. You have a single consolidated view of everything your vessels are doing, what their condition is, what they can see. The closer to real-time you can make this information, the greater your advantage is. It's a huge advantage. If your opponent can only manage one short message a day, every one of his vessels has a delay on reporting, retasking, everything. It's the difference between a navy acting as a unified whole, and acting as fifty independent vessels doing their own thing. Wars get won and lost on communications. If you (and not your opponent) can coordinate your forces in near real-time, and you can disseminate information quickly throughout your forces, you can negate opposing force advantages in weapons, numerical superiority, speed, and so on.


Observation Helicopters

If aircraft are no shipkillers, there will be fewer carriers, so a battle squadron cannot count on having one. Give the battleships observation and ASW helicopters, something along the lines of a H-13 or H-19.

And if there are floatplanes rather than helicopters, or in addition to them, how about jet seaplanes? Might or might not be catapult-launched.

Diesel-Electric Power

In a battleship, diesel-electric power or steam-electric power might be interesting because the generators and the motors can be separated, there could be redundant sets of both. This could help with the armor scheme.

Gunnery Radar

Radar to track your own shells and the shells of the enemy. Plus computers to turn that into firing data.

New turret layouts

HMS Nelson was experimenting with a three-turrets-forward design. There could be more of these.

  • $\begingroup$ I have come across the HMS Nelson design, and actually asked a question related to it. From what I've read, a huge perk is the design saves weight by concentrating everything that needs to be armored into one spot, making the ship need less armor total. $\endgroup$
    – Andon
    Commented Jan 25, 2018 at 0:22

Rocket-assisted projectiles - specifically base bleed systems

This hinges on a somewhat dubious interpretation of the treaty, but those aren't without precedent. As it has enough basis for lengthy debates between lawyers and diplomats that the military will pay no attention to, they will use it as a legal fig leaf and build the thing anyway.

Missiles and rockets are forbidden, but they are probably defined as self-propelled projectiles. However, this is not necessarily the case for rocket-assisted projectiles.

Specifically, in base bleed, the rocket is not used for actually accelerating the projectile. Instead, the rocket plume changes the aerodynamic shape of the projectile, allowing it to gain about 30% range. As such, it doesn't quite fall under the rocket/missile category. It is from the late 60s, but given the emphasis on guns, cutting-edge navies may be already starting to field some, possibly in secret.

Of course, if there is actually some thrust "accidentally" added by the gas, or if said gas helps it for guidance, well, that's still an artillery shell anyway, right?

  • $\begingroup$ They are definitely defined as self-propelled projectiles. Of which base-bleed systems are technically not. I love this. $\endgroup$
    – Andon
    Commented Jan 25, 2018 at 1:21

I'm not sure how you could reduce the threat of aircraft... You could try treaties, but they didn't work very well in the 1930's. Japan ignored the Washington Treaty on naval construction, culminating in the 70,000 ton Yamato class battleships. Germany cast off the treaty of Versailles in a lot of ways in the mid 1930's, including the Bismarck class battleships.

The problem with those sorts of weapon limiting treaties is - the first nation to violate them has quite an advantage.

To realistically neutralize the effect of aircraft using 1950's technology, you might come up with effective anti-air missiles and guns, to make the battleship too dangerous for aircraft to approach. By the end of WW2, US warships had been so heavily armed with anti-air guns, many with radar activated proximity fuses, that only about one out of 15 kamikazes got through to actually hit a ship. That's an attrition rate far too harsh for pilots who need some expectation of survival to carry out their mission.

Had the battleship continued to be developed into the 1950's, possible future enhancements could have been longer range guns. The peak of battleship gun development were the 18 inch guns of the Yamato class, with about a 25 mile range. It is theoretically possible to equip a battleship with a single super gun whose barrel ran the 1000 foot length of the ship, that could have up to a 200 mile range. You'd probably need some sort of radar guidance in the shell to insure accuracy. However, that's not that big a leap over the radar proximity fuse, so it's feasible that a super gun equipped battleship might be able to hit an enemy fleet from 200 miles away, with the radar guided shell targeting an individual ship.

Won't they be surprised?

Improve the armor. Imagine a battleship made of titanium... would be horridly expensive to build, but you'd have either an extremely tough battleship, or a lighter battleship that had the same armor protection and a very high top speed. Or perhaps Chobham ceramic armor, as used on many main battle tanks today.

As an example of the benefits of high power and lighter weight, consider the liner SS United States. Built in the 1950's, it combined an aluminum superstructure for light weight, with a set of aircraft carrier engines, to yield a top speed of around 45 knots. (this was a 1000 foot long ship) This was done to give the US a very fast troop ship. That top speed was kept secret for decades... we didn't want the Soviets to know we could get troops to Europe a lot quicker than they expected.

The SSUS still exists, is tied up on a river in Philadelphia, while a group tries to preserve it as a museum. Sadly, that aluminum superstructure means it also has a fairly high scrap value, so its preservation is by no means assured.

Nuclear powered... would be a next logical step. High power, without the need to refuel. That could kick your titanium armored battleship up into the 60+ knot range. Try to hit that with a weapon powerful enough to get through the armor.

Underwater weapons, such as homing torpedoes, can be deceived. In WW2, the Germans developed the T5 homing torpedo, that homed in on propellor sounds. However, warships (who were the target of those torpedoes) could defeat that by dragging two parallel lengths of pipe (called a Foxer) behind the ship that simulated propellor noise, and the torpedo hit the pipes instead of the ship. While later torpedoes were developed with active sonar for guidance, that too can be spooked with decoys. As of today, the ability to defend a ship against attack has improved to the point where most major US warships are not heavily armored, relying upon the carrier battle group's defenses to stop threats before they can get through. (although the USS Cole was almost sunk by two guys in a zodiac, but that was more sloppy leadership in a potentially hostile port than anything)

Still, a primary reason the battleship became obsolete was not just its vulnerability to air attack, but the much greater range and accuracy of carrier aircraft. Perhaps you could develop such effective anti-air capabilities that a super gun on a battleship might be the only way to attack an adversary from a distance. That could justify the continuation of battleship design.


You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .